Sunday February 10, 2013
Keep your child safe
By Dr MARY JOSEPH MARRET, Datuk AKHBAR SATAR and Datuk Dr ZULKIFLI ISMAIL
Find out how you can keep your child safe from danger outside the home.
PARENTS always want the best for their children. Many spend a great deal to make sure that their children receive the right nutrition, get the best possible education, and are given the appropriate medical care and treatment when they fall ill.
Unfortunately, many also do not realise that they need to give equal importance and attention to their child’s safety.
More children suffer harm because of trauma and injury than from sickness and disease. Many of these injuries are preventable. There are several factors which make children prone to injury and danger.
Children like to explore, to try new things, to play and to make friends. However, they may not have enough knowledge and understanding to recognise danger. They do not have the maturity to look at a situation from different angles and exercise good judgement. When they are having fun, they may easily get distracted and may not react quickly enough to sudden unexpected danger.
Their size also makes them almost invisible in crowds.
The environment outside the home has many potential hazards for children – drains, traffic, ponds or rivers, or even people.
There is no substitute for good supervision. Young children should be closely supervised by their parents or placed in the care of other responsible adults when their parents are unable to directly supervise them, eg when they go to work.
As children become older, parents should begin to train them by explaining safety rules. They should also set a good example to their children by following these rules.
When they accompany their children on walks and outings, they should point out potential hazards and remind their children about safety rules so that they become familiar and are part of their regular routine.
Only when parents have observed their child’s behaviour and are confident that they are sensible and mature enough should they be allowed out on their own. For most children, this would be by the age of 12 years, but it depends on the understanding and maturity of the individual child.
Venturing into the world
As your child reaches school-going age, he or she will start to have more freedom and opportunities to venture outside the home. However, some of the more serious dangers to children under the age of 12 lurk outside the home, including strangers who may lack good intentions.
Although it is impossible to protect your child from every danger he or she can possibly encounter outdoors, you can equip your child with some basic safety rules and precautions. Teach your child to be safe when venturing outside the home.
Walking along the road
Imagine not being able to judge how fast a vehicle is approaching or where it is coming from. That’s the experience of children under 10 years each time they step onto a road. And yet, 91% of Malaysian parents do not even escort their young children to and from school.
Don’t take your child’s safety for granted. Always accompany him when walking on the road, even for very short walks. Hold his hand at all times and let him walk on the inner side of the road. Do this until he is more than 10 years old and is familiar with the traffic rules below:
1. Walk with your child to find the safest path. Look for the most direct route with the minimum number of crossings and highways and accompany your child several times in order to assess the route’s safety, and to discuss safe areas to cross.
2. Take the time to teach your child to:
·Stop at the curb and look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Make sure drivers can see them before crossing in front of them.
·Walk, not run, when crossing the street and only cross at pedestrian crossings such as traffic lights, zebra crossings and pedestrian bridges.
·Walk facing traffic and keep as far to the left as possible if there are no sidewalks.
·Understand and obey traffic signals and signs.
·Do not enter the street from between parked cars or from behind bushes and watch for cars that are turning or backing up.
If you are not around, make sure that your child is accompanied by a trusted adult or a responsible older sibling. Be sure that your children know how to contact you in case of an emergency and carry a written record of emergency contact numbers at all times.
You should also give them the name of an adult family member they can contact if you are unavailable or ill.
When your children venture out into the world, the general rule for avoiding strangers still apply. It is not possible to keep them safe just by telling them not to talk to strangers as danger does not only come from strangers.
A young child may not be able to reliably distinguish a “stranger” from a “familiar person” or what situations represent “danger”, especially at a very young age. Danger may also come from familiar persons. This is why we must teach them responses according to circumstances or the behaviour of people.
Empower your child to speak up even when someone who is within the friend or family circle does something that makes them uncomfortable or frightened.
As your child grows older and the level of supervision decreases, it is important that your child is conscious of his or her safety when away from home.
Tips for your child
1. Run from danger. Explain to your child that “danger” is when anyone comes too close or tries to grab him. If this happens, tell him to do everything he can to stop the stranger from pulling or dragging him into his or her car. He could drop to the ground, kick, hit, bite, and scream to attract the attention of others around.
2. Be wary of strangers. Advise your child to be careful about people who approach him with gifts, candies or other items. He should be reminded to never walk off with a stranger no matter what the person says or tells him to do. Tell your child to run quickly to a safe place if he is approached by anyone who makes him uncomfortable.
3. Do not follow anyone. Tell your child that they should not follow anyone who comes to pick them up claiming to be your “friend” other than their regular transport without checking with their teacher first.
4. Be aware of his surroundings. If someone is following him, tell him to try and remember the license plate of the stranger’s vehicle and run or immediately tell a trusted adult.
5. Approach the right people for help. In case your child is separated from you at a mall or in public, teach your child not to search for you on his own. Instead, they should head for the nearest help or information booth.
While the safety of children when walking to school or going out alone is of paramount importance, the main fear of parents is largely linked to “stranger danger” and the heinous criminal acts against children (such as kidnapping, abuse, assault, rape and even murder).
Not a day goes by that we don’t read or hear about some horrific crime against a child n TV, radio, newspapers or online websites.
