Kidnapping: A Prevalent Crime Throughout the Ages

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History is littered with stories of kidnappings of prominent figures and genocidal acts against significant parts of whole societies.

Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome in the year 75 BC, Ireland’s Patron Saint, St Patrick in AD 403 and England’s King Richard the Lionheart in AD 1192, were all victims of kidnapping for a monetary ransom.

The practise of slavery against peoples of the African and Asian continents tore apart not just families, but whole communities, as did the forced removal of children in Australia – known as the Stolen Generations.

Kidnapping is an act that can financially, socially or politically benefit one person, group or even society to the detriment or even misery of another.

And while now a crime in most parts of the world, the act of abducting, kidnapping or otherwise holding another person against their will was sanctioned and even actively encouraged in times gone by,

Abduction, kidnapping and detaining for advantage

Various terms can be used to describe the practise of holding a person against their will, and are often used interchangeably.

Abduction is the term to describe the act of taking a person away by force or deception.

Kidnapping generally denotes holding an abducted person against his or her will.

And detaining for advantage – a term often used in modern legislation – is the act of holding a person without consent, whether or not the person has been abducted.

For the purposes of this article, the term ‘kidnapping’ will be used to describe any of these acts.

A crime against children

The word kidnap is derived from ‘kid’ (meaning child) and ‘nap’ (or nab, meaning snatch) and originally denoted the practise of stealing of children for use as servants or labourers in American colonies.

The first recorded use of the term was in 1673, but as stated the practise of engaging in what we now regard as kidnapping goes back far longer than that.

Moses freed kidnapped Jews

Things don’t appear to have changed much from the 13th century BC, when Moses liberated the enslaved Jews in Egypt, where history reflects on the Parting of the Red Sea to let the Jewish People safely cross to the Promised Land, Canaan, now called Israel.

If only history would repeat itself, perhaps thousands of men, women and children would not be regularly drowning at sea, having been kidnapped by human traffickers for amongst other things, to be sold into the sex trade, to this very day.

Nowadays, millions of men, women, boys and girls are kidnapped every year for purposes varying from human trafficking, involving Boy Soldiers for paramilitary groups, such as Northern Uganda’s Lord Resistance Army and girls as Sex Slaves .

This is despite the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and its 120 Partner Countries working together to eradicate it, or at least reduce it.

Genocide features next, where thousands of ethnic minority communities in several countries are kidnapped and force-marched from their homeland, to become refugees and immigrants. For example, the Rohingya people who are formerly of the Rakhine State in Myanmar, many of whom currently live in refugee camps, predominantly in Bangladesh.

New Zealand and Australia

It may come as a surprise that several years ago, New Zealand topped the list of countries with the highest rate of kidnappings, at 9.5 per 100,000 people, equating to 450 kidnappings.

Australia, listed at number 84, had 456 kidnappings, but in 2018, the most reliable statistics to date at that time, had 5 times New Zealand’s population.

This, of course, does not refer to the worst countries for kidnapping. That belongs to Iraq, with approximately 1700 people kidnapped annually. 

Australian figures are easier to confirm, possibly as a result of fairly low numbers in comparison to many other countries. 

In 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) labelled New South Wales the Kidnapping Capital of Australia, reporting 225 victims, followed by Victoria with 158 and Queensland and South Australia 59 each; with very few in other States and Territories.

New South Wales

According to a report released by the ABS in July 2022, New South Wales still tops the Aussie list with 210, Victoria next in line with 146, whilst Queensland registered 26, South Australia 41, with Tasmania accounting for only 3 kidnappings. The Australian State with no kidnappings for 2021 was the Northern Territory.

Out of a total of 453 kidnappings, 27 were children under the age of 9 years.

Just over one third (153) were Family Domestic Violence related.

The ABS found that family, friends and acquaintance were responsible for the majority of kidnapping offences in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, with strangers committing the majority of the Queensland crimes.

Accurate figures are often difficult to confirm, predominantly because countries are concerned if they are made public, it will have a debilitating effect on trade and tourism, among other considerations. Hence the reason statistics vary quite frequently.

Whilst there are many claims to the top 10 countries in relation to kidnapping, such statistics are taken from data dated as far back as 20 years ago, until generally 2018, which sort of defeats the purpose for providing accurate results.

The impact of COVID-19

The United Nations Agency, UNICEF, which provides humanitarian welfare to children in practically every country in the world, (At least 190 countries) has assessed that the next decade will see up to 10 million additional girls forced into marriage and motherhood, including Forced Labour, with many the subject of kidnapping.

This is despite the fact that prior to Covid-19 striking, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage anyway, again with what could be reasonably inferred to be, a significant number by way of kidnap.

This does not take into account countless other girls throughout the world, who will be kidnapped by virtue of what is outlined, for example, in section 86 of the Crimes Act 1900 and corresponding legislation in other countries, which constitutes the crimes associated with kidnapping.

