About 800,000 children are reported missing each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “Missing” can mean several things. In a 2007 Slate Magazine post by Christopher Beam , he informs us that child who runs away from home is counted in the same manner as is a victim of kidnapping. There are several different categories of missing children: family abduction, non-family abduction, abandoned children, and lost kids. According to 1999 statistics – the latest clearly defined stats, probably because it’s so difficult to discern the nature of many abductions – only about 115 children were victims of stereotypical kidnappings in which children are captured, detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles from home, and held for ransom. The abductor’s intent is either to keep or kill the child. This type of child-snatching is what parents fear most, and it generally makes headlines.
For the purposes of this blog, the relevant detail is that family abductions are by far the most common. According to NCMEC, a mind-blowing 78 percent of all missing children, about 204,000, are abducted by family members, usually a parent.
The website StopFamilyAbductionsNow.org, lists some interesting facts about family abductions:
• The motive is usually revenge against the other parent, and rarely has anything to do with trying to keep their child safe from that parent who has custody or legal guardianship of the child.
• More than half of abducting parents have a history of violence, drug abuse or a criminal record.
• Children who are abducted by their parent or other relative suffer severe lifelong psychological issues.
Surveys conducted by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) indicate that more than a quarter of abductions by family members were reported to authorities in order to obtain assistance in recovering the child. Almost half were under age six when abducted. The surveys indicated that threats, weapons or physical force against the child were uncommon in family abductions. Nevertheless, these kidnappings still involve the trauma of intent to prevent the children from contacting their custodial parents.
According to Take Root, a national non-profit organization founded by former abducted children, when a child is taken by a fugitive parent, and hidden from loved ones as well as from the justice system, there are devastating impacts to their development. The following stories, taken from postings on Take Root, provide a sense of the trauma brought about by family abductions, and the fallout for the unfortunate victims.
Nicky, now in his thirties, was abducted from his home in Buenos Aires at age 6. At that time, he suffered from an illness that had to be monitored by doctors in the United States. Nicky’s mother, an American, accompanied him to the U.S. for his care. One day she told her son that his father and grandparents had been killed in a car accident in Buenos Aires, She was firm in her decision that she and her son would not return to Argentina. Nicky’s father, Mr. Gardino, who was very much alive, tried to find his son, without success. But a friend promised to find Nicky if Gardino would pay for several trips to America. It turned out that this “friend” was enjoying his time in the United States quite a bit, as he was having an affair with Gardino’s wife. Eventually, Nicky’s mother told her son that his father and grandparents were still alive, but that they were mean and unaccepting people. At this point, Nicky reported “dozens” of moves, along with name and identity changes. Just before entering college, Nicky took the risk of reconnecting with his father. He was welcomed back into the family, embraced by his stepmother and his half-sister whom he never knew existed. Nicky’s mother was never apprehended for kidnapping her son.
Elle had a controlling father who packed up his three children and took them to Mexico. He changed their names and forged documents. They moved constantly, and Elle remembers countless times when they slept in their car. Her father told them that their mother was trying to kill them, so they couldn’t go back to the United States. Elle’s father was an abuser who befriended criminals. Elle grew up in this culture. At age eight, she became suicidal. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, she had little acquaintance with social skills. She and her two brothers fought bitterly with each other. Eventually, Elle’s father brought them back to the States, where their mother found them in one of the many shabby homes in which they resided. Elle says that if it weren’t for her mother and some wonderful people she met along the way, she would have killed herself. Her father was never apprehended for his crime against his children.
In another scenario, an emotionally ill woman and her husband produced five children. The woman, who suffered from a bipolar disorder and was a substance abuser, eventually abducted the youngest child. It makes a reasonable person wonder: Why do so many people conspire to produce kids – especially addtional children – when they know their partner is incapable of parenting in a way that keeps children safe?
Considering the number of abductions each year in America, shouldn’t everyone think twice before making children?