Missing Children

views updated May 29 2018

Missing Children

A missing child is the ultimate nightmare for parents of every nation—a nightmare imprinted on parents' consciousness by widely publicized abductions in the late twenty and early twenty-first centuries. However, missing persons rarely become the victims of foul play, because although missing-person cases are reported in record numbers, these cases have also been resolved in record numbers.

Several highly publicized abductions and murders in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s brought increased attention to missing children and made it a national concern (Gentry 1988). In response, the U.S. Congress enacted the Missing Children Act in 1982 and the Missing Children's Assistance Act in 1984 (Welsberg 1984). These acts required the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to collect data. The first National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NIS-MART 1) was conducted in 1988, followed by NIS-MART 2 in 2000 (Hanson 2000). In the second study, missing children were classified into the following categories: runaway/thrownaway, nonfamily abduction, family abduction, custodial interference, lost and involuntarily missing, missing due to injury, missing due to false alarm situations, and sexually assaulted.

Thrownaways are children who did not leave home voluntarily, but were abandoned or forced from their homes by parents or guardians. Non-family abductions are children taken by nonrelatives without the knowledge or consent of parents or legal guardians. Family abductions are children taken from or not returned to their residence by a parent or relative (or their agent) in violation of legal or custody agreements. Children who are lost and involuntarily missing and who fail to return home or contact their parents or guardians are classified as missing if the caretaker becomes alarmed and tries to locate them. Children missing due to injury are children who fail to return or make contact with their parents or guardians because they have suffered serious injuries that require medical attention. Children missing due to false alarm situations are so labeled when caretakers report them missing because of a miscommunication between caretakers (Hanson 2000).

Thrownaways are theoretically different but in practice are almost impossible to distinguish from runaways. Children missing because they are lost, injured, or because of miscommunication are usually in situations difficult to avoid and are found quickly. The majority of the 450,000 children reported to police as missing each year are lost or have run away and their cases resolved with minimal effort by law enforcement (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001). The categories of missing children examined in this entry are nonfamily and family abductions.

Abductions by strangers understandably receive the most attention and generate the most fear; however, such kidnappings are only a small proportion of the number of missing children reported in the United States. Runaway is the largest category, followed by family abductions, and non-family abductions. Abductions by family members, ranging from 183,200 to 354,100 annually, represent the most prevalent child abduction type. In contrast, child abductions perpetrated by nonfamily members are significantly fewer, ranging from 3,200 to 4,600 cases annually, with 62 percent of these committed by strangers. Long-term stranger abductions of children from birth to eighteen, where serious risk of victim mortality exists, only account for 200 to 300 cases annually (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001).

The absence of reliable statistics about kidnapping in the United States, which are not included in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report (UCR), makes determining the threat of kidnapping to juveniles difficult. However, a comprehensive national database on kidnapping and other crimes is beginning to emerge. In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is replacing the UCR with the more comprehensive National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which collects information on crimes known to the police, such as the inclusion of specific data on kidnapping. When only kidnapping of juveniles is considered, 49 percent is by a family member, 27 percent by an acquaintance, and 24 percent by a stranger (Finkelhor and Ormrod 2000).

Family Abductions

Although U.S. custody laws vary from state to state, abducting one's own child is a crime in every state. When a family member takes or keeps a child away from the parent with custody or visitation rights, that person may have committed a crime. However, some states require that a custody order be in place for the act to be considered criminal. More importantly, seeing open conflict in their family, spending life on the run, and being deprived of a parent is psychologically harmful to a child ( Johnston et al. 2001).

Family abductions are most frequently motivated by domestic discord and custody disputes. Abducting parents typically fit one of six different profiles.

Profile 1 abductors are family members who have made credible threats in the past and/or have a history of withholding visitation or kidnapping the child. The parent may be unemployed and have no emotional or financial ties to the area. Alternatively, the parent may have divulged plans to abduct the child and have the financial and emotional resources to survive in hiding. The abducting parent may have liquidated assets and borrowed the maximum from all sources.

The Profile 2 abductor is one who believes the other parent is abusing, molesting, or neglecting the child and will continue to do so. Family and friends support the parent in this belief. The allegations of sexual abuse by a parent or stepparent that motivate the noncustodial parent to abduct are frequently unsubstantiated.

