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Key Findings

Family abduction is a type of crime and child welfare problem for which only limited statistical information has been available. Among the key findings from this Bulletin are the following:

  • An estimated 203,900 children were victims of a family abduction in 1999. Among these, 117,200 were missing from their caretakers, and, of these, an estimated 56,500 were reported to authorities for assistance in locating the children.

  • Forty-three percent of the children who were victims of family abduction were not considered missing by their caretakers because the caretakers knew the children’s whereabouts or were not alarmed by the circumstances (see “Conceptualizing the Problem,”).

  • Forty-four percent of family abducted children were younger than age 6.

  • Fifty-three percent of family abducted children were abducted by their biological father, and 25 percent were abducted by their biological mother.

  • Forty-six percent of family abducted children were gone less than 1 week, and 21 percent were gone 1 month or more.

  • Only 6 percent of children abducted by a family member had not yet returned at the time of the survey interview.

Defining Family Abduction

For the purposes of NISMART–2, family abduction was defined as the taking or keeping of a child by a family member in violation of a custody order, a decree, or other legitimate custodial rights, where the taking or keeping involved some element of concealment, flight, or intent to deprive a lawful custodian indefinitely of custodial privileges.

Some of the specific definitional elements are as follows:

  • Taking: Child was taken by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.

  • Keeping: Child was not returned or given over by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.

  • Concealment: Family member attempted to conceal the taking or whereabouts of the child with the intent to prevent return, contact, or visitation.

  • Flight: Family member transported or had the intent to transport the child from the State for the purpose of making recovery more difficult.

  • Intent to deprive indefinitely: Family member indicated an intent to prevent contact with the child on an indefinite basis or to affect custodial privileges indefinitely.

  • Child: Person under 18 years of age. For a child 15 or older, there needed to be evidence that the family member used some kind of force or threat to take or to detain the child, unless the child was mentally disabled.

  • Family member: A biological, adoptive, or foster family member; someone acting on behalf of such a family member; or the romantic partner of a family member

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Children Abducted by Family Members:
National Estimates and Characteristics
NISMART Bulletin
October 2002