Episode 792: The Ransom Problem : Planet Money When someone has been kidnapped, what do you do? If you pay ransom, you create a market for hostages. If you don't, people die. Different countries have different policies with different results.
NPR logo Episode 792: The Ransom Problem

Episode 792: The Ransom Problem

Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped and held in captivity for 15 months in Somalia. (Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Amanda Lindhout traveled to Somalia to report on a humanitarian crisis. She was no stranger to dangerous countries; she had reported from Iraq and Afghanistan. But almost immediately after she arrived in Somalia, she was captured by a criminal gang whose members seemed to have ties to terror groups. The gang phoned her mother and demanded a large ransom payment.

Amanda knew right away that wasn't going to happen. Her government doesn't pay ransom. The U.S., Canada, and the U.K. all have "no concessions" policies on ransom. There was even a law that forbade Amanda's family from raising money to pay. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. If you pay a ransom once, you're incentivizing kidnapping. It sends the wrong message: There's a market for hostages.

Amanda spent 15 months in captivity. All the while, her family was trying to get her released without violating the law. Her ordeal illustrates a question that has troubled nations for centuries: Does forbidding the payment of ransom really reduce kidnappings? Or does it just get people killed?

The United States, the U.K., and Canada, have for decades—if not centuries— maintained a no-ransom policy, particularly when it comes to terror groups. But following a surge in kidnappings after 9/11, researchers started to study the incidence of kidnapping, and the outcomes, and they've formed some opinions on whether the so-called "no-concessions" policy really keeps citizens safer.

Amanda Lindhout has chronicled her story in the book, A House In The Sky.

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