By Amritapa Basu:
Shriveled half-naked body, bare feet, unkempt shaggy hair, blackened body, dirt-filled nails, and foul odour around them to bear testimony that they haven’t bathed for days — Street children, mostly below the age of 20, working as rag-pickers — this is a sight we all are quite familiar with. But there is another point about these street children in addition to the above list that most of us are not quite familiar with — glue sniffing. (substance abuse)[nggallery id=3]
Glue, which they popularly call ‘Dendrite’, is a hot favourite among these children. Homeless as they are, they rummage through the garbage, pick up rags, run menial errands and at the end of the day, whatever little money they collect goes into buying Dendrite. Dendrite tubes are easily available at any hardware shops for that matter and sniffing it from a plastic bag is a treat for these children. Sniffing glue is a form of addiction and their effect as good as that of drugs. The glue contains toluene, sweet-smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon. The solvent dissolves the membrane of the brain cells and causes hallucinations. It releases the person from pangs of hunger and they do not feel cold under its influence.
It has been mostly observed that these street children are the ones who have fled home because of poverty, family troubles, hunger or insecurity. They are coaxed into sniffing glue by their peers and once addicted; they find it difficult to ‘survive’ without sniffing it for a single day. They enjoy this practice as in this way they can handle hunger and cold in a better fashion. But what is the effect of this prolonged inhalation? Statistics reads that of all the street children who sniff glue, 95% suffer from critical diseases which manifest only in the form of chest pain, headaches and sickness, due to which they fail to understand the intensity of the disease.
The immediate negative effects of Dendrite can be nausea, sneezing, coughing, bleeding noses, exhaustion, bad breath and loss of appetite. However, deep breathing of the dendrite or using a lot over a short period of time may result in losing touch with one’s surroundings, violent behavior, and loss of self-control, unconsciousness or even death in extreme cases. “The dependence on the smell of adhesive becomes very strong and becomes hard for the children to resist. Prolonged inhalation of toxic fumes of the solvent affects blood, heart, kidney and lungs. The adhesive contains heavy metals like lead, iron and aluminium, which reduces the oxygen carrying capacity in the blood”, said Sayeed Akhtar, Chief Medical Officer, Central Institute of Psychiatry — (The Telegraph). These children sniff more glue in winters to cope up with the cold and as a result their health conditions worsen. Some children may use as many as 15 Dendrite tubes a day and one tube can be used four-five times. In absence of proper square meals for the day, many use dendrite as a substitute for regular meals.
This menace is very difficult to tackle as one cannot prevent the hardware stores from selling the glue. Police officers often harass shopkeepers when youngsters are held with Dendrites. However, some shopkeepers being aware of this addictive use of Dendrites either increase the cost or do not sell them to minors but yet it is difficult to curb. The next difficult step is to convince youngsters not to use Dendrites.
Several rehabilitation centers exist to support the cause of street children but they do not want to go there as they are forced to give up this addiction. Many prefer returning to the street life after being released from the centers. A street urchin on Park Street, Kolkata after much pestering complacently confessed that he had run away from a rehabilitation center as they had asked him to quit sniffing glue. With a wink he said, “Yeh mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai” (it is not difficult, it is impossible). He said that apart from the glue-addiction, he was also addicted to the freedom that this stray life allowed him. “Main khush hoon” (I am happy).
Much more public awareness, personal counselling and proper and effective rehabilitation is what is required to curb this wide-spread menace. So the next time you see street children huddling around with a plastic bag, take a small step forward to stop them , it might not be of much help but each step does count.