Child runaways 'forced into prostitution, drugs and crime'

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The Independent Online

Children as young as nine who run away from home are being forced into prostitution, drugs and crime, a report claims. The Children's Society says that rather than sleep rough, many youngsters are "befriended" by adults who then sexually abuse them or lure them into drug addiction.

Children as young as nine who run away from home are being forced into prostitution, drugs and crime, a report claims. The Children's Society says that rather than sleep rough, many youngsters are "befriended" by adults who then sexually abuse them or lure them into drug addiction.

Disturbing cases uncovered in the study include a 13-year-old girl runaway who was abducted by a drug dealer and held prisoner in a flat for four months. It also reports on a 15-year-old girl forced into prostitution by an older boyfriend to fund his heroin addiction and a 14-year-old boy offered a place to stay by a "friendly" couple who locked him in a cupboard. In despair, the teenager attempted suicide by slashing his wrists and drinking bleach.

Runaways effectively "disappear off the radar" of the social services and other officials, the charity warned. It called on the Government to set up a national network of safe emergency accommodation for the 100,000 under-16s who run away from home or local authority care in the UK each year.

The charity's chief executive Bob Reitemeier said: "No child should have to resort to prostitution, drugs and crime to survive in Britain today. We need to act now to ensure they have somewhere safe to stay, out of harm's way."

The research involved a series of 23 interviews in six areas of the UK last year with children and young people aged 13 to 21 who had run away from home, been thrown out or abandoned by their parents before the age of 16.

Previous work by the charity showed a quarter of first-time runaways were under 11, a quarter ended up sleeping rough and one in seven was physically or sexually assaulted while away from home.

Sophia is now 20 and off drugs. She left home at 12 to escape sexual abuse from her stepfather, only to end up on the streets selling sex to feed a crack habit.

She said: "At that age you think everyone is against you and nobody wants you."