Jaycee Dugard, Caylee Anthony, Elizabeth Smart and Lauren Spierer have become household names within the past few years. These children were plastered across television screens, broadcasted over radio stations and websites were created to help spread the word. Whether these children were found dead or alive, their families were still given the opportunity to share their stories with the world.
It seems as if the world rarely hears about missing children of color in media coverage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that a child goes missing in America every 40 seconds. Gaetane Borders, president of Peas in their Pods, an organization created to help search for missing children of color says that almost half of those missing children are of color.
“When you look around and see what’s happening, you rarely see the true face of children that go missing. The major issue is that if we don’t see that on TV we as parents, community members and people of color think that it just doesn’t happen to us.”
Society has named this “missing white girl syndrome” and occurs when hundreds of hours of media coverage is given to missing children for these reasons. The child is: white, female, attractive and are considered middle class. But the question that now occurs is, where are the hundreds of hours of news coverage of children of color? Do they get a chance to make the headlines? It is also rare to find boys in the coverage, because experts say girls attract more attention.
Borders says there are multiple factors contributing to this issue outside of biased opinions and racism.
“As people of color, we rarely demand for more diversity in terms of coverage when a child goes missing. If there is a bias that is preventing more widespread coverage it could just simply mean that children of color aren’t as valued as others,” she says disheartened.
Peas in their Pods created a missing child alert system called the Rilya Alert, which was named after 4-year-old Rilya Wilson who was registered into the foster care system for eight months before anyone realized she was missing. The goal of Peas in their Pods is to spread awareness and improve the reporting and search system as it pertains to African-American children says Borders.
There are specific criteria a child must meet for an AMBER Alert to be issued, such as the requirement for law enforcement to confirm an abduction or the child is believed to be in a situation of severe danger. Many children of color don’t meet those requirements. The Rilya Alert requirements aren’t as stringent as those used in the AMBER Alert.
“We are not a replacement for the AMBER Alert,” said Borders. “We simply pick up where they left off.”
Indiana code 10-13-5-4 defines a missing child. David Bursten, captain commander of the Public Information Section at Indiana State Police says to understand missing children statistics; you must first understand that law enforcement divides missing children cases into different categories. The categories are as follow: non-family/stranger abductions, family abductions and voluntary missing/runaways.
“The total number of missing children reported by Indiana law enforcement as of today is 425,” he said. “This number fluctuates daily because of new cases being taken and older cases being resolved. The majority of these cases are runaway children, followed by family abductions. As of today, we are not aware of any reports of non-family abductions within the state.”
The center of Missing and Exploited Children currently lists three African-American children missing in the state of Indiana.
To learn more about the Peas in their Pods organization, visit their website at Peasintheirpods.com.
In 2011 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created a Child ID smartphone application that stores photos and vital information of a child. Height, weight and other physical characteristics can be saved to show police or security in time of need or information can be quickly sent to authorities with just a click of a button.