This, it is suggested, is caused by dire economic circumstances which will affect millions of families, due to the pandemic having caused death and serious illness; in addition to unemployment, poverty and homelessness particularly in those countries who have little, or no Welfare Services.

Self-preservation, according to psychological studies, creates a mind-set in such desperate and vulnerable people, making them more susceptible to coercion.

UNICEF was initially set up by the United Nations to address the urgent requirements of children in post-war Europe and China and some say, parts of the Middle East.

Known as the United Nations Children’s Fund, with governments around the world contributing two thirds of its income, with national committees, such as Soccer Aid and philanthropists providing the balance.

One might think why so many letters in UNICEF then? Well, when it officially became part of the United Nations in 1953, the letters I & E standing for international and emergency were dropped from the original full name, which was United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

UNICEF as a charity was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946, with its founder, Ludwik Rajchman a Polish physician, becoming its first chairman.

Whilst involved in 193 countries, UNICEF runs a network of offices in 150 countries.


UNICEF’S Global 2022 Report states that 5 million children die before the age of 5 years, with no estimate on the percentage caused as a result of being kidnapped.

Further age groups have similar reduced mortality rates, but it is reported that every 5 seconds, a child under 15 years of age dies from a multitude of reasons, all sorts of illnesses; but nowhere does it mention kidnapping as being the catalyst for some or any of those deaths.

Nigeria in early 2021 saw approximately 1500 children and students kidnapped.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, during this same period, saw 3,400 children kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers.

Myanmar, in particular, the Rohingya population, has 5.6 million children requiring humanitarian help, as a result of attacks on schools and hospitals.

The State of Palestine sees over 1 million children in a similar position.

These are just a handful of countries, with similar unfortunate statistics.

The list goes on, with the missing word being kidnapped, it is anecdotally suggested, for fear of not being permitted to remain in some of approximately 155 countries, which would preclude UNICEF from assisting those who face exploitation in relation to countless other aspects of their wellbeing.

Certainly, some of the statistics encompass the past several years, but the future is predicted to be much the same.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, in a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, in which an integral component is kidnapping, makes clear based on data from 155 countries, that the new information shames us all.

Going further, the Executive Director stated there is neglect from those countries on reporting and prosecuting such cases, despite this heinous crime increasing.

Executive Director Costa said 2 out of 5 countries had not recorded a single conviction, saying the reason for this is that many countries lack the political will.

Indeed, the head of UNODC made clear that those governments were in fact obstructing the fight against such crimes. Harsh words indeed. 

Why on earth would this be the case?

UNICEF’s core focus 

110 million vulnerable children in 155 countries require UNICEF to provide clean water, food, vaccines, education and protection from violence and exploitation.

Whilst it is accepted that UNICEF does endeavour to reduce the incidence of kidnapping, it appears that the greater good is being allowed to provide that which doesn’t embarrass the country involved. And that greater good is not to embarrass other countries, like the Executive Director of UNODC did.

This statistic cannot be argued against, although it would be interesting to know precisely how many lives could be saved if kidnapping could be stopped.

It is clear also that UNICEF try to do what they can to protect children and women, including from kidnapping. Just not like the head of UNODC!

Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020

This fairly recent comprehensive report shows despite the good work being done in many countries, according to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), amongst others, that less than 50% of countries are enforcing their protection laws adequately and things are getting worse said UNICEF’S Executive Director, Henrietta Fore. Perhaps UNICEF are not as fearful of upsetting other countries, as earlier suggested.

Whilst 88% of countries have national data available on protection crimes, only 21% use it to enhance methods to combat it.

And still no mention of the word kidnapping! 

Kidnapping funds terrorism

Global Studies since 2018 have identified that whilst many kidnappings of schoolchildren, local government members and others are credited to gangs, the kidnappers are indeed affiliated to organised Islamist Paramilitary Forces, Guerrilla Groups and other armed militias; most of which are associated with Al-Qaida, or Islamic State terrorist organisations, or their off-shoots.

These kidnappings occur, mainly, in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Syria, Yemen Mali, Libya and Colombia, amongst other countries.

Kidnapping increases are also being seen in other Western Sahel Territories, particularly Burkina Faso and the Niger.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mexico, India and Afghanistan also feature strongly in increased statistics, with countless other prolific kidnapping countries not far behind.

Ransoms add significantly to funding these terrorist organisations.

Combatting  kidnapping

Armies, Counter-Terrorism Police and The United Nations, combine with many other such global Crime Fighting Authorities, including Forensic Accountants and Banking Institutions, in a collaborative effort to reduce the impact of kidnapping on the victims, their families and society in general.

