By Alveena Salim
Have things ever got so hectic that you seriously thought about running away from home? Has your family or so called mates peed you off so much that you considered packing your bags and leaving just to show ‘em? Have you ever been subjected to extreme physical/emotional abuse and thought that running away is the only answer to your problems? Or maybe you know or have heard of someone who was forced to take such a drastic action.
Running away from home is more common then you’d think. Around 100,000 teenagers go missing each year. They make up almost half of the total number of people registered missing. A large proportion of young runaways are girls aged between 13 and 17. The recurring themes in runaways’ stories are disagreements with families (sometimes over boyfriends), pressure at school, and the amount of freedom a teenager is allowed at home (1)
In the Asian community, if a girls runs away from home she is immediately regarded as being “loose” and “immoral” and brings “shame upon her family” even if her reasons are legitimate and no boy is involved.
However if a boy does the same it’s no biggie. No one would wonder whether the boy was messing around with girls, and even if he were it would be shoved under the carpet as a small thing.
Why I ran away from home?
Forced marriages is one of the reasons why many young girls choose to run away from home. Almost 1,000 cases of suspected forced marriages have been dealt with since 2000, mainly involving links to south Asian countries (2)
“I ran away from home a few months ago. Despite my protests my parents had arranged for me to be married to my cousin from back home. When my cousin arrived from Bangladesh, I wanted nothing to do with him. Once he tried to make a move on me in the kitchen and I slapped him on his face. At that time I was also in a long term relationship with my boyfriend whom I met in University. When parents wouldn’t take no for an answer, I ran away from home and went to stay aunties home.
My parents don’t want anything to do with me unless I agree to marry my cousin, meanwhile my boyfriend’s mother doesn’t want her son to marry me as I have the stigma of being “the girl who ran away from home”. My cousin has ruined my name in Bangladesh by telling my extending family how “loose” I am. I hate my parents for ruining my life and want nothing to do with them ever again”
Of course forced marriages are not the only reason why youngsters run away from home. Some youngsters run away from home cos living at home is like being banged up in jail, sometimes over-protective families believe that by locking their sons and daughters away and keeping tabs on their whereabouts, they are protecting them from the Western culture’ the sex, drink and drugs’. Unfortunately, oppression can lead to rebellion.
I was born into a strict Pakistani Muslim background but, when I was 19, I decided to break away from my family. My upbringing was very strict, even by Asian community standards. It was backward, strict and suffocating. I was not allowed to go out on my own or even travel on buses.
I went to an all-girls school, although my father believed girls should not really be educated. Instead, all attention was focused on my brothers, who were expected to become doctors or lawyers. My parents chose a husband for me. I was engaged to him at 14 and forced into marriage at 17. When I was 19, I had had enough and I decided to run away from home. On 8 August 1991, I packed my bags and went.
I have since put myself through college and university and now consider myself as an independent career woman (3)
Another big reason why people run away is because they are madly in ‘love’ with their boy/girlfriend and know their parents will never accept it- so the only solution they see is to run away together.
I was 18 when I ran away from home. I fell in love with my dad’s best friend who was married with children. I knew that my parents would never accept our relationship so we got a secret nikah done and ran away to London. My parents knew where I was but wanted nothing to do with me unless I divorced my husband. After a few months my husband grew abusive, left me and returned to his wife and kids. I went back home and after a few years got married again. I regret running away from home. I lost my self respect, ruined my rep in society and hurt my parents.
“I ran away from home when I was 16 with my boyfriend. I thought it was love. He was older than me, a 23-year-old taxi driver. I had known him for two years, I used to skive off school and meet him on the sly. I stole a few hundred pounds from my family and took a bag of clothes with me. I’ll never forget that morning. I was so scared. I thought I’d get caught. I left the house quietly at fi ve in the morning. We went and stayed at his mate’s flat in Manchester.
It was good at first. I felt I had escaped and I was lucky to be with the perfect person. But fi ve days later my man found out his family had received death threats and his family house had been attacked. He tried to take me back to my parents after that. But when I wouldn’t go back, he beat me. Then I ran from him. When I got home no-one was happy to see me. All I got was disgusted looks and more abuse and beatings. My family still treats me like rubbish for shaming them” (4)
Sometimes, youngsters may run away from home because they are being sexually abused by a family member/close relative…yes, it’s a taboo issue, and we don’t like to talk about it, but we need to accept that it does happen.
Gemma age 17, ran away from home where she was physically abused by her father (who had severe mental health problems) and her brother. After going through eight care placements in 18 months, she attempted suicide with an overdose of painkillers and was developing anorexia.
Kerry age 17, visited social services since her early teens after revealing she was raped by a family member as a child. When running away from home she was abducted, raped and physically attacked. She acquired two significant ‘boyfriends’ who were both heroin users and encouraged her to sell sex for money (5)
Sometimes if one is being mentally/physically or emotionally abused then to save themselves sometimes running away from home is the only answer. Sometimes extreme situations call for extreme actions. It’s very easy to condemn and look down at those people who run away from home, however, that is mainly cos many of us are fortunate enough to come from families that would never do anything that’d make us want to run away. The fact is, in many south Asian families there are more repercussions for staying home and saying “no”.
The Reality of Running Away
OK, say you decide to run away from home, you probably think that there’ll be no more rules, no more parent telling you what to do, no more fi ghts, no more problems or stress. Sounds great innit? But in reality, running away is anything but fun. Have you ever thought about where you’d live? What you’d eat? How would you buy stuff? And who’d watch your back?
People with no home and no money become desperate and are willing to do almost anything just to meet their basic needs and cos of this, they often fi nd themselves in dodgy situations Sometimes runaways who live on the streets often have to steal to meet basic needs. Many take drugs or alcohol to get through the day because they become so depressed and feel that no one cares about them.
Some are forced to do things they wouldn’t normally do to make money. The number of runaways with HIV or AIDS and other diseases is higher on streets too, because often runaways might use drugs or have unprotected sex for money. Also runaways are much more vulnerable so are more likely to physically, emotionally or sexually abused. A report in 2002 by the Children’s society said Asian runaways are at more risk of violence and abuse on the streets than others who run away because support services do not understand them.
Alternative to Running Away
If you ever fi nd yourself in such a situation where you’re contemplating running away from home then please bare in mind the following points as a last resort:
- You should fi rst confi de in a trustworthy family member who’d be willing to give you shelter for a while.
- You should also contact a respected/religious member of your community who’d be willing to act as a mediator between you and your family.
- Also, get hold of a teacher you can trust and confi de in him/her
- If all else fails you should contact organisations or ring up helplines that specialise in cases such as yours (more information given below).
Running away is never a real or a long term solution. It gives massive pain to your parents, family and loved ones. There’s always a solution so you need to be strong and tackle the situation by getting support from family, friends, scholars and other professionals.
Note: All personal stories above are real-life accounts. Some names have been changed to ensure anonymity.