• The Drug War: A Dangerous Trap for Poor Children and Their Families, a New Report Says

    by  • November 20, 2015 • Gender-Based Violence, Health and Population, Human Trafficking, Latin America, Poverty, UN Office on Drugs and Crime • 1 Comment

    The global drug war . Here, poppy field in Afghanistan, sources of opium. CREATIVE COMMONS

    One serious result of the long-lived global drug war has been its unintended damage on children. Here, a poppy field in Afghanistan, sources of opium. CREATIVE COMMONS

    In time for Universal Children’s Day, a new report shows how the war on drugs hurts children’s health, puts them into the line of fire amid drug-gang violence and leads them into the netherworld of human trafficking and enslavement. The drug war also destroys families when parents are unnecessarily imprisoned for drug crimes, among other downward spirals.

    The report, “The War on Drugs: Harming, Not Protecting, Young People,” was released on Nov. 20. It is a project of the Count the Costs of the War on Drugs initiative, a collective of nonprofit organizations and others that aspires to “reduce the unintended consequences of the war on drugs.” The Open Society Foundations; WOLA, the Latin American human-rights advocacy organization; and the Green Party in Britain are some of the initiative’s supporters.

    One impetus of the project is the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which provided the basis for the current global criminal justice system’s approach to drug control, involving police and military enforcement as well as punitive responses to drug users, the project states. The seemingly spectacular failure of drug war policies stemming from this legal framework has disproportionately damaged children who have been dragged into the drug world unwittingly or by choice and left them more vulnerable in the end.

    As the United Nations gears up for a drug war summit meeting in April 2016, the Count the Costs of the War on Drugs project and other groups, including some governments, are emphasizing that the world’s drug problem is in dire need of new solutions. The report attempts to portray a reality based on “evidence collected” from Mexico, Britain, Afghanistan and the US that can catapult new thinking on managing the drug world, requiring a shift from reduction, abstinence and arrests toward an analysis based on improving the “wellbeing of children and young people.”

    For starters, the report’s findings say that while most children and youths do not use illegal drugs, and that most who do experience little to no significant harm as a result, a small but important proportion will encounter problems because of their age. Along those lines, it says that punitive drug law enforcement does not deter children and young people from using drugs or significantly restrict their access to them.

    To make matters worse for youths who do use illegal drugs, the threat of criminalization and its stigma  pushes drug use into “marginal, unsafe and unhygienic environments,” the report adds, further jeopardizing the health of young people caught up in that arena. Criminalization can also deter people from seeking treatment, for fear of condemnation or arrest.

    The report devotes much attention to the lopsided judicial responses to juveniles caught up in the drug world, saying that they are often subjected to imprisonment and serious forms of cruel and unusual punishment. Contending with such injustices is more acute for those mired in the drug scene because they are usually among the most discriminated members of society, lured into low-level drug dealing or trafficking because of poverty or a lack of promising options.

    In any country, poorer young people remain at greater risk than their richer counterparts of being apprehended by police. This is because poor youths are more likely to live in rough urban neighborhoods where the drug trade is often carried out in public between strangers. Once arrested, poor youths are more likely to be convicted and to go to prison than their wealthier peers — particularly if they are from ethnic minorities.

    The destruction of families — through parental involvement in the drug scene and resulting criminalization that makes a mother or father absent through imprisonment, neglect or death — can present complex generational problems that resist resolution and reverberate throughout all of society.

    As an example, the report said that since 2006, when Mexico intensified its military response to drug law enforcement, more than 100,000 people have been killed in violence related to the nation’s illegal drug trade and more than 20,000 people have disappeared. In 2010, it was estimated that as many as 50,000 children had lost one or more parents in the violence and that the numbers have most likely risen.

    Locking up adults for drug offenses has deprived many children of their parents or other adult caregivers. In the US, 55 percent of women and 69 percent of men held in federal prisons for drug offenses have children; in state prisons, it is 63 percent of women and 59 percent of men.

    The way out of this drug war mess? Decriminalization of drug possession for personal use and the legal regulation of drug markets, the report suggests.

     

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    Dulcie Leimbach

    About

    Dulcie Leimbach was a fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of CUNY from 2012 to 2017. She is the founder of PassBlue, for which she edits and writes, covering primarily the United Nations, West Africa, peacekeeping operations and women's issues. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

    Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA, where she edited its flagship magazine, The InterDependent, and migrated it online in 2010. She was also the senior editor of UNA's annual book, "A Global Agenda: Issues Before the UN." She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies.

    Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Colorado, graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She grew up mostly in Oyster Bay and Huntington, Long Island, where her family moved a dozen times, ending up in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her first exposure to the UN was at age 8, on a summer Sunday visit with her mother and sisters, where she was awed by the gift shop. Leimbach now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    One Response to The Drug War: A Dangerous Trap for Poor Children and Their Families, a New Report Says

    1. sara
      September 17, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you for getting this information about how the war on drugs is hurting families….in so may, may ways.

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