Reporting a lost child

In the sec­ond of six ar­ti­cles in a se­ries on child safety, we look at what must be done when a child goes miss­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By LEE MEI LI star2@thes­tar.com.my

WITH so­cial me­dia, spread­ing news has be­come all too easy. We have seen friends shar­ing pho­to­graphs of a miss­ing child on Face­book and our first in­stinct is to hit the “Share It” but­ton, for who wouldn’t want to chip in to help find the child as quickly as pos­si­ble?

That sim­ple act, how­ever, can do more harm than good, says prin­ci­pal as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Royal Malaysia Po­lice’s Sex­ual and Child In­ves­ti­ga­tion depart­ment ACP Hami­dah Yunus.

“When a child goes miss­ing, par­ents should re­frain from spread­ing the news on so­cial me­dia. In miss­ing chil­dren cases, we al­ways have to as­cer­tain whether the el­e­ment of kid­nap­ping is in­volved.

“Shar­ing a photo of the miss­ing child on Face­book could po­ten­tially en­dan­ger the child’s life, if he is in­deed a vic­tim – you never know what the per­pe­tra­tor would do to the child when he finds out that ev­ery­one is hot on his trail.”

If a child is al­legedly miss­ing, the first thing par­ents should do is en­quire about the child’s last known where­abouts from fam­ily, friends and neigh­bours, Hami­dah adds.

“We al­ways ad­vise par­ents to start by look­ing for their child in fre­quently vis­ited places. They should also check with their rel­a­tives and friends and if there’s still no sign of the child, they should then lodge a po­lice re­port. Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion will be­gin and we will in­form our district con­trol cen­tre to share the in­for­ma­tion with all our men on the street.

“Dur­ing this time, we ask only for the par­ents’ full co-oper­a­tion; to pass us any in­for­ma­tion that may con­trib­ute to solv­ing the case.”

Once foul play is ruled out, the po­lice can opt to trig­ger the child kid­nap­ping and miss­ing alert sys­tem, Na­tional Ur­gent Re­sponse (Nur) Alert. The sys­tem aims to spread in­for­ma­tion as fast as pos­si­ble to help trace miss­ing chil­dren un­der 12. Since its launch in 2011, Nur Alert has only been ac­ti­vated for 10 miss­ing-child cases.

“There have been crit­i­cisms as to why the Nur Alert has not been used more of­ten to find a miss­ing child. What needs to be un­der­stood is that we have to tread very care­fully when a child’s life is at stake.

“Just be­cause we have not trig­gered the Nur Alert doesn’t mean that we aren’t al­ready do­ing all that we can to lo­cate a miss­ing child,” Hami­dah re­veals.

When it comes to trig­ger­ing the sys­tem, the fi­nal con­sent al­ways comes from the par­ents. And it is only with their con­sent that the photo of the miss­ing child is al­lowed to be shared with the me­dia and pub­lic.

While photo dis­sem­i­na­tion is un­doubt­edly

Miss­ing: one of the most com­mon ways to go about find­ing miss­ing chil­dren, fam­i­lies should think twice be­fore al­low­ing a photo of their child to go pub­lic, sug­gests pro­gramme co­or­di­na­tor Vi­jaya Baskar of Pro­tect and Save the Chil­dren, a non-profit as­so­ci­a­tion that car­ries out child safety pro­grammes and fo­cuses on the preven­tion, in­ter­ven­tion and treat­ment of child sex­ual abuse.

“Es­pe­cially in cases when a miss­ing child is be­lieved to be a ru­n­away, par­ents should re­frain from hav­ing their child’s pic­ture pub­lished in the me­dia.

“An iden­ti­fy­ing photo can af­fect the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the child and may even lead to peer bul­ly­ing in the long run, as the child is now branded un­der a cer­tain light,” Vi­jaya ex­plains.

Sta­tis­tics pro­vided by Malaysian Crime Preven­tion Foun­da­tion vice-chair­man Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye at a press con­fer­ence on miss­ing per­sons re­cently re­vealed that 45% of the cases in­volved chil­dren be­low 18, with most of them al­legedly driven away by do­mes­tic pres­sure or squab­bles or girls run­ning away with boyfriends.

“It is un­for­tu­nate how miss­ing teens are of­ten branded as run­aways. It is ac­tu­ally dan­ger­ous to have this mind­set as the chil­dren could very well have been ab­ducted or traf­ficked, but no­body is se­ri­ous about look­ing for them. This begs an at­ti­tude change. Any­body be­low 18 is a child and they need to be pro­tected,” Vi­jaya opines.

Once a po­lice re­port has been lodged, par­ents should leave the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the au­thor­i­ties in­stead of par­tic­i­pat­ing in any ac­tiv­ity that may fur­ther com­pro­mise the sit­u­a­tion, says Pro­tect and Save the Chil­dren ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor P. Na­gasayee Malathy.

“As a par­ent, I un­der­stand how it feels for those with miss­ing chil­dren who just want their child to come back to them as soon as pos­si­ble.

“But with­out know­ing the full de­tails, ev­ery lit­tle thing that you do may add more risk to the sit­u­a­tion, as in the case of shar­ing miss­ing chil­dren’s pho­tos on Face­book. We should never re­act when we are un­der a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion.

“It is al­ways bet­ter to go through the proper chan­nel for things like this. All par­ents can do to speed up the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is to keep fol­low­ing up on the case,” she says.

Par­ents can also con­tact Child­line at 15999, a 24/7 con­fi­den­tial helpline cre­ated to serve the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren.

“Child­line has con­tacts with other stake­hold­ers and may also work in­ter­nally with the po­lice and the depart­ment of so­cial af­fairs to as­sist in miss­ing chil­dren cases. Those who do not feel com­fort­able about go­ing to the po­lice can con­sider con­tact­ing Child­line as a start,” Malathy sug­gests.

This Child Safety Aware­ness cam­paign is brought to you by RHB Bank­ing Group, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Star. As part of its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity ini­tia­tive, RHB has been work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Royal Malaysia Po­lice since 2007 on ‘Re­unit­ing Fam­i­lies – Miss­ing Chil­dren’, a pro­gramme that utilises the bank’s ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties as an al­ter­na­tive chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion and lo­cate miss­ing chil­dren. To date, RHB has as­sisted in four cases of miss­ing chil­dren.

Two miss­ing chil­dren cases that went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia ... Nayati Moodliar was found safe af­ter six days, but Wil­liam yau (in­set) met a tragic end.

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