Saving Youth for the Future
21 Oct 2015 by Anuradha Fonseka
I remember not having a very good connection with the rest of our neighbourhood since the earliest days of my childhood. I always used to ask my parents why they did not allow us to play with those children. I do not remember a specific answer, but by and by, I understood that there was a difference between us and them, and our parents advised us to be cautious. ‘Those people’ lived differently from us and the way ‘those children’ played was different. Five or six years ago, we had a break-in for the first time. There was only a little crack over the door, and we wondered how an adult could possibly push his body through that space. Not much damage was done and only a mobile phone was stolen. Sometime afterward, the Police discovered that it was a boy in the ninth grade that broke into our house and he was caught while breaking into another house in the neighbourhood. When asked why, he answered that he wanted money for drugs, leading to him breaking into houses and stealing insignificant items. The tragedy lies in the fact that now he is not to be found, since he is constantly getting arrested for dealing drugs and stealing. An entire generation of drug addicts was created after him. Some boys who are now drug addicts come from respectable families and once even had respectable jobs.
For some time now, during every Avurudhu season and Vesak when there are festivals in the village, it is a habit for the police to arrest drug addicts. Whenever I think about the issues related to youth, I remember the youth around my own age, in my own neighbourhood, who constantly get arrested for consuming drugs and stealing, and spend time in prisons. I wonder how this happens, why this happens and why this cannot be controlled.
Under the chapter on health and well-being of youth in the Sri Lanka National Human Development Report 2014 on Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future (NHDR), the fact that the number of youth using alcohol and engaging in smoking has increased over the years and the increase in cases reported regarding drugs is worrying. It is evident that it is high time for the authorities to inquire into how exactly youth access drugs, how such drugs are circulated among them and how to prevent this. My endeavour is not to tackle how youth over 18 years of age get addicted drugs, but how the 9th grader gets addicted to drugs and breaks into houses in order to find money to buy drugs. How do these students continue their education? What kind of childhoods did they have and why didn’t their parents or teachers notice them using drugs?
I once went to the village temple and addressed these questions to the chief priest there. When asked about the problem of drugs gobbling up teenagers and youth, he replied that they try their best to advise youth and adults about it, but are still unable to track down the circulation of drugs. The only thing they can do is to preach about it during bana sermons and at almsgivings. It also seems as though they don’t get enough help from the police.
A recent instance where drug addiction came to the forefront of Sri Lankan news was with regard to the murder of the three year old Seya by a drug addict. People suggested that the death penalty should be imposed as soon as possible to stop drug addicts from killing innocent children. What most people did not think about was how these murderers got addicted to drugs and how they got hold of drugs in the first place. How ironic that in a country that takes pride in believing the connexion between the temple and the village is a strong one, malware like drugs threaten the virtues of the village morals, so much so that a 9th grader broke into our house in search of money!
The responsibility of protecting innocent youth from drugs lies in the hands of all the citizens. It is not sufficient for the government to enforce laws to control drug circulation within the country. It is also the responsibility of civil society to look into the sources of drug circulation and eradicate them. Community and religious leaders, too, should take a stand, protect their villages from drugs and be strong enough to protect their youth. Finally, ‘super- busy’ parents should pay more attention to their children and prevent them from falling into circumstances that could lead to drug addiction. We all should be watchful in saving youth from drugs, because we need a future for the country which is more responsible and awake.