Facebook and the South African Police Service have launched Amber Alerts in South Africa, an emergency missing child alert notification, a first for the African continent. The initiative is already active in the US and over 20 other markets.

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When a child is reported as missing in South Africa – it does not have to be after 24 hours – SAPS will notify the National Bureau for Missing Persons who will then notify Facebook. An alert will be sent to all Facebook users within a 160km radius of the missing child, via their news feed. This applies to users who have given Facebook permission to access their location.

Any information reported by the community will be monitored 24/7 by a team who will chase up on leads. Facebook said of its success in other 22 markets that it is not about the numbers but rather for them to be in a position to amplify the call for help. An average of 200 children in South Africa are reported missing each month and only half of them are found. The joint venture hopes to close that gap.

All information received by Facebook users will be treated with confidentiality.

Facebook said it is not doing anything new, but rather complementing existing efforts. Amber Alerts is an example of using technology in a positive way, with efforts by the community. SAPS has also encouraged people to report missing children immediately without having to wait 24 hours.

Facebook added that its biggest innovations done today are through partnerships between law enforcement, policy makers, private industry and child protection organisations. The company is positive that South Africans – being as tech savvy a nation of 28m users – will be in a position to help quickly when a child goes missing.

“The use of technology to strengthen the ability of law enforcement, families and community to protect children is life changing,” said Emily Vacher, director of trust and safety at Facebook.