The dynamic process of young adolescents running away from home in China : a case study of Kunming City

中國青少年離家出走的動態過程 : 基於昆明市的一項個案研究

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Yanping YU


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2015


Previous studies of young adolescents who run away from home in mainland China have primarily tried to explain the factors that facilitate these young people in the decision to run away. However, there is a lack of systematic discussion in the Chinese literature about the real reasons young adolescents run away from home and how they make the decision to run away in the unique Chinese context. Furthermore, the current Chinese literature barely focuses on the life experiences of young adolescents after they run away from home. The research gap in the current studies is the lack of an overall picture of the life experiences of young adolescents running away from home in China, and there is little in-depth analysis of the whole process. Based on a single case study of young adolescent runaways who live on the street in Kunming City in China after leaving home, this research examines the dynamic process of how they react to the macro social context and the social response during the entire process of running away from home and surviving on the street. Pilot research work was conducted at a Non-governmental Organisation for Street Children in mid-June 2011 and the second round of research fieldwork resumed from mid-March 2012 to early August in the same year. In total, 40 cases who were identified as young adolescent runaways agreed to be the research sample, and they constituted the main informants for this study. Participant observation and semi-structured interviews were used to collect data. Data was also supplemented by further semi-structured interviews with 19 relevant adult stakeholders. All interviews were transcribed and then coded, together with the field notes. This study finds that, during the entire process of running away from home, including four stages-the actual running away from home, the period after leaving home, runaway young adolescents living on the street, and runaway young adolescents leaving the street, young adolescents make each decision as a reaction to the social response and the social context surrounding them. The majority of them choose to run away from home when they negatively perceive the social responses from their family and school, and this is influenced by the social context, including urbanisation and the social views of young adolescents. The runaways utilise resources to survive after leaving home when society responds positively to them, such as offering money, food and sleeping places, and/or not driving them away from the street. They are also resilient in finding other ways to survive, including establishing a social network to support themselves, and surviving on the street by engaging in informal economic activity or deviant behaviours, when they feel excluded from the labour market, and/or when receiving a negative social response. Three mechanisms producing the dynamics of the runaway process have been identified: (1) the social response is directly driven by the social context factors, including social structure and social values factors; (2) the social response directly affects individual reactions, which are influenced by the young adolescents’ perceptions and reactions to the social response, and (3) the individual actions, in turn, directly affect the social response to them, and the social response further directly affects the social context. Policy implications regarding helping young adolescent runaways who live on the street have been outlined. A two-level intervention and prevention mechanism is suggested for both government and non-government workers to tackle the problem. The limitations of the study and the directions for future study are also discussed.

    Research areas

  • Runaway teenagers, Kunming Shi, China