By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, February 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Indian police have reunited thousands of missing and trafficked children with their families. A new facial recognition app was used, which, according to activists, was a “game changer” in solving the problem.
Tens of thousands of children are missing in India every year and many are trafficked to work in restaurants, craft shops, brick ovens, factories or in beggars and brothels.
The police in the southern state of Telangana developed the facial recognition tool as part of Operation Smile, a regular initiative to combat child labor and missing children.
They scanned more than 3,000 records in the app and were able to bring more than half of the children together with their families in January.
“The results are very encouraging,” said executive Swathi Lakra, who oversaw the campaign.
“In the past, what we had to do with the children after we saved them was the big challenge, because putting them in emergency shelters wasn’t the ideal solution for a long time. It was essential to track down their families and send them home.”
Reuniting rescued children with their families is a mammoth task in India, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, and child rights activists say poor education and poor coordination between states has hampered police efforts.
The app uses a centralized database of photos and identifies up to 80 points on a human face to find a match. This makes the search easier, even if only old photos are available, the police said in a statement.
It can match a million records per second and includes a name search tool that can be used to find the parent or village of the missing child using phonetics to avoid the common problem of misspelling proper names in records.
The app is regularly updated with data from emergency shelters that house children who have been rescued from the street or from slavery.
Artificial intelligence in face recognition has sparked a global debate. Critics say technology can violate people’s fundamental rights and violate data protection regulations.
The technology was tested last year by the Delhi police, who said they identified nearly 3,000 missing children in just a few days.
Supreme Court lawyer N S Nappinai, an expert on data protection law, said it was important to take effective measures to unite children with their parents, but urged caution when storing their data.
“It is important to know how the data is collected, how long it will be stored, how it will be used in the future, and especially when it will be deleted,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Varsha Bhargavi, adviser to the Telangana Child Rights Protection Forum, said the police had saved thousands of children on their trips, but had had difficulties getting them back in the past.
“There are major gaps in the rehabilitation of these children because funds are not used and return to their homes is slow. The app may be a game changer,” he said. (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; editor of Claire Cozens. Please thank the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the non-profit branch of Thomson Reuters that deals with humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT + rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit Http: / /news.trust.org)