In 2013 and 2014, 67% of runaways were girls whereas ten years earlier the boy-girl ratio was still balanced, according to a study by Child Focus and the University of Liège. The results were published in Brussels on Wednesday in the presence of Queen Mathilde. Of the 1,694 cases dealt with during these two years, six out of ten runaways were aged 14 to 16 years. In addition to this category, 7% are between 10 and 12 years of age and 1% is between 6 and 9 years of age.
Child Focus does not explain this overrepresentation of girls, but assumes that authorities and parents consider girls to be more vulnerable than boys, and therefore communicate faster in the event of a runaway.
The number of runaways from institutions has also increased. They were one in four in 2004, compared to one in three currently. According to Child Focus, children from institutions are also overrepresented, as institutions are forced to report the disappearance of their residents as quickly as possible.
Most runaways do not stay away from home for very long. 75% of the children return in less than a week, or even one to two days for 38%. However, 8% of young people stay away for more than a month.
Unable to feed themselves or find shelter, the runaways sometimes opt for dangerous solutions like delinquency, drugs, prostitution or association with criminals, underlines the organisation.
According to Heidi De Pauw, executive director of Child Focus, it is “absolutely necessary to have better knowledge of the profiles of young runaways” and to adopt “a global multidisciplinary approach to prevent and combat the phenomenon”. The organisation also stresses the importance of accompanying young people after a period away from home, even after they have returned to their families.