'I prepared myself for the ' worst
For more than two excruciating weeks, Mr Ramli (we are not using his full name to protect the identity of his children) had no news of his two sons.
Mr Ramli, who is in his 40s, was so desperate that he placed an advertisement in a newspaper asking for help in locating them.
The boys, aged 12 and 15, went missing on Jan 26 while their father, who works in the hospitality industry, was in Johor Baru to attend to some personal matters. His sons were alone at home on the night he left. He returned home the next day to find them gone.
Though his boys returned home on Feb 13, Mr Ramli still remembers the sleepless nights worrying about their fate.
"I initially did not look for them because this is not the first time they left home," said Mr Ramli.
Last November, the boys ran away for two days before Mr Ramli and his friends found them after searching the neighbourhood, he told The New Paper during a recent interview at his two-room rented flat in the central part of Singapore.
This time, he waited five days.
"There was (still) no sign of them so I started to get desperate. I stayed up late and started wandering around my neighbourhood in the early hours of the morning in the hope of finding my boys," he said.
"I just hoped for the best and prepared myself for the worst."
Mr Ramli made a police report on Jan 31.
On Feb 11, he spent $150 on an advertisement in a newspaper asking for help.
NIGHTS ON THE STREET
Unknown to him, his children were spending their days at a mosque located at the central part of Singapore and their nights on the street.
Mr Ramli said his sons, who had the house keys, would come home whenever he is at work to look for cash.
"They probably refused to come home because they knew I'd be angry about the stealing," said the father.
He only found out that his sons were at the mosque through some friends.
Mr Ramli said: "On Feb 12, I went to the mosque to ask around and someone there told me the boys have been resting there during the day for the past week or so.
"The following day they confronted my boys in the morning. The people at the mosque called the police."
By afternoon, Mr Ramli said he received a call from the police to say his sons had been found.
He admitted closer supervision could have prevented the boys from running away.
Mr Ramli - who divorced in 2006 and has custody of his sons - said he works long hours, from 7pm to 7am.
As a result, his boys are often at home alone and unsupervised.
"My sons started Internet gaming last year so this is when all the trouble started," Mr Ramli said with a sigh.
After the latest episode, Mr Ramli is arranging for flexible hours so that he is home at night to watch over his sons. His girlfriend, who is in her 30s and works in the hospitality industry, also helps out.
He has also been taking his sons for regular counselling sessions at their school and at a nearby family service centre.
"I opted for counselling because I want to find another alternative to get through to them," said Mr Ramli.
I stayed up late and started wandering around my neighbourhood in the early hours of the morning in the hope of finding my boys.
- Mr Ramli, when his two sons went missing
He drove for hours to look for daughter
For the past four months, a 65-year-old cabby who wanted to be known only as Mr Toh spent long hours plying the streets near Jalan Tenteram in the Whampoa area.
He was looking for his missing daughter, 35, who suffers from depression.
Thankfully, his worries ended on Sunday when his daughter returned home.
But the feeling of desperation and pain over the past months is hard to forget.
"Initially I drove around for another four hours after my shift every night looking for her, hoping to catch a glimpse," he told The New Paper, adding that stormy nights were no exception.
But fatigue soon got the better of him.
"There were nights when I could not carry on... and these were the nights I would be wondering if she had been there and I wasn't," he said.
Just when the TNP team wanted to join him in his search of the Whampoa area early yesterday morning, he called with good news - his daughter had returned.
"She came home on Sunday. My neighbours were the first to spot her and called me," Mr Toh said.
His daughter, an introvert since young, was suffering from depression when she left home on Oct 17 last year.
Mr Toh said she was found at Jalan Tenteram on that same day and was brought home, only to disappear again two hours later.
He said she was diagnosed with depression six years ago and was under medication to manage her disorder, but never took them regularly.
"When she left home in October last year, she only had the clothes on her back, her mobile phone and $1,300, which, Mr Toh believed, would have been used up during the months she went missing. He still does not know how she survived.
Now that she has returned, Mr Toh hopes his daughter will stay.
There were nights when I could not carry on... and these were the nights I would be wondering if she had been there and I wasn't.
- Mr Toh
Do your parents know you're here?
Nellie was 16 when she went missing from her flat in the eastern part of Singapore on Nov 24 last year.
A two-week search, with help from Crime Library, a voluntary group that helps track missing people, found her holed up in a flat in Hougang.
Exasperated, her mother, Madam Sarah, 47, asked why the Hougang family let her daughter stay for so long without getting suspicious.
"The 'host' family should be held accountable," she said.
The names of both Madam Sarah and Nellie were changed to protect the identity of the girl.
"If my children were to bring friends home to stay the night, the natural thing for me would be to call their parents to inform them where they were," Madam Sarah said.
Agreeing, Crime Library founder Joseph Tan, 47, felt these people should be taken to task.
"They can't simply keep someone else's child in their home without questioning why he or she is there. The law should take them to task on this. It would amount to harbouring a runaway," he said.
Nellie had gone along with a boy she befriended at a void deck to his friend's Hougang flat.
Said Madam Sarah: "We asked (the head of the household) why he had allowed my daughter to stay for so long without questioning her. He just kept quiet and averted his eyes."
NUMBER OF RUNAWAYS FALLING BY THE NUMBERS
The police said the number of people aged 16 and below who were reported missing have been on the decline, from more than 600 in 2008 to just over 400 in 2012.
A police spokesman said most children leave home due to disputes with family members and usually return home within a few days.
But Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, made a different observation.
"The thing with runaways in Singapore of late is that they would go missing for as long as a month. These are teens below 16 years of age, some as young as seven," she told The New Paper.
For those who disappear for shorter periods, Dr Balhetchet said there is a pattern, which she had observed for some time. "It's usually towards the weekend. They would run off on Thursday and return on Monday," she said, adding that many would hang out at places near their own homes.
"The worrying ones would be those who run off to areas far from their own districts. There's a strong chance they would join a gang and get into trouble," she said.
Some of the reasons teens run away:
l The frivolous need for freedom.
l Escape from life's pressures such as stress from parents, schools and exams.
l The need to socialise with other teens, especially of the opposite sex.
*Number defers from the police because SCS deals with clients who go to the courts but not all police cases are referred to the courts.
A check with the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) turned up the following numbers of runaways:
WHAT TO DO WHEN A CHILD GOES MISSING
Lodge a missing person report at any police service counter. There is no minimum time required for the missing person to have lost contact with family members before the report can be lodged. Family members are advised to provide the police with the missing child's name, date of birth, height, weight and descriptions of any other features such as moles, spectacles and braces. Provide the police with a recent photo of the missing child to help searches. Tell them when you first noticed your child was missing and what clothing he or she was wearing.
Those who wish to provide information on a missing child can call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000 or submit information online at www.spf.gov.sg/CrimeStopper. All information received is kept strictly confidential.