Can I run away at 14

When children disappear: help and information for parents

1. The reasons for the disappearance


Every year the German police receive more than 100,000 missing persons reports, which concern only children and young people. There are many reasons for the disappearance of children and young people. The largest proportion of up to 98% of these missing persons is made up of children and young people who leave their familiar and familiar surroundings of their own accord. In common parlance, these are so-called outliers.

Young people run away for very different reasons: They follow others, mostly older people or groups, because they have developed a relationship and at the same time are dependent on them.

Children and young people run away from home or from their familiar surroundings because they have been victims of bullying or abuse. Very often the unhappiness in itself is a motivation to run away. Sometimes the motivation is ultimately found in the fundamental urge for one's own freedom.

In these cases, too, the initiation of suitable search measures is indicated. How these ultimately turn out depends solely on the individual case and in consultation with the legal guardians and the police.

In some cases, the initially voluntary disappearance also gives rise to situations that endanger the well-being of the child or young person.

Child withdrawal

Child abduction, child entrainment, child abduction - the different terms are an attempt to distinguish linguistically between abduction by a foreign perpetrator and the act of a parent who brings the child abroad in connection with family crises and conflicts. The terms child withdrawal and child entrainment are intended to bring the family dynamics in the background into focus. However, taking a child with you or withdrawing a child by a parent is and remains at the same time child abduction, which can also result in criminal penalties.

Child withdrawal is a violation of custody rights. It occurs when a parent who does not have sole parental custody or the right to determine the place of residence takes the child out of their sphere of influence, often abroad, against the will of the other parent. Parents with joint custody must decide jointly about the child's place of residence, i.e. that a parent who is in possession of parental custody - but together with the other parent - does not have the right to relocate abroad with the child himself if the child normally lives with him or her.

Binational partnerships

Fears of child abduction or the threat of it are to be found in very many families in crises and serious conflict situations when the parents come from different countries. Experience shows that these fears mainly arise in connection with separation and divorce, even if they were a long time ago.

The background is usually escalated conflicts and the attempt to exert pressure on the partner through the child in order to achieve certain goals, e.g. to prevent or reverse the separation.

Children are more and more often made into plaything in the argument between the quarreling parents.

In binational partnerships, the fear of the foreign parent of having no prospect of being granted parental responsibility in a foreign country often plays a role in kidnapping their own child to their home country or abroad.

The central contact point for cross-border child conflicts can offer help in these cases.

Unresolved missing persons

Ultimately, in addition to the aforementioned phenomena, there is still the proportion of children and adolescents whose fate remains unexplained.

In these cases, there is often no evidence of the whereabouts of the missing child or adolescent for months or even years.

According to the BKA, 3,035 children and young people were missing at the beginning of the first quarter of 2015. Of these, 596 were children aged 0-13 years, of which 357 were male and 233 were female, and 2,439 were young people aged 14-17, of which 1,720 were male and 716 were female. These figures reflect the status quo on the day of the survey and include both missing persons that are cleared up within a few days and unresolved cases that date back up to 30 years.

There are between 200 and 300 new cases per day. About the same number are deleted every day.

Possible reasons for the disappearance can also be the voluntary disappearance or an accident. At the same time, there is also the possibility that children and young people could have been victims of a crime. Although the time factor is cited as a potential indicator of the well-being of the missing person in many disappearances, in rare cases missing children reappear after several years.

The most prominent example in the past is likely to be the case of Natascha Kampusch, who has been missing since 1998. The then ten-year-old Austrian was kidnapped in Vienna in 1998 and held captive for more than eight years until she was finally able to free herself from her situation on August 23, 2006.

In particular, the unresolved cases of missing persons, which often last for years, represent an extraordinary burden for the parents concerned and the family of a missing child.

The Missing Children Initiative works for the affected parents and families of missing children. Its aim is to provide effective and effective support in the search for missing children.

In Germany, she is responsible for the uniform emergency hotline 116000 in Europe and is the partner through which the national Amber Alert, a comprehensive information system for the population about a missing child, can be triggered for Germany.

Together with several partner organizations, it campaigns for the rights of children and young people - also preventively and beyond the borders of Germany.

For more information, see the Missing Children Initiative.

2. Prevention

The following points should help parents to take preventive action:

What makes children feel insecure, what can parents do wrong?

Above all, parents shouldn't put too much pressure on themselves to prepare their children for all conceivable situations. As long as there is a relationship of trust between parents and children and the family places value on openness, punctuality and reliability, a lot is already well covered.

Children must also be allowed to be children. Children sometimes dawdle and children can easily forget the time. A child's living environment must not only consist of safety concerns.

What exactly can parents do to protect our children?

The balancing act between protection and the child's need for protection against the freedom and independence required in development is extremely narrow. Children are less and less given the opportunity to be children. Children should be brought up to be as independent as possible and at the same time have the greatest possible self-confidence. However, this can quickly become overwhelming if the pressure is too high.

Sport can be a suitable means of promoting the child in a balanced way. With sport, children can learn from an early age how to assert themselves and where their own strengths lie. The offer for this is extremely large nationwide. For example, karate or judo training can be completed from the age of five and mechanisms of self-defense and self-assertion can be trained.