The Profile 3 abductor suffers from paranoid delusions, and represents the greatest risk of harm or death to the child. Although these are the smallest percentage of abductors, they have psychotic delusions that the other parent will definitely harm them or the child. They perceive the child not as a separate entity but either as a part of themselves needing rescue or as a part of the other parent, which can lead to murder and suicide.

Profile 4 abductors are severely sociopathic and relatively rare. Characterized by a long history of flagrant violations of the law and contempt for authority, they relate to others in a self-serving, exploitative, and manipulative manner. They feel superior and would have no qualms about abusing or abducting their child and feel they should not be punished for it.

Profile 5 abductors are parents in a mixed-culture family with strong ties to their country of origin and to extended family there. During times of separation or divorce, they feel abandoned in their new culture and wish to return to their ethnic or religious roots to find emotional support and to reconstitute their self-identity. Returning with the child to the family and country of origin is a way of giving the abducting parent's cultural identity preeminent status in the child's upbringing.

Profile 6 abductors feel isolated from the judicial system in several different ways. They may be indigent and uneducated without knowledge of custody and abduction laws. They may not be able to afford the court system or have had negative experiences with it. Some parents belong to religious or ethnic groups that hold views about rearing children and custody rights contrary to law. A mother who had a transient, unmarried relationship with the child's father may be unaware that the father has any rights and may be supported in that belief by her family and friends. Parents who have been the victims of domestic violence and who received no help through the law are also likely abductors ( Johnston et al. 2001).

Nonfamily Abductions

Although nonfamily abductions are relatively rare, they are the worst fear of most relatives of children. Long-term nonfamily abductions are typically motivated by sexual gratification, retribution, financial gain, desire to kill, and maternal desire. Sexually motivated abductions represent the most common type of nonfamily abduction and pose the highest risk of victim mortality (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001).

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States reports that most abductors tend to be white males between the ages of twenty and forty. They are loners who have difficulty interacting with adults and tend not to be married (Stepp 1994). For example, a former Long Island policeman who trains police officers for NCMEC says the typical kidnapper is a twenty-seven-year-old white male, a transient construction worker or day laborer with marginal social skills, often the "guy next door" (Ragavan 2001).

Examining the profile of the victims reveals that nearly 60 percent are juveniles, and 55 percent are female (Ragavan 2001). Due to their physical, emotional, and cognitive dependence on adults, children remain uniquely susceptible to abuse, neglect, and exploitation, which makes them vulnerable to a variety of offenders who may abuse and exploit them for such reasons as sex, revenge, and/or profit (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001). Girls and adolescents twelve and older are more vulnerable than boys and young children (Stepp 1994).

Research (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001) supports the following child abduction typologies by age:

Newborn (birth to one month) abductions take two forms. The first, maternal desire abduction, generally involves a female stranger abducting a young victim to rear as her own. These abductions usually occur at a hospital that the perpetrator has repeatedly walked through. She usually fakes a pregnancy to prepare others for the baby's sudden appearance. Therefore, the race of the victim must match that of the abductor. The second type of infant abduction, emotion-based abduction, usually results from anger, frustration, revenge, or retribution. The biological mother, the most frequent offender, may seek revenge on the other parent by abducting the child. The abduction often hides the death of the child—usually disposed of close to home.

Infants (1–12 months) comprise the second category of child abduction. Maternal desire abductions become less frequent, as a two-month-old infant is more likely to draw the attention of outsiders to the actual age of the baby. Most of these abductions are emotion based. Males face a higher risk of victimization, and males, usually the biological father, are the perpetrators in these cases. These abductions usually result in the death of the child, usually on impulse, and the body of the child is disposed of close to home in a familiar, yet private, area of the family's property.

Preschool children (3–5 years) comprise the third category. Preschoolers are not always in parental view because of their increased mobility. Sexual crimes are one of the causes of abductions usually by strangers or acquaintances, not by parents. The victims are usually female, and the race of the child and abductor usually match the local demographics. The preschool child is usually abducted from their yard by a male who is an acquaintance of the victim, commonly a neighbor with a history of sexual misconduct. Profit based offenses—drug related or ransom—involving preschool children are rare. Some are emotion based, usually involving the father or boyfriend. When the offender kills the child, the body is usually found within a hundred yards of the home.

