NEW DELHI: Shrouded deep in Delhi’s underbelly lurks an abstruse secret. The average age of children indulging in substance abuse in the capital is 13.7 years, according to a study by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) on Substance Abuse by Children.
The study conducted by the Delhi government body in June found that 100 per cent of the children in conflict with the law were drug abusers, 95.5 per cent of them staying in child care institutions were on drugs and 93 per cent of street children consumed narcotics.
Street children are on a perpetual high of smack, brown sugar, marijuana (ganja) and hashish (charas). Those who can’t afford these are addicted to inhalants like ink eraser fluid, petrol, Iodex and glue. Others are hooked to sleeping pills and cough syrup. Most of them are on a cocktail of drugs and share the same needle, increasing their vulnerability to AIDS.
“The highest number of children consuming drugs are school dropouts,” states the study. As many as 88 per cent of children got addicted to drugs due to “peer pressure”, 57 per cent of street children have been on drugs for more than five years and 56 per cent of them want to quit substance abuse.
DCPCR interviewed 500 street students, 500 children living in children’s homes and 500 children in child care institutions. Data was also collected from the departments of Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare and Education and from National Institute of Social Defence and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, apart from NGOs, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Delhi State Legal Services Authority and from UN organisations working for children in Delhi like UNODC, UNICEF and WHO.
DCPCR’s Chairperson Arun Mathur told The Sunday Standard, “Substance abuse by children needs to be addressed immediately. Places where children are more prone to drugs should be identified. After that, the government can think of de-addiction and rehabilitation.”
The Department of Women and Child Development is finding out the exact number of addicted street children. The department’s assistant director S C Vats told The Sunday Standard, “Around 90 to 93 per cent of street children are consuming drugs. We plan to assess the problem.” He said that places like Yamuna Bazaar, Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid, Connaught Place, Mehrauli, Chhattarpur, Badarpur, Mahipalpur, Rohini, Civil Lines, Old Delhi, Seelampur and Sultanpuri, railway stations, bus stops and depots, East and North East Delhi Pusta roads, slums in Jahangirpuri and Nand Nagri are filled with children consuming drugs. He added that the department gets five to six calls per day from parents or family members of children and college students about their addiction.
Recently, the mother of a 14-year-old boy called the department for information about de-addiction centres in Delhi. She said that her son had started behaving oddly two months ago. On returning from school, he would lock himself in his room for hours. His counsellor in school had called her and had said that he had become unresponsive in class. When she searched his room, she found three empty bottles of solvent in his school bag.
The child is not the only one. Many children from wealthy and poor families have become addicts, apart from street children.
Crimes by Children: While some of these children are rehabilitated and detoxified, many take to crime to meet their urge for drugs. On July 18, two minors were apprehended with four others for killing a security guard and his brother, and committing a robbery at the Delhi United Christian Senior Secondary School near Raj Niwas. The children were from the streets and were drug addicts. They were friendly with petty criminals, who were also drug addicts. On July 20, a juvenile was held for murdering a gardener at a farmhouse in Fatehpur Beri after he refused to give money to the accused juvenile.
Three students of a government school—aged between 12 and 14—confessed that for the last one year, they were involved in thefts and were buying drugs. On February 2, one of them was found unconscious on a street near his home in East Delhi. During inquiry, he confessed that he was consuming drugs for the last two years with two friends and they had started committing crimes.
Last year, Delhi Police had received a complaint that children who take drugs in the open can be a menace for women and passersby in Connaught Place. Police identified 24 children in the area and sent them to a children’s home.
Modus Operandi: Drug peddlers generally operate in slum clusters near schools and colleges. They first lure students who smoke to try drugs for free. When they get addicted, the peddlers force them to sell drugs to other students.
Then, a peddler calls him on his phone posing as a police officer and threatens to arrest him. The peddler starts extorting money from the student. They also force the student to sell drugs to girls, who are later forced into prostitution.
Comorbidity in Substance Abuse: Substance abuse is a mental health concern. The DCPCR report indicates that children taking drugs have a higher risk of developing conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity. Apart from that, needle sharing among drug users increases their vulnerability to HIV.
Rescue Schemes: The government is taking several measures to prevent substance abuse by children and offers services for rehabilitation. Delhi has seven government detoxification centres and four centres run by NGOs. These are, however, not children-specific. The Child and Welfare Department’s request to Delhi Health Services to open detoxification centres at government hospitals for children was turned down, citing that hospitals are already under pressure due to massive footfall and lack of beds.
The government claims that it is rigorously implementing the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, which prohibits selling tobacco products to persons below the age of 18 and at places within a 100-metre radius from the outer boundary of an institution of education.
■ A study by NGO Chetna revealed that there are around 1.5 lakh to two lakh street children in Delhi who use drugs
■ A 2011 study by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan found that 50,000 children live on the street and a majority of them are into substance abuse
■ In 2013, the Department of Women and Child Welfare and Directorate of Education identified 98 government schools as vulnerable to drugs
■ A 2013 survey by Don Bosco National Forum for the Young at Risk, working on street children and youngsters, revealed that 69,976 children live on Delhi’s streets.
■ DCPCR interviewed 500 street students, 500 children living in children’s homes and 500 children in child care institutions.