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Nearly half of all child abduction cases reported in the UK between 2011-12 were committed by strangers, according to police figures published in a unique report.

‘Taken – a study of child abductions in the UK’ brings together, for the first time, academic expertise and a sample of police data to provide a snapshot of the extent of child abductions in the UK.

The report, commissioned by the charity Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, comes just days before International Missing Children’s Day.

The report re-ignites calls for a revamp of ‘stranger-danger’ warnings in the wake of findings which show that in 42 per cent of police reports studied, the abductor or would-be abductor was not known to the child. It also reveals that 17 per cent were abducted (or attempted) by a parent, two per cent by another family member and 35 per cent by someone known but not related to the child (four per cent were unknown offenders).

The report calls for the creation of a national child abduction ‘hub’ to give a clearer picture of the problem across the UK and provide data and support to improve how agencies deal with abductions.   It warns that at present the true extent of child abductions is “impossible” to calculate with the necessary accuracy because of inconsistencies in the recording of offences. It highlights how details of different types of child abductions are held by police forces, government, legal bodies and voluntary agencies, but that this information is not always published or made routinely available.

The report sets out 14 recommendations: from agreeing a UK-wide definition of child abduction, through improving how police record and respond to incidents, to revamping current ‘stranger-danger’ warnings for children and learning from why so many attempted stranger abductions fail.   Geoff Newiss, PACT’s Director of Research and author of the report said:   This new report exposes the reality of child abduction in the UK today. Whilst children are abducted by parents and people known to them, a large proportion of incidents still involve strangers, often trying to lure a child into a car, and sometimes succeeding in doing so. The big challenge is to find prevention strategies fit for the 21st century that children can use in a very practical way to keep themselves safe.”   The Founder and Chief Executive of PACT, Lady Catherine Meyer, CBE said:

Our report, prepared in close collaboration with CEOP, provides the first ever comprehensive picture of child abduction and child kidnapping in the UK. Many will find its revelations shocking. More importantly, by showing the extent of this hidden scandal, PACT’s report provides a vital platform for future action. The next stage of our work will be entirely focused on the practical steps necessary to protect our children from the would-be abductor.”   In 2011, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre took over the national strategic lead on missing children and now works with a wide range of partners to better understand and address the issue.   Chief Executive of CEOP, Peter Davies, said:

This is a unique and unprecedented report. We have never had a UK-wide picture of child abductions this detailed and compelling. It shows the immense harm that child abduction can do and that, contrary to what some might assume, a significant proportion of abductions are carried out by strangers.   “Any incident of a child going missing is a cause for concern. Fortunately, only a small proportion turn-out to be indicative of very serious harm. Together with our partners, we must constantly redouble our efforts to reduce the risk to children. International Missing Children’s Day is a good opportunity for us to reflect on this important and complex issue.”

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