In the fifth of six articles on child safety, families who have lost, and then found their children, share their experiences.
THE trauma of being abducted in a car-jacking has diminished over the years, but *Kelly’s guard is always up when she is on the street.
Kelly is now in her early 20s and working, but the experience of being abducted when she was seven has taught her to not take her safety for granted.
On that fateful afternoon, Kelly was asleep in the car when her driver stepped out to run an errand.
“My family had hired an acquaintance who is a taxi driver to pick me up and drop me home from school every day. I called him ‘Uncle’. His service was like that of a school van, and together with another schoolmate, we would wait for his pick-up every day.
“On that day, after my schoolmate and I had got into the car, Uncle told us that he would be gone for just a moment to buy some food nearby. He then left the two of us in the car with the engine running,” recalled Kelly.
The afternoon sun was making Kelly drowsy, and she fell asleep within minutes.
“When I woke up, the car was already moving and beside me was this stranger who looked like a crazy person.”
The unidentified man, in his 20s, wore dirt-stained clothes and was barefoot. He just drove and drove without looking at Kelly or saying a word, not even when she started crying.
“I was really scared. I didn’t know what to do, so I just started crying. I thought my schoolmate was still in the back seat but when I checked, I only saw her bag. I later found out that she had left the car after seeing the stranger get in. It hit me then that I was all alone with a stranger in the car, driving on to God knows where.”
The man, as it turned out, wasn’t of sound mind. He kept driving in circles.
“Looking back, I realised that the car doors weren’t locked. I guess I could’ve escaped if I had wanted to, but I was too young to know any better. I just kept crying throughout the whole ordeal,” recounted Kelly.
In the meantime, the taxi driver had lodged a police report and alerted Kelly’s parents.
Luckily after three traumatic hours, a policewoman stopped the car and Kelly was taken to the police station to wait for her parents.
“To me, the nightmare still hadn’t ended. I was still surrounded by strangers. The policemen were really nice to me, but I was still too scared to accept any food or water from them.”
It was an hour later before Kelly’s mother arrived at the station.
“When I saw my mum, I just screamed and ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. To be surrounded by the people you love; to just feel safe in their arms — there’s just no words to describe that feeling,” shared Kelly.
At home, nobody was allowed to bring up the incident, which Kelly felt was for the better. While she was often jumpy after that, Kelly said the trauma from the incident subsided with time.
Her family became more vigilant, but they made sure Kelly’s routine was not disrupted and things went back to normal.
“I thank God every day that I wasn’t physically or emotionally harmed. My family learned the hard way – that adults should never leave children unsupervised at any time.
“Till today, my mum blames herself for what happened, but she shouldn’t. What I learned from the incident was that sometimes bad things happen and you can’t do anything about it. You just have to move on after that and believe that there is still good in the world.”
According to Royal Malaysia Police’s (RMP) Sexual and Child Investigation department ACP Hamidah Yunus, parents should never leave their children unattended, even for a moment.
“There have been many cases when parents were so engrossed in their own activities that they forget the risk of leaving their children alone somewhere. According to the Child’s Act, these parents can be fined for their negligence and jailed for up to two years for endangering a child’s life,” she said.
Bobbie Ariff had merely taken her eyes off her son for a minute when the five-year-old disappeared. The family was leaving a crowded makeshift fast food outlet at a fun fair in Port Dickson when she realised her son was missing.
“I looked around at all the adults who were with us and none of them were holding my child. I freaked out almost immediately,” Bobbie, now in her 50s, recalled.
During the panic that ensued, Bobbie and her husband managed to stay calm and organised family and friends to look after the other children while the rest branched out in search of their missing child.
“It was crowded and noisy; there were children running around and concert music was blaring in the background. I was in tears and was just basically looking everywhere.
“I actually saw two policemen who were doing their rounds and ran up to them frantically asking for their help.
“My mind was literally blank. When you’re in that situation, you can’t think. Suddenly every little boy was wearing the same coloured T-shirt as my child. ,” shared Bobbie, a freelance translator.
It took half an hour of frantic searching before Bobbie and her husband spotted their boy standing by the fence around the fairground’s amusement rides.
“Aizam was just standing there staring at the ride; my husband and I spotted him at the same time from two different corners and we just ran towards him and hugged him,” Bobbie said.
“The whole ordeal was only half an hour, but it felt like the longest half an hour of my life. I learned that you can never, ever let your guard down even for one second when it comes to watching over your children.
“As parents, your children are your sole responsibility; no one else’s. Aizam is now 24, but talking about it still gives me goosebumps.”
The onus is also on parents to teach children they should never walk off without adult supervision, says homemaker Nik Yasmin Dianara Kamil, the founder and president of the Child Safety Awareness (CSA) group on Facebook, formed in 2012 out of concern for the safety of children.
“Parents must make it a point to talk to their children about personal safety. Keep reminding them over and over so that they know to ask for your permission before going off on their own, and are aware that they should never follow strangers or accept anything from them.
“Parents should keep an eye out for their children at all times, especially in crowded areas. I’ve seen a lot of families who allow their children to roam free in shopping malls – they probably think that nothing bad will happen to them, but why take chances?”
* Not her real name.
>This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.