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Statistic that a child goes missing every 5 hours in SA incorrect

A much circulated statistic claims that a child goes missing every 5 hours in South Africa but it is based on outdated data.

Researched by Gopolang Makou

Does a child go missing every 5 hours in South Africa?

Various South African media houses, including True Love magazine, EWN and the SABC, have reported this statistic over the last year.

In one of the latest instances, Times LIVE used the figure in a story’s headline: “A child goes missing every five hours in SA: NGO.”

Reader Zanoxolo Mpendu wanted to know if the claim was valid and we got to work.

The origin of the claim

The non-governmental organisation that Times LIVE referred to in their story is Missing Children South Africa. It collaborates with the South African Police Service to find missing people.

On its website, the organisation states that approximately 1,697 children go missing each year. But the figure was for 2013, the operations director of Missing Children South Africa, Nicky Rheeder, told Africa Check. Rheeder said her organisation received the statistic from the police’s Missing Person Bureau.

The Bureau for Missing Persons’ section commander, Colonel Fanie van Deventer, confirmed this figure to Africa Check.

Their latest data shows that in the last 12 months, 866 children under the age of 18 have been reported missing to the police, according to Van Deventer. This works out to a child reported missing every 10 hours on average. (Note: The figure has yet to be audited and could change slightly. We have requested the audited figure and will update this report once we receive it.)

Figure includes children found

But, Van Deventer cautioned, it is “dangerous and irresponsible to make a direct deduction” from such figures about how often a child goes missing.

“The reason for me saying this is that those figures include children that are reported as missing but were found within, at the most, three hours,” he said.

These include cases where children got lost in shopping centres or went to a friend’s house after school without telling their parents. (Note: There is no waiting period for reporting missing persons to the South African Police Service.)

Van Deventer said when people use statistics inaccurately they “can easily create fear and pandemonium”. He added that “we must rather learn from statistics and try to use that information to fast-track our efforts in order to find the missing person as soon as possible”.

Conclusion: The claim is outdated

Based on police data that 1,697 children were reported missing in 2013, various media houses have stated that a child goes missing every 5 hours in South Africa.

The most recent annual figure for children reported missing, according to the police’s Bureau for Missing Persons, is 866. That works out to a child reported missing to the police every 10 hours on average.

What should be kept in mind is that this figure includes all the children that were found, most often quickly.

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