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To keep your children safe, be open about kidnapping and abduction

SAFETY FIRST A pupil is comforted by her mother outside the EP Baumann Primary School in Mayfair, Johannesburg, where a child was kidnapped on Wednesday. Image: Antonio Muchave

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Teddy Bear Clinic director says children must be made aware of the crimes, which are reportedly on the rise

Experts say parents need to discuss abductions kidnappings with their children daily.

This comes after the widely reported kidnapping of the four Moti brothers in Limpopo last month and Wednesday’s abduction of a child in Mayfair, Johannesburg.

According to latest statistics from the UN office on drugs and crime, southern Africa is at the top of the list of kidnapping rates for the period 2003 and 2017.

Measuring per 100,000 people, the 2017 rankings, based on 65 countries where data were submitted, saw SA in third place, with 9.6 people kidnapped. Belgium and Canada were in first and second place, with 10.3 people per 100,000.

SA has the highest rate of kidnappings in Africa, with Benin (4.7 per 100,000), Cameroon, (3.5 per 100,000) and Morocco (2.1 per 100,000) following.

Insurance broker Chris Walters said according to Santam statistics, there were 356 reported kidnapping incidences in Africa last year, 32 of them in SA.

On Wednesday afternoon he received his first inquiry after years on the job for kidnap and ransom insurance, he said. 

Teddy Bear Clinic director Dr Shaheda Omar said every child was at risk, adding that they look at kidnapping in broader terms of abduction because in most cases, even when a ransom is not asked for, there is an end monetary gain.

“We’ve seen cases where children have been taken and traced, and taken and not traced. This includes abduction for muti murders, child sex trafficking, for organ donors … this is happening not only nationally, but within villages.

Omar recommended parents discuss the use of covert messaging, where they could communicate they needed help without others knowing. She also recommended parents not post pictures of their children on social media.

“The misperception is that it is only children from wealthy backgrounds who get taken. But children have disappeared for various reasons and it’s almost always for monetary gain. There are also cases of gender-based violence (GBV), where the child is targeted in a hate crime. These are the kind of cases we’ve been working with,” Omar said.

She said parents needed to speak to their children about abductions and kidnapping in a way that made them aware, but not anxious.

“Parents take these conversations for granted because we always think [kidnapping] happens away from our environment, it happens to other people. 

“We always speak to children about safe and risky behaviours, but what we don’t cover sufficiently is kidnapping. We don’t want to bestow our fears and anxieties on children, but it needs to be part of the conversation. It must be part of our family discussions because we want our children to be safe,” she said.

Omar recommended parents discuss the use of covert messaging, where they could communicate they needed help without others knowing.

She also recommended parents not post pictures of their children on social media.

“Keep a low media profile at all times,” she said, adding that awareness in children was critical to keeping them safe.

“You must always check in and check out with children to see if your message is being understood and that the messaging is consistent. Now there has been a kidnapping at school parents can’t just mention it once.”

Omar believes the rise in child kidnapping is because children are a marginalised minority.

“It seems to be because they are an easy target and behind the scenes there is cooperation between abductors and parents, where they do comply with the requests. There is a big cover-up [of how often it happens]. 

Once the girls were in a disoriented state after taking drugs, the men drove with them to their homes and demanded they steal laptops and cellphones for them. After fulfilling this demand, the men drove the girls to a mall and they managed to escape.

Education department spokesperson Steve Mabona

“So for potential criminals — and they are criminals — this becomes an easy way [to make money]. 

“They are going to target the child in an opportune moment and they know parents will beg, borrow or steal to get their children back.” 

Brixton CPF chairperson Muhammad Ahmed said there had been a notable increase in crime as the festive season approached.

“Two weeks ago a businessman was kidnapped. [In September, Hamza Khan] was kidnapped outside his family’s butchery in Fordsburg. Another one in Hanover [Road, Fordsburg, in September], where they took a man and his children.

“It looks like they are targeting local and foreign businessmen.”

On Thursday, the Gauteng education department said two Grade 10 girls — aged 15 and 16 — from Hoërskool Straatspresident CR Swart in Waverley, Pretoria, had returned home after being kidnapped on Wednesday.

Spokesperson Steve Mabona said the girls were on their way to a Mamelodi East clinic when two men driving a Mini Cooper forced them into the vehicle and coerced them into taking drugs.

“Once the girls were in a disoriented state after taking drugs, the men drove with them to their homes and demanded they steal laptops and cellphones for them. After fulfilling this demand, the men drove the girls to a mall and they managed to escape.

“Due to the deranged state they were in, and not knowing where they were, the girls ended up sleeping in a secluded area on the outskirts of the township,” said Mabona.

They are receiving trauma counselling. 

In a separate incident, a Grade 8 pupil from the same school has been missing for the past two weeks. Her mother says she went to a friend’s house and never returned. 

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