New technology identifies thousands of missing children in India in a few days

An experimental test of facial recognition technology carried out by the New Delhi Police has had an incredible and inspiring result: Thousands of children who have disappeared in the streets, alleyways and slums of India have been identified in matters of days. Using a photographic database of about 60,000 missing children and compared with approximately 45,000 images of unidentified orphans in attendance institutions throughout the city, 2,930 children were recognized by the software Pilot program in just four days.

The idea

The rapid effects of the program are amazing and highlight how this emerging technology could help to lessen a devastating social problem in the country. "Currently, India has almost 200,000 missing children and about 90,000 housed in various childcare institutions," explained activist Bhuwan Ribhu, of the child Care group Bachpan Chao Andolan, who helped develop the study. Making the manual combination of all these children and photographs is basically impossible. The RIBHU organization began the project precisely as a way to better filter the large amount of records maintained by TrackChild, the Indian national database of missing children. Realizing that facial recognition could help speed things up, the organization fought in Delhi's Supreme Court to make the database available to the police, who used their facial recognition system to analyze thousands of images.

Social problem

Due to the success of the project in New Delhi, it is possible that other police forces use TrackChild data to try to track missing children. In addition, the database itself can be reviewed so that the facial recognition software runs internally. All of these are welcome developments, but the situation of the missing children in India will not yet be resolved completely.

That's because the reasons behind their disappearances are complex and often violent and unethical. Some children are abducted on the street to be sold for prostitution or child labor. Others run away from their parents due to home abuse. There are still assumptions that some families sell their children, or intentionally abandon unwanted daughters in busy places.

Possibility of Reunion

Of course, some children simply get lost in the old fashion, through unusual circumstances and bad luck, such as Saroo Brierley, whose dramatic life story became the theme of the film "Lion – A Journey home", of 2016. When he was young, Brierley lost his older brother in a train station. He fell asleep inside a train and only managed to escape from the vehicle after going nearly 1,500 kilometers through India. He was so young he didn't know the name of his hometown, and he could never find his way back. It took about 25 years to finally review his biological mother, a happy ending to a story of common disturbingly suffering among young people in India. The innovations seen in this project should allow a wave of similar meetings, very welcome. [ScienceAlert]