by Jennifer Shakeel
Right now there are anywhere from 1.3 to 2.8 million runaway and homeless children on the streets in this country. The next time you are in a room with your children and their friends I want you to consider this somber statistics… 1 out of every 7 children will run away from home before they turn 18. Will your child be one of them? Will it be your child’s best friend? More importantly, do you know why children run away from home?
First I am going to tell you my own story. When I was 17 years old, I ran away from home… determined never to go back. I wasn’t a bad kid… actually if you ask my parents I was the perfect kid. I didn’t get into trouble, I followed the rules, I got good grades, didn’t party… to other kids my age, I was boring. To all onlookers from the outside, we were the perfect happy family. So why did I run?
Now I could go into the entire story here as to what lead up to me leaving… but this isn’t the place for that. The night that I left was close to the end of the school year. My father was home, he had been drinking… and he and I got into an argument. You need to know that he had recently moved back in after leaving my mother for another woman in another state because he “just had to know” if he was meant to be with this other woman. My parents had been married at that point for 18 years. Today I don’t even remember what the fight was about, all I remember is him jumping over the kitchen counter coming after me, he grabbed me by the throat and swung me over a dining room chair… when my mother got him to let go of me… I got up and ran out the door.
I ran, I ran until I stopped crying and then I started walking. I avoided the main streets, I walked the allies… I didn’t know where to go. All I could think was that I had to make it across town to my grandmother’s house… there I would be safe…. I never made it there.
Eventually I did go home. I was worried about my younger siblings. My father never said he was sorry… we never spoke of what happened. The point is that I went home. There are millions of runaways though that do not go home… and not every runaway is a troubled child.
Teens runaway for a wide variety of reasons including arguments with family, problems in school, issues over their sexual orientation, influence of peers and influence of child predators. The run may be an impulsive run as mine was… or it may be a very planned run. The bottom line is that teens run due to neglect or abuse of some type. They run because they see no other way.
The sad part is that many of these teens… who do not make it home… find that the streets are not safer, in fact they are more dangerous than home life was. Many of these children turn to drugs, prostitution and criminal activity just to survive. What many people fail to realize is that there are different types of runaways.
There is the situational runaway – which happens to be the largest group of runaways. These are the kids that run for a day or two or three… usually after a fight with parents or other family members. Some of these kids will be become repeat or chronic runaways. Going farther each time, staying away longer and eventually they will end up with a less then noble group of people.
Unfortunately there is another group of runaways. These kids are known as throwaways. This are kids whose parents abandon them or told them to leave or the parents abused or neglected them severely.
“Seventy-five percent of runaways who remain at large for two or more weeks will become involved in theft, drugs, or pornography, while one out of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Gay or bisexual youth are even more likely to be involved in prostitution.” (http://www.focusas.com/Runaways-WhyTeensRunAway.html)
Here are few other heartbreaking statistics put out by The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico (pdf):
- 325,000 children are reported as being sexually exploited in the United States annually. Of that figure, 121,911 ran away from home and 51,602 were thrown out of their homes by a parent or guardian.
- Among runaway and homeless youth, approximately 30% of shelter youth and 70% of street youth engaged in prostitution in order to meet their daily needs for food, shelter, drugs, etc.
- 75% of children who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation are from middle-class backgrounds.
- 40% of the girls who engaged in prostitution were sexually abused at home, as were 30% of the boys.
In the next article I am going to offer you tips on how to prevent a child you care about from running away.
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse. As a mother of two incredible children, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting. One of my children has ADD, our journey of learning to come to terms with the diagnosis and figuring out what works best for us has been a challenge and a joy. Our son was diagnosed about two and half years ago, and we have had our ups and downs, joys and sorrows. If I can just offer you one day of hope or one idea that may work to help you and your family then I know that my purpose has been fulfilled.
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