Kidnapping, also known as child abduction or child theft, is the unauthorized removal of a child from their natural parents or legally appointed guardians.
It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of children who are abducted worldwide every year, but it is in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
The term child abduction conflates two legal and social categories which differ by their perpetrating contexts: abduction by members of the child’s family or abduction by strangers:

  • Parental child abduction: a family relative’s (usually parent’s) unauthorized custody of a child without parental agreement and contrary to family law ruling, which largely removes the child from care, access and contact of the other parent and family side. Occurring around parental separation or divorce, such parental or familial child abduction may include parental alienation, a form of child abuse seeking to disconnect a child from targeted parent and denigrated side of family.
  • Abduction or kidnapping by strangers (from outside the family, natural or legal guardians) who steal a child for criminal purposes which may include:
    • extortion, to elicit a ransom from the guardians for the child’s return
    • illegal adoption, a stranger steals a child with the intent to rear the child as their own or to sell to a prospective adoptive parent
    • human trafficking, a stranger steals a child with the intent to exploit the child themselves or by trade in a list of possible abuses including slavery, forced labor, sexual abuse, or even illegal organ trading
    • murder