How do you tell a happy, high-spirited child that they could become a victim of crime? Why should you? They are children, they should be safe in society.
They are not.
They remain vulnerable. As parents, as communities and as a country, we have to prepare children to deal with crime. And even then, there are no guarantees.
They could always be caught in the crossfire.
Working as a journalist, I have reported on countless stories of children being caught in the crossfire of gang violence in the Cape Flats. They would be playing outdoors with friends and the next minute, they were dead. Countless stories, yes. But every time, it broke my heart. You can never become immune to that. In fact, the pain only runs deeper.
This week, the crossfire was closer to home, at Shallcross, Chatsworth in Durban. It claimed the life of 9 year old Sadia Sukhraj in a hijacking gone horribly wrong. A few years ago, another 9 year old lost his life in a brutal crime. It shattered me. You can read about my raw emotions over the murder of Shahiel Sewpujan here.
In the past few days, those raw emotions surfaced again. Worse, that it is Child Protection Week – a week dedicated to rasing awareness. On the ground, this symbolism means very little.
The moments before Sadia Sukhraj was shot and killed must have been terribly scary for this innocent, young girl. Alleged hijackers drove off with her father’s vehicle, with her still in it. A shootout ensued and she was shot and killed.
Devastated parents, an angry community and shattered South Africans are struggling to make sense of it all. There are many layers of grief. Whether people knew Sadia or her family or not, makes no difference. The tears still flow. There has been a flood of cries for Sadia, described as a loving child. And that’s what all children are – loving, with hugs, smiles and kisses that warm everyone’s heart. All that they expect is love in return.
Sadia’a death has pierced many people, and brought forth cries of help too – for communities, police and the government to do more to combat crime. Crime robs families of loved ones and it robs us, as a nation, of our dignity.
We have to fight back. Knowledge is power, and if we empower ourselves, chances are we won’t become easy targets.
And, so this week, I had the very difficult task of explaining the circumstances surrounding Sadia’s death to my 7 year old. It is nowhere near the immense difficulty and emotional torture her parents are going through. That, I cannot even imagine.
My son looked at me, with sadness. Another child, who like him, should be playing, is no more. He understood the gravity of it all. And paid heed to my words of caution to always listen to mum and dad.
It was only the start of many such conversations. I could not bombard him with information all at once, I realised. It has to be introduced gradually, and it should not be tinged with my own anxiety and fears.
Here are the tips he shared:
Be more vigilant when you stop – be it at a traffic light, someone’s home, a park and especially a driveway. Look around you and see if anyone is coming directly to you. It is not the time to pick up your cellphone, look at messages or make a call. This can be dangerous.
Also, do you have emergency numbers and family numbers stored anywhere other than your cellphone. What happens if your cellphone is stolen? Go back to basics and write these numbers down somewhere.
Then, do you have a basic first aid kit and know basic first aid? For example if someone is wounded, you could you stop the bleeding rather than doing nothing while you wait for paramedics to arrive. Those first few moments are crucial.
The reality is that you have to talk to your children about hijacking and what they can do to stay safe. Have a plan as to how they can get out of the vehicle quickly. This does not mean they should not wear seat belts as the risk of being involved in an accident remains high.
And then, very importantly, be it a hijacking or any other crime, or even if your child is lost – do they know their home address and at least one parents cellphone number or the home number?
Do these sound simple to you? They are, but they are often overlooked. It does not make you a bad parent. Given the many other tasks that parents juggle, talking about crime can fall down that list of things to-do, more so because it is uncomfortable. But, it has to be done. Look for age appropriate ways to broach this topic with your child. You know them best, and you would know how to help them understand. If you are struggling, do not be afraid to ask for help.
If anything, the tragic death of Sadia Sukhraj has shown that we are all in this together.