"Neither do these children have support systems to keep away from substance abuse, nor is there a proper mechanism for their de-addiction and treatment" : Child rights activist

While nearly 60 to 70 per cent of all street children in Delhi are victims of substance abuse, there is no proper de-addiction programme or facility available to them. What has made things worse for these children is that the commonest substance of abuse, the whiteners used for erasing ink on paper, are easily available across the city. And no, it is not the stationery shops alone that sell them now, even the pan shops do so.

Child rights activist Raj Mangal Prasad said of the nearly 50,000 street children with no support and the lakhs of others who have some care available, a vast majority are into substance abuse. “They mostly sniff the whitener which is easily available. Some also consume tablets and powders of various types.”

Mr. Prasad said the biggest problem is that neither do these children have support systems to keep away from substance abuse, nor is there a proper mechanism for their de-addiction and treatment.

The problem has been compounded by the easy availability of whiteners. The Delhi Police does not act against its sale as it is not a banned substance. Also they do not clamp down on those who sell whiteners to children despite knowing fully well that the substance would only be used for addiction.

The sale of whiteners thus continues unabated. Often they are also sold at a premium to street children, who spend most of their earnings – sometimes as much as Rs.10,000 a month – on such substance abuse. “Still, it is not a priority area for the police and there has never been a campaign against such sale,” said Mr. Prasad.

As for de-addiction facilities, the former chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Lajpat Nagar said: “There are no facilities for street children in need of care and protection.”

However, “for the juveniles in conflict with law, the High Court had recently ordered the setting up of a de-addiction centre at Kingsway Camp. But the Government has not provided any such facility for ordinary street children who earn their living”.

Such children, he said, are normally sent to the psychiatric wards of government hospitals. “These, however, are no good as they have strong withdrawal symptoms and need proper treatment which is not possible without admission.”

Mr. Prasad said the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences has started a facility for such children in Ghaziabad but there children are required to be accompanied by attendants and due to this many of the single children are unable to avail of the services.

As for the role of non-government organisations, he said most of them have little resources and infrastructure to take care of the children for long periods of time. “Drug de-addiction is dealt with by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which provides funds to NGOs for treatment but not for the food and lodging of the children due to which often the street children do not get access to these services.”

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