Chapter Ten: Child Abduction General Information

With the growing number of people moving to and living in industrial sized urban cities, the risk of child abduction is an ever-increasing issue. Many parents can write off this danger as something that will never happen to their children, but it is essential to eliminate denial and be aware of yourself and your child’s surroundings at all times.

Child Abduction Statistics

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) states that "203,000 children are kidnapped each year by family members. Another 58,200 are abducted by non-family members." An abducted child is "a child who has been wrongfully taken, kept, or concealed by an abductor." An abductor is "a person who wrongfully takes, keeps, or conceals a child. The term includes married and unmarried parents, custodial and noncustodial parents, and other family members and their agents." These findings are alarming because most parents tend to brush off child abduction as something that will never happen to their child. Or, parents may falsely believe that child abductors are all "creepy-looking" men, when in fact, they are more likely to be family members. A large majority of abducted children are victims of an ongoing family dispute, wherein the children are taken by a parent as ransom in the heat of a serious argument.

"Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted." Since 1996, there has been a government program entitled the "AMBER Alert System" that was created for broadcasters to team with local police when children go missing. They developed this early warning system to help recover children who are abducted by family or strangers alike. Nowadays, the AMBER Alert System operates in the same way, but on a much larger, national scale. "Once law enforcement…determine[s]…a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. AMBER Alerts interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and on highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be issued on lottery tickets, to wireless devices…and over the Internet" for the creation of a "seamless national network."

Once abductors hear and see these AMBER Alerts on the radio, television, and even cell phones, the fear of being found generally ends up forcing them to release their victims. With this alert system in place, a total of 679 children that were in imminent danger have been reunited with their families thanks to the public’s help. Not all child abductions or kidnappings are necessarily reported to the national AMBER Alert agency though; hundreds of thousands of other cases are only reported to local agencies, or may not even be reported at all. In order for an AMBER Alert to be issued, there has to be a certain set of criteria met. The conditions are, but not limited to, children who are 17 years old or younger, are believed to be in imminent danger, have a sufficient description, and must first be reported to the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC). Because of these requirements, many abduction cases are not broadcast through the AMBER Alert system.

While this can be an issue with some parents whose child was abducted, it acts as a deterrent from all parents posting AMBER Alerts. If every parent whose child was abducted, or thought to be abducted, issued an AMBER Alert, the nation would become immune to this danger and not give it any thought when they see a new Alert on the news. So even though the number of AMBER Alerts issued thus far seems drastically low, it is with good reason that police and the federal government keep the numbers like this. Nobody would want a "boy who cried wolf" situation with something as serious as a child abduction.

Though it is customary to panic and get upset with law enforcement or anyone else if something potentially happens to your child, it is important to stay calm and cooperate during a difficult and stressful time. Remember that most abductions involve family members and people you know. The news publicizes horrifying incidents of child abduction, but those are usually the very extreme cases.

Helping you and your child come up with safety measures for their day-to-day activities can help protect your child more than spending time worrying about abduction. These day-to-day activities often get overlooked. There are a number of government departments and support groups that help find child abductors and the children involved, making it a fairly good chance that your child will be found. But be sure to utilize these options and cooperate with investigators at all times. Stay with your child at all times, and try not to put them in the middle of family disputes. Show your children that you support them and they will also be less likely to run away from home. If you remain alert, are proactive, and maintain calm, you and your child will stay safe.