You have a role in preventing child abduction

March 1, 2005

Part of the care you give is helping parents create a safe, hazard-free environment for their children by discussing a variety of age-appropriate topics at health-maintenance visits. Yet, despite attention given by the national press to the threat of child abduction in recent years, little discussion has taken place about the role pediatricians can play in preventing abduction, as well as in facilitating retrieval of children who are taken. That's surprising, considering the traditional role we have assumed for children and their families.

Part of the care you give is helping parents create a safe, hazard-free environment for their children by discussing a variety of age-appropriate topics at health-maintenance visits. Yet, despite attention given by the national press to the threat of child abduction in recent years, little discussion has taken place about the role pediatricians can play in preventing abduction, as well as in facilitating retrieval of children who are taken. That's surprising, considering the traditional role we have assumed for children and their families.

This article will put the problem of child abduction in perspective and describe the anticipatory guidance you should provide regarding this important issue.

The history of kidnapping in the US "Kid nabbing" began as a colonial-era practice-English pirates would abduct children and sell them as slaves to plantation owners in America. It was not until well into the 20th century that high-profile kidnappings-for-ransom occurred in the United States, culminating in the kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr., in 1932. Laws were then passed making kidnapping a federal crime and permitting the death penalty for offenders.

A number of child kidnapping cases have garnered national attention in the past two decades. Their often-tragic consequences have led to a new awareness of the risk by parents and new laws and programs directed at preventing abduction and expediting recovery of kidnapped children. Among those cases:

All three children were later found murdered, and Danielle is known to have been sexually assaulted.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center, 840,279 missing persons were reported to law enforcement in 2001, an increase of 444% from 1982. Approximately 85% of the 840,279 missing persons were younger than 18 years. This means that more than 2,000 children are reported missing to law enforcement every day. Fortunately, only a small fraction of these reports prove to be actual abductions. According to the FBI's National Incident-Based Reporting Systems, abduction of juveniles constitutes only 1% of all crimes against juveniles.1 And only about one of every 10,000 reports of a missing child turns out to be an actual abduction that results in murder.2