SA Kidnappings: How to keep your children safe

Missing Durban schoolboy Miguel Louw
Image: East Coast Radio Newswatch/ Nushera Soodyal

The Pink Ladies organisation is sharing safety tips that could help prevent your child from being kidnapped…

The recent kidnapping of Sydenham schoolboy Miguel Louw has left many parents in South Africa worrying about their children’s safety.

The 10-year-old went missing on July 17 and it has been one-month of agony for his mother, Raylene Louw, who has not given up hope that he will be found alive.

Police fear the boy was a victim of human trafficking. According to a recent ‘Carte Blanche’ report, the suspect – who is known to the boy and his family – was arrested with a copy of his birth certificate and his mother’s ID. 

There has been no sign of Miguel since he was kidnapped outside of his school – which is a minute’s walk from his home.

Jacqui Thomas, founder and co-director of missing children’s NGO ‘The Pink Ladies’, says parents should consider installing tracking devices on their children.

“Encourage your children to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Do not go out alone, preferably in groups. Install tracking software on their phones. Educate your children about the dangers,” she says.

Children are often taught about “stranger danger” in primary school but the Miguel case is proof that kidnappers and abductors can be people the child is familiar with.

While kidnappers are sometimes known to their victims, Jacqui says strangers are increasingly targeting children. 

“Stranger kidnappings are on the rise – some for monetary gain, trafficking [and] other crimes,” she told us.

While many children reported missing are eventually found, with ‘The Pink Ladies’ recording a 91% success rate for cases they’ve worked on with SAPS from January 2018 to June 2018 (both adults and children), human trafficking is particularly worrying as victims are often harder to track.

Jacqui says there a few signs communities can look out for that might indicate their children are in danger.

“Be aware of strangers or people acting suspiciously in parks, near school grounds etc. Report any suspicious [behaviour]. Act on your gut feelings and do not dismiss people’s discomfort for the sake of being proper or not causing a scene,” she says.

People generally think that girls and women are more likely to kidnapped for trafficking purposes, but Jacqui says boys are just as vulnerable.

“Male children have long been victims of similar crimes to females. However, due to society’s views and gender bias (and also the shame involved), many males do not seek assistance. Activism has, however, thankfully brought this more into the open.”

Jacqui says children and adults are trafficked for various reasons.

“Children and adults are trafficked for many purposes, including labour, paedophilia, the sex trade and sadly, body parts to be used in traditional medicine (muti). Given the current economic climate many are kidnapped purely for monetary gain and extortion,” she says.

If you suspect that your child has gone missing, Jacqui says it is crucial that you do not wait for 24-hours, as some parents believe.

“There is not, nor has there ever been a 24-hour waiting period to report a child missing. What we refer to as the “golden hour” is key – especially in the case of a very young/endangered/mentally challenged child going missing. Once a quick check has been made of the area the child went missing and depending on circumstances, a case should be registered with the SAPS as a matter of urgency.”

Once a case has been opened with SAPS, parents can also fill out a form with The Pink Ladies (available here) which will help them assist in the search.

“Supply us with the SAPS case number, so that we can interact with, and assist the investigating officer,” says Jacqui.

With the technology age we live in, children – particularly teens – can be lured online, but taking your child’s phone is not necessarily the answer.

Jacqui says the dangers online are very real, but “the same tools are just as useful in finding these [missing] children and adults”.

She adds that there is also a wealth of information online that can help parents educate their children about “stranger danger”, kidnapping, abduction and human trafficking.

Jacqui says knowing your children’s friends and ensuring children don’t go to places alone is also important.

“Teach your child if approached by a stranger who tries to take them anywhere – loudly exclaim, ‘I am not going with you, you are not my parent, I don’t know you’. Teach them to “stop, drop, kick and scream” and attract as much attention as possible. As parents, we all know how difficult it is to get an uncooperative child into a vehicle or to carry them.”

You can visit The Pink Ladies website www.pinkladies.org.za for information about the work that they do and/or make donations to the organisation.

To report a missing person email: missing@pinkladies.org.za or contact their 24-hour helpline to report a missing child/adult (for reasons of expediency and efficiency, no other enquiries will be entertained):  072 214 7439.