By Amritapa Basu:
We are quite familiar with the sight of street children – most of them below 20 and working as rag-pickers. However, there are some aspects about that we do not often notice – glue sniffing and substance abuse, for instance.
Glue, which they popularly call ‘Dendrite’, is a hot favourite among these children. As these children are mostly homeless, they are forced to rummage through the garbage, pick up rags and run menial errands to eke out a living. Unfortunately, in many cases, the little money they earn is spent on Dendrite. Dendrite tubes are easily available at any hardware shop – and sniffing it from a plastic bag is a treat for many of these children.
Sniffing glue is a form of addiction and their effect is as good as that of drugs. They contains toluene which is a sweet-smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon. It dissolves the membrane of the brain cells and causes hallucinations. It also allows the person to not feel hunger or cold.
It has been observed that many of these street children have fled home because of poverty, family troubles, hunger or insecurity. They are often coaxed into sniffing glue by their peers – and once addicted, they find it difficult to ‘survive’ without sniffing it for a single day. They then get addicted to this practice, because they can seemingly handle hunger and cold in a better fashion.
But what is the effect of this prolonged inhalation? Most children who sniff glue suffer from critical diseases which manifest in the form of chest pain, headaches and sickness. What’s more troubling is the fact that these children often fail to understand the severity of these ailments.
The immediate negative effects of sniffing Dendrite can be nausea, sneezing, coughing, nose-bleeding, 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 the person losing touch with one’s surroundings, violent behaviour, loss of self-control, unconsciousness and 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 affect blood, heart, kidney and lungs. The adhesive contains heavy metals like lead, iron and aluminium, which reduces the oxygen carrying capacity in the blood,” Sayeed Akhtar, chief medical officer of the Central Institute of Psychiatry, says. These children sniff more glue in winters to cope with the cold – and as a result, their health worsen. Some children use as many as 15 Dendrite tubes a day, with one tube being used 4-5 times. In absence of proper meals, many use dendrite as a substitute for regular meals.
This menace is very difficult to tackle as one cannot prevent hardware stores from selling glue. Yet, police officers often harass shopkeepers when they catch children with Dendrites in their possession. However, some shopkeepers, being aware of the addictive effects of Dendrite, either increase the cost or do not sell them to minors. Ideally, the next difficult step should be to convince youngsters not to sniff Dendrite.
There are several rehabilitation centres which support street children. However, many do not want to go to these centres as they would be made to give up on their addiction, as a result. Many prefer returning to the ‘street life’ after being released from the centres.
A street child on Park Street, Kolkata, after much pestering, complacently confessed that he had run away from a rehabilitation centre as they had asked him to quit sniffing glue. “Yeh mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai (Not only is it difficult, it is impossible).” He said that, apart from the glue-addiction, he was also ‘addicted’ to the freedom that this stray life granted him. “Main khush hoon (I am happy),” he said.
More public awareness, personal counselling and proper and effective rehabilitation are required to curb this wide-spread menace. So, the next time you see street children huddling around a plastic bag – take a small step forward and stop them. It might not be of much help, but each step does count!