Too many children go missing in South Africa

Joshlin Smith was last seen on Monday, February 19. Picture: SAPS

Joshlin Smith was last seen on Monday, February 19. Picture: SAPS

Published Apr 7, 2024


The Joshlin Smith case has once again highlighted the dire pandemic of missing children in South Africa.

Children in South Africa seem to disappear without a trace.

There are children who have been missing for years and their cases have gone cold as no new leads pertaining to their whereabouts have come to light.

Six-year-old Joshlin from Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape went missing on February 19 at around 5pm.

While she remains missing for nearly two months, her story has made headlines locally, nationally, and internationally.

These are missing children from across South Africa who disappeared in 2024 still being sought. Picture: Kim Kay/IOL

While hundreds of children remain missing, they do not get the same exposure.

Days before Joshlin’s disappearance, a teenager from Gugulethu, Ongeziwe Kamlana, 17, a Grade 12 learner at Fezeka High School went missing on February 17.

Her distraught mother was turned away by police.

After media attention, the mother could open a missing person’s report, however, almost a month later, a burnt body found on the other side of Cape Town was identified as that of the teenager.

According to Missing Children South Africa, 77% of children are found, but it sadly leaves 23% of children who are either never found, found deceased or trafficked and its last figures received by the South African Police Service (SAPS) stated a child goes missing every five hours in South Africa.

IOL reached out to SAPS to get their latest statistics.

The national spokesperson, Brigadier Athlenda Mathe shared the latest statistics from September 2023 to February 27, 2024.

During this period, a total of 348 children were reported missing across the country, 207 of those children were either found or voluntarily returned. There are still 141 children missing in South Africa.

Mathe said it was important to note that the SAPS Circulation System is a live system and that figures change constantly.

“The SAPS issues an Amber Alert the moment the Bureau for Missing Persons requests it

“The protection of children remains a priority to the SAPS and especially small children must never be left unattended. If a child is out of sight of an entrusted person, the possibility of harm to the child becomes real.

“When a child is missing, the incident must be reported to the SAPS immediately with emphasis on immediately. Strict investigation protocols are in place to ensure all resources from the SAPS and other roll-players are coordinated in a tactical way. An investigation into the disappearance of a child may never be ‘closed’ by the SAPS unless the child is found,” Mathe said.

Criminologist and National Coordinator for Missing Children South Africa, Bianca van Aswegen statistics only give a general indication of the situation we face as many cases go unreported for reasons such as living in rural areas and being unable to open a case, or families being threatened, especially in kidnapping cases. She said the problem is far worse than the stats will ever be able to tell us.

Van Aswegen said there has been an annual increase in the number of missing children reported to the organisation.

“Yearly, we see an increase in the number of cases being reported to our organisation. Kidnappings and human trafficking have escalated in our country,” Van Aswegen said.

“We have various reasons why children go missing this includes children running away from home, mostly due to abuse, children that get lost such as our mentally challenged children, then we have kidnappings that happen such as ransom demand kidnapping, parental abductions, and opportunistic kidnappings,” she said.

“Human trafficking happens for various reasons, sexual exploitation, forced labour, illegal adoptions, organ trafficking, and begging rings.”

When asked where do the missing children usually end up?

Van Aswegen responded: “It really depends on the type of case that we are dealing with as there are so many reasons why children go missing, depending on the case will depend on the outcome.

“In kidnappings, children are usually taken for opportunistic reasons and often found raped and murdered, where ransom kidnappings the victim will be released when money is paid. Human Trafficking is much more difficult as only a small percentage of victims are ever found”.

Van Aswegen has offered tips on what to do when a child goes missing:

– If a child goes missing, immediately report the matter at the nearest police station as there is no waiting period to report a missing person.

– The quicker the matter it is reported the quicker action can be taken.

– Always keep a recent photograph of your child at all times should you find yourself in a situation where your child has gone missing

– Contact Missing Children South Africa immediately for assistance.

Missing Children South Africa can be contacted at 072 647 7464 or via their social media platforms or their website here.