Elementary and middle-school children (6–14 years) constitute the fourth category. Victimization rates triple for this age, and school-age females are at least three times more likely than males to be abducted and murdered. Sex is the major reason for abduction, usually by a male perpetrator with a history of sexual misconduct, violence, and substance abuse. The abductor may be an acquaintance or a stranger but rarely a family member. With middle-school children, the abductors are mostly likely to be strangers. Schoolyard access, physical maturity, and vulnerability help facilitate these abductions by strangers. Unlike familial abductions, the bodies of these children are usually found unconcealed or only slightly covered.

High school children and older teens (15–17 years) comprise the final category. Profit- and emotion-based offenses are more prevalent in this group, perhaps due to the possession of money or other valuables, as well as an increase in the availability of drugs. Profit-based abduction usually victimizes males and involves the sale and distribution of drugs. Emotion-based crimes are similar to domestic violence and typically involve teenage females abused by boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, or stalkers. Sexually motivated crimes involve a female victim and a male offender—usually either a stranger or an acquaintance of the victim—who abducts the victim in a public area away from the victim's home. When murdered, the victim's remains are usually found within five miles of the home, slightly covered or not covered at all (Lord, Boudreaux, and Lanning 2001).


International abductions increased dramatically in 2000 with 1,697 cases, a 67 percent increase over 1999. In such cases the FBI, the Customs Service, the Secret Service, and Interpol become involved. 1,374 children of the 1,697 abducted were located (Ragavan 2001). Interpol is a 178-nation police communications network that enables police forces around the world to coordinate international criminal investigations. The FBI is the U.S. law enforcement agency responsible for investigating international parental kidnapping cases. The FBI legal attaché stationed at U.S. embassies abroad may try to confirm the location of the abductor and the child and may request assistance from local law enforcement personnel in that country (National Criminal Justice Reference Service [NCJRS] 2002).

The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) was launched in 1999 as a global response to the problems of international child abduction and child sexual exploitation. This global network transmits images, which are updated daily, of missing and exploited children via the Internet. It currently features over 2,600 children from eleven participating countries (Allen 2001). Because ICMEC includes exploited children in their data, these numbers do not correspond directly to the Interpol figure of 1,697 international cases.

Although some juveniles are abducted for prostitution or domestic help, most international abductions consist of family abductions. Children are vulnerable to international abduction when relations between parents are problematic and one spouse has close ties to another country—particularly one with laws prejudicial against the gender or citizenship of the other parent. It is important to know the laws and customs of a country before visiting. Abduction may occur when the abducting parent visits his or her (usually his) homeland and decides he wants to stay, making it extremely difficult for the mother to return with the children. Many countries, including the United States, consider both parents to have equal legal custody if there is no custody decree prior to the abduction. Therefore, ensuring that the custody decree prohibits a child traveling abroad without the custodial parent's permission is important.

The parent whose child has been abducted cannot expect much help from his or her own government. Since the late 1970s, the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues have been contacted in the cases of approximately 16,000 children either abducted from the United States or prevented from returning to the United States by one of their parents. However, the U.S. State Department only acts as a information resource by attempting to locate and contact the child, providing the parent information about the other country, and completing applications for The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The U.S. government does not intervene in civil legal matters, enforce U.S. custody agreements overseas, pay legal fees, act as a lawyer, or take custody of children (U.S. Department of State 2001).

However, twenty-three nations agreed to draft a convention to deter international child abduction at the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1976, and by July 2001 fifty-four other countries had accepted the Convention, including the United States. These countries agreed that a child who is habitually resident in one party country, and who has been removed to or retained in another party country in violation of the other parent's custodial rights, shall be promptly returned to the country of habitual residence (not necessarily that of citizenship). Thus, the Convention is a legal mechanism available to parents seeking the return of or access to their child; it can also help a parent exercise visitation rights abroad. Parents do not need a custody decree to use the Convention, but there is a time limit of one year, so the parent should contact their government immediately after the abduction.

A new U.S. law took effect in July 2001 that requires the signature of both parents prior to issuance of passports to children under the age of fourteen, but the United States cannot revoke a passport already issued (U.S. Department of State 2001). Without exit controls at the border, there is no way to stop someone with valid travel documents from leaving. Many countries do not require passports, so a birth certificate may allow a child to travel outside the country without parental consent. Although many children in these multinational families possess dual citizenship, those with only U.S. citizenship may have a request written in their passport that no visa be offered for that country. No international law requires compliance with such requests.

