By Annisa Essack
In recent weeks, KZN has seen an increase in the number of adolescent runaways. Families requesting assistance are usually helped by private security companies and small organisations, who are generally the first to respond.
Often though, little information is seized when the teens are found, giving rise to speculation.
Experts say no apparent consequences for teenage runaways found safe and unharmed, with resources having presumably gone to waste.
The acting director at Childline KZN, Adeshini Naicker, said there had been at least five cases in the past year when missing teenagers had been found with their boyfriends. She explained that in the event of a false report, criminal charges could be filed.
“One must also consider that the resources used by struggling organisations could actually be used for another child in dire need,” she said. “Very often, in the event of a missing child, especially one that is on social media platforms, communities and organisations from all over the country mobilise to ensure the safe return of the runaway child.”
She says in most instances, the teens who run away are not bad children but are often facing colossal pressure from which they need to escape. They also may choose to run when they have made bad choices and are afraid to face the consequences. Naicker urged parents to call the police immediately should their children go missing.
But parents can also do many things to speed up the process and help save resources and time.
- Contact all your child’s friends, school and neighbours.
- Obtain a bank printout and call log from your child’s cellphone service provider.
- Be honest with the police if you believe your teen has run off with a boyfriend. Provide details of the boyfriend.
The Pink Ladies Organisation for Missing Children, director and founder Jacqui Thomas said cases of teens running off and then being found in the company of their boyfriends or girlfriends had increased nationally. Sadly, there were no statistics available for these cases.
Thomas explained that the moment a child leaves the safety of their home, they become a prospective victim; therefore, considering the wastage of resources was unnecessary.
“Anything can happen to that child on the streets. It might be their own doing, but if that child were to have the misfortune of being raped or killed, will you blame it on the child? You cannot blame the child whether they put themselves in harm’s way or not.”
Child psychologists explain that there are many reasons why teenagers might be found with a particular person. These reasons range from feeling understood and supported by the person to being coerced and manipulated by them. Thus, it is best to look at these cases individually rather than generalise. It is impossible to speculate, and each teenager has a unique set of circumstances that need to be considered.
The pandemic has not been kind to parents and teens alike, as many will testify to being at their wit’s end not knowing how to cope. Both feel overwhelmed by the many challenges they face internally as a family and externally, with fear, anxiety, and death has become a constant.
Parents need to remember that they are not alone and encouraged to reach out to friends, religious leaders, and health care professionals alike to get a fresh perspective. Rather than looking out for warning signs, parents should be proactive in creating a home environment where difficulties can be acknowledged and addressed.