According to the U.S Dept of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about 200,000 children are reported missing each year as a result of parental abduction. 53% of family abducted children were gone less than a week, and 21% for more than a month.
In many parts of the U.S. there is uncertainty about how to handle this crime. If parents have not established an official custodial agreement, the state's child abduction laws do not always recognize parental child abduction as an official crime or take into consideration the danger it presents to the abducted child. In fact, it would appear that, only in California and Texas, is parental child abduction clearly categorized as a criminal offense.
In her report, Parental Child Abduction is Child Abuse, presented to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights, Nancy Faulkner, Ph.D. demonstrates how parental child abduction is essentially child abuse, often leaving deep scars on both the child and the family left behind. She documents how children abducted by a parent often suffer from not only psychological trauma, but also fall victim to neglect, lack of proper schooling, poor nutrition, and an unstable lifestyle, while often being turned against the left-behind parent and led to believe that the missing parent is dead or wishes them harm.
The report cites Dr. Dorothy Huntington, an early leader in the study of parental child abduction issues, from her article, Parental Kidnapping: A New Form of Child Abuse: "Child stealing is child abuse...Children are used as both objects and weapons in the struggle between the parents which leads to the brutalization of the children psychologically, specifically destroying their sense of trust in the world around them...We must re-conceptualize child stealing as child abuse of the most flagrant sort."
More often than not, children in these situations are used by one parent against another; they are the pawns in an act of spousal revenge that one parent aims at the other to cause distress, worry and grief, not knowing if their child is safe and if they will ever see them again. The abducting parent and child usually go into hiding with no contact with doctors, counselors, police or child protective services, leaving the child extremely vulnerable.
Statistics show that children are equally abducted by mothers as fathers. In some cases, the parent might be fleeing with the children from an emotionally disturbed atmosphere at home. But at least half of the parents who abduct a child have a history of violence, substance abuse or are emotionally disturbed and many have previous criminal records.
Even as adults, victims of parental child abduction feel a great sense of loss: of identity, personal history, and extended family. They long to be reunited with the lost parent. Children and families eventually reunited must start over, receive counseling and sometimes, depending on the state, allow visitations with the abductor, risking the possibility of re-abduction.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, I suggest this very comprehensive document produced by the U.S. Dept of Justice which offers advice to parents dealing with a parental abduction both during the abduction and after the child's return, and to those supporting them. Those dealing with a parental abduction across international lines will likely find the U.S. Dept of State's resources useful.
This article was originally published in June 2013, and has been updated for the
April 2014 paperback release.
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