Violent crime is a problem that befalls cities and countries around the world; from the UK to Australia, no society can boast to being entirely free of evils such as murder, robberies and sexual assault.
But there are certain areas of the planet where incidents like this are much more frequent and severe; these have become some of the world’s most dangerous places to live.
Wedged at the southernmost tip of Africa between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Republic of South Africa is home to some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery; from beaches and mountains to nature reserves and national parks. It’s easy to understand why it attracts millions of tourists each year and why, since the end of apartheid, it has played host to the football, rugby and cricket World Cups.
But behind the beautiful facade lies a dark heart. Cities like Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg are plagued by robberies, kidnapping and murder, while carjacking is so common that in the early noughties some vehicles were fitted with anti-carjacking systems complete with flame throwers. Rich tourists are regularly protected by armed guards and wealthier citizens live in gated communities.
Racial tensions are still evident and poverty in the black township communities is rife despite it having the largest economy in Africa. According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, in 2009 the life expectancy for white people was 71 years, while the average black person could only expect to live to 48.
The situation is not helped by the spread of HIV through poor contraception and high levels of sexual assault, with a UNAIDS report in 2011 estimating that 5.6 million South Africans are affected, more than any other country in the world.
Despite the very high level of violent crime in South Africa, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises that there is only a limited risk to UK tourists as most incidents occur in the impoverished townships.
With 13 of its cities, including Belem, Belo Horizonte and capital Brasilia, featuring in the list of the 50 most dangerous places to live according to the Mexican Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, the largest country in South America has become famous for more than its rainforest, carnivals and footballers.
Brazil has similar problems to South Africa, with a growing gulf between the very rich and extremely poor. This stark economic divide has been exacerbated by the country’s emergence as a major international force, with the wealthy thriving and the poverty stricken suffering in the favelas of the seventh largest economy in the world.
As of 2010 almost 500,000 people were incarcerated in Brazil’s prisons and the United Nations estimates that a similar number were killed by firearms between 1973 and 2003. There is a high rate of violent crimes, influenced primarily by the drug trade, and although the situation has improved in recent years, Brazil still has major problems to deal with before it is thrust into the limelight as host of the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
Levels of violent crime across the country are high according to the FCO but they advise to be especially cautious in big cities and during carnivals. Attacks involving guns are common and tourists should never try to resist. The Foreign Office does point out that in 2011 almost 150,000 Britons visited Brazil and most trips passed without trouble.
Like Brazil and South Africa, Mexico is a country famed for its stunning landscape but infamous for the crime lurking inside it. It’s the tenth most visited country in the world according to the United Nations but it’s also home to ten of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, with Ciudad Juarez chief among them.
Juarez lies on the Mexico–United States border, a key entry point for cocaine smugglers. In 2009, drug related violence inflicted by the rival Sinaloa and Juarez cartels led to the city being dubbed ‘the most violent zone outside of a declared war zone’, with the world’s highest reported murder rate of 130 homicides for every 100,000 citizens.
Murder, extortion and torture have become commonplace and in recent years over 200,000 locals have fled the city. Violent crimes against women are particularly prevalent. In under a decade around 300 women have gone missing and there have been 400 female victims of sexual homicide.
The last 12 months has seen the murder rate drop by over 57% after the Sinaloa cartel ran its rivals out of the city. Despite this, the FCO still advises against all but essential travel to Juarez. The majority of violent crimes in Mexico are committed between rival gang members but there is still a risk to travellers, although tourist hotspots like Cancun and Playa Del Carmen tend to be well protected by the government.
If you’re a British tourist travelling to Mexico, Brazil or South Africa, following the advice of the FCO should see your holiday pass trouble free. Confused.com travel expert Mhairi Duffin offers some extra advice on how to avoid any dangerous incidents while on holiday, “Before you travel to any risky destinations your first port of call should be the FCO website. Take some time to read through their advice and get an idea of potential risks as well as areas to avoid.
While you’re abroad don’t underrate the importance of local knowledge. Staff in your hotel or hostel will be able to advise you on where’s safe to go and where’s best left alone so it’s a good idea to ask them for tips on where you should visit during your stay.
Home sweet home?
Back here in the UK we can boast to having our lowest crime levels in 30 years. Although nearly two million violent crimes were committed in 2011/2012, this is nowhere near the level of such incidents in South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.
Adam Davies writes on behalf of life and critical illness cover comparison site Confused.com.