Watch out for child snatchers

Police have urged parents to be extra cautious when collecting their children from school after a Grade 4 pupil was nearly kidnapped at Habibia Primary School.

The incident took place at the Athlone school on Wednesday August 15 at about 3pm while the girl waited for her father to fetch her from school. Three men grabbed her and wanted to push her into their car but the men let her go when she kept screaming. Her father arrived and reported the incident at Athlone police station.

In a statement released by the Western Cape Education Department on Wednesday August 15, Education MEC Debbie Schafer, said that in the previous two weeks she had received reports from district officials that two separate incidents of abductions had reportedly taken place in the Zonnebloem area where pupils were reportedly being targeted while travelling to and from school.

She said reports indicated the perpetrators were drugging pupils and abducting them, one reporting the involvement of a white van.

“The social worker visited both schools to investigate the reported incidents and provide support. This is a source of extreme concern. We have not had reports of this happening in any other area, but I would like to urge parents to exercise caution, and inform their children of the dangers of engaging with and of taking any food or beverage from strangers.”

Athlone police spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman said parents or drivers should collect the children timeously and at the school gate and not wait for the children to walk to the car as this created an opportunity for them to be abducted.

She said sometimes parents parked roads away from the school to avoid the traffic congestion and children walked to the car alone, or parents arrived late, forcing children to wait outside of the school premises alone.

“Parents can rather wait for them than them waiting for their parent. They need to wait inside of the school premises and stand in groups and not alone. The Athlone police station applauds the girl for her efforts to get away,” she said.

The Athlone News contacted Habibia Primary School but they refused to comment. However, in a letter sent out to parents, principal Anver Desai said the school governing body had met to discuss how to improve security and vigilance at the school.

“The safety of our learners, however, after school hours is sometimes beyond our control. I therefore urge all parents to ensure that they collect their children at the relevant dismissal times for school and after-school activities. Learners will be required to stay within the school property until they have been picked up. It has come to our attention that a very dangerous and unsafe practice is taking place where learner transport is concerned. Some learners are asked to wait for their transport outside of the school premises and some even have to walk quite a distance to get their transport. This is alarming and we urgently appeal to parents to ask transport drivers to collect learners inside the school premises.”

He added that parents needed to remind their children about “stranger danger.”

“While we do not want to frighten them, they need to know that if any stranger approaches them then they should be wary and run away.

“They should not accept any free items of food and drinks or objects. They should also report any suspicious characters to the administration block as soon as possible. We ask that we all exercise extreme vigilance during this time and going forward.”