Every child's cell phone? Gas spray for every child?

A mobile phone can strengthen the subjective feeling of security both on the part of the child and the parents and provide real help in emergency situations. However, you should not fall below a certain age limit, such as the age of ten.

The individual situation is also decisive: does the child, for example, have to cope with long journeys home on a regular basis? The availability of the parents can also play a role here. Lending a cell phone can also make sense in individual cases and strengthen the sense of responsibility.

The mobile phone itself should be as simple as possible and intuitive to use. A memory function on individual keys for the phone number of parents, grandparents, etc. is also advisable. Such devices are commercially available with a so-called prepaid card, i.e. limited call credit, for less than € 20.00.

Weapons, which also include a gas spray, are generally not an effective means of self-defense for children.

Should you let the children tell you all the details of the day?

The open discussion in the family is an important point. This can be specifically promoted through rituals within the family, such as having dinner together as an integral part of the daily routine. In this way, every family member can report on the day's experiences and it is more quickly noticeable as soon as someone is depressed. In this way, children often find it easier to confide in others with their worries and fears.

Here, however, the right balance between protection and freedom is particularly important. Like every other person, children do not always want to reveal everything they experience and what moves them down to the smallest detail to others. Parents should develop a sensitivity for this. Building a good relationship of trust is better than tight control.

What should parents instruct their children to do?

  • Whenever possible, stay where other people are.
  • Never be ashamed of being scared. Your fear can save your life.
  • You can shout "help", get help, and run away.
  • You do not talk to strangers and you do not have any assignments!
  • You decide who can touch your body!

Is it possible to teach the children behavior in a playful way? How?

Of course, many behaviors can also be trained in the game. This is often very effective, since mechanisms and rules that are recorded in a playful way are particularly well accepted. Role-play in the form of “what-to-do-if” with parents, siblings or friends can contribute positively to this.

Children have a lot of respect for adults, want to be polite and respond to requests. Should we forbid you to do this?

No. The basic trust of our children in society must not be destroyed, with all caution. Children have to learn to be polite and at the same time determined. Incidentally, this often works very well.

Conversely, it is of course also true for adults to respect the dismissive behavior of children. Children often experience that their soft yet serious "No!" Is not heard. Adults violate their limits and that also on the physical level: Children are petted, hugged and kissed, whether they want it or not.

What if a possible perpetrator comes from your own circle of acquaintances?

The risk of becoming a victim of a crime is immensely higher for both children and adults if the potential perpetrator is someone they know. Here there is often a lack of natural inhibition threshold for every person to allow potential perpetrators to get close to them in the first place. Trust does not have to be gained by fraud - it already exists.

Basically, fixed rules should also apply to close friends and relatives. Constant physical contact, such as hugging, kissing and caressing against the child's clear will are taboo. Parents should represent the rights of the child towards third parties in a determined and polite manner.

For further information, the Missing Children Initiative, together with the police psychologist Professor Adolf Gallwitz, designed a child protection primer on risk prevention. The safety rules contained therein provide parents with guidelines for talking to their children about dangers and fears and conveying their rights and strengths to them. You can find the child protection primer on the website of the Missing Children Initiative.

3. Missing case

There are many reasons why a child does not come home at the agreed time: In the most harmless case, the child is out with friends and has forgotten the time.

Parents can and should trust their gut feeling as soon as they are very worried that their child will not come home, that no one knows their child's whereabouts and that their child cannot be reached either.

Basically, in this case the following applies: Parents or legal guardians should immediately visit a police station or dial the emergency number 110 or the European emergency number 112! Nobody should be unnecessarily shy of a “false alarm”. In an emergency, this will determine the well-being of your child. It is therefore also important for parents to telephone their child’s friends, parents of friends and their siblings and neighbors to ask. If this phone search is unsuccessful, you should expand the circle of respondents. If the parents live in a house with land, they should also search this thoroughly and not skip the basement or attic. If possible, friends and acquaintances should also search the surrounding area, for example on the way home from school, favorite places, meeting places for peers and friends. If the parents decide to leave the house, it should be ensured that the phone is operated by someone they trust during this time.

In order to enable a quick and successful search, it is also advisable to put together an information folder. This folder should contain:

  • a recent photo of the missing child
  • Missing child's date of birth
  • external characteristics such as hair color, eye color and size
  • Missing child's clothing
  • special physical characteristics
  • Special features such as: earrings, braces or glasses.

For further support in the public search for your child, the Missing Children Initiative is available around the clock on the hotline for missing children 116000. You can also submit the missing person report via the initiative's website here.

Important: The hotline for missing children or the missing person report via the website does NOT replace the police emergency call and should only be made after the missing person has been reported to the police.


Website of the Missing Children Initiative
The adoption of this text is done with kind permission.


Lars Bruhns, Member of the Board of the Missing Children Initiative
Oehleckerring 22-24
22419 Hamburg

Telephone number: (040) 22813977-0
Fax number: (040) 22813977-9


Created on July 24th, 2015, last changed on July 24th, 2015