Each year thousands of children are abducted by a parent, often as the consequences of a divorce, separation, or custody battle. Parental kidnapping, also referred to as “child snatching,” has existed for many years, but only in recent memory has it become widely seen as another form of child maltreatment.
Parental kidnapping by a noncustodial parent is believed to account for more than 100,000 child abductions a year in the United States. Some experts suggest the figures will continue to rise, due largely to the soaring divorce rate in this country. The American Bar Association estimates that 70 percent of children abducted by a noncustodial parent will never see their custodial parent again.
Fathers are typically the kidnappers, as they abduct their children in order to “circumvent a legal system that in 92 percent of the cases grants custody of the child or children to the mother.”
Tens of thousands of dollars are often spent by the custodial parent in an effort to locate and retrieve the child. Additionally, there is anguish, guilt, depression, anxiety, and other physical and mental stresses the parent must go through in both self-blame and wondering about the health and welfare of the missing child.
In many instances, the abducted child is returned home safely “only after the conflict is resolved satisfactorily for the parent kidnapper.”
Because parental abductions are often still viewed by law enforcement authorities as a family matter, they are not always given the same intense efforts in locating the child as children who are abducted by strangers – estimated at upwards of 150,000 annually.
Even when it is given a top priority, locating children taken by a parent can be an almost impossible task, considering the size of the United States.
Further, some abductors take children overseas, further complicating matters and lessening the chance the child will ever be reunited with the custodial parent.
Laws on parental kidnapping are not uniform from state to state, making the task of locating victims and prosecuting abducting parents that much more difficult.
Most experts agree that it is the emotional harm to the child, loss of parental unity, and family bonding that typically have the most long-term impact.