The recent spate of rumoured near-abductions have led to worry among the parenting community here in Singapore. However, instead of giving in to blind panic and finger-pointing, take them as a reminder to you, the parent, to be more alert and vigilant when out with your child. Winston Tay, creator of Blogfathers.sg, shares situations where parents should take extra care when gallivanting about with their children.
Shopping centres have 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 security team, working in tandem with the police, took 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 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.
While letting your child explore inside a mall or building, it is best to ensure that he or she does not stray too far from you. A safe gauge would be within two and five feet of where you are, or within arm’s reach for younger ones.
Teach your child to return when you call. When a 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 a game of Catch 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. However, busy ones like the famous Geylang Serai Hari Raya night bazaars do have police officers guarding the streets.
In places like these, parents should carry their child in their arms if they are able, or keep young children’s hands held tightly, 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.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has policies that ensure the safety of schoolchildren in and around the school compound. These include having security guards posted at entrances to record the number plates of vehicles entering or leaving the school, as well as parent volunteers who 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 child care centre.
School transport operators are also tasked to keep a look out 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 communication with the school bus driver, and let him know to update you if he 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.
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.
Here you can practice watching your kids like a hawk (and become very good at it); and watch out for strangers who interact with your child. However, the more probable purpose would be for you to intervene if your child gets into a scuffle with other children over the swing, or crashes into other kids on the slide. Hey, it happens. A lot.
There are plenty of family-oriented activities happening weekly in Singapore, indoors and out. Stick to the advice given for taking care of your child in pasar malams and flea markets, but do your homework as well. 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, for example, 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. You can also teach your child to go to the information counter and ask for help if he or she is lost.
Losing a 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 little ones, 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 for your family is 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 foreign domestic worker to pick your kids up from school, remember that communication is key in your network of caregiving for your child. You need to be very clear about how your 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 whom they love is safe.
Winston Tay is dad to Xander, aged three. He is also the owner of Blogfathers.sg, a site dedicated to Singaporean daddy bloggers and active local fathers.
Please note that this article is based on research garnered from online sources and the advice provided may not cover all situations.