Sniffing on a dirty rag dipped in thinner or whitener fluid for a
high, and then indulging in unprotected sex on filthy railway
platforms or pavements. More and more children prone to solvent
addiction are being afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases
Biswajeet Bhattacharjee, 19, does not know Sheikh Nawab, who is
three years younger, and has never heard about Sujoy, 15. But all
three live on Kolkata's streets and share a common link - solvent
addiction and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The three are undergoing rehabilitation.
Most street urchins unknowingly become victims of solvent
addiction, which seems to have become the first step in indulging
in rampant unprotected sex - forced or otherwise - and then
contracting HIV or sexually transmitted diseases.
"Solvent addiction is directly linked to sexual abuse which in
turn is making them vulnerable to STDs and HIV virus," Prasenjit
Saha, a counsellor and paediatrician, who has been working among
such victims for over 10 years, told IANS.
According to Saha, street kids engage in sexual activities under
three circumstances: one is comfort sex for entertainment to fill
the emotional void; sex under the influence of substance abuse -
for expressing physical power over younger children in order to
maintain the hierarchy; and sex for money in order to buy more
chemicals for substance addiction.
Although official figures are unavailable, the magnitude of the
threat becomes clear from a recent study on 50 kids between 5 and
15 years in the Kalighat area of South Kolkata by Hope Foundation,
an NGO working among street and platform children.
"Of them, at least five percent either suffered from STDs or were
HIV positive while 32 percent suffered from psychological stress
due to sexual abuse," says Geeta Venkadakrishan, director, Hope
Foundation, Kolkata chapter.
The daily struggles of street children - who usually work as
garbage pickers or daily wage labourers - make them vulnerable to
sexual abuse and solvent addiction.
"I have come across solvent addicted street children who have been
sexually abused and had suffered either from STDs or are HIV+.
They have engaged in sexual activities either for entertainment or
for money without knowing the consequences," said Saha.
The inhalants and solvents such as dendrite, glue, syringes and
ganja are often regarded as 'gateway drugs' and are used by street
children aged between 5 and 15.
The main products that are used for solvent addiction are
solvent-based glue and correction fluid.
"They remain in a fanciful world after inhaling the fumes, and
indulge in sexual activities as a means of pleasure. Mostly they
don't even know what they are doing which is very risky," said
Rashmi Datta, a psychotherapist working among platform children.
Due to unprotected sex among boys and girls and anal intercourse
among children of the same sex, street children often become
victims of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, syphilis,
trichomonas, and genital warts while girls become pregnant and opt
for unsafe and unhygienic abortions.
The HIV virus spreads among street children not only through
unprotected sex but also used syringes.
The bleak picture of street children suffering from HIV and STDs
was put together by a survey titled 'Non-tobacco Substance Use,
Sexual Abuse, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infection Among Street
Children in Kolkata' - a survey among 554 city street children
from 2007 to 2009.
The survey also stated while a small proportion might have got the
virus from sex workers, most of them got infected through sexual
abuse and indiscriminate sexual behaviour.
According to NGOs and doctors working among street children, the
best way to save these children from sexual abuse and the use of
solvents is to construct night shelters.
"Night shelters are the most viable way of saving the innocence of
such children. The kids under watchful eyes would no longer be
able to go for solvent addiction leading to sexual abuse," said
However, the NGOs sometimes find it difficult to convince street
children to go through rehabilitation and the detoxification
process - to rid them of solvent addiction.
"Sometimes they don't want to leave the platform and footpaths.
Then we try to convince them. If that fails, we introduce them to
those kids who have already been rehabilitated and are leading a
normal life," said Dilip Bose of Cini Asha, a NGO.
The state government is planning to make more night shelters
across the city.
"We have already constructed some night shelters across the state.
We are planning to make more such shelters in the city," Sabitri
Mitra, women and child development minister, told IANS.
Tapadar can be contacted at email@example.com)