Thursday, February 22, 2024

A sniff of trouble

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A recent study has shockingly found that 34 percent of children use cheap inhalants to get a high. Little do they know the perils of such behavior

By Shadab Ahmad Moizee

 RAJAN (name changed) has bloodshot eyes. Still in his adolescence, Rajan craves for whitener or correction fluid. He has no errors to conceal except a habit he wishes nobody knows about. Rajan sniffs whitener fluid and says it helps him get rid of examination pressure in school. Somehow, he manages to get Rs. 30 and buys the whitener. He drops some of it on a piece of cloth and sniffs it so strongly that it knocks him down. This high is his life.

Rajan is among a growing number of children who use cheap and easily available intoxicants. A study conducted by National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights reveals that 34.7 percent of children have used inhalants, be they whiteners, diluters, glue, petrol, nail polish or nail polish remover. Acrid diluter, for example, not only wipes out mistakes on paper, but weakens the memory of those inhaling it.


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The survey was conducted all over India among nearly 4,000 children in 135 sites across 27 states and two union territories. It found that Tripura had the highest proportion of inhalant users—a worrisome 68.3 percent.

Many of these children have started early. Take Rajan. He started sniffing whitener and diluter at 13. He says: “My father was a rich businessman and used to drink alcohol. I also wanted to be rich like him so I started drinking alcohol. Since it was expensive and I had a hard time purchasing beer from a liquor shop, one of my friends told me about diluter and whitener. It was cheap and easily available at stationary shops near my house.” Before he knew it, he was hooked.

Sanjay Gupta, executive director of Chetna, an NGO working for the empowerment of street and working children, says: “While the government has rules and a policy for the sale of liquor and tobacco products, it has none for substances like whiteners. One can buy these from any stationary or general store.” Often, it is peer influence that encourages school children to use inhalants. “But in the case of underprivileged children, scrap dealers provide them cheap inhalants, forcing them into the habit. Chetna did a survey in Delhi and found that the sale of whitener there was up to Rs. 67 lakh a day,” says Gupta.

Stationary shop owners admit that sales of whiteners have indeed gone up. Madan, a shopkeeper in Malviya Nagar, says that sales had never peaked like they have in recent days. Now, many school children, including girls from good families, are using whiteners on a daily basis. “Let’s for a moment assume that they are using it to erase errors. But on a daily basis? Something is definitely wrong,” he emphasizes.


Shaiju Varghese, a program coordinator with Childline India Foundation, an NGO that operates a helpline called Childline, says drug abuse among children is rising day-by-day and there is no proper rehabilitation of them.

Dr K Zaman, consultant psychiatrist at Delhi-based Alshifa Hospital, says that most children use intoxicants due to anti-social tendencies, peer pressure or family fights. Cheap intoxicants, he says, are a tool to escape reality. They provide temporary comfort, but can cause serious illnesses, such as heart disease and liver failure. He further adds: “It’s like a trend among school children and adolescents. Parents need to be watchful. If they smell chemical odors in their children’s breath or clothes or see stains on their faces and hands, they must question them. After using drugs, a child becomes irritable, lethargic, inattentive and a loner who needs to be coaxed to talk. Counseling and meditation can help, but it’s important to keep the child away from intoxicants and wrongdoers.”

But on asking children why they used whiteners on such a scale, the answer this reporter got was far from the truth. “Masterji kaam hi aisa dete hain ki galti ho jati hai, isliye whitener se hum wo galti thik kar lete hain (Teachers give us such work that we end up making mistakes. We correct these by using
a whitener).”

It’s obvious they need urgent guidance.

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