Muscat: A lone female has been approaching schoolchildren in the street and attempted to connect with at least one child online, prompting a warning from schools and parents.
Nine incidents have been reported to police over the last two weeks, according to one school, and parents within the compound of a residential complex in Shatti Al Qurum have all reported a woman to the Royal Oman Police. Police have also received reports from parents in Madinat Sultan Qaboos and at least one school.
The female has also attempted to follow a pupil via the youngster’s Instagram account, according to a school warning letter.
The letter sent to parents reads:
“We have received reports that pupils from different schools in Muscat have been approached over the past week, in public and by knocking on doors, by a lady asking for a copy of school yearbooks. A few days after one incident someone, believed to be the same lady, tried to follow the student on Instagram.
“We notified the ROP and they have asked parents to call 24600099 or 24695290 immediately if this lady approaches your children.
“We are speaking to students about staying safe in Muscat and online. We would also like you to speak to your children about staying safe and remind them (if relevant) that their social media security and privacy settings should be set at the highest level.
"As parents please use our “Stranger Danger" guidance below and reinforce the "NO, GO, TELL" advice at home. Although Muscat and Oman are generally safe places to live, it is paramount to continue teaching our pupils the importance of not talking to or accepting favours from people they do not know. We would be grateful if this can be reinforced at home. Please talk to your children about how they should handle potentially dangerous situations.”
The mother of one child approached by the woman in a Qurum homes complex mainly populated by expat families said:
“Our older son who is 12-years-old was approached by a woman about 10 days to two weeks ago. It was within the compound of our house some time early evening around 6.30 or 7pm. We also had another neighbour in our compound whose older son was also approached, and the matter has been reported to the police,” said the mother of the boy.
According to what the 12-year-old told his mother, the woman appeared to be friendly and in her 40s and was asking for his school yearbook.
“She was also knocking on doors of people’s houses, and seemed to be targeting western expats and mainly approaching children. She had also approached a couple of adults but mainly children. From what my son said the woman was in her mid-40s and looks like a housemaid but came across as a friendly person.
“She wanted a copy of the school yearbook, and my son asked her what she wanted it for, to which she replied that she wanted to send her children to such a school, but anyone in their right mind would approach the school directly and ask them for details, so it sounded a little suspicious. She asked my son this one week and then the following week she asked another neighbour of ours.
“The ROP have been excellent and are aware, and they are advising that if anyone comes across this woman or an incident like this, they should feel comfortable going to the police about it.
“It seems to me that there are a few incidents like these, I contacted my son’s school and they were brilliant about it and highlighted the stranger dangers to the children.”
She said that she was surprised because she has been living in the Middle East for years and feels very safe. “I was surprised because it’s not something you expect in this region but more than anything it just reminds us as parents that we can’t be complacent.
“As an expat who has lived in the Middle East for 22 years, I do feel very safe, thankfully nothing has happened but it’s just a reminder to parents that you have to speak to your children about the dangers with strangers.”
British School Muscat (BSM) was one of the schools to be alerted about the incidents, and was quick to react.
An official from the school said that they sent out a message to all parents and contacted the ROP as soon as parents notified them of the incidents, “We sent a message out to all of our parents asking them to be careful and alert and remind all students of stranger danger.
“We had contacted the ROP, and they have given us two telephone numbers for parents to ring.
“We know of nine incidents in Madinat Sultan Qaboos and Al Shatti, of a lady, who we believe is the same lady, approaching students from different schools, asking for copies of their yearbooks.”
The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Oman has listed a guidelines for parents and guardians to consider for the protection and safety of their children online:
· keep the main tool of access i.e. the computer in a common room
· install firewall and antivirus software
· set up rules with children on accessing the internet, especially on issues relating to privacy, age inappropriate places, online bullying and stranger danger
· set up rules on mobile devices as well
· have knowledge of sites visited by children online and understanding of their access patterns
· have knowledge of children’s personal devices such as mobile phones, mp3 players etc.
· educate children on risks that come with sharing information online: arranging to meet up with a stranger, uploading photographs online or using the webcam.
· Regular communication about their experiences online.
One school, in a note to parents, also gave advice about “stranger danger”.
“If strangers approach children, they should always say no and go and tell a trusted adult what happened right away. You may wish to discuss with your child how they might use the “NO, GO, TELL” strategy in the following scenarios:
· a stranger offers them a lift in their car, possibly tempting them with sweets, gifts or money;
· waiting in the school car park your child is approached by a stranger and invited to go off site;
· a stranger(s) purports to be an official, such as a police officer, and asks the child to accompany him/them because · a parent is hurt/has asked the child to be collected by the stranger;
· your child thinks he or she is being followed;
· a stranger does something that makes him or her feel bad or uncomfortable.”