Kidnapping, in law, the act of taking away and holding a person without his or her consent. The action may be carried out by force, threat, or deceit. The term originally referred to the seizing of a child, but the word now includes the taking away of adults also. The kidnapped person is usually held for ransom, but may be seized for political or other reasons. Terrorists use kidnapping to gain publicity for their cause or force concessions from a government.

Earlier in history, people were often kidnapped and sold as slaves. Sometimes ship crews at sea or individual sailors stopped at ports were seized and forced to work on other ships. People who are arrested illegally are also considered to be kidnapped.

Kidnapping is a crime in every country, and is often punishable by life imprisonment or death. In the United States, kidnapping is a federal crime, punishable by life imprisonment, if the victim is taken from one state to another. (The statute establishing kidnapping as a federal crime is called the “Lindbergh Act; it was passed in response to the kidnapping and murder of the infant son of Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1932.)

Children continue to be the victims of kidnappings. A parent is often the person to cause their disappearance. An alert system has been developed to notify the public of the abduction of children by strangers.