Substance abuse among female 'street kids' has doubled in the last twelve months according to a survey released this week by the NGO Friends/Mith Samlanh.
The snapshot survey of young people living in the streets and 'community children',
who live at home but work in the streets, was carried out by sweeping Phnom Penh
in a single day to catch the highly mobile street population.
Friends' Coordinator Sebastien Marot said more research was needed to understand
why use among girls was increasing.
"We're not sure, it could be because their boyfriends have been [using drugs]
for three years now and it's starting to move across," he said.
The survey found that substance abuse continued to rise with 51.9 percent of street
kids using one or more substances, up from 46.6 percent in 2000 and 37.3 percent
Boys still use drugs in the highest numbers but girls accounted for most of the increase
in the last twelve months, up from 10.3 percent to 21.4 percent.
Glue remained the most abused drug but among older street kids the use of amphetamines,
including Thailand's 'crazy drug' yaba, was alarmingly high, tripling over the survey
In the 19 to 21-year-old age group 42 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls had
used amphetamines and users were starting at a younger age, some as young as nine
years of age.
"The time to do something is now, because if we wait three years it's too late,"
said Marot, emphasizing that use among "middle class kids who can afford it"
was an urgent priority that is not being tackled.
Dr Sandro Calvani, the Regional Representative of the United Nations Office of Drug
Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP), said that Cambodia looked like a copy of
Thailand 20 years ago. An ominous warning in light of the uncontrolled growth in
the popularity of recreational drugs in that country.
"In Thailand in 1996 yaba did not exist but the growth in this drug is vertical.
Now there are 800 million pills [on the market per year] and 3 to 4 million young
people addicted," he said.
The drug's appeal was strong, but it also caused irreversible dementia, he said.
"We must succeed [in eradicating yaba] because if we give up we lose a generation,"
Yaba is cheap to produce at around 5 US cents per pill and very profitable, selling
on Phnom Penh streets for around 30 times that amount. While traditionally yaba has
been imported from Thailand it is increasingly being produced in Cambodia itself
according to Calvani.
The UNODCCP is awaiting funding for a program to assist the government and NGOs to
combat drug use among street kids in Cambodia.
"If society, families, the Prime Minister and the UN are committed there is
a way out," Calvani said.
The survey data appeared to support the importance of family in reducing drug use,
with much lower and decreasing use of amphetamines among children who lived at home.
Calvani was in Phnom Penh to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen and discuss ways to combat
the growth of organized crime in the region and Cambodia.
Criminal syndicates had been "testing out" new routes along the Mekong
River bringing drugs from the golden triangle through Laos to Stung Treng and then
on to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
"It's a very open highway," he said of the Mekong.