Eswatini Daily News

By Tswelopele Makoe

The Oval North High School in Beacon Valley, Mitchells Plain, in Cape Town, sent out an alarming warning to parents this week, following the attempted abduction of two of its pupils.

The incident is intensified by reported attempted abductions at surrounding schools, targeting learners of all ages. Missing Children South Africa says that over 1300 cases of kidnapping are reported to the police every month.

The coordinator of Missing Children SA, Bianca Van Aswegen, has stated that South Africa’s high kidnapping rate, compounded by the country’s reputation as a human trafficking hub, is overwhelmingly disturbing.

This is particularly spine-chilling, as mere weeks ago, the disappearance of six-year-old Joshlin Smith from Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape has had the nation in an uproar, and more importantly, highlighted the barbarity of child and human trafficking.

In addition to this, Joshlin’s case has been embroiled in some unspeakable revelations, including the arrest of young Joshlin’s mother, together with her boyfriend and two accomplices, for allegedly kidnapping, trafficking, and selling her daughter to a sangoma for a speculated R20 000.

Schoolchildren on a bus

In other equally disturbing cases, the public has been asked to report any information regarding the disappearance of 13-year-old Lizalise Mayi, who was last located at her home in Mitchells Plain on the 24th of February. A three-year-old boy, Enzokuhle Mtshobeni, also disappeared from his home in Kayamandi. He was thankfully found a few days later.

This is, however, not the case for Ongeziwe Kamlana, a 17-year-old matriculant from Gugulethu, who disappeared after her classes at Fezeka Secondary School on the 17th of February. She has still not been found.

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Various child welfare organisations have highlighted the endangerment and vulnerability of children in our society.

This starkly highlights the alarmingly dangerous reality of our modern society. Although South Africa is renowned for having the best constitution in the world, it is notably the most unequal society in the world. Our society is ravaged by extreme poverty which affects over half of the entire population.

This only exacerbates our societal challenges, most especially crime. This predominantly affects children, who are particularly susceptible to predators. This means that countless households are unable to afford proper childcare, live in safe communities, and have access to child-friendly amenities.

This also directly affects households, where children disappear due to child abuse, drug abuse, and neglect. Overall, our societal challenges create a ripple effect that renders everyone in our society increasingly vulnerable.

Human trafficking, as defined by the United Nations (UN), is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, to exploit them for profit”.

Human trafficking is rife in our contemporary world. It has been highlighted as ‘modern-day slavery’. It exists in almost every industry, including domestic work, mining, agriculture, factory work, fishing, and commercial sex work, to name a few. Victims of human trafficking may also be forced into prostitution, arranged marriages, criminal organisations, and armed conflicts.

According to Human Rights Careers, the number one driver of human trafficking is poverty. Hordes of people migrate and relocate every year to find better employment prospects. This, however, makes them extremely vulnerable to traffickers.

Parents teaching their child to ride a bicycle

Poverty also breeds desperation, which at times leads to people selling their family members, including their children, to survive or to improve their quality of life, according to experts in the field. Other causes of human trafficking, like a lack of education and legitimate work positions, are closely linked to poverty.

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According to reports, millions of people fall victim to human trafficking each year, although there are only 50–100,000 cases reported. According to the University of Johannesburg (UJ), trafficking occurs at a slightly higher rate for girls than boys, with 55.5% of all trafficked people in South Africa being female, and 44.5% being male.

According to the US Department of State’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, there are efforts to mitigate trafficking. The South African government is said to not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Ultimately, our nation needs to address the dangers that face children more effectively. Not only physically, but also socially, economically, institutionally and more importantly in terms of infrastructure.

Approximately a year ago, it was reported that over 3 300 of South Africa’s 23,000 public schools still use pit latrines (toilets).

This is not only life-threatening but especially impractical for younger children. This has been a heightened concern since the death of Michael Komape, a Limpopo province learner who drowned in a pit toilet back in 2014. Countless students have lost their lives in this very same way.

Now, nearly a decade later, pit toilets are still rife across the nation, and extremely little change has been achieved. Although the South African government has promised to replace all the pit toilets at schools across the nation by the 31st of March this year, this overhaul is yet to be seen.

Pit toilets in schools, especially at this point in our modern-day society, are not only atrocious but also devastatingly reminiscent of apartheid-era South Africa.

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Not only were millions of black children forced to walk extensive lengths to go to school, but they were also subjected to meagre supplies and terrible infrastructure.

It is appalling that children in 2024 are still subjected to these conditions, and that nearly 30 years into democracy, scores of South African households are still living in abject poverty.

The abysmal treatment of our children is a blatant display of the government’s ineptitude and avoidance of development and advancement.

It is pertinent now more than ever to shape our society in a way that directly and intentionally benefits future generations.

Children must be armed with all of the knowledge, practices, and safeguards that can prevent their abduction or abuse. This needs to be a consistent practice not only in schools but in homes as well.

Communities, hospitals, law enforcement, and all the other sectors of our society need to collaborate to mitigate trafficking and preserve the safety of their communities.

Teaching children about safety, and enforcing their practices, will at the least, ensure that they have a proactive approach to the various dangers that may befall them.

Pupils in class

This is not only about ensuring the safety of the younger generations but also empowering them to use and trust their inherent instincts.

As former President Nelson Mandela eloquently said: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist and a Columnist. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA in Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own. – Eswatini Sunday

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