It was a winter afternoon – and behind a locked gate at the end of a quiet lane in Old Delhi, a child started crying. He was asking to be let off. When the gate was opened to let me in and then locked behind me, the howling got louder. I was told that he wanted to sniff a solution, the glue used to fix tires – a drug that apparently many young children with working class parents in the area get addicted to.
Rohan* (12) has been living for 31 days now at this children’s home near Kashmere Gate in Delhi when I met him. He had been sniffing from the ‘tube’ for 3-4 months, before the centre’s outreach worker (ORW) found him. “I found him completely unconscious. On the road,” Gaurav Nigam, the ORW, told me.
Rohan says that his friends told him that the solution would make him feel good, and he started using it – a reply repeated by almost everybody at the home. Didn’t anybody ever stop him? “Kisi ne nahi bola. Peti Market me kaun keh raha hai? (Nobody told me to. Who is going to say anything in Peti Market?)” he says. Peti Market is a locality in the Angoori Bagh area near the Red Fort.
While the exact components of industrial adhesives are not disclosed, they are known to contain volatile hydrocarbons – and are used as an inhalant to get high because they come cheaper. Prolonged inhalant abuse can lead to a withdrawal syndrome.
But Rohan did want to give up his addiction because he was afraid that somebody might harm him. “Khopche me koi kaat dega. Jaise andhere me aata hai na koi, kidney-widney sab nikaal ke bech denge (Somebody can cut me up in some dark corner. You know, somebody could come in the dark and sell my kidneys),” he told me, chuckling. Since he came to the centre, he has not had any cravings.
He used to work at a brick kiln, loading and unloading bricks. He and his brother used to earn around ₹700 in a day doing this work. His father washes cars at a body shop and his mother works there too. He told me that he hasn’t met them since he left Loni, a town in UP’s Ghaziabad district. He gives me an address of his home but repeats that he hasn’t met them in 3-4 months, since the time he came to Delhi.
When it comes to reuniting these children with their parents, Manjeet Kaur, who heads the centre, told me that they do what the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), empowered by the Juvenile Justice Act, asks them to. If the committee asks them to contact the family, they do so and produce the child before the committee. Depending on the situation of the parents and their submission before the committee, either the child is restored or stays back at the centre and goes to school.
Children without a home, working in contravention of labour laws, living on the streets, abandoned or found vulnerable and likely to be inducted into drug abuse, etc. qualify as children ‘in need of care and protection’. A children’s home provides care, treatment, education, etc. to such children.
Sometimes, Kaur told me, the parents insist that the child needs to work to support the family. “We counsel them then,” she says. “There are some parents who get so fed up with their children that even when we ask them to take the child back (who will take care of children better than their parents), they don’t listen to us. They say that the child runs away all the time – sometimes they steal – and that they don’t want to keep them,” Kaur says.
Kaur also told me that the children who get addicted to the solution are also treated according to the CWC’s directions. They are counselled first if they don’t crave for it. Or else, they are sent to a rehab centre.
The child whom I had seen crying on an earlier afternoon ran off minutes later, climbing the boundary wall. The erring worker has been reprimanded, I was told later. Nigam says that even when parents take the children back, he often finds them again in the nearby Peti Market, sniffing the solution.