According to Missing Children South Africa, one South African child goes missing every five hours.* The missing child could either be trafficked or will find solace in the streets of South Africa. This International Day for Street Children, commemorated on Tuesday, 14 April 2016, the National Children and Violence Trust (NCVT) implores communities to join forces in providing a safe and conducive environment for children. NCVT supports vulnerable groups such as abused and violated women and children; the unemployed; and people infected by the human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
This year marks the sixth International Day for Street Children and the NCVT pleads with communities to restore community social culture and cohesion by ensuring children’s basic rights are at the forefront of community safety. With over 15 million South African children under the age of 14, and 5.6 million of them being under the age of four years old**, it is in the hands of families and communities to ensure that children of all ages do not resort to the streets as a desperate measure to avoid morbid domestic challenges at home. “Children are our future leaders, educators and doctors after all,” says NCVT Senior Social Worker, Judith Mthombeni.
“It is not uncommon for children in South Africa to live separately from their biological parents, in the care of relatives or friends. A number of issues may be attributed to this norm, including: the fear of getting into trouble at school or at home; parents divorcing or living with a new spouse; physical, sexual or substance abuse and bullying to name a few,” explains Mthombeni. “As a result, we aim to educate communities about the consequences of allowing a long period of time to pass before reporting that a child has gone missing,” she adds.
NCVT shares five signs that indicate a child is planning to run away and how to handle each sign:
- Withdrawal: If a child who is usually outgoing suddenly withdraws from socialising or becomes more of an introvert, take careful note. A sudden preoccupation with privacy and being extremely secretive is also a clear warning sign. Communicating consistently with your child is very important in order to quickly pick up on this type of unusual behaviour.
- Travel bag: It may sound obvious, but do look out for a bag packed with some clothes and a few essentials that may be hidden out of sight. The bag is a sign of a carefully planned escape option, made by a child who is not comfortable at home. If you find a bag, speak to the child about why they’ve packed it and what it is for. Be careful to show that you are listening to their concerns.
- New and unknown friends: A sudden change in friendships can trigger a decision to run away from home or turn to a life on the street with other children who live on the street. Get to know your child’s friends by name and take an interest in the friendships they have, encourage them to invest in good friends.
- Bunking school: While the impression is created that a child is attending school, they may be skipping class or leaving early. Keeping track of homework assignments, the school programme and knowing the child’s teachers are an easy way for parents to be sure their child doesn’t bunk school.
- Domestic violence: Any form of abuse at home, by any family member – whether it is drug, alcohol, physical or verbal abuse, will result in a child avoiding the home. Regular sleepovers at a friend’s house are a good indicator that they’re not comfortable at home. Seek professional assistance if domestic violence is experienced in the home.
“Our priority is to protect children’s rights and ensure that they are not violated. Should we suspect that a child is in any danger or shows signs of wanting to run away, NCVT social workers intervene using the appropriate channels,” says Mthombeni.
Parents are urged to make use of their local police stations as soon as their child goes missing and complete a SAP55A form. Care givers can also get in touch with organisations such as non-profit organisation, Missing Children South Africa, to report a missing child.
“In the words of our late Former President, Nelson Mandela, ‘children are our greatest treasure – they are our future’. Let’s save our children from the streets and share love with every child we come across, whether biologically related to you or not,” concludes Mthombeni.