Your role in child safety

While concern for your child’s safety is part of the package of parenting, the past year in South Africa has whipped parents into a frenzy of fear. Between the Dros rape incident, viral footage of attempted kidnappings and a Carte Blanche exposé on kidnappings in the country, many parents now avoid taking their kids to public places.

Whether children are statistically more at risk today, or whether it’s simply a case of social media resulting in growing awareness of the dangers, we have to find a way forward to keep our children safe.

South Africa is currently observing 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children and it’s a good opportunity to give thought to the issue of child safety. Whether or not you’re a parent, the future of our country depends on our children and so the onus is upon every responsible citizen to help make South Africa a safe nation for them.

Intervention is required at every level to address this most pressing of issues, but while schools and government and law enforcement and organisations do their part, what can we, as parents, do to protect our own?

1. Be vigilant
Childhood should be a carefree time. Children should not have to live in constant fear for their safety, although too many do. As adults, it’s up to us to be vigilant so that our children can get on with the business of being children. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of strangers taking undue interest in children. Do not allow strangers to take photos of children. They have no right to do so and you have the right to intervene and insist on such photos being deleted.

Children are prone to wandering so placing them in a trolley or ensuring they are holding your hand are good ways to make sure they don’t amble off.

Public restrooms or any places that offer more privacy afford predators the opportunity to enact nefarious intentions. Accompany your children to such areas or, if they are older, ensure they go as part of a responsible group.

2. Empower the children in your life
As soon as they are old enough, ensure that your children know their own surname, their caregivers’ names and their telephone number. Without creating fear, discuss hypothetical situations, walking them through what to do if they get lost (speak to a security guard or a female staff member, or return to the car if outdoors, for example) and what to do if approached by a stranger (firmly decline any invitation and, if necessary, shout to draw attention).

3. Empower yourself
In moments of panic, people react in unexpected ways. Often they freeze completely. As unpleasant as it may be, consider how you would react if your child went missing in a public place. In kidnapping situations, a quick response is everything. Quietly searching for your child so as not to make a fuss is the least obtrusive response, but it’s also the least effective. The best response in a public place is to shout out that your child is missing and to begin describing them. Suddenly, instead of one pair of eyes looking, you have many. Alert security as soon as possible so that they can spread the message to security at all exits. Next steps are to alert the police and then missing persons organisations like Missing Children SA and The Pink Ladies.

While parents and caregivers play a primary role in caring for their children, REPSSI believes that every member of a given community has a responsibility to ensure that children are safe.

Following a recent child safety dialogue in Orlando East, community members resolved to address concerns highlighted by the children by inter alia patrolling community parks and known danger areas, calling for background checks on school support staff and calling for greater vigilance in terms of age restrictions in taverns. The children further highlighted the fact that their parents should walk them to school and should not send them out unaccompanied at night. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child and when a parent is unable to be present in such situations, caring family, neighbours and caring community members should step in.

The shocking reality is that a child goes missing on average every 5 hours in South Africa. The good news is that 75% of these children are found. As adults we must do all we can to reduce the number of children going missing in the first place. The tips above are a good start.

Eric Motau is Country Director for REPSSI (Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative), which leads in mainstreaming psychosocial support into programmes and services for girls, boys and youth in East and Southern Africa.

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