A JOHANNESBURG father is said to have pretended to be his teenage daughter on the controversial cellphone chat network MXit in his attempts to befriend other teenage girls — allegedly to ‘‘groom’’ them for sexual exploitation.
Police arrested the 50-year-old at his home in Glenhazel, Johannesburg, on Sunday, in the presence of his 15-year-old daughter.
The man allegedly initiated contact with two 14-year-old girls by pretending to be his daughter. But when the messages became sexual, the girls told their parents and Inspector Colin Morris, of the Randburg police’s child protection unit, became involved.
The suspect is due to appear in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court tomorrow and is likely to face charges of child grooming and pornography in terms of the newly amended Sexual Offences Act.
The act defines “grooming” as the gradual manipulation of children to commit sexual acts by introducing them to pornography or messages of a sexual nature, including through the use of electronic communication.
In December, MXit introduced a blocking function that parents can activate to bar children access to adult chat rooms. This was after a string of incidents in which men used the service to lure teenage girls from their homes.
But of the service’s 11million users in South Africa, only 12400 activated the new feature, Juan du Toit, marketing manager of MXit, said yesterday.
The service does not prevent adults from using chat rooms aimed at minors, such as Teen Zone.
Morris said the police pounced on the Glenhazel suspect after monitoring the increasingly lewd messages he allegedly sent to one of the 14-year-old girl’s cellphones.
The suspect, an unemployed single parent, has several previous criminal convictions, but none for sex crimes.
Lisa Vetten, a researcher for the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said the case would enter uncharted territory if the man were charged with grooming under the amended act. The prosecution would need a record of the SMSs sent to illustrate how their sexual content increased, she said.
Morris said MXit had not been helpful in securing records.
Du Toit said his company was keen to help the police.