President Jacob Zuma yesterday slammed "careless" parenting as the main reason for children going missing, and warned parents to ensure that their offspring do not become the prey of human traffickers during the World Cup.
Zuma was speaking at the launch of Child Protection Week in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, where he spent the day chatting and dancing with delighted children and their families.
The event also celebrated the long-awaited implementation of the Children's Act.
He urged parents and caregivers to watch carefully over their children.
"We are emphasising child safety because there is a percentage of carelessness with parents.
"If you've been to Durban in December (during the festive season) there is always a number of children who get lost every day.
"Parents and caregivers have to be vigilant. Children who are wandering alone at stadiums and shopping malls will be vulnerable to criminals with evil motives," said Zuma.
He said parents needed to take extra care of their children during the World Cup, as schools will be closed for the duration of the tournament.
Fifa general secretary Jér244me Valcke and organising committee chairman Danny Jordaan were among those who attended the event, along with Social Development Minister Edna Molewa, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
Zuma warned that human traffickers would be targeting South Africa, using the World Cup as "a cover".
"While we are excited about the World Cup tournament, we are mindful that an event of this magnitude unfortunately also opens up opportunities for criminals such as those who traffic in women and children.
"Of particular concern is that the extended closure of schools for the mid-term vacation during the World Cup will leave large numbers of children largely without full-time supervision."
Zuma said it was a problem that not all parents and caregivers would be able to align their holidays with that of the extended school vacation.
He said human trafficking was a global trade worth an estimated R224 billion a year and involving up to 800 000 people worldwide.
Zuma added that while the government was ready to tackle any potential human trafficking, it was up to parents to ensure that their children were safe.
"Dedicated provincial anti-human-trafficking police co-ordinators and task teams have been established," he said.
By Xolani Mbanjwa
The Saturday Star