Family disputes root cause
SOCIAL workers find it hard to distinguish between children who run away from home because they genuinely want to escape an unhappy family situation and those who leave home ''just for fun''.
Mr Gary Tang Leung-shun, a social worker for the Hongkong Federation of Youth Groups, said that in the past, children who left home and took to the streets usually did so after an argument with the family.
''Family problems are the main reason children for running away,'' he said.
''But today, lots of children leave home 'for fun'. They have had no arguments with family members. They just want to get away from their parents and be with their friends.
''Cases of runaways occur most often in the long holidays, such as during Easter and Christmas, when children are free of school and want to enjoy themselves.'' Mr Tang advised parents of runaway children to immediately call the police. Besides being the correct thing to do, informing the police also showed children that running away from home was a grave matter.
''Sometimes parents think it's too much trouble reporting to the police. They believe their children are having fun and will eventually return. This encourages children to think running away is no big deal, and then it becomes a habit,'' Mr Tang said.
Children who want to escape from home do not always show signs of planning such a step. ''It's hard to say who will leave home as as some do it as a lark.
''Some child runaways approach us for help, asking for a place to sleep. We sometimes let them sleep at our youth centre when they refuse to go home and it's too late in the night to find them a bed in a hostel.'' Staff of the federation search the streets for runaways, many of whom are found at amusement arcades, and see if they need help.
Two years ago the Hongkong Federation of Youth Groups drew up a plan to build a temporary shelter for teenage runaways which was turned down by the Government.
The social workers transfer the cases to Youth Outreach when the children insist on being away from home for a while.
''It would be a good thing if the Government put up more temporary hostels for runaways so they could sleep safely, away from the danger of triad gangs,'' he said.