Cops to set up DNA database for missing kids

By Time of article published Dec 11, 2009

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By Caryn Dolley

In a desperate attempt to help find youngsters who go missing, provincial police are trying to set up a national DNA database of children.

Officers are also trying to get all cinemas and banks in the Western Cape to air a short video clip showing pictures and details of the 114 children who, as of yesterday, were missing in the province.

And they are also planning to approach all mall managers as well as train and taxi operators to try to get them to distribute pamphlets with the details of those missing.

Police announced these plans as officers continued searching for six-year-old Okuhle and three-year-old Mabaxole Maqhubela, the latest additions to the province's list of missing children. They disappeared in Laingsburg last week on their way from East London to Cape Town by taxi.

Yesterday, during the police's weekly press briefing, provincial visible policing head Robbie Roberts, said missing children were one of the "biggest concerns" in the province.

He said "on a daily basis a lot of children are reported missing" and as of yesterday the provincial total stood at 114 children.

Roberts warned parents not to leave their children alone or let them out of their sight.

"And ask yourself when you put your children in the care of somebody, do you really know that person? Do you really trust that person?"

Roberts urged parents to tag their children, including on the tag the child's name and the parents' contact details, especially when taking their children to a large public area like a beach. "It's unbelievable how many children get lost on a beach in one day," he said.

Roberts said children needed to be taught their home address and parents' cellphone or landline number. "Once recovered, we find it difficult to get this information from children."

He also urged parents to take photographs of their children so they would always have a recent one.

Provincial Police Commissioner Mzwandile Petros had therefore tasked Roberts, with the help of a number of NGOs, to come up with a more effective plan to tackle the problem.

In the most recent missing children case, Roberts said officers had been unable to find recent photographs of Okuhle Maqhubela and her brother, Mabaxole. The brother and sister went missing from a petrol station in Laingsburg at midnight last week during a trip from East London to Cape Town, where they would have been reunited with their mother.

Roberts said police in the province would approach the national office to have an identity kit they had created for children, to be distributed in the Western Cape and the rest of the country, approved.

Once filled out and completed, the kit would include details of the child, a recent photograph, his or her fingerprints, a DNA sample, his or her blood type and details of his or her parents.

If approved, Roberts said the kits would be distributed at all cr232ches and schools in the province early next year.

Parents would not have to pay for it and could fill it in voluntarily.

Roberts said a number of organisations were "making money out of missing children" as they were selling identity kits to parents and telling them their child would be put on a database.

"But we don't want the community to pay for us to search for a missing child. It's our job," he said.

Dessie Rechner, founder of the NGO Pink Ladies which helps police with search operations, said she was "extremely excited" about the identity kit and proposed database.

Roberts said "top priority areas" in terms of missing children included Cape Town, George, Nyanga and Claremont.

During the festive season, Roberts said at least 500 extra police officers would be deployed in the province.

When they conducted road- blocks and searched cars they would also hand out missing children pamphlets.

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