It’s dark outside. Cold, too. And somewhere in the UK, a child has just run away from home. They’re not staying with “Granny”, they’re not even kipping on a friend’s floor. They’re heading for the streets.
Children’s charity, The Children’s Society say that 100, 000 children will run away from homes in the UK every year, with approximately 70 percent forced to do so by their parents. About two thirds of all runaways are never reported “missing” to the police. By the time you have finished reading this article, in five minutes, another child will have run away.
Ben was 12 years-old when he found himself with no-one to talk to, nowhere to go. He went to hospital with a broken arm, fractured ribs and a lie about a fight at school. He couldn’t tell anyone what had really happened, not even his Dad. His Stepmother had hit him. Soon, the hitting turned into kicking until one night, two years later, Ben could take no more. He ran to the streets, where he was faced with begging and hunger, until a man approached him and said he could live with him and his family. The man had no family. Instead, he locked Ben in a room for two days, until again, Ben ran away.
He was living in a car park when The Children’s Society first approached him, but Ben didn’t trust them. He’d been let down by too many adults before. He lied and told them that he was 17, so that they would leave him alone but, concerned for his safety, The Children’s Society came back, until slowly, Ben came to trust the project workers. Eventually, Ben attended a centre in Manchester, where he was fed and looked after, until a foster family were found for him. This is a story with a happier ending, but there are still thousands of children who go unnoticed every year.
Children don’t run away from home without reason. They run because they need to escape something, because they believe life on the streets will be an easier option. It’s not. The dangers faced by children living on the streets are often far worse than the dangers of abuse, violence and bullying that they have run from. The dangers of drug or alcohol abuse and sexual exploitation. Railway Children report that “With no support or protection, children live with constant fear, loneliness and hopelessness. They can see no way out; no opportunity to escape the relentless poverty, violence, hunger and abuse.”
No-one should have to live a life of fear and loneliness, least of all a child. With most runaways around the ages of 13 and 14, and with some as young as 11 or 12, it is time to take a stand. Our Government and local governments must do more to ensure that these children are not only seen and protected, but that they have their voices heard and their rights respected. The UK Government is bound by international law to uphold the rights of all children to (among others): “survival and development”; protection from “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”; “the highest attainable standard of health” and education. However, these rights are not upheld for runaways. Not enough is being done to prioritise the rights of children living on the streets. For too many people, these children are invisible.
The Children’s Society, believing that we, as a nation, can and should do better. Their ‘Make runaways safe’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the reasons children run away, why they are at risk, and what can be done to ensure their safety. They are asking MPs, celebrities and the general public to back their campaign and urging local councils to sign the ‘Runaways Charter’, which provides a code of conduct for authorities to ensure that their work with runaways is effective.
You can sign up and track progress of the campaign here:
You can also share this article with friends and family. Talk about it and discuss the issues it raises. Lobby your local MP. Tell them that this issue is important to you and that you are looking to them to make sure that runaways are put on the agenda. You can find out more about runaways, hear more stories and ‘get involved’ or make a donation on the following websites:
The case-study, statistics and other material all belong to The Children’s Society and Railway Children. The article is my own.