This topic overlaps Child Abuse, Human Trafficking, and Runaways. These problems tend to have common sources in poverty, profit, and power. In sad ways, poverty is one explanation of the supply side of the equation of human trafficking—few parents want to sell their children. Missing children supply the desires of those who want free or cheap labor or money from the sale or service of children. Profit from child slaves and child prostitution is immense. Pornography and human trafficking are multi-million dollar industries in the U.S. and a staggering number of millions globally. Power, along with sickening lust, is a clear factor in the taking or luring of children.
“Missing children” here refers to children who are missing from their parents or caregivers. Any parent or caregiver, who has lost track of a child in a shopping mall or such, even for a few minutes, knows the feeling of sheer panic. To come to the end of a day and realize your child is gone is excruciating.
Wikipedia defines a missing person as “a person who had disappeared and whose status as alive or dead cannot be confirmed as their location and fate is not known.”
A person may be missing due to their own decision, accident, crime, death in a location where they cannot be found (such as at sea), or many other reasons. In some countries, missing persons’ photographs are posted on bulleting boards, milk cartons, postcards, and websites, to publicize their description.
A child may go missing for several different reasons. When trying to understand how to find and protect missing children, it is important to analyze the causes and effects of a child’s disappearance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_person, accessed 6Aug14).
Runaway children may be looking for freedom and excitement—but are more often trying to escape physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. The term throwaway children may apply to kids who run away to escape unbearable situations. Even stronger is the description castaway children, often implying that the parents have kicked a troublesome child, or one for whom they can’t provide, out of their home shelter.
According to the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, “approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 were reported missing in 1999. More than 200,000 of these were abducted by family members; more than 58,000 children were abducted by nonfamily members. An estimated 115 children were the victims of ‘stereotypical’ kidnapping” by someone the child did not know. In such cases, “the child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently.”
In 2013, there were 462,567 entries for missing children under the age of 18 in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, also called NCIC.
The first three hours are the most critical when trying to locate a missing child. The murder of an abducted child is rare, and an estimated 100 cases in which an abducted child is murdered occur in the U.S. each year. A 2006 study indicated that 76.2 percent of abducted children, who are killed, are dead within three hours of the abduction (NCMEC, accessed 6Aug14).
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How close have you been to a missing child situation? What were your feelings? How did you respond?
Do you believe more children are going missing today than ever before? If you do, how would you explain such a phenomenon?
Do you agree that in the U.S. today more local and federal responses to missing children have been established than ever before?
What more would you like to see to prevent, and to recover, missing children?
How do faith and morals play into this topic?
What a society believes about childhood and how a society treats its children—and allows them to be treated—tells us much about the health of that culture.
The reality of so many missing children around the world and in the U.S. should be a concern for all of us, driving us to do some reading and some discussion as to what we can do about such a calamity.
Societies should give attention to those who sell or drive children from their homes, those who kidnap, and all who exploit children in any way. Such behavior should be changed, and such perpetrators ought to be rehabilitated or incarcerated.
Faith and morality should produce concern for those who have been abducted and exploited—especially the children. Jesus once said, “… it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14, NRSV)