NEARLY two children a month are either abducted or victims of attempted abduction in Scotland, new figures have shown.
Police Scotland statistics also reveal that nearly half of all cases affecting children under 16 are carried out by a stranger.
Child protection charities warn that the figures could just be the tip of the iceberg, with many of the cases going unrecorded.
Police figures, obtained by Freedom of Information, show that 44 abductions, attempted abductions or instances of “child stealing” in Scotland were recorded between 2013 and 2014.
Just under half of those crimes – 19 – were carried out by a stranger.
Twelve cases were carried out by a relation of the child, and nine by someone known to the family but not related.
In four of the cases the relationship to the victim was not known.
Vicky Mayes is a development and external communications liaison officer at Reunite – a charity that supports parents who fear their child may be at risk of abduction.
She said in Scotland a legal loophole meant a parent needed to take out a court interdict before the police could consider stopping another parent from removing a child from the family home.
“Unfortunately, in terms of the stats, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more cases out there than those recognised in the eyes of the law in Scotland,” she said.
“Parents may come to us because they have an inkling that something is up and to see if there is anything they can do, but for some parents they may simply go to work that day and come home and their child is gone.
“It can be a very distressing time for parents, and also, of course, for the children.”
Alison Todd, chief executive of charity Children 1st, said children who are removed from their families can suffer long-term distress.
“Abduction, whether actual or attempted, can be hugely traumatic for a child,” she said.
“Children who are removed from their family environment are likely to experience stress and upset.
“The best interests of children should be at the forefront of all our actions and we should do all we can to keep them safe and secure,” she added.
In one case of abduction in Scotland last year, a women in Perth was forced to phone the police after her daughter was approached by a stranger in a playground, where she claims he tried to lure her to leave with him.
In October, a man in Glasgow admitted to abducting a six-year-old girl and was arrested.
The Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “This confirms that in most abduction cases the perpetrator is known to the family but there is now a significant aspect involving strangers.
“The figures need looked at more closely, but ultimately we need to be looking at what can be done to catch these criminals.”
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said that anyone who has concerns about a possible child abduction should contact the police.
She added: “Police Scotland is committed to protecting and keeping children safe within our communities, focusing on prevention and working in partnership with key stakeholders in the public, private and third sectors to continually improve child protection services, with a view to identifying those that may be at risk and take early and effective interventions to prevent crimes occurring.
“There are a number of reasons why such offences (abductions) are committed.
“By delivering a multi-agency approach to these incidents, we are better placed to identify any threat, manage risk and prevent harm to the children in our communities.”