Unless you live under a rock, you should know that we are confronted with daily news headlines of horrific acts against children in South Africa. Alarming statistics shows that children are often the victims of horrendous crimes. The latest making headlines are a spate of child abductions and attempted abductions. With at least 13 confirmed cases reported so far.
The thing is we don’t want to be paranoid parents and let’s be realistic, we can’t protect our children and keep a watchful eye over them 24/7. These kinds of headlines make us worry. It makes us anxious and anxiety is contagious when our children are in danger. We suspect anyone who just glances at our children.
Last week a video on Facebook went viral and showed how perpetrators tried to kidnap a girl walking from school. This child was so brave and luckily managed to escape the clutches of her alleged kidnappers. But things could have been so different. What if the perpetrators abducted this child? We all know the reality of what happens if a child goes missing.
This and other videos have surfaced and everyone was on high alert. Sending parents into a frenzy. With schools putting safety measures in place and becoming alarmist by sending out newsletters reminding parents and learners to be vigilant.
But last Thursday, 6 September on Jane Dutton’s show on ENCA, a guest speaker, Marcel van der Watt from UNISA’s Department of Police Practices touched on something profound. He said are these incidences based on FACT, FICTION or FABRICATION. Then on Friday, 7 September, SAPS (South African Police Service) confirmed that there was no evidence to support the child abduction videos and that it appears to be hoaxes. None of these incidences showed on video were reported to SAPS. Also there was no conclusive evidence that these incidences actually occurred in South Africa. Allegedly it could be re-enactments of attempted kidnappings and therefore regarded as fake news.
So with SAPS coming out and making this statement; how certain are we that this is in actual fact the case? Do we just accept this and let our guard down and become complacent? Surely the 13 confirmed cases is still worrisome with the modus operadi being the same. All being 13, being female learners travel to and from school. Out of the 13 cases, 3 were sexually assaulted.
Knowing the latest crime stats, how is it even possible to let our guard down.
And don’t think for a minute that this will never happen to your child because you live in an affluent suburb or neighbourhood. Ignorance is bliss if you still have the perception that these incidences only happen in poverty stricken neighbourhoods where unemployment is rife. Negative forces can also enter affluent suburbs and place you and your family at risk of harm.
And yes the majority of crimes are committed in socio-economic stricken areas. If only there were enough jobs available then people would not commit crimes. Like the saying goes “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Often people known to the family or child commit these crimes.
A year ago I wrote a blog post about how children growing up today will never be truly street smart. I expressed how our children will never be able to experience the freedom we had as children. Let’s not shy away from the fact that child abuse happened in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s even way before then. But it wasn’t common and the world was a much safer place back then.
Why was it safer back then?
I will tell you why, because back then it took a “village to raise a child”. Back then neighbours knew each other and not just by greeting. People had actual conversations over their fences. Children in the neighborhood all played together. Our neighbours would look out for us and notice if there were strange activity happening that was out of the norm. It was not about being busybody but about showing an interest and taking responsibility for your own and other people’s children.
Today, we no longer have “villages”. We no longer have communities who look out for each other’s children. Now our fences are too high, we don’t even see our neighbours and if we see them we don’t greet. If we see something out of the ordinary in our neighborhood; we turn a blind eye.
Do we continue to blame SAPS and government for not doing enough to keep our children safe? The question is – What are we doing about this situation? How can we change this shitty environment without “villages” so that our children don’t have lost childhoods but happy and safe ones?
I’m no expert on this but I am a parent who is very concerned about the current state of affairs when it comes to our children. We need “villages” that are safety-focused and whom we can trust. It is up to us as adults to change this shitty environment that our children are growing up in.
Apart from the minority criminal elements in some communities, I do believe that there are still many good and trustworthy people living amongst us. So this is what a safety-focused community can do.
Know your neighbours
It is important that you get to know your neighbours. Know what they look like, whether they are elderly or have small children and teenagers who attend school. Do they work from home or away from home. Get to know their routine, when they leave home in the morning and when they return. Know their contact numbers if you observe something suspicious.
If you suspect a neighbour to be involved in criminal activity then alert your local police department. It is unfortunate that the National Register for Sexual Offenders is currently not available to the general public.
An active neighbourhood watch
Have an active neighbourhood watch who works closely with SAPS and security armed response teams. A neighbourhood watch who patrol the neighbourhood during the day and at night and can assist with recognising criminal activity in the area. They will help identify bullying, truancy and unknown characters lurking in the area. Members of the neighbourhood watch can also monitor play parks by ensuring that children are safe and that no drug dealings are taking place. Let them keep a watchful eye on empty or abandoned houses in the area. Usually these houses are an easy escape for criminal activity.
