Fear would envelope any parent with the thought of the dangers that lurk beyond the confines of their homes. We try to teach our kids to be independent yet we can't help but also worry about their safety. The news doesn’t help either - stories of kidnapping and scams can be terrifying, as well as modus operandi narratives, a common one being where kidnappers attempt to infiltrate the household with a planted maid, driver or gardener, then wait for an opportune time to abduct the kid. Some children are kidnapped in malls when parents aren’t watching. Some try a softer approach by first trying to build an acquaintance with the child until his trust is gained, then proceed to lure him away. A young child who is not forewarned properly may be easily swayed towards going away willingly with his kidnappers.
The most common reason for kidnapping a child is to extort money from the parents, but more frightening motives exist: kidnapping for prostitution, selling a child to people looking to adopt, using kids for medical research, using them to beg on the streets as part of an organized syndicate, and the list goes on.
How can we diminish the constant fear? According to Bert Tagamolila, former Assistant Vice President for Security at Ayala Land Inc and currently an executive consultant at security consulting firm ECI, in his almost 40 years of experience in the field, he has observed the behavior of criminals who prey on children, so he advises parents to:
1. Get to know your children and his friends. Know who they are with when they are out of the house. Get the phone numbers of their friends and their friends’ parents. Invite them over at your house for a simple get-together to establish good relations and get to know their family background better.
2. Vet the persons who are entrusted with the care of your children. Make sure that the nanny, driver and other members of your domestic staff are all trustworthy. Always keep a watchful eye. Keep complete records of your domestic staff including updated photos, home addresses, and character references.
Work with your child’s school administration to establish a process of identifying your child’s fetcher, if none is yet in place. The school guards must ensure that your child is fetched by you or someone you assign, upon presentation of a school-issued identification card.
3. Teach your child what he should do when he is approached by a stranger. Parents are always conscious of teaching their child to be polite – which is good – but this makes it easier for strangers to begin a friendly conversation with your child. Tell your child not to give any personal information about himself, at any cost.
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Recently, the rule “Don’t talk to strangers” has been expanded to include people known to you who ask you to do things that are against what your parents teach you, or someone – even a school official - who asks you to do something you feel uncomfortable about. Statistics show that a large number of crimes have been committed by people whom the child knows and trusts.
Emphasize that accepting food from strangers is a no-no, as these may be laced with drugs. Teach your child that nice-looking people can be misleading and turn out to be not nice at all. Looks can be deceiving so it is best not to stereotype people and trust them based on looks. A stranger is still a stranger.
4. Never leave your child in a car, a stroller or an area where you cannot see him at all times. Children, especially young ones, should never be left unattended even for just a minute.