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TEN TENSE MINUTES

Toddler locked in family car, evokes public empathy in Salalah

Two days before Eid, a 19 month old toddler in Salalah playfully locked himself in the family car, unleashing a frenzy among his family members who underwent 10 whole minutes of sheer tension and learnt a bitter lesson to last them a lifetime.

Though subsequently rescued, the plight of the toddler in the car had evoked heart-rending scenes among onlookers who frantically tried out different ways to calm down the child while help was on the way. The car had been parked outside a Chinese restaurant in 23rd July Street, near the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in East Salalah, where the family had gone for dinner.

The lad Yousuf’s father – Affan Muhammad – shared his hapless story with TheWeek with the sole intention of sending out a serious message to all parents to always be watchful of their little children. Whether at home or outside, little children can indulge in extremely hazardous activity within the blink of an eye and it cost the family dearly if divine providence is not on their side.

“We stay in Salalah, which I call ‘Heaven on Earth’, where my in-laws have been residing for the past 20 years,” said Affan explaining that his relatives took Yousuf for a stroll outside the restaurant, since he had been getting restless inside, and didn’t take note of the fact that he had been toying with his car keys.

“Keys always fascinate him, like any other toddler. He held the key and was seated in the car under the vigilance of his aunt but before she could open another door to get inside the car, Yousuf pressed a remote button on the key which locked all doors from inside, leaving us horrified,” Affan disclosed, adding that his wife was struck by extreme terror seeing their son locked in the car all alone, as they had heard several stories of children getting trapped in vehicles in Oman.

All the family members rushed to the scene while a large crowd of passers by also gathered and everyone pooled in their energy to distract and calm down the toddler while his grandfather hurried away to fetch a duplicate key from their home which was close by in the same area.

“I must mention the incredible support we received from different people during that short span of time which made us feel highly blessed. Residents and citizens in Oman proved to be really concerned about our welfare and were willing to offer any help to rescue the child,” Affan said, adding,

that it was extremely touching to witness selfless gestures from everybody around them in their time of need.

“I noticed an old man besides me weeping when he saw my son trapped, another tried to distract him by drawing attention to his own child, a lady offer her own car keys to try out, while another offered to drive my father to our home to get the duplicate keys. One person went in search of a suitable piece of rock to break the glass of the rear windscreen, as a last option,” he said adding that, however, most considered that as an unsafe solution as his son could get hurt.

The grandfather returned with the duplicate key within 5-6 minutes which seemed endless as the family counted every second with bated breath. They had already begun considering the falling level of oxygen within the closed car which could adversely affect his health. However, Yousuf was finally rescued from the car and welcomed with shouts of joy from everyone around.

“From this episode, I realised an important lesson that we need to be constantly vigilant about our children. Kids tend to be naughty and playful and  keys are something which fascinate all kids. Handing out a car key to a child might be an easy solution for keeping them busy but it can have a disastrous outcome which we never imagined,” said Affan, adding that people also need to train young children with basic methods of staying safe, appropriate to their age.

‘Once bitten, twice shy’, says Affan who believes that even a harmless game like ‘hide and seek’ can lead to tragedy, if unsupervised by adults. He has already begun training Yousuf about how to open and close doors, how to stay away from sharp items and how to call for help. “We need to help  ourselves to stay safe at all times,” he adds.