Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico doubles prison sentences for kidnapping

Police rescue kidnapped person in Banderilla in eastern state of Veracruz. 15 May 2014
Police are often heavily armed when they attempt to rescue victims of kidnap, like here in Banderilla

Mexico has published new sentencing guidelines that will double prison sentences for kidnapping.

The minimum prison term has risen from 20 to 40 years.

It will apply for all abductions, including those that last only a few hours or days, so-called "express kidnappings".

The maximum prison sentence will rise from 50 to 140 years for those who kill their victims.

Kidnappings committed by a public security official, such as a member of the police or military, will be punished with up to 100 years in prison.

Kidnappers will also have to pay heavy fines.

In reality, few people ever receive sentences longer than 60 years for federal crimes, but kidnapping is considered in a separate category.

'Humanitarian emergency'

The number of kidnappings reported to the police has risen dramatically in Mexico in recent years.

In 2007, 438 kidnappings were reported, but the number had risen to almost 1,700 last year.

And the government estimates the number of kidnappings reported to the police could be fewer than 2% of the total.

If that is the case, the real number of abductions could be about 105,000 per year.

Analysts say accurate figures are hard to come by, as many abductions only last for hours or a few days until the victims empty their bank accounts at gunpoint or pay a ransom.

Most are never reported to the authorities for fear of reprisals from the criminal gang which carried out the kidnapping.

In January this year the Mexican government launched a nationwide effort to fight kidnapping.

A federal prosecutor, Renato Sales, was named to head an anti-kidnapping committee that would co-ordinate efforts to fight abductions in the 10 Mexican states (out of 31) where 74% of all kidnappings take place.

"Mexico needs to deal quickly and efficiently with the humanitarian emergency that this crime entails," said Mr Sales at the time.

More on this story