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Gadgets & guards ensure kids are safe

Shock at the brutal murders of two 7-year-old girls in the space of just over a week is pushing Japan to consider everything from bus services to high-tech gadgets to keep small children safe between home and school.

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Gadgets & guards ensure kids are safe
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TOKYO: Shock at the brutal murders of two 7-year-old girls in the space of just over a week is pushing Japan to consider everything from bus services to high-tech gadgets to keep small children safe between home and school.   Airi Kinoshita and Yuki  Yoshida were killed in separate incidents as they made their way home from elementary school alone along deserted roads.

Parents have long been a rare sight at elementary school gates when classes end. Instead, crowds of yellow-hatted youngsters simply fan out to make their own way home. Kita dealt with his concerns by moving to an apartment building 200 meters from a school, where he can watch his sons safely inside the gates. He also quit his office job so he could be at home when they returned. Others are reluctant to go that far. Many accompany their children to school in the aftermath of the murders, but few plan to make this a long-term habit.

Commuting alone is not confined to those who live within walking distance of school. A glance around an early morning train in Tokyo will often reveal several tiny, uniformed passengers on their way to private schools across town. 

Police data shows that 86 children aged 12 or under were victims in 2004, while figures in recent years vary from 100 to 200. But the high-profile cases have prompted many families to seek new safety measures. 

Private security guards are popular while volunteers supervise school routes in some areas in the mornings and patrol streets and parks in the afternoons. Many elementary school pupils now carry alarms. An editorial in the daily Asahi Shimbun suggested introducing school bus services — previously unheard of in Japan — but the country’s narrow streets make this an unlikely option.

High-tech gadgets are an increasingly common way of trying to protect kids unobtrusively. Concerned parents often provide their offspring with mobile phones that incorporate global positioning systems (GPS) for tracking their movements.

Since October, pupils at Shimizudai elementary school in Tokyo must wear an egg-shaped security gadget on a strap around their necks, which incorporates a GPS and an alarm button that alerts a security desk at the local government office. Tragically, technological solutions have failed in the past.

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