About Abduction

Child abduction is the unauthorised removal or retention of a minor from a parent or anyone with legal responsibility for the child.

Child abduction can be committed by parents or other family members; by people known but not related to the victim, such as neighbours, friends and acquaintances; and by strangers.

Legal Definitions

The Child Abduction Act (1984) makes it a criminal offence for anyone “connected with” (e.g. parents, guardians or a person with a residence order or custody) a child under the age of 16 to “take or send” that child out of the UK without the appropriate consent. The same Act makes it a criminal offence for “other persons” (e.g. non-family members) to “take or detain” a child under the age of 16 without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. The majority of non-parental child abductions recorded by police are perpetrated by strangers or by people exploiting young people¹.


The offence of kidnapping exists in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and is defined at common law as “the taking or carrying away of one person by another, by force or fraud, without the consent of the person taken or carried away and without lawful excuse. It must involve an attack on or loss of that person’s liberty” ².

Scottish offences of abduction and child stealing

The Scottish common law offence of Abduction is defined as: “the carrying off or confining of a person forcibly and without lawful authority”.

In addition, a common law offence of child stealing (‘plagium’) can be committed against children below the age of puberty (under 12 years for girls and under 14 years for boys) when the abductor has no parental responsibility for the child.

More information on the law and child abduction is available in our briefing paper: Child Abduction: The Legislative Jigsaw.

¹ Newiss, G. and Traynor, M. (2013) Taken: A study of child abduction in the UK. London: Parents and Abducted Children Together and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
² The Law Commission (2011) Simplification of Criminal Law: Kidnapping. Consultation Paper No. 200. London: The Law Commission.
³ Scottish Law Commission (1987) Child Abduction. Cm64. Edinburgh: Scottish Law Commission.