A parent’s worst nightmare. The hour has come and passed and your child has not arrived home yet. Battling against panic, the parent allows for traffic congestion and mentally factors in all the reasons why the child is late. In a panic, a gut instinct of doom sets in and on full alert, neighbours, friends and relatives are sought. Eventually, the police are called in. The child has not come home. Kidnapped or abducted? God forbid not. Sitting in fear, previous conversations and behaviour is dissected.
Such was the case this past weekend. A child, a special needs child, who travelled daily in the bus provided especially for the challenged, practically grew up in front of me. Finally completing her studies, she joined the working world. Enter the world of adulthood, money generated, access to new clothes and worldly looking make up yet inside, very much a little girl. In a matter of a few months, she had grown up too soon and with that, the intensity of young love. She disappeared from home.
Her hardworking parents were devastated, her brother sought her endlessly. Within a few hours, her picture had gone viral, all were in search of her, fearing the worst. Turns out, she disappeared with her boyfriend, so her brother sadly alluded. She was found thankfully by her dad at a local mall and brought home, hopefully with loving understanding yet firm parenting.
Recently a young child of nine was declared “MISSING”. After much searching, media intervention, prayer and a hefty reward later, a child’s remains were found in the neighbourhood, immersed in bushes, not far from roads travelled and paths traversed. It is feared that it is the missing child. Tests are being run to determine the truth.
Why is it that children run away from home? Is it?
- Peer pressure playing an active role in these decisions;
- Stressful home and school situations, divided homes, single parents, financial constraints, inability to make ends meet;
- Fear of consequence of acts committed;
- Inability to relate to parents;
- Power struggles;
- Alcohol and substances readily available on the street;
- Favouritism amongst children? Children feeling feel left out and unworthy;
- Performance issues in an overly critical home, perfectionist parents expecting too much of children;
- Shame at committing indecent acts (an age where teens are discovering themselves physically and in the day of social media, videos are posted virally);
- Teenage pregnancy?
Some kids are chronic runners, engaged in a power struggle with parents and figures of authority. Their threat of running away may result in harassed parents finally resolving to bargaining tactics instead of seeking assistance for a knowledgeable elder, religious advisor or therapist. Bargain once and the game is generally on, generally resulting in children playing parents against each other, especially divorced parents.
Warning Signs :
There may be warning signs, shifty behaviour, clothes missing and missing money.
How to help them :
- Go with your gut instinct and resolve to communicate openly and lovingly with your child. Sometimes, all children need are boundaries and a firm loving hand. Constantly doing everything for your children is not loving them, you are basically handicapping them to deal with issues in their formative years which will continue into adulthood.
- Some praise would go a long way into easing into the conversation.
- Put yourself in your child’s shoes, it is a scary world out there, more so for youngsters.
- Trust and encourage them to be more forthcoming about issues.
- Know your children’s whereabouts. No, you do not need to track their location permanently. A simple WhatsApp or a telephone call would suffice. Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but suppertime (minus the distractions of the television and mobile), is the best time to recap events.
- Pop into their rooms and chat to them without being too intrusive.
As a parent myself and a full time worker, I too err. Life can be overwhelming, rushed with traffic and home chores as well as preparing the evening meal. A balance has to be sought, found and maintained.
Ensure that your child is aware that no matter how big the problem (it is magnified to them), no matter what, a solution can be found and that you are always available as a parent and a listener. If the situation seems to be spiralling out of control and you sense a negative reaction, speak calmingly to, persuasively, draw them out. Remind them that there are always solutions. You are and always will be there for their protection.
Some Statistics :
“In Australia, an estimated 25,000 young people are reported missing every year.
Australian Federal Police, Young people a focus for National Missing Persons Week, Jul. 31, 2017, at https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/young-people-focus-national-missing-persons-week
In Brazil, an estimated 40,000 children are reported missing every year. Claudia Figaro-Garcia, Modern Pediatrics, Vol. 47 No. 1, What are missing children and adolescents?, Jan/Feb 2011, at http://www.moreirajr.com.br/revistas.asp?fase=r003&id_materia=4546
In Canada, there were 45,609 missing children reports in 2016. Government of Canada, Background – 2016 Fast Fact Sheet, at http://www.canadasmissing.ca/pubs/2016/index-eng.htm
In India, an estimated 96,000 children go missing each year. Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Missing Children of India, at http://www.bba.org.in/sites/default/files/Synopsis.pdf
In Russia, an estimated 45,000 children were reported missing in 2015. Pavel Astakhov: There is much to be done, we will work where the motherland sends us, RIA Novosti, Apr. 4, 2016, at https://ria.ru/interview/20160404/1402047748.html
In South Korea, there were 19,956 reports of missing children in 2017. National Police Agency, Missing children, including reports received and processed status, at http://www.index.go.kr/potal/main/EachDtlPageDetail.do?idx_cd=1610
In Spain, an estimated 20,000 children are reported missing every year. Paula Díaz Meira, 20,000 reports of missing children per year in Spain, Público, Sep. 15, 2010, at http://www.publico.es/espana/20-000-denuncias-ninos-desaparecidos.html
In the United Kingdom, there were 60,045 missing persons under the age of 18. National Crime Agency, UK Missing Persons Bureau, Missing Persons Data Report 2015/2016, December 2017, at http://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/publications/876-missing-persons-data-report-2015-2016-1/file
In 2017, there were more than 464,000 reports of missing children in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2017 NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics, at https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/2017-ncic-missing-person-and-unidentified-person-statistics.pdf/view”
Sadly, statistics on missing children are inaccurate due to under-reporting/under-recognition, apathy and incomplete database entries.
Children out of the fold, lost, confused and alone on the streets make parents, fearful and powerless. The thought of “not knowing” is enough to drive parents to the edge of insanity. Children need love and protection as they are our most valuable, vulnerable and dependent members of society. Their well-being should be of paramount importance. We need to reinforce and stress these words. We cannot afford to fail them for if we do, it will be as our Nelson Mandela said, There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.“