Amrit Giri doesn’t remember when he came to the capital from Lamjung, west of Kathmandu. But the 11-year-old said he remembers his first experience sniffing Dendrite, an adhesive taken as a form of drugs, when he was seven.
Giri is one of the many street children who attended the street drama “Stop Glue Sniffing in Street” at Basantapur on January 2. Organized by Children for Children, a club established for hawker children by Prayas Nepal, a non-governmental organization working for children and women’s welfare, in conjunction with Heartbeat, a group of youth working for children, the drama aimed to spread the message about the disadvantages of the Dendrite phenomenon through child hawkers to other addicted children, said Mani Joshi, president of Prayas Nepal. The drama was written and initiated by 13 members of Children for Children.
Juju Kai Maharjan, founder of Heartbeat, says his organization tries to establish a personal relationship with the children. He says he has become friends with many of the street children in Basantapur. He invited Giri along with his friend Binod Khadka to his ground floor office in Kashtamandap, which the organization uses for art classes in the morning. Maharjan said he tries to talk to children as a friend and help them understand the drawbacks of drugs.
“I kept running and chased a black dog,” recalls Giri dressed up in a white Penguin brand t-shirt that had turned black. He hadn’t showered for a while—his hair was shabby and his brown skin turned black, layered with dust, and dry in the wintry weather.
Sitting next to Giri, Khadka shares his experience of sniffing the adhesive found primarily in South Asia. After he fled his home in Katari in southeast Nepal because of an abusive father, 15-year-old Khadka spent his time on the street before ending up at a shelter in Kalanki.
Bare-chested, with only a thin layer of an unzipped blue windcheater jacket, Khadka said a youngster introduced him to the addiction.
“The first time I had it, I saw houses falling,” Khadka said with his nasal mucus dripping to his upper lips. Giri interrupted and added, “[After sniffing], when you see something, it feels it’s falling. While looking at trees, they look like snakes.”
The two know about their addiction and its negative effects—chest pain and loss of appetite, Giri says.
Medical researches have found inhaling Dendrite causes slowdown of the body’s functions with slight hallucinations on lower doses, and loss of consciousness if taken at greater amount.
Giri added that after the “hangover” leaves, hunger kicks and so they beg on the streets. And along with their counterparts, they spend the day begging and working in the streets of downtown Kathmandu, mainly in the tourist area of Basantapur and shopping district of New Road. Giri said they clean bikes in Bishal Bazaar shopping complex’s parking lots and gather plastic.
According to CWIN’s fact sheet, “Child Workers in Nepal Research on Alcohol and Drug Use”, published in 2001, there were an estimated 5,000 street children in Nepal and around 400 to 600 in Kathmandu. But according to “The Abuse of Street Children,” published by the Child Protection Centers and Services-Nepal and Voice of Children in 2008, the statistics shows an approximation of 900 to 1,200 children in the streets of the capital. These children mainly work as street vendors, beggars and rag pickers and are more vulnerable to drugs.
“We sell and sniff ‘den’” says Giri, referring Dendrite as ‘den,’ a term used by them, which is available on the shelves at many stores for Rs 25 for a 16-milliliter tube.
With a daily income of an average Rs 400 to Rs 500, Giri says he wants to give the money to his parents. But he is afraid of going to his parents; he says they would punish him for using dendrite. But Khadka doesn’t want that. While he said he earns more than Rs. 1,000 working the entire day, he didn’t disclose what he does with his income.
Geeta Dhakal, a private security personnel deployed at Basantapur to help tourists and monitor street children from harassing passers-by and each other, who has been working in the area for more than two years, said the number of addicted children has plummeted. Dhakal said she confiscated about 30 to 35 Dendrite tubes daily when she started but the current number is between 3 to 5 everyday, which she destroys in front of the children.
But concrete rules are required and CWIN-Nepal is lobbying for a law, Rashmila Shakya, coordinator for CWIN-Nepal, states.
“Its access should be limited,” she said adding that Dendrite and other substances that could be used as drugs shouldn’t be sold to minors, anyone under 16.
But laws apart, Maharjan said there should be a channel of personal communication between organizations, individuals and street children so they can trust each other and befriend the children.
Shakya said CWIN is currently focusing on using street-based peer educators, who were once street children, to raise awareness about the misuse of dendrite after its rehabilitation shelter, Common Space, closed in 2009.
“Now there are many organizations that are providing shelter,” Shakya said, adding, “We want to move forward into a new direction.”
As organizations are stepping in with new policies for a better future for street children, the children themselves look forward to a brighter tomorrow and an escape from the grimness of their street life.
“I want to go to school but Dendrite has taken everything,” Giri said. “When I’m 12 years old, I’ll leave Dendrite,” he said with affirmation.
But for Khadka, he is unsure if he can get rid of his addiction soon, but says he will not be in the streets forever. He plans to take technical training and learn to be a mechanic.
“I want to become a king,” Giri’s face brightens as he shares his dreams. But the 11-year-old knows that’s just a dream. “I can’t even become a soldier. How will I? I want to become a hero,” he said.