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Johannesburg - A child goes missing every six hours in South Africa. That’s about 1 450 cases of missing children a year. This is according to the Bureau of Missing Children. And the number of children who are trafficked is even more shocking.
And with Saturday being International Missing Children’s Day, organisations that help find children who are lost, kidnapped, have run away, been abducted by parents or trafficked want to raise awareness as well as commemorate the children who found their way home, those who have died and the continuous efforts to find those who haven’t been found yet.
Missing Children SA, an NGO that finds missing children and adults, had 560 reported cases last year.
“This figure increases every year - not necessarily because more and more individuals go missing, but we strongly believe it’s because more people become aware of Missing Children SA and the service we render,” said Nicky Rheeder, the social development and welfare co-ordinator at the organisation.
Between December 1, 2011 and November 30 last year, 304 missing children were reported to Missing Children SA. Of that number, 274 were found. The largest group of children reported missing (58 percent) were between 13 and 18 years and 23 percent were below six.
“For the children’s cases alone, our success rate is 90 percent. It’s an unfortunate reality that 3 percent of the children were found dead,” Rheeder said.
Of the cases reported to the organisation, 36 percent of the children are missing because they get lost. Some run away.
Major Margaret Stafford, co-ordinator for the anti-trafficking campaign for the Salvation Army, said while the efforts to find the children were largely successful, there needed to be more awareness about child trafficking.
“The rest of the children who are never found fall off the (radar). The question is: How concerned are we about our missing children? Traffickers look for the most vulnerable children between nine and 15 years of age because they are more compliant and will do things out of fear.
“In 2010, we had 20 000 to 30 000 children prostituted - now the figure stands at 45 000.
“It’s those children who have ceased to exist in our minds… who went missing and have ceased to exist in our world,” Stafford said.
Two percent of the cases reported to Missing Children SA are child trafficking cases.
In a 2008 report compiled by the International Organisation for Migration on the internal trafficking of people in South Africa, victims were reported to be recruited from rural areas or informal settlements and transported to urban areas such as Joburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Durban.
The report found that adolescent girls and young women who left exploitative situations such as being domestic workers were more vulnerable to recruitment into the sex industry.
And in respect of commercial sexual exploitation, women were just as likely as men to be recruiters. Furthermore, boys under 18 were increasingly lured into sexual exploitation and were more frequently used for pornography.
There is currently no legislation on trafficking in South Africa.
Warrant Officer Dereck Reynecke from the Missing Persons Bureau said most children reported as missing are just children who are visiting friends without telling anyone. A small percentage are runaways from orphanages and places of safety.
“In the past two months we’ve had 134 reported cases of missing children and 78 found.
“The biggest challenge is that there are limited resources to publish the cases.
“Only three cases per week are broadcast on television [SAPS’s When Duty Calls] (that’s over 150 missing persons cases a year for the whole of South Africa), and in Gauteng, we have over 1 900 reported cases. So there is a great shortfall,” he said.
Reynecke, Stafford and Rheeder all emphasised there was no waiting period for a person to be reported missing.
Rheeder stated: “If you realise your child is missing, you should report it immediately. Rather be safe than sorry.”