SIHANOUKVILLE (Khmer Times) –When family support and child protection NGO M’lop Tapang first started working in Sihanoukville 12 years ago one of the most difficult problems its staff faced was trying to reduce the number of street children sniffing glue.
Now, however, a more dangerous substance is affecting the city’s street children: methamphetamine. Children, especially those without families or effective support networks, are increasingly vulnerable to this stimulant, which can be bought in pill or crystal form – both of which are smoked.
Easy accessibility and low cost has made meth the drug of choice. It has also become a worrying next step from glue-sniffing for street children who want to medicate their emotional suffering and forget their troubles, according to social workers.
M’Lop Tabang has been putting more resources into strengthening programs dedicated to helping drug-affected kids. Its first objective in dealing with children who have become addicted to drugs is harm reduction.
“Firstly, our social workers have to identify children and young adults who are addicted and build trust with them,” said Maggie Eno, coordinator of the NGO. “Then we work with them to make sure they’re safe, before trying to help them reduce and eventually stop using.”
Educating street children about safety and disease prevention is a big priority for M’lop Tapang’s team of 200 – 95 percent of whom are Cambodians. Providing a safe place for the city’s troubled children is also an important strategy.
“We have a 24-hour drop-in centre especially for these young people,” said Ms. Eno.
“Here they can feel safe, have counselling and support from trained narcotics workers as well as learn skills, and about how to manage their lives more positively without drugs.”
A supportive system focused towards building self-esteem and getting kids into education, training or a job is the charity’s ultimate goal.
Victims, Not Criminals
Important work is also being done by the organization in supporting recovering drug users, many of whom are incarcerated, and helping to reduce the chances of relapse.
Currently, M’lop Tapang works with around 150 imprisoned “youths” who are recovering addicts.
Its social workers and child-protection staff are also directly involved in trying to reform and improve drug-prevention strategies in the city. “This involves education for large numbers of children all the time,” said Ms. Eno.
“Working through [our] programs, but also in government schools, we reach out to around 500 kids and young adults each month.”
According to experts in child protection and drug prevention, it is far more effective to treat drug-addicted children as victims, as opposed to criminals.
“Arresting them and imprisoning them without support interventions will not stop these children from using drugs,” Ms. Eno said. “It simply does not work. They need support in changing their behavior.”
Further steps must be taken to address why children become addicts, and more effective measures to prevent this must be implemented, say support workers.