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Myanmar's Poor, Young Glue Sniffers

Categories: East Asia, Myanmar (Burma), Citizen Media, Health, Youth

Inhalant abuse through the use of cheap glue is a worsening problem among poor children in Myanmar. Yin Yin Hnoung, a medical student from the University of Medicine in Mandalay, interviewed some of these children and analysed [1][my] the causes and impact of this particular drug abuse.

She starts by describing how she saw some children inhaling glue at Mahar Myat Mu Ni pagoda, a famous tourist spot in Mandalay:

A group of children was playing at a shady spot at Maha Muni Pagoda, Mandalay. (They are) around 5 to 15 years old. […] Their daily job is to beg from pilgrims and visitors, to receive whatever food given and to collect used plastic containers. […] If (we) checked the group of children running here and there, (we) would find some children sleeping or napping. It was a can with “TV” brand known as “TV Glue”. They were napping while inhaling (glue from) that container. There are around 100 children who are using that glue can that smells strongly like petrol as a drug and they are staying around Maha Muni Pagoda.

She approached some of the kids and conducted a friendly interview. A 14-year old boy hugging his 4-year old brother narrated his family background:

A glue can used to sniff by children. Photo from Yin Yin Hnoung's Facebook [1]

Some of the poor children in Myanmar use this can of glue for inhalant abuse. Photo from Yin Yin Hnoung's Facebook

It's about three years I have been here, sister. I'm 14. I went to school till Grade 5. My dad already died. My mom just gave birth to a baby like 10 days ago. My stepfather is a carpenter at Tampawati [Author's Note: A township name in Mandalay city]. He doesn't feed us so we both have to go out and beg.

He then continued with his reasons for sniffing glue:

We have a debt of 30,000 kyats (37 US Dollars) which we borrowed when my mom gave birth. As we don't have enough (to give back) yet, I'm inhaling glue to forget about it. We earn around 1,000 to 1,500 kyats (1.25 to 1.8 US Dollars). A can of glue costs 400 kyats (0.5 US Dollars) We can buy it at hardware stores outside the pagoda. A can lasts about a week. It's not because I want to inhale, sister. But if I bought one can, I can stay without eating anything for a whole day. All my frustrations are gone, too. I don't even feel painful if someone punched me during a fight. I'm feeling well when I am inhaling it. That's why I started using it.

The kid she interviewed mentioned about teenage boys committing crimes after sniffing glue:

Such guys usually break into betel nut stalls at night and sell whatever they could take. They aren't hesitant to fight (against others), too. […] Sometimes, they come and rob my glue can.

A 15-year old boy also narrated his story:

I have been to Gaw Mashin school (World Vision in their usage). I have to study there. I have meals to eat. But I'm not happy. How can I be happy? As there is no glue, I can't live there. That's why I ran away.

She also talked to a young lady living near the area:

I usually reprimand those children as if they were my own children or siblings. They don't like me as I always keep those glue cans from them and throw away.[…] I live with my husband and a child. […] Even my husband used to sniff glue but I forced him to quit. My son is now two years old. As he sniffed glue while carrying our son, the baby felt congested in his chest. He quit it in order not to harm our son.

The young mother believes that it was a trash collector at Mandalay railway station who taught the children how to sniff glue. Young girls are also seen sniffing glue in the area. Pagoda security officers usually cane children caught sniffing glue.

Yin Yin Hnoung concluded her piece by mentioning what needs to be done to help those children. She wrote:

Due to poverty, children have to beg in order to earn for their families when they should be going to school instead. They are malnourished due to insufficient meals. When they can't earn enough money (to live), they sniffed glue because they are frustrated. Their income is spent on sniffing glue. Then, they beg again. The money given by kind visitors is spent on glue. If they are caned for sniffing (glue), they sniff glue again to forget the pain. They are then addicted to sniffing glue in such cycle.

She urged authorities to look into this issue as well:

It makes a historical place like Mahamuni Pagoda that can attract many tourists ugly with hundreds of children sniffing glue. Future human resource will be reduced. […] That is why I write urging government authorities, Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Associations and NGOs to control sniffing glue effectively and to nurture those children again.