Military and Police Posts, similar to the Forts of ancient history, are being built close to the areas mostly targeted, in order to apprehend the kidnappers, prior to Governments under pressure from citizens, feeling compelled to pay the ransom. In other words, stopping the actual payment.

This is necessary to stop funding reaching terrorist organisations, but equally important, to rescue the kidnapped victims.

Financial Institutions are required to assist the authorities in attempting to follow the Money Trail.

Handbook of Terrorism Prevention 

Chapter 24 of the Handbook of Terrorism Prevention and Preparedness looks at prevention of kidnappings in detail, still relevant to date and discusses the fact that terrorist kidnappings are and have been practically impossible to accurately research from open or indeed closed sources.

The prevention methods are crafted, as opposed to factual, as no crime fighting organisation wants to share methodology in precisely what they are doing to combat kidnapping.

A point in question is that most if not all governments deny paying ransoms, however an undercover New York Times investigation was able to confirm that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least us$125 million from European governments since 2008, with half of this amount received in recent years.

This is only one of countless terrorist organisations making substantial amounts through kidnapping.

Surviving a kidnapping

What was initially developed by the German Criminal Office (BKA) of Europol and still holds true today, in a somewhat amended form are the following tips to survive a kidnapping:

  • If you cannot escape immediately and successfully, you must accept your situation for the time being.
  • Try to gain control over your shock, fear and agitation by staying calm and following the instructions of the kidnappers/hostage-takers.
  • Take a passive role, do not argue, do not make direct eye contact. Refrain from making accusations and appearing hostile or arrogant.
  • Now your aim is to stabilise the situation. Try to establish a personal relationship with the offenders without going too far.
  • Stay politically neutral. Avoid controversial issues such as religion or politics.
  • Try to keep your dignity and self-respect.
  • Do not negotiate with the offenders – this will be done by others. The offenders will make their demands to a third party.
  • Follow the instructions of the offenders if you are allowed to make a telephone call, even if they tell you to lie.
  • Be patient. Do not give up and think positively! You can be assured that  everything possible is being done for you.

The drawback to this advice is that a captured Al Qaeda counter-manual make for bleak reading, with the ever-present danger of perhaps a victim being maimed or killed, in order to exert pressure on governments.

The Australia Day kidnappings

Whilst there have been equally tragic kidnappings before and after, according to many in the psychological and psychiatric communities, the one which changed the culture of Australian society was the abduction of the three Beaumont children on 26 January 1966, who left home that day to go to Glenelg beach in South Australia.

Jane, aged 9 years, Arnna who was 7 years old and Grant only 4 years of age, will walk through the door one day, was their parents fervent hope.

Despite over half a century elapsing, South Australia police recently confirmed that the case remains open, with a $1 million reward ready and waiting.

The cultural change was immense, with normal decent people looked at with suspicion simply by glancing at a child and parents rarely allowing their children outside by themselves, causing in both adults and children, a siege mentality.

This frequently manifested itself in psychological disorders.

This is not to undermine the sentiments in relation to the 1960 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Graeme Thorne at Seaforth New South Wales and the 1965 New South Wales kidnapping and murder of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock, both 15 years old, at Wanda Beach, which is situated on Bate Bay in Cronulla.

Indeed, former NSW Senior Crown Prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi recalls having pictures of Graeme on his bedroom wall, so that he could tell his parents if he saw him. 

The Senior Lawman, in his book, Kidnapped in 2014, stated that Graeme influenced him to become a lawyer. 

So perhaps, Australia’s culture had indeed begun to change at the point of Graeme’s kidnap and murder, said to have been caused as a result of his father’s winning of the Sydney Opera House Lottery, worth $100,000, the equivalent of  $3 million in today’s terms.

Certainly, NSW culture had, as attested to by the lawyer.

Notable Australian kidnappings

Countless other Australian children have been the victims of kidnapping. Some notable examples are:

  • Canberra, New South Wales, Allen Redston was aged 6 years when he was kidnapped and murdered in 1966.
  • Melbourne, Victoria was the scene of the kidnapping of 6 female students and their teacher from Faraday school in 1972.
  • Melbourne, Victoria, Eloise Anne Worledge was aged 8 years when she was kidnapped in 1976.
  • Melbourne, Victoria, Denise McGregor was 13 years old when she was kidnapped and murdered in 1978.
  • Melbourne, Victoria, Kylie Maria Antonia Maybury was 6 years of age when she was kidnapped and murdered in 1984.
  • Noosa, Queensland, Sian Kingi was 12 years of age when she was kidnapped and murdered in 1987.  
  • Melbourne, Victoria, Sheree Beasley was 6 years of age when she was kidnapped and murdered in 1991.
  • Melbourne, Victoria, Karmein Chan was 13 years of age, when she was kidnapped and murdered, also in 1991.
  • Bega, New South Wales, Lauren Margaret Barry and Nichole Emma Collins were 14 years and 16 years of age respectively, when they were kidnapped and murdered in 1997.
  • Moe, Victoria, Jaidyn Leskie was 14 months old when he was kidnapped and murdered in 1997. 
  • Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Daniel Morcombe was 13 years of age when  he was kidnapped and murdered in 2003.
  • Lumea, NSW, Rahma el-Dennaoui was 19-month-old when she was kidnapped in 2005.

