There are currently 700,000 heroin addicts in China accounting for 78.3 percent of drug users, statistics from the Report on Narcotics Control in China 2006 show. Of the total, 69.3 percent are under 35 years old and 30 percent from rural areas.
Huazi (an alias), 9, was detained in the drug rehabilitation center affiliated to the Public Security Bureau of Kunming for using drugs only days after he came to the city from his hometown of Sichuan.
"I don't feel good here. I'd like to go home and go to school." Huazi said.
Huazi, born in Liangshan Yi Minority Autonomous Prefecture, lost his mother when he was a little boy. As his father is serving a prison sentence, Huazi lived with his grandfather and started smoking at the age of eight.
One month ago he stole 400 yuan from his grandfather after a squabble and ran away with Lapu (an alias), a ten-year-old from the same village. A train took the two boys to Kunming. "We were hanging about in the street when a woman carrying a baby came up to us and said it was interesting to use this (drug) while smoking a cigarette. I was curious and spent 10 yuan to buy one piece," said Huazi. Not until they were both sent to the rehabilitation center did they realize that the "interesting" thing was a drug.
The Kunming rehabilitation center is taking care of 25 minors and seven of them are girls. The oldest is 16 while the youngest is only 9. According to the police, there are at most 50 minors at the center and most of them are from the rural areas.
"At present, some drug dealers take advantage of minors to do illicit drug trafficking. They force the children to use drugs. Once they get addicted the dealers will manipulate them to steal or rob," said Yang Weixin, a police officer at the center.
Most of the young drug users are brought up in single parent families and are less supervised or cared for by their parents. Others became addicted to drugs when they came to Kunming to visit their relatives at holidays.
Fourteen-year-old Feifei (an alias) was one of them. He came to visit his elder sister from Guizhou Province on February 8, 2006 and was living with one of his sister's friends. Initially Feifei was lured to use heroin for a better sleep. He got addicted quickly. Within one month he spent 30 yuan for 3 pieces of heroin per day and used up all his pocket money.
One month later he was sent to the rehabilitation center. The six-month treatment has helped him quit drugs but he still has the "drug" haunting his mind, said Feifei.
These young drug users were mostly encouraged by fellow villagers of the same age. Few of them had heard about the drug or received any information at school. Some are even too young to understand the lectures given at the center.
What makes the situation more complex is that nobody picks up the children after the police notified their schools or families.
An officer with Yunnan Narcotics Control Bureau observed that the province has attached great importance to education on anti-drug and AIDS prevention. More and more relevant courses are carried out in middle and primary schools in cities and towns. However, the education is far from efficient in rural areas.
In recent years migrant workers have become a vulnerable group for the drug dealers. Some of them are trafficking or even working for international networks to cover their drug expenses.
(China.org.cn by Huang Shan, January 12, 2007)