Abductions in progress can sometimes be stopped at a border or airport. Interdiction usually depends upon the existence of a criminal warrant for the abductor. Governments may be responsive to a Hague application if it is transmitted as urgent (NCJRS 2002).

Although some abducting parents return the child voluntarily when they learn that a Hague application has been or will be filed, the majority of Hague cases require the custodial parent to hire an attorney in the country where the child has been retained and petition the court there for the child's return. Children are recovered through private lawsuits in countries not party to the Hague Convention. Parents generally retain lawyers in the foreign country as well as their home country to assist with the proceedings (NCJRS 2002).


Changes facilitating the increase in abductions in the United States are (1) the increase in two-career parents and single heads of households that leave more children home alone; (2) urbanization, suburbanization, and the geographic mobility of today's workforce that lead families to move into communities with no family or friends to provide a safety net for children; (3) inadequate criminal data banks that make running background checks on would-be abusers difficult for schools, day-care, and youth organizations; and (4) the lack of cooperation between governmental agencies that impedes tracing abductors across state lines (Stepp 1994).

Prevention and Recovery

To prevent abductions, a parent or caregiver should

  • Know where the child is;
  • Never leave a small child alone at home or in the car;
  • Know the child's friends, their parents, and where they live; and
  • Be alert to people paying special attention to the child.

If a child is abducted, it is important for the parent to give the best description of the child, clothes, jewelry, along with any pictures of the same, to law enforcement officials. Nothing should be touched or removed from the child's room or from the home that might have the child's fingerprints, DNA, or scent on it. (Fairview Heights Police Department 2002).

The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) website is helpful here. It receives more than 2.8 million hits per day. The network, made up of numerous websites sharing multilingual search databases, serves as an international resource for families and for law enforcement. It connects to websites in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These websites allow the filing of missing child descriptions within each of the above-listed countries and for searches in those countries.

If each nation and the international community work out cooperative agreements to track, find and retrieve missing children, work to strengthen families that protect women and children, alleviate abuse and teach precautions, fewer children will appear in the missing categories, and many of those who do will remain there for a shorter period of time.

See also:Grief, Loss, and Bereavement; Runaway Youths


finkelhor, d., and r. ormrod. (2000). "kidnapping of juveniles: patterns from nibrs." juvenile justice bulletin (june 2000):1–7.

gentry, c. (1988). "the social construction of abducted children as a social problem." sociological inquiry 58:413–425.

hanson, l. (2000). "second comprehensive study of missing children." juvenile justice bulletin. (april 2000):1–5.

johnston, j .r.; sagatun-edwards, i.; blomquist, m. e.; and girdner, l. k. (2001). "early identification of risk factors for parental abduction." juvenile justice bulletin. (march 2001):1–11.

loken, g. (1995). "missing children." in encyclopedia ofmarriage and family, ed. david levinson. new york; london: macmillan.

lord, w. d.; boudreaux, m. c.; and lanning, k. v. (2001). "investigating potential child abduction cases: a developmental perspective." fbi law enforcement bulletin 70:1–10.

ragavan, c. (2001). "lost and found." u.s. news andworld report 131:12–18.

stepp, l. s. (1994). "missing children: the ultimate nightmare." parents 69:47–52.

welsberg, d. k. (1984). "children of the night: the adequacy of statutory treatment of juvenile prostitution." american journal of criminal law 12:1–67.

Other Resources

national criminal justice reference service [ncjrs]. (2002). report to the attorney general on international parental kidnapping: "section 3." available from http://www.ncjrs.org/html/ojjdp/ojjdp_report_ jp_kidnapping/section3b.html.

fairview heights police department. "protecting our children from abductions." available from http://www.fhpd.co.st-clair.il.us/.

u.s. department of state. (2001). international parentalchild abduction. available from http://travel.state.gov/int'lchildabduction.html.



Missing Children

views updated May 18 2018

Missing Children

Children can disappear inadvertently or as a result of deliberate abduction, or murder . Typically, an investigation will assume that the child is still alive, and so will be geared to locating the child. While much of this effort involves police work that is not forensically-oriented, forensic science plays an important role.

