You’ve been warned.
Child kidnapping is real and happening almost everywhere in most towns and townships, and parents are worried sick about this traumatic crime wave.
Young boys and girls, some as young as four, have become easy targets for criminal syndicates that specialise in kidnapping children. So rife and common is the crime that parents are warned not to post pictures of their young children on social media, especially if a child or children are wearing school uniforms. This could make it easier for child-snatching gangs to target their victims.
In the previous issue, I wrote on the subject of missing children, but given the increasing number of similar incidents in the past two weeks, perhaps it is time for communities to remove their blinkers and begin to take a serious look at the safety of the children – at all times.
Without trying to sound alarmist, but like all concerned parents, my fear is that unless parents take full responsibility for the safety of their children – at all times, this new kidnapping phenomenon could soon be part of a tragic common occurrence in our society.
Times are hard and criminals will stop at nothing, even harming your child, to earn an illicit quick buck. I believe as parents we should go back to the idea of embracing every child as our own. It is also important that every child in our communities should belong to all responsible adults.
While most of the children were lucky enough to escape the ordeal, and live to tell the tale, many others have not been this fortunate. Many others remain statistics of missing children around the country’s towns and townships and cities and villages and the hinterland.
Given the number of child kidnapping incidents in different parts of the country in the past month, there is no doubt that child kidnapping is on the rise, and spreading like wildfire. The almost tragic kidnapping sequences of events, including the many unreported cases, are enough to jolt responsible parents and guardians into a state of alertness.
Closer home, in Soweto, two young men were cornered by angry residents in Eldorado Park, south of Soweto, and later beaten “pink-and-blue” after they were accused of attempting to kidnap three local teenage girls.
A day or so after that, social media was awash with a video showing the attempted kidnapping of a 21-year-old student in Rembrandt Park, north of Johannesburg. Of course, these are just a handful of the witnessed incidents of how scores of young children are kidnapped off the streets.
Parents are being urged to empower their children, teenagers and varsity-going young adults with all the information necessary to respond to any crisis or act of criminality. A national security company has asked parents to play a leading role in educating their children about safety.
“As parents and guardians, it is our responsibility to not only educate our children about safety but to also give them the necessary tools to deal with a crisis. While we certainly don’t want to live in fear, we do need to have frank conversations about what to do when things go wrong,” explains Agnieszka Gryn, the Fidelity ADT Inland executive.
There are simple actions, she says, which can often keep a child or young adult safe.
Teach your kids:
• They must always walk to or from school with a friend or friends. Stick to streets they know and never take shortcuts through quiet areas or empty parking lots, and never walk with cell phones and iPads in full view.
• If they get picked up at school, they should never leave the premises but always wait inside the school grounds for their lift to arrive.
• Younger children, in particular, must never get into a stranger’s car, even if the stranger claims that someone they love is hurt and that they have been sent to pick them up. Remind them that you would never send someone they don’t know to fetch them.
• Consider using a password system. If the person coming to collect you from school cannot repeat the password you and your child agreed on, they should not get into the car but immediately ask for help.
• If a stranger approaches your child, they should not talk to them no matter how friendly they may seem. If someone tries to grab them, they need to fight, kick and shout. “That very action may have saved the young student’s life in Johannesburg this week,” says Gryn.
• If your child does encounter any suspicious activity, encourage them to get a good look and memorise their physical details and clothing, as well as the vehicle they are in. Listen for any names or other details that might help identify them later.
• Make sure your children memorise their full names, address and phone number. Using a play phone, teach them when and how to dial 10111. If they are older, they should have some emergency numbers programmed into their phone or consider having a safety App on their phone.
• Older children should be reminded to keep their valuables out of sight at all times and not to use headphones because this will dampen their ability to sense their surroundings. “The more you cut your senses off, the easier it is for someone to take you by surprise. Stay alert,” says Gryn.
• Alter their route: If they are walking home or to a public transport, they need to alter their route. “Even if it takes longer, always use a route that is well lit and populated with houses and other walkers instead of taking shortcuts through less-friendly areas. If you feel threatened, you can at least knock on someone’s door for help if you’re walking through a familiar neighbourhood.”
• If you are using a taxi service, ensure it is a bona fide service provider.
• Be extra cautious to go and meet anyone who befriends you on social media. Always meet in a public space with two or three friends as a backup plan.
• Be cautious to not be lured by people offering you a job or modelling contract.
•Remember there is safety in numbers, and so never be alone in unsafe places.
“Quite simply, the same rules that apply to adults need to be instilled in children and young adults, and if someone cannot be found, it is vital to report this to the authorities immediately,” concludes Gryn.