Child-abduction bill puts PANI in charge of search

The legislature approved Thursday on first reading a bill that would create a system of alerts when a minor disappears. Final approval is expected today or tomorrow.

The measure is bill No. 19.356, which creates a committee of public and private entities that is supposed to coordinate the search for a missing child.

The measure is based on one that was passed in Guatemala. A summary also references the AMBER child abduction alert system in use in the United States.

The committee is being called the Comisión Coordinadora Nacional del Sistema de Alerta para la Protección de la Niñez Costarricense.

The bill seems to shift the supervision of a search for a missing child from police agencies to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, known as PANI, which presides over the committee, according to the legislation.

The summary for the bill mentioned two children who vanished and who still are among the missing.  They are Francisco Sánchez Potosme, 6, who vanished at the Escuela de Valencia in San Rafael Abajo, Desamparados, March 27, 2007, and Yerelyn Guzmán Calvo, 6, who disappeared near her home in Santo Domingo de Heredia, July 11, 2014.

The summary does not mention the latest case, that of Teresita Tatiana Mendoza Espinoza, 9, and  her brother, Alexander Alberto Scott Espinoza, 11, who were  reported missing May 19 in Suampito, Valle Bonito de San José de Upala. Police found the girl alive the next morning and also the body of her brother. A 19-year-old neighbor has been arrested.

The bill requires the Judicial Investigating Organization to keep a list of missing children and to obtain DNA samples in some cases.

The summary said that between January and July 2014 some 168 youngsters less than 18 years of age were reported missing in Costa Rica.

The Judicial Investigating Organization already has internal rules for an immediate response when a child 12 or younger is reported missing. The summary said children older than 12 are considered runaways unless there are signs of violence.

Judicial agents issue bulletins on missing persons every week. Some are adults, and some are youngsters.

Runaways represent the bulk of the juvenile cases. Some are Nicaraguans who went to mother060115that country to join relatives. Then there is parental abduction. For example, Friday agents of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública detained a mother in downtown San José. She is accused of taking her child when he was supposed to be in the custody of a grandmother.

The child was recovered.

The bill also says that immigration posts at the border should be alerted immediately. Currently, both parents are required to approve the exit from the country of a minor.

The major thrust of the bill is to provide immediate and widespread notice when a child vanishes. Media outlets are asked to carry the notices. The bill is specific in requiring television networks to carry reports of missing children for free on the three daily news programs. That demand probably will receive a court challenge.

In cases where children have been murdered or raped, the crime usually happens quickly after abduction. Guatemala has a long-standing problem of thefts of babies for adoption, and that is reflected in the text of the bill.

The summary credits education personnel for foiling one attempted abduction when a man presented himself at an Escazú school last August and attempted to take away a child. School workers would not permit this.

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