In the sixth article in our series on child safety, we write about how the trauma of losing a child takes its toll on families.
J. Premalatha was a healthy 40-year-old mother who took good care of her family. But when her 16-year-old son Jethendran went missing over a year ago, her world literally fell apart. She passed away three months ago, unable to bear the trauma of losing her son.
She was the last one to speak to him. Jethendran had called to say he was taking a taxi home after leaving his gymnasium one rainy afternoon, but he never made it, and has not been seen since Jan 25 last year. His family had quickly lodged a police report and his case was highlighted in the newspapers and on social media.
Unfortunately, Jethendran was quickly branded a runaway by the media, which added to the family’s grief and trauma. The late Premalatha had firmly dismissed that theory. She had said that Jethendran was her “best friend” and would never run away from home with a girlfriend.
The anxiety over her son’s whereabouts took a terrible toll on Premalatha. She was hospitalised constantly due to stress, depression and even bouts of heart failure before she passed away. Her death was another loss her family had had to cope with.
“It is very sad that my sister (Premalatha), who has been a healthy and steady woman all this while, couldn’t cope with the trauma. Jethendran is a good boy. He was really attached to his mother. He would never run away from home,” said Jethendran’s uncle, Jay Chandran, 43, a food and beverage manager.
A year on, the search is still on for Jethendran – at least for his family – who is still praying for his safe return. His father, R. Mahathevan, 49, a mechanic, reportedly stopped work for a year, travelling all over the country and even to Thailand to look for his son. Jay has yet to come to terms with his nephew’s disappearance, finding it difficult to accept that Jethendran had simply vanished in broad daylight.
Based on closed-circuit television camera footage, Jethendran was last seen waiting along a pavement by the gym, where he had purportedly engaged in a conversation with an unidentified woman. The police have since ruled out kidnapping.
“Until now, there has been no clue as to the boy’s whereabouts. Everyone just tells us that they’re sorry and that he will come back. We’ve even hired a private investigator to continue with the search but nothing has turned up yet. For a lot of people, the case has turned cold. But for us, we’re still holding on to the hope that we will eventually find him,” said Jay.
The police have also not given up on Jethendran’s case.
Missing children cases are reviewed on a year-to-year basis and the police never stop looking for a missing child, even if the child has been missing for years, stressed Royal Malaysia Police’s Sexual and Child Investigation department head ACP Hamidah Yunus. However, Hamidah advises against offering monetary rewards for the return of a missing child.
“We do not encourage families to give out rewards as it can create a lot of false alarms and add more distress to the situation. There are those who may also further abuse the situation – people who may hold on to a child in hopes of reaping some quick cash from the reward,” she adds.
Programme co-ordinator Vijaya Baskar of Protect and Save the Children discourages branding missing teens as runaways. Protect and Save the Children is a non-profit association that carries out child safety programmes and focuses on the prevention, intervention and treatment of child sexual abuse.
“Without proof, it is highly irresponsible to claim that a missing teen is a runaway as the term can cause much grief and hurt for the family. Anybody below 18 is considered a child and it is dangerous to have the runaway mindset as the teen in question could very well have been abducted or trafficked, but nobody is out there looking for them,” he says.
Jay advised adults to keep better watch of their children. “We’re filled with sorrow whenever we hear of missing children cases in the news. Children are still going missing and you have people expressing their regrets but no one can give clear answers as to what happened to them.
“Prevention is always better than cure. No family needs to feel what we’ve already gone through; the suffering is just too great. To parents, I would like to say: please take care of your children, even if they seem old enough to take care of themselves. Trust no one but yourself to look after them,” he says.
Six years ago, Sharlinie Mohd Nashar went missing while at a playground about 200m from her house in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The last known lead for the missing girl was in August 2008, when a 13-year-old girl saw a picture of Sharlinie in the van she was held captive in, before she escaped, in what is believed to be an attempt at kidnapping.
It was reported that five men in a van tried to abduct the Form One student while she was waiting at a bus stop near Sungai Kapar Indah in Klang, Selangor. The girl claimed that besides seeing Sharlinie’s photograph in the van, there were also pictures of other young girls, some with faces marked with an X.
When contacted by The Star last December, Sharlinie’s mother, Suraya Ahmad, said that losing her daughter has made her all the more vigilant with her three other children. “I hope all parents know that the safety of their children comes first,” she said.
> This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.