KINGSTON, Jamaica –
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PREVENT EXPLOSION OF RUNAWAY CHILDREN
Anger sets in when the public is asked to assist in finding a child who goes missing and when the child is found no explanation is provided to them. This has been happening at a more rapid pace lately.
However, key is what to do with a child who runs away from home. It cannot be a blanket solution that they be charged for wasting police time, disciplined by parents or guardians, sent to state agencies for committing the offence of running away from home, etc. Yes, there’s an offence called “running away from home” that can land guilty children into St Michael’s School for Boys, St Jude’s Home for Girls, etc. There’s another related offence where children can be classified as “beyond control” and sentenced to similar institutions.
But the real issue, on a case by case basis, must be: what leads such children to run away from home in the first place. For example, are they running away from an abusive situation at home? Abuse doesn’t only have to be sexual but can include verbal, psychological, physical, etc. Or, is it that the child is being alienated at home and that they find solace in another person? Is it that there’s so much bacchanal among others in the home (eg, between parents, other siblings, etc) that the child is running away from such? Is it that the promises by others are so attractive that they lure the children to leave their homes for such temporary betterment?
These can be some situations in which some children find themselves. Of course, running away from home is a very bold step, especially for a young person, and they may be pressured to do so by others. It could be the only way that they perceive is the best way to get out of their situation.
What’s needed to address this situation? Proper systems whereby such children can gain easy access to help and guidance that must also be confidential. Are they adequate in our school system, communities, religious organisations etc?
If a survey was done across primary and secondary schools in T&T, what do you think the children’s answers will be as to whether there are adequate systems and services they can access if they need confidential and professional guidance? Many of us are parents as well, what do you think? Is it an overwhelming yes?
There are some hotlines that children can call but to what extent are they known to children, what’s the quality of people behind those anonymous phone lines, have they worked over time, etc? Probably an independent evaluation should be made of these and they can be strengthened if necessary.
Don’t take us the wrong way. There are those children who are bent on being deviants and would run away from home or go “missing” to engage in illegal and illicit activities or even on a joyride for a short period of time. These have to be dealt with in another way. First-time offenders can be cautioned, counselled, be given a suspended punishment to refrain from other similar such activities etc. Repeat offenders can be given stiffer penalties. But at the end of the day, whether first timers or repeaters, these are children and we need to understand why they’re running away from home. We need to find solutions to the situations that generate such deviant behaviour in the first place.
We as responsible adults must put ourselves in the situation of parents whose children go missing. We cannot believe for one moment that it can never happen to us.
With technology’s rapid expansion and the easy availability of smart phones and other forms of communication, you don’t know to whom your children may be talking and what advice they’re receiving. It could be their very friends in school, neighbours or relatives who may be advising them. Of course, we cannot stop the role technology is playing. We have to deal with it head-on.
For a child to take the decision to run away from home, it cannot be an easy one. Whatever pressures are at play, whether push factors or pull factors, we have to minimise the effects of these factors on children. These pressures will always be there, and will always be reinventing themselves in different forms in time. It’s how the children deal with them. We can’t lock them away from it. They have to learn how to treat with it. And, this they have to do while doing all of the academic work, domestic chores, community work, religious activities etc, that they may be involved in.
Urgently, the relevant authorities and stakeholders must come together to deal with this quite worrisome phenomenon; if not, it’s set for an explosion! Behaviour gets copied easily. We have to nip it in the bud before it becomes more widespread. Of course, all reports of missing children must be treated as quite serious because it could very well be real instances of kidnapping, abduction, etc. We need also to deal with people who lure children to leave their homes. They can’t be left unpunished!
IAN K RAMDHANIE, MSC,