The increasing number of stories of missing children and suffering families helped to start the missing child movement in the United States. When the average American turned on their televisions and radios, they were bombarded with news outlets speaking of the lack of resources and information in cases of missing children. Several high-profile cases were essential in sparking the movement: the story of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh.
Missing Children Act of 1982
The Missing Children Act of 1982 was the first of many legislative reforms that helped American families locate their children. The Act authorized law enforcement to enter pertinent information about missing children into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
This database is then accessible by Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and used to help locating missing children and identify unidentified children. The Act also allowed for parents to verify that their child’s information is properly entered into the database.
National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990
The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 required Federal, State, and local law enforcement to report every case of missing children (or individuals under the age of 18) to the National Crime Information Center of the FBI. It also required law enforcement to maintain these entries with any newly discovered information and directed the U.S. Attorney General to make an annual summary of these reports.
The Act also established State requirements for reporting missing juveniles, including prohibiting a waiting period for accepting missing child reports, assisting with child search and investigative procedures, and maintaining a close liaison with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Extradition Treaties Interpretation Act of 1998:
Passed to address the language of extradition treaties, especially those aiming to bring back missing children to their families, the Extradition Treaties Interpretation Act of 1998 authorized the interpretation of the term “kidnapping” in extradition treaties to include parental kidnapping. By doing so, Congress allowed for a clearer interpretation of extradition treaties, aiming to protect the interests of American children and their parents.
Suzanne’s Law was passed in honor of Suzanne Lyall, a student of SUNY-Albany that disappeared forever in 1998. The law, passed in 2003, required police to immediately notify the National Crime Information Center every time a person between the ages of 18 and 21 went missing. The law protected individuals attending college, a group of individuals that were not protected by previous legislation.
Megan’s Law was passed in response to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka.
Amie’s Law, passed in 2005, changed State law to allow authorities to publicly release a list of sex offenders whose crimes occurred as juveniles. The law provides more tools to law enforcement by allowing police to identify and assess risk for juvenile sex offenders and notify the community about individuals likely to repeat their crimes. Amie’s Law was named after Amie Zyla, a girl who was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old boy when she was only 8.
When Amie was 17, she learned that the same boy who assaulted her was charged with multiple counts of child molestation. As a response, Amie pleaded for the passing of the law. The law addressed the issue of recidivism in crimes of child molestation but was met with much contention. Opponents claimed that the law unfairly labeled individuals, many of which already served a sentence for the crimes.
Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed by President George W. Bush in 2006. The Act placed sex offenders into a 3-tiered system, each tier having different requirements for registration. It also created a national database of sexual offenders, utilizing DNA evidence and a GPS system in tracking convicted sex offenders in a sex offender registry database.