When children go missing, it is terrifying and tragic. For people who hear about it on the national news, its frightening, and they often think of their children and how to protect them. For people whose children went missing, such an event is life-changing and devastating. But, when children do go missing, it is often a more complex story than that of kidnapping or abduction. Children go missing for numerous reasons, which need to be addressed in order to understand this problem.
But, to understand the problem of missing children, we need to take a look at some numbers. Current statistics and national estimates can help us get a clearer picture of this global problem, and hopefully, help us understand and find proper solutions and even preventive methods in the future.
Why Do Children Go Missing?
There are several reasons and cases where children go missing. Each case of missing is specifically approached with government, law enforcement agencies and NGOs. When a child is reported missing, regardless of the reason or case, federal law requires that child be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, and similar practices are seen also in Europe and other countries. But, what are the main reasons children go missing? Let’s take a look;
According to Youth Homelessness in America, 1 in 30 teenagers or youth between the ages of 13 and 17 experience homelessness due to running away from home. In Europe, 57% of all missing children cases comprise child runaways. This represents the largest category of missing children in the majority of the western world. The main reasons children and young adults run away from their home comprise as follows;
- Nontraditional family structures
- Parental health issues
- Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse
- Commercial sexual exploitation
- Substance abuse (of parents or children)
- Being solicited for prostitution
- General poverty
- General neglect in the family
- Internet grooming
- School bullying
As we can see, children and young adults often run away from their homes due to abuse, neglect, conflict and similar situations. Parents, in the majority of the cases, abuse drugs or alcohol, have low education levels and health issues, either physical or mental. There are cases where children and young adults are being sexually exploited, so they run away to save themselves from being further exploited. Unfortunately, runaways are at a high risk of becoming homeless, being harmed, witnessing violence, continue being sexually exploited, and often fall into substance abuse, sexual abuse, and depression as they grow up.
Parental kidnappings are cases where one parent takes their child without the consent of the other parent. The kidnapping parent violates the custody agreement if there is one. In the majority of the cases, there is no custody agreement in place, so the situation becomes even more complicated.
There are even cases of international child kidnapping or abduction, where the parent, a relative, or even an acquaintance of a child leaves the country with the child. Other variations of international abduction include taking children to an alleged vacation and never returning them home. Nevertheless, domestic parental kidnappings are much more frequent than international ones. Here are some of the main reasons parental kidnapping takes place;
- Separation or divorce
- Pending child-custody proceedings
- Domestic violence and abuse
- Child endangerment environments
- Criminal occurrences in the family
- Domestic or international law issues
- Other issues
Here are also some statistics regarding the parental kidnapping cases, according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted and Throwaway Children (or NISMART);
- Approximately 3 in 1000 children are victims of parental kidnapping or kidnapping by a family member, each year.
- Studies estimate that 875,000 children a year, or 12 per 1000, are either abducted or kidnapped by a relative.
- Approximately 4% of children experience family abduction or parental kidnapping, while 1.2% had experienced it within the past year.
- In two-parent families, approximately 9 children per 1000 experience parental kidnapping and family abduction.
- In single-parent households, approximately 84 children per 1000 experience parental kidnapping and family abduction.
- Approximately 86% of parental kidnappings and abductions are reported to the police.
Stereotypical Kidnapping Or Nonfamily Kidnapping/Abduction
- Stereotypical kidnapping – a case where a stranger or a slight acquaintance abducts a child (usually overnight) for the purposes of keeping the child permanently or killing it.
- Nonfamily abduction – a case where a nonfamily perpetrator takes a child using physical force and threatens with bodily harm. The child is often taken to an isolated place by force, after which the perpetrator demands a ransom or has the intention of keeping the child permanently.
Between the years of 2010 and 2017, approximately 350 people under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers in the US. In 2011 alone, 105 children were victims of stereotypical kidnappings, according to the U.S. Department of Justice report. Children that are victims of such kidnappings are often white girls, ages 12 and 17. Half of the stereotypical kidnappings in 2011 were sexually motivated, and that is believed to be the case for the majority of similar kidnapping cases. Here’s more insight into the causes of stereotypical and nonfamily kidnapping;
- Children in these cases are often victims of pedophiles, where the kidnapper is a loner, unmarried and unrelated to a child and favors children in a sexual manner.
- Children can be kidnapped for the reasons of ransom exchange or for the reasons of black market operations (illegal adoptions, forced labor, sexual exploitation, etc.).
- Sometimes children are kidnapped by people who have experienced traumatic events or loss of a child on their own. There are cases of serious mental illness as well, but these cases are rare.
Missing Episodes Caused By Being Lost Or Injured
There are cases where children go missing, or their whereabouts are unknown because they get lost, stranded, injured or they don’t know how to get home or contact their parents or caretaker. The parents or the caretaker usually try to locate the child themselves, and then contact the police about the event. These cases are rare, and often result in the children returning to their parents or caretaker. But, if the child does not return home, or returns home injured and victimized, the case is then considered as an abduction, kidnapping, or as a case of runaway/thrownaway.
How Many Children Are Missing?
During the last 36 years, the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children has received more than 5 million calls about cases of missing children. In 2019 alone, the NCMEC assisted law enforcement and families with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. These numbers are truly worrying, even for people who don’t have any children.
Unfortunately, missing children are often victims of human or child sex trafficking. But luckily, agencies and centers like NCEMC, alongside the government and law enforcement are doing everything they can to either prevent such cases, or if they happen, to handle the cases and return the children back to their parents. Now, let’s take a look at the numbers showing how many children are currently missing globally;
- Number of missing children in the USA and Canada – According to the FBI Missing Children Reports, there are currently 87,438 active cases in the USA, as of December of 2019. The missing children are juveniles under the age of 18, which account for 30,618 (35%) of cases. In Canada, there is an estimate of 45,288 missing children every year.
- Number of missing children in Europe – According to the European Comission and Missing Children Europe, more 250,000 children go missing in Europe every year (in Germany and the UK there are over 100,000 missing children reports every year). In 2019, as the latest report, there have been 55,284 calls related to missing children, which were answered by the hotlines across Europe.
- Number of missing children in Asia – According to the International Centre For Missing and Exploited Children, there are approximately between 20,000 and 200,000 missing children in China and Southeast Asia alone. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of children in Asia are being traded for labor or trafficking every single day.
- Number of missing children in Africa – According to the South African Police Service Missing Persons Bureau, every five hours a child goes missing in this country. However, the exact number of missing children is unknown. It is estimated that over 18,000 children have been reported missing; 25% of the children have never been found.
- Number of missing children in Central and South America – According to news reports, an average of 7 children in Mexico alone go missing every single day. Approximately 20% of all missing people in Mexico are children and young adults. Data for other Central and South american countries are scarce and usually related to armed conflicts between the countries.
- Number of missing children in Australia – According to the International Centre For Missing and Exploited Children, there is an estimate of 20,000 missing children in Australia every year.
Approximately 77% to 90% of all missing children are eventually found and returned to their parents and caretakers. The majority of the cases are of the runaway children, which are often resolved. Nevertheless, the number of missing children in the world is disturbingly high, and the lack of updated and exact data is not helping resolve this problem at all.
In countries that are less regulated and more prone to low living standards, even the approximate number of missing children isn’t available. Even one missing children is one too many, and seeing that hundreds of thousands of children go missing every year is truly saddening and disturbing. We hope that these numbers will decrease over time, and finally reach zero.