Convicted kidnappers will now see harsh penalties

In response to years of steadily rising abductions, Mexico has doubled the minimum sentence for kidnappers, a measure that has seen success in other Latin America countries.

Effective June 4, the minimum sentence for convicted kidnappers in Mexico will increase from 20 to 40 years, while the maximum sentence will rise from 50 to 140 years, reported BBC Mundo. Those prosecuted for the crime will also receive hefty fines.

The reform also includes provisions for members of public security forces convicted of kidnapping, who can now be sentenced to up to 100 years behind bars.

The new regulations will apply to all forms of the crime, including "express kidnappings," in which the victim is held for only a short period of time for extortive purposes. 

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Mexico has the highest rate of kidnappings in the world, according to a 2013 report by risk consulting firm Control Risks. The incidence of this crime has been on the rise since 2006, the start of former President Felipe Calderon's term in office. The year 2013 saw the highest levels of kidnapping on record, with 1,695 abductions reported, according to government statistics.

Kidnapping for ransom is often employed by gangs and drug trafficking groups as an alternative source of funding, as well as a way to ensure payments from business partners and drug mules. The rise in extortive kidnapping is likely linked to the fragmention of criminal groups, which has led to a proliferation of smaller groups forced to diversify criminal activities as they fight for a smaller share of drug profits. The inclusion of express kidnappings in the new legislation reflects an acknowledgment of the changing nature of the crime.

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Mexico's newest move against kidnapping comes months after the launching of a new National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy and the creation of a National Anti-Kidnapping Organization.

In 2000, Colombia adopted a similar approach to combat high levels of kidnapping. The country increased sentences for extortive kidnappings to up to 28 years, a penalty even higher than the 13 to 25 years given for homicide (pdf). Coupled with a boost in military efforts, and a more recent decision by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to offiically renounce extortive kidnapping, the result was a drastic decrease in the crime. 

In Mexico, the government's efforts could be undermined by the fact that only a small percentage of kidnappings are reported to police. In 2012, for example, only 1,317 of an estimated 105,682 abductions were reported, which is equivalent to less than 2 percent.