Staying Ahead in Your Child's Safety

Disclaimer: This article is based on research garnered from online sources and the advice provided may not cover all situations. Parental guidance is advised (corny, but nonetheless…).

The recent spate of near-abduction events over the last week have led to a panic amidst the parenting community here. Part of the reason for the panic stems from a lack of information over why these incidents are occurring, and what exactly parents need to be wary of as they pursue outdoor activities with their children.

The truth is that these incidents have existed for quite a long time, and on a regular basis. We have mentioned the most prominent case of the McDonald’s boys in the 80’s, then the Ikea incident that turned out to be a “misunderstanding”, and the recent case at AMK Hub. The latest incident occurred at a school in Simei, where a 10-year-old boy was snatched from his grandmother and subsequently let go.

How Abductions Work

There are a number of scenarios that act as motivation for such incidents, which also lend clues as to what to be conscious for when outdoors with your child. We do have to keep in mind, because child abduction is not a simple act by any means, kidnapping incidents are considered very rare in Singapore and the descriptions as follows are meant for a clearer understanding of preventive measures parents can take.

Organised Crime Syndicates

Image courtesy of Ms Sparky (http://www.mssparky.com)

These underworld outfits operate for the purpose of human trafficking for exploitation into slave labour, prostitution and even illegal organ trading. Around the region, these children may be exported to developing countries such as Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia to serve as drug mules, or even beggars, for instance, whose daily income – solicited from kind-hearted tourists or passers-by – are surrendered to organised crime heads.

Children are not necessarily picked based on defining traits (though healthy adolescents – male or female – are preferred), but more by locale, such as crowded areas where it is easy for predators to disappear with their prey, or along roads where vehicles can quickly stop for retrieval and leave without detection.

Black Market Babies

Image ? Richard Green/Mira.com

An international black market for illegal adoption exists where healthy infants and toddlers are primary targets; tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars are transacted for kidnapped babies, usually supplied by the same organised crime syndicates above, individuals in desperate need of money, or in some reported cases in America for example, staff in low-security hospitals who have administrative access to children.

Thankfully, such occurrences are almost non-existent in Singapore due to very strict policies governing the children’s safety and identity in local children’s hospitals.

Targeted Kidnappings

These are the stuff of hit crime dramas and blockbuster thrillers, and should be a concern for the socially affluent. It doesn’t help that a large portion of kidnapping cases involve kidnappers that the child actually knows, rendering the “stranger-danger” education largely ineffective.

Parental Child Abduction

In cases of matrimonial breakdowns or divorces involving children where custody battles are fiercely fought, a parent or caregiver not in custody of their child or children may look to extreme measures to strong-arm their own children away from their primary caregivers. These are, however, very rare, given a very strong deterrent in Singapore against kidnapping of any nature – if charged, kidnappers face the death penalty.

“Sorry, I thought it was my child.” – Mistaken Identity, or Psychological Craving?

Even rarer still are abductions by women who crave children of their own, but are by various circumstances unable to have any. The basis behind a strange woman leading your child away may stem from a case of maternal instincts overwhelming the female offender.

A Wikipedia entry summarises abductions of children by female strangers to raise as their own as follows:

“A very small number of abductions result in most cases from women who kidnap babies (or other young children) to bring up as their own. These women are often unable to have children of their own, or have miscarried, and seek to satisfy their unmet psychological need by abducting a child rather than by adopting. The crime is often premeditated, with the woman often simulating pregnancy to reduce suspicion when a baby suddenly appears in the household.”

In view of the above scenarios, certain locations can be pinpointed as hotspots for parents to take extra care when gallivanting about with their children.

Shopping Malls

Shopping centres are well-equipped with their own security teams to handle such incidents.

For example, in a response to concerned parents over the recent near-abduction case, the AMK Hub management’s own security team, working in tandem with the police, have taken action to step up security measures in the mall, including informing their security officers “to be more vigilant in looking out for any suspicious character(s)”, as well as stepping up patrols around the mall. The AMK Hub management is also assisting the local authorities with investigations relating to the incident.

Do be aware, though, that mall security cameras may not always serve the purpose of keeping visual records of what is happening in or around the mall. To save costs, some buildings may regularly employ the use of “dummy cameras”, devices installed for the purpose of deterring criminal activity instead of recording it. So when it comes to keeping a visual on your child’s safety, nothing is more effective than your own line of sight.

