Representational Image | Mathrubhumi
Keralites were shocked to read, that a 12-year-old girl, an eighth standard student, in Kozhikode District, was used as a drug carrier (Mathrubhumi.com, 19th February 2023). The distraught mother has now approached the Kerala High Court seeking a CBI probe.
In November 2022, the girl was found in the school washroom in an inebriated stage, with her uniform fully wet. Preliminary enquiries by the school authorities brought to light that somebody had made the girl to sniff an unidentified white powder. But, the school authorities failed to inform the police or Childline.
Apparently, this is not an unintended lapse, but a wilful suppression of facts from the police. Further facts that have come into the public domain are that the girl was lured by another girl student studying in the ninth standard, who offered her biscuits that were laced with drugs. Another girl student of Plus I gave her MDMA or Ecstasy the most popular drug in Kerala. The girl, whose mother has approached the High Court, was taught to make blade-cut injuries on the wrist, to facilitate quick absorption of the dreaded MDMA. The traffickers also put identification marks on her Hallux (toe finger), apart from threatening to kill her, all the while, addicting her and using her as a drug carrier. That the distraught mother has to approach the High Court seeking a CBI probe, speaks volumes for the indifference and apathy of the State’s agencies, as also the school authorities.
From the facts, circulating in the public domain, it is evident that many other innocent schoolgirls have been roped into the racket and trapped by heartless drug traffickers. As usual, the school authorities, like other educational institutions, want only to protect their name and image. The teachers are cursing the poor girl and her mother, for registering a complaint! This is the unfortunate attitude of the teachers and the Principal.
This horrifying incident, adds a new dimension, to the drug scenario in the state – the advent of child drug traffickers. Children are used in drug trades in certain countries and regions. Specifically, children are often trafficked into exploitation as either drug couriers or dealers. And then, they are 'paid' in drugs, so they become hopelessly addicted and further entrapped.
The Kozhikode incident has the dubious distinction of being the first of its kind detected and reported in India of a girl-child drug trafficker, trapped and groomed, by merciless drug traders. While in Afghanistan and Brazil, children are commonly used in the drug trade, it is most unfortunate and shameful that the state of Kerala will find mention, in future references in drug debates and seminars.
Not only in Kerala, but also all over India, and the world, drug abuse and drug trafficking have become virtually endemic. It is part of a vicious cycle involving a wide array of social problems such as violence, organized crime, corruption, unemployment, poor health and poor education - with youth particularly affected. The past President of the International Narcotics Control Board, Hamid Ghodse, had correctly observed: "Youth …... have a right to be protected from drug abuse and drug dependence." It was a commonly held wrong belief that only students from fractured communities, marginalised communities, and those hailing from poor economic backgrounds were likely to indulge in drug abuse. Today, drugs have permeated every segment of society. Rich and famous, educated and uneducated, men and women, film stars and models, doctors and engineers, all are indulging in the forbidden pleasures of drug abuse, unmindful of the disastrous health consequences that await them. Now even innocent children are being dragged into this sordid habit, and even being used for trafficking!
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stands alone among the core UN human rights treaties in setting out a human right to protection from drugs. Article 33 provides that “States, Parties, shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.”
But it is meaningless to simply say that children have the right to protection from drugs. What matters is what states do to implement that right, and unlike many other areas of child rights, implementing Article 33 requires action in a legal and policy area long characterized by considerable human rights risks.
ILO Convention 182 (on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour) considers the use of children in illicit activities, such as the use of children in the production, sales, and trafficking of drugs, as one of the worst forms of child labour (WFCL). Dangers and risks faced by children engaged in the drug trade go beyond the physical, psychological and mental disorders prevalent among drug-addicted children. Children in the drug trade/trafficking (CDT) are exposed and initiated to the world of illegal activities and criminality, at a very tender age. Once involved, they are helplessly caught in situations of tension, fear, suspicion and conflict. Ultimately, the engagement of children/youth in the WFCL like drug sales/ trafficking, ruin their lives and future and also that of the nation.
Children in the drug trade is an emerging issue in Kerala, and the instant case appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. Children/youth, being minors with their presumed innocence, are targeted by drug traffickers in expanding their markets because the police usually do not suspect them. Children involved in drug sales and trafficking are difficult to trace and identify because of the illegal and hidden nature of the trade and the social and political sensitivity of the phenomenon.
It becomes imperative that the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW), Child Welfare Committee of Kozhikode District, Kerala State Youth Welfare Board (KSYWB), Kerala State Youth Commission (KSYC), conduct a joint probe to understand:
(1) the characteristics of children/youth engaged in drug abuse, sale, and trafficking
(2) the pattern of recruitment into the drug network and the strategies/techniques employed in getting the children hooked into drugs/drug network
(3) the strategies/techniques that need to be adopted, in preventing them from joining the drug network
(4) how to develop the capacity of the teachers, parents, community leaders/ volunteers, and police and justice system to deal with children in drug-trade
(5) whether there needs to be a generational shift with children taught about the dangers of drug use at a younger age.
The exponential rise in Ecstasy trafficking in Kerala is because of the huge margin in the trade of this drug. Due to its high cost, it is a drug of the elite. It is normally consumed with alcohol, especially beer. Sometimes it is also mixed with Ketamine, Methamphetamine, and other drugs, which can be very harmful to health. Ecstasy is classified as a Type 1 Narcotic in many countries as it has a strong negative impact on health including severe dehydration, kidney failure, high heart rate, high blood pressure, spasms and sleep disorders. It also has libido-boosting properties, hence among regular users, chances of sexually transmitted diseases are very high. Child drug traffickers are at high risk of being sexually exploited either by the drug supplier or by the drug consumer. In the present Kozhikode incident, this angle also needs to be probed, as apart from the victim girl, the involvement of other girl students is also hinted.
Schools can play a powerful role in prevention as teachers and administrators are often the first who can detect warning signs of possible drug problems, such as poor school attendance or declining academic performance. Hence, Drug Awareness Programs, should be made mandatory for all teaching and non-teaching staff employed in schools/colleges. The Education Department should also consider introducing it as a subject in BEd and MEd curricula.
Unfortunately, in the Kozhikode case, the teachers and Principal, according to media reports, were upset that the police and media were informed by the parents of the unfortunate girl. Such efforts by the school authorities while being deplorable and heinous will also embolden drug traffickers to recruit and trap many more innocent students. Since the matter has now gone before the High Court, the delinquents need to be brought to book.
After-school hours are high-risk periods for alcohol and illicit drug use, unprotected sex, and violence among youths. Approximately one-third of all violent juvenile crimes occur between the hours of 3 pm and 7 pm, when many children are unsupervised. Targeted programs during these vulnerable hours can help prevent, reduce, or delay the onset of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. After-school programs can also reinforce social skills learned in school and at home. Effective school programs teach young people to resist drugs by developing personal and social skills, such as decision-making, stress management, communication, social interaction, conflict resolution, and assertiveness.
A community coalition comprising community stakeholders—service providers, residents, community and business leaders, educators, government officials and law enforcement officers, has to be formed in every school/college, to ensure that no student ever falls into the trap of drug gangs, as it is too grave a matter to be solely entrusted to school teaching staff only.
As the matter is before the High Court and the services of the CBI, a premier investigating agency has been sought, it can be hoped that there would be a diligent probe encompassing all angles.
The author is former Director General of National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics