What is the current trend of substance use and abuse among children in the city?
It is a disturbing trend to see children as young as seven getting into drugs and becoming addicts. The worst part is that they are seen taking drugs in open areas, especially on roads. Missing children using drugs or child beggars using drugs may add to the category, but there are cases where children are completely and purely into drugs in Chandigarh.
How many such children are staying at Snehalaya at present?
Out of the 350 children staying with us, 16 were victims of drug abuse, while six were found to be purely into drugs. The youngest one among them is seven years old and the eldest one is 14 years old. All are males.
How does a seven-year-old get addicted to drugs?
It is clearly peer pressure. He sees his elders doing it and the same people will never stop him from doing that. Instead they will lure him more into it. Although there are not many children at Snehalaya who were into drugs, the city is home to a large number of such children. It is difficult to approach each one of them, which is why we want the community to help us.
How do we identify children who are into drugs and how does Snehalaya counsel them?
The Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CCPCR) conducts a survey to rescue children who do drugs or are hooked on smoking and alcohol. As per the Juvenile Justice Act, if a child is found addicted to alcohol or drugs, which leads to a behavioural change in him/her, he/she should be sent to a clinic for care as per the orders of a competent authority. Unfortunately, we lag behind in this provision. We also do not conduct counselling. We go by natural detoxification. For example, we keep a child for 10 days and after that we assume that the child has got the required dose. I think we have not been able to tap the psychological part of it. We do not have any de-addiction programmes for children in the city, or a dedicated de-addiction centre for children.
If we do not have drug de-addiction programmes for children, how does Snehalaya deal with the children who are purely into drugs?
I don’t think that we are dealing with children who are into drugs as it should be. We need to go deeper to know the reasons for addiction and the timeline of it. This can only happen if we have a de-addiction programme. Counselling at a holistic level tends to deal with the behaviour and the generic issues, but we do not get into the specific issues here.
Which areas do these children belong to?
As per the findings of a recent survey, it was found that Manimajra and Sector 25 were the areas where the maximum number of children were found consuming drugs. They were economically not sound, or their fathers were alcoholics and their mothers had left home because of that. We came across children who were working to fund their fathers’ drinking habit or to support their parents. But since they were earning, they had the freedom to explore all sorts of drugs. Recently, we had a couple of children from Punjab who used to go around collecting newspapers and then sell them just to buy drugs. We have sent them to the Child Rights Commission in Mohali.
How do these children manage to find drugs that easily? Can’t the narcotics department in collaboration with the UT Administration monitor the medical stores closely?
It’s not about getting a drug from a medical store anymore, it’s not about consuming cannabis or opium, and it is not about nabbing drug dealers. It is all about going to a hardware shop and buying things such as thinners, solutions, paints, Feviquick and Iodex which are more than enough to get a high. These are all legal substances for which no prescription is required to buy them. Thus, street children, child beggars or child labourers can easily afford them. We cannot stop the supply of these substances. The narcotics department also does not monitor the hardware stores in the city.
Where should we start the monitoring from?
A couple of years ago, I had done a study on club drugs in Chandigarh. The trend said that the people who had money were addicted to chemical drugs. As per the data, students of classes VIII, IX and X were also into chemical drugs. Therefore, the seeds of awareness should be planted in schools. Children in the age group of 6-14 are easy targets. It is not only the UT Administration, but also the community and the NGOs that need to come forward to help eradicate this menace.
How many such cases have come up at Snehalaya since January?
Under various categories including missing children, child beggary, rag-picking, child labour, kids of single parents or orphans, sexual abuse, physical abuse, etc, the Child Rights Committee has received 450 cases since January. The most number of cases (110) fall under the category of street children. As many as 49 cases pertain to sexual abuse.
If not counselling, what all purposes does Snehalaya serve?
Snehalaya acts as a shelter because we do not have a shelter home for such children in the city. If we get into the provisions of the Act, it says that when children are rescued or found abandoned, they should be moved to a shelter home. For example, a missing child who is sent to a shelter home spends, say, two-three months there till his family is traced. However, if his/her family can’t be traced, he/she is shifted to a children’s home, and Snehalaya is a registered children’s home. This is why we have children who have been with us for four-five years. There are some children who belong to the same family. We also have children coming to stay with us and then leaving the next day.
What about the children who were rescued under Operation Muskaan? Are there any children still left at Snehalaya?
We had rescued as many as 112 children under Operation Muskaan which was conducted to rescue abandoned, untraced and missing children. Now, only nine are with us, of whom three are with us not because we could not trace their parents but because their parents did not want to take them back. The children rescued under this operation were largely from Sanjay Labour Colony and Manimajra.