Recent examples of kidnappings

All over the country, Australian kidnappings are currently being played out.

Penrith Local Court refused 3 men bail, having been charged with kidnapping and assault.

Campbelltown Local Court was the sentencing venue for two young women also charged with kidnapping offences.

Terrence Darrell Kelly who pleaded guilty early 2022 in the Western Australia District Court to one count of forcibly taking a child under 16 years of age, when he kidnapped 4 years old, Cleo Smith,  from her family campsite, will know his fate soon.

A South Australian man was sentenced to 8 years in prison for kidnapping and stabbing his mother-in-law.

Former Australian Cricket star lifted the lid on his kidnapping when he spoke to SEN WA Breakfast, with the outcome yet to be determined later this year.

The Stolen Generations

It would be remiss not to mention what occurred in relation to kidnappings during colonisation and the stolen generation right her in Australia.

Suffice to say at this juncture that kidnapping in various forms were perpetrated against the Aboriginal people, from British and European settlers to the governments of the colonies and then the Federation.

Whilst some legislation led to laws which were exploited in relation to kidnapping for purposes of forced labour and aspects of physical and sexual assault and the removal of children from families, this is a story for another time.

Kidnapping pandemic

The United Nations June 2021 Annual Report indicates a massive increase of up to 90% in kidnapping of children in 21 war-torn countries, 70% of whom suffer rape, or other forms of sexual and physical assault.

From, in excess of 19,000 kidnapped children in these regions, over 8 000 were taken to become Child Soldiers, with more than 2,500 killed and 5,500 maimed.

Conflict in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan during the 12 months of 2020, accounted for the majority of these statistics .

This is hardly surprising, when as reported by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) and the United Nations, that over 400 million children are raised in War Zones.

Financial cost

Accurate figures in relation to the breakdown of the various aspects associated with kidnapping, abduction and human trafficking, for one reason, or another, are notoriously difficult to obtain; from the thousands of crime statistics published from numerous countries, worldwide.

Revenue acquired by organised crime, in the region of US$150 Billion per year, is not regarded as unreasonable, though also unconfirmed.

As most of this money is not declared as Taxable Income, it is of no benefit to society. On the contrary, it also affects Competition and Consumer protocols, as a result of Money Laundering.

The impact of kidnapping

Many more billions of dollars are required to deal with the fallout as a result of these crimes, such as crime prevention, investigation & prosecution of offenders, Court proceedings; and more importantly, the ongoing costs associated with the medical, psychological and psychiatric treatment of victims.

According to the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and the Law, (ANZAPPL) European Psychiatric Association, (EPA) American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, amongst others; social issues, such as homelessness, poverty,  unemployment and drug addiction of not only the victims, but the generational legacy, which is perpetuated, equating to a virtually unquantifiable cost to society.

Current top ten countries in terms of kidnappings

The top 10 countries that currently have the highest rate sof kidnappings, considering the statistics as accurate as possible within a minefield of conjecture are:

Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Colombia, The Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, and Haiti. However, these countries simply hold their positions for an indeterminate period of time.  

The offence of kidnapping in New South Wales 

Here in New South Wales, kidnapping is an offence under section 86 of the Crimes Act 1900 which attracts a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person:

  1. Took or detained another person,
  2. Did so without the other person’s consent, and
  3. Did so with the intention of holding the other person for a ransom, or committing a serious indictable offence against the other person, or obtaining any other advantage through the conduct.

A serious indictable offence is one which carries a maximum penalty of at least 5 years in prison, which covers a wide range of crimes including larceny and most thefts, most assaults and all fraud offences.

The maximum penalty increases to 20 years in prison where the defendant was in the company of another person or persons, or caused actual bodily harm to the kidnapped person.

Actual bodily harm is that which is more than just ‘transient or trifling’; in other words, more than just superficial injuries.

The maximum penalty increases to 25 years in prison where the defendant was in the company of another person or persons, and caused actual bodily harm to the complainant.

Defences to the charge include:

  1. Self-defence,
  2. Duress,
  3. Necessity,
  4. Being the child’s parent (provided you are not contravening a court order), and
  5. Acting with the consent of the child’s parent.
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David McCulloch

David McCulloch

David McCulloch has spent years assisting Australian prison inmates and immigration detainees, collaborated with management and academics to establish a Nordic-style recidivism reduction program, written extensively on the history of criminal law and the inequities that plague the criminal justice system and been involved in law-related podcasts and television programs.

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