In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away of a person against the person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment (confinement without legal authority) for ransom or in furtherance of another crime. In the terminology of the common law in many jurisdictions (according to Black's Law Dictionary), the crime of kidnapping is labelled abduction when the victim is a woman. In modern usage, kidnapping or abduction of a child is often called child stealing, particularly when done not to collect a ransom, but rather with the intention of keeping the child permanently (often in a case where the child's parents are divorced or legally separated, whereupon the parent which does not have legal custody will commit the act). The word "kidnapping" was originally "kid nabbing", in other words slang for "child stealing", but is no longer restricted to the case of a child victim.
Child abduction / child stealing can refer to children being taken away without their parents' consent, but with the child's consent. In England and Wales it is child abduction to take away a child under the age of 16 without parental consent.
In the past (and presently in some parts of the world), kidnapping was a common means used to obtain slaves; in more recent times, kidnapping in the form of shanghaiing men was used to supply American merchant ships in the 19th century with sailors, whom the law considered unfree labour. See also impressment.
The term false imprisonment refers to the confinement of a person without legal authority. Some examples would be an elderly patient in a retirement home being illegally restrained to a wheelchair or a person held in jail or prison for a crime they did not commit. With regard to conviction and incarceration of the innocent, the term is often associated with the notion that the police or prosecution knows the person is (or is likely) being falsely imprisoned though false imprisonment in this context, based on its true definition, need not be intentional. In common law countries, the writ of habeas corpus is a legal means in which an inmate can petition a court to gain his freedom on the basis of false imprisonment; systems with different names but fulfilling the same functions are in place in most civil law countries.
Kidnapping can also take place in the case of deprogramming, a now rare practice to convince someone to give up his commitment to a new religious movement (called a cult by critics) that the deprogrammer considers harmful.
It is also legally kidnap for the police officers or agents (etc.) of one state to capture fugitives in another state and bring them back for trial. International law requires the permission of a country's government for a fugitive to be sent to another country for trial, unless the fugitive voluntarily surrenders. Most countries also have laws requiring extradition proceedings, and often extradition treaties. For example, the capture of Mordechai Vanunu in Italy by Mossad agents was kidnap under Italian law. Similiarly, the Mossad capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was kidnap under Argentinian law.
An exception is when two countries are at war. Then enemy soldiers may be captured in another country and detained as prisoners of war, and suspected war criminals and those suspected of genocide or crimes against humanity may be arrested.
Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe the relationship a hostage can build with their kidnapper.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 03:53:32