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Missing children in South Africa (social media versus the facts)

There have been some very scary stories and social media posts going around on missing children, child trafficking and people trying to steal kids off the streets or from their mother’s arms. Some of them are very real. And others are completely fake. When I see people sharing false facts around child trafficking or kidnapping, it really upsets me. Because the realities are scary enough and making up stuff takes away from that and creates unnecessary work for SAPS. When I see panicked moms trying to build digital walls around their children’s identities because they fear Facebook is some kind of shopping list for their babies, I get seriously angry. So I did what I do – research.

I shared what I thought was relatively mild commentary (particularly when considered the screaming rant in my head) in my daily Instagram post last night. This morning I was tagged in a story about the loss of precious little Miguel Louw and told I was disrespecting him and his family and other parents with missing children with my post. Below is my only post and it was in no way meant as disrespectful of the very real traumas of families in our country. (Unless she took issue with the SAPS media statement I shared on Tums 2 Tots Online.)

View this post on Instagram
Day 1670 – 6 Sep 18 : Striking all the poses before ninja class today, along with showing me her punching practice (in #instastories ). I had a lovely start to my day with Shelley at @bumpstobabesfitness and am feeling so positive about that part of my journey. She is the PERFECT person for me to do this with. But then I got massively angry at all the scare mongering happening around missing children and I started a massive rant post with actual stats versus the fake info being sprayed everywhere. And then I decided, you know what. Let people just do whatever they want. I have always lived in South Africa. I have raised Charly KNOWING we live in South Africa. It sucks, but she knows not to trust any adult that isn’t brett, me or my mom or that we have specifically handed her to. She knows that people know her name even though they are strangers and that if anyone approaches her ever anywhere she runs to her present adult. I’ve ALWAYS been ultra cautious and obviously I am using this time to refresh that training with her and my family. I’m NOT taking my child off social media. I would far rather my child’s face be recognized by thousands of people, she is a lot more difficult to hide that way isn’t she. Also why on earth would a bad guy want a child that is so easily recognizable that has hyper vigilant family and friends when there are millions of children that aren’t being hovered over and nobody other than family would ever recognize? Bleugh. The friends I have that are in the police are as angry and frustrated by the muddying of these very real issues with random drama created by online paranoia. Be aware. Be educated. Don’t feed the trolls.
A post shared by Mandy Lee Miller (@pregnantincapetown) on

The point I was trying to make in my post is the exact opposite… I find the spreading of untrue and dramatic things online disrespectful to the realities of missing children or those who die every day in our country. My current frustration began with this rash rush of parents taking down their kids from social media to prevent kidnapping. I spent a lot of time yesterday researching where this started… Where or when did anybody mention photos of children on social media in relation to missing or abducted kids? Nowhere, that’s where. *8 September Update – I am referring to where this originated in direct relation to the current missing children cases in South Africa.

There are many reasons people might – and do – choose to keep their children’s faces off the internet. I have close friends who made this decision before their children were born. Whether they make that decision because they want to respect their child’s right to choose when and in what way they want to present themselves to the world and to maintain their privacy…

Or because of very real fear of pedophiles… Of people taking the photos and using them with unrelated content… Or even a weird fad that happened a while ago, where people used photos of other people’s children as if they were their own. I respect a decision to keep your child offline completely. We live in a horrific world. But this concept that having your child’s photo on social media is going to make them a child abduction target is – from my South African research and conversations with friends in SAPS – completely unfounded.

My thoughts on sharing photos of children online

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If you choose not to share photos of your child online, that is ok. You make decisions that you believe are the best for your child. But don’t make decisions based off random social media shares of people who are afraid. Do research, weigh the facts you find and make your decision. Do NOT use that decision to bully, shame or otherwise be a horrible human being to others.

My personal thoughts on why I am happy with Charly being online and being as known as she is… Something bad happening to her is as big a reality for me as to any other parent. My very long stretch with paralysing anxiety was 100% due to South African crime and my child. I feel safer having everybody recognise Charly, than having nobody know what she looks like and have to be looking for her. I believe that IF she were to go missing, it would be a crime of opportunity. That if someone were to come across her online, they are more likely to cross her off a list because thousands of people know her face. There is no FACT in this, it is just what I find most logical.

Be responsible in what you share online. Of yourself! Of your children! And of random things you come across! The whole world is out there and things go viral in an instant. You bullying somebody, no matter what your intent, can destroy your life and theirs. Sharing some malicious untrue articles can get you in court. And yes, sharing your child in the wrong way can have dire consequences.

My personal safety rules on what I share of Charly
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  • No nudies, no matter how cute. When she was very little, I shared a few topless pics of her in her nappy. But there was a point where she moved from baby to little girl when it suddenly made me feel uncomfortable. So I apply the same rule as for myself – I wouldn’t want someone sharing a nip slip of mine, so I won’t do that to her. Bath photos are shoulders up or bubble-guarded.
  • My daily post is at the end of the day. I LOVE sharing the places we go and the amazing things we get to experience as a family. I take video clips and photos and even use the adorable little Boomerang app on Instastories… And then I save them and share only once we are home and in bed hours later. I also very very rarely share where we are going to be before going. I have always been aware of the missing children epidemic in South Africa. Being aware and being a responsible parent has always been a big thing for me. Kids vanish in seconds – by choice or otherwise.
  • No school identifiers: no school uniforms, no school badges, no branded report cards, no landmarks nearby. When she wears a uniform, I won’t be sharing that either if the colours or patterns give the school away. I do share her extra mural outfits, which I have considered. I don’t share the branch she attends though. Beyond this, it is always possible for someone who is really out to find you to do so. She is never alone outside of our house. Literally. Even if she is in our garden inside our hyper-secure complex, there is somebody with her.
Missing Children – Social Media versus the facts
MISSING CHILDREN SOUTH AFRICA

There have been some seemingly terrifying stats shared online in the past week. The real facts are scary enough that there is genuinely no need to exaggerate them.

