Sorwar Alam, Dhaka: There is nothing more tragic than seeing a young child snuffing the life out of himself through drugs. And yet this has become a common sight in the Bangladeshi capital where most people have become so used to the unfolding tragedy in front of them that they simply just ignore it.
Milon is one such 12-year-old boy who is living rough on the streets of Dhaka. When Anadolu Agency found him, he was sniffing glue, the drug of choice for most children, on the footpath of a busy road.
He was surrounded by three boys like him. It appeared that they were enjoying the harmful substance, but then appearances can be deceiving.
The young boy said it had already been four years since he left his house. He said it became unbearable for him at home after his father died and his mother remarried.
“My stepfather did not like me. He used to beat me every day. Then I left the house and started living on the footpath,” he recalled.
Now he earns a living by collecting paper and plastic from garbage. And all this hard-earned money then goes into feeding his drug habit.
Millions of addicts
According to the head of Association for the Prevention of Drug Abuse (MANAS), Arup Ratan Chaudhury, an estimated more than 2.5 million children were drug addicts in Bangladesh.
Street children, who are said to number 3.4 million, are the primary targets of drug dealers.
The Bangladesh Children Rights Forum (BSAF) also estimated that 85 percent street children in the country are suffering from drug abuse.
The Dhaka-based nongovernmental organization said 19 percent of such children use heroin, while 28 percent took tablets and another 8 percent injected drugs.
Cannabis, heroin, stimulant or sleeping pills, glue and gasoline sniffing are popular among such children in Bangladesh, the BSAF added.
According to the Department of Narcotics Control, children aged 8 to 10 were taking cannabis, cigarettes and glue sniffing while children aged between 12 and 18 were using phensedyl – compound found in commonly used cough syrups — and heroin.
Yaba pills are also quite popular among children of middle class or higher-middle class backgrounds, it said.
Young adults also affected
Moreover, around 77 percent of drug abusers are young people aged between 16 and 35 while approximately 20 percent of current drug addicts in Bangladesh are women, it added.
Babu, who is in his 20s, said he began his journey into drugs with marijuana along with cigarettes at the request of one of his friends.
Now he is hooked on to heroin and injects the poison into his veins at every chance he gets. You can see the infection spreading in both of legs due to his dangerous habit.
He said there was a time when he used to be the favorite child of his family.
“I have four sisters….I used to take money from them…Now I am a street beggar. The money I get from all day [of work] is used for my injections,” he said, adding that he did not have any family anymore.
“Now I don’t have anything to think about and work for. I take this [drug] for satisfaction,” he said.
“I know it’s not good for me but I cannot live without using it. It is a part of my life.”
Children like Milon and young adults like Babu say it is very easy to get your hands on drugs in the slums. Everyone can sell, buy and use it, they say.
Apart from Marijuana and heroin, phensedyl, Yaba recreational pills and other locally produced drugs are also freely available.
The one other thing common between children and the young adults is that they all dream of getting back to a “normal life”.
“I am ready to go rehab center. But no one is coming to take us,” Babu said.
Inadequate rehabilitation centers
There are simply not enough drug treatment and rehabilitation centers in Dhaka. Some nongovernmental organizations have stepped in to help but they all say that the government needs to do a lot more to tackle the monumental social problem.
Nabila Tarannum Khan, chief consultant and clinical Psychologist at the Cabin — a Thailand-based group that works for treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts, urged the government to launch a comprehensive campaign that includes public and private organizations, schools, universities and the civil society.
Sultana Jannat Shikha of the Bidyanondo Foundation that is involved in education of street children pointed out the government’s reluctance in saving the children from drug abuse.
In the capital, there are some syndicates who control the street children to meet their own interests and use them for illegal drug business and begging, Shikha said.
We often face difficulties from syndicates whenever we try to save the street-children, she added.
Bangladesh Department of Narcotic Control Director General Mohammad Jamal Uddin Ahmed told Anadolu Agency drug abuse had been on the rise in Bangladesh since early 2000.
Ahmed said there were four state-sponsored drug rehab centers while the number of privately-operated rehab centers were 218.
He said the government intends to launch a campaign against drug abuse among children “very soon”.
But while the government ponders about taking the issue seriously, children like Milon and youngsters like Babu will continue to inject poison in their bodies on the dirty footpaths and corners of the capital city as a world of opportunities and hopes passes by them.