Thursday, January 10, 2008

Save the children

ANOTHER child has gone missing, the second child to disappear in the same neighbourhood in Petaling Jaya in under a week. Coming three months after the brutal murder of little Nurin Jazlin, 5-year-old Sharlinie Mohd Nasyar's absence since Wednesday morning is an urgent reminder that more has to be done to ensure children are safe.
The proposed Nurin Alert system would help immensely. Modelled on the successful Amber Alert programme in the United States, public notifications are made through media outlets, helping in cases when police need to disseminate information quickly and widely, to find an abducted child.

But preventing abductions is always going to be better than even the best system for recovering a taken child. A slew of measures has just been announced to fight rising crime, but prevention is something that Malaysians will have to take responsibility for.

Studies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have shown that abductions by strangers are rare. The majority of missing children were taken by one of their own parents, usually divorced and denied custody or visiting rights. Abduction by relatives and known people is also common.

In Malaysia, there is much less data available but it seems safe to say stranger-abductions are crimes of opportunity. If opportunities abound, even the best-manned police force will struggle to keep up.
As in other countries, the pattern of rapid industrialisation and economic growth here has been followed by widespread urbanisation and fast-paced change.

This has created environments where communities are more fragmented and less social, where apathy and inattention give predators the chance they need to take a child from a playground, a street, a school compound. Even ever-vigilant parents need to teach their children, young ones included, the skills they need to survive.

They should be taught how to avoid abduction like they should be taught how to avoid getting hit by cars when crossing the road. Adults often assume children possess skills they may not have, so it will take more than just saying "bad men will kidnap you and make you beg on the streets".

Children are taught to respect and trust adults, so they need to learn how to sense danger. They should be told to kick and scream if someone forces them into a car. In this, at least, the government and the police can take a lead, funding awareness programmes, distributing booklets and offering training.

A sound programme is sorely needed if this year is not to be another year scarred by news of missing children.

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