Say 'no' to getting a ride from strangers, kids told

ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

Students shouldn't take any chances even if driver means well, say MPs on recent scares

A child should never take up a stranger's offer of a lift in their vehicle, even on a rainy day.

That was the resounding verdict of sociologists, support groups and Members of Parliament, who were commenting on a series of recent incidents here that raised the spectre - albeit briefly - of kidnapping.

They agreed that students should not take any chances, even if the drivers have no ill intent.

Some MPs on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law advised children to err on the side of caution. Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng said it is "better to be safe than sorry", adding: "While Singapore has a lower crime rate than many other countries, it's important to remain vigilant."

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo said children may not be able to fend for themselves, adding: "While most people are kind and well-meaning, there might be the odd chance of perpetrators with nefarious intent."

They were sharing their views after international schools sent letters informing parents of cases where their students were approached by strangers offering a lift. The two incidents sparked fears of kidnapping attempts, but the drivers were just trying to help by offering the students a lift, the police said on Thursday.

In the first incident on Jan 11, a male driver approached a female student from the United World College of South East Asia who was waiting at a bus stop in the rain. The man offered her a ride in his van.

The second incident on Jan 16 involved a female student from Tanglin Trust School. A female bus attendant on a bus from the school saw the student walking towards the school and offered her a ride.

Two similar cases have surfaced involving Dulwich College and Nexus International School.

Sociologists said the drivers in these cases - even if they had good intentions - should have known their actions were startling.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan said: "The sad truth is - it is not odd for adults to stop and offer assistance but because of our heightened awareness of security, we now perceive kind gestures as threats."

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "While one may have good intentions, the fact that one is a stranger, as well as being an adult in a position to be able to cause harm, would mean that one would likely be misunderstood.

"However, if it is raining and the student is running in the rain without an umbrella, it would be helpful to offer one, though not a ride."

While many people found it hard to believe there was no ill intent in the recent cases, a few said there was no issue in accepting a lift from well-meaning strangers.

Sales manager Kevin Lee, 41, who has a six-year-old daughter, said some people may genuinely need help, adding: "Rather than seeing someone get stranded because of the rain, I would offer them a lift if I can."

 
 
 

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam said: "There are many kind souls out there and we shouldn't discourage kind acts. We also need to teach our children about kindness."

She recalled an incident years ago when she got off at the wrong bus stop "in a rather deserted area". "This kind man in a car drove up to me and asked what I was doing there. I told him my situation and he offered me a ride," said Ms Rahayu, who declined the offer as she had called her mother to pick her up.

"He was not comfortable leaving me there alone and waited with me. He stayed in the car and I just stood by the road. He said that he lived nearby and that area was not safe."

But she said the message to children needs to be clear, noting: "We can never know for sure, and they may be too young to make distinctions."

Dr William Wan, general secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement, said children should adhere to boundaries set by their parents, but urged Singaporeans to move on from the recent scare.

"Because if we are to continue in our journey towards being a kinder and more gracious society, I hope we all develop the common sense and spontaneity to offer help when needed in more general situations," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Say 'no' to getting a ride from strangers, kids told'. Print Edition | Subscribe