'I prepared myself for the worst'

Mr Ramli (not his real name), and his two sons.

SINGAPORE - 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.

zothman@sph.com.sg

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1 dad's 2-week nightmare