Runaway girls: a disturbing trend in Saudi Arabia

Cases of runaway girls are mostly isolated incidents but have sounded an alarm in every home that lacks strong family ties

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Even though cases of girls running away from their homes does not occur very often, the very fact is that it happens at all is alarming for Saudi society. In a society that puts great emphasis on its cohesiveness and customs and traditions.

Even though cases of runaway girls are mostly isolated incidents, they have sounded an alarm in every home that lacks strong family ties, balanced dialogue and proper parental supervision, Al-Riyadh Arabic daily reported. In some cases, social networking websites and mobile phone applications such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook have been blamed for encouraging girls to engage in behavior that can harm a family’s reputation.

Some cases show that the motive and reason for running away is to carry out immoral or deviant acts. In others, girls see escaping as the only way to remove themselves from a situation at home that may threaten their wellbeing such as a forced marriage or sexual abuse by a relative.

Professor of sociology and crime at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University, Dr. Ibrahim Muhammad Al-Zabn, explained the reasons that lead to girls running away.

“From the family perspective, scientific studies have shown that the family might be a catalyzing factor for the escape. There are numerous factors that provide the opportunity for girls’ escape. These include the family’s lack of attention to girls or subjecting them to numerous pressures due to the parents’ ignorance on the correct methods of raising children such as excessive harshness, indulgence or the father and mother neglecting to raise their children properly,” he said.

Dr. Al-Zabn went on to say that a lack of understanding between the father and mother, effective dialogue in the family and lack of communication between family members can contribute to girls wanting to leave their homes.

“What can make matters worse is the role the media and the Internet play as they have changed many of the social and religious values among girls. This weakens the family’s role and its ability to protect its sons and daughters,” he added.

Studies have shown that emotional deprivation can be the main cause for girls feeling frustrated and isolated, hence the desire to escape. “The mother forms the basic source for emotional satisfaction but it has been noticed recently that she is preoccupied and cannot provide love and affection to her daughter, so the girl looks for emotional satisfaction outside the family.”

Dr. Muhammad Bin Mutrik Al-Qahtani, member of the teaching staff in the Department of Psychology at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University agreed with Dr. Al-Zabn on the causes that lead to girls running away from their homes.

“These are among the most sensitive cases being faced by some families. It is a thorny and complicated issue. Family violence in particular causes serious physiological harm to the girl. Families must also insure that they listen to their children, give them their financial rights and respect their personal space,” he said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Jan 11, 2014.