Substance abuse and impact on the street children’s health

From the previous sections one can get a sense how difficult everyday life is for a street child. It is no surprise that exposure to the street life makes these children prone to engage in the abuse of psychoactive substances which can alter their psychological functioning, as a way to cope with their adverse circumstances (Islam, Kar, Debroy, & Sarma, 2014).The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 25-90 per cent of street children indulge in substance use (WHO, 1997). Due to large-scale substance abuse and the serious implications of it, there have been various studies done on the subject. In a study conducted in Guwahati, it was seen that 81 per cent of the street children were involved in substance abuse (Islam et ah, 2014). A study done on adolescent runaway boys showed that 59 per cent of them were substance abusers. Another study conducted on the street children of Delhi showed similar results, with more than half of them indulging in substance abuse. In both these studies it was found that these children who were taking drugs or alcohol came from abusive homes.

Any kind of addiction is considered harmful for the body. It severely affects respiratory and digestive organs along with the heart, mouth and face. It also increases their risk for other diseases like HIV/AIDS (Narayan, 2013). Substance abuse has far-reaching effects, not only on the health of the child but also on the social well-being. Substance abuse has been seen as an aetiological factor for violence (Goldstein, 1985). Many of the children, under the influence of various agents, tend to make irrational decisions that lead them down a path of crime. Not only does this habit affect their health, but it also affects their financial status.

According to a study conducted by Benegal and colleagues (1998) in Bangalore, on an average a street child spends M8 a day on drugs. As most of these children barely earn above 50 per cent a considerable percentage of their income gets wasted in pursuing these habits.

From the survey it was seen that 21 per cent of street children have addictions in the form of smoking, chewing tobacco or gutkba4 and consumption of alcohol. Among these children, 93 per cent were boys, who were all above the age of eight years. It is seen that the time they start working is the time they start experimenting with substances. The majority of these children stayed in makeshift homes or were living on the footpaths.

Studies have shown that substance abuse is higher among school dropouts (Narayan, 2013), similar trends are found even in our study. Friend circles also play an important role in initiating a child into abusing such addictive agents, especially boys. Research in this aspect shows that boys tend to fall prey to peer pressure and get initiated into substance abuse for recreational purposes, while girls consume it for health reasons (Sarangi, Acharya, & Panigrahi, 2008).

Table 7.18 shows that 21 per cent of the street children have reported to frequently be chewing tobacco or gutkha while 12 per cent of them are smokers and 4 per cent consume alcohol. Among these street children, the gateway substance is chewing supari or gutkha, after which they slowly move on to more harmful practices and substances, like smoking and consuming alcohol. Sadly, some street children have also reported smoking cannabis and sniffing inhalants such as adhesives used for pasting leather products or whiteners/correction fluid. Sniffing inhalants is a popular ‘street culture’ used to relieve stress and tension. Unfortunately, inhaling the vapours of such industrial grade chemical products can cause hallucination, muscle dilation and cardiac arrhythmia.

Most of these children when they get involved in such habits tend to use various agents for relieving their stress. As shown from Table 7.19 most of the children are simultaneously having two or more addictive habits, that

Table 7.18 Harmful Habits among Street Children

Whether Indulging in Harmful Habits

Type of Harmful Habits Indulged in


Chewing Gutkha/ Tobacco



Other Bad Habits


69 (11.5%)

124 (20.7%)

25 (4.2%)

3 (0.5%)


531 (88.5%)

476 (79.3%)

575 (95.8%)

597 (99.5%)






Data Source: Primary survey.

Note: Respondents’ multiple responses were recorded.

Table 7.19 Types of Substances Used by Street Children

Combination of Substances Abused



Smoking Only



Smoking + Chew Gutkha/Tobacco



Smoking + Chew Gutkha/Tobacco + Drink Alcohol



Smoking + Chew Gutkha/Tobacco + Drink Alcohol + Chillum



Gutkha/Tobacco Only



Gutkha/Tobacco + Drink Alcohol



Drink Alcohol Only






Data Source: Primary survey.

is, smoking and chewing gutkha or smoking, chewing and drinking. Using so many different types of agents will definitely have a detrimental effect on their health. Smoking and chewing gutkha greatly compromise their oral and respiratory health. Consumption of alcohol increases their chances of liver damage.

With the increasing cases of mouth and lung cancer, the Indian Government has taken many steps to educate people and dissuade them from smoking and chewing tobacco. Unfortunately, many of the children do not know about the various detrimental effects tobacco has on their health, nor do they care much about it. For many of these children these substances are the only way they are able to cope with their daily melancholy.

Many studies on substance abuse among street children in countries of Africa and South America point towards drug abuse, such as marijuana, cocaine or sniffing glue (Forster, Tannhauser, &c Barros, 1996; Lerner & Ferrando, 1996; Wansi, Sam-Abbenyi, Befidi-Mengue, Enyme, &Ntone, 1996). In our study none of the respondents reported to having taken any kind of narcotics, they mainly limited themselves tobacco and alcohol. Ben- egal, Bhushan, Seshadri and Karott (1998) in their study of drug abuse among street children of Bangalore saw a progression into drug use. The younger children begin their abuse habit with smoking tobacco, and by the time they turn 13 they would move on to alcohol. As they get older, they get involved in more illicit drugs.

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