What Is Parental Kidnapping? - Definition, Laws & Statistics

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  • 0:04 Definition
  • 1:28 Facts & Laws
  • 2:59 Statistics
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn about what constitutes parental kidnapping and examine the relevant laws in this lesson. Review related kidnapping statistics and see what efforts are being taken against this crime.


You've probably heard of the AMBER Alert system. Chances are, when you hear an AMBER Alert these days, you likely feel a sense of fear for the child who was kidnapped. The AMBER Alert system has been successful in returning children to their homes, but did you ever imagine that this effort is often bringing relief to a parent whose child who had been abducted by the other parent?

The definition of kidnapping is not universal. Thus, every state has a different way of defining the crime of kidnapping. However, generally, kidnapping can be defined as the forceful taking of an individual against his or her will with the intent to do something else in connection with the taking of the individual. For example, a kidnapper may seek to obtain ransom for the abducted person. The kidnapper may seek to engage in another crime, such as rape or murder of the victim.

Kidnapping frequently involves children. Sometimes the kidnapping is by a stranger, but the kidnapping can even be done by a parent in a custody fight. A parent or person with legal custody of a child is guilty of committing parental kidnapping if that person takes the child from the other parent without legal permission. It does not matter if a person is not married but has a child with another person. The law will recognize the individuals as the parents of the child, and if one parent takes the child without the other parent's consent, this will also constitute parental kidnapping.

Facts and Laws

Kidnapping laws in every state have different penalties. Nevertheless, the penalties are stiff, since kidnapping is considered a felony in every single state. A felony is a very serious crime that carries a sentence of one year or more and can even result in the death penalty in those states that still have this as a possible consequence for the crime. Moreover, the federal law makes kidnapping a felony, with a sentence of twenty years and up.

The parental kidnapping of children is considered a significantly serious crime, and therefore the penalty for such a crime is serious. As a result, there are specific kidnapping statutes that apply to child kidnapping. Furthermore, there are special international laws that apply to international child kidnapping, since parents sometimes seek to kidnap their children to other countries. For example, the Federal International Parental Kidnapping Law makes it a crime to take a child to another country for the purpose of kidnapping the child from another parent. If one does so, one can receive a fine and a prison term of up to three years.

The kidnapping of children has long been a concern of lawmakers. As a result, the legislature has created the AMBER Alert. The AMBER Alert system is a warning system that notifies the public when a child has been abducted. This includes parental kidnapping abductions. The program seeks to have the public work together to search for the missing child in order to achieve the child's safe return home. So far, the AMBER Alert appears to be working well.

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