Keeping Kids Safe When Traveling – International Child Abduction
In 2007, the story of Madeleine McCann, a four-year-old British girl presumed to have been abducted from a hotel room in Portugal, made headlines around the world. Madeleine went missing from her bed in a holiday resort and has never been found. Although this was one of the most high profile cases in recent times, abduction attempts on holiday have happened before and since. In 2015, tourists had to be moved from a resort in Cyprus, after a gang, believed to be Romanian child smugglers, attempted to kidnap three children whilst they were playing by the pool.
Holidays abroad are a relaxing time for most families. It’s a time when you can forget about the worries of everyday life and have a well-deserved rest. Unfortunately, our euphoria at being on holiday and the relaxed atmosphere often means that we let down our guard and act in ways that we wouldn’t at home. This is a mistake. When you are in unfamiliar territory it is imperative to be extra vigilant.
Kidnapping can occur anywhere in the world and no holiday destination should be considered completely safe. However, some destinations pose a greater threat and it is worth doing some research before you go on holiday to assess the risks.
The biggest threat of child abduction is actually from family members, acquaintances and especially a parent. If you are traveling to your spouse or partner’s home country, particularly if you are in the midst of a breakup or custody battle, your child could be at risk of being taken and held in that country.
In many countries extreme poverty and corruption mean that you or your children could be kidnapped for ransom.
( image source: RESULT GROUP Global Risk and Crisis Management )
Before you travel to a foreign country, you should always consider the risks and decide if you need to take extra security measures. The US State Department publishes information on every country, as well as travel warnings here.
Holiday destinations and resorts are also a good place for people traffickers and sexual predators to target kids. Parents who are in an unfamiliar place will find it harder to raise the alarm and search for their missing child. Children will not know how and whom to ask for help. This sadly affords kidnappers the time they need to make a getaway.
Ten tips for keeping your kids safe on holiday
- Discuss the risks before going on vacation and get the whole family involved in practicing kidnapping scenarios. Go over with your children what they should do if someone approaches them, tries to lure them or grabs them. Children need to follow the same rules that they would do at home, but also need to be aware of increased risk and who they can approach for help when in a foreign country. It is worth emphasizing to teenage girls that holiday romances are not always what they seem and that they could be being groomed and putting themselves in danger.
- Make sure you keep your passports, IDs and travel documents in a safe place and make copies before you go.
- Always carry a photograph of your children. It’s a good idea to take a picture of your child every day before you go out. This way, if a child does go missing, you will be able to easily share and distribute a picture of your child in the clothes they were wearing that day.
- Young children are prone to wandering off. Consider establishing a rule whereby they must have one hand on you at all times unless you say otherwise. This is especially important in airports, markets, amusement parks and other places where there are large crowds.
- Establish a meeting place whenever you go somewhere new. If a child is lost they should go to the designated meeting place and remain there until you come to find them. Point out landmarks or features nearby so that even the youngest members of the family can easily find the meeting place.
- Don’t let your children wander too far away from you and keep them in sight. Dressing children in bright clothing can help you to spot them in a crowd.
- Make sure kids have your phone number and the name of your hotel on them. Consider giving them a holiday ID bracelet or even writing your number on their arm or clothing.
- Teach kids how to make phone calls and use international dialing codes.
- Once you are at your holiday destination, identify people that your children can turn to for help. Point out local police officers and other families with children who can help them in an emergency or if they get lost.
- Make sure kids know that it’s ok to scream and make lots of noise if they are in danger. They should do everything they can to attract attention.
What to do if your child goes missing
If your child goes missing, you should follow the same procedures that you would at home. Alert staff at the hotel, park, pool, etc. so that they can help you to search for your child and help you to contact the local police.
If you are a US citizen, you should contact the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues by phone at 1-888-407-4747 or by email at PreventAbduction1@state.gov if you think a child has been abducted overseas. Further information can be found on the State Department’s website.
Cooperate with the local police and provide them with as much information as possible, including photographs, copies of documents, what your child was wearing and where they were last seen. As in all potential abduction cases, time is of the essence – do not delay contacting local police.