Walking bus project
The walking bus project is a group of volunteers who are screened and trained to ensure that children are safely walked to school in the morning and walked home in the afternoon. So far this project is working well in 74 areas in the Western Cape.
Community involvement in child neglect and abuse
Should community members be suspicious that a child is neglected or abused; they should take note of possible warning signs. These could be anybody from neighbours to teachers who can look out for these signs.
Signs of abuse to look out for:
It include unexplained fractures, bruises or burn marks on children, children acting out or becoming withdrawn, nervousness, constantly crying, bullying, absenteeism, poor academic performance and knowledge of sexual acts.
Signs of neglect to look out for include the following:
Constantly left alone at home without adult supervision, playing alone outside until late at night. Malnutrition in children, poor hygiene and dirty clothing.
Teachers and community members need to monitor the situation and talk to the child and parents about their concerns. Offer assistance and support when it comes to neglect. If all measures fail, then call in professional assistance. Once physical and sexual abuse has been confirmed, report it to the authorities immediately.
Community skills building initiatives
If unemployment is high in the community then try to get NGO’s to offer skills training in your area. Start a vegetable garden or a recycling initiative. Take pride in your neighbourhood by keeping it clean, get volunteers to keep the streets clean. Ensure that equipment in the parks are not broken, wash off graffiti from the walls. Approach local schools in the area to offer night school for those who don’t have a matric.
After school and holiday programmes
Churches and mosques should be safe havens for children to go to after school and during holidays. Religious institutions have a big role to play to keep children off the streets and cannot just open their doors on a Friday and Sunday for religious services. These institutions should be actively involved by running after school programmes like homework, reading clubs as well as arts and crafts and other activities. There are many retired teachers and other volunteers within the communities who can assist.
Parents have a vital role to play to ensure the safety of their children. In my post about raising born free street smart children, I highlighted a few things that parents can do. But I want to touch on a few extras.
Rethink Stranger Danger
Teaching your children that all strangers are dangerous is detrimental to their own safety and will instil fear. In most cases those who harm children are well known to them. If your child is in trouble they should think critically, trust their instincts and approach a teacher, police officer, security guard or shop assistant. Dangerous strangers also don’t fit a certain description. They are not all scary looking and mean, in fact if a stranger wants to harm your child he/she will be nice to win over their trust. Teach your children to be wary of potential dangerous situations. Situations like, if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable, touches them inappropriately, asks them to keep a secret and invite them without the permission of a parent.
Children should not be eager to help strangers. Teach your child that adults will not ask children to help them; they will ask other adults to assist. They should not approach vehicles when called by an adult who offers them sweet treats and gifts. If these adults are persistent, then your child should kick up a racket; scream to attract attention and run away.
Safe scholar transport
The scholar transport conditions in our country is shocking. On selecting scholar transport, check all safety standards. The driver should have a valid driver’s licence. Legally authorised to transport school children. The vehicle should be roadworthy and have enough seatbelts for all passengers. Parents are often under the impression that their children are safely transported to and from school. Listen to your child when he/she informs you that the driver is driving recklessly or if the vehicle is overloaded. Enquire if the driver drops and collects the children at school or a few metres away from school. If you are not happy with the service, then change to a safer and reliable mode of transport.
Know where your children are
Children no longer have the freedom to roam the streets. Make it a rule that your children should ask for permission first before going somewhere. Know your child’s friends and their parents as well as their contact numbers. If you have teenagers who go out with friends over weekends, make sure one of the parents will drop and collect them. Set boundaries and give them curfews. If your teenagers have cellphones, check up on them occasionally to make sure they are where they said they would be. Explain to them that it is not about being controlling but that you are looking out for their safety.
Have a safety code
Come up with a safety code for your family. The code should be short and easy to remember. Make sure that everyone in the family knows the code and not to share it with anyone. Stress that it is for emergencies only. Should your child be in trouble, he/she can alert you by using this code. Also teach your child to ask for the safety code if someone approaches them and offers them a lift. If shared outside of the family; then change the code immediately.
Be aware of what your children are searching for on the internet. If they have social media accounts, monitor what they post, who they follow and who their followers are. Also make sure that privacy settings are in place. As adults be aware what you share on your own social media accounts. I have a strict rule about not sharing any facial recognition photographs of my children on my open social media platforms. Identification information about them are not shared. People wanting to share photographs of my children on their social media platforms should ask my permission first before doing so. They are not to be tagged in any photographs without me knowing about it. I however do have private social accounts where only close friends and family can see photos of them.
For more safety measures, visit my blog post on raising born free street smart children.
At the end of the day we want our children to enjoy their childhood, be free to play and not to worry about every single person who can potentially hurt them. Let’s slowly get our “villages” back in place and create safe environments for our children to thrive in.