Fidelity Services Group recently shone a spotlight on kidnappings, which continue at an alarming rate in South Africa. To avoid falling victim to kidnappers, CEO Wahl Bartmann says vigilance around your personal safety is imperative at all times, and this must also be instilled in children and young adults.
While the security company could not confirm if they had been asked by any parents to provide extra security for their children, they did confirm that they have recently stepped up patrols at drop-off and home-time at schools in their footprint.
Bartmann reiterates that the ‘clients’ in kidnapping cases are as diverse as the crime itself – they can be anyone from criminal organisations and political extremists to ransom kidnappers, ‘express’ kidnappers and family members embroiled in a dispute of some sort.
One of the best ways to protect your loved ones, especially children, is by putting vigilance into action each and every day.
“There are many types of kidnappings, one being parents involved in custody disputes. Quite simply, the same personal safety rules that apply to adults need to be instilled in children and young adults and if someone cannot be found, it is vital to report this to the authorities immediately,” said Bartmann.
There are simple actions, he says, which can keep a child or young adult safe.
Teach your children:
- They must always walk to or from school with a friend or friends. Stick to streets they know and never take short cuts through quiet areas or empty parking lots and never walk with cell phones and iPads in full view.
- If they get picked up at school, they should never leave the premises but always wait inside the school grounds for their lift to arrive.
- Younger children particularly must never get into a stranger’s car, even if the stranger claims that someone they love is hurt and that they have been sent to pick them up. Remind them that you would never send someone they don’t know to fetch them.
- Consider using a password system. If the person coming to collect you from school cannot repeat the password you and your child agreed on, they should not get into the car but immediately ask for help.
- If a stranger approaches your child, they should not talk to them no matter how friendly they may seem. If someone tries to grab them, they need to fight, kick and shout.
- If your child does encounter any suspicious activity, encourage them to get a good look and memorise their physical details and clothing, as well as the vehicle they are in. Listen for any names or other details that might help identify them later.
- Make sure your children memorise their full names, address and phone number. Using a play phone, teach them when and how to dial 10111. If they are older they should have emergency numbers programmed into their phone or consider having a safety App on their phone.
- Older children should keep their valuables out of sight at all times and not use headphones as this dampens their ability to sense their surroundings. “The more you cut your senses off the easier it is for someone to take you by surprise. Stay alert!” says Bartmann.
- Alter their route: If they are walking home or to public transport they need to alter their route. Even if it takes longer, always use a route that is well lit and populated with houses and other walkers instead of taking shortcuts through less-friendly areas. If you feel threatened, you can at least knock on someone’s door for help if you’re walking through a familiar neighbourhood.
- If you are using a taxi service, ensure it is a bona fide service provider.
- Be extra cautious to go and meet anyone who befriends you on social media. Always meet in a public space with two or three friends as backup.
- Be cautious to be lured by people offering you a job or modelling contract. Remember safety in numbers.
Open and honest is the only way to approach the dangers of social media with children, Bartmann says.
“We live in the digital age so it is difficult for parents to deny their children social media, as it’s tremendously useful for educational resources and to connect them with their peers. However, the platforms children use today can also make them easy targets for predators and kidnappers.”
Tips for parents around social media usage by children:
- Don’t overshare your children’s photos and personal information online. Remember, children have a right to privacy just as much as adults do.
- Talk to your children about the fact that criminals can pose as their friends by using a fake identity on social media to befriend them and lure them into chatting or a face-to-face meeting.
- Make a point of regularly chatting to your children about what they are doing on social media and inspect their phones if you feel you need to.
“Kidnappers have varied motives for their evil deeds, but there is a common thread – some sort of gratification for them, whether it be monetary, sexual or simply for revenge,” Bartmann concludes.
“This may sound like something out of a movie, but kidnappings are real and rife in South Africa. We implore parents to arm their children with knowledge and street smarts and, most of all, the confidence to disclose to you anything they believe to be a potentially strange situation, in real life or online.”