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Morcombe agony haunts us all

Original Source:  HERALD SUN: 16 AUGUST 2011
Susie O'Brien From: Herald Sun August 16, 2011 12:00AM

Bruce and Denise Morcombe say they have been encouraged by messages of support
from the public. Source: Herald Sun


THE abduction and murder of Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe is a terrifying reminder of how vulnerable our children are.

Few of us have forgotten the case that baffled police for eight long years.


At its core was a chilling question: How can a child disappear without a trace in a public place?


Tragedies like this feed all our innermost fears of faceless predators waiting around every corner, waiting to pounce on our kids.


As a parent it just makes you never want to let your kids out of your sight.


But that's not the answer.


Cases like the 2003 tragedy involving Daniel, the unsolved 2007 disappearance in Portugal of British child Madeleine McCann, or the 1996 murder of US child beauty pageant contestant JonBenet Ramsay inflate in our own minds the potential danger posed by strangers.



The bottom line is that we can't let a couple of high-profile child homicide cases dictate how we raise our kids.


The real issue for many parents is Daniel's age. He wasn't six or seven at the time of the abduction.


He was 13 years old. He was old enough to look after himself.


He should have been safe.


His parents obviously trusted him to catch the bus alone in broad daylight in the middle of summer. He had probably made the trip many times before without incident.


And yet on that day in 2003, he went out to buy Christmas presents for his family, but did not return.


He had intended to catch the 1.35pm bus to Sunshine Plaza, but in a cruel twist of fate, the bus he was waiting for had broken down. A replacement bus picked up some stranded passengers, but to make up time, the bus did not stop to pick up Daniel. It was to be a deadly oversight.


Police claim a 41-year-old truck driver, a father of three, abducted and murdered him.


It's unimaginable that a father could do anything like this.


The charge sheet alone provides a chilling account of what Daniel's last hours might have involved. His accused killer has been charged with murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.


But this doesn't change the fact that countless kids both older and younger than Daniel catch buses alone every day. They walk alone to school. They play with their friends in the local park. They deliver newspapers, they buy lollies, or they ride their bikes around the streets without their parents.


And they return home safely.


It's what we did as kids, and it's the way we want to raise our own kids, isn't it?


But even the mere chance of our child being abducted makes many parents reassess the freedom they give their kids.


It's a pertinent issue for me as a parent because my husband and I have just started allowing my son and his five-year-old sister to walk two blocks on quiet suburban back streets to the local milk bar by themselves.


It gives them the independence we want them to have, and the freedom they crave.


It also shows them that we trust them to cross roads safely, to buy things with money, and to avoid danger -- whether that's in the form of a stranger, a vicious dog or a fast car.


But it's a controversial move, with many of our friends saying they're just too young to be allowed out alone.


I'd argue, however, that kids need to be able to take calculated risks when they are young so they learn to make good decisions.


We can't wrap them up in cotton wool throughout their childhoods, and then just turn them loose once they turn 18.


We can't always be there to protect them, but we can teach them to make good decisions. And the best way for them to develop good instincts is to let them gradually have more and more freedom, within measured limits.


The fact is that most child homicides result from physical abuse inflicted by a male relative. According to a recent Australian study of 165 child homicides, 40 per cent were the result of children being physically abused by either a father or a stepfather.


Overall, the leading cause of death for children in Australia is road accidents, accidental drowning, then assault and then homicide.


We may fear the stranger lurking in the bushes ready to snatch our child, but a scenario like this is not the biggest threat facing our kids.


And online it's the same.


CALIFORNIAN research published in the journal Psychology of Violence last year shows that online predators are not generally strangers who trick or force children into predatory relationships.


Rather, they are more likely to be adults who meet, develop relationships with, and openly seduce underage teenagers. It's not the stranger who's the biggest threat, but someone who may have become close to the child.


At the end of the day, parents just have to go with what feels right. What one child can manage at the age of seven or eight might only be right for another aged 10 or 12.


No doubt Daniel's parents spend just about every waking moment wanting to rewrite history, and change that one fateful December day.


But they weren't responsible for the actions of the sick madman who took their son. They were just letting Daniel get on with living his life.


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