RIYADH – The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) has conducted the first-ever study to determine why young women between the ages of 16 and 25 run away from home.
The study also recommended a number of measures to tackle the problem in the country before it gets out of hand, according to a report in Al-Madina newspaper.
“It has not reached a serious level in Saudi Arabia due to the religious nature of Saudi society,” the study stated.
However, researchers warned early action should be taken. They said girls and young women are the future mothers of the nation.
“This affects the reputation of our conservative Muslim society. The country’s officials are determined to deal with it early, before it becomes serious, because it might lead to Shariah, social and security problems,” the study said.
The study tried to answer 16 questions related to the causes and effects of the problem. It also proposed a number of solutions. It focused on the magnitude of the problem, the efforts of the Hai’a, and legal and criminal perspectives.
The study looked at factors including family relations, deviant female friends, personal reasons, drinking liquor, taking drugs and flirting.
The study also considered the negative effects on young women, their families, society and security authorities. It also focused on measures that should be taken to prevent and resolve the problem.
The study outlined 14 objectives including identifying the magnitude of the problem; its effect on the religious, social, economic and security sectors; legal and criminal perspectives and mechanisms for dealing with the problem.
There was also an attempt to highlight the relevant Shariah rules, identify methods used to lure girls and young women from their homes, and why they responded to the enticement.
Researchers also reviewed methods used by other countries to tackle the problem, suggesting preventative methods, determining how to help those who run away return to society, establishing practical programs for society to deal with such cases, and the efforts of the Hai’a to address the problem.
The study found that women running away from home were causing grave Shariah, security, health and social problems. It pointed out that these problems could be resolved once the reasons and solutions were determined.
The researchers said that action was needed to prevent it becoming a phenomenon later on, “especially since the matter is considered embarrassing and extremely sensitive for the victim and her family”, the newspaper quoted them as saying.
If the runaways refuse to return to their families, it would be necessary to find a way out of the stalemate that is Shariah-compliant and ensures that the honor of the young women is protected, the study recommended.
10 years of data
The study was restricted to official statistics about runaways in the Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 (1418H to 1428H). It also included a field study of social care homes for young women in Riyadh, Makkah, Asir and the Eastern Province. The views and experiences of these young women were also included in the study.
The study also considered the views of those detained in women’s prisons in these regions, female students at secondary schools and universities, judges of district courts, Hai’a staff, the Bureau for Investigation and Prosecution, university professors, investigating officers, female sociologists and social workers, and female counselors at schools.
Researchers also examined experiences and data in Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
From 2001 to 2007 (1421H to 1428H), there were 529 cases in the Kingdom of girls and young women running away from their homes, according to Hai’a statistics.
Riyadh topped the list with 342 cases; there were 98 in Makkah; 36 in the Eastern Province; 23 in Madina; nine in Tabuk; five in Al-Qassim; four each in Jizan and Al-Jouf; three each in Asir and the Northern Frontier; and one each in Najran and Hail.
Wide range of views
The study involved conversations with people in several categories including runaway Saudi women being held in care homes and women’s prisons. Researchers also spoke to female Saudi secondary school students; university orientation-year students; judges of summary courts, Bureau for Investigation and Prosecution investigators, Hai’a directors and staff, female social workers and sociologists, female student counselors at secondary schools, male and female Saudi Shariah teachers, psychology and social psychology experts at universities, and police officers.
In the six-month period taken to collect data, researchers found 109 young women had escaped or run away from care homes and prisons, which it said confirmed the Hai’a’s success in limiting the problem.
The Hai’a also successfully tackled problems related to girls and young women being blackmailed and threatened, the study said.
From 2001 to 2007 (1421H to 1428H) the Hai’a arrested 195 blackmailers. The vigilance of security authorities, including the Hai’a, also resulted in the swift arrest of those escaping from care homes and prisons, most of whom were apprehended less than a week after they escaped.
The study found that 23 percent of the escapees who were detained were initially apprehended by Hai’a staff.
Cooperation between the Hai’a and crime-fighting bodies had curbed these problems and crimes, the study noted.The study differentiated between criminal and non-criminal escapes.
The study confirmed that judges would determine the punishment for escapes and that penalties would be doubled for repeat offenders. Penalties could include death for the crimes of luring innocent girls and young women to run away from their homes.
n Young victims
The study revealed that 51.4 percent of females who ran away from home were aged between 16 and 20, and that 38.5 percent of them were aged 21 to 25. This indicated that younger females were more vulnerable to enticement, sweet talk and false promises, the study said.
The study also found that 52.3 percent of runaways had intermediate school certificates or had achieved lower levels of education, 36.7 percent held secondary school certificates and 6.4 percent were university graduates or held post-graduate degrees. About 58.7 percent of the runaways were students and 32.1 percent were housewives, according to the study.
Most runaways single,
from stable homes
The study found that 52.3 percent of runaways were unmarried, 28.4 percent were divorced and 16.5 percent were in other categories.
Researchers were surprised to find that the highest percentage of runaways being held in custody were from stable family environments; 45.9 percent were staying with their parents while the rest either lived with only one parent, a step-parent or only with siblings.
The study found that 80.7 percent of runaways owned mobile phones and about 45 percent knew how to use computers.
The great majority of them had not been outside the Kingdom: 80.7 percent had never traveled abroad, 16.5 percent did so infrequently and 2.8 percent did so often.
About 46 percent spent their leisure time watching television while the remaining percentage enjoyed activities such as accessing the Internet, visiting relatives and friends, and reading.
Levels of family piety
The study indicated that 48.6 percent of the girls who ran away from their homes came from moderately pious families, 32.1 percent were from families that were weak in piety and 18.3 percent from very pious families.
Motivations for running away
The runaways were most often affected by sweet talk that led them to leave their homes with male strangers, with 42.9 percent affected by promises by young men that they would marry them.
A total of 15.7 percent responded to threats that their pictures or voice recordings would be published. The least effective approach was men promising to give them money and gifts.
About 45 percent of the girls said their families always interfered in their personal affairs, 36.7 percent said there was some interference and 18.3 percent said there was no interference in personal affairs. — SG