More than 260 children under 16 were abducted in the West Midlands over the last three years, shocking figures obtained by The Birmingham Post reveal.
The vast majority of them – 247 – were snatched by persons other than their parents, sparking concern over youngsters falling prey to paedophiles or forced into arranged marriages by other family members.
One Birmingham expert last night called for more police resources to tackle the danger of children being abducted for the purpose of sexual abuse.
Professor Kevin Browne, director of the centre for forensic and family psychology at the University of Birmingham, said: "There are lots of reasons for child abductions, some of which are more sinister than others.
"When children are abducted by strangers sexual abuse is the main reason. Another reason could be when someone is not mentally healthy and the abduction of infants is because they have lost their own baby.
"The other interesting thing in a city like Birmingham is how many of them are relatives abducting children and taking them back to their home country for arranged marriages."
The figures, obtained from West Midlands Police by a Freedom of Information request, do not provide a breakdown of motives for abductions. But a force spokeswoman claimed anecdotal evidence suggests most abductors were likely to be family members.
They could be acting on behalf of a mother or father in disputes over custody, or helping parents force their children into marriages against their will.
However Det Insp Colin Avern, who heads West Midland Police’s paedophile unit, said: "There will be a proportion that are taken for sexual exploitation, though I would imagine that would be a fairly small number.
"Fortunately stranger abduction is still fairly rare."
Det Insp Avern also stressed in most cases children were returned to their parents or legal guardian.
Only 16 child abductions between 2004 and 2006 were by parents, with almost half of them taking place last year, indicating an upward trend.
The reverse, however, was true of the far greater proportion of youngsters abducted by "other persons" than their mother, father or legal guardian.
In 2004 there were 103 abductions falling into this category; in 2005 the figure was 82 and by last year it had dropped to 62.
A breakdown of incidences also reveals hotspots for child abductions across the region. Birmingham’s Stechford area, a police operational command unit that includes Small Heath, Shard End and Sheldon, had the highest number of child abductions, with 34 over the three years.
Next worst was Dudley South in the Black Country, which includes Halesowen, with 24 abductions, followed by Aston with 15 and Handsworth with 14.
The number of arrests for child abduction offences during the three years was 110. The number of cases that went to magistrates court was 63, of which 32 were referred to crown court for trial; 14 were dismissed; 11 were found not guilty; two were committed to Crown Court for sentencing and only one was given a custodial sentence.
However, Prof Browne said more resources needed to be directed into tackling the abduction of children for sexual abuse and greater efforts made to convict perpetrators.
"Where there is sexual abuse only one in five are arrested and one in ten prosecuted because of a lack of evidence that sexual abuse took place," he said.