By Paulus Kayiggwa
On December 7, 1987, the United Nations General Assembly decided to observe every June 26 as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. It was as an expression of its determination to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse.
The theme of the International Day for 2006 was “Drugs are not child’s play.” It was selected in an effort to increase public awareness about the destructive power of drugs and society’s responsibility to care for the well-being of children.
The recent global increase in the scope, intensity, and sophistication of crime threatens the safety of citizens everywhere. It also hampers social, economic, and cultural development. The dark side of globalisation allows multinational crime syndicates to broaden their range of operations from drug and arms trafficking, to money laundering and human trafficking.
The latest estimates indicate 200 million people, or 5 per cent of the global population between the ages of 15 and 64 have consumed illicit drugs at least once in the last 12 months. Worldwide, commonly abused drugs include marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, club drugs, heroin, inhalants, nicotine, methamphetamines, steroids, and prescription medications, among others.
Today, as a result of research studies, clinical trials, and new ways to study the brain, scientists urge that drug addiction is a disease. They also say teen brains are more susceptible than adults to drug effects. According to reports, behaviour associated with drug abuse is now the single largest factor in the spread of HIV infection in the United States and the whole world in general. The teen health threat of drug addiction helps set the stage for the disease of HIV/Aids.
Although they are seldom the objects of national and international studies, children of all ages are affected by drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Street children, working and living in dire conditions, are vulnerable, as are boys and girls whose family members are buying or selling illicit substances. These kids are exposed not only to bad examples but also to violent behaviour associated with drug abuse.
In some instances, children have lost their parents to this scourge and are now cared for by uncles, aunts, or grandparents. At school, the situation may not be any better. Teenagers and peers may be pressuring kids to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at first, and then to try marijuana.
Previous studies have identified maternal smoking during pregnancy with decreased growth parameters. Women who use cocaine often use other substances like alcohol and tobacco, both of which have been shown to have effects on birth weight.
A doctor at Kigali’s King Faisal Hospital said a recent publication from the Maternal Lifestyle Study reported how cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use during pregnancy were related to infant birth weight, length, and head size. He also said tuberculosis is very common among regular and passive smokers. He emphasised that cancer, irregular blood pressure, impotency, and heart problems are very common among drug abusers.
Drug users can become involved in anti-social behaviour like aggressiveness, robbery, and rape. Their physical appearance changes drastically due to abnormal organ function, the doctor said. He further cautioned that excessive internal organ damage caused by drug abuse is irreparable, which means death is likely to result.
“We at times use drugs like marijuana, smoke tobacco and other drugs to stimulate our bodies for effective performance of our day to day work,” a mini-bus driver at Remera Taxi Park said. He also revealed there are people who cannot work without these drugs. Some use them for pleasurable purposes, social recognition, and for others, it’s become a habit.
The driver said marijuana has serious harmful effects on driving skills. He explained that timing, coordination, alertness, and performance are all affected. Marijuana users may have delayed reactions to sights and sounds that drivers need to notice, which can cause accidents.
He also noted that not all taxi drivers use drugs. He said there are some who have never used them and they work in a conscious manner. But drug abusers have a distinct reason for using drugs, and the difference must be understood by talking to every drug user. In Rwanda, marijuana is called by a number of names like spot, herb, weed, Mary Jane, ganja, and chronic.
According to Willy Marcel Higiro, the Police spokesperson, drug abusers are located in highly populated areas of the country. Such areas include slums, parks, markets, busy towns, and busy commercial areas, among others. He also said that most drug users are casual labourers, porters, unemployed youth or adults, and a few people in the entertainment industry.
Higiro said the most commonly used drugs which have registered the highest numbers of arrests include local brew, marijuana (urumogi), liquor (kanyanga), heroin (mugo), cocaine, mayirungi, diazepam tabs, ecstasy tabs, and inhalants.
He said some drugs are locally produced on a small scale by individuals running businesses in their homes. Some are importing the drugs from countries like India, Pakistan, and Thailand, among others. He noted Rwanda is used as a transit point for people running drugs through neighbouring countries. They transport them by air, water, land, and public and private means.
Higiro said two marijuana gardens were discovered in Nyungwe forest and Ruhango District. Both were uprooted and destroyed.
Rwandan laws relating to drug abuse may not differ from those of other countries. There has been abrogation of the same articles and law reforms that are underway and in the process of updating and harmonising our national laws. But as a principle, international laws, regulations and conventions come on top in hierarchy. Rwandan laws follow.
Despite the challenges, strict measures have been taken
Despite of the challenges faced, Rwandan national police have taken strict measures to curb drug abuse. District judicial police officers are vigilant in arresting drug abusers. A canine brigade with sniffer dogs is active at Kigali International Airport. The Rwanda National Police are busy sensitising the public on the dangers of drug abuse.
“Border agents do co-operate in providing information,” Higiro revealed. “Information gathering is being done (through) both paid and volunteers and we have a very good working relationship with stakeholders. There is good cooperation among neighbouring countries, the region, and the world through exchange of information.”
Higiro also noted that partners in combating illicit drugs include Rwandans, foreigners, non-government organisations, security organs, customs officials, public and private couriers, the post office, transport agencies, hotel owners, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Rwanda Bureau of Standards.
“We have registered a significant result in our campaign and fight against illicit drugs during the past years,” he said.
He urged everyone at all levels of occupation, age, and capacity to provide information concerning any person involved in any type of drug activity in Rwanda. He asked everyone to become inquisitive and know the consequences of illicit drugs on the national economy and the socioeconomic breakdown. He also encouraged people to understand the health and dependence burden drugs place on families, along with their backward force on our national efforts to heal and reconstruct the country for development.
He urged adults to protect children and other family members and ensure a home is a safe environment. He also encouraged parents to make children aware of the dangers associated with drug abuse.
Teachers and social workers also have a role to play by watching for warning signs and taking measures to address drug-related problems. For example, teachers can provide kids with information on health risks linked to drug abuse and give them a forum to discuss the issues.