Family abduction: A common problem
According to David O'Brien, chief counsel for Missing Children's Services at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, VA, kidnapping is defined as any act that deprives a child's legal guardian of the custody of that child. The mission of the NCMEC is to prevent just that from happening, as well as to provide services to victims of abduction or sexual exploitation, their families and the professionals who serve them. The NCMEC also serves as a clearinghouse for information on child abduction and sexual exploitation. Since its founding in 1984, the NCMEC had assisted law enforcement officials with over 138,000 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of 121,500 missing children.
The NCMEC reports that some 797,500 children are reported missing each year, some 2,185 every day. Of those, 203,900 are family abductions, meaning the child is taken by a family member. In order to address those cases, the NCMEC has units that deal specifically with family abduction cases, both domestic and international. According to the U.S. Department of State, about 1,000 children are taken abroad by non-custodial parents every year.
Though he couldn't speak specifically to the Shipman case, O'Brien said the center had dealt with numerous similar cases over the years and he could speak in generalities.
"With international cases, there are additional legal complications," O'Brien said. "You have an additional layer of government and bureaucracy to cut through. Fortunately, thanks to the Hague Convention, we have agreements with other nations so that, if found, the children will be returned to the U.S. and to their custodial parent."
O'Brien said that the typical image of a kidnapping -- that a child is taken by a stranger for some nefarious purpose -- is far more unlikely than the media portrays it. According to a 2002 release from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), most children who are reported missing either ran away (48 percent) or were reported missing because of a benign misunderstanding about where the child was supposed to be (28 percent). About 15 percent become injured or lost, preventing or delaying their return home. Nine percent are abducted by family members, and just 3 percent are taken by strangers.