It seems that an attempt to kidnap your child can happen everywhere, at any time - and certainly when you least expect it.
It's not only family-friendly spaces like shopping malls or recreational parks that aren't safe: children are at risk at school as they enter and leave the premises, as one horrified Western Cape-based teen recently experienced.
According to News24, while walking home from school, the young girl was approached by three strangers in a blue Volkswagen Polo and asked for directions.
"The front passenger allegedly got out of the Polo and tried to grab the girl, but she was too quick and ran in the opposite direction, where she stopped a delivery vehicle for help... Apart from being traumatised, the girl sustained no injuries," Western Cape police spokesperson FC van Wyk said in an interview.
If anything, the recent attempted kidnapping has highlighted the importance of being prepared.
Also read: 12 facts on child abductions
'It saved me'
Writing to Parent24 to share her experience with an attempted kidnapping as a young girl, along with her sister, this reader shared the advice that she believes saved their lives.
Read her story below:
"My parents used to have a safeword/password thing going," Nadine wrote.
She says she remembers when she and her sister walked home from school one day, when a man approached them saying that their mother mom had sent him to pick the children up.
"Luck was on our side as I remembered my mom saying if someone says she sent him to pick us up, she would have given him the password of the day to ensure that we are safe," she explained.
"The guy didn't know the password so we ran to the nearest house with kids outside for help. That password thing saved me and my sister that day," Nadine stresses.
Must read: Can you "abduct-proof" your kids?
A family code word
This safety tip is known as the Safeword or Password method, or sometimes the 'family code word' method, and internationally has proven successful in thwarting attempted child abductions.
"It is quite simple: parents choose a password and tell their kids the password of the day as they depart to school or mall. If for some reason one of the parents or both parents can not fetch the child as agreed, they give the person picking up the kids the password of the day, and the person has to provide the password to the child they are fetching. Once the password has been used, they change it," she explained.
Children should never go anywhere with someone they don't know, but some can be intimidated by an adult or lured by promises of money or treats.
Encouraging the child to ask for a password first can alert them to potential danger, and also make the would-be kidnapper aware that the child is not an easy target.
"It saved me and my sister, and I have no doubt that it will save other children," Nadine wrote.
- 'We will take all of that on us': Dad behind new local Child Protection Hotlines shares why he does it
Parent24 reached out to Danie van Loggerenberg, the founder of the new child abuse protection hotlines that were launched nationally to give parents, childminders and teachers more tips on what they should do when they suspect a kidnapping attempt.
To date over 473 200 children have benefited from van Loggerenberg's and his team's assistance, and he shared these tips he's learned from his time manning the phones:
1. Save a number
Parents must save a number for Child Protection. The number can be that of our National Hotline Number at 076 90 71510; South African Police Service (SAPS) at 08600 10111 or any number they feel comfortable with.
Parents can also call ChildLine, child welfare or social development if they feel comfortable, says van Loggerenberg.
When it comes to protecting your child it should always be a 'rather safe than sorry' approach, he says, adding that the reason for this is that when you experience an attempted kidnapping you will be in shock.
"Do not think that you will be able to remember a number and be able to have your normal way of day to day thinking," he stresses.
Download Child Protection numbers and email addresses by city and province here: Child Protection Hotline
2. Make sure the number has an SMS or WhatsApp line
The key is to make sure that the number also has an SMS service or WhatsApp line. For example, the SAPS Crime Stop line where you can call crime stop at 08600 10111, but can also send an SMS on 32210.
This is important because you might need to send basic information such as where the incident took place, small details such as the description of the kidnapper, what the child was wearing and such, he says.
He adds, "When in shock, blue might look like grey and red like orange. Those small details are very important and should be sent immediately."
Every passing minute you start doubting exactly what you saw, he tells Parent24. "It is also easier to type XX 99 XX GP for example than trying to remember it while holding the phone, waiting for someone to answer."
3. Do not play cop yourself
Van Loggerenberg warns parents not to act like they are the police during an attempted kidnapping, because they won’t know if the kidnapper is armed and that might put their lives at risk.
He explains that the kidnapper knows he or she risks their life to attempt a kidnapping.
"You did not enter a shopping centre with the same mindset," he notes.
Lastly, he urges parents to call the number they have saved in their cell phone should they suspect an attempted kidnapping is happening, or has happened.
The first few seconds or minutes are extremely crucial, so parents must act fast, he urges.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
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