Child abduction or child theft is the unauthorized removal of a minor (a child under the age of legal adulthood) from the custody of the child's natural parents or legally appointed guardians.
The term child abduction conflates two legal and social categories which differ by their perpetrating contexts: abduction by members of the child's family or abduction by strangers:Parental child abduction: unauthorized custody of a child by a family relative (usually one or both parents) without parental agreement and contrary to family law ruling, which may have removed the child from the care, access and contact of the other parent and family side. Occurring around parental separation or divorce, such parental or familial child abduction may include parental alienation, a form of child abuse seeking to disconnect a child from targeted parent and denigrated side of family. Abduction or kidnapping by strangers (from outside the family, natural or legal guardians) who steal a child for criminal purposes which may include: extortion, to elicit a ransom from the guardians for the child's return illegal adoption, a stranger steals a child with the intent to rear the child as their own or to sell to a prospective adoptive parent human trafficking, a stranger steals a child with the intent to exploit the child themselves or by trade in a list of possible abuses including slavery, forced labor, sexual abuse, or even illegal organ trading murder
Neonatal "infant abduction" and prenatal fetal abduction are the earliest ages of child abduction as defined by a viable child through the age of majority. In addition, "embryo theft" and even "oocyte misappropriation" in reproductive medical settings have been legalistically construed as child abduction.
In the UK the number of child abductions increased from 40 in 1987 to 263 in 1993.