The rise of kidnappings and abductions in South Africa
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The rise of kidnappings and abductions in South Africa

One of the biggest fears for anyone, especially parents, is to receive a call alerting them that their child or loved one has been taken. This is a reality that many people in South Africa face every day, as statistics show that 16 people are kidnapped daily. These numbers have been on the rise over the last few years, and have become a growing problem that seems to be getting worse.

Even though 77% of missing children are usually found, and around 70% of kidnapping cases worldwide only last for less than 7 days, it is very traumatizing for everyone involved. Adults are not immune to this crime, and statistics in South Africa show an increase of 133% in cases between 2011 and 2020.

What’s the difference between kidnapping and abduction?

A big problem that is of some concern is that the media continues to use the words “kidnapping” and “abduction” interchangeably, even though they are quite different. The confusion is usually caused by the fact that the one often accompanies the other, but the charges vary greatly.

The agreed upon definition of abduction is when someone is either taken by force, through persuasion or deception, away from their original area. The victim themselves may participate willingly in their own abduction if they have been deceived, so the threat of violence isn’t always inherent in the definition of the word.

Kidnapping is also when someone is taken either by force, through persuasion or deception, but differs in terms of the intent. With abduction, there is not usually a motive for monetary gain by the perpetrator, however that is usually the sole intent in the case of kidnapping. Kidnapping also involves an element of holding someone against their will for a period of time.

Perpetrators of abduction or kidnapping use many methods to ensure the compliance of their victims, which could range from anything like dressing up as a law enforcement officer or someone with authority, arranging a meeting in person after talking with the victim extensively online, or even just violence. 

Who are the targets?

Of all the people that are targeted for abductions and kidnappings in South Africa, the primary targets seem to be children. Statistics show that every five hours a child goes missing, and 23% of those children are almost never found, and at the beginning of last year, there were already 400 cases. Most of the cases related to children seem to be only cases of abduction, but there are also many kidnapping cases.

The targets aren’t limited to children though, other victims that are frequently targeted are foreign nationals, wealthy South Africans and people from neighboring countries close to South Africa attempting to cross the border.

The biggest concern is that the number of these cases, specifically kidnapping, continue to rise; according to statistics, the number of cases between 2019 to 2020 was 6,683, which means that this is an increase of 3,793 since 2011. Kidnapping is something that every city in South Africa faces, with 21,5% occurring in KwaZulu-Natal in 2020, around 33% in Gauteng, and an increase of 78% in the Free State.  

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons as to why these numbers are so high, and vary greatly depending on the situation of the case. One of the biggest reason’s kidnappings occur is during custody battles, since the minor is often taken without the consent from the adult who has custody over the child.

Another reason for kidnappings, specifically 46% of cases related to kidnapping, is usually during a hijacking or armed robbery. The motive with this is usually so the perpetrator can force the victim to withdraw money from an ATM, or to ensure the tracker on stolen vehicles isn’t activated. 

This isn’t to say that a large majority of cases aren’t orchestrated with planning, or that there isn’t a market for these crimes. Criminals are aware that parents or family members are willing to pay anything to have their loved ones returned, which is why more than R1 billion was made by gangs and organizations last year alone, and the average amount that is usually demanded is around R1 million.

A factor that makes the statistics difficult to curate is the fact that kidnapping or abduction isn’t classified as such when it relates to human trafficking, so the exact numbers are difficult to calculate. 

Advice for parents

It is easy and understandable as to why parents would succumb to panic when their child or loved one has been kidnapped or abducted, but the advice from authorities urges that people should remain calm. Parents should immediately call the police if they suspect or know their child has been kidnapped or taken, if they have checked to see if the child isn’t at school, a friend, or at neighbors, and there is no law that states parents should wait at least 24 hours.

Parents should also make sure that they have someone to answer the phone, or to be at home in case the child does come back, when they are the police station. This is very important, as any information that is received during this time is crucial to finding the child. Parents should also give an accurate description of what the child was wearing, where they last were, when they were there, as well as any recent photos that clearly show the face of the child.