Missing and Runaway Children

February 11, 1983

Report Outline
Extent of Runaway Problwm
Plight of Missing Children
Programs to Help Runaways
Special Focus

Extent of Runaway Problwm

Growing Concern Over Plight of Runaway

Running away from home is as American as, well, apple pie. The lure of the road has beckoned millions of children from Huckleberry Finn to the flower children of the 1960s. But most children leave home for reasons that have little to do with romance or adventure. Huck Finn, remember, was escaping a father who “got too handy with his hick'ry.” And for most runaways, conditions on the road soon turn dreams of nirvana into the reality of doing without the basic necessities of life.

Although it is impossible to determine the exact number, experts believe that between one million and two million children and young adults run away from home each year. At least 100,000 children a year leave home involuntarily — abducted by a parent involved in a custody dispute. In addition, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 children a year simply disappear. Some of these children return home, but every year about 2,000 missing children are found dead. Many are never heard from again. “Finding missing children,” President Reagan said last October, “has become a national problem.”

Runaways are also a national problem. Parade magazine writer Dotson Rader called the nation's runaways “the most abused and neglected segment of our population.” Many runaways find themselves in an emotional bind, forced to choose between living under what they consider intolerable conditions at home and the hazards of life on the run. Young runaways are particularly vulnerable, not only to the physical risks of living on the streets, but also to pimps and criminals who take advantage of their inexperience and force them to work as prostitutes, in pornographic films or as drug runners.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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