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Conceptualizing the Problem

Family abducted children are typically thought of as simply one subcategory of missing children; yet, in reality, family abductions are part of a larger problem. It is possible for a child to have been unlawfully removed from custody by a family member, but for that child’s whereabouts to be fully known. Thus, a child can be abducted, but not necessarily missing. (see Defining Family Abduction.) An example would be a situation in which a child is abducted by a noncustodial father and taken to the father’s home in a different State, at an address well known to the custodial mother, and the father simply refuses to return the child.

NISMART–2 estimated the number of children who were abducted by a family member in the course of a year; the number of such children who were missing to their caretakers (“caretaker missing”), in that the child’s whereabouts were unknown, causing the caretaker to be alarmed for at least an hour and to look for the child; and the number of family abducted children who were “reported missing,” meaning that the caretaker contacted the police or a missing children’s agency to help locate a child whose whereabouts were unknown.

In considering the estimates of family abducted children, several issues should be kept in mind. First, the Household Survey respondents were predominantly female caretakers of children. Second, it was generally the aggrieved caretaker who provided all of the information about custodial rights and privileges and other elements of the episode used to decide whether an episode qualified as a family abduction. In family abductions, these elements typically are a matter of dispute between the parties involved. NISMART researchers did not attempt to verify respondent statements.

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