70,000 children habituated to drugs, reveals 1st major government survey on Delhi's street kids

"Initiation of drug, tobacco as well as inhalants use started at 9 years of age. Cannabis and alcohol use started a little at about 11 years of age. Even substances such as heroin or opium started at the young age of 12-13 years of age", reads the report.

Children as young as nine are getting trapped in the vicious circle of drug abuse in Delhi, a government survey has found after studying 70,000 street kids dwelling in the shadow world of the desperate and destitute.

Experts say health and welfare programmes don't reach millions of such children in the Capital and other parts of the country because they don't have documents and are invisible to the system.

Dr Mrinalini Darswal, project director of Delhi State AIDS Control Society, told Mail Today , "This is first and a major government survey on Delhi's street children. About 70,000 street children are in the habit of consuming drugs in any form, out of which 20,000 intake tobacco. Alcohol consumption is prevalent among 9,450 children, inhalants in 7,910, cannabis in 5,600, heroin in 840 and pharmaceutical opioids and sedatives among 210 children each." To estimate the prevalence of drug use among street children in the city, Delhi government's women and child development department conducted the survey in collaboration with the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at AIIMS.

Mail Today has a copy of the report, which says, "Initiation of drug, tobacco as well as inhalants use started at 9 years of age. Cannabis and alcohol use started a little at about 11 years of age. Even substances such as heroin or opium started at the young age of 12-13 years of age."

Most of the street children reported peer pressure, curiosity to experience high, handling cold or hunger and attempts to forget about families and be part of groups among reasons for starting drug use, noted the survey.

More than 60 per cent of these kids were actually living with their families, siblings or relatives. About 20 per cent of them were out on the streets to support their families. The kids were found near shopping areas, railway platforms, bus terminals, dumping grounds, traffic signals, places of worship and eateries. Only 10.9 per cent of these children were studying in schools, compared to more than 30 per cent of the nondrug using street kids. However, more than 30per cent received non-formal education at some point. About 30 per cent of the kids dropped out of school due to drug abuse.

The Delhi government is now planning to start dedicated juvenile drug-deaddiction-centres in six hospitals. The survey was conducted in all districts of the Capital, with children between 7 and 18 years of age and any gender. "As drug using people tend to know other members of the drug using network of their area, therefore, a Respondent Driven Sampling method was used.

"This method has been specially picked because substance users are largely a marginalised and hidden population," a senior AIIMS doctor, one of the investigators from NDDTC, told Mail Today.

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