BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – IT is a very troubling situation to parents and, by extension, family members when a child, especially a teenager, goes missing or, rather, runs away from home.
Like many countries the world over, many teenagers in St. Kitts and Nevis had been reported missing and, unfortunately, over the past six-plus years two of them never returned home.
The first one was 17-year-old Jakeel Alford of St. Paul’s, who was reported missing on Thursday, June 7, 2012 and his burnt remains were discovered in a 180-foot well in the White Gate area on Tuesday, June 19, 2012.
The second one was 17-year-old, Leanna Napoleon of Keys Village, who was reported missing after she had written her CSEC EDPM exam at the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College on Monday, May 8, 2017. Her body was discovered in a shallow grave in the Buckley’s Mountain area on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Quite recently the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force had issued bulletins of five missing teenagers (three males and two females). Fortunately, they did not suffer a similar fate but all of them had reportedly returned home unharmed and in good health.
Apart from the two homicides, the big question is: Why did these teenagers go missing or run away from home?
In seeking an answer to this question, a research was done by this writer who concluded that a combination of circumstances and factors could lead to teenagers being driven from their homes.
From time immemorial the family has been considered the first institution.
According to Amitai Etzioni (1983), “The family is the elementary cell of social life. It is here that mutuality is first experienced and civility is first taught. In other words, the family is the first educational institution. All other institutions build on the family’s educational achievements - or must remedy its failures - in evolving the personal foundation of relating to others (mutuality) and to community (civility).”
Etzioni further posited that the family is also the most elementary mediating structure, in that “its members are the ‘others’ most likely to rally to one’s defence against the State. Moreover, the family, by setting patterns and providing services for its members, reduces the demands on the State - so long as it is functioning well itself”.
According to an article written by Samuel Yesuiah and published in the New Straits Times on April 21, 2018, there are “push” and “pull” factors that drive teenagers from their homes.
He noted that frequent quarrels and misunderstandings in the home among husband, wife and children could lead to unhappiness and a disturbed home environment.
“Poor families, single parent families and dysfunctional families face greater challenges with growing children, who resent the home environment and atmosphere. This does not mean that children in rich families do not run away from their homes. Rich overprotective parents, who push their children to the limits in their studies and curb their freedom, run away to seek freedom elsewhere.”
He stated that parents play a significant role in the lives of their children, but when the home has no peace, freedom and love, the young teenagers would seek these elements outside the home. And this is magnified when the children have no interest or inclination to attend school.
Peer pressure and a number other external factors can pull teenagers away from their homes, as troubled and unhappy children are easily influenced by their peers and even strangers.
When these children run away from home they will be exposed to much danger and risks and can become involved in criminal and gang activities.
As said by Yesuiah, “Some may become addicted to drugs, while the girls may end up as prostitutes. This is a serious issue and concerned parties need to work together to resolve the issue.”
He stressed that children should be given a channel to voice their problems and grievances so that they could be advised and counselled.
Conclusively, the most common reason why teenagers run away from home is family problems, which might include fights over things such as money, grades, or strict rules.
The consumption of alcohol or the use of drugs can also play a role in them running away, as well as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at home.
It is therefore recommended that parents or guardians should give more attention to their children or wards, and they also need to monitor their friends and their movements.
This writer strongly believes that parents should not only be parents, but also friends, brothers/sisters and confidante to their children.
By establishing such relationships, there will be the creation of trust and love as well as the eradication of fear to communicate.
Also, the police, non-governmental organisations and schools need to increase awareness campaigns and programmes to educate children on the dangers of running away from home.
Not to forget the religious organisations; they too must play the important role of reminding parents of their roles and responsibilities in bringing up happy children.
We all must strive to maintain the African proverb, which says: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
In its most recent missing bulletin in which a teen had returned home safe and unharmed, the police indicate they would work along with the Child Protection and Probation Services to further their investigations.
However, like justice, it must not only be done, but also seen to have been done.