According to Chapter 5 of the Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29), kidnapping can be described as the unlawful imprisonment of a person. The unlawful taking or detention of a child under the age of 18 constitutes an offence of abduction.
A total of 504 cases of kidnapping have been reported from 2011-2019, according to the Minister of Interior of Ghana, Mr. Ambrose Dery, in a recent address to Regional, Divisional and District Crime Officers at a two-day conference.
This means that on the average, about 56 kidnapping cases are reported annually. In the Interior Minister’s report, 47 cases had already been recorded for the year 2019. However, only 55% of these cases were confirmed following further investigations. The remaining cases (45%) were identified as false.
Seventeen victims have been rescued from police operations, with 10 suspects currently standing trial.
The cases of kidnapping and abduction are relatively dispersed across the various regions of Ghana. Recent kidnapping cases, including the Takoradi Missing Girls which made headlines throughout the year, have brought the attention of most civilians to this type of offences against the person.
Root causes of kidnapping & abduction
Generally, the root causes of crime, including kidnapping and abduction, may be associated with multiple socio-political factors (such as the entrenched trend of bad and corrupt governmental policies, rural urban migration), socio-economic problems, urbanization, and the complicated mixture of the political climate and unemployment.
The growing number of migrants from neighboring countries (such as Nigeria, Togo, and Benin), impunity and under-reporting of cases of kidnapping and abduction by family of victims have also been linked to the causes of these types of crime.
Nature of kidnapping cases in Ghana
Kidnappers and abductors in Ghana operate with different objectives. In most cases, there is a high possibility for a demand of a ransom although the victims may be eventually killed in some instances.
In a few individual cases, perpetrators of this crime may be involved in some form of rituals that treat victims as “sacrificial items” to earn a return in their customary observance, which is popularly known as “sakawa”, “game”, “night shift” or “hard work” on the streets of Accra, Ashaiman, Nima and other neighborhoods considered as hot-spots of internet fraud.
Typical examples of cases that illustrate the above elements of kidnapping/abduction in Ghana are the cases of the Takoradi Missing girls and the Missing Canadian Girls. In the former, ransom was demanded to facilitate the release of the girls at the initial stages of the kidnapping.
However, investigations by the police showed that some bones recovered in the case belonged to the missing girls. In the Canadian girls’ case, no ransom was payed or discussed between the suspects, victims or the Ghana Police service (GPS).
Success rate in resolving cases of kidnapping
Current figures for 2019 suggest a success rate of about 65% in resolving confirmed cases of kidnapping in Ghana (17 rescued victims out of 26 confirmed cases). However, there have been great tension surrounding certain high profile cases of kidnapping this year.
For example, the Canadian girls case which hit major media stations, both local and international, in June this year was solved with what majority of the people of Ghana would like to call “much ease and warm-heartedness”.
In contrast, the case of the Takoradi girls was bewildered with serious media chaos and investigative challenges, with the police confirming the death of the 4 missing girls.
One of the key challenges with the investigation of kidnapping and related offences is the poor state of police intelligence practices/systems and forensic science in Ghana.
An example of this problem is the Takoradi missing girls’ case which received a much more prolonged period of investigation, which some Ghanaians attributed to politics.
Other challenges include the public’s reluctance to provide information that could lead to the arrest of kidnappers. Additionally, there is limited research and education about the underlying causes and solutions to this crime.
Intelligence databases, such as national fingerprint and DNA database of convicted individuals and some arrested individuals may also assist in the apprehension of perpetrators and identify serial offenders and their networks.
Forensic science capacity: The government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Interior, should make forensic science a priority for a nation building agenda. Forensics units should be placed in at least every regional police command with maximum staffing to ensure that criminal investigations receive adequate forensic support from the onset of investigations.
Border control: Immigration and customs entry points across the nation should be strengthened and resourced to secure all unapproved routes that leads in and out of the country to prevent kidnappers from crossing the boundaries of Ghana into neighboring countries where victims may be trafficked.
Cybersecurity and digital forensics: Cybercrime, also known as “sakawa”, contributes to some of the instances of kidnapping in the country. The cybercrime unit of the Ghana Police Service should integrate data analytics tools to identify hotspots of scamming and cyber fraud in the country.
Finally, other measures to curtail the problem of kidnapping and abduction include education through awareness interventions and encouragement of the public to report cases and suspicious activities.
These measures and recommendations may assist the police in apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators of this crime and create opportunities to develop sustainable solutions.