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Social Workers Warn Hong Kong Youth Face Risks When They Seek Drugs in China

Lindsay CuiKate Pound Dawson

The recent detention of more than 100 Hong Kong people in southern China for drug abuse highlights the increasing popularity of cross-border entertainment trips. Social workers in Hong Kong want closer collaboration between Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to help stem drug abuse. VOA's Kate Pound Dawson has this report prepared by Lindsay Cui in Hong Kong.

Every week thousands of Hong Kong people cross into mainland China to shop, go to movies and to party at nightclubs, taking advantage of lower prices across the border.

Many young people also are attracted by cheaper prices for illegal drugs in China.

More than 100 young people from Hong Kong were detained for drug offenses in the mainland city of Shenzhen in December. Social workers say this shows just the tip of the iceberg of cross-border drug use.

Social workers say the opening of the border 24 hours a day in 2003 spurred an increase in cross-border drug trips. Statistics from the Hong Kong police department show that drug users aged 16 last accounted for more than 10 percent of drug cases, up from 7.9 percent of cases in 2003.

Eric Lau used to be one of them.

"Two years or three years ago, when I was 14, I didn't want people to look at me as a child. So I think if I take drugs, I can catch up with them. Hong Kong's legal system is strict. I'm afraid of being arrested in Hong Kong and having a life-long criminal record," he said.

Eric joined thousands of other Hong Kong residents, lured over the border by cheaper prices, bigger discos and looser controls.

Paul Lo, who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church's North District youth outreach team, says the issue warrants more official concern.

"The mainstream society, I don't think they'll [be] concerned [about] this issue much. I've talked about the issue, [it] has already begun in 1999, [but it was] only before Christmas they did a high profile action that arrest more than one hundred Hong Kong young people," he said.

His team's research shows that of those who go to Shenzhen's discos, most go once a week, often after midnight, and they are from housing estates close to Hong Kong's border with China. Ecstasy and ketamine are the most popular drugs and young people spend $13 to $60 during each trip on transport, club entrance fees and drugs.

Lo says drugs are easy to find.

"The accessibility is quite simple," he said. "Just go into the disco and there'll be some trafficker [who will] approach you."

He says the Hong Kong government is in touch with the Shenzhen authorities, but that officials on both sides of the border could do more to tackle the problem.

He and other social workers say parents, schools and the government should work together to educate youth on the health and legal consequences of drug abuse.

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