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El Malón, Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). The painting depicts a woman being kidnapped during a malón.

In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against the person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority. This may be done for ransom or in furtherance of another crime, or in connection with a child custody dispute.

Kidnapping in English Common Law

Kidnapping is a common law offence requiring:

  1. that one person takes and carries a minor away;
  2. by force or fraud;
  3. without the consent of the person taken;
  4. without lawful excuse.

It would be difficult to kidnap without also committing false imprisonment, which is the common-law offence of intentionally or recklessly detaining the victim without lawful authority. The use of force to take and detain will also be regarded as an assault, and other, related offences may also be committed before, during, or after the detention.

Alongside murder, kidnapping is the last significant offence under the common law which has yet to be codified into statute.

Kidnapping versus abduction

In modern usage, kidnapping or abduction of a child is often called child stealing and parental kidnapping, particularly when done not to collect a ransom but rather with the intention of keeping the child permanently (often in a case where the child's parents are divorced or legally separated, whereupon the parent who does not have legal custody will commit the act, also known as "childnapping"). Today, the term is no longer restricted to the case of a child victim.

Child abduction can refer to children being taken away without their parents' consent but with the consent of the child. In England and Wales, it is child abduction to take away a child under the age of 16 without parental consent.

However the offense of kidnap in the case of a competent minor requires the absence of consent from the minor. This means that a parent commits kidnapping if he takes the child against its will but if a 3rd party takes the child away from the parents with the child's consent the 3rd party does not commit the offense of kidnapping.[1]

Kidnapping in the United States

The National Crime Information Center maintains a roster of missing persons, and groups them into categories. In 2008, there were 778,500 missing person reports logged on their system, of which 745,088 were eventually removed. Of those reported missing, 87,497 were listed as being in physical danger, and 20,562 were listed as being missing involuntarily.[2]

Of the 589,761 juveniles reported missing in 2008, 13,046 were considered to have been in physical danger. Of those, 6,094 were considered to be missing involuntarily. Although the FBI does not maintain official statistics of the crime of kidnapping, presumably those known or suspected to have been kidnapped would fall under the "involuntary" category.[3]

As the United States is estimated to have a population of about 304 million people,[4] if 20,561 persons were reported kidnapped in 2008, it would amount to a kidnapping rate of 6.7 per 100,000 persons; as the United States is estimated to have a population of about 74 million persons under age 18,[5] it would amount to a kidnapping rate among persons under 18 of 8.2 per 100,000.

According to the National Crime Information Center:

As of December 20, 2007, there were 105,229 active missing person records in NCIC. Juveniles under the age of 18 accounted for 54,648 (51.93%) of the records, and 12,362 (11.75%) were for juveniles between the ages of 18 and 20. During 2007, 814,967 missing person records were entered into the 836,131 records entered in 2006.

Missing person records cleared or cancelled during the same period totaled 820,212. Reasons for these removals include: the subject was located by a law enforcement agency; the individual returned home; or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record was invalid.

In 2007, there were 518 records entered as Abducted by a Stranger; 299,787 entered as Runaway; and 2,919 entered as Abducted by Non-Custodial Parent. This only accounts for 303,224 entries of the 418,967 entered, or 72.4%, which is an increase from 297,632 entries of the 836,131 entered, or 35.6%, in 2006. The Missing Person Circumstances field is optional and has been available since July 1999 when the NCIC 2000 came on-line. This is not an accurate reflection of the actual circumstances of all the entries.[6]

The 814,967 figure merely represents the number of missing persons reported, regardless of whether they were later confirmed to have been kidnapped or abducted.

Following the highly publicized 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping, Congress authorized the FBI to investigate kidnapping at a time when the Bureau was expanding in size and authority. The fact that a kidnapped victim may have been taken across state lines brings the crime within the ambit of federal criminal law.

