Four school grounds of children vanish without trace in SA over three decades

A total of 3 712 children are missing in South Africa. l BRENDAN MAGAAR/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

A total of 3 712 children are missing in South Africa. l BRENDAN MAGAAR/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

Published Jul 8, 2023


Cape Town – Child and human trafficking is a continually growing industry that has now surpassed the illegal arms trade and is heading on track to surpass the notorious illicit drug trade too.

With 3 712 children still missing in the country, Redaa Ameeroedien, who works closely with police on human trafficking cases, said trafficking was a growing industry.

“Child and human trafficking is a big industry currently. According to what we have heard on the ground, it has surpassed the arms trade and it is heading in the direction where it will surpass the drug trade.

“They found that they could sell between five and 10 children per day for at least five years. The human trafficking industry is becoming very lucrative for syndicates. Our communities need to wake up that this is a reality and they need to be educated.”

National police said the number consists of children missing between 1995 and this year. Most of the missing children are females as 2 175 have disappeared. Some 1 537 boys vanished between 1995 and June 2023.

Bianca Van Aswegen, national co-ordinator of Missing Children South Africa, said children vanished for many reasons. She also shone the light on trafficking and kidnapping.

“We have various reasons why children go missing. We deal with runaways, but this is not always the case of just a child running away out of free will. We have seen a number of cases where abuse is prevalent,” she explained.

“We also deal with kidnapping cases that are happening for reasons such as parental abductions, kidnappings for ransom, opportunistic kidnapping and then also human trafficking.”

Van Aswegen said their organisation had seen an increase in children going missing over the years and said that social media and technology did assist with cases, especially keeping older ones alive and active.

According to the 2023 Trafficking in Persons report, which was released this week, The Hawks investigated 29 cases of human trafficking, of which 19 was sex trafficking, eight was for labour and two for unspecified forms of trafficking. They are continuing with the investigation of 35 cases.

The National Prosecuting Authority confirmed that 14 human traffickers were convicted in eight cases and each sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

They said in the report that NGOs identified and referred to care for an additional 52 trafficking victims and identified 383 potential victims through transit monitoring.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, according to activists. They state that a child can be trafficked several times during a five-year period and that the industry is surpassing the gun trade, attributing this to missing persons cases.

National Police spokesperson, Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, said she wanted the public to be mindful that often children were sought instead of adults due to the time period when they went missing.

“Important to note that this figure is determined by the age of the child at the time of circulation, not the current age of the individual,” she said.

“For example if a 16-year old child was reported as missing in 2010 the ‘child’ will now be 23 years old. Active missing children circulated from 1995 to the end of June 2023 who were under 18 years old at the time of the circulation.”

Mathe said the highest number of children reported missing was from Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal.

The lowest number of children reported missing was from the Northern-Cape.

“The majority of children reported missing are those who ‘left’ their place of residence (no crime is suspected) mostly due to social discourse,” she added.

Western Cape police spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm Pojie said they had a greater success rate in finding missing persons and certain units dealt with the cases.

“The Provincial Bureau for missing Persons, which resorts under the auspices of the Provincial Detective Services, is the custodians thereof and constantly monitor progress in these cases through liaison with the investigating officials.

“We are not at liberty to provide totals at this stage, but can confirm that up to 89% of missing children are recovered and reunited with family or relatives.

Michelle Ohlsson, the mother of nine-year-old Matthew Ohlsson, speaks of all the missing children cases. l FILE

Michelle Ohlsson, the mother of nine-year-old Matthew Ohlsson, who vanished from Mitchell’s Plain in 1997, said trafficking did attribute to cases and that as parents they could never forget their children.

Ohlsson and her husband, Michael, were the founders of Concerned Parents of Missing Children.

“Those years, they (police) mislaid and messed up cases; and many took bribes. If the police had the technology and resources they have today, they could have solved a lot of cases.

“It is hard for a parent when a child is missing, irrespective of the age. Parenthood cannot be shut down, time cannot make you decide that it is enough time, there is no delete button.”