Child Abduction is the illegal kidnapping of a child from his or her legal guardian or parent. Parental child abduction is the kidnapping of a child by a parent without custody from the parent who does have custody. When a stranger abducts a child it, is either to illegally adopt the child or hold the child for ransom, human trafficking, sexual abuse or murder. Abductions are usually publicized by the media.
The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children conducted a study in 1999. The study showed that in that year an estimated 800,000 children were reported missing. Forty-five percent were runaways, seven percent were victims of family abduction and two percent were kidnapped by strangers. The remaining children were possibly runaways. Fortunately, most missing children are found immediately and almost all of those are found alive. If a child is abducted by a stranger for the intent of murder, the child is usually murdered within the first 24 hours. Research conducted by the Justice Department has shown that preschoolers are at a lower risk of being abducted by strangers than elementary school children. Teenage girls are considered the most susceptible.
Professor Kevin Browne of the University of Birmingham in England said, "When children are abducted by strangers sexual abuse is the main reason. Another reason could be when someone is not mentally healthy and the abduction of infants is because they have lost their own baby. The other interesting thing in a city like Birmingham is how many of them are relatives abducting children and taking them back to their home country for arranged marriages." In the case of sexual abuse he said, "Where there is sexual abuse only one in five are arrested and one in ten prosecuted because of a lack of evidence that sexual abuse took place."
Countries in Africa, particularly in West Africa, bear a high amount of human trafficking. Children are sold for domestic labor, slave labor and sexual exploitation. Child abduction for the purpose of human trafficking often occurs in war-ravaged countries such as Sudan, Angola, Somalia or Chad. The abductors scout for children in poor rural areas. Sometimes they simply snatch the children, bribe the poor parents for as little as $15 or convince the parents that the child will receive professional training or education. There are an estimated 250 million children working as slaves worldwide.
Family abductions are the most common form of child abduction and often occur in the event of a separation or divorce in which one parent is dissatisfied with the custodial arrangements. The parent or relative may take the child to a location within the same city or even outside of the country. Family abductions occur all over the world wherever there are marital conflicts. According to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, "Most kidnappings occur in multicultural nations with high immigration. For example, between the years 1987 and 1995, 317 children were abducted from Australia and 242 children abducted from other countries were brought into Australia. In 1995 alone, 196 children were abducted from Britain to Europe."
Not only does the child suffer the trauma of an international abduction, the legal guardian or parent must undergo the emotional stress of losing the child and bring a custody proceeding to a foreign court. The Hague Convention has worked to help return these children to their rightful guardians. Many protest as to the number of countries that are non-cooperative with the State Department and that department's inefficiency when it comes to retrieving children from these foreign countries.
Media coverage in the cases of abductions by strangers has met with varying opinions. Some argue that media coverage spurs potential kidnappers to abduct children for the attention. Walter Kern of Time magazine wrote: "One wonders if the abduction reports are a runaway habit whose internal momentum can get the best of reporters and editors, flattening everything else that lies before it." The drama and suspense of a child abduction lasting for weeks on end can increase ratings for news channels.
Frank Furedi, the author of Paranoid Parenting indicates another consequence of the media's focus on child abduction: "The cumulative effect of the ceaseless exploitation of the issue of child-snatching by the U.S. media is to poison the relationship between adults and children. As far as American culture goes, adults and children need to be kept apart." Certain playgrounds deny entrance to adults unaccompanied by children.