Maldives battles with rising drug abuse among young

VILINGILI ISLAND, Maldives, Sept 4, 2007 (AFP) – The Maldives, known as a holiday haven for the rich and famous, is grappling with a growing drug abuse problem among its young people including pre-teens. Around 20 percent of the island nation’s residents under the age of 15 are using banned substances, according to the National Narcotics Control Bureau.

Bored and restless, youngsters, who comprise more than 40 percent of the population of 300,000, are increasingly turning to drugs, health workers say.

“It’s a tragic social crisis,” said Aminath Hamzoon, a trainee peer educator who works with youngsters trying to kick drug habits.

“The problem has escalated due to boredom, peer pressure, poor employment prospects and overcrowding on the islands,” she said at this after-care peer support training camp on Vilingili Island close to the capital Male.

There are an estimated 5,000 users in densely crowded Male, with the island’s narcotics bureau reporting cases of children as young as nine experimenting with heroin.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates the average age is 12 for first time drug users in the Maldives.

“Unlike most countries coping with a drug