Child abductions are rare, say RCMP, but they do happen, and families can take measures to protect theselves.
The RCMP issued a public service announcement June 30, offering tips for parents that can help them quickly find a child that has been abducted and preventative measures that can help keep a child from being taken in the first place.
According to an RCMP press release, since 2019, there have been 40,425 accounts of missing children in Canada. Of those, 30,000 runaways accounted for the majority while 122 were abducted by a parent and 16 were abducted by strangers.
Such statistics can be both reassuring and worrying for parents, say RCMP, who note that there are often no immediate leads to turn to after a child goes missing.
Reasons for abducting a child vary, say police. It could be for sexual purposes, a desire to harm the child or hurt the family, or for reasons motivated by money, such as extortion.
“It’s the worst possible scenario for a parent to suddenly realize they’re at a fair or [in] a different city and their child is nowheres to be seen,” said reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “Panic is an understatement. They really need to have a plan in place, so that they can help instead of hinder the investigation.”
The best thing a parent can do for their child’s safety is to prepare for the worst in advance, say RCMP. Putting together a child safety kit can help immensely should a child go missing. The kit should contain a recent colour photo of the child and a list of information that includes the child’s age, height, weight, full name, nickname, blood type, eye colour, hair colour, sex, ethnicity, allergies and unique features such as birthmarks, braces, glasses, tattoos, and piercings. The kit should also include fingerprints and DNA in the form of a sample of their hair or even their toothbrush.
Parents should also teach children their full name, phone number, and address, and teach them that their parents have names too, not just Mommy, Daddy, Grammy, Auntie, etc.
Police recommend establishing a safe word in situations when a child is being picked up, for example, by someone other than their immediate family members or caregivers.
Many parents choose to give their child a whistle or noise-making device, but stress that children should make sure they know what it is for and shouldn’t wear it around their neck as it could be a choking hazard.
RCMP say children who think they are being followed should run in the opposite direction, making as much noise as possible and yelling for help.
If attending community events where there are many people in attendance, parents should take a picture of their children upon entering, so should they go missing, the photo can be shared with police or venue security.
“If you’re going into any event, take a picture of your kids right there,” O’Brien said. “We know that people who abduct children, who intend to do harm to them, will often change their clothing within seconds, dye their hair – just like stealing bikes.”
RCMP say children should also be taught that police officers are adults who can be trusted and who will help them if they are lost or need help.