Fingerprinting Kids

Should
parents voluntarily create detailed identification
records(including fingerprints) on their children in
anticipation of possiblerunaway problems or abductions?
(1) Yes. You can never tell when terriblethings will happen
to a child, so its best to be prepared. (2) No. Thevast
majority of missing children are not abducted. Whether
abducted ornot, fingerprinting will do no good. It wastes
time and money and pushesus that much closer to the
creation of the Orwellian National Data Centerthat
Congress rejected fifteen years ago. BACKGROUND: As
of early 1983, 11 states had launched programs
tofingerprint children.( These were New York, Virginia,
Florida, Georgia, NewJersey, California, Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, Nebraska, Connecticut,Rhode Island,
Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana.) Most of this activity
wasstimulated by the passage of the Missing Children Act
in October 1982.What the new law did was to legitimize
the use of the FBI\'s nationalcomputer network,the National
Crime Information Center (NCIC) fornon-criminal
purposes. All of the programs are voluntary. In some cases
the policedepartments retain the records, while in others the
fingerprint cards areturned over to the parents for
safekeeping. The apparent purpose of theprogram is to
help provide positive identification to link either children
picked up, or bodies recovered, with missing person
notices. Every year about 1 million children are reported
missing. Of thesemost, about 800,000, are away from
home for less than two weeks. About150,000 of the total
missing are abducted; of these two thirds are abductedby a
divorced parent. Some of the reasons behind the missing
children are not pretty.According to an article in Parade,
"about 35 percent of runaways leave homebecause of
incest, 53 percent because of physical neglect. The rest
are"throwaways," children kicked out or simply abandoned
by parents who moveaway. Every state has laws against
incest, child abuse, abandonment, childpornography and
the procuring of children, but they are rarely enforced."
POINT: Conscientious parents should have their childrens\'
fingerprintsrecorded to help in the event of an abduction;
they shouldn\'t wait until aftersomething terrible happens, but
should take reasonable steps now. Thousands of children
are runaways, and in many cases it is all butimpossible to
determine clearly who they really are. People change,
butfingerprints don\'t. Well-intentioned but misguided civil
libertarians worryabout Big Brother. But they tend to
overlook the obvious benefits of theprogram and
concentrate on wildly imaginative fantasies about Big
Brother.If they would come down to earth once in a while,
and visit with and sharethe anguish of a family of an
abducted child, they would quickly changetheir attitudes.
Besides, in most cases the police do not keep the
records,the parents do. COUNTERPOINT: Absent some
showing that the fingerprinting will actuallyhelp keep
children safe and help capture criminals who harm or
abduct them,parents should refuse to have their children
fingerprinted. In promotingthe child fingerprinting program,
police officials tend to be vague abouthow the program will
increase the average child\'s safety. How does itimprove
children\'s safety to be fingerprinted? Surely, it may help
identify a body, but that is not much help. Besides, dental
records do thesame thing and probably do a better job.
People forget that this program isgeared to eventually
entering the child\'s identification data into theNational
Crime Information Center. That is a criminal records
databank, andit could be very harmful to a child in the
future to have what manyemployers will automatically take
to be a "criminal record." And that isnot far fetched. In
April 1983 the Congress\' General Accounting
Officereleased a report saying that in some states children
picked up as runawaysare jailed along with real criminals.
GAO found that in five states(Virginia, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon) 39percent
of the juveniles incarcerated had not been charged with a
seriousoffense, despite federal standards requiring that.
Running away from home,shoplifting and other minor thefts
made up most of the offenses. Evenadvocates admit to the
possibility of a stigma. A PTA Council President in Virginia
spoke out in favor of theprogram: "I can\'t think at this point
of a practical reason for not havingyour fingerprints taken.
It seems to me the higher the percentage of thepopulation
that has its fingerprints on file, the less stigma will
beattached to it." Another mother, as her child was being
fingerprinted, told a NewYork Times reporter, "Unless
you\'re planning a life of crime for yourchild,I can\'t see why
any parent would object." If we are really serious about
reducing the runaway problem, weshould demand that our
police officials start looking closely into thefamily situations
from which the runaway came from. If there is evidenceof
incest or abuse, the offendor should be prosecuted. Maybe
if moreabusive parents got that message, they would be
less inclined to do the things that cause the vast majority of
runaway cases in the first place. QUESTIONS:o Do you
think that the police will be more effective in locating
missingchildren if there are copies of their fingerprints on
record?o Do you think that there is