News headlines across the country were dominated recently by the kidnapping of four young boys from Polokwane. They were thankfully reunited with their family, but available crime statistics seem to indicate there is a growing trend of kidnappings across our country and many of these never make the front pages.
The figure for reported kidnappings in 2010/2011 was 2839 and the upward trajectory of this particular crime by 133% in 2019/2020 places South Africa at risk of being placed on a ‘consolidated watch list’ of countries viewed as kidnapping hotspots. According to Missing Children South Africa, a child goes missing every five hours in the country.
“Parents need to empower their children, teenagers and varsity-going young adults with all the information necessary to prevent kidnappings,” says Charnel Hattingh, head of communications and marketing at Fidelity ADT.
She says there are several tips for parents and family members to consider and it starts with these safety tips:
• Children 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 cellphones and tablets 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 particularly 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 that 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.
• 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 later identification.
• 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.
Hattingh says there are also tips for older children, such as those of varsity age:
• 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.
• Alter their route: If they are walking home or to 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 that 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 backup.
• Be cautious if lured by people offering you a job or modelling contract. Remember safety in numbers.
“When it comes to kidnapping, the more knowledge both the parent and child have, the better their chances of identifying kidnappers and preventing the unthinkable from happening. As parents, we don’t want our children to live in fear. Still, we live in a world where bad things happen,” says Hattingh.
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