How to keep your children safe

Stories about children being kidnapped, hurt, killed, and raped are not uncommon in South Africa’s newspapers. Angelique Ruzicka looks at what you, as a parent, can do to ensure your child’s safety and prevent anything from happening to them.

Two years ago the country was shaken to the core when Anene Booysen, a 17 year old girl, was found after being gang raped and disemboweled at a construction site in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape. She was found alive but later died. The story made international headlines and there was a national and international outcry.

Child abductions are not uncommon in other parts of the world either. Eight years ago, a worldwide hunt began when Madeleine MCcann went missing from a holiday apartment in Portugal. She has not been found since.

Back in South Africa, children are still hurt, killed or abducted and this year is no exception. At the time of writing a six year old girl by the name of Shasha-Lee November has been reported missing in Hanover Park and residents and police are searching for her.

Not all stories have unhappy endings though. In February this year, Zephany Nurse who was snatched from her mother’s arms in hospital in 1997 was found 17 years later and reunited with her biological parents, Morne and Celeste Nurse.

So how easy is it to abduct a child? Well a video made by entertainer Joeysalads, has recently done the rounds on Facebook and it demonstrates just how chillingly easy it is to take a child right from under a parent’s nose in the park. The entertainer uses a puppy to lure the children away from the park and the mothers, who had all firmly believed that their children would not go away with any strangers, watched on in horror.

“I have seen the video and I think it is an incredible video to show exactly how easy it is to lure a child even if their parents have told them never to talk to strangers. It is easy to teach a child ‘Never talk to strangers.’ But this video clearly shows us that we also have to make children understand why they shouldn’t talk to strangers and also present them with scenarios to look out for on a regular basis,” says Nicky Rheeder, national coordinator for non-profit organisation Missing Children SA.

The hard, cold facts
According to Missing Children SA, a child goes missing every five hours in our country. In 2013, 1697 cases of missing children were reported to the South African Police Service. Missing Children SA says its case load increases every year – not necessarily only because more individuals go missing, but also because more people become aware of the NPO and the services it offers.

Rheeder points out that the world has changed and that parents can no longer let their children be unsupervised like in the ‘good old days’. “It is definitely not safe to let your children walk around alone in the streets as it used to be in the ‘old days’ as you call it. Times have changed and we as parents also have to adapt and understand that the neighbours that used to look out for our children are now often the ones who actually harm our children,” she says.

How to keep your child safe
Prevention is always better than cure, or so the saying goes. When it comes to children, safety and how they interact with strangers, it is paramount that as a parent we make these issues top of our priority list. Missing Children SA, has these following tips:

1. Keep a recent photo of your child on you so that they can be easily identifiable if anything were to happen.
2. Teach your children their own names, addresses and your name and telephone number.
3. Show your children where the nearest police station, hospital and clinic is in their area. Remember to point out key landmarks so that they won’t get lost.
4. Teach your children not to trust strangers, that they should not accept gifts or go anywhere with them. (You could always use Joeysalads’ video to help as a teaching tool).
5. Create a family exclusive password. Then when you get someone to pick them up it can be used as a security question. Tell your children that if a stranger doesn’t know the password then they should not go with them.
6. Know where your children are at all times, whom they are with and what they are wearing.
7. Make an effort to know your children’s friends, i.e. names, addresses and numbers.
8. Keep children close to home and teach them the importance of a buddy system – to never go anywhere alone.
9. Teach your children to take the same route to and from places. If your child goes missing you can start looking on the discussed route.
10. Keep a close eye on their interaction on social media. If your child is on Mxit or Facebook familiarise yourself with the technology and find a way to monitor it.
11. Shopping mall safety: Teach your children what to do if they get lost in a mall, i.e. show them how to identify security personnel or to speak to a store clerk. Tell them not to leave a store without you.
12. Teach your children that should they be approached by a stranger or a stranger tries to take them, they should scream as loud as possible and shout: “This is not my mommy” or “This is not my daddy.”
13. For more safety tips, check out the South African Police Services’ website.

If your child goes missing
So what can you do if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position where you can’t find your child and the minutes from where last your saw your child are rapidly increasing?

1. Don’t wait to report the incident: “There is no waiting period. A child must immediately be reported missing. Should the family be told otherwise by the SAPS, they should demand to speak to the Station Commander or contact Missing Children SA from the station. We will then make sure that someone assists them with opening a case,” says Rheeder.
2. Make sure that you give a detailed description of your child to the police: Missing Children SA says that when reporting a person missing to the police station, the following information will be required: Full name of missing person, age of missing person, description of missing person, eye colour, hair colour/style, height, weight and any distinctive marks such as scars/birthmarks. You should also inform the police about where the child was last seen and what the child was wearing.
3. If your child goes missing in a shopping centre immediately alert security of the shop you are in. Ask them to alert the main security office so that all entrances and exits are monitored. Shout as loud as you can your child’s name, age and description to all people so that they can help you search. Ask security to check all bathrooms (male and female). If your child is still not found ask the shopping centre to contact SAPS while you continue to search with security.
4. If you are still uncertain about what to do in terms of reporting your child missing, contact Missing Children SA. The NPO has an interim ID Kit, which can be downloaded from its website or the NPO is also willing to email it. The kit provides a guideline to parents about what to report to SAPS when a child goes missing. Contact Missing Children SA on 072 647 7464, and call SAPS on 08 600 10111.

The good news is that children generally get found. According to Missing Children SA, their success rate for finding missing persons (adults and children) is 70%, while for children alone it’s 77%. That’s doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be vigilant. But how vigilant should parents be?

Is the answer keeping a firm hold over our children, relinquishing their independence and never letting them out of our sight? Rheeder feels the answer lies in educating children properly about the dangers. “Unfortunately we cannot hold our children’s hands 24 hours a day. This is why it is so important that we make sure we are educated on all the dangers and that we equip our children with all the necessary safety information so that they can identify dangers and protect themselves,” she says.

Children missing between 1 December 2013 – 30 November 2014, by province:

Missing children and found  stats

Source: Missing Children SA.