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Parents warned to guard against human trafficking

Image: 123RF/tinnakornlek.

You do not need to wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing. The sooner you go to the police, the better the chance of finding the person.

With cases of human trafficking on the rise, parents and guardians around the country have been urged to be more vigilant and aware of both their children’s physical surroundings and online interactions.

Non-profit organisation Missing Children South Africa (MCSA) has noted an increase in the number of abductions across the country and has advised parents to monitor their children’s social media activities and look out for suspicious accounts or internet scams.

MCSA National Coordinator Bianca van Aswegen spoke at a recent awareness session titled 'Missing children and human trafficking', hosted by Government Communication and Information System’s Gender and Special Programmes. 

She pointed out that South Africa has become a human trafficking hub, with an increase in abductions. 

She also noted that there were more illegal adoptions, involving the selling of children, during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Due to people losing their jobs and being poverty stricken, some got desperate and resorted to selling their children. They, unfortunately, never get reported as missing and it is a huge problem”, she said.

She pointed out that human trafficking is the biggest criminal industry in the world, generating approximately $150 billion a year.

MCSA records about 60 to 90 cases of missing people per month. In most cases, the motives of the kidnappings are not known.

According to Van Aswegen, MCSA has a 77% success rate in finding missing children. Sadly, 23% of these children are either never found or are found deceased.

The organisation has also handled cases of opportunistic kidnappings, parental abductions, ransom kidnappings, traditional medicine kidnappings and human trafficking.

With human trafficking, children and adults are lured through social media syndicates, which often use fraudulent job adverts and fake profiles to find their victims.

“Syndicates get the victims hooked on drugs and they would not be able to escape because they will be dependent on the drugs. They are later killed and used as organ donors,” Van Aswegen said.

She added that human trafficking is often motivated by sexual exploitation, illegal adoptions, forced labour and illegal activities, such as the drug trade. Young people are promised a better life for their families but end up being forced to work without any pay. This happened to a 13-year-old boy who went missing and was found down a mine shaft with 30 other young boys between the ages of 13 and 18.

“They were being held against their will, abused and were malnourished by the time we found them,” she explained.

Van Aswegen emphasised that education plays a vital role in preventing human trafficking. Her organisation has developed education programmes – tips for children and tips for parents – to raise awareness on the dangers children face and provide advice for keeping them safe.

Safety tips for parents

Teach your children that even people they know can try to harm them, so they should tell you if a family member is doing something that makes them feel bad or uncomfortable.

Know where your child is at all times, who they are with and what they are wearing.

Know your child’s friends, their addresses and contact numbers.

Teach your children their address and your contact number.

Keep your children close to home and teach them never to go anywhere alone.

Create a secret family password. If you send someone to collect your child and that person knows the password, your child will know it is safe to go with them.

Do not write your children’s names on the outside of their personal belongings.

How to report a missing person

If someone close to you is missing, go to the police immediately – you do not need to wait for 24 hours.

Take with you a recent photograph of the missing person.

Give any information that might help to identify the person, such as what they were wearing, their age, height, hair colour, eye colour and any identifying marks, such as scars or tattoos.

For more information, visit www.missingchildren.org.za, email: info@missingchildrensa.org.za or call 072 647 7464.You can also report a missing person via the SAPS Crime Stop number: 08600 10111.

-This article was originally published in the GCIS Vuk'uzenzele.