According to reports from Missing Children South Africa, a child goes missing every five hours in South Africa. Globally, statistics also show that child trafficking is on the increase. In light of these alarming figures, parents are again urged to keep a watchful eye over their children during the festive season, especially in crowded areas and kidnapping hotspots such as the malls and beaches.
This is according to Simon Colman, Underwriting Executive at SHA Specialist Underwriters, who says that while South Africa is less of a hotspot for human trafficking than some other African countries, it is still a very real danger. “During the festive season, when public spaces are overcrowded, South African consumers need to ensure that they are extremely vigilant and keep safe by reporting any suspicious behaviour to security personnel and the police.”
Colman provides the below educational tips for parents in an effort to teach their children how to stay safe this festive season;
Speak to children and youngsters about the realities
Parents are encouraged to have an open and realistic conversation with their children about the facts of kidnapping situations. The aim is not to make them scared or paranoid, but to rather prepare them. It is important to explain to children of all ages that they are at risk of being kidnapped when they are in a mall or on a beach when there are lots of other people around, so it is dangerous if they wander off on their own. Clearly explain to children from a young age what the do’s and don’ts are when it comes to walking around in public spaces.
It is also advisable that parents inform their children about such events heard on the news in an age-appropriate manner. Try to get a conversation going with the youngsters to get their views and perspective on the situation.
Explain to kids how they can recognise danger
Children should know how to identify a stranger or a possible threat. Kidnappers are not always creepy looking people in black coats – they can be anyone on the street. Therefore, children should know that they do not have to talk to anyone that they do not know or trust or do something they do not want to do. Adults normally won’t ask kids for help, so tell them that this should be seen as a warning sign.
Explain to children that another sign to identify a suspicious person would be if the stranger wants them to go to another place with them. Children should know that they must never get into a car with a stranger or walk to a distant area – they are allowed to say ‘no’ to these adults.
Teach kids that rules change when they are in danger
As a general parenting practice, parents spend lots of time telling children not to interrupt other people or not to make a mess or unnecessary noise. When the child is in danger, or they foresee danger coming, they need to know that the rules can change and they are allowed to interrupt their guardian to get their urgent attention. They need to know that it is okay to kick, scream, yell or knock things over to get their parent’s attention if they ever feel endangered.
Revise and rehearse an emergency plan
It is vital to have a plan of action in place and make sure that the child knows exactly what to do when they do happen to find themselves lost from their guardian at any given time. Parents could give their children a very specific whistle that they are only allowed to blow when they are feeling threatened or scared in a situation, or teach kids that it is okay to scream in certain instances when they feel that an adult is being inappropriate.
Some parents have started to write their cell phone numbers on their kids arms in case the child goes missing to allow the child to go to a safety officer and have them phone the parent to reunite the child with his/her guardians. It is also advised that parents tell their children that should they ever get lost in a mall that they go to the nearest store clerk, not a stranger, and stay there until they are found.
“South Africa is a confirmed source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking, which causes concern for any young person roaming streets, malls and beaches alone. It is vital that youngsters and kids are aware of and educated about these risks and have a plan of action in place should they ever be in a situation where they feel threatened,” concludes Colman.