According to the FBI, nearly half a million kids go missing every year. Other sources put that number at 1.6 million. Most of the stories go unreported by the media. But, regardless of what number you believe, stories about non-family abductions make headline news.
Yet, noncustodial family abductions are far more frequent, rip apart families and rarely show up in the news cycle. Most people fail to get worked up about one family illegally taking custody of a minor child. They believe that because the child is with a family member, the kid will be okay. As Liss Haviv, a survivor of family abduction, reminds me, these children are far from okay. Most children who survive family abductions say that is one of the worst things that happened in their lives. Liss founded and runs Take Root, a nonprofit organization that goes "beyond recovering missing children to helping missing children recover."
Being ripped from your home, friends and family and living a life of lies under a false identity is not the foundation for a happy childhood. Someone you once trusted betrayed you in the worst way possible and stole you away from your support system. It's hard on the searching parent too.
Sometimes, parents of the missing children know exactly where their children are: in a different country with the noncustodial parent. Navigating through custody laws in the United States has a set of challenges that usually involve high lawyer bills, but that pales in comparison to the difficulties of working with foreign governments.
When I first started working in the missing persons' community, I met Stephen Watkins, a man who sounded calm and rational, which was amazing because he was in a fight with his ex-wife, who illegally took his two sons from their home in Canada to Poland. Watkins' story, recently featured in an Al Jazeera piece about international abductions, provides a stark reminder that these cases are more common than they seem and more difficult to fix than you would imagine.
I spoke with Dawn Willson not too long ago about her struggles with her husband who took their daughter to Spain. Willson writes about her experiences in her new book, Dear Rocky, Taken Again, an epistolary to her now 12-year-old daughter.
In September of 2003, California writer/producer Dawn Willson accompanied her British husband to Spain for, what she thought, was a two-month vacation. As they were returning to California, eight months later, her husband abducted their two-year-old daughter instead of boarding a plane to the U.S.
If visiting rights are hard to arrange for parents who live in different states, imagine the difficulties parents face with international courts and travel.
Willson reminded me that as we become a more mobile and fluid world, more of us will marry with people from other countries. Many of those marriages will be successful and some, not so much. And for those that will not end happy, how and where the children are raised becomes an incredibly difficult challenge.
Not all culture clashes involve international border disputes. Bridget Cooper wrote me a letter, saying that her daughter had been kidnapped by the child's father. Cooper's story involves courts and people who were not sophisticated when it comes to the American legal system. It's a common, all-too-common story.
The stories that make the news -- that is to say, the ones that create news and the media covers -- are not the stories of ordinary people faced with all-too-common family abductions. But they should be.