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My Child is Missing

In Canada, the most common form of child abduction is by a parent or guardian. The term “parental child abduction” refers to when one parent takes, detains, or conceals a child from the other parent. It is not uncommon for other family members to assist the abducting parent in removing or concealing the child. A child can be taken for days, months, or years and may not have contact with anyone outside of the abducting parent. In some instances a child may be told that she is just staying over at the abducting parent’s house longer, going for an extended vacation, or in other cases she may be told that the searching parent has been harmed or no longer wants them. Extreme cases may include a child having to take on new identities and travelling from place to place. Regardless of the reason, parental child abductions are harmful and traumatic events that may have lifelong impacts on everyone involved.

It is important to know that most parental child abductions are resolved with the searching parent and the abducted child reunited quickly. If your child is abducted by her/his other parent, it is important to act quickly in order to recover your child safely as soon as possible. Parental child abduction is a serious matter and there are many resources to aid in your search. There can be numerous obstacles that you as a searching parent must go through; you will have to be a strong advocate for yourself and your child.

The following section deals with information to help guide parents through the civil and criminal solutions to dealing with parental child abduction. It outlines steps that searching parents can take if they are victims of this type of crime, and also provides information on how to prevent parental child abductions.

The Impact

The victimization and harm experienced by a child who has been abducted by a parent continues with each day that the child is not returned to her home and community. The impact of the abduction on the child, the searching parent and the extended family is significant. This impact can also be felt by the surrounding community, the child’s friends, teachers and neighbours who are suddenly faced with the child’s absence.

The abduction of a child by her parent can have a range of consequences.

Short-Term Abductions

Short-term abductions (for example keeping the child for a day longer than expected) may cause harm to a child by making them feel:

  • Confused

  • Like they have to choose between parents

  • Like they have betrayed one or both parents

  • Like they are the cause of all the fighting

Long-Term Abductions

In addition to the impacts listed above, when a child is abducted for a longer period of time, for example moved to another province or removed from the country, there are many more concerning impacts. These kinds of abductions can cause harm to a child by:

  • Removing them from their home community and the stability of their surroundings

  • Isolating the child — often these children are not placed in school and have limited social interactions for fear of being discovered

  • Alienating the child from the other parent

  • Impacting the child’s ability to form trusting relationships

  • Preventing a very young child from ever forming an early childhood bond with the other parent

  • Causing the child culture shock depending on where they are taken

  • Isolating the child so much that they form an “unhealthy bond with the abductor”

  • Subjecting the child to emotional, physical or sexual abuse

Even following a successful recovery, an abducted child’s life has been altered. The child often has to deal with the impacts of being behind in school, and alienated from friends, family and community. The child may be robbed of their ability to have trusting relationships. Ultimately, the taking of a child from their home and community in this manner may cause a disruption in their childhood that can impact their lives for many years after reunification. Canadians must challenge the notion that parental abduction is ‘not that bad’ because the child is with a parent. Denying a child access to their other parent, their family and their community deprives them of important relationships and can cause a great deal of psychological and physical harm.

For more information on the effects of parental child abduction on children, please see www.takeroot.org

The Crime

Parental abduction is a crime covered by sections 282 and 283 of the Canadian Criminal Code. Depending on the circumstance, a parent can be charged with parental abduction regardless of whether there is a court order or a custody agreement in place.

Canadian Criminal Code Sections 282 and 283

Conducting an investigation and convicting someone of parental child abduction can be a very difficult task for law enforcement, the searching parent and can be especially difficult on the child. There are civil options that a searching parent can use when it is not possible to charge the other parent with parental abduction. Please see What to Do for more information.

Why Do Parents Abduct Their Children?

Regardless of the reason, the impact of parental child abduction is significant. Parental child abduction may be the result of a parent feeling unjustly treated by the court process or frustrated with custody arrangements. It may be as a result of a contentious divorce or break-up, an effort to exert control over an ex-spouse or partner, or a way to deprive the other parent of access to the child. More complex reasons for parental child abduction may include one parent’s safety concerns for themselves, or their child. Whatever the reason, a parental child abduction sets in motion a series of events that can forever change the lives of the abducted child, their parents, as well as extended family and friends.

An American study 1 found that there are some common reasons why parents may choose to abduct their children including:

  • The abducting parent feels ‘alienated’ or wronged by the legal system and custody arrangement.

  • The abducting parent is a citizen of another country and feels the need to return to this country at the end of a relationship.

  • The abducting parent wishes to cause harm and distress to the other parent.

  • The abducting parent disregards authority, feels superior, and feels entitled to making ultimate decisions and/or overruling others.

  • The abducting parent suffers from a mental illness which may include paranoia about the other parent.

  • The abducting parent believes that their child was at risk of abuse or harm.

A parent who feels that the current custody or access arrangements are no longer in the child’s best interests or no longer meets the family’s needs, should be seeking legal advice. A parent can either ask the court to make a formal order, change an existing order, or enter into a written agreement with the other parent. A parent that does not go through the proper legal processes to settle disputes will likely face far more problems on custody and access than a parent who goes through the proper steps.

“The emotional scarring of this crime... requires [police] officers to recognize family abduction not as a harmless offense where two parents... are arguing over who ‘loves the child more’, but instead as an insidious form of child abuse.” 2

1 Janet R. Johnson and Linda K. Girdner. Family Abductors: Descriptive Profiles and Preventive Interventions (Washington, United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Oct 2001) .

2 Stephen E. Steidel (ed.) Missing and Abducted Children: A Law-Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. (Virginia, National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, 2006), 84.

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