EXCLUSIVE: KUALA LUMPUR: On average, four children go missing every day in the country.
From January to June this year, there were 723 missing children cases in 181 days, according to police statistics.
And of these, more than half – 427 cases – were reportedly runaways seeking a taste of freedom.
Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan of the Royal Malaysian Police Sexual, Women and Child Investigation (D11) division said many teenage runaways are girls at that “very dangerous age”, between 13 and 15.
Those in this category are at high risk of falling victim to rape, she told The Star in a joint interview with Deputy Supt E. Saroja.
Driven by physiological, personality and peer factors, these girls leave their homes in pursuit of “freedom”, normally lured by friends whom they contact via social media.
“Their personality evolves when they get to secondary school and physiologically, they go through hormonal changes and start to have libido,” ACP Ong said.
“At that age, they want to have their own identity and opinion. They feel that they want to be themselves.”
Of the cases in the first half of this year, 447 were girls and 276 boys.
Of the total, 345 have been found while 378 are still missing.
Social media normally has a role in these cases, ACP Ong said.
“They meet guys and contact them via apps such as Facebook and WeChat,” she said, adding that one child as young as eight used WeChat to exchange racy photos with men.
ACP Ong said a child’s behaviour is related to the family system.
“Parents, when you give your child a gadget, monitor them.
“Put laptops or desktops in the living room so the child knows that at any time, there is somebody supervising,” she said.
DSP Saroja said that although parents may be busy with work, they need to know who their children befriend.
“When their kids go missing, many parents we met with said they had no idea who their children’s friends are or where they like to go. This should not be the case,” she said.
The second biggest reason behind missing children is “following lovers” at 93 cases, and “following friends” at 69 cases.
ACP Ong described a recent case in Cheras where two boys aged six and seven left home and worked at a car wash in Kajang for a week.
“The parents lodged a police report but did not bother looking for them.
“The children told us they wanted to experience life outside. They came home after realising how hard it is out there.
“Children nowadays mature very fast,” she said.
ACP Ong said that in the worst-case scenario when a child is missing, parents should file a police report before making the news viral.
“If there is a possibility of kidnapping, don’t blast (it out), lodge a police report first.
“Once you make it viral, the kidnappers will realise it is dangerous to contact the family and might give up and kill the child,” she said.
It may seem as if the number of missing children is large but in fact, ACP Ong said, there are cases where they returned and their parents failed to update the police.
Sometimes, police would only find out the children had returned home during a periodic investigation review.
“Parents have a social responsibility to report to the police once their children return,” she said.
Within 24 hours of a report being filed after a child goes missing, the Portal Kanak-kanak Hilang (https://knk2hilang.rmp.gov.my/) – a police website that posts information on missing children – will be automatically updated with the details.
Realising the potential of social media in recovering missing children, the police partnered with Facebook in November to send National Urgent Response (NUR) Alerts to its social media community to help find them.
NUR Alerts are only activated in cases of missing children where there is no foul play or suspected kidnapping involved, and specifically for children under 12.
NUR Alerts was set up in 2007 and has been sending out alerts through various channels such as the media, hotels and bank ATMs.
ACP Ong gave an assurance that police will exhaust all avenues when it comes to tracking down missing children.
Until a missing child is found, she said, they will not close the case and will review it periodically.
From 2012 to June this year, there have been 482 cases of children under 12 going missing. Of this number, seven are still missing.
“D11 officers in their respective states will review such cases.
“The file of a boy who went missing more than 20 years ago is still open. Until they are found, their case will never be closed,” ACP Ong said.
She was referring to Tin Song Sheng, who went missing on Jan 12, 1996, at the age of seven.
He is believed to have been abducted from SRJK(C) Taman Rashna in Klang, and was last seen leaving the school compound with a woman.