(File pix) People engrossed in shopping at a mall in Kuala Lumpur. When parents take their eyes off their child for a moment, he could be gone the next. Pix by Salhani Ibrahim

I WAS shopping at a popular mall in Kuala Lumpur recently when I heard an announcement on a missing child.

According to the announcement, the child, who was found wandering alone, looked about 3 years old. The lady on the public address system was describing his physical features and appearance in hopes that his parents would collect him at the information counter.

This was not the first time I had encountered something like this.

Some weeks back, I was about to walk into a hypermarket when I noticed a guard, a foreigner, carrying a local-looking child. He told the lady manning the information counter that the child was crying alone.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked them what was going on. In broken Bahasa Malaysia, the guard said the poor girl had been crying non-stop in the toys’ section and her parents were nowhere in sight.

He, who looked visibly upset, brought her to the information counter so that an announcement could be made to find her parents. All of us shook our heads in displeasure and exasperation at her parents’ lack of responsibility before I walked away. Moments later, I heard the announcement on the PA system.

Honestly, I am disappointed at how some parents can be so careless in watching over their children. We are not living in a world where nothing untoward would happen to an unsupervised child. We are not living among people who would never hurt a child if given the opportunity. We are not living in a time when a child can be left alone without worry.

Every day, we hear reports of kidnapping, rape, abuse and murders of children. Are these reports not enough to make one afraid of neglecting their child in public places?

How is it possible that some parents do not care if their child is in danger when they leave them on their own? Opportunists are everywhere.

Perhaps you were too caught up in your search for the perfect dress for the company dinner next week, or perhaps you were too busy being excited about the 50 per cent sale in your favourite store. When you take your eyes off your child for one moment, he could be gone the next.

I am not making this up.

These children end up either being kidnapped, tortured or killed by criminals. Sometimes, they are sold to syndicates overseas where their limbs would be chopped off and the children made beggars. These things happen too often and we have read too many reports over the years.

We talk of giving our children education and knowledge so they could grow into responsible adults, but how will that happen if, as parents, we fail to protect them until they are able to take care of themselves?

There is no excuse of “forgetting” or “losing” your child when you are out and about.

It is not difficult to discuss an arrangement with your spouse to take turns keeping an eye on your child. Heck, put a leash on them if need be. At least it is better than losing your child forever and having to live with that regret till the day you die.

Having a child is not about procreating and having a smaller version of you running around. It is about ensuring the safety of your child, especially outside the comfort of your home.

It is high time parents understood this and learnt to be more responsible when dealing with their child’s wellbeing.

If you misplace your phone, you can always buy another. If you miss a sale, there will always be another, too.

However, if you lose your child, you will never be able to live with yourself, and that regret will slowly kill you.

Ashley Greig, a lecturer at Sunway College, is a Malaysian-born Eurasian with Scottish/Japanese/Indian lineage. She believes in a tomorrow where there is no racism and hatred.

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