Fifty percent of Maldivian youth are addicted to some kind of drug, according to a video report produced for the New York Times, ‘Battling heroin in the Maldives’.
“You would not find a family without a single member or near relative not suffering from drug abuse,” Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told journalist Mariana Keller, who visited the country with Mirva Lempiainen in June to run workshops on citizen journalism.
“Heroin was first introduced 70’s, when Sri Lankan workers brought into the country to pave the roads,” Keller explains. “Most kids start using in school.”
And while it was previously hard to find somebody selling the drug, the introduction of mobile phones has made it very easy.
“Ordering a pizza in Male’ takes 30 minutes, but with brown sugar [heroin], it takes just five minutes for it to be at your door step,” explains Ali Adyb from rehabilitation NGO Journey.
Jobs are scarce, but parents are willing to give their kids money, often feeding their addiction, narrates Keller.
Adyb places some responsiblity on parents: “Parents don’t want their kids to end up in jail – the path of denial is very strong with parents. Even if find out [about the drug use], they say ‘It’s not my son, it’s daughter’. And they practically give them money.”
The officials Keller spoke to blamed the country’s “porous borders” for the extent of the problem, and a lack of ability to scan cargo.
“We still don’t have equipment to scan certain kinds of cargo,” Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan says, explaining that once the drugs enter the country, the supply becomes so scattered it is difficult to trace.
Adyb notes that Maldivian society was showing a growing acceptance of drug use.
“People don’t care as much anymore,” he tells Keller. “People accept it as part of life.”