Zetas kidnapping victims rescued in Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Mexico saw the highest number of reported kidnappings in the first half of 2013 since at least 1997, according to a national civil society organization, a figure that reflects the increasing diversification of criminal activities in the country.

According to a report from the National Citizen Observatory (ONC), there were 757 reports of kidnappings recorded between January and June this year, the highest number for any semester in the time period 1997 to 2013. The second highest number was recorded in the first six months of 2011, with 700 kidnappings, while the second half of 2012 saw 688.

In comparison, there were 505 kidnappings in the first half of 1997, a number that generally declined until 2006, when kidnapping figures spiked.

If December 2012 is included in the 2013 figure, there were 878 kidnappings recorded in the first seven months of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, more than triple the 287 kidnappings reported for the same period at the beginning of former President Felipe Calderon's administration in 2006.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Intentional homicide numbers, meanwhile, have fallen slightly in the past two years, from 11,510 in the first half of 2011 to 9,433 in the first half of 2013, although they are still markedly higher than the 5,874 seen in the first six months of the Calderon administration.

InSight Crime Analysis

As previously noted by InSight Crime, the rise in reported kidnappings is likely due to the changing criminal landscape in Mexico. As traditional criminal groups fragment, and an increasing number of organizations fight for profits, they have been forced to branch out into activities such as extortion and kidnapping, instead of relying primarily on drug trafficking for finances.

The actual number of kidnappings in Mexico is thought to be up to 10 to 15 times higher than that reported, as many cases are settled with ransom payments and never reported.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Kidnapping

Kidnapping victims are frequently subjected to savage treatment, and according to the ONC, up to 30 percent are killed. The Zetas are one group particularly known for their brutal conduct, although gruesome kidnapping tactics are not new -- a man known as the "Ear Lopper" was arrested in 1998, famed for cutting off the fingers and ears of victims and sending them to families with a ransom note.