Glue Sniffing in Nepal: Forgetting Reality
Solvent abuse is a relatively new phenomenon among street children in Nepal. Low prices, and the relative ease at which this drug may be obtained, has enabled these youngsters to quickly develop addictive habits. The situation in Nepal is exacerbated by the lack of available educational facilities in addition to repercussions from the decade-long civil war that ended in 2006.
‘The glue makes these children ... forget the
realities of their lives’
14-year-old Rajen Subba works as a rag picker in Kathmandu having fled his home in the Jhapa district of South-east Nepal. He has been living on the streets in Kathmandu for the past six years and cannot afford regular food or clothing to keep warm. Rajen tries to forget his poverty and hunger by inhaling the carpet glue Dendrite.
Khemraj Puri, another Nepalese street child, collects plastic bags and rubbish in order to sell them, yet the money he makes for a whole day's work is not even enough for one meal.
Rajen and Khemraj are not so different from a Western child playing with a new toy - yet these children have only the rags littered on the streets for their playthings.
The most common form of glue used by children is Dendrite. This adhesive glue contains toluene, a sweet smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon. The solvent dissolves the membrane of brain cells and causes hallucinations as well as dampening pangs of hunger. The glue makes these children sleep easier and forget the realities of their lives.
A shocking survey conducted by Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) found that around 95 percent of the 1,200 street children living in the capital sniff glue. Indeed, children as young as five have been known to become involved. Krishna Thapa, Director of Voice of Children, a local NGO, feels “sniffing glue empowers these vulnerable children to cope with any situation on the street."
Nepal is one the poorest countries in Asia and is facing an uncertain political future. The Civil War, from 1996-2006, has taken a toll of around 13,000 lives. The conflict has hampered government efforts to deliver basic services such as health and education. The fighting has stopped, but efforts to rebuild society and restore services are
This uncertainty has led to a breakdown in family and community networks. The majority of street children come from orphanages and poor families who cannot afford to send them to school. A survey conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that children leave their homes due to dire poverty, to find shelter or to escape domestic violence or poorly run orphanages.
Children have also been known to leave home to make room for siblings; Khemraj explains that his siblings “worked in a carpet factory for very little money which wasn't enough for food and housing”. In desperation he left his parents and began a life on the streets.
Angels and NGOs
Many community-based organisations believe that schooling for street children can pull them out of poverty. For instance, the Nawa Asha Griha Foundation provides food, clothes and shelter in an educational environment.
The government of Nepal has only been active in the field of education for the past 50 years. Before that, the ruling monarchy believed it unwise to educate the masses. Even today the focus of education is on building as many schools as possible, rather than making schools accessible to the poor, training or recruiting teachers.
Indeed, according to the Rural Education Development Centre (REDC), many children do not go to school as families cannot afford the cost of books, stationary and uniforms.
The Path Forward: Education is the Key
Education is paramount to human development; the Nepalese recognise this and are committed to providing universal education. Despite the fact that substantial progress has been made in this direction, much still remains to be done.
Nepal is still trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and tradition. In the 1990s, the State clearly moved towards democratisation; nonetheless, an unstable government and tenuous leadership have not yet yielded clear benefits for the masses. A lack of financial support, too few teachers and inadequate physical infrastructure
plague the educational system.
No child dreams of being a drug addict, homeless, lonely and illiterate. Like any other child, Khemraj aspires to be an astronaut or a doctor.
Education can make this dream a reality.
Ali Datoo is a graduate of Aerospace Engineering at Imperial College.