*8 September Update – IOL did a great summary of which of the stories circulating were real and which were proven false here: http://bit.ly/2Qek29h.

There is NO evidence that a child is taken every 30 seconds in South Africa.

The statistic saying that a child goes missing every 5 hours in South Africa is also incorrect, because it is outdated.

The last published statistics work out to a child going missing every 9 hours. That is 2 children a day. Which is horrifying enough.

There is also no indication that there has been a sudden increase in missing children; other than the hoax videos being shared online.

What does the term “missing children” mean? This number includes all children under 18 that are reported missing. It doesn’t take into account those that were never missing, that went home with a friend without telling their parents. Nor does it take into account the teens that ran away. And it doesn’t consider the number of children that come home of their own accord.

The national case officer of The Missing Persons Bureau, Bianca van Aswegen, said in June that among the missing children cases reported countrywide… 94 runaways, 19 kidnappings, 2 were human trafficking, and 10 were mentally challenged and 2 were lost. The kidnappings are also rarely done by strangers, and are often direct family members. None of this means that we should be any less careful! Missing children are a reality. And 2% of the children found, were not found alive.

MISSING CHILDREN STATS AREN’T EVEN THE WORST STATS ON SA KIDS

While this means that the number of missing children is far below the carelessly strewn around facts on social media, that does NOT mean we shouldn’t be afraid. The numbers we should be fearful of, the reason we need to train our children to be aware of their surroundings and to trust their instincts and always feel safe to come to us when they are feeling uncomfortable is that 46 children are raped and 2 children are murdered every day in South Africa. Most South African children are taken or harmed by people they know. And most of the children are those who are already at risk.

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Does it make sense yet why I was so incredibly angry about all the false news on child trafficking? Those videos that popped up on social media, whether they were old or from other countries or just reenactments done for heavens knows why? SAPS had to investigate every one of them. They had to consult with thousands of police stations around South Africa, trying to find any hint that there were missing children out there that they hadn’t been notified of. Resources that should have been focused on finding out what really happened to little Miguel or to the far far too many children who have been lost or hurt or who are still missing… those resources were spent chasing ghosts before being able to respond to the online hysteria that was being perpetrated by thousands of people online.

How do we protect our children? I am not an expert, but this is what I have done with Charly since small.
  • Charly is NEVER alone. She is never out of one of our lines of sight. We walk her to her classroom and collect her from her classroom every day. There are no school outings or extramurals without Brett, my mother or I there.
  • She has always known that she has to hold our hands or be in the trolley in shops or malls. Recently she has been breaking that rule when with granny and running ahead. Now she won’t be going out to the mall until I get some form of kiddy leash for her. I don’t care for a second what people think of that.
  • I have always made it completely clear to Charly that there are a lot of strangers out there that will recognise her and know her name. That she is to instantly retreat to her adult before responding to them in any way.
  • She knows if anybody touches her or tries to give her something, she is to yell on top of her lungs. If we are going somewhere where she is safe, a party with friends or an event where she may accept gifts or food from someone, we will tell her beforehand. And she still double checks with us before actually accepting.
  • If a strange grown up approaches her and asks for her help, she is to shout in their face as loud as she can. She finds this idea hilarious and I know that at some point she will scream at the wrong person. I will apologise when that happens, but I won’t stop her from doing it before.
COPYRIGHT MLM MISSING CHILDREN PLAY AREA
  • Restaurants with play areas are great. We love them. If you ever see me arrive at one, you will think I am mental. I do a proper inspection to make sure there is only one entry point If the play area is outside… I do a bit of a recon as to whether getting over the fence or wall is possible. If I can’t get a table directly in front of the only entry, where I can physically see her… One of us has to be with her at all times. When she moves out of my sight under the jungle gym, even if there is nowhere for her to go, I must find her. It drives Brett mad.

While this isn’t an issue for Charly yet, with her starting to read and write and her scary ease with a keyboard and technology, THIS is where social media becomes a scary place. If worrying about children online, when your child can get online – that is when you need to worry. Missing children and child trafficking and strangers are a serious threat online. Not just on social media, with any access to the internet. I will need to do a lot more research when she can easily search for things herself and that may be when I start getting strict with screentime finally. If you child can read and write and has internet access, you should start teaching them about the dangers of strangers online immediately.

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I believe that, as people with social platforms – from a concerned grandparent with 50 friends on Facebook to an online influencer with 5000 followers or a celebrity with an audience of 500,000 – we have a responsibility to think before we click “Share”. While I am passionate about sharing information that can help and support other families, I am just as passionate about doing so responsibly. (PS. Feel free to share this information, it is researched and linked back to the sources.)

Sending you all the love xxx

 

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