There are several deterrents to kidnapping in the United States of America. Among these are:

  1. The extreme logistical challenges involved in successfully exchanging the money for the return of the victim without being apprehended or surveiled.
  2. Harsh punishment. Convicted kidnappers face lengthy prison terms. If a victim is brought across state lines, federal charges can be laid as well.
  3. Good cooperation and information sharing between law enforcement agencies, and tools for spreading information to the public (such as the AMBER Alert system.)

The harsh sentences imposed and the poor risk-to-benefit ratio compared with other crimes have caused kidnapping for ransom virtually to die out in the United States. One notorious failed example of kidnap for ransom was the Chowchilla bus kidnapping, in which 26 children were abducted with the intention of bringing in a $5 million ransom.[7] Kidnappings for profit that do occur in or into the United States today are often connected to other ongoing criminal activity, such as human trafficking.

Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe the relationship a hostage can build with their kidnapper.

According to a 2003 Domestic Violence Report in Colorado, out of a survey of 189 incidents, most people (usually white females) are taken from their homes or residence by a present or former spouse or significant other. They are usually taken by force, not by weapon, and usually the victims are not injured when they are freed.

Named forms

  • Bride kidnapping is a term often applied loosely, to include any bride 'abducted' against the will of her parents, even if she is willing to marry the 'abductor'. It still is traditional amongst certain nomadic peoples of Central Asia. It has seen a resurgence in Kyrgyzstan since the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent erosion of women's rights.[8]
  • Child abduction is the abduction or kidnapping of a child (or baby) by an older person.
  • Express kidnapping is a method of abduction used in some countries, mainly from Latin America,[9] where a small ransom, that a company or family can easily pay, is requested.
  • Tiger kidnapping is taking a hostage to make a loved one or associate of the victim do something, e.g. a child is taken hostage to force the shopkeeper to open the safe. The term originates from the usually long preceding observation, like a tiger does on the prowl.

Kidnapping today

Kidnapping for ransom is a common occurrence in various parts of the world today, and certain cities and countries are often described as the "Kidnapping Capital of the World." As of 2007, that title belongs to Baghdad.[10] In 2004, it was Mexico,[11] and in 2001, it was Colombia.[12] Haiti also has frequent kidnappings (starting several years ago), as do certain parts of Africa.[citation needed]

In the past, and presently in some parts of the world (such as southern Sudan), kidnapping is a common means used to obtain slaves and money through ransom. In less recent times, kidnapping in the form of shanghaiing (or "pressganging") men was used to supply merchant ships in the 19th century with sailors, whom the law considered unfree labour.[citation needed]

Criminal gangs are estimated to make up to $500 million a year in ransom payments from kidnapping.[13]

Kidnapping has been identified as one source by which terrorists organizations have been known to obtain funding.[14] The Perri, Lichtenwald and MacKenzie article identified Tiger kidnapping as a specific method used by a known terrorist organization, although which terrorist cell conducted the intelligence gathering, which terrorist cell made direct contact, and which terrorist cells shared in the profit prior to forwarding the monies obtained from the kidnapping up to the top organization members is not known for certain.

See also


  1. Regina Appellant v D Respondent [1984] A.C. 778
  2. Federal Bureau of Investigation "NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2008" available at
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation "NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2008" available at
  4. World Fact Book: The United States, available at
  5. U.S. Census "State & County Quick Facts" available at
  7. Chowchilla kidnap, Crime Library website
  8. 'Bride Kidnapping' - a Channel 4 documentary
  9. Garcia Jr, Juan A. "Express kidnappings" accessed December 7, 2006
  12. BBC News
  13. "Kidnap and ransom market value".
  14. Perri, Frank S., Lichtenwald, Terrance G., and MacKenzie, Paula M. (2009). Evil Twins: The Crime-Terror Nexus. Forensic Examiner, 16-29.


  • Damien Lewis; Mende Nazer (2003). Slave. New York: Public Affairs. pp. 368. ISBN 1-58648-212-2.

External links

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