Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico

100,000. The first time I came across this number as an estimate of kidnappings in Mexico throughout a whole year, I simply couldn't believe it. Sadly, it's no exaggeration.
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The first time I came across this number as an estimate of kidnappings in Mexico throughout a whole year, I simply couldn't believe it.

I thought it must've been a mistake or some grossly exaggerated number thrown out to the public by some irresponsible party.

Sadly, it's no exaggeration.

Those who came up with the figure -- Mexico's National Institute of Statistics -- stood firmly behind it, and argued that the number is based on thousands of household polls they did in 2014.

The study also revealed that barely 1 percent of the total estimate of kidnappings gets reported to the police. That 1 percent is actually very close to the figure for kidnappings that the government puts out -- between 1,500 to 1,700 per year.

Security, or, rather, the lack of, is a huge thing for Mexicans. For years they've been immersed in an incredibly savage drug war, which has left tens of thousands dead in the last decades, more disappeared and many more displaced.

During this period Mexicans have had to see corpses hanging from bridges, children finding mutilated body parts in playgrounds, or wild shootouts on the streets.

As if not enough suffering, ordinary Mexicans have also had to deal with the threat of being kidnapped.

I've worked in Mexico several times as a reporter and in every visit it was common to hear about friends of friends being kidnapped, family members of people I know, or simply to be reminded about it everyday in the media.

The first time I was deployed in Mexico, almost 10 years ago, the first thing I was told was never to get into a taxi as being a foreigner would attract attention and I could be kidnapped.

The last time I went to Mexico, for the BBC Our World documentary Kidnapped in Mexico, I was told the same thing.

Imagine what it must be like for Mexicans to live with this everyday.

I met many victims of kidnappings. They all had this halo of sadness hanging over them.

Some had a melancholic smile, others broke down in tears.

A kidnap negotiator I met told me "kidnap victims are like rape victims in the sense of the trauma they carry afterwards." Although it's not infrequent that some do suffer the worst sexual abuse possible whilst in the clutches of sadistic kidnappers.

One man told me how angry he was about his ordeal: he had been kidnapped, and beaten up, but the real target had been his wife and two young children who were kidnapped for about a week.

This man told me his full story, and often he would shake his head unable to comprehend why he had to suffer so much. Why had they done that to him? Why was there a 14-year-old boy among the kidnappers and not in school? Why his wife can't leave the house anymore because of fear?

I couldn't answer him. What do you tell someone who has lost hope in such way?

However, I had the opportunity to ask these questions to a man who claimed he was a kidnapper. I was able to challenge him on his actions.

The responses were chilling.

"It's cruel, yes. But I feel no regret. Sorry, no."

This man gave me some of his time to make sure I understood the criminal underworld in Mexico.

He had worked for a drug cartel, but was now an "independent kidnapper."

He spared no details in the horror of his actions. This, without a sign of awareness of how terrible this could sound.

In the end he left me with an uneasy feeling of vulnerability, which Mexicans must surely feel everyday.

"We're everywhere, and there are more and more of us each day."

That is chilling. It just didn't sound like an empty statement.


That's the number.

Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico was broadcasted on BBC World News on Friday, March 11 at 2030 GMT with repeats on Saturday March 12 at 1130, 1630 & 2230 GMT and on Sunday March 13 at 0330 & 1730 GMT.

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