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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Glue sniffing spreads among kids

Glue sniffing spreads among kids



A young solvent abuser in Phnom Penh sniffs glue

from a plastic bag while keeping another in reserve.

Solvent abuse, a problem unknown in Cambodia till recent times, appears to have taken

a sudden grip among street kids in several towns across the country.

With the habit has come a host of health problems and crimes including physical and

sexual violence, theft, corruption and prostitution.

Local NGO "Friends" works closely with street kids and its workers report

an increasing trend of solvent abuse over the past year, mainly glue but also

paint solvents.

However it cautions against a heavy-handed crack down on the users, saying that would

force the problem underground and does not recognize its complexity or the reasons

behind it.

Friends coordinator Sebastien Marot said solvent abuse appeared to have been imported

from Thailand. "It is a sign that Cambodia is back in the global community - a

bad sign."

Marot said there is a general feeling of helplessness among NGOs working with street

kids because there is no easy way of dealing with the problem. It just had be dealt

with on a "case by case basis".

Solvents can give feelings of light-headedness, euphoria, hallucinations, feelings

of power and strength.

But a survey by the NGO of children involved in solvent abuse revealed that pleasure

was not a consideration for the vast majority of users, rather peer acceptance and

escapism were the primary motivations.

Marot said these results highlighted the difficulties in countering the problem which

was not simply one of self-indulgence but had its roots in disrupted family life

and poverty.

Half of the users questioned said they did it to imitate others in their group. Most

said they also used it as a form of escapism. Only one in every fifty kids said pleasure

was their sole reason for using it.

Sokran, 18, a user spoken to by the Post said Jan 5 that he sniffed glue as a form

of escape but then he added that it did not make him feel very good. "When I

sniff it it feels like one part of my body is being split and I feel frightened,"

he said gesturing to his chest.

But he showed no signs of giving up the habit. As he was being interviewed he kept

taking lungfuls of solvent vapor from a plastic bag and even after a friend took

the bag away he continued to raise his hand to his mouth and inhale without noticing

the bag was gone.

At the same time as Sokran was speaking another user started talking to one of the

Friend's workers and began to cry. Later the worker said the boy had told him he

was upset because "he had fallen in love with sniffing glue".

Marot said that they found there were generally three types of users. The first group

didn't need a lot of convincing or distractions to give up; the second group needed

a bit more effort; the third generally were not going to change for any reason.

Problems arising from using glue include direct physical consequences such as respiratory

problems but also the mind altering aspect can lead to violence.

One child helped by Friends had been repeatedly stabbed in the head with a screwdriver

after refusing to share his glue with a solvent-intoxicated friend.

For young women on the street the risks are equally horrendous.

Ly Sophat who works with the children said that if there were only one or two girls

in a group "they are put in the center for public use".

She cited one example of a 13-year-old girl who has been forced to take multiple

partners and is now suffering from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The issues of STD, HIV and AIDS highlights the whole second tier level of problems

generated by solvent abuse - while one step away from direct results of solvent

abuse like respiratory or neurological damage, they promise to be far more lethal

given the spread of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia.

Marot said that they recognize the risks and, given that 30% of the children they

work with have had some experience with prostitution, HIV/AIDS education is a key

part of their work.

A large pool of poor, addicted and generally anonymous young people is not something

that has been missed by those involved in crime.

Marot said the street kids are often enticed into thieving and prostitution by gangs

or corrupt police and other individuals.

He said it was like the Chinese proverb: "The husband beats the wife, the wife

hits the son, the son kicks the dog, the dog bites the cat, the cat eats the goldfish.

"We help the goldfish. But we know who the husbands are," he said.

However he says there is little they can do about those preying on the children.

"As long as there is no political will we can do nothing about it. It is about

making quick money like everywhere else in the world."

It does raise the issue of how to deal with a problem that Marot says has now become


Heavy-handedness on the part of the authorities is not the way to deal with it, he


One child welfare worker blamed a well intentioned but flawed anti-solvent crackdown

in Poipet as the reason the habit has spread so quickly to other areas.

He said NGO's in the area put pressure on the police to deal with a group of about

10 glue sniffers in the town.

The police efforts were not subtle and the users simply moved to Battambang until

another crackdown saw them head to Phnom Penh.

From there the problem has spread further afield.

Marot believes the key is helping parents deal with the problem.

Their survey results showed that 50% of parents spoken to thought a beating would

cure their children of the habit.

Marot disagreed.

"It is true that a lot of these problems come from a lack of authority in the

home but beatings only reinforces the cycle of violence and escapism.

He believed setting up small workshops teaching parenting skills would help solve

the problem but he did not believe it was up to outsiders to tell Cambodians how

they should bring up their children.

"As a foreigner I am not sure about Cambodia," he said. "It should

be run by the Cambodians themselves."



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