More youths on a deadly high

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    More youths on a deadly high

    HONG KONG, Nov 1 — The narrow strip of border checkpoints between Hong Kong and Shenzhen is among the world’s busiest border crossings. On a typical holiday, it handles more than a quarter of a million passengers.

    Now, it has become an epicentre for illegal drugs, one that is particularly worrying because of the growing number of young people from Hong Kong who cross it in search of a good time.

    “It is like the border between Mexico and America,” says Heron Tang Kwok Hei, the 34-year-old head of Cheer Lutheran Hong Kong, a drug-prevention social group.

    The number of drug abusers arrested in Hong Kong hit more than 14,000 last year, with the majority of cases in the border region between mainland China and the island — known as the New Territories — in areas such as Yuen Long and North District, according to the narcotics division.

    The ranks of drug abusers under the age of 21 in Hong Kong have exploded. The division found that the number of youth drug abusers arrested increased by 51 per cent during the past three years to more than 3,400 last year.

    A survey conducted in July by non-governmental organisation Youth Outreach showed an even more worrying trend. Of 398 children aged six to 15 polled, 30 per cent admitted taking drugs. Some 65 per cent also reported having friends with drug problems.

    Peer pressure, boredom with school life, emotional distress plus parents who neglect them because they work long hours are the most common reasons cited by the government and analysts for the spread of youth drug abuse.

    In recent months, there has been a string of disturbing news reports about the growing drug problem among young Hong Kong Chinese.

    The latest, reported early this month, involved three boys from a Catholic school, two aged 15, and one 17.

    All were arrested after they were found wandering in a shopping mall while under the influence of drugs. They entered a handbag shop, bumped into the racks and lumbered off before two of them eventually collapsed on the ground.

    There have been other reports of students going on drug-taking binges on campuses, in the parks, during classes, at beach parties and at disco clubs in Shenzhen.

    Legislator Leung Yiu Chun, a high school math teacher for 30 years, said most schoolchildren first get involved in drugs when they travel to China, where dealers give out free narcotics at discos to get them hooked.

    “Most of them took drugs in China, mainly Shenzhen,” Leung said. “It takes less than 30 minutes to go there from the New Territories.”

    From a perch not far from the border in Tai Po, Cheer Lutheran’s Tang has, in two years, seen a near-doubling of the number of drug addicts knocking on his door to seek counselling. Numbering almost 400 now, they come from all age groups and professions.

    His centre has been working with neighbouring schools to deepen parents’ knowledge about drugs, and teach them how to tell if their children are on drugs. Beginning in December, he will work with the government to conduct random drug tests on students.

    Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s border with Shenzhen has become increasingly porous as controls over passenger flows have been eased to accelerate integration between the two cities.

    All Hong Kong residents, with the exception of those deemed troublemakers by Beijing, travel freely to Shenzhen with an electronic card called the Home Return Permit.

    Once they get there, they can easily find ketamine, a cheap drug that is gaining popularity among schoolchildren. It has replaced heroin as the most commonly abused drug in Hong Kong.

    At just HK$100 (RM43.20) for a bag which four people can share, even schoolchildren can afford it. It is easy to produce and inhale, and hard for law officers and drug-sniffing dogs to find.

    “About 80 per cent of the drug addicts at our centre took ketamine trafficked from mainland China,” Tang said.

    A record haul of ketamine weighing 140kg and worth HK$16 million on the market was found by Hong Kong immigration officers last month inside 120 small music speakers in a truck.

    Legislator Leung does not think the problem can be solved without addressing two root causes: A local education system lacking creativity and connection to the contemporary interests of today’s youth, and the abundance of manufacturing bases in China.

    So far, police in Shenzhen have displayed only a lukewarm interest in cracking down on drug dealers.

    “In the past, most Hong Kongers who went to China were adults,” Leung said with a sigh.

    “Now, it is young people chasing sex, drugs and girlfriends.”

    — Straits Times

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