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Fact Check-Tweet overstates number of children who went missing in the United States in 2020

Updated to fix broken Twitter link

A tweet posted on the account of a United States representative overstates the number of children who went missing in the country in 2020.

Lauren Boebert (Rep.) wrote on Twitter (here ): “365,348 children went missing in 2020. You haven’t heard a word from the media about it. There enlies (sic) the problem.”

Reuters has dealt with a similar claim regarding missing children here.

The 365,348 figure is misleading. It accounts for the total number of reports for missing children made in 2020, not the active number of missing cases.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), 365,348 missing person records were filed for juveniles between the age of 0 and 17 in 2020 (here). This was down from 421,395 the previous year.

As explained by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the leading clearing house of information about missing children in the U.S., these numbers represent reports of missing children (here) - not active cases. This means that if a child runs away multiple times within the year, each instance is entered into the NCIC database separately and counted in the annual total.

“Likewise, if an entry is withdrawn and amended or updated, that would also be reflected in the total,” the website adds.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, the NCIC had 89,637 active missing person records (here). A total of 30,396 – or 34% – of those were for missing juveniles under the age of 18, or 38,869 – 43% – when juveniles are defined as under 21 years of age.

Therefore, of the 365,348 missing children (between the age of 0 and 17) reports recorded in 2020, only 30,396 – or about 8% – were still active cases at the end of the year.

Similarly, the NCMEC said it had helped law enforcement groups, families and child welfare agencies with 29,782 cases of missing children in 2020, with 27,349 – or 92% – of those being resolved.

Reuters reported in 2018 that although stories about kidnapped children do make headlines, abduction in the United States is rare (here). On average, fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers in the country per year since 2010, the FBI said.

From 2010 through 2017, the number ranged from a low of 303 in 2016 to a high of 384 in 2011, with no clear directional trend. In cases where children were abducted, it was far more common for a non-custodial parent to be the kidnapper: this was reported 2,359 times in 2017, the FBI data showed. 

Meanwhile, in 2012, the then president of the NCMEC, Ernie Allen, told Reuters the chances of finding an abducted child had dramatically increased due to technological advances in the way searches are conducted, and a greater awareness that fast action saves lives.

The center’s statistics showed that, at the time, the recovery rate for missing children in the most dangerous cases in the U.S. – such as abductions by a stranger or a family member wanted on a felony arrest warrant – had risen to 97% in 2011 from 62% in 1990.

Allen added that the rate was even higher when including all missing children: “More than 99% of children reported missing in America in recent years have come home alive.”

VERDICT

Misleading. Although there were 365,348 reports of missing children in 2020, many of those returned home and the true active figure by the end of the year was around 92% lower.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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