Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Leyla Moses-Ones at the AMBER Alert System Roundtable

Good Afternoon and thank you, Caroline.  And a warm welcome to Mr. Albert Nikolla, Vice-Minister of Health and Social Protection; Mr. Albert Dervishi, Vice-General Director of Albanian Police Authority; Mrs. Alma Tandilli, Chairwoman, National Agency for Child Protection in Albania; distinguished speakers and guests.  I am pleased to be with you here today as you discuss an important and heart-rending issue – missing and exploited children.

Every day, all around the world, children go missing.  It is estimated that over one million children go missing each year around the world.  This is an incredible and terrifying statistic, but it is unfortunately the truth.  And it is a truth that can destroy the lives of children and their families as much in Albania as it does in the United States, as we are going to hear.

While the topic is distressing, the situation is not without hope, and the end does not have to be tragic.  There is something we as countries and societies can do to help law enforcement ensure that children make it home alive and safe.

Through fast action, coordinated response and the use of technology, the rate of safe return of missing children in the United States has dramatically increased, from only 60 percent in 1990 to over 97 percent in recent year.  Getting the word out quickly in the worst cases of missing children can make all the difference.

The very first rapid alert system was created in Arlington, Texas following the heartbreaking abduction and murder of a nine-year-old girl, Amber Hagerman, in 1996.  The community was shocked to its core and vowed never to let such a tragedy happen again.  Community members reached out to radio and television stations, together forming a network that became the first AMBER Alert system in 1997.  By 2005, all 50 states had AMBER Alert plans in place, and the system has been credited with the safe recovery of over one thousand children. Since the U.S. created the alert, over 30 countries followed by implementing similar systems. The European Commission also created a Directive in 2008 to ensure all EU countries have a system in place.

This rapid reaction network, designed to be activated in the worst cases of missing children, has been rendered even more effective as technology has advanced.  AMBER Alerts can reach whole communities nearly instantly through text messages and social media platforms such as Facebook.   All of us can be “deputized” in real time to help law enforcement in the recovery of a child in need of protections.  The difference between 60 percent of children returning home and over 97 percent is amazing and inspiring.  That is true in statistical terms, and infinitely more so on the human level.  And it is also achievable.

That is why I am pleased to be here to support this initiative of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and their local partners – the Child Rights Center Albania, ECPAT Albania, and the Albania State Police.  The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children works with countries around the world to implement rapid emergency alert systems such as AMBER alerts by sharing expertise and providing technical assistance on how such a system can be implemented.

Should Albania join this group?  That is what you are here to discuss today.  I applaud your dedication to this issue.  To keeping children safe.  The U.S. Embassy is pleased to support you in this effort, and we are ready to support you further if you decide to implement an emergency alert system.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here, and I wish you a productive discussion.  Thank you.