The nature of the forensic activities can change with the length of time a child is missing. For example, as will be dealt with in more detail subsequently, computerized techniques can alter the photographic image of a child to approximate the child's appearance through adolescence and into adulthood. Such a visual cue can prove valuable in recognizing a children years after they have been reported missing.

Forensic science plays a grimmer role when a child is discovered dead, or when an unidentified body or skeleton that may potentially be the missing child is discovered. In this case the focus naturally shifts from a happy reunion of the child with loved ones, to the identification of the body.

As sad as the latter task may be, this aspect of forensic science can help grieving family members to begin to deal with the reality of what has transpired. Finally, forensic science is invaluable in establishing the cause of death of a missing child, especially when foul play is suspected.

In age progression, a forensic artist uses a facial photograph of the missing child to render an image of how the child might look as a pre-adolescent, adolescent or even an adult.

An image can be created the old-fashioned way, using a pencil and sketchpad. This type of image recreation actually has become quite sophisticated. In the 1950s a facial identification kit was developed that consisted of a series of clear stackable sheets ("foils") that allowed a myriad of different hand-drawn facial features to be laid on top of one another on different-shaped faces. The thousands of possible combinations made it possible to produce a final image that proved to be very similar to a person's true appearance.

Today, computer programs enable the forensic artist to digitally scan the child's image into a program and then digitally manipulate the image to approximate the effects of aging. Forensic age progression is a combination of science and art. It relies on the rendering skill of the artist and knowledge of the development of facial muscles, features such as the eyes and nose, and the change in shape of the skull with age.

Predictably, faces broaden and lengthen during the transition from the childhood years to adolescence. Primary teeth are lost and secondary teeth appear. The bridge of the nose will tend to rise. As the skull expands, the eyes tend to narrow, the mouth becomes wider and the nose lengthens. Hair that is lighter colored tends to darken.

By about the age of 12, the facial features that are present will persist throughout life, unless surgically altered. Some subtle changes can occur; eyebrows can become more extensive and the cheekbones more prominent. However, other changes may occur that may need to be factored into an image. As examples, hairstyles will change, a hairline can recede, and changing optics of the eyes may necessitate the use of glasses.

In an age progressed image that is within a few years of the child at the time she/he went missing, these age-related changes will be kept to a minimum. However, if the child has been missing for an extended number of years, then a series of images can be made, to give a better overall portrayal of the person's possible appearance.

If the missing child has older biological siblings, then their appearance will be scrutinized, as will parental features, since some of their facial features acquired by the siblings from their biological parents will likely have been acquired by the missing child.

Medical records of the missing child can provide useful information in image reconstruction. For example, the presence of a facial scar from a childhood accident, moles, and even tattoos can remain with the child for life, and will be a feature of the age progressed image.

In a related area, image rendering is also done if the missing child is suspected of being abducted and the identity of the kidnapper is unknown. In this case, since the abductor may well try to disguise their appearance, different images may be produced, based on information gleaned from witnesses, surveillance cameras or other means. For example, a man can be shown clean shaven, with various styles of facial hair, and with a face that reflects a weight gain or loss.

Particularly in the case of an abduction of a child by an unknown person, the need for eyewitness information is pressing. Such information can be valuable in producing an image of the suspect, and for trying to piece together the events of the abduction.

Obtaining information from eyewitnesses calls for tact and special skills on the part of the forensic investigator. Eyewitnesses, who themselves may be traumatized by what they have witnessed and whose memory can be subject to manipulation, need to be given the time and emotional encouragement that unlocks accurate recollections of the event.

A forensic investigator will assess the information provided by a witness while considering the person's involvement with the event. For example, the information provided by someone who had only a brief glimpse of the missing child and/or suspect may not be as reliable as the information from someone who had a more prolonged view. As another example, if the eyewitness normally wears glasses but was not at the time, then the quality of the information, while not necessarily suspect, needs to be considered cautiously.

Other forms of eyewitness information are available. Surveillance cameras that are an ever-present facet of daily life can provide a picture of the child and an abductor, for example.

