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WATCH: What South Africans should know about kidnapping, human trafficking globally

Shireen Essop was last seen on May 23 while driving home in a white Toyota along Weltevreden Road near Philippi.

Shireen Essop was last seen on May 23 while driving home in a white Toyota along Weltevreden Road near Philippi.

Published Jun 2, 2022


Cape Town - In the midst of the ongoing kidnapping crisis in South Africa, which has led to local communities resorting to mob justice, here’s what South Africans need to know about the kidnapping and human trafficking trend globally.

With the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic, kidnapping and human trafficking took a hiatus as countries across the globe restricted outdoor activities and travelling, which meant criminal groups needed to adapt to the new conditions.

Looking further back to pre-Covid-19, statistics reported by the Global Economy, which gathered official data from 65 countries, showed that South Africa had the third-highest kidnapping rate, at 9.6 kidnappings per 100 000 people in 2017.

Above them, Canada and Belgium topped the rankings, at 10.3 kidnappings per 100 000 people.

According to a report by S-RM Consultancy, a global intelligence and cyber security firm with experts based in Cape Town, Hong Kong, New York, Rio and Washington, it was noted that kidnapping had made a comeback in 2021.

“In Mexico, some established cartels took the opportunity to seize territory and absorbed smaller criminal groups unable to adapt to lockdown conditions,” read the report.

“In South Africa, extortionists turned their attention from shuttered nightclubs to cafés and hotels; and in Italy, the Camorra offered loans to struggling businesses to either turn a profit or for use as money laundering fronts,” it said.

The report added that kidnapping data is notoriously unreliable, with many cases under-reported due to ransom demands or the family of the victims in fear of retribution from the kidnappers.

“The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded the lowest number of piracy incidents globally in the first nine months of 2021 for any year since 1994.

“This trend was reflected in the Gulf of Guinea, too. Reported crew kidnappings are down, too, from 80 in the same period in 2020 compared to 50 this year,” read the report.

It added that Haiti had recorded 782 kidnappings between January and October of 2021, with gangs having historic ties with “all levels of the political establishment”.


Information published by the South African Counter-human Trafficking Resource Library stated that traffickers approach potential victims in a variety of ways, including direct contact with the person, the family or relatives.

An agent scouts for potential victims through social media or sometimes represents themselves as a potential sponsor or love interest.

While kidnappings may happen all over, from “dodgy” suburbs to “well-off” areas, some of the more prevalent spots include nightclubs, bars, hospitals, shelters, as well as massage parlours and private residences.