OVER the past few weeks, we seem to be reading quite a lot about tragic incidents involving young children. With these cases, it really doesn’t matter if you know the victims or not – they always affect us profoundly.

But the deepest sense of tragedy, however, comes from the fact that people could have easily helped to prevent these things from happening.

In the case of two-year-old Siti Soffea Emelda Abdullah’s abduction and subsequent murder, it was the circumstances of her abduction that shocked me even more. How could someone be abducted in a shopping mall, in broad daylight? Didn’t anyone notice this toddler being taken away?

Sadly, such cases aren’t as rare as we hope. In 2011, a video of pedestrians idly walking by as a toddler was run over by a truck in China went viral, shocking the world and prompting widespread soul-searching throughout China.


This “bystander effect” has been the subject of countless debates since the 1960s. It seems that this diffusion of responsibility is part of how we behave in society.

We live in a world where we are almost programmed to look out only for ourselves. It isn’t even surprising that when tragedy strikes, even in the most public of places, no one rushes to help.

The need to cultivate a culture of looking out for other people becomes more urgent every time we hear of someone, especially a helpless child, being involved in any accident or crime in public.

I’m sure we have all encountered people behaving recklessly in public, but how many of us have actually done something about it?

Take the recent case of the seven-year-old who fell to her death when she slipped through a gap near the escalators at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.

Keyboard warriors have been going to town on social media, relentlessly accusing the parents for not keeping an eye on their child. But what a difference it could have made if someone had stopped the young child from playing near the railings in the mall in the first place! Surely others would have walked past the child, but clearly, no one bothered to take their minds off themselves enough to notice her.

Instead of always putting the blame on the parents alone, we should focus on what we as a society can do differently to make a difference in our own little way.I’m sure we all have empathy within us. It’s just a matter of getting used to showing it in public. It’s about time we started standing by each other, strangers or not.

The writer is a member of the BRATs young journalist programme. To apply for the programme, log on to or email us at


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