KZN sees an increase in adolescent runaways
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Durban: KZN has seen an increase in the number of adolescent runaways in recent weeks and when families request assistance, private security companies and small organisations are usually first to respond. But often when the missing teens are found, not much information is shared, giving rise to all sorts of speculation.
There are no obvious consequences for teenage runaways found safe and unharmed where resources have presumably gone to waste, according to experts.
A 16- year-old girl left her Reservoir Hills home last Sunday without her cellphone and without informing her family. A few days later, it came to light that she had approached a man for a lift the same night and he had dropped her off in Hillary. Following days of intense searches, the teenager was found unharmed.
Pietermaritzburg almost came to a standstill when a 13- year-old girl, from Northdale was also reported missing last Sunday. The community and various organisations spent the day and most of the night following leads and paying visits to various neighbouring homes. The girl was located in the Northdale area without any visible injuries but appeared to be cold.
A public request to help locate a 17- year-old, was widely shared two weeks ago after she left her South Beach home. Last Thursday she allegedly returned unharmed.
In early May, a 15-year-old allegedly ran away from Trenance Park with her mother’s 41-year-old husband. The pair packed their bags and fled. It was the teenager's relatives who informed her mother of the romantic relationship with her husband. The man was arrested in Mount Vernon weeks later.
Adeshini Naicker, acting director at Childline KZN, said there had been at least five cases in the past year where 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.”
Naicker stated that teens that run away are not necessarily bad kids but are often feeling pressures they need to escape from or when they have made bad choices and are afraid to face the consequences, they choose to run. She urged parents to call the police immediately should their children run away or go missing.
“However there are many things a parent can do to speed up the process and not waste resources. Contact all your child’s friends, school and neighbours. Get a bank printout and call log from your child’s cellphone service provider. It is also important to be honest with the police if you believe your teen has run off with a boyfriend. Provide details of the boyfriend. This will save the police time and resources.”
Jacqui Thomas, director and co-founder of the Pink Ladies Organisation for Missing Children said there were no statistics available for teens who go missing and were found in the company of their friends or boyfriends and girlfriends but confirmed that cases of that nature had increased nationally.
“In a home situation where you might have an alcoholic mother or father or both, or drug users. How can you expect a child not to want to get away from that place?” she asked. “Children are creatures of habit, they like their own beds, they like the comfort of their own homes and for a child to want to leave that safe environment there has got to be something terribly wrong with that household.”
She explained that the moment a child leaves the safety of their home they become a prospective victim therefore considering wastage of resources was unnecessary.
“Anything can happen to that child on the streets. It might be of 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.”
Dr Sharon Auld, child psychologist, said there were many reasons why teenagers might be found with a particular person. She said these reasons range from feeling understood and supported by the person, to being coerced and manipulated by them.
“It is important not to generalise but rather to look at each on a case by case basis. It is impossible to speculate, each teenager has a unique set of circumstances which needs to be taken into consideration,” she said.
Auld shared that she had seen an upturn in her practice of both parents and teenagers at their wits end not knowing how to cope.
“Parenting teenagers during the Covid-19 pandemic can be overwhelming. It is important for parents to remember that they are not alone and to be encouraged to reach out to friends, religious leaders, and health care professionals alike to get a fresh perspective.”
She said rather than looking for warning signs parents should be proactive in creating a home environment where difficulties can be acknowledged and addressed.
“Parents are encouraged to talk with their teenagers. While this can be difficult at times, if they share stories of their own experiences growing up it can encourage their teenagers to also open up.”
Questions sent to the KZN Saps were not responded to at the time of going to print
The Sunday Tribune