With more than 2,600 youngsters going missing last year, social workers and police are highlighting the fight to help them More than 2,600 children were reported missing in Hong Kong last year amid fears that an increasing number are turning to triads, drug trafficking and prostitution. Police, parents and youth workers yesterday warned of the 'alarming' figures. Runaways as young as eight are among the missing. The latest figures show that 1,577 girls and 1,107 boys under the age of 16 were reported missing last year, the police missing persons unit said yesterday. Social workers also estimate that there are more than 10,000 children and young people wandering Hong Kong's streets late into any given night. Their concern comes as fears grow for the safety of three schoolgirls who have been missing for almost a month in the New Territories. While their disappearance is a nightmare for their parents, other families must deal with children who simply refuse to return home. One father of a 15-year-old girl is desperately appealing for his daughter to come home. 'She ran away and has been in hiding for more than a month,' said the father, who asked not to be named out of fear that his daughter would react adversely to publicity. 'We have spoken to her and we know she is safe,' said the former policeman, who has distributed photos of his missing daughter in bars, clubs and restaurants across Hong Kong. 'We just want her to come home so we can work everything out together.' Releasing the figures yesterday, a police spokeswoman warned that the number of reported cases could be inflated by repeat runaways and 'overly nervous' parents who contact police whenever their children go out without informing them. But frontline social workers say many genuine cases go unreported. Senior government social worker Maria Lau said she and her colleagues were in regular contact with the missing persons unit. 'Some of the [children], when we talk to them, are quite willing to reveal they have run away and sometimes we can persuade them to return home,' she said. She said the subject of runaways and night drifters was a matter of growing concern. 'Frontline workers say there are about 10,000 night drifters across the territory,' she said. 'The general impression is that the children go out from 11pm to 2am and then go home or back to a friend's house.' She said youth workers were working hard to reduce the exposure of such children to 'negative influences'. 'For boys we are worried about them being recruited by triads. For girls we are concerned about prostitution,' she said. She said there were many reasons why children went missing. 'A lot say their parents do not care about them... or they want to go to a place to chat with friends.'