The Child Glue Sniffer

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Last October, I witnessed a young boy, no older than the age of seven ask to buy glue. Was it to stick some cutouts onto a paper? Was it to make a work of art like children would do? It wasn’t any of the above.

I sat on the steps of my aunt’s little shop house in Burma, watching people come and go. The old and young, beggars and the wealthy, nuns and monks, it was interesting to watch. But this particular scene caught my eyes, and left an impression on me till date.

It’s like watching a memory replay. He walked onto the steps, his skin full of grime, his short black hair so dry and unkempt, and all he wore was a singlet that was once white, and shorts. He was shoeless and skinny. I remember thinking to myself; this little boy needs a good bath. Behind him were two or three other boys, all around his age, shadowing him. I guess he was the leader of the pack.

He stretched out his thin arm and opened his hand, holding 100 kyats (Burmese currency equivalent to about 10 cents.) “A ma, kaw shi lar?” he asked (Older sister, do you have glue?”). My aunt replied that she didn’t, and so the little gang ran off.

I was curious as to why a child who had obviously been begging on the streets would use the money to buy some adhesive glue that he doesn’t need and so I asked my aunt. Her response left me in shock.

They were here to buy glue, so that they could inhale the fumes. I had met my very first glue sniffer and he was a child. All I wanted to do at that moment was rerun the scenario, so that I could have said something to the child, had I known.

That day I found out, children and adults in Burma would use glue as a way of getting high. The reactions you get out of inhaling the toxins were lethal. It was cheap and was easy to buy. The children in particular were uneducated and usually come from very poverty-stricken backgrounds.

The information was hard to digest and this small but powerful memory will always be something I relate to people who talk about Burma. A beautiful country, with beautiful people, that has many struggles and issues that need to be addressed.

So here I am, writing about this memory after a short conversation about the “glue boy” with the same aunt.

An article on why these children do what they do – Myanmar’s poor, young glue sniffers.

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