SUKA Society was interviewed by The Star to share on the issue of children safety. Read the article published on the 16th of January 2011 below –

When it comes to the safety of children, everyone should be on the lookout.

HIS daughter is on his mind the minute he wakes up and remains there until he closes his eyes. It has been almost six months since Nisha went missing but G. Chandramohan believes he will be reunited with his beloved child soon. “I have to have faith in God. I am sure she will come back one day,” he says almost despairingly. Two-year-old Nisha went missing after her 54-year-old mentally ill grandaunt took her out of her home in Mentakab one afternoon. Her grandaunt was later found that evening but she was unable to reveal Nisha’s whereabouts.

In September last year, two-year-old Lee Xin Ru was abducted from her home in Raub by a woman. Cases such as the disappearance of Sharlinie Mohd Nashar and Nurin Jazlin Jazimin (who was later found dead and sexually assaulted) have recently made the headlines. And when these cases happen, many parents become scared to let their children out of their sight.

Last week, the issue of child safety also received prominence when the Cabinet approved the Nur Alert (Nationwide Urgent Response) system. The initiative, to be chaired by the Royal Malaysia Police, would allow information to be spread through posters, websites, text messages and electronic message boards within 24 hours of a child going missing.

This system is similar to the AMBER Alert bulletin in the United States that informs the public of suspected child abduction cases. Information will be spread through posters, websites, text messages and electronic message boards and its implementation would involve strategic collaboration between the government, private sector and non-governmental organisations.

Criminologist Geshina Ayu Mat Saat points out that incidents of missing children are not a new phenomenon as police reports have shown that children have been going missing as far back as the early 1980s. “But media portrayals of incidents of missing children (including those abducted) have raised public misconception that such incidents are very common,” she says.

Geshina adds that children are more likely to go missing as a result of family arguments or a personal desire to leave the family rather than as a kidnapped or, worse, rape-cum-murder victim. But some parents are still not taking any chances, especially when cases like Sharlinie’s are reported. A parent who identifies himself as Abu ferries his 10-year-old daughter to and from her school in Petaling Jaya every afternoon even though they live within walking distance of the school.

“Anything can happen,” he says. He believes that parents have to be more protective because of the changing times, unlike in the past when children generally fended for themselves.

Recalling his childhood days, he says thing were quite different then. “In the kampung, we used to walk about 2km to school and we only used to come back in the evening,” he relates. “In the kampung, everyone knows one another. We know our friend’s children and vice-versa. But in the city, there are too many people. Sometimes we don’t even know our neighbours,” he points out.

Businessman Mohd Hanifah allows his two children in secondary school to walk to and from school, but not his 10-year-old daughter. He relates several cases where a stranger came to the school bus stop and flashed. In another incident, a stranger came into the school and approached a child. “Luckily, the kid was smart enough to alert the guard and the stranger ran away,” he says. “I would not let my daughter go anywhere alone until she is much older, maybe in secondary school.”

A grandmother, who only wants to be known as Lou, has the same concerns as Hanifah. She takes care of her two grandchildren as their parents are working outstation. She says she does not let her 11-year-old grandson go out at all and he is only allowed to play in their compound. Recently, however, she had to unwillingly allow her 13-year-old granddaughter to go to a shopping mall with a friend. “You have to let go sometimes. If you want to restrain them, there will be disagreements. She didn’t want to take a mobile phone along with her. All the time she was away, I felt uneasy,” she says.

On the other hand, there are parents who let their young ones wander off alone, as Anderson Selvasegaram, executive director of Suka Society, an organisation advocating safety for children, rightly points out. Young children can still be seen wandering along the road, at the pasar malam (night markets), shops, cybercafes and even shopping complexes. Some are even up and about at night.

“What’s missing is a sense of personal safety on the part of adults,” he says, adding that child safety is everyone’s responsibility. Selvasegaram also wonders whether the Nur Alert system would be effective. “People feel it is not their business and leave it as it is. I know of a case where a child was abused by his father but the relatives did not do anything about it because nobody was bothered. It’s the same with abductions. Who’s going to be looking around?” Everyone should keep a watchful eye out for one another, he stresses.

Geshina says criminals are most likely to strike anywhere, from outside the school gates to the home compound. “Abduction is made easier if the child is walking alone, and in areas with less pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Cases of abduction from shopping complexes or highly populated areas are actually not as common,” she says.

Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye believes that even though incidents of children going missing are not rampant, child safety still cannot be taken for granted. He says that parents have to monitor the movement of their children and know their whereabouts. Simple things such as safety should be taught to the children, he adds. “They should know what to do when they are approached by strangers, and security guards should keep an eye on those who mooch around schools.”

Childline Malaysia project director P.H. Wong says children should be educated on safety from young and that they should know the contact numbers of their parents in case of emergencies. “We should develop safety consciousness in children. They should know what to do when they are crossing roads or when strangers approach them, for example. We want children to always think of safety. “Parents need to know their children’s friends and their contact numbers. In addition, parents should also have their child’s latest photo in hand in case of an emergency,” she adds. Wong also urges organisations to implement child safety policies. She says that departmental stores in most European countries have systems where all doors will shut straightaway if a child has been reported missing in the premises. Some shopping complexes in Malaysia are working on such policies and establishing child safety zones, she reveals. She also urges childcare centres and schools to emphasise child safety.

Kamiar Kaur, principal of Qee Dees in Taman Midah, Cheras in Kuala Lumpur, says the kindergarten has a strict policy on arrival and dismissal of children. At any one time, there are at least two teachers at the gate ready to receive the children in the morning, she says. Parents, meanwhile, are only allowed to drop off their children in a single file. The gates are closed at about 8.15am and even then there is a teacher on standby for latecomers, says Kamiar. “The gates are locked until noon, when the session is over. Teachers will again be stationed at the gates to make sure the children are safely picked up by their parents or carers,” she says.