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Students play basketball at Sisowath High School yesterday in Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s nationwide drug crackdown will expand to target truants in the education sector.
Students play basketball at Sisowath High School yesterday in Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s nationwide drug crackdown will expand to target truants in the education sector. Heng Chivoan

Drug crackdown taken to schools

Cambodia's drug crackdown campaign is turning to the Kingdom’s schools, with a plan to start testing truants suspected of using or dealing drugs, though experts yesterday warned that singling out students may not be the best approach.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said only “suspicious schools” will be targeted. Schools and universities in areas where drug use might be prevalent will be able to identify suspected students based on how frequently they miss school and whether they have noticed recent behaviour changes.

“We are concerned about drugs spreading to the schools or universities,” he said. “The Ministry of Education is required to pay more attention . . . We won’t give a drug test unless we have a clear clue.”

Parents would also be contacted, and those testing positive would be connected to treatment, he said.

Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said officials on March 9 sent a letter to all 25 provincial education departments requesting they track data from relevant schools, especially data related to “the targeted students – the students with the most absences and students who have [recently] left school”.

However, he didn’t specify if there was a number of absences that would trigger suspicion.

“They must prepare this data [and] send it back to the ministry at the latest by March 18,” he said. “The ministry will consolidate all this data in order to prepare the next steps for the action plan in collaboration with the national committee against drugs.”

The ministry will also collaborate with other governmental institutions and NGOs. “Until now, we have been doing a lot of awareness [raising],” he said.

Moul Suheng, principal at Sisowath High School, welcomed the action to combat drugs in schools. “I think it’s a good approach, because we can take those students to get treatment, and we could also inform their parents,” he said.

Sok Chhay, 17, a senior at Sisowath, said he has friends at school who smoke marijuana. But he said that was common among students.

Still, he said, students might miss school for many other reasons, such as family problems. “We can’t take somebody [for testing] without evidence,” he said.

However, Neang Dara, 23, a student at the University of Health Sciences, supported the move to test students. “They will be able to get treatment,” he said. “It will help them stop using drugs.”

But David Harding, an independent drug expert, said yesterday that while “truancy can be an indicator of drug use”, it can also be symptomatic of many other issues.

If this approach results in incarceration, it might be more damaging, he said. “[Also], it is likely to foster a significant lack of trust by students toward educators,” he said.

Penelope Hill, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia, meanwhile, said that supporting students by providing trusting, safe and engaging environments, rather than singling out students, would be more appropriate.

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