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05 November 2009 

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Kidnappings Plague Kenyan Capital

05 November 2009

Child kidnapping in Kenya. A parent's worse nightmare.
Child kidnapping in Kenya. A parent's worse nightmare.
Kidnapping has become a serious problem in Kenya's capital, with children being the most common targets. Experts say criminals consider kidnapping to be easy money. But a security firm has come up with a device that monitors the movements of children and raises an alarm when their routes are disrupted.

A parent's worst nightmare.

Victims are typically abducted in middle-class areas. Kidnappers demand ransoms of anywhere from about $640,000 - $1million shillings - usually issued through mobile telephone text messages.

Most of the victims are children.

Fifteen-year-old Eugene Mandela Ochieng' was abducted at gunpoint on his way to school in late June and held for three days before being rescued by police.

"When I lied down, after they had already shot my neighbor, they came and immediately picked me up and told my father, 'Bring one million [shillings] so that you can be with your son again,'" he recalled.

Billy Michael Omondi
Billy Michael Omondi
Police say there are no official statistics on the number of kidnappings that spiked in the middle of this year. They say more than 40 people in the capital have been arrested and charged with kidnapping within the past year.

The government has set up a Special Crimes Unit that is supposed to report to Parliament next year on how to deal with the kidnappings.

But that is small comfort to Billy Michael Omondi, who now accompanies 15-year-old Ochieng' everywhere he goes.

"He is scared. He cannot walk alone. We actually need to change him from that school because they know where his school is because it was highlighted," he said."Nowadays we have to pick him, drop him to school because we cannot just change him out of school in the middle of the term - he has to do the exams."

Omondi and Ochieng' are among many Kenyans who are increasingly fearful of kidnapping and other pervasive crime. Many are turning to security companies to allay their fears of becoming victims.

Dennis Ndwiga
Dennis Ndwiga
One such company in Kenya called G4S Security Services has come up with a device with a panic button that can be carried in a child's school bag.

The company relies on a sophisticated network of computers and satellites to follow the tracking device, even automatically.

"Portatrak also has what you would call an 'invisible' GPS shield. If you know the actual route that the vehicle follows or that the baby goes to school with, you can actually be able to draw what you would call 'invisible shields,' Dennis Ndwiga explained. Ndwiga is with G4S Security Services. "If the child is veered off that, or if the car goes off that, then it sends you signals to let you know that, hey, there is a problem here."

Ndwiga and his colleagues aim to stop the kidnappers in their tracks before it is too late.

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