A child getting kidnapped is every parent’s worst nightmare! Especially in South Africa where the danger of kidnapping grows year after year. As evidenced in multiple viral videos of children snatched in malls and restaurants, it can happen in the blink of an eye! To save a child’s life, it is essential to know what to do, especially in the first 24 hours.

What defines a kidnapping?

According to South African law, kidnapping is a separate crime from abduction. Abduction is the unlawful taking of a minor from the control of their parent or guardian for marriage or sexual exploitation, or the abductor decides to raise the child are their own. A kidnapping, however, is when a child is detained, taken away some distance from where they were abducted, and held for ransom money.

What to do if Your Child is Kidnapped: How to Report a Missing Person in South Africa

As mentioned, the first 24 hours are crucial, and if you take action as soon as possible, it drastically improves the chances of the authorities finding a missing child:

Step 1: Find a recent and clear photograph of your child. Make sure his/her face is visible

Step 2: Go to your nearest police station immediately to open a case (produce the photograph). There is no waiting period to report a missing person.

Step 3: Provide a clear description of the child (age, height and weight). Mention what the child was wearing when you last saw them and point out if the child has any distinctive features or marks (such as a scar, or birthmark)

Step 4: Complete and sign a SAPS 55 (A) form and make sure you get the investigating officer’s contact details.

Step 5: Reach out to other organisations or NGOs that assist with finding missing children. For example, Missing Children South Africa can support by distributing flyers with all the relevant information to their volunteers, the media and social networks to help locate the missing person. They also remain in contact with the family and police if they received any tip-offs or leads. This is a free service.

Step 6: Stay in contact with the investigating officer and let them know if you have received any useful information that can assist with the search.

Step 7: Get professional psychological help. Dealing with a child going missing is emotionally taxing and strenuous, so it is best to have someone to talk to.

What is the Punishment for Kidnapping in South Africa?

If found guilty of kidnapping, the law states that the minimum sentence is five years’ imprisonment.

Child Safety Tips: How Parents Can Protect Children Even More

Social Worker and ChildLine Manager, Faiza Khota, suggests the following:

  • be vigilant in public spaces, especially parks, restaurants and malls;
  • create tags or bracelets for kids with their personal details;
  • teach kids to memorise important contact numbers;
  • make them wear a whistle to use when they are lost or afraid;
  • practice a safety plan using various scenarios;
  • teach them to be wary of strangers and potential predators (without scaring them);
  • share age-appropriate information about safety with children;
  • always carry a very recent photo of your child.

Other safety tips include:

  • Teach kids how to call 10111 for help.
  • Make sure children know how to make local and long-distance telephone calls.
  • Teach your children to scream as loudly as possible, and that it is okay to do so when afraid.
  • Never leave children alone in a car, not even for a few seconds.
  • Establish strict procedures for picking up children at school, after movies, at friends’ homes, etc.
  • Establish a family code word that only you, your child and a trusted relative or friend knows. Teach your child to ask for the code word when approached by someone offering them a ride.
  • Remind your children never to accept a ride from someone you don’t know, even if the child knows them.
  • Talk to your children about child abduction in a simple, non-threatening way.
  • Have your child fingerprinted and store the prints in a safe, easily accessible place in your home.
  • Teach children: Never leave home without your permission. Very small children should play only in areas away from the street, such as a backyard, or in a play area supervised by a responsible adult.
  • Never wander off, to avoid lonely places, and to avoid shortcuts through alleys or deserted areas. They are safer walking or playing with friends.

While the threat of kidnappings looms large in South Africa, it’s important to focus on the fact that with immediate action and the right assistance, there’s likely to be a happy ending.