International Parental Child Abduction – The Effects


This two-year research project considered the long and short term effects of international parental child abduction and included, we believe for the first time in an European study, an investigation of the effects on the abducted child through child interviews conducted by senior CAFCASS officers who worked with the Research Unit on this project.

Many parents had previously spoken informally of the effects of abduction and this research exercise allowed a formal investigation into the physical and emotional effects and whether these were affected by other factors such as the length of the abduction and the specific circumstances in which the abduction took place. The Research Report details the far-reaching and long-lasting effects of abduction from the perspective of both the left-behind parent and the abducting parent.

One of the objectives of the research was to capture the experiences of the children and young people themselves.  Hearing from them directly, and independently of their parents, we hoped to gain a better understanding of the effects on children of international parental abduction and also identify any lessons that could be learned by parents and professionals.  In the words of Singer J. who so kindly wrote the foreword to the Research Report, “The interviews with children are particularly striking and poignant.  Their accounts again demonstrate the long-lasting effect of abduction on the children and young persons involved, as they grow and develop.”

Following the publication of the research findings, this statement was issued by Professor William Duncan, Deputy Secretary General, Hague Conference on Private International Law:

“Congratulations to reunite, and especially to Marilyn, for this excellent publication. Careful empirical studies of this kind are a vital basis for policy making at the national and international levels. It is a happy coincidence that the study is published a few months before the next meeting of the Special Commission to review the practical operation of the 1980 Hague Convention, for which it provides valuable background material.”

Click here to download the full report 

Parental child abduction and its impact

When a parent kidnaps a child long-term problems begin
Published on November 13, 2010 by Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D. in Buddy System

I have been studying the impact of parental child abduction for the last 20 years and have published extensively on the topic.  Recent events and articles have placed it again in the news. Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped by a non-family member for nine months when she 14-years-old testifed this week in court during the trial against her abductor, Brian Mitchell.  Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped when she was 11 and held for 18 years. During that time she gave birth to two children.  While these high profile non-family kidnappings capture the headlines, much more common are family abductions. Today’s New York Times carries a front page article about using the I.R.S. to track down abductors who file tax returns.  Department of Justice statistics report that approximately 200,000 family abductions occur each year and that 6% of these last for longer than six months.

Most recently, and working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), I completed interviews with 8 people (now all over 21-years-old) who were parentally kidnapped when they were children.  The focus of the interviews (the report is available on the NCMEC website) was to learn what would help families reunify with each other after a kidnapping. For today’s blog I will focus on the impact on children.  Some of this information appears in my co-authored book (with Rebecca Hegar), When Parents Kidnap.  Imagine a child being taken by a parent with whom the child does not feel particularly close, moved away from friends and other family members, and living in changing residences.  Imagine the state of mind of the abductor who is the primary caretaker.  Add these two together and the stage is set for a difficult time for the child.  While the child is on the run, the left-behind parent is often frantic and expending all his or her time involved in the search.  The left-behind parent’s well-being, relationships, and work life are put at risk and, upon recovery of the child (not all children are recovered) the parent struggles to get things back to normal when such a hopeful vision may not be possible.

According to David Finkelhor et al.’s telephone survey (NISMART), 16% of abducted children experience emotional harm, 4% are physically abused, and 1% are sexually abused.  Other research, including our own, found reactions to abducton include: nightmares, fears of doors and windows, bedwetting (depending on age), fear of authority and strangers,anger at abductor and left-behind parent, depression, anxiety, and school and peer problems.

Problems for many adults persist into their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s (the oldest person I interviewed was 53).  Today’s New York Times‘ article talks about cooperation between the IRS and searching parents to help find missing children.  The sooner cooperation can begin the better it will be for children and their families. The impact of these long-term abductions is significant enough that new steps toward prevention are clearly needed.

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