From an eight-year-old girl snatched on her way to school to a wealthy businessman who was abducted and murdered, South Africa is experiencing a surge in kidnappings for money.

During the festive season, police have been warning parents to be vigilant around beaches and shopping malls – potential hotspots for child abduction.

“They should take extra care of their children,” said Robert Netshiunda, a police spokesman in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa has long had a reputation for violent crime and is often described as one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside a war zone.

But kidnapping for ransom or extortion “is comparatively new”, noted Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town municipal security councillor.

The phenomenon started to rise in 2016 and is now experiencing explosive growth, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC), a non-profit organisation.

Police recorded more than 4,000 cases between July and September, a twofold increase in the same period last year.