A picture of a young child, shoved into a box with her mouth duct-taped shut, accompanies a terrifying viral post shared on Facebook.
“STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING,” it warns.
The post, now shared over 3,000 times, contains a list of claims in Afrikaans about how child trafficking syndicates operate in South Africa.
The first statistic shared is that “every 30 seconds a child is stolen in South Africa”, with these children then “spirited away to the sex industry”.
That is the equivalent of 2,880 children kidnapped a day or 84,000 children a month. Over a million children would be kidnapped in South Africa every year if the claim were true.
Is this warning based on solid data?
‘I don’t know how far back the text goes’
The woman who posted the warning on Facebook on 26 January 2018 told Africa Check she had received it via the messaging platform WhatsApp.
“A friend sent it to me but I think he also got it from someone who got it from someone else,” Alida Venter said. “So I don’t know how far back the text goes.”
“I put it on Facebook because I had attended a talk by people who work with human trafficking and wanted parents can take note of it.”
2016: child reported missing every 9 hours
Statistics about the rate at which children go missing in South Africa often make headlines. In 2016, TimesLIVE reported that “a child goes missing every five hours in SA”. An Africa Check report found that the claim was incorrect.
Data from the South African Police Service’s Bureau for Missing Persons listed 996 children reported missing in 2016. That means that, on average, a child was reported missing every 9 hours.
The figure includes children that were found, usually within a couple of hours, the bureau’s section commander Col Fanie van Deventer told Africa Check then.
Scale of human trafficking hard to quantify
There are few recorded cases of human trafficking of children in South Africa. Between January 2004 and January 2010, the International Organisation for Migration reported assisting 57 child victims.
No instances of child trafficking were recorded between 2009/10 and 2011/12, according to South Africa’s department of home affairs. Between 2012/13 and 2014/15 they detected 23 victims.
But the true scale of the crime is hard to quantify due to its hidden nature, according to police practice lecturer at the University of South Africa, Marcel van der Watt.
“There is no data or any reliable information available which speaks directly to how many people are trafficked into the sex trade.”
Conclusion: No data shows a child stolen every 30 seconds in SA
An alarming post on Facebook recently claimed that a child is stolen every 30 in South Africa and trafficked into the sex industry.
But there is no research or data supporting this claim. Experts warn that the hidden nature of the crime makes it difficult to quantify.
In 2016, Africa Check sourced data from the SAPS Bureau for Missing Persons which showed that 996 children were reported missing that year – an average of one every 9 hours.
Van der Watt stresses that the public must be responsible with the information they share.
“Such claims are far too often circulated on social media platforms and, sadly, are not interrogated before readers just merrily press the forward button.”
Researched by Ina Skosana, Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.