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Rehab center shines for child addicts

Child addicts need help just as much as adults

Rehab center shines for child addicts
Former addict children learn vocation skills at Apongaon
Sumon Corraya, Manikganj

June 28, 2011

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There are many rehabilitation centers catering for the country's adult drug addicts, whose numbers stand at around two million,  yet only a handful that care for children. Although it is often overlooked, the scale of this problem is enormous; official estimates say that, of the country's 250,000 street children, 30 percent have some form of addiction.

It was American Holy Cross missioner Brother Ronald Drahozal who first realized that child and juvenile addicts need help, just as much as adults.

Brother Drahozal is known in Bangladesh as a pioneer in scientific methods of rehabilitation. He set up BARACA, the Church-run Bangladesh Rehabilitation and Assistance Center for Addicts, in 1988. The project is still in operation and now run by Caritas Bangladesh in the Savar district near Dhaka.

After BARACA, Brother Drahozal went on to set up APON in 1994. Originally in Dhaka, it has now moved its operation south to the Manikganj district of central Bangladesh.

APON, or Apongaon as it is locally known,  serves 180 male and female addicts, including 75 children, some of them aged less than 14. Described by Brother Drahozal as  "a small light in the vast darkness of drug addiction in Bangladesh", the center provides treatment and recovery services as well as education and vocational training for its residents.

It claims to be the only center of its kind in south Asia to support male, female and child drug users, regardless of age, social, economic or religious background.

It is probably no surprise that its young residents have harrowing tales to tell when they recall their experiences of addiction and crime.

“I lived in a slum in Dhaka and survived by scavenging," says Mohammad Rifat." One day a friend dared me to smoke a cigarette and after that I started sniffing glue, then went onto marijuana, sedatives and alcohol.”  His story may seem like a sad but somewhat commonplace account of a descent into addiction. But Mohammad is just seven years old.

"My mother used to bind me with chains and beat me because of my addiction," he says. "So I ran away from home and relied on pickpocketing for drug money. I've stolen money, mobile phones and ornaments and I was often caught and beaten up."

Life took a more hopeful turn for Mohammad when Brother Drahozal found him at Dhaka's Kamlapur railway station. Now he wants to become a carpenter and has vowed that he will never again take drugs.

Another resident, 13-year-old Al-Amin, says he was attracted to drugs as an escape from his stepmother’s cruelty.

“I was deprived of parental affection so I fled to India and worked there trafficking drugs and arms," he says. "Sometimes, when I was caught, I was mercilessly beaten.”  He too has been helped by the center and hopes to become a railwayman. "The center has brought light for me," he says.

Dhaka rehab center helps female addicts

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