A runaway is a minor or a person under an arbitrary age, depending upon the local jurisdiction, who has left the home of the parent or legal guardian without permission, or has been thrown out by his or her parent and is considered by the local authorities to lack the capacity to live under his or her own accord (the latter is sometimes referred to as a "throwaway"). Runaways are equally male or female, with females the most likely to seek assistance. Runaways are a universal problem.
Current studies suggest that the primary cause of youth homelessness is family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse, and family violence. Family conflict can also be caused by sudden or drastic changes in the family composition (i.e. a divorce, re-marriage, death of a parent), parental substance abuse, youth's substance abuse, and youth's sexual activity. Once the youth becomes a runaway, the most common concern becomes the possibility of physical or sexual abuse upon returning home, followed by any substance dependency.
Consequences of running away
Runaways exhibit a higher level of destructive behavior. Approximately fifty percent of runaways experience difficulties with schooling; including dropping out, expulsion, or suspension. Running away can increase the risk of delinquency for adolescents, and expose them to the risk of victimization. The rate at which runaway teens consume drugs and alcohol is significantly higher than nonrunaway teenagers. Of those with substance abuse problems, only a small percentage seek treatment.
Runaways in national contexts
In Hong Kong, 51.1% of at-risk youth identified by social workers have the experience of runaway from ages 11 to 18. Social control theory describes the runaway situation in China. Adolescent friendships can interfere with positive influences parents place in the adolescent's life. According to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, approximately 150,000 runaway children and youth were documented in 2006 Unrealistic expectations of school has caused many adolescents to run away. Many runaways are low achievers who reported they were constantly criticized by their teachers and experienced their teachers indifferent attitude toward them. Overbearing parents authoritarian, overprotective and neglectful styles have led to adolescents running away.
Approximately 47 million runaway and homeless adolescents are estimated to be on the streets of India. The very act of running away from home in India is thought to be disrespectful, and anyone that does so will be greatly shamed by the community. Studies have shown a higher prevalence of adolescent boys running away than adolescent girls.
Familial respect is important in India. Many adolescents believe if they disrespect their parents, then they deserve to be punished or mistreated. Much of the Indian runaway population describes themselves as young people doing everything right at home, but received harsh treatment from family members all throughout life. Mistreatment consists of anything from favoring one child over another to extreme abuse.
Love causes many female adolescents in India to runaway from home. While neglectful home lives are the leading cause for running away, oftentimes underage women will flee home to marry a significant other. In some parts of India, marriages are prearranged. The disapproval of the intended partner can result in young women running away from their families to marry their true loves.
If caught, young women that runaway from home will be returned their male relatives. Refusal to return home will result in her being escorted to Nari Sanrakshan Gruh, the Women’s Protection Center or Women's Home for short, in a nearby city. Families are also likely to refuse to speak to the child, disown them, commit suicide, or to physically injure young woman or her romantic partners 
In North America, runaway children or youth are widely regarded as a chronic and serious social problem. It is estimated that each year there are between 1.3 and 1.5 million runaway and homeless youth in the United States (Coco & Courtney, 1998; Cauce et al., 1994).
Running away from home is considered a crime in some jurisdictions, but it is usually a status offense punished with probation, or not punished at all. Giving aid or assistance to a runaway instead of turning them in to the police is a more serious crime called "harboring a runaway", and is typically a misdemeanor. The law can vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another; in the United States there is a different law in every state. A 2003 FBI study showed that there were 123,581 arrests for runaway youths in the United States.
The Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds grant programs to help runaway and homeless youth. The organization also provides funding for the National Runaway Switchboard, a national hotline for runaway youth, youth who are thinking about running away or are in crisis, parents, and other concerned adults.
- International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children
- Runaway slaves
- Street children
- Underground Railroad
- Smollar, 1999; Robertson & Toro, 1998
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