Running Away From Home in Singapore: Is It Legal?
Adolescence is a trying period of time. In this overwhelmingly critical phase of growing up, children may feel as if running away is the only solution to their problems.
Be it family conflict or abuse, there are many reasons a child may resort to such a measure. It is no small decision, and there are numerous logistics to take note of when running away. Whether you are a child on the run or a worried parent, we will be diving deeper into legal issues that may arise when a child runs away from home in Singapore.
In this article, we will cover:
Is It Illegal to Run Away From Home?
It is not illegal to run away from home in Singapore. However, as we will soon discuss in this article, there are a number of dangers that arise from the act. Parents may also turn to certain courses of action for the return of their child.
What are Some Dangers of Running Away From Home?
Running away from home leaves you to fend for yourself, and exposes you to many dangers and uncertainties. You may also become especially vulnerable to crime if others view you as an easy target for taking advantage of.
Some risk factors include:
- A shortage of food and water;
- A lack of access to proper medical help if you fall ill;
- A lack of shelter in times of bad weather; and
- An increased risk of falling victim to sexual offences and other crimes.
Turning to other people for shelter or other forms of help may seem like a good idea. However, as we will elaborate in the upcoming sections, there are many concerns and problems that come with it.
Is It Legal to Harbour a Runaway in Singapore?
When a runaway turns to someone for help, this not only poses a risk to them, but potentially brings dire repercussions to the other party as well.
Under section 361 of the Penal Code, keeping a minor away from their lawful guardian without that guardian’s consent is regarded as kidnapping from lawful guardianship. This means that even if there are good intentions, you can be charged with an offence for housing a runaway.
In addition, if you harbour a runaway child and commit any offences against them, then you will be charged and convicted of these offences accordingly.
Case study: Woman takes advantage of runaway girl
In 2018, a 16-year-old girl ran away from home and was taken in by a 34-year-old woman. The woman, who was a sex worker, began to list the minor’s sexual services online. The 34-year-old woman also advertised the victim as a 21-year-old and accompanied her to her sexual meet-ups.
When the woman got wind that the authorities were on to her, she instructed her flatmate to destroy any incriminating evidence. For her crimes, she was charged with aiding multiple men to obtain the sexual services of a minor and instigating a person to destroy evidence. As a result, she was sentenced to imprisonment for 3 years.
What Can You Do If Your Child Runs Away From Home?
Try to get in touch with your child and track their whereabouts
If you are a parent or a guardian, your child running away from home is undoubtedly a terrifying experience for you. In this case, swift action is needed and you should first try to get in touch with your child. Whether it is calling them, tracking their whereabouts through their social media accounts or reaching out to their peers, try your best to locate your child.
Lodge a police report
If you are unable to locate your child on your own, you may want to lodge a police report. There is no minimum time you have to wait before reaching out to the police if your child goes missing. As missing-person cases require immediate police action, you should make a report through the Emergency Police Line (999).
Once you have made your report, the police will conduct immediate investigations on the whereabouts of your child and advise you accordingly.
Apply for a Family Guidance Order
As both a preventive and remedial solution, you may also apply for a Family Guidance Order (FGO). An FGO is a court order issued to children below the age of 16 who display extreme behavioural concerns. You may apply for an FGO even if your child has never run away, but you are concerned that they might. It could also be a countermeasure if they have displayed runaway tendencies.
If your application for an FGO is approved, your child will then be;
- Placed under supervision of an approved welfare officer or some other court-appointed person for up to 3 years;
- Committed to the care of a fit person for up to 3 years; or
- Committed to the care of a place of safety for up to 3 years.
You may refer to our other article to learn more about Family Guidance Orders in Singapore.
What Resources and Help are Available For Runaways in Singapore?
If you are a child who feels like your situation is hopeless and that running away is your only choice, we would like to assure you that there are other alternatives for help.
For one, if you find yourself in a violent or abusive situation, consider going to a trusted adult. An adult can help you lodge a police report and/or file a personal protection order on your behalf if needed.
Depending on the severity of your situation, you may want to seek out immediate help from Family Service Centres or the Singapore Children’s Society. The organisations listed below offer services like temporary shelter, and will also assess your situation before acting accordingly:
|How to Reach Out
|Family Service Centres
|Website: (find the nearest FSC to you) https://www.msf.gov.sg/dfcs/familyservice/default.aspx
(FSCs aim to connect you to the relevant resources and providers to address your needs)
|National Anti-Violence Helpline
|Phone: 1800 777 0000
|Singapore Children’s Society
|Teenage Crisis Centre (Teen Challenge)
|Phone: 6793 7933
Running away from home in Singapore may not be illegal, but this does not necessarily mean that doing so is a good idea.
If you are a child who is thinking about running away from home, do protect yourself by reaching out to any of the previously mentioned organisations for assistance. Alternatively, if you are the parent or guardian of a child who has run away, and are unable to get in touch with your child, contact the police for immediate help.
Separately, if you are someone who has been charged with a criminal offence involving a runaway child, consult a criminal lawyer to seek clarity and advice on your position.
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