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Nipping infant theft in the bud

With incidences of child trafficking on the rise, three innovative entrepreneurs are breaking the silence by using a digital application that will help curb the vice after a child is born and beyond

In September, in news that made headlines, a woman Mercy Atieno was arrested at Pumwani Maternity hospital while trying to steal a newborn baby. Atieno was carrying the baby in a backpack and attempting to make her way out of the hospital when a security guard manning one of the gates heard the baby cry and rescued him.

Atieno is not the only culprit. Another woman from Kawangware was arrested early this year after successfully stealing a baby at Kenyatta National Hospital. The cases go on and on.

In the past few years, a spotlight has been cast on human trafficking across the globe. Kenya is no exception.

Child Protection Report (2006-2016), released last year revealed 528 cases of child trafficking and abduction were reported. The report by the non-governmental organisation, Childline Kenya, showed that children abducted included children stolen from hospitals and maternity wards.

The good news is, child theft may become a thing of the past following introduction of Malaika Application, a digital application geared towards mitigating child trafficking and abduction. Developed by three proprietors of Data Vault System Enterprises, Vince Sila, Fred Asimba and Steve Masita, the app requires tags attached to subjects and a phone to monitor new-borns while in hospitals and safeguard them from lurking traffickers.

“Though we have never experienced child theft here, we decided to pick it up because we are open to innovations. We would like to prevent and ensure our mothers and babies are safe,” said Nick Pearson, founder of Jacaranda Maternity Hospital, which piloted the app. Once a mother checks in the hospital, her details are captured in an android phone, then scanned and stored in a tag that is fixed on her wrist at the hospital’s expense. Once the child is born, their details are also captured, scanned and stored in an ankle tag and, thereafter, the two tags are paired.

“The tags are built to store child and mother’s information that include their photos, names, mother or guardian’s ID number, phone number, hospital room and bed number, gender and visible marks if any. If the child is still born, such is also captured and scanned,” says Vince Sila, the company director of operations.

After matching the two tags, photos and data of both mother and child are displayed along with a green caption reading “Matched” with a clear audible sound.  In case of a no match, a red caption reading “No Match” will display with a distinct audible sound. At this point, the nurses will conduct further investigations into the matter.

And to ensure that no one tampers with the tags, they are encoded with a unique serial number, which makes it impossible to replace. A locking mechanism is also put in place to ensure the tag stays in place and the only way to remove it is by cutting, and once cut, it cannot be replaced.

In case a mother suspects a mix-up after nursery services, she can have the child and her tag scanned to confirm if they match because the tags are cut-off only during discharge. “The data is saved in the hospital’s secure server as part of the electronic medical record and can only be accessed by authorised personnel. The data also has military grade encryption in the event there is a breach,” said Sila.

Child theft

Nick reveals that the app, which is based on Near Field Communication (NFC) has shown how it can be of benefit to the hospital in mitigating infant theft and assuring mothers of their safety during their stay in the hospital ward. That is the reason why the hospital has decided to continue with the programme even after the pilot project is over.

After discharge, safety of the child is still guaranteed through Malaika Trace application, which the company has also developed with a wide spectrum to aid positive identification from life to death. If adopted by hospitals, schools, police and state agencies concerned with child protection, it will muzzle child trafficking and loss.“Malaika Trace tags contain a scan of the child’s iris. The App has a missing button linked up with police, hospitals and Childline Kenya to help them identify the lost child or in case of accident and victim is unconscious or dead,” said Sila.

The tags, which are either in form of a wristband or necklace, are going for Sh200 each.

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