As I was driving down a local side street during school holidays, I was surprised to see a small group of kids scatter off the road.
Then it occurred to me that I was surprised because you don’t really see kids playing outside unsupervised anymore. Even in quiet suburban areas that only get local traffic, it’s pretty rare to see a group of kids playing on the footpath or in local parks.
Where are they all? My guess is that they are either inside playing on devices, confined to playing backyards, on play dates or enrolled in supervised, structured activities.
At the risk of sounding like a Nanna, back when I was a kid, we were always out and about by ourselves. At the age of six I used to leave the house before my parents were up and go play with the neighbours. I’m sure you did similar. However, the thought of my eight and ten year old boys doing that now makes my blood run cold.
Why is that? Is it so much more dangerous out there these days or are we just more aware of the bad things that can happen?
High profile missing children cases in Australia such as William Tyrell and Daniel Morcombe, as well as international cases such as Madeleine McCann are in the media constantly. Then there are the regular AMBER alerts posted on social media for missing children and news of attempted abductions across the country, not to mention news coverage of all the other atrocities that happen around the world. It is easy to see where a heightened state of awareness comes from and it is natural for parents to worry that something bad will happen to their child.
The harsh reality is that children have been going missing since the beginning of time. Well documented historical cases include the 3 Beaumont children in 1966, Sian Kingi in 1987, Keyra Steinhardt in 1999. The list goes on. In fact, the more I research, the more I never want to let my children out of my sight.
But in a country with around 4.4 million children under the age of 15 years, it begs the question: What is the real risk for children in Australia today?
Trawling through the data it is difficult to get a clear picture over time due to incongruent reporting across the years and across states.
Comparative data from ABS looking at overall crime rates from 1993 to 2013 shows that the homicide rate decreased over time, as did kidnapping/abduction. Reported instances of sexual assault did increase during this period.
The most interesting statistics I came across showed that perpetrators of crimes against children (or against anyone for that matter), are usually known to them.
- In 2007, 91 per cent of murder victims 0-10 years were killed by a parent or step-parent.
- In 2012, children aged 0–9 years who were victims of sexual assault were least likely to be victimised by a stranger (5%) but were most likely to be victimised by a family member (31%).
- In 2012, of all assault victims, only 28% were assaulted by strangers.
It turns out that children are at most risk from the people they know, rather than bad men in white vans. In fact, every search I tried for “crimes against children” or even “child abduction” predominately returns frightening statistics regarding Family and Domestic Violence (FDV).
Interestingly, Australia has the highest rate of parental child abduction per capita in the world. It is estimated that 2 to 3 children are abducted by a parent out of and into Australia each week. Another 650 children are abducted by parents each year within Australia. That explains all those AMBER alerts!
It should be noted that parental abductions are not generally reported as missing persons. When it comes to missing children, 2015 data indicates that only 9 per cent of missing person reports related to children aged 0 to 12 years. Also important to note is that an estimated 98 per cent of missing children were found alive.
As far as mortality rates are concerned, the death rate among children aged 1-14 years has decreased a 41 per cent between 1997 and 2012, with a whopping 48 per cent of those considered to be avoidable (e.g. traffic accidents.)
So what does all this tell us?
At the risk of over simplifying, statistically its seems your child is safer playing in the park down the street with neighbourhood kids than if you travel frequently in a car or go through a spousal relationship breakdown.
Of course, its impossible to know how many “near-miss” cases there are where children have been approached by a stranger and escaped.
Ultimately, your child’s safety and the measures you take to ensure it are up to you. Teaching your children how to keep themselves safe is undoubtably the best protection you can give them. Resources such as the Keeping Kids Safe! Program from the Daniel Morcombe Foundation Inc. are a great place to start.