Police have urged parents to keep a close eye on their children following numerous reports of kidnappings and demands for ransom.
In October this year, police statistics showed a 115% increase in kidnappings in South Africa over the last ten years, from 2 535 to 5 455 incidents.
“Public concern is growing about the kidnapping or abductions of children with alarming stories doing the rounds on social media,” according to the Institute of Security Studies.
As the holiday season kicks in separate incidents of child abductions and kidnappings in the Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni municipalities have put authorities and parents on high alert.
In the last week, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) arrested a woman in connection with the abduction of an infant.
“Two women heard a baby crying but couldn’t locate where the cry was coming from exactly,” JMPD spokesperson, Chief Superintendant Wayne Minaar, told City Press.
“After trying to figure out where the crying baby was, they followed a woman who had a carrier bag with her after they realised that’s where the sound was coming from,” he said.
According to Minaar the JMPD was alerted and officers arrived at the location: at the corner of Simmonds and Lillian Ngoyi streets in the Johannesburg CBD.
“When officers arrived they found a new born baby with an umbilical cord in a carrier bag filled with onions and tomatoes.”
The young woman was questioned and gave several different versions of events, Minaar said.
“First she said she had given birth to the baby at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital but when officers went there to investigate the matter, the hospital could not confirm her claims. She then changed her story and said she had witnessed a lady who had just given birth to the infant dump the baby in a bin and she [the suspect] rescued the new born,” he explained.
South African Police Service (SAPS) captain, Kay Makhubele confirmed that the 24-year-old woman was subsequently detained.
“She was arrested on a charge of abduction and appeared at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court the day after she was arrested,” he said.
The Ekhuruleni Municipality also experienced a rapid spike of ransom kidnappings at the beginning of the school holidays.
Gauteng MEC for community safety, Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane, told City Press that following four separate incidents of kidnapping for ransom, two of the three perpetrators involved had been located and arrested in Germiston.
“There were four kidnappings and demands for ransom made. The first one was in Centurion where one child was kidnapped and R5000 was demanded. The second and third kidnappings happened in the Clayville area where 2 children were abducted in each case and an amount of R12 000 was demanded. And the fourth instance took place in Germiston where the kidnappers demanded R15 000 for the safe return of three children,” she said.
According to Malobane, in all instances, families of the children paid the ransom as demanded in order to ensure the safe return of the children.
“In the first kidnapping the family paid about R2000 and the child was dropped at the McDonalds in the area. In the second case the police were already involved in the negotiations with the kidnappers but the family panicked and sent an amount of about R2600 through an e-wallet and that was also what happened in the last kidnapping in Germiston last week,” she said.
Malobane explained that during the last kidnapping on Friday, police had used technology to trace the phones of the perpetrators.
“Following panic from the family an amount of about R2500 was paid and the kidnappers were traced to the ATM where they had withdrawn the money and were subsequently arrested,” she said.
“The children who were between the ages of five and twelve all returned to their families unharmed and they assisted us in capturing the two perpetrators by identifying them through a police line up,” she said.
SAPS Provincial Head of Corporate Communications, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, said some parents only informed the police about kidnappings after the ransom was paid and the child was safely returned.
But he said it was important for the police to be involved from the onset as things could go horribly wrong.
“Police are adequately trained and should the need arise, could bring on board the SAPS’ specialist hostage negotiators.”
Authorities have urged parents to be vigilant, especially during the festive season, and to ensure that they know the whereabouts of their children at all times.
Nkosi-Malobane added: “Parents should teach their children not to trust anyone. With these kidnappings for example, the children were lured by these men and they [perpetrators] got the children to trust them. They win them over using a certain technique where the children end up trusting them or feeling comfortable with them.”
“It is important to alert police immediately if as a parent you suspect your child is missing. Do not waste time trying to find the child yourself, call the police immediately. There is no waiting time to report a child missing, do it immediately.”