When our kids and caregivers all go missing
At least three times a month, in the last few months, the Royal Barbados Police Force has issued missing persons’ bulletins, asking the public to help locate, in most instances, teenagers who have left home with or without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge and have not returned. And more often than not, the ones missing are young girls who have not yet passed their teen years.
Fortunately, those missing persons’ bulletins are followed up, soon afterwards, with a notice that the child “has been traced and is safe”.
“We thank the media and the public for their invaluable support”, is how the two-sentence update to the media usually ends. No information is provided on where the child had spent her days and nights while her family, police and the public at large hoped and prayed for her safe return.
While the police and family may want to spare the public the details of where the teenager was and what she was doing, many questions arise, including: Who or what are they running away from or to? What drives a child as young as 14 years old to leave home to seek refuge elsewhere?
And what about those adults, whether male or female, who lure them away from their families’ bosoms or harbour them while the search is on? What becomes of them?
Are the young ones counselled when they return home?
Of course, we are relieved when a missing girl is found safe and sound, and police do not have to investigate a crime in which she is the victim. But we cannot move on after just relief. Crucial questions must be asked and answered, and action taken to address what is clearly a problem in Barbados.
There are some cases where, parents admit, their missing charges are no strangers to leaving home and staying away for long periods. It comes easy to speculate about the reasons behind children leaving home when they are repeat runners; or when the police description of the missing child includes tattoos of questionable words and images; or when the teenager “frequents” certain areas –– and to judge such.
Very often, these runaways are seen as troublesome or promiscuous adolescents in search of some sordid relationship with an older male. But the experts tell us that children often run away from home because of neglectful parenting, abuse, conflict in the home, or simply because they do not feel happy or safe.
While there are also cases where teenagers simply rebel and leave home to do what they want to, it is worth investigating to take action, not only against any wrongdoer, but to get help for troubled teens. Whether it is getting them out of situations of abuse, neglect, or conflict, or counselling them, something must be done!
So far, the Child Care Board has remained silent on the recent missing girls cases. But the fact remains that it too has a responsibility to ensure the best interest of our nation’s children is served. So too do the church, social groups and, of course, parents.
Sometimes, the parents and child care authorities are themselves to be found, since they too are missing –– missing in action!