Why children are abducted

Why children are abducted

Child abduction can be associated with a number of situations such as children being snatched for their organs, to be given against payment to barren couples, for white slavery or to work in sweat shops, others to be raped and murdered and so on and so forth.

However, there is another form of child abduction which, on the face of it, may not seem such a clear example as the ones mentioned above. This is where a child is seized by one of his/her parents.

One might ask: How can a parent abduct his/her own child? And for what reasons? How is child abduction defined? This form of child abduction is 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” (Heather Hammer, David Finkelhor and Andrea J. Sedlak, Children Abducted By Family Members: National Estimates And Characteristics, NISMART, US Department of Justice, 2002).

In other words, child abduction involves the removal by one of the parents of a child from the care of the other parent without the express or implicit consent of that other parent.

Child abduction can also refer to the unlawful retention of the child, that is, when one parent has only access or visitation rights to the child and such parent decides, against the will of the other parent, to keep the child with him/her instead of returning the child when visitation time is over.

Usually, abduction takes place when the child is taken away from one country to another. Nowadays this is made easier with the ease of free movement across borders within the EU. This reality is highlighted by Cherie Blair who says the rate of child abduction increased purely because of the facility to travel and the abolition of borders, thus making it easier for anyone who wants to “escape” with a child from the jurisdiction of one country to another.

Child abductions by one of the parents need not be associated with bad intentions against the child per se but for other simple reasons, the most common being marital breakdown. When a married couple separates, one of the bitterest battles waged by the parents against each other is for the custodial rights. Some decide to fight it in court while others opt to take matters in their own hands and “abduct” the child by going to live abroad. This is made even easier when one of the parents is a foreigner. These cases leave devastating effects on the other parent, not to mention on the child too, especially if the child was close to the other parent.

Can child abduction be prevented? When a parent suspects the other parent could abduct their child, such parent can act to prevent this from happening by asking the court to issue a warrant of prohibitory injunction in order to impede the other parent from going abroad with the child, thus effectively stopping the abducting of the child to another jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, cases where children get abducted by one of their parents are on the increase and are not confined solely to non-Maltese waters. The US Department of Justice’s National Incidence Studies Of Missing, Abducted, Runaway And Thrownaway Children (NISMART), in its 2002 bulletin stated that, an “estimated 203,900 children were victims of family abduction in 1999, with 44 per cent of family abducted children being under the age of six and 53 per cent of family abducted children were abducted by their father and 25 per cent were abducted by their mother”.

There are cases where the child is abducted but is not missing. One might ask: When someone is abducted, isn’t that someone missing as well? Not necessarily. That would be the case when a child is taken away by one of the parents to a place the other parent does not know of.

However, not all cases of abduction are like that. In fact, there are cases where the child is abducted but is not in fact missing because the parent whose child has been abducted knows perfectly well where the child is staying. In such instances, the child is not missing. This occurs when the child is taken away by one parent to a place the other parent knows of but not returned to the said parent. Thus, in effect, the child is being “abducted” or the child is simply overkept by the parent in excess of his/her visitation rights.

Although children can be abducted for various reasons, such as human trafficking or even for illegal adoptions, the most common cases of child abductions are the ones involving familial breakdown and one parent unilaterally takes matters in his/her own hands and takes away the child from the other parent without the latter’s consent.


Dr Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.

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