Child, university student abductions on the rise in Algeria
Tunis - Algerian mothers used to anguish over the fate of family members “disappeared” in the civil war that pitted government security forces against radical Islamist insurgents for more than a decade.
Today, parents are increasingly fretting about the safety of their children as an unprecedented wave of kidnappings has swept away beliefs that neighbourhoods were safe for children to grow up in and enjoy life.
From 1992 through 1998, more than 7,000 people “disappeared” during the civil war and many remain unaccounted for. The figure exceeds those of “disappearances” recorded in any other country, except wartime Bosnia, according to human rights groups.
These disappearances and other acts of violence during what Algerians call the “Black Decade” overshadowed other less gruesome abuses. But after the country regained a level of normalcy, worries about child mistreatment and kidnapping of female university students have arisen among the top concerns of public opinion.
“In 12 years after 2003, kidnapping cases of children followed by sexual violence or murder numbered 15,” said police officer Kheira Messaoudene, who is in charge of women and children violence issues at Algeria’s police national security department.
“In 2014, we recorded 1,663 cases of sexual abuses against children, including 949 against girls, while the number of kidnappings reached 195, including 142 abductions of girls, with 12 children murdered.
“For the first half of this year there were 831 cases of sexual violence, 471 of which [were] against girls, and 52 children kidnapped with 12 murdered. Figures speak for themselves,” she told Algerian newspaper El Watan.
In covering child kidnapping cases, the media talk of “society wolves” lurking almost everywhere to threaten child safety and innocence.
These cases include that of Muammar Thamri, a teen who was kidnapped in 2014 and choked to death in the southern city of Djelfa. His body, stuffed into a used barley bag, was dumped at the door of his family home. He was killed by his uncle’s wife after the boy made a chance discovery that the woman had an affair with another man.
There is an eerie silence at the makeshift football stadium tucked among apartment blocks in the 12 December district on the outskirts of Algiers as parents kept children away from playing there.
Amine Yarichene, 8, went missing recently and mothers of children who used to play with him said “one of society wolves” kidnapped him.
“Amine’s kidnapping elicited compassion from many Algerians but the case filled them with fear as it was the case with small girls Chaima and Soundos found dead after their abductions like other children snatched from the warmth of their families,” wrote El Watan.
Amine was returned to his family after being held hostage for 15 days by an old acquaintance of his father who asked for a ransom.
Police stormed the villa where the boy was held and arrested his abductor.
Messaoudene said it was difficult to draw a profile of a child kidnapper. “He could be any person. He could be a university teacher or a bricklayer,” she said.
Experts argue that children abductions are a threat but the menace should be put in perspective to avoid exaggerated alarm of parents.
In his book Protecting the Gift, child-safety scholar Gavin de Becker wrote that, when gauged against a stranger kidnapping, “a child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents never even consider the risk”.
Experts insist that the majority of missing children are runaways fleeing from physically or emotionally abusive parents, especially after flunking exams.
Meanwhile, abductions of university student girls were puzzling security officials as the phenomenon accelerated since 2010 with 200 cases handled by security authorities
“How we can explain this escalation of the scourge of abductions? Beside abductions of children, which had been widely talked about in the country, kidnapping of female students has become extensive during the last five years,” wrote El Watan.