How to prevent another Hong Kong child from being kidnapped

A three-year-old Hong Kong boy was rescued by police on Thursday just 12 hours after he was kidnapped at a shopping centre and stuffed into a suitcase in a bid to get a ransom payment of cryptocurrency worth HK$5.1 million (US$660,000).

Two women were detained in connection with the incident after the boy was found in a flat near the TKO Plaza shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O, where he was snatched.

The boy was taken to hospital for a medical examination and was found not to have suffered any injuries, but the case has raised concerns about the safety of children in the city.

The Post finds out what can be done to prevent another child from suffering the same ordeal.

1. What can parents do?

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, an ex-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights and a former member of the Commission on Children, warned parents to be extra vigilant when with children in public places.

She also reminded parents to choose people to look after their children carefully.

Lui said they had to be experienced, responsible and meticulous, and parents had to communicate their requirements clearly.

“Do not assume what you expect could be done by the carer,” she added.

Lui said that a carer’s ideas on how to look after children might be different.

“The carer might think what they are doing would be what the parents wanted,” she added.

Lui agreed that attaching tracking devices to children could potentially be useful if they got lost.

“Prevention is better than cure, of course, but such devices could help people to check their location in real-time and could send help right away,” she said.

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Images from CCTV at the TKO Plaza shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O were used to help track down the alleged kidnappers of a boy. Photo: Handout

2. What can schools and kindergartens do?

Nancy Lam Chui-ling, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and also a kindergarten principal, said teachers reminded youngsters not to talk to strangers and taught them to get help – such as calling 999 – if they ever felt unsafe.

“We also have a card, for when if parents can’t pick up their children in time, they could pass it on to a friend,” Lam said.

“But if we haven’t seen the person before, we would also warn the parents that in order to protect their child’s safety, whoever is picking up the child will have to present their Hong Kong ID.”

She said her school would request a consent form from parents for the measure and that there were CCTV cameras installed in the strategic locations to monitor the campus.

3. What can the government do?

Sai Kung district councillor Christine Fong Kwok-shan said police solved the case through the use of CCTV footage to track the kidnappers from the shopping centre to the parks and squares was solid proof of the importance of camera coverage.

She backed the government’s decision to set up 11 new CCTV cameras in the Tseung Kwan O area by the fourth quarter of the year, although it was “a little late”.

4. How should people deal with kidnapping cases?

Steve Vickers, a city-based security consultant, said he would advise the public to discreetly report kidnap cases to police and avoid high-profile media exposure because the attention that would attract could complicate cases.

“If it’s an emergency, meaning someone’s been kidnapped right in front of you, then you don’t have much of a choice but to call 999,” Vickers added.

“But if it’s already happened, find someone in the police and report it discreetly and keep it very confidential.”

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TKO Plaza, where a three-year-old boy was snatched by kidnappers earlier this week. Photo: Jelly Tse

5. Cryptocurrency versus hard cash?

Vickers said it would be “stupid” for kidnappers to think cryptocurrency was a safer bet and harder to trace because, although it could be, blockchain – the system behind it – was “quite transparent”.

“So you could assume once you’ve paid it and once the victim is released that there’s going to be some trouble,” he added.

Is circulating images of kidnaps online helpful?

“[Circulating images of kidnapping online] puts the victim at terrible risk,” Vickers warned.

“It is highly dangerous and highly irresponsible of people.”

He added that use of images made the victim more exposed and could trigger panic in the kidnappers and cause a response such as “throwing the baby into the water”.

Vickers said it was impossible to ban people from posting on social media, but “sensible people would know this is something serious” and should be reported to police instead.

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