Your role in child safety

South Africa is observing 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children and child safety is a key part of the discussion.

The onus is on every citizen to help make the country a safe place for children.

The reality is that a child goes missing on average every five hours in South Africa. The good news is 75% of these children are found.

Here are three tips to help us reduce the number of children going missing:

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, we need to be vigilant.

Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of strangers taking undue interest in children. Do not allow strangers to take photos of children. Ensure children don’t leave your side in a public place.

Hold their hand or put them in a trolley. Accompany children to public restrooms.

2. Empower the children in your life

As soon as they are old enough, ensure your children know their own surname, their caregiver’s name 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. 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. The best response in a public place is to shout out that your child is missing and to begin describing them.

Instead of one pair of eyes looking, you will have many. Alert security as soon as possible so that they can spread the message to security at all exits.

The next step is to alert the police and then missing persons organisations, such as Missing Children SA and The
Pink Ladies.

While parents and caregivers play a primary role in caring for their children, every member of a community has a responsibility to keep children safe.

Following a recent child-safety dialogue in Orlando East, community members resolved to address concerns by patrolling community parks and known danger areas, calling for background checks on school support staff and for greater vigilance in terms of age restrictions in taverns.

What was highlighted by the children was that they wanted their parents to walk them to school and not to send them out unaccompanied at night.

It takes a village to raise a child and when a parent is not present, caring family, neighbours and community members should step in.

Motau is country director for the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative, which mainstreams psychosocial support into programmes and services for girls, boys and youth in east and southern Africa

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