Title: Protection is better than cure
Date: 06-Mar-2010

Seven-year-old Aishah was at a shopping mall with her parents when all of a sudden they realized the little girl had gone missing. Panic ensues and her parents, together with mall security personnel, frantically search for their daughter. She is nowhere to be found. The police and press are alerted and a nationwide hunt is mobilized. The media carry alerts and photo flashes of the little girl. The incident prompts top government officials and NGOs to meet and re-examine the country’s protection policy.

For a moment, child protection is a hot topic. But as the months pass, Aishah’s parents reluctantly resign themselves to the fact their daughter is gone forever. The furor over the issue eventually dies down and the case of Aishah is forgotten.

The above is a typical example of a case involving the care and protection of children. What could have been done to prevent such incidents from reoccurring? Firstly, we need to be more vigilant, keeping a constant eye on the child. It is a sad but real fact that, today; many parents assume things are safe. When our guard is lowered, we become easy prey to kidnappers. Indeed, parental behaviour is a reflection of society’s view on the protection of children.

Protection of children begins with the parents’ mindsets. We need to realise that nowadays, idnapping is rampant unlike our childhood days spent in the closely-knit kampung or small town. Today, we live in social isolation – neighbours minding their own business – yet out mindset remains unchanged. This alone can expose a child to the danger of kidnapping, abuse, accidents as well as bullying.

Walk past a primary school after school is out and observe. Children waiting to be picked are allowed to run and play along the roa.ds Have neither parents nor authorities considered the many dangers these children are exposed to? When will we ever learn that prevention is always better than cure?

We Malaysians tend to be ‘seasonal’ when it comes to this issue; when a case is reported, the community is in an uproar but as time passes, the indignation diminishes. But we should not wait to take action. Our children are clearly unsafe outside of the home. Parents, members of the community and the authorities must come together to craft and implement child-centred policies at every level. There is much to do but it must start with an awareness programme to remind us of our responsibility to protect children and to be alert at all times.

We need to maintain a ‘noise level’ to keep us aware that children are missing and to ensure the safety of children everywhere. For instance, schools should adopt a system to keep track of its students and to monitor unauthorized persons. In Australia, photographs of missing children are displayed on milk cartons as a public reminder.

Close-circuit cameras, though not nearly as effective as keeping a physical eye on the child, can be useful in public places such as shopping malls, schools and hospitals.

Children should not be left alone for long periods of time, not even with maids. Latchkey kids have become sadly commonplace with maids spending more time with the child than their parents. Reports of child abuse by maids are also many. While they have a role to play, the parents need to exercise caution.

What is the use of material wealth if one’s lifetime is spent in regret? Give your children the protection they deserve. 

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