Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Protect your children

May 25 2009 at 12:47PM

By Francis Hweshe, Nontobeko Mtshali and Hanti Otto

More than 900 children are reported missing in South Africa - half of them in the Western Cape.

It's as if "a whole school of children has just disappeared and people do not see that as a crisis", says Pieter Boshoff, founder and vice-chairperson of the organisation Missing Children SA.

As the world marks International Missing Children's Day today and the start of Child Protection Week, a Saldanha Bay family is still searching for 10-year-old Montesha Kekana. She has been missing for four days and the family believes she was raped and murdered.

'we sit by the sea to see if something would come out'
Of the 900 children reported missing in South Africa, Boshoff said 448 were from the Western Cape.

Statistics for other provinces included 311 children reported missing in Gauteng and 147 in KwaZulu-Natal. Limpopo had the lowest number, with four children reported missing.
"Last year we saw a dramatic increase in children being reported missing, with 1 091 children in the first eight months," Boshoff said.

In Saldanha Bay yesterday, Magdalene White, spokesperson for Montesha's family, urged the authorities to do more to find the girl or her body.

Police said Montesha was last seen walking with a 32-year-old man, who had since been arrested in connection with her disappearance on Friday. "She is still missing and the search is still on," said Captain Bernadine Steyn.

'I cannot sleep because my child is somewhere out there'
White described Montesha as "a ray of sunshine", adding that the most difficult part for the family was not knowing whether she was alive or dead, or whether her body had been hidden in bushes or thrown into the sea.

From dawn to dusk "we sit by the sea to see if something would come out", said White.

On Saturday residents searched the bushes where the girl's underwear and shirt were found, but found nothing.

Grieving mother Vanessa Kekana said she was heartbroken.

"I cannot sleep because my child is somewhere out there. I only want the body to bury," she said, her voice breaking.

Montesha's school principal, Andries Hector, described her as "a wonderful girl".

Decrying the "decay in moral values in society", he said the school and community needed to act to ensure "nothing like this ever happened again".

"We need to keep our sons and daughters in the neighbourhood safe," said Hector.

Boshoff said more than 90 percent of all children reported missing were usually found within the first week - most were those who had run away from home.

Social Development Minister Edna Molewa said communities needed to get involved and intensify the promotion of children's rights and child protection.

This year's Child Protection Week campaign runs until Saturday and focuses on the theme "Caring communities protect children".

The aim of this week was to promote partnerships between all sectors of society to improve the living conditions of vulnerable children and their families.

The Department of Social Development has joined the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) and civil society organisations to highlight the importance of child protection, with provincial departments planning activities throughout the week.

Molewa said the government had passed comprehensive legislation regarding the care and protection of children.

"These include the Children's Act 38 of 2005, the Children's Amendment Act 41 of 2007, and the Social Assistance Act 6 of 2008.

"The establishment of the Child Protection Register will assist us to gather information on the extent of child abuse, neglect or exploitation of children,"she said.

"This will enable us to plan and allocate resources to child protection services."

"I am therefore appealing to everyone to wear the green ribbon during the Child Protection Week to show support for the promotion of the rights of children," Molewa said.