Where have the children gone? Shocking statistics a concern for experts

Pictures: Brendan Magaar / African News Agency (ANA)

Pictures: Brendan Magaar / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 27, 2022


Johannesburg - It is estimated that a female born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning to read.

Two out of five male learners say they have been raped. One out of five children are victims of sexual abuse in South Africa.

In 2020/2021, 160 cases of sexual misconduct against educators were reported.

These are shocking statistics from a survey carried out in 1200 schools.

Crime statistics for 2019/2020 showed 24 000 children were sexually assaulted.

More worrying is that many assaults against children have not been reported and an estimated 22.2% of school children are reported to have been victims of violence.

Interpol has named South Africa the “Rape capital of the World.”

Estimated and unaudited SAPS figures show a child goes missing every five hours in South Africa.

According to Missing Children SA, in 77% of their missing children cases, the child is found or returns home.

The remaining 23% are either found deceased or fall into the category, “still not found”.

This is still a significant percentage not found hence, impacting on the lives of many families.

South Africa’s laws and policies are mostly compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Children and the African Charter.

Director at the Teddy Bear Clinic, Dr Shaheda Omar said accessing missing children statistics in South Africa is notoriously difficult.

“Given that missing children cases are almost certainly under-reported, the more significant question is how many of these children remain missing and to what extent they are followed through.

“The need to protect children is an issue for all countries. Children across the world are subjected to exploitation, trafficking, abuse and experience sexual, physical and psychological violation,” she said.

Omar said it’s time for government to identify a child safety strategy, build partnerships with NGOs and develop an inter-sectoral plan to promote the safety of South Africa’s children.

“Stated differently, 25% of the children who have been reported missing over the last twenty years have not been found. Until they are located, we cannot know for certain why they went missing, but experts propose that some are kidnapped for childless women, others taken for their body parts, some are runaways and others have been trafficked for child labour or sexual exploitation.

“It’s a staggering number and behind it are thousands of families whose lives and trajectories are forever changed.

“These by a moment. But, in a country where children’s stories often go unheard, even around issues that directly affect them, the voices of children “still not found” or found deceased are particularly silent,” she added.

Dr Marcel Van der Watt, the policing representative at South Africa’s Professional Society on the Abuse of Children said “not all missing children are trafficked, but many trafficked children are missing.”

Van der Watt maintains that the number of children that are unaccounted for or still missing, has probably exceeded 4 000.

“So, while SAPS is rightly concerned about statistics creating “fear and pandemonium”, the number of children who are missing is likely far higher than reported. Whilst children may run away with a boyfriend or fall prey to substance abuse and pimps, children may also run away or even fear violence and abuse. Eg. raped girls found under a bridge because her father raped her,”he said.

Van der Watt said a a recently completed national study into the scope and nature of human trafficking in South Africa found an undeniable nexus between missing children and both successfully prosecuted child sex trafficking cases and investigations into human trafficking.

“The overlap between missing children and systems of prostitution and child trafficking, must be recognized. The ongoing prostitution law reform discussions must consider how a fully decriminalised adult sex trade will adversely affect children and vulnerable communities. Missing children often suffer from adverse childhood experiences that serve as pathways into prostitution.

“What will happen when brothels and sex buying at community level becomes legal? How many more children will be usurped into these operations? These unsettling questions and possible realities cannot be ignored,” he concluded.

The Saturday Star