Keep the next potential kidnapper at bay
Within a span of a fortnight, three sensational kidnap cases hit the headlines in Tamil Nadu. In all three cases, school children - aged between 7 and 13 - were the target. While the victims in two cases were rescued unharmed, the third incident claimed the lives of two children, with the kidnapper raping 10-year-old Muskin before pushing her and her 7-year-old brother, Ritish, into a canal. Ten days later, on November 9, police shot dead the kidnapper in an alleged encounter near Coimbatore.
The back-to-back kidnapping incidents have raised concern about the safety of children in metros. It has also created awareness on measures that need to be adopted to prevent such incidents in future.
(L) Mohanraj (in blue check shirt), who killed two children he had kidnapped, was killed in a police encounter. (R) 14-year-old Keerthivasan was released after his family paid a ransom of Rs.1 crore to the kidnappers, who were subsequently arrested
Additional commissioner of police, law and order, Chennai, Shakeel Akhter, suggested that schools install surveillance cameras at their entrances, as a safety measure to prevent kidnapping incidents. While it is definitely a good idea, more needs to be done.
Listed below are certain facts that every parent of school going children needs to be aware of:
• Kidnapping is generally NOT a crime committed in a sudden burst of anger or impulse, because it needs elaborate planning of logistics.
• It pre-supposes that the criminal should be reasonably familiar with the victim's universe.
• In kidnap crimes, the police are at a disadvantage, since the victim's family is generally reluctant to co-operate.
• Affluent parents should have secure procedures for recruitment and monitoring of staff - drivers, domestic help etc.
• This will include identification and address proofs, referrals, and retaining photographs of staff.
• In extreme cases, even a background check by a private detective agency can be done.
• Security should be upped if there are reasonable grounds for caution – if you have, for instance, a disgruntled sacked staff.
• The child should be taught at the earliest to use the phone and tell the parents' names & address.
• Any change in the behaviour or attitude of the child should be probed and the cause of the child’s discomfort ascertained.
• The child should be taught the safety protocols of dealing with strangers or recognizing deviant behaviour of known persons.
• Keep an eye on the online activity of the child
• Impart self-defence training for the child
Schools cannot shirk their responsibility in ensuring the safety of children. The following is a check-list of safety measures to be adopted by schools. It is up to the parents to ensure that schools implement these measures.
• Dropping & pickup of students to be monitored by a school staffer at the gate and if possible, as the additional commissioner of police, Chennai, suggested, with CCTV cameras.
• Identification tags can be provided to drivers or whoever comes to pick up the child, which could be verified by school security.
• Schools need to devise a system to detect unannounced absence of a student and inform the child’s parents ASAP.
• Conduct safety awareness programs to educate students & parents on preventive methods.
• Schools should have an escalation procedure in place, to prevent chaos and confusion during a crisis. This saves precious time.
• Impart self-defence classes to the students, like KRAV-MAGA which does NOT depend on Strength or Fitness – it can be useful for a small defendant against a bigger aggressor.
Last but not the least, parents need to take their children into confidence and warn them about potential kidnappers and train them to detect suspicious behaviour of known or unknown people around them. As Shakeel Akhter observed, in both the recent kidnap cases in Chennai, the abductors were known to the child and their family.
The writer is a Krav Maga instructor based in Chennai. (According to him, Krav Maga is a practical self-defense art which prepares you in a short duration for street reality – where there are NO rules.)