Cases of kidnapping and disappearance of children have been widely discussed over the past few weeks often based on fictitious evidence. Many concerned parents and guardians shared tips on what to do or not in regard to keeping children safe, unfortunately with little or no expertise. As a result we’ve witnessed unfortunate situations where innocent people have been victimised.
This week we revisit child safety with a view to understanding where children are most at risk and what measures can be taken.
Risks at home
If you leave your children alone at home for any period of time, here are some of the most basic measures to be taken:
When at home instruct children to lock the doors from inside. Ensure that you have a lock in place, which can be opened from the outside with a key in case of an emergency.
Children shouldn’t be allowed to open the door even if you are present at home, unless you stand with them (this is automatic reinforcement of the rule).
Children must be instructed who they can and cannot open the door for. You are the one who knows best who you trust around your children. Make sure that you know where they live and you can reach their home in an emergency (domestic help, distant relatives, home tutors, etc).
Also ensure that you have valid contact details for those visitors/regulars who you wish to permit into the home with children present without adult supervision.
Make sure that you know your children’s friends and you can contact their families if the need arises.
Set rules regarding who shouldn’t be allowed in without your permission (even if you are present):
The foremost are strangers — by definition anyone who you cannot verify. Even service providers or courier providers fall into this category. Previously hired /removed staff (it doesn’t matter whether the separation was on good or bad terms).
Regular domestic staff who come at a different time than usually (you may have your maid or cook come at a certain hour but if they come at a different hour make sure you are first made aware before permitting them inside).
Remember that it’s vital that you know how to trace someone and if you can’t, then don’t expect a child to do so.
You should be aware of whoever comes to your home in your absence and you should authorise their presence.
Take a look: Why are so many of our children going missing?
You can install electronic surveillance equipment in your home at key locations that must cover entrances (face of the person clearly visible); areas where the children have access; areas where no one should have access in your absence (work room, storage, bedroom, study, etc).
Clearly identify what is off limits and in case of violation, immediate steps must be taken to penalise the violator.
These systems can be remotely viewed at all times and should be used to check in on children as well as any domestic help present in your absence.
Electronic locks with key pads are also now easily available in the local markets. In case of wrong entries, they can instantly send an alert remotely and can also be programmed to sound an alarm locally.
Your neighbours can play a key role too; therefore, asking them to keep an eye on your place is also helpful. In turn you could do the same for them.
The risks outside
A common theme with locations such as parks, malls, neighbourhood markets and even educational institutions is that they are crowded and lack infrastructure that offers greater vigilance.
This results in increased opportunity for criminals to succeed and hence it becomes imperative for parents and guardians to exercise greater awareness.
When in public spaces, make sure that you are familiar with the place and know where to go and who to reach out to in case of an emergency, such as the reception desk at a mall or the guard at the park entrance.
See: Child kidnapping
Instruct the child where, within these facilities, they are permitted with or without you.
Washrooms in public places are often in far corners and not visible from a distance. If your child needs to use a wash room, accompany the child. In case there are more kids with you, take them along instead of leaving them behind. If you can’t enter the cubicle, wait by the exit or be vigilant in case of multiple exits.
In leisure areas with food stalls, or public spaces with pushcarts, be extra vigilant with children. Be firm on what, where and whom the child can buy from and what they can eat. It is advisable to accompany the child to the hawker.
Take measures to ensure your child’s safety to and from school:
If your child uses contracted transport, make sure you have the details of the driver and vehicle. Check out if the contractor is known to the school. Do you know the parents of other kids who use the same service and have sought feedback?
If the child uses public transport, be aware of whether your child is dropped to a certain point or he goes to it on his own. If this spot is isolated, can you or someone from the household be present when he/she gets on and off the public transport?
You should know whether the public transport drops them at the school door or at a distance. Take the route yourself to understand the vulnerable locations.
If using personal transport, does the school know the driver is authorised? You should also know whether the driver parks close to but at a safe distance from the school entrance.
In case of delays for any reason, make the driver inform you to update the school so that the children are held back until then. Do you know when the driver has picked or dropped the kids and does your driver strictly adhere to safety regulations are some points to consider.
You can also consider installing a safety cam inside the car with remote monitoring.
As a guardian, it is imperative for you to remain vigilant and aware of where the child is at all times. This more often than not cannot be accomplished alone.Therefore finding trustworthy support in the form of people and technology is important.
What is equally important is laying ground rules with the child and reinforcing them by your own behaviour. The simple act of opening and closing the front door yourself even if the child can do so will drive the message that they’re not supposed to when you are not around.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 4th, 2016