Afghan child addicts bring the heroin problem home
Kabul, Afghanistan - Soaman is like any other four-year-old — except that she used to be a heroin addict.
The child’s 27-year-old mother, Najia, said from behind her stained blue burka: “My husband used to smoke in the house when she played and she breathed it in. One day he couldn’t afford his drugs and she was sick and crying — we realised she was addicted too.”
In a poor country, Najia is the poorest of the poor. She lives with her husband and daughter in Kabul’s old city, an area of winding dirt lanes, tumbling mud huts and drug addicts who openly smoke their goods.
The smell from the open sewers is overpowering.
To pay for their addictions, Najia and her husband sold their furniture, their carpets and even their clothes, leaving them destitute.
Najia, who like many Afghans is known by one name, said: “My husband became addicted when he returned to Afghanistan from Iran. He couldn’t find a job and became depressed. When I married him I didn’t know he was an addict. He got me addicted.”
Afghanistan has long been the largest heroin-producing nation, responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s supply.
The abundance of the drug has led to a sharp increase in the number of Afghans using it.
The Nejat Centre, which treats child and female drug addicts in the old city, has more than 900 women and 110 children on its books.
The latest United Nations report estimates that more than 2 per cent of the country’s female population are drug users and about 1 per cent of under-15s use drugs. For the male population, the figure is even higher, at 12 per cent.
Muhammad Aman Roufi, supervisor at the Nejat Centre, said: “The problem of drug addiction has increased hugely since the fall of the Taleban, especially among the women.”
Balqis Kabir, 29, a social worker in the old city, said: “People get desperate for drugs; they will do anything to get money. I’ve even heard of addicts stealing shoes from outside a mosque to sell for drugs money.”
According to Mr Roufi, the reasons for addiction are varied. Many people picked up drugs in the refugee camps of Iran and Pakistan, having fled there during the civil war. Others are depressed about unemployment and many are war widows who lost husbands in the years of strife.
Shajina, 45, lost her husband nine years ago when he was killed fighting the Taleban. She told The Times: “I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t tolerate the loneliness. I was poor and my children were crying for food. I started to take opium to numb the pain.”
Shajina, who was addicted for more than seven years and says that she is now free from opium, lives with her daughter Nooria, 30, also a former addict and a war widow.
Their house is dusty, there is little furniture and a burka hangs on the wall. Their lives illustrate the pain and suffering that Afghanistan and its people have had to endure during almost three decades of war.
Nooria said: “My husband was killed the same year as my mother; they never found the body. The pain for us was too much. We both started using soon after and then became addicts.”By Tim Albone