Monday January 28, 2013
Beware of lurking predators
One Man's Meat
By PHILIP GOLINGAI
Kidnappers are out there waiting to grab your child at the first opportunity. Child activist Hartini Zainuddin has a list of horror stories of children being abducted when parents take their eyes off their kids.
WHEN Hartini Zainudin is with her children in a public space, such as a supermarket, she always makes sure she’s holding her four-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son’s hand. “And I will never take my eyes off them,” said the child activist.
“I’m also mentally prepared to scream and hold on to them (as they’re within arm’s length) if someone tries to grab them.”
Playing the devil’s advocate, I asked: “Why are you so paranoid?”
“Because of my experience interviewing parents of missing children who have been kidnapped and returned, missing children who have never been found and missing children who turned up dead,” she said.
“You don’t know whether someone is watching. I know there are bad people like paedophiles and kidnappers who are in shopping malls waiting for an opportunity. I know this as I’m in child protection.
“If you take your eyes off your child for a second, your life can change forever. That is how fast they move.”
Since the disappearance of William Yau Zhen Zhong in Putra Heights, Selangor, on Jan 16, I had been thinking about what horrible things that could have happened to the six-year-old boy.
It was a terrifying thought that I could not even imagine what his parents were going through.
I drove to Putra Heights to understand how he had gone missing in the 10 minutes his parents had left him with his siblings in the car.
Two days before William’s body was found on Thursday, I met Hartini to get an insight on why children go missing.
She tells me an urban legend.
In a supermarket, a father momentarily lets go of his child’s hand to pick mangoes. He turns around and his six-year-old daughter is missing.
The quick-thinking dad rushes to a female toilet with some security guards. They break a door open and they see a woman with the child. His daughter’s long hair is cut and she’s wearing a cap.
“The urban legend is true,” Hartini whispered.
“That is how fast they can take your kid and change her into a boy. It can be done in less than 10 minutes. For a baby even less time.”
Nothing a child abduction syndicate, she added, did was random – they knew where the toilets and exits were.
“The only thing random is the victim,” she said, adding that unless it was a kidnapping for ransom.
Then, she tells me a true story.
A 30-something mother is holding tightly to her four-year-old and two-year-old sons. She lets go of the older boy as she needs to remove the toddler’s cardigan.
In less than two minutes, she turns her back and her older son is missing. She sees a woman walking away with him towards a waiting car.
The boy does not realise that the hand he is holding is not his mother’s. The mother screams and the stranger stops and apologises, saying she has made a mistake.
She tells me another horror story.
A seven-year-old boy, walking two blocks from his home to Pusat Aktiviti Kanak Kanak Chow Kit (a child care centre run by Hartini) in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, is lured by a pakcik with sweets and toys to follow him to a hotel.
In the hotel room, there are two other men and they sexually abuse the boy and release him three days later.
“The boy is lucky (he was not killed) but he had many psychological problems after that,” said the woman who has so many horror stories about missing children.
“Why do children go missing?” I asked.
“It happens everywhere because there are horrible people who want to make money from this,” Hartini said.
“There is a huge demand for babies and children, whether for commercial (baby selling, adoption, organ harvesting or begging syndicates) reasons or sexual exploitation (child pornography or prostitution),” she said.
Some parents are careless, according to Hartini. “You can see them drinking while their kids run around the restaurant unsupervised,” she said.
“I tell my friends to always keep an eye on their children even if they think that the maid is looking after them in a supermarket or jungle gym.”
Many parents know there are dangers lurking out there, according to Hartini. But they let their guard down when they are at places which they think are safe, such as shopping malls, supermarkets or neighbourhood playgrounds.
For example, a parent will be pulling a shopping cart with her baby on it. The mother’s back is facing the cart and she is busy talking on the phone.
“Never turn your back on your child. They can come and take the child away,” Hartini warned.
“You have to be vigilant because you are the parent.”