How to protect your child from abduction

Reading time: 7 min

Most parents get chills when they hear the news that a child had been kidnapped. It is any parent’s worst nightmare, and while it might be uncommon, the threat is there, and it’s terrifying.

Many child abduction cases could be stopped or solved easier if certain preventative steps are taken:

Important precautions:

  • Ensure that your child’s medical records are up to date.
  • Make sure any documentation regarding your child, e.g. custody arrangements and court orders are in order and on hand.
  • Have your child fingerprinted.
  • Be aware of your kids’ Internet activities and chatroom “friends”, and remind them never to give out personal information. Avoid posting identifying information or photos of your kids online.
  • Always supervise your children in places like shopping centres, movie theatres, public bathrooms and restaurants.
  • Never, ever leave a child alone in a pram or car seat – not even for a minute, because a few seconds is all it takes.
  • Make sure you know with whom you entrust your child. Check and recheck references of au pairs, babysitters and nannies.
  • Make sure that you have a plan B in place for someone trustworthy to pick up your children at school in case of an emergency and share this with both the school, the friend and your partner. Also, make sure that the school knows that no one else is allowed to ever pick up your child without confirming it with you – including an ex-spouse.
  • Although it is very cute, do not dress your child in a T-shirt with their name on. Your child will trust a complete stranger much easier if they know their name.

Talking to your child about stranger danger

As parents, we should not cause our children anxiety, yet we have to protect them from possibly dangerous situations. Make sure that talking about their safety is a normal conversation that you often have with them and give them the tools on how to handle potentially threatening scenarios.

Some of the things to discuss with your child:

  • Do not ever accept sweets or any other treat or present from a stranger. Ever.
  • Under no circumstances are they ever allowed to go anywhere with someone they don’t know and trust – even if that person makes it sound like fun. “Do you want to see my puppy” has been used to lure children away from their caregivers before. Make sure your child knows that unknown persons have no right to ask their help for anything.
  • Teach your child to run away and scream and make as much noise as possible if they feel threatened or if a stranger follows them. If they are forced into a vehicle, tell them to kick and scream like they’ve never done before in their lives. You can make it ‘fun’ and let them practise such a scenario to ensure they know exactly what to do.
  • Saying ‘no’ is a vital part of teaching your child about safety. If anyone ever tries to touch them or say things to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, they have the right to be rude, aggressive and vocal about it.
  • Explain to your child that they should always tell another person if a stranger asks them personal questions, makes them feel uneasy or reveal genitals to them.
  • Encourage your child to tell, even if the stranger or person doing things that make them uncomfortable made them promise not to.
  • Teach them that any threat of any kind that is ever made to them should be reported to you immediately, no matter what they were threatened with.

Keep these other tips in mind:

  • Make sure your child knows your cell phone number from a very young age.
  • Be careful in places like child-friendly restaurants, as one tends to be more relaxed. It only takes a few seconds for your child to be abducted. Make sure you can see your child at all times, even if the restaurant has a security system in place.
  • Talk over what to do if they ever get separated from you. Tell them that they should never move from the primary location, should always go to a cashier or security guard and to move away from the entrance of the shop.
  • Come up with an easy code word for anyone other than the child’s parents who needs to pick them up in case of emergency. Teach them not to go with another person if that person doesn’t know the code word, no matter what.

Follow these steps if your child is abducted

If the worst thing happens and your child goes missing, there are a few facts you absolutely need to know. First and foremost: Stay calm. Now is not the time to panic or get hysterical. Secondly, do NOT wait 24 hours to report your missing child. The first 24 hours are critical in finding your child. Be sure to alert friends, family, and neighbours immediately so they can spread the news as well. Get a friend or family member to post to as many social media outlets as possible right away. The first few hours are the most critical in missing-child cases. So, it’s important to take action right away.

  • Make these important phone calls

Immediately call and alert the South African Police Services that you suspect your child may be missing. After you have reported you child as missing to SAPS, call Missing Children South Africa 072 MISSING (072 647 7464)  and The Pink Ladies Organisation for Missing Children National Emergency cell numbers:  ​072 214 7439 / 083 378 4882 (Missing Persons Reports Only). They’ll ask you for a recent picture of your child, what your child was wearing, and details about when and where you last saw your child. Be as descriptive as possible.

  • Conduct a thorough search

If you have not witnessed an abduction personally, after you’ve called both of these numbers, make sure you perform a systematic search of your home or the area where your child was last seen. Make sure to search closets (including attics/lofts), any piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside of large appliances, inside vehicles (including the boot), and anywhere else in your home a child may crawl or hide.

  • Losing track of your child in a store

If you happen to lose sight or track of your child while in a store, immediately notify the store manager or security officer and the shopping centre security management. Then call the South African Police Services.

  • Be as descriptive as possible

When you call the police, there are precise details you should provide to them and any other person assisting to find your child. These details include your child’s name, date of birth, height, weight and descriptions of any other unique identifiers such as eyeglasses and braces, birthmarks or any recent injuries e.g. scratch to the face or any other identifying criteria.

Additionally, tell them when you noticed your child was missing and exactly what clothing they were wearing, including specific shoes, jackets or hats and provide them with a recent, clear, colour photograph of your child.  It is imperative to provide as many details as possible, especially when you report the abduction the first time.  Try to be as specific and descriptive as possible. Every little detail counts!

The above steps are vital in finding your missing child, and again: do not wait 24 hours to take action!

Important numbers

  • SAPS: 10111
  • Missing Children South Africa 072 MISSING (072 647 7464)
  • The Pink Ladies Organisation for Missing Children National Emergency cell numbers: ​072 214 7439 / 083 378 4882 (Missing Persons Reports Only)

Also read:

Child abduction & trafficking: The social media fiction, the facts & the way forward
Empowering you to keep your child safe