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Study: Glue-Sniffing Epidemic Rampant Among Kenyan Street Children

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At least half of Kenya's street children are said to be addicted to glue, according to a recent study by a Kenyan group rehabilitating street children. Glue-sniffing puts these children at serious risk of brain damage, respiratory infections and other problems. Undugu Society is calling for stricter legislation and enforcement and more support for rehabilitation. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi. 

Nicholas Shaban is addicted to glue.  His body reeks of the gasoline-like substance.

Sniffing glue has left him struggling to understand a simple conversation, or form a coherent sentence.

"I want to stop. It makes me feel very sleepy and it really torments me," Nicholas said.

Nicholas Shaban lives on the streets of Nairobi, along with tens of thousands of other children and youths.

The government estimates there are 50,000 street children in Nairobi - and 300,000 in the country at large.

Nancy Wamwea is program assistant director at the Undugu Society, a group that rehabilitates street children.

She estimates that anywhere from 52 to 90 percent of the children who live on the street may be addicted to glue.  The consequences, she says, are devastating.

"When children sniff glue, you realize that most of them get hallucinations, delusions, they stop eating, they lose weight, some eventually die," Wamwea said. "Actually one of the things that was found out is that it can also cause sudden death."

The glue sold on the street is used in shoe repair, upholstery and other activities.

Retailers purchase glue from manufacturers. In turn, some retailers sell the glue to women known as "Mama Pima," who in turn sell to children, some of whom are young as five years old.

Twenty-four-year-old Bernadette Wangui is one such "Mama Pima." She sells glue to an average of 30 children a day.

The mother of two, who herself lives on the streets, sells the glue for 10 shillings, or about 7.5 U.S. cents, a hit. Wangui says she knows that the glue makes the children "go mad."

"It is not our wish to sell glue. We are just selling it to get food for our children. We would like some help," Wangui said.

The Undugu Society released a study in October on glue and other substance abuse by Nairobi's street children.

The report says street children sniff glue mostly because of peer pressure, to feel good from the high, to stay warm and to ward off hunger pains.

Uthman Shaban once lived on the streets.

"There are some things that you cannot do when you are sober, like eating garbage. You need to sniff glue so that you can have the courage to eat garbage and do other work in the streets," Shaban said.

Street children resort to scavenging, begging, stealing and prostitution to finance their addiction.

The Undugu Society report urges the government to clearly include glue in its list of narcotics and to strictly enforce laws banning the sale of glue to children.

It also calls for more rehabilitation of street children so that they can turn away from their cycle of despair and suffering.

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