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SA’s missing children tragedy

Pretoria - Poverty, the need for sexual gratification, retribution and human trafficking are among the major factors contributing to the high number of missing minors across the city, with stakeholders saying the actual number of children who have gone missing could run into thousands.

Painting a grim picture of the situation - mostly prevalent in the densely populated informal townships - non-profit organisations said too many cases went unreported, pushing known figures lower than what they really were.

Angie Motaung, of Bana Ba Kae in Pretoria West, said: “There could be as many as 1 000 children missing from homes across the city, from poverty stricken areas and affluent suburbs.”. Bana Ba Kae means: where are the children? The organisation works in communities to intervene in the plight of children in economically challenged families. She said the shocking reality was that some parents had too much else to worry about than run to the police to report missing children, in particular those in their teens.

“They will panic and run door to door to neighbours when the child is young, but if they are teenagers and the parents feel they can care for themselves. They let it go,” she said.

The issue of missing children came into sharp focus as another national Child Protection Week comes to and end.

Missing People SA on Thursday released statistics of missing and found children from its data base.

Between June last year to the end of last month, 236 children were missing across the country, it said.

A total of 173 had been found through the efforts of the police, who boasted a success rate of 73 percent.

“It is an unfortunate reality that 3.8 percent of the children found were dead,” it said, adding that in Gauteng, 108 children remained missing while 75 had been found.

Most children reported missing nationally were aged 13 to 17 (89 percent), while the rest were aged between birth and 12 years old.

Family psychologist Thomas Smith said missing children could be categorised into several groupings, the most common in Pretoria being runaways. “A lot of the older children leave home voluntarily. While some do return home a lot more do not.”

Poverty and abuse was the major push factor for these children.

Economic imbalances also led some parents to get rid of their children at any age. “Human trafficking… exists right here,” he said.

Predators snatched children, mainly girls, of all ages from their homes, the streets and sometimes right under their parents’ noses, Motaung said.

“They sexually abuse them, kill them in some instances, but sometimes keep them prisoner over long periods of time.”

Sometimes the abductors were family members, and sometimes partners of the mothers.

Some children go missing over squabbles and misunderstandings, where one partner will take the child to spite the other. “People have been known to fight their battles by using the one thing they know is cherished by their nemesis,” Smith said.

Very often, that vengeance factor was never confirmed, unless the child turned up, dead or alive. “If not, they remain missing.”

But, national missing persons’ champion, the Pink Ladies, said children taken away by spouses and partners were not to be lumped with missing children.

“They cannot be reported as kidnapped because that disrupts the whole category of missing children,” the organisation’s founder, Dessie Rechner, said.

Her organisation worked closely with police, and one of the greatest weaknesses in the recovery of missing minors was the delayed reporting of the children being gone, she said.

“Times are tough and people have to be at work while their children are alone at home,” she said. “They struggle at times to get to the police station. Every minute that goes by before the search starts, works against efforts to find them,” she said.

Rural areas and informal settlements suffered the most, with ignorance about the dangers being fuelled by a lack of awareness about safety issues, Rechner added.

Ensuring that children remained safe has been a major effort for organisations across the country, with campaigns launched across some provinces to mark Child Protection Week, which started at the beginning of this week to last until Sunday.

The rights of the child and the plight of neglected and exploited children will be the subject of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s event to wrap up the week on Sunday.

The DA women network will lead a campaign against child abuse in Mamelodi West on Friday.

Lost youngsters by numbers

Province:

Gauteng: 75 found; 251 missing

Western Cape: 89 found; 68 missing

KwaZulu-Natal: 14 found; 10 missing

Free State: 8 found; 8 missing

Eastern Cape: 6 found; 4 missing

North West: 2 found; 2 missing

Limpopo: 2 found; 1 missing

Mpumalanga: 6 found; 4 missing

Northern Cape: 1 found; 1 missing

Reasons

General/unknown reasons - 50.84%

Runaways - 45.34%

Victim of crime (eg hijacking) - 0.42%

Stranger abduction - 0.85%

Parental/family abduction - 1.27%

Confirmed human trafficking - 0.42%

Category by race:

Black - 33.61%

Coloured - 31.10%

Caucasian - 31.94%

Other (Indian, Asian) - 3.3%

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