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Delhi's drug crisis Part 4: Capital requires more beds for child addicts in hospitals, stronger community policing

Along wide roads, under mighty flyovers, behind the tall walls of metro stations and lost in the maddening crowd at Delhi’s stations and bazaars, there are 70,000 children who sniff sulechan (solution), chew tobacco, or smoke gaanja and smack. This saddening statistic was laid bare by a survey conducted jointly by AIIMS and the Women & Child Development Department in 2016.

Similar statistics on a national scale are now needed to pull the entire country out of denial regarding the problem of drug abuse among children. Nobel laureate Kailash Sathyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan had filed a writ petition demanding the ‘implementation of a national action plan for the national police on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, in a time-bound manner, including conducting a national survey on the extent, trends and patterns of drug abuse, especially by children and youth’. BBA had stated that ‘due to inaction and non-compliance of the government’s action plan for reduction in drug demand and supply, the fundamental rights of children across the county are being violated’.

Inmates at a de-addiction centre point to a poster showing the daily disciple that they follow. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Inmates at a de-addiction centre point to a poster showing the daily disciple that they follow. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

In response to the petition, in 2016, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to complete a national survey and generate a database within a period of six months, formulate a national plan within four months and adopt specific content in school curriculums under the aegis of the New Education Policy 2016. “This is a serious issue and cannot be swept under the carpet,” a bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and DY Chandrachud had noted. HS Phoolka, the lawyer who appeared on behalf of BBA in court, spoke to Firstpost. “There is still no system in place in schools and colleges to identify symptoms of child addicts. Unless there is awareness among teachers and communities on how to identify and report children who are into drug abuse, it will be difficult to solve the problem. It should become mandatory for principals of schools to report such cases to child welfare departments so that action can be taken,” he said that community awareness is necessary because in most cases the parents are in denial.

The Health & Family Welfare department of the Government of Delhi issued a direction vide a gazette notification on 31 July 2017, in accordance with the provisions of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 77 of Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, on a ban on the sale of correction fluids, thinners, diluters and vulcanised solution/sulochans to children. As per recent data of the Department, there are 60 earmarked beds for child addicts in seven Delhi government Hospitals. This includes 30 beds at Deep Chand Bandhu Government Hospital, 5 beds each in Maulana Azad Medical Hospital, Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital, Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Postgraduate and Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS). The Ministry has instructed these hospitals to use earmarked beds for juveniles with substance abuse only and has also developed and circulated to them a Standard Operating Procedure.

Among some of the children we interviewed at the handful of government-funded de-addiction centres were children who confessed they had worked as pickpocketers at New Delhi railway station. Some even said they were thieves in government colonies. These children, aged 7-14, mostly inhaled puncture fluid when they worked as fruit vendors, balloon sellers and ironsmiths. The children looked young but sounded relatively much older. It was almost as though the childhood in them had been burnt up, although its ashes were still potent with fire. They inhabited a strange and scary place between life and death.

Part 1 of the series

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series

Updated Date: Nov 14, 2017 17:08 PM

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