Fingerprints are unique identifiers that are invaluable in the identification of a missing child and, in the case of an abduction, the suspect. For fingerprints to be useful, a child's fingerprints need to be already recorded and on file. Programs such as ID Me Now, sponsored by the Child Protection Education Foundation of America, incorporate on a card high quality images of fingerprint patterns with a digital facial photograph, dental records, contact numbers and personal information, and even information on how to collect a cell sample for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA ) extraction.

Fingerprint patterns can also be submitted to a databank that is administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The fingerprint patterns obtained from a missing child (or recovered corpse) can be compared to the hundreds of thousands of digitized patterns resident in the database to determine an identity match.

Such child fingerprint collection is, however, more the exception than the norm. In this case, a forensic investigator may instead be able to obtain a fingerprint of a missing child from an object known to be handled by the child.

The conclusion of a missing child case can be tragic with the discovery of a corpse or skeleton. Identification of the body or remains as that of the missing child becomes the priority. If an intact skull is found, it can be used to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of the facial appearance of the person. The shape of the skull, combined with knowledge of the typical thickness and arrangement of facial and head muscles and tissue can be used to physically create a face.

For this task, modeling clay is applied to the skull. The clay mimics the muscles and tissues that underlie the skin. The shape of the nose can be deduced from measurements of the nasal aperture; the hole in the skull where the nose once was. Typically, the width of the nasal aperture is increased by five millimeters on either side. Other measurements of the nasal aperture are used to calculate the approximate length of the nose. Appropriate facial hair and prosthetic eyes are inserted, and the reconstruction is photographed. The final image can be very similar to the actual image of the deceased.

Skin, tissue, muscle and even bone that can be recovered can be used as a source of DNA or a related genetic material known as ribonucleic acid (RNA). Through various sophisticated means, the genetic material can be amplified in number, and the sequence of nucleotide building blocks that comprise the DNA or RNA can be determined. These genetic sequences can be as unique to an individual as is a fingerprint pattern. People inherit genetic material from their parents; indeed, this is the basis of paternity testing that is used to establish if a man is the biological father of a child.

The genetic identification utilizes specialized DNA that is known as mitochondrial DNA. The pattern of mitochondrial DNA between mother and child can be identical. This generational similarity of genetic material has been used in El Salvador to identify the remains of children who were abducted and murdered by the Salvadoran military in the 1980s and, more happily, to reunite children who were abducted but not killed, with their biological parents.

see also Anthropometry; Autopsy; DNA profiling; Integrated automated fingerprint identification system; International Association for Identification; Mitochondrial DNA typing; Paternity evidence; STR (short tandem repeat) analysis.

Children, Missing

views updated Jun 11 2018


CHILDREN, MISSING. The phenomenon of missing children gained national attention in 1979 with the highly publicized disappearance of a six-year-old boy named Etan Patz in New York City. Since then the numbers of children reported missing nationally have increased dramatically. The Missing Children's Act of 1982 assisted the collation of nationwide data about missing children. In that year, 100,000 children under the age of eighteen were reported missing; a decade later, the number had risen to 800,000. While the increase might have been partly due to more reporting, experts pointed to other factors, including increased divorce rates, decreased parental supervision, and high numbers of teenage runaways associated with domestic violence and sexual abuse. Although sensational cases of serial killers incited widespread fear, a far more common occurrence involved children taken for a brief period of time, usually by an acquaintance or family member. A 1980s survey indicated that each year 350,000 children were taken by family members, 450,000 ran away, 3,000 were kidnapped and sexually assaulted, and 127,000 were expelled from home by their families. This compared with 200–300 children murdered or abducted by strangers for ransom.

In the 1980s and 1990s most states developed training programs to help police locate missing children, and national clearinghouses offered suggestions to parents and children to ward off abductions. While these techniques have led to the recovery of some missing children, they do not address social, familial, and psychological causes underlying the missing children phenomenon. Most of the children abducted by family members are taken by a parent violating a custody agreement, and 99 percent are eventually returned. Despite the relatively small number of children killed or otherwise never found, these cases command the bulk of media attention and parental fear and often distract attention from the other circumstances and social factors associated with missing children.


Fass, Paula S. Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Tedisco, James N., and Michele A. Paludi. Missing Children: A Psychological Approach to Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Stranger and Non-Stranger Abduction of Children. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Anne C.Weiss/a. r.

See alsoChild Abuse ; Domestic Violence .

About this article

Missing children

All Sources -
Updated Aug 24 2016 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic