CAIRO: A Facebook page has helped reunite hundreds of Egyptian families with their missing children as concern increases about child welfare.
Ramy El-Gebaly founded the Missing Children page three years ago when he realised there was no official body to coordinate efforts to find missing children.
Now he uses the page to help coordinate more than 8,000 volunteers across Egypt and the Middle East in searching for loved ones.
“The page’s first achievement was the recovery of a mentally ill child,” El-Gebaly told Arab News. “I cried from happiness but I also was disturbed when I learned in several occasions that kids may run away from their parents because they were abused or badly treated.”
Social media had become an increasingly common tool for parents to post images of their missing children in a country with a population of almost 100 million and wracked with poverty.
El-Gebaly said he started the page after seeing so many images and messages from people saying their child had gone missing.
“I realized that there are no mechanism to support those cases,” El-Gebaly said. “The page now has more than 1 million followers and it has helped 950 children and mentally challenged people to return to their families.”
The page is full of heartbreaking posts and photos of mostly children with desperate appeals from their families.
One shows a picture of a boy in a blue shirt named Tamer Abdul Nasser Tawfiq. The post said he disappeared in 2014 when he was playing outside his grandfather’s house aged 5 in the city of Dairut. The post urges people to call the provided numbers if they have information.
Another post describes an abduction.
“This car stopped in front of a child, kidnapped the kid, and flew away. Help us find him - his mum is devastated.” The post included a CCTV image of a 4x4 car.
Other posts show children who have been found and request users to get in touch if they know who they are.
The work of Missing Children was recognized by Facebook itself in its Community Leadership Program that includes 100 groups and activists representing 46 countries.
“To date, they have successfully helped more than 950 people make their way back to their families—among which are children and special needs adults,” the program said.
Other pages and accounts on Facebook and other social media sites have also been set up to help find missing children.
Cases of child abduction rose in Egypt after the 2011 uprising. The ensuing political instability led to a drop in security in the years that followed, increasing crime and making it less likely for police and other services to be able to help track down those who went missing
There are no accurate figures for the number of missing children in Egypt.
The Egyptian Center for Political and Legal Studies said 860 children were reported missing children in 2013, jumping to 1,700 in 2014. The figure for 2015 was 412 and Egyptian authorities did not publish any official statistics since that year.
According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, 8 million are reported missing worldwide each year.
The center says children go missing for several reasons, including runaways, parental abductions, unaccompanied migrant minors and criminal abductions.
Child welfare has become an increasingly discussed issue in Egypt this summer.
In August, two brothers, aged three and five, were killed and dumped in a river in Dakahlia governorate. Their father later confessed to the crime, which shocked the nation.