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You Can Help Save our Kids

5 July 2007

By Pieter van Zyl

Just beyond the fence in the neighbours' back garden, a few metres from where her mom last saw her alive, Mikayla Rossouw's little body was found after nearly two weeks. In a garbage bag inside a box under the alleged rapist and murderer's bed in his foul-smelling tin shack.

For 13 long days police and volunteers at Railton in Swellendam combed the area in wind and rain looking for the six-year-old.

''Please just drop her somewhere so she can find her way home,'' her mom Elsabé had still pleaded the day before. Now her child's dead and a 24-year-old family acquaintance is behind bars.

The Railton community is baying for blood – but how could the little girl have disappeared in front of everyone and her body be hidden right under their noses?

Sadly Mikayla's tragic death is no exception to the rule: she's the fifth South African child to be murdered in the past few months and dumped on their parents' doorstep.

''It's hard for the police to stop this kind of crime,'' MEC for safety and security in the Western Cape Leonard Ramatlakane said at a memorial service held for Mikayla. ''We need YOUR help. If you see a child walking with someone ask yourself: Who is this man? Who is this child?''

Get to know your neighbours and if you hear screaming next door go over on the pretext of borrowing salt or sugar, Ramatlakane urged. You could prevent a murder.

Mikayla was not the first

--The body of Stacie Wiese (11) was discovered in the ceiling of her parents' home in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.

-- The body of Sheldean Human (7) of Pretoria was found on 18 February, 15 days after she'd disappeared, stuffed into a stormwater drain 4 km from her home.

-- Nine-year-old Elvandré van Wyk of Upington was found in January in a metal drum in the neighbours' garden.

-- The body of Celine Cowley (4) of Ravensmead, Cape Town, was found on 1 August three houses from her parents' home.

-- On 9 March last year the body of Makgabo Matlala (4), the granddaugher of Judge Bernard Ngoepe, Judge President of the Transvaal, was found under a bed in her parents' home a day after she'd disappeared.

-- The body of Steven Siebert (6) was found on Christmas Eve, 2005 hidden in thick bushes 600 metres from the house where the Gauteng family were holidaying in Plettenberg Bay.

-- After a feverish search the body of beauty princess JonBenet Ramsey (6) was found in the basement of her parents' home in Boulder, Colorado in America on 26 December 1996.

How can something like this happen?

If the body of a murdered child is found in or near her home the inevitable question is: Are the police and parents searching the area properly? If people had acted differently could the child even have been saved?

It's becoming a trend that children are found close to where they went missing long after they disappeared, says South Africa's top detective, Piet Byleveld. ''I don't want to criticise but the scene where the child was last seen is extremely important. Every centimetre must be checked. You have to do your homework properly,'' the Gauteng-based policeman says.
A crime scene near or in the parents' home is easily disturbed, adds Prof Herman Conradie of the department of criminology at Unisa.

''The grieving parents pick up things the child touched and other things lying around, thus unwittingly destroying important clues. This makes a proper investigation of the crime scene nearly impossible.''

When the murderer is known to the family the crime is committed in the perpetrator's comfort zone – which is why he leaves the victim in an area familiar to him.

It could sometimes be for practical reasons, Pretoria criminologist Dr Irma Labuschagne says, such as a lack of transport or because the crime wasn't well planned but committed on the spur of the moment.

''The police are keen to find the missing children alive. The thought that the body could be right under their noses is too gruesome to immediately contemplate. But this list of incidents should encourage the police to first look under the beds, in the roof and in the neighbours' homes before they start searching further afield.''

But this kind of search is often complicated by legal requirements. A warrant to search a neighbours' house will only be issued on reasonable suspicion that the occupants are involved in the crime. This is why the police need to get as much information as possible from the community.

In paedophile cases only about 10 per cent of perpetrators are strangers to their victims. In 60 per cent of crimes against children family members are involved. The rest are friends or neighbours, which means the perpetrators often live close by.

When to get involved

It was thanks to the public's involvement that six-year-old Steven Siebert's murderer didn't get away.

The owner of the house where the perpetrator was doing tiling work suspected he could perhaps be involved. He was indifferent about the boy's disappearance and he'd suddenly shaved off his beard. Someone from Johannesburg visiting the area had seen Steven with a bearded man the day he disappeared.

''Healthy paranoia can save you a lot of heartache,'' Conradie said.

''We encourage mutual responsibility,'' says Pieter Boshoff of the group that's helped solve 16 cases since March.

They want to help the police by involving the public. ''If you see a child where they don't belong, say on the street during school time or in a nightclub or bar with an adult, you must inform someone,'' says Boshoff.

Details and photographs of missing children are posted on the website and forwarded to thousands of ''friends'' on ''We also send an SMS to registered members of our internet community living in the area.''

Criminologist Labuschagne says parents should ensure that their children aren't vulnerable by giving them love ''so they don't go in search of it with people offering them sweets''.

Children's environment must offer them a safe haven. ''Introduce them to a trustworthy woman in the street or neighbourhood so they can run there to look for help if they're in trouble. There's someone like that in every community.''

''Parents should be more aware of whom their children befriend,'' Byleveld says. ''And there must be open communication between parents and children. Children must be able to speak openly to their parents about anything – about sex or their safety.''

Parents don't have to worry about being overprotective. ''I've never counselled anyone who's been emotionally damaged because of a strict parent who was trying to protect them,'' Johannesburg traumatologist Dr Tessa van Wijk says.

''If you as a parent feel in the slightest bit suspicious about something it's better to overreact than have regrets later on.''

What to do when a child goes missing

-- It's a myth that you need to wait 24 hours before reporting a child missing. Go to the police immediately and insist on reporting the matter there and then, even if they tell you to come back later. Nine out of 10 children abducted by strangers are sexually assaulted and then let go. If the abduction leads to murder, 91 per cent of victims die within 24 hours of disappearing.

-- If the police refuse to act go to the station commander. You have the right to pressure the police to immediately investigate a disappearance.

-- Retrace the child's movements. Where was she last seen? And before that? Tell the police everything.

-- Give the police the latest photographs of the child, a list of their friends' names and telephone numbers, the child's dentist's number, details of operation scars and any other information that could be useful.

-- Stay away from the place where your child was last playing at home before disappearing. Stay calm as panicking will prevent you from being coherent and providing information.

-- If you're unhappy with the way the search is progressing, call the station commander and then the provincial commissioner. You can even approach the minister but then the investigating officer will have to waste valuable time compiling a report.

-- If you can afford it immediately hire the services of an accredited private detective. He must cooperate with the police who remain in overall control of the case.

To immediately register a child as missing call the South African Centre for Missing and Abused Children on 0861-647-746 or visit the website or e-mail

To see the article as it appeared in YOU, click on the link below:

You Can Help Save our Kids pg 1.pdf

You Can Help Save our Kids pg 2.pdf

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from Huisgenoot/YOU.

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