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In South African law, kidnapping of a child is the unlawful intentional deprivation of a parent of control over the child. Young children are most likely to be kidnapped by a legal guardian during custody disputes. 

This should not be confused with abduction. In South Africa, abduction is the unlawful and intentional removal of an unmarried minor from the control of his or her parents or guardian in order to enable someone to marry him or her or to have sexual intercourse with him or her. This is a crime against the legal guardian and not the minor, irrespective of consent provided.

Abduction by strangers is rare. Some of the reasons why a stranger might abduct an unknown child include:

  • extortion to elicit a ransom from the parents for the child’s return;
  • illegal adoption, a stranger steals a child with the intent to rear the child as their own or to sell to a prospective adoptive parent;
  • human trafficking, stealing a child with the intent to exploit the child themselves or through trade to someone who will abuse the child through forced labor, or sexual abuse; and
  • murder.

The SAPS Crime Registrar’s office researches the circumstances behind abductions based on a random sample of dockets from different provinces.

Abduction for ransom and extortion combined contributed less than 5% of the research. More than a quarter (27%) involved abduction with the intention to commit a sexual offence. This is a large and worrying proportion. While the SAPS’ data show that 45% of the total number of sexual offence complaints investigated are against children, there is no indication of the proportion that also involved abduction.The single biggest cause of abduction (46%) is related to armed robberies (including hijackings). It is also significant that human trafficking motives were found in only 16 of the 3 024 abduction cases.

The research carried out indicates that young children are most likely to be kidnapped by a legal guardian during custody disputes. Cases also occur when one guardian fails to ask permission to take a child from the other guardian.

The data samples also suggest that the risk of children being abducted is relatively low. It is important that children and guardians remain aware of the risks and how to boost their safety. South Africans can also play their part by ensuring they only share accurate information by reputable missing persons platforms. The last thing the police need is to be inundated by false reports fuelling widespread fear and panic.

For direct answers to your specific personal questions, please contact us directly.

Read more about our child law services.

Author – Kate Bailey-Hill

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