Girls running away from home [Archives:2009/1226/Reportage]

January 19 2009

Yemen Times Taiz
The number of girls running away from home has increased relatively of late according to police stations reports. Because of the conservative Yemeni culture parents usually do not report that their daughters have run away because of the shame this brings to the family.

Yet, many reasons have prompted girls to renounce all social norms and traditions and leave their houses to go away especially if with their boyfriends, in spite of the consequences that awaits them.

Social studies show that the reasons behind the elopement of Arab girls are similar. Only little differences occur according to the conditions of every society. They indicate that this phenomenon is aggravating and that it should be dealt with as a social problem, not through secrecy. The studies revealed that the outstanding reasons of elopement are poverty, disintegration, weak religious faith, and negligence of family and school.

A Yemeni governmental study conducted by the National Center for Social and Criminal research in 1990 on boys and girls who leave their houses without knowledge of their families showed that boys constituted the majority at 91.6 percent, with girls totaling 8.4 percent.

Cases in Yemen confirmed that some girls attempt to be enrolled in girls associations after they elope instead of returning to their families. Another Yemeni study also conducted by National Center for Social and Criminal research in 2005 showed that the number of girls running away from home is continually increasing and called on families, schools, and concerned bodies in the government to pay attention to the problem.

For example, in August 2008, nine girls aged between 10 to 40 years old – three of them sisters aged 18, 20, and 22 – eloped on the same day. In December of the same year, the study registered 20 elopement cases. One of them was a 20 year-old married woman who ran away due to oppression by her husband, whereas the others were aged between 11 to 25 years old.

These are some registered cases that concerned bodied were informed about, but the real number of Yemeni girls who run way is likely to be much higher. This is particularly given that Yemeni society is conservative and families don't make their daughters' escape public knowledge, as they believe that such a problem will bring them disgrace.

The Yemeni governorates that witnessed the highest number of girls' run away are Raimah, Hajjah, Aden, and Ibb. Girls eloped to other governorates, but they are found very often in hotels and dance clubs. Intelligence sources confirm that some girls begin elopement within the same governorate accompanied by their female friends; sometimes, they come back home. But if they had been away for a long time, they refuse to come back to their families.

A statistical study conducted by Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior indicated that elopement of girls has seriously increased, as the ministry registered 850 cases in 2007. Egypt witnessed the highest number of girls' elopement as over 7 thousand eloped, according to the latest statistics the same year.

Awadh Al-Radadi, Saudi Deputy-Minister of Social Affairs, attributed the reasons of elopement to several social and cultural variables that Gulf societies, particularly Saudi Arabia, witness. He said that these variables lead to the elopement of girls from their houses. In addition, families don't understand the psychological needs of their daughters. He further said that some daughters are subjected to pressure inside their families. He pointed out that the pressure families exert on their daughters or, on the contrary, giving them excess confidence, are among the major reasons behind the phenomenon.

Traditions between different Arab societies are similar. They are characterized by being conservative, particularly in case of problems concerning their daughters. Therefore, the reasons of elopement are similar in the Arab societies, including family disintegration, violence against the girls or harassment, influence of friends, imitation of what is broadcast in satellite channels, weak role of schools and lack of home monitoring on the girl's behavior.

A twenty year-old girl of Sana'a said that she was subjected to harassment by her step father. As a result, she began looking for a young man who can provide her with affection.

“That was how my story started. Then I eloped from my mother's house to Aden and lived in a house where youth