In making sure your child is also suitably free to explore when inside a mall or building, it is best to ensure your child doesn’t stray too far from you; a safe gauge would be within 2 to 5 feet of where you are (which we know is more easily said than done; pre-emptive education will be key to training your child in this discipline). From experience, when a very young toddler starts running too far for you to catch, instead of chasing after him or her (which your child might misinterpret as you trying to play “catching” with him or her), your best bet is to just call out to your child and get the child to return to you of his or her own accord.

Pasar Malams, Flea Markets

Unlike shopping malls, these outdoor tented sales events do not usually boast security teams of their own, but notably busy bazaars like the famous Geylang Serai Hari Raya night bazaars do have police officers guarding the streets.

Parents will do well to carry their child in their arms if they are able, or keep their young children’s hands held tightly in the swarming crowds, especially when near the roadside. Older children also need to know to stick close to their parents, and parents should always be mindful of where the boys in blue are in case they need to call for help.

Schools

The more seasoned child abductors will study habits before striking, and schools demand a regimental, repetitive daily schedule that is easy for them to follow. To this, the Ministry of Education (“MOE”) has policies in place that ensure the safety of schoolchildren in and around the school compound. These include security guards posted at entrances to record vehicles entering or leaving the school, as well as parent volunteers that ensure safety on the roads.

Most private schools also require parents to register their child’s caregiver’s particulars to ensure the right person is picking your child up from school or care centre.

School transport operators are also vigilant for incidents that fall out of routine, like a child who’s late for the bus or a child in the company of a stranger prior to boarding. It pays to maintain communications with the school bus driver, and let them know to update you if he or she notices anything strange or untoward along the way.

Parent volunteers working the road crossings during these times need to be mindful of suspicious new vehicles that are parked in the vicinity, especially if the same vehicle appears over a period of a few days. Also be aware of strangers loitering around school entrances; you can also politely ask if he or she is a parent, and possibly lead him or her into a conversation about his or her child’s experience in the school to determine if the stranger is the real deal.

Playgrounds

This is really where a parent’s skills in keeping track of their child can be honed to its fullest potential. Many malls boast large areas of play for children, equipping themselves with slides, crawling tunnels, and even water spouts for kids to run through, as well as a rest area for weary parents. Here you can practise watching your kids like a hawk (and become very good at it); besides watching for strangers who want to interact with your child, the more probable purpose would be for you to intervene if your child gets into a scuffle with other children over dibs on the swing, or crashing into other kids on the slide. Hey, it happens. A lot.

Special Events

Plenty of family-oriented activities are being churned out weekly for parents to bring their children out for a day of fun. Even then, given you are adhering to the advice given for taking care of your child in pasar malams and flea markets, some homework still needs to be done. Firstly, make sure you know who is organising the event; this isn’t so much to make sure you’re “hanging out with the right crowd”, as it is knowing who to go to in case you run into problems. In any event, the organiser will know how to direct you to the help you need if, say your child strays in the crowd and you can’t find him or her. In the same vein, make sure you know where the information counter or information tent is so you know where to go to find assistance.

Overseas

Who doesn’t want to go to Tokyo Disneyland, or Universal Studios Hollywood? The world is your child’s oyster, as long as you can afford it. But losing your kid in a foreign country can be the most harrowing experience a parent will experience.

If you have a set itinerary of activities to follow throughout, make sure you know where to get help in the places you’re visiting when you need it; this means getting theme park maps, or maps that indicate tourist information centres, nearby security posts or police stations. Tokyo Disney Resort, for instance, has a “Lost Children” section for parents who are separated from their pre-school children, and all Cast Members working in the Resort are networked with other Cast Members who will check with each other “in and out of the park to locate the missing child and to have him/her brought to you if the child is under their supervision.”

Also, make sure you register yourself and all your family members with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ eRegister system to ensure you can get support from the respective Singapore embassy or high commission in case of emergency. travel insurance covering your family is also essential; you may want to check with your insurance agent for more details on coverage in such instances.

When You’re Not With Your Kid

If you’re part of a dual-income family, and feeling vulnerable because you depend on your child’s grandparents or your maid to pick your kids up from school, remember that communication is key in your network of caregiving for your child, and you need to be very clear about how the child’s safety is to be priority. Focusing discussions on the child as the main topic rather than your own concerns will make sure grandparents know you bear no ill will, and drive the point through that everybody is working to make sure the child is safe.

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