Kidnapped and Missing Children
For those of you who have children, can you imagine what life would be like if your child was gone? You are not there to help them through the ups and downs of daily life. You can't teach them things you need them to learn. Their birthday comes and you can't hug them and tell them how grateful you are that they are here. Holidays come and go, and you can't give them gifts and see the wondrous joy on their faces. This is what life is like for parents whose children are missing, for whatever reason.
I am a mother whose children were kidnapped to the Middle East by their father almost three years ago. Even though time has gone by, the pain of not being with my children gnaws at my being every second of every day. A missing child is a wound that time does not heal. When I turn on the TV, I see a show and think “My daughter would love this. I wish we could watch it together”. I go to the store and see mothers holding their children's little hands, and I cry out of grief. I cook dinner and lament their absence, wishing I could be cooking for them. I know I am not alone. Even though I have never met another parent who is living the agony that comes from missing your children, I know there are many, many others just like me out there somewhere.
How Children Disappear
For most people, people wonder “How can a child go missing when the parents are always with them?”. There are many ways a child can go missing. Children run away. Predators grab children and take them. But most commonly, children go missing from parental abductions. One parent takes the child/ren and goes on the run. Sometimes the parents are at fault, sometimes not. In either case, the consequences are the same – extreme grief for the left-behind parent, and usually, lifelong trauma for the child/ren. More often than not, the children are harmed emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Child abduction IS child abuse. There is an excellent article about how children are harmed by abduction at http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/unreport.htm.
According to the U.S. Department of State, “Child-snatching is epidemic. Well over 200 cases of parental child abduction cases occur each day in the United States”. Children missing for other reasons (e.g., runaways, stranger abductions, etc) raise that number dramatically. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are approximately 800,000 children missing in America today. Other statistics are hard to find. International parental abductions are supposed to be reported to the Office of Children's Issues at the State Department, but I had a hard time trying to find up-to-date statistics on the numbers of children who have been abducted internationally. To me, however, the statistics are of little importance. Even one missing child is one too many.
Why Should I Care?
These days, we are all bombarded with work, personal issues, family and community issues, financial concerns, and a media full of news overload detailing myriad crimes and tragedies happening everywhere all the time. People have become immune and indifferent to the struggles that others are fighting. Especially when your own children are home with you, safe and sound, why should you care about some stranger's child who has gone missing?
There are many reasons, in my humble opinion. For one, children are innocent and defenseless, unable to make their own choices and save themselves when placed in perilous situations. It is up to adults to step in and make a difference for these children. I know firsthand that one adult can stand and scream at the top of her lungs, “Hey! My children are in danger! Please help them!” but remain ignored and unheard. And the children continue to suffer, and the chances that they may be killed or seriously harmed soon increases as time goes by. Literally.
Second, damaged children grow up to be damaged adults who will one day be walking around in our society – maybe living next door to you or your loved ones. They carry their many layers of scars from the abduction and abuse, their sense of abandonment, harboring anger, thinking that no one cared enough to help them when they were defenseless and in peril, so who cares how they release that anger now? Every child is different, of course. Some take their pain and channel it into becoming better people. But oftentimes, it takes a caring adult to help the child take that route. Sometimes, the years of festering anger and betrayal gnaws at their soul, turning them from joyous, innocent children into angry, revenge-oriented adults. It is my opinion that that missing child may not be your problem today, but he or she might become your problem later, when it's too late to help them.
There are many reasons why missing children should concern people, but those are the biggest, in my opinion. I watch the news, and I see stories on the news nearly every day about someone finding an abused animal. The story talks about all the media and how people volunteer to step up and help this poor animal. I love animals, and I am grateful for the stories and the response they gather. But I am dismayed that very little attention is given to missing children, unless it's a high-profile case, usually a stranger abduction. Somehow, if a parent abducts a child, it isn't worth noting or caring about. But oftentimes, the damage is just as great, if not greater, when a parent or relative abducts a child. I just wish the media would air stories about these children as they do the missing and abused animals. I know in my own experience, I spent years writing to all the local and national media, asking for help, and never got one reply. And I'm not asking for me. I just needed help to make my children safe. But no one cared, and as a result, my children grow angrier each day, and they are in more peril today than they were the day they were taken. And no one cares about them or even knows that they exist.
How to Help
Be aware. Listen to the parents who are left behind and who are fighting so hard for their children. Take time to look at missing child posters when you see them.Offer support to left-behind relatives or to reputable missing child organizations. Write to the media and ask them to address this issue. Take time to review missing child posters in your area. Go to missingkids.com, select your state, and look at the pictures. You never know when you might see that child at Walmart or walking down a street in your neighborhood. You could make a difference in the lives of many just by taking the time to look.
Learn about prevention. If I had read the relevant information about prevention before my children went missing, I would not have made the same choices, and I firmly believe that my children would be with their mother to this day. It may not happen to you, but information is invaluable, and it could help someone you know. Understand the various things people can do to prevent a child from going missing. Be prepared just in case it does happen. Have a child ID kit ready in case your child goes missing to be able to readily assist the police and authorities. There are some good resources online to help you prepare. We buy insurance for our cars and houses, and our children are more valuable than things, so why not take some time to investigate the things you can do today to be prepared for the worst, hoping it never happens, but being ready to prevent it and deal with it if it ever does? Just google “prevent child abduction” or something similar, and you will find a lot of reputable information online.
Get involved. Join activities geared for missing children. Various communities have sponsored walks to raise awareness of missing children. If there isn't one scheduled for your area, you can organize one. There's an article about one hosted in Hillsborough County, FL at http://www.sptimes.com/2005/09/04/Hillsborough/Families_walk_to_spot.shtml. Be creative and do something in your community to create awareness or help those already involved. Visit websites online about missing kids and learn what you can do. Here are a few, but there are many if you just do a search:
Are You a Parent or Relative of a Missing or Abducted Child?
If you are a parent of a missing child, my heart goes out to you. Email me and I will do whatever I can do to help you. Here are some resources specifically for you:
This is a new online community where parents and relatives of missing children can meet, get support, share ideas, tactics, and information. It also provides each parent a place to post their own story and ask for whatever help they need at the moment. Instead of many individual voices, this website provides a place where our many single voices combine to become one loud voice that cannot be ignored.
- The US State Department's "Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping" (pdf format)
- Harris Family Law document on Parental Kidnapping
This document outlines some important steps to take to prevent a kidnapping and also, what steps to take once a kidnapping has occurred.
- The Minnesota Center against Violence and Abuse has published several useful articles here.
- Polly Klaas Foundation
Unlike all the government agencies who hand out generic, not-so-useful information and then blow you off without offering any real help, the Polly Klaas foundation is a wonderful, extremely helpful organization. They take each and every missing child case seriously. They will do whatever they can to help, and they don't just give out broad, collective, generic advice. The volunteers will actually CALL the parent of missing children periodically, ask how things are going, if there's any news or changes, and they always ask "What can we do for you right now to get your child home?". They provide the kind of help a left-behind parent needs, and they are a group of committed, wonderful, caring people.