Substance use among street children in Bangladesh
Md. Munjur E. Moula
The picture of substance use among street children is more visible in both urban and metropolitan areas in Bangladesh. A very few media stories have portrayed the use of inhalants, narcotics, cannabis, and alcohols among street children; and also common use of chewing tobacco, biri, cigarettes, and sleeping drugs. In this paper we will see, according to James A.Inciardi and Hilary L.Surratt (1997), risk of HIV/AIDS and other blood born, relationship-based diseases are to be the subject of concern, because of large number of street children engaged in sexual activities, both remunerated and non-remunerated. This paper is mainly based on written works and the author's personal work experience gained while working in Bangladesh.
Brief history of substance use in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has a long history of illicit substances use, particularly of opium and cannabis. According to Ray R. (UNDCP 1998), from British colonization time to 1984 it was possible to purchase opium from government controlled vendors, and cannabis has been widely used in Bangladesh society as a prescribe medicine. Besides, many scientists argued that since 1987, the production of Cannabis has been banded but its availability can't prevent through only the passage of legislation and policy implementation. Considering this situation, in 1996, the government of Bangladesh conducted a 'Rapid Situation Assessment' survey on substance use among Bangladeshi people. Where we found that the number of substance users including children to be between 100,000 to 1.7 million (UNOCD 2007). According to Milky S.A (1999), approximately 200,000 street children (ages 514 years) living only in the metropolitan area of Dhaka. Medical doctor Milky also said his study of 'Vulnerability to STD/HIV/AIDS among the street children of Dhaka metropolitan area' found that some of street children were addicted to injectable drugs and other substances (Milky 1999). However, recently one non-governmental organization 'Misplaced Children' estimates 56.5% street children who are aged between 12 to under 18, are indulged in substance use (Bhorar Kagoj 2003).
Aforesaid circumstances clearly call for prompt action in order to control the production of illicit substances and it uses. That's why in 1999, according to Ahmed S.K (2001), the government of Bangladesh initiated some programmers as to address the vulnerability of substance use and misuse through its Narcotic Control Act 1990, and United Nations Convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, Article 14 of 4. However, it seems the problem of substance use has aggravated! There are multiple causes behind this problem. One of the main causes is the possibility to absence of reliable information about the bad effects of both short-term and long-term use of substances.
Why street children indulge in substance use?
Substance use among street children is nearly a universal phenomenon because they are confronted with the harsh realities of their day-to-day life. Indeed, in Bangladesh, 'substance use among street children has emerged as a concomitant of life on the streets' like in Brazil (James A. Inciardi and Hilary L.Surratt 1997). In addition to this, we also need to know more about why almost all older street children have had indulged in substance use in their daily street-life? According to Hawkins, Mauin, Catalano, and Arthur (1997), there are a number of individual and environmental factors in ones street- life that can cause one to start using substance (BARKER G. 1992; Moula 2002).
Structural form of substance use among street children
According to 'Rapid Situation Assessment' survey report, the most commonly used substances in descending order were cannabis, cough syrup, sedatives and heroin; the glue sniffing is relatively recently, a new trend among street children (Moula 2012). Street children have strong knowledge about Bangladeshi culture, substance use, and or misuse. For example, they know substance use means do something as taboo things, which always welcome them to brothel punishment. So in order to make them free from such punishment (a) almost all street children have had preferred to use it at their pocket-places (b) some of them takes their substances in lonely places, abandoned buildings, inside the manholes, school and college grounds. Bearing in mind, more interestingly, street children use private language especially when they are together in a group or going to engage in deviant or illegal activities like drug sale and use (Moula 2012). It is the same Bangla language only to hear but the meaning is different, which could understand only “risk group” of street children. For example, tel khabi means do you want to sniffing gas oil. Question remains why they do so? It requires further investigation to shed light on this sector!
In Bangladesh, majority of the street children take substances with their friends in different groups which consists in 5 to 7 members, ages 7 to18. Knowing that, why street children normally take their substance in different groups? There are multiple causes behind their group activity. For example, (a) we know that street children do prefer to mutual live, mutual work, and mutual understanding; (b) group activities means to ensure their sharing behaviour which is a culturally or socially accepted practice (see Menna,et al 2009); and (c) the children who are unable to access or afford substance they have joined in a group and also it is an extension of a sexual relationship, particularly for girls street children. In practice, according to world-class sociologist Anthony Giddens, structurally street children are able to produce and reproduce their rules and resources through institutionalization interaction systems in order to survive on the streets. This system, in my view, allows street children to consider time, space, rules and resources in order to form their different groups. To get clear picture on this issue, in my view, we must have to know about different groups of children's different psychosocial profiles, different patterns of use substance and so on (see Marina Del Rey 2000).
Risk factors for HIV/AIDS
According to many national and international organizations, e.g. National AIDS Committee, ICDDR, CARE, Family Health International, LDRO, Padakhep and so on, injecting substance users among street children in Bangladesh is to be high-risk sub-population getting HIV/AIDS and blood born diseases like Syphilis, Hepatitis etc. Because they use it in a group through vein and muscles same needle and Syringe (Lifson and Halcon 2001). Although it is not only the main way to contribute to increase transmission of HIV/AIDS, but also street children are frequently subjected to sexual abused by police and others, therefore the two maladies are related.
In sum, substance use among street children is a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Most of the street children significantly use the readily available and relatively cheap substances in their day-to-day life. This is one of the main barriers to protect themselves from the harmful effects of substance use in general. So for the greater interest of a child survival, protection, and development rights we must have to address the vulnerability of substance use among street children in Bangladesh. Otherwise, the street children would be stale down and the country can't develop itself. As a final word, many social scholars suggested that before assessing the impact of the existing programmes and policies, the Department of Narcotics Control Bangladesh, service providers of street children, and the affected community should re-design methods of curtailing the problem of substance use and helping the children off the street.
The writer is a Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Energy Technology, Aalto University, Finland.