Kidnapping and Missing Children

  • silhouette of child

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children classified kidnappings as either family or non-family abductions.


Family abduction was defined as the taking or keeping of a child by a family member in violation of a custody order, 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.

Non-family abduction was subdivided into "stereotypical kidnappings" which fit the public stereotype of the crime, and legal definition abductions, which are generally short-term forced movement or detention of children to facilitate another crime such as robbery or sexual assault..

  • in 2011, there were an estimated 105 child victims of "stereotypical kidnappings," defined as abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported more than 50 miles and detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed. 
  •  Victims of stereotypical kidnappings were, most commonly, ages 12 to 17, girls, white, and living in situations other than with two biological or adoptive parents. Half of all stereotypical kidnappings in 2011 were sexually motivated crimes against adolescent girls.
  • In 1999, there were an estimated 203,900 child victims of family abductions, of which 43% were not considered missing by their caretaker because they knew their child's whereabouts or were not concerned by the circumstances.

Sources: Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. J. (2016). Child victims of stereotypical kidnappings known to law enforcement in 2011. Retrieved from OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin - NCJ 249249 (pgs. 1-20). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office (CV343)

Heather Hammer, David Finkelhor & Andrea J. Sedlak (2002). Children Abducted by Family Members: National Estimates and Characteristics. Juvenile Justice Bulletin–NCJ196466, 1-12. (MC17)

Missing Children

 While the term "missing children" may seem clear, a close examination of the issue would reveal a spectrum of circumstances ranging from a misunderstanding about schedules to running away or being the victim of an abduction. Through the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) and its follow-up, NISMART-2, CCRC researchers sought to create a unified estimate of the number and type of missing children. To accomplish this, NISMART-2 defined missing children as either caretaker missing - when a child is missing from their caretaker - or reported missing - when a child is missing from their caretaker and is reported missing to an agency for help locating them.

Sources: Highlights from the NISMART Bulletins. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2002). Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet, Washington, DC.

Andrea J. Sedlak, David Finkelhor, Heather Hammer and Dana J. Schultz (2002). National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview. Juvenile Justice Bulletin–NCJ196465,1-12. (MC16)

  • The total number of children who were missing from their caretakers in 1999 (i.e., their caretakers did not know their wherabouts and were alarmed for at least an hour while trying to locate them) is estimated to be 1,315,600.
  • The number of missing children who were reported missing (i.e., reported to the police or a missing children's agency in order to locate them) was estimated to be 797,500, which is equivalent to a rate of 11.4 children per 1,000 in the U.S. population.
  • Nearly all of the caretaker missing children (non-reported) (99.8%) were returned home alive or located by the time the study data were collected.