Bhim Pariyar, who grew up on the streets of the capital, Kathmandu, huddled in a corner with other boys like him, all trying to warm themselves around the fire they had made by burning plastic, paper and tyres.
“It’s time for fun now,” Pariyar told his friends as he took out the packet of dendrite.
“You know, this helps us to get rid of our hunger,” explained his friend, 14-year-old Rajen Subba, who fled his home in Jhapa district in southeast Nepal due to grinding poverty and started to work as a rag picker.
But he cannot afford regular food or clothing to keep warm, and has been living on the streets for the past six years.
“I wish I was home even if it means living without food because I would not have to suffer like this,” said Subba, who complains of chest pain and often gets sick.
Subba tries to forget his hardships by inhaling the fumes from the carpet glue, squeezing the dendrite from the tube into a plastic bag and holding it to his mouth.
The adhesive glue contains toluene, a sweet-smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon, which is neurotoxic. The solvent dissolves the membrane of the brain cells and causes hallucinations as well as dampening hunger pangs, and wards off cold.
“I forget everything. I won’t feel cold and hungry and can sleep easily,” said Shyam Tamang, 12, another street boy.
Glue sniffing on the increase Laws needed, say activists
Glue sniffing in Kathmandu has been increasing to dangerous levels among children, according to rights activists, who said their health is at risk and it is even affecting their mental health.
It can cause neurological damage, kidney or liver failure, paralysis and even death, according to local child health workers.
According to a prominent child rights NGO, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), there are approximately 800-900 street children in Kathmandu out of 5,000 in the country.
The decade-long armed conflict between the Nepali government and Maoist rebels that ended last year also contributed to the rise in numbers, say activists. But despite the signing of the peace treaty in November 2006, many children continue to live on the streets, homeless, food-insecure and suffering from serious health problems, according to CWIN.
CWIN found that almost all street children were addicted to glue sniffing because of hunger and the influence of friends. About 95 percent of street children were using glue, and it would not take much to introduce the habit to the remaining 5 percent, it said.
It found that some children used as many as 15 tubes a day (one tube of dendrite can be used four to five times) and many used it as a substitute for regular meals.
The cheapest of all dendrites is Nepal-made, besides the imports from India and China. It is available in all hardware shops and costs less than 40 US cents per 25mg tube.
“I was really surprised why these children came so often to my shop to buy the carpet dendrite and now I know why,” said Ramesh Shrestha, a local shopkeeper, who was unaware children were using the glue as a drug.
Thanks to the street awareness programme organised by several NGOs, including CWIN, Sath Sath, and Kathmandu Valley Police, some shop owners have stopped selling glue to street children or increased prices to discourage them.
But on the whole, many shops still make it readily available, said activists.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
Grinding poverty, especially among large households, often forces children to head to Kathmandu where they end up homeless
“The government should make it illegal to sell dendrites to minors.
That’s one of the best ways to control glue sniffing and prevent health hazards among the street children,” said Sumnima Tuladhar from CWIN.
“This is an emerging problem. If we don’t take this seriously, then a lot of lives will be at stake,” said Biso Bajracharya from Sath Sath.
At the official level, only the Kathmandu Valley Police has paid serious attention to the problem but since glue sniffing is not considered illegal, they have difficulty preventing shops from selling the dendrite products to children.
“The best we can do is to raise awareness among shop owners and the street children. We ask them to be more careful about their health,” said a local police officer, who did not want to be named.
The trend of glue sniffing is new in Nepal compared with other countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Nepalese activists want their country to apply the same strict measures as taken in Kenya, which has laws against supplying harmful substances to minors.
“It is time for us take this issue seriously because the trend is also fast entering schools,” says Bajracharya. “Nepal really needs a new law to combat the growing abuse of glue sniffing.”
Laws needed, say activists