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June 13, 2021

Opinion: Tougher laws needed to combat kidnapping

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By Adelaide Sirox Kari

Kidnapping, daylight abduction and missing  persons cases… things never seen before are happening one too many times in a short period in the Port Moresby. In a month,  eight girls under the age of 18 were reported missing at Port Moresby local police station.

My EMTV colleague Theckla Gunga  has been checking each suburban police station, calling the parents of the missing child, cross checking if they had been found. Most parents are not calling into the police station to notify police  that there child has been found.

At one point, parents ended up handing in copies of official missing reports they filled with a picture of the missing child at EMTV head office.  One day we received three missing children reports. Parents were  to get information of the missing child out, with the newspapers running stories each day of a kidnapping event involving teenagers.  While discussing the kidnapping cases,  a fellow radio journalist said she was following a story of two  high school girls who had been being dragged into a vehicle while another student watched helplessly and ran for help.

These stories are  real and taking place in neighborhoods.  Social media went into frenzy as people couldn’t understand why and how it could be possible for such cases to happen in a short period of time.

Negative public response  

The first thing I found discouraging while helping my colleague with the story was the amount of negativity that came when  a female in her late teens went  missing. Our social media post on EMTV Online had people saying “check the boyfriends house” or she probably ran off with a man and people openly joked back and forth. I told my colleague to ignore the comments and get to the bottom of why children and teenage girls were all of a sudden being targeted.

For the benefit of the reader,  in two cases,  the girls were with their boyfriend. But that didn’t explain why children and the other teenage girls were still missing. The fact is young girls were being targeted and dragged into vehicles in broad daylight and in public areas and nothing was being done. I felt nothing was being done because of the common mentality that they “probably know her” and “she did something wrong.” I mean,  why else would people just watch a girl scream and try to get out of a vehicle without doing anything? Even a slight attempt to stop the vehicle or rush to a police station and report the matter would help.

Weeks following media reports, girls were being told to take extra precaution and carry a weapon. At one point,  my twitter feed had women in Port Moresby retweeting pictures of what weapons they were concealing. One had a screw driver she always carried  around. My thought was “Seriously has it come to this? We have to now literally be on standby for anything to happen! This isn’t living.  This is survival camp 101 Pom City”

The certain mentality of the public on how to respond to a crime has seemed to fail how we safeguard our children, girls, women and men. It is a mindset that needs to be changed with the help of the police. There has to be awareness on what you can do as citizen when a crime is being committed in front of you. Logically,  I would say stop  the vehicle and try to citizen arrest those involved until police arrive.  In the case of kidnapping,  when seeing a missing child, approach the individual holding the child and take them to the police station.

The public needs to be aware of what they can do or what they should do if they witness or spot a missing child.

The police protocol

The Police play a key role in solving  the kidnapping and missing people cases. These cases are  treated differently and apparently have their own statistics. Either way the approach by RPNGC to be honest is concerning on so many levels.

Apparently,  the standard protocol is that you report your child missing or kidnapped, after 48 hours and if the victim does not return. Then  it is considered an official  case.

In one case a missing teenage girl showed up at a suburban police station in the early hours of the morning after being reported missing for 11 days. She told officers she was with a friend at PNGDF soldier based at Murray Barracks and that after news spread that she was  missing,  they dropped her off at 3am at the Police station.

When we asked what the police had done after that,  they said they had called the girl’s  parents to come get her  and  that the family would find out what happened.  Did they not question why a friend was dropping the girl in the early hours of the morning after 11 days of being missing? Is there a protocol in place?

The last question was put to the Metropolitan Superintendent of NCD Perou N’Draou, he first clarified that each case is taken on board by the officer registering the report. A Missing Person or Kidnap response unit is non-existent hence police follow normal protocol. Australia has a great amount of experience in this area as in Australia, more than 38000 people are reported missing each year. Can the Australian Federal Police posted to PNG at least assist in setting up a protocol or a unit responsible for  dealing with missing persons  and kidnapping cases? This may be a way forward.

How does a child go missing?

In most of the cases  it is children  under the Age of 12 and as young as six  supposedly  returning from school  and never make  it home. I remember two  cases in Gerehu  where children were snatched in the front yard of the house.  While  those are the only cases I had noted,  the other cases in recent weeks are concerning.   This is because  the child was unaccompanied walking home. Let’s be honest, every crime that involves a child happens when  they are unaccompanied by an adult. Apparently,  here in PNG it’s okay to let your child walk home alone after school, once he or she understands how to cross a road and knows the  route home.

Lazy parenting is also to blame why kids are going missing.  A drastic change needs to take place with public schools and children under the age 18 should be picked up by parents. Parents cannot object to  this because you as a parent decided to bring a child into this world and you are responsible for the childs welfare.

 What the government should do

It’s time we start passing tougher child welfare laws in Parliament.  A good place to start  is to not allow  a child aged between three and 18  to  leave the school premises without adult supervision.  Negligence by parents should be a crime  as the state ends up footing the bill when it comes to police investigation and prosecution of perpetrators. There should be a fine in-place to warn parents to not neglect their responsibility.

The last I spoke with NCD Metropolitan Superintendent,  the city police force were  facing fuel shortages. While he didn’t say it out loud,  it was quiet obvious the police force is underfunded. If Police don’t have fuel, how in the world are they supposed to do any investigation?  Around the same time,  cases of missing children where happening  more  frequently. There was a long line of police vehicles at the fuel depot at Gordons.

The Police Minister needs to step up and support the police in every way possible.  Leave investigations to the police and start looking for partners that can assist in training and funding of Police units to minimise crimes.

Change of mindset

We need a wholesome approach to the current situation starting with parents being more responsible with their children.   The public must start understanding how they should react if they witness a crime. Actions needs to be taken  to ensure that such cases of kidnapping and missing people don’t provide the environment for the global epidemic of human trafficking to take root  in PNG.

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