Saba is interviewing working afghan women in camp
Photo by Saba Bangash

By Saba Bangash

PESHAWAR, 1 May: Alarming reports have surfaced from Khurasan Camp of Afghan refugees in suburbs of Peshawar where women weaving carpets are reportedly feeding opium to their children which have rendered them drug addicts and illiterates at cost of commercial motives. The practice of drugging children with opium goes unnoticed by the government and concerned authorities putting the future of hundreds of young Afghans at stake.  A prime example is 12 years old Jawad, an ethnic Turkmen from Afghan refugee family living in Khurasan camp, who became drug addict due to his mother.

“My mom was a housemaid and she used to give me opium from a bottle to keep me fast asleep since my birth ”  he narrates while talking to TNN. He says that he grew  up with drug addiction that turned him into a beggar. “I used to visit Karkhano Market in Peshawar and beg people for money. I earned Rs300-500 daily through begging and then buy hashish from a shop”he maintains. Shops of hashish, liquor and other drugs are easily accessible for people in Karkhano Market that borders with Khyber Agency, a tribal district inside FATA, where hashish are grown and sold in public.

Jawad  is currently under treatment at Dost Foundation which works for rehabilitation of drug addicts. Jawad is not the sole victim of drug addiction as there are many more children at Khurasan camp who are fed opium .Most of these women manufacture  rugs to make ends meet. However, they have to keep their children calm while carrying out their work.

Jawad Afghan is under treatment for addiction at Welfare Organisation in Peshawar.
Jawad Afghan is under treatment for addiction at Welfare Organisation in Peshawar.

The family of  Jawad came from war torn Afghanistan and settled in Peshawar three decades back. The Khurasan  camp is mainly populated by Turkmen families from northern Afghanistan who has established small carpet units and cottage where women weave rugs and carpets.

Rahima, a refugee woman, who is about 35 years of age, says she has four children and  needs to work all the day to earn livelihood for her family as her husband is jobless. She says works day in and day out to make ends meet. Therefore, she  feeds opium to her children to concentrate on her work and avoid distraction by them. “The opium keeps the infant fast asleep and calm giving us the opportunity to get the work done on time. We have to do this as there is no other option to continue our job,” she argues.

When asked whether the use of opium as sleeping medicine will not make their children drug addicts, Rahima admitts that she has not given a thought to this prospect saying  she does not know what will  happen to her children in future.

“We give them opium till a certain age and stop its use when they grow  up. It will be impossible for us to survive without this work,” says Rahima . She adds  that her children visit a Madrassa (religious seminary) occasionally, but she is unable  to send her children to school because it costs money and time. Madrassa or religious education is comparatively cheaper and less time consuming in Pakistan.

Aalia, a lady health worker in the Khurasan camp associated with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for the last few years, tells TNN that children at the camp often suffer from different diseases due to consumption of drugs. “ The drug addicted children don’t consume proper food as they remain intoxicated which exposes them to several diseases. Such children often suffer from chest infection due to malnutrition,”  says Aalia .

Afghan women prepares precious rugs in refugee camp
Afghan women prepares precious rugs in refugee camp

Children Specialist at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, Dr Yasir says opium apparently keeps the children asleep but it has many precarious effects on the body and can also prove fatal. “When the children become opium addicts then their body gradually requires more quantity of the drug with passage of time which damages their body tissues. The major fallout is that medicines don’t affect their bodies as they grow in age which create complications. The use of opium also causes hepatitis and breathing diseases,” explains Dr Yasir. He says  opium use even by adults makes the brain weaker and lazy. Overdose of opium can also cause death of children, he warns.

The use of opium in childhood can make them drug addicts like Jawad when they grow up. These drug addicts can become a nuisance not only for their families, but for the society at large.