Criminal Law

Missing Children: Protect What's Most Precious

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the US Department of Justice, hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing each year in the US. It's a terrifying experience, but you can help prevent it.

How and by Whom

The statistics show that in the vast majority of cases, children are abducted by family members. A mother or father who's dissatisfied with a child custody arrangement is a good example. Thousands more are abducted by total strangers for any number of reasons, but sexual exploitation is a primary reason. And that's why we have laws like Megan's Law and the Adam Walsh Act.

Abduction isn't always involved, though. Children, and particularly teenagers, often run away and are reported missing.

Happy and Unhappy Endings

Sometimes, there are happy endings in missing child cases. For instance, Amber Niklas was kidnapped when she was about one year old. She was taken from her foster home in California by three of her teenage aunts. She was found alive and well in Arizona in July 2010 - she's now eight years old.

In 1995, Faustino Utrera took his two- and three-year-old children; their mother reported them missing. In June 2010, she tracked them down using Facebook. Utrera was arrested for kidnapping and violating child custody orders. The children and their mother are trying to rebuild their relationships.

Sadly, happy endings like these don't happen often enough. In late July 2010, Norma Lopez, a 17-year-old high school student who disappeared as she was walking home from school, was found dead. She had been missing for a week. And Kyron Horman's family is still waiting. The seven-year-old was last seen in early-June 2010 at the science fair at his grade school. His step-mother is a suspect in the disappearance.

What You Can Do

First, although it should go without saying, for parents and other family members who may be considering abduction because they want more time with their children or any other reason: Don't do it. It's not fair to the child or to the other parent and family members, and if that's not enough, it's illegal. Talk to a lawyer and see what can be done legally to improve your relationship.

For parents and others who want to keep their children safe:

  • Make sure you know where they are and who they're with at all times
  • Don't let them play outside or walk home alone. Get a buddy system in place
  • Make sure they know their addresses and telephone numbers
  • Teach them to scream, kick, and lie down flat if someone tries to grab them
  • Tell them where to go if there's an emergency, like a neighbor's house if they're outside playing
  • Get a child safety kit complete with up-to-date, high quality photographs of your child. You can find many kits for free online
  • Contact the police immediately if you can't find your child. Don't wait and try to find her on your own. Time matters!

For everyone, stay vigilant. Keep an eye on the neighborhood kids and watch for strangers. Pay attention to amber alerts in your area.

Our children are the most precious things in our lives. They should be protected and given the chance to be children - to play, smile, and laugh. It's up to us all to make it happen.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does a parent have to consent to a polygraph test in a missing child case? Should she?
  • Should a parent offer a reward for the return of his child?
  • What should a parent do if she thinks her ex-husband is planning on taking their child but doesn't have any real proof?
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