The recent disappearance and murders of a number of Malaysian children over the past few years have become stark reminders that crime knows no race or religion. Crime also takes place when there is an opportunity.
Statistics from Bukit Aman show that from the year 2008 until April 2011, there were 3,223 missing children below the age of 18. According to the police, 1,708 cases were solved.
Although kidnappings are rare, the threat does clearly exist. The problem of paedophiles has also become more visible in recent years.
Protecting our younger generation is the responsibility of all. It is not just the duty of the parents and the authorities but that of the community and society as a whole.
Different roles to play
The protection of a child must start from the home itself. Parents are urged to keep track of their children at all times and also teach them how to respond to potentially dangerous situations.
Your child must learn to act responsibly before he is allowed to leave the home unsupervised. Ask your child what he knows about personal safety and how he will handle situations that are unsafe.
Talk to your children about crimes that you read in the newspaper and discuss with them what went wrong, how that victim could have protected themselves and some options for safety.
Avoid having your children play outside the house after dark, unless there is a parent or another trusted adult supervising.
Never allow young children to use a public restroom by themselves. Remember that most murders and abductions are opportunistic. If children are ever on their own, keep them in pairs. A lone child is a much bigger target for an abductor.
Parents must stop taking things for granted and later blame others for their own carelessness when things go wrong. The saying “It will not happen to me” will not apply all the time.
Our community and society today has become less concerned about the welfare of others. When we live among neighbours who “see but don’t see”, we are always at a disadvantage.
If we see a child struggling to get away from an adult and crying, do we tolerate this because that is not our child or family member and that it is none of our business?
It is because of this civic disengagement that crimes are allowed to happen. It is time for each and everyone to realise that every human being is someone’s child, brother or sister or future parent. Become busybodies and be aware of what is going on around you. Remember that you can prevent a crime against a child.
3. Police and the community
The Malaysian police force and other legal authorities must consider the need to form a special task force for missing children. There is indeed a need to get qualified professionals to be part of this task force in order to curb this serious issue.
In addition, there is a growing consensus that community policing is the best strategy to fight crime in residential neighbourhoods. The emphasis on community relations is reflected in officer training and evaluations.
Service style management stresses community service above law enforcement. The community-oriented policing philosophy is the “identify and rectify” approach to problem-solving. This strategy is based on police community reciprocity – the police and public must cooperate to prevent and solve crimes.
However, community policing has yet been started in Malaysia. We need more professional police officers with relevant qualifications in order to achieve community policing in Malaysia.
4. The media
Apart from reporting on the various criminal acts against children, the media also has an important role in educating society on the right mentality and attitude that we should have in protecting our younger generation.
Programmes, workshops and events on child safety should be widely publicised for the benefit of parents or guardians and children.
If all these parties come together and work hand-in-hand to fight the various crimes against children, there is a higher chance of solving the volume of cases of missing children in Malaysia as well as preventing criminal acts from occurring to our children.
Children’s safety, parent’s priority
Every parent wishes for their children to be constantly safe from harm and danger. A major concern of many parents in allowing their children to roam free and play about is the exposure to various dangers such as accidents and the acts and intentions of other individuals.
One can never be too cautious when the safety of their child is concerned.
The safety of your child at home is not as simple as his safety outside the home. There are several security issues that were not present some years back, which you as parents have to acknowledge today. One main concern is child predators and how best to safeguard your children from these individuals once they step outside the home.
You may have taught your child to stay away from “strangers”, but this concept is often difficult for a child to grasp and it is likely that the perpetrator is someone that your child knows. It is more important to build your child’s confidence and teach him how to respond to potentially dangerous situations, rather than teaching them to look out for a particular type of person.
Every home and school should also teach children about safety and protection measures. As parents, you should take an active interest in your children and listen to them. Teach your children that they can be assertive in order to protect themselves against abduction and exploitation.
And most importantly, make your home a place of trust and support that fulfils your child’s needs.
Together with the authorities and members of the community, you can protect your children by teaching them to be smart, strong, and safe.
Here to help you
In light of the increasing number of criminal acts and violence against children, many organisations have taken the initiative to work together in order to help protect and safeguard our younger generation. Various associations and helplines have been set up to uphold the rights of children in Malaysia.
15999 CHILDLINE – A Helpline Dedicated to Children
Call 15999 / Send them an email on a problem you have at talktous@Childlinemalaysia.org / Email them a question at askaquestion@Childlinemalaysia.org
NUR ALERT - Child Abduction Alert System
In case of emergency, you can contact the police at 03-2031 9999 / 03-2266 3333 or alternatively dial 999.
PDRM Headquarters No – 03-2266 2222.
Protect & Save The Children Association
No. 5, Jalan 7/14,Section 7,
46050, Petaling Jaya,
Telephone: (603) 7957 4344 / 7956 4355
Fax: (603) 7957 4322 / (603) 7957 4322
■ Dr Mary Joseph Marret is a consultant paediatrician; Datuk Akhbar Satar is a criminologist and director of the Institute of Crime & Criminology, Help University; Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail ia President of Asia Pacific Paediatric Association (APPA). This article is a courtesy of Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting Programme. The opinions expressed in the article are the view of the author. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org.