Why we are fighting the war on drugs?

Image

I was pleased to recently read Richard Branson’s blog drawing attention to the work of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which aims to bring science based discussion about effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.  Having spent the day listening to horror stories from the depths of Cracolândia (Crackland) in Salvador, I write this blog in the desperate hope of drawing wider support for an issue that is vastly misunderstood. I note that Branson, himself, comments on the lack of an active role played by Brazil, a cou ntry that is facing a persistent struggle to try and control an enormous drugs network managed by a powerful mafia. It is also widely known that links exist between the sale of arms, corrupt police officers and the mafia.  Many of the most viciously led gangs are controlled by ex-military or police officers which makes the drug trade, and its networks, a political question.   As cycles of power, corruption and abuse continue, how can we ever hope to tackle the issue of increasing cracklandias: hubs of children and youth addicted to crack, selling their bodies to get their next hit.

The federal government here does believe that crack is possible to beat – as per the name of the latest government support for this initiative;  Crack é possível vencer – “It is possible to beat Crack”. Working within three key areas here in Salvador, the government is focusing on prevention, care and security.  It is estimated that over 90% of all street children and youths are crack users, a problem we are most aware of, having spent the last two years supporting a local project called Live Life which works with the most desperate cases of street youths, those who are literally lying on the streets without hope. Do we believe there can be change? Yes. Is it easy?  No.

RC1_6332Treating people, and getting them off their addiction, is a complex process but not an impossible one. It requires a multi-disciplinary approach, which is often difficult when political divisions exist between different government departments.  Even when spaces are available at government clinics, the youth will not go alone. They need individualised and specialised support to enable them to understand what therapy means and what the clinic can, and will, offer. These are children that have only ever experienced neglect and violence, most have been brought up by addicts, sexually and physically abused from a young age.  Most start selling drugs from the tender age of 7 or 8 years.

Today, I met with a boy named Renato, he is 16 years old. He lost his mother to drugs before he even remembers; his father is a crack addict. He started to sell drugs at the age of 8 and was on the streets at 12 years old.  With the help of a rehabilitation centre and our provision of one-on-one support to enable him to get a job, restart his education and repair his family relationship, Renato is now actively contributing to society. The recent report by the Global Commission called for a bold new approach.  People need to recognise the merits for society of an informed and intelligent investment into drug prevention and drug treatment: treatment that addresses the roots of the problem, comprehensive treatment that enables children and youths to restart their lives.  Voices are joining together to break the taboo of inefficient drug policiesthat have restricted the problem as a criminal one, leaving many youths like Renato further marginalized. We applaud the support of Richard Branson and others in raising this issue and their support for it.  Only by acting together, with one voice, can we ever hope to tackle the depths of this dark problem, which affects us all.

Advertisements

Anti-Slavery Day!

Today is Anti-Slavery Day. This is an issue very close to my heart as it’s something I come across every working day here at Jubilee Action.

Not only are we working with our partners in Kathmandu to support the children of women who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution, but we are also working to reduce child labour practices through our advocacy work to promote education over work in Eastern Africa. Much of our work to provide models of alternative care for vulnerable children is also driven by our increasing awareness of the risks to children who are living on the streets or as part of a child headed household, without a network to protect them from this ever-growing industry of human trafficking.

Jubilee Action is not, and does not claim to be, an expert organisation in trafficking, nor do we have the in-depth knowledge and resources to support the identification and prosecution of those responsible for human trafficking operations. However, we do recognise that we have a key role to play in addressing the systemic issues that can lead a vulnerable child to becoming a victim of this horrific industry.

For many people, child slavery conjures up scenes of abduction and trafficking, but it is important to recognise that for many children slavery is, and always has been, an intrinsic part of their life; they do understand that it is wrong, nor do they have the power to prevent it. Child labour, for instance, can mean anything from selling rubbish on the streets or, for a higher return, turning to prostitution. These activities are very often endorsed by their families: when the alternative is starving to death, sexual slavery can appear to be the lesser of two evils.

We understand that the issues facing vulnerable children are intrinsically linked to that of their families, communities, and socio-economic context. We therefore recognise that these same social structures can provide the solution to ensure the continuous protection of children from a life of slavery.

It is for this reason that we are committed to defending the human rights of a child with three approaches. Firstly, we promote alternative care models to ensure that children can be kept safe in their communities, but not institutionalised. Secondly, we provide education for children which will not only reduce street connections, but will promote a generation of adults who can support their own families, in turn ending the cycle of child labour. And finally we ensure that those children who have been victims of slavery have access to psycho-social services to support their rehabilitation and provide them with hope for the future.

Our programme interventions do make a difference. We know this because, regrettably, we cannot help every child and therefore, we have seen first-hand the fate of those children whom we cannot reach in time. When a young boy walks in to our street shelter and tells us of his friend who he has not seen for 8 days, there is little we can do, except to ensure that next time our street outreach worker gets to him first.

Please do what you can today to raise awareness of Anti-Slavery Day.

Marking a special day in Kisumu

Marching with the IDSC banner

In April, we celebrated the International Day for Street Children in Kisumu, Kenya, with a day-long event in the local market. 

 

Street children speaking to the crowds
The street children themselves performed throughout the day, educating the public on what life is really like on the streets.

Crowds gather in the market
Loads of passersby stopped to watch the event and we hope they now have a new understanding of street children.