Over the past few weeks, there has been a surge in reports of child abductions or kidnappings doing the rounds on social media. This has caused widespread panic among parents across South Africa and resulted in various government department issuing warnings about child safety. Most of the reports are about alleged abductions in the Western Cape, and no corresponding cases are being investigated in any other province.
The South African Police Service has also expressed alarm at the spike in videos purporting to show attempts to abduct children being circulated. On Friday, the police said they had been trying to verify the authenticity of the videos being shared on social media, but that no cases have been opened at any police station in relation to any of the videos.
"By now, besides reporting this to the police, one would have expected at least a family would have come forward to publicly confirm at least one of those videos to be legitimate. Secondly, the police will never know that these incidents really happened if they are not officially reported. Therefore the only reasonable conclusion we can draw from this is that these videos are hoaxes," police said.
"The South African Police Service assures the community that continuous awareness and educational talks on the safety of our children are done at various institutions including schools. While the recent social media postings remain unconfirmed, it is a reality that children do go missing. Therefore, parents and guardians are urged to exercise vigilance at all times."
In an attempt to separate fact from fiction, we look at the cases where children were in fact snatched, and identify reports which police have confirmed were fake.
A letter alleging learner abductions in Zonnebloem.
These are the cases which were reported to police and are currently being investigated:
* An 8-year-old Bishop Lavis girl was abducted in Goodwood by a man allegedly wanting her to model for a leading retailer. She was returned to her family.
* A pupil was abducted and raped while on her way to a school in Zonnebloem, close to the Cape Town CBD.
* Previledge Mabvongwe, 9, was found dead in Kraaifontein after she disappeared while on her way home from school.
* A case of rape was opened for investigation at the Steenberg police station after a 15-year-old girl was abducted by unknown suspects.
According to police, these abduction reports are fake:
* Late last month Wolraad Woltemade Primary principal Elaine Kesten sent out a newsletter to parents regarding an "attempted kidnapping" close to the school. Police have confirmed that there was no attempt to kidnap a child.
* Claims of an attempted kidnapping of a toddler near a Bothasig school are incorrect. Police have confirmed that the report was false.
* A video purporting to show a child allegedly being abducted from N1 City mall is fake.
It's important to note that disseminating fake news via social media carries the risk of prosecution. In one case two young Cape Flats men were identified as kidnappers in a prank video made by their friends. The video went viral and the young men were forced to publicly set the record straight and appeal for their safety.
Where children are involved, the public has been urged to contact the Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) as well as the sector manager of the area in which the incident took place before posting on social media.
Police have appealed to the public to report any incidents of criminal activity to their toll-free Crime Stop number, 08600 10111.
Members of the public can also contact the South African Human Trafficking Hotline on 0800 222 777.