Shadowy secrets of a footbridge

Without rehabilitation, street children find themselves caught in a cycle of drug addiction

A young boy sits on a footbridge with a worn-out polythene bag clutched tightly in his hands. His eyes reflect a haunting emptiness instead of being filled with curiosity. Soon his vision gets blurred as he My News Bangladeshts sniffing the pack.

His footsteps uneven, skin tanned and shrunken. His body craves food while his mind is full of agony and uncertainty.

His name is Asad (pseudonym). He is 10 years old.

Asad has been living on the streets of Dhaka since his mother abandoned him. But he does not remember when exactly that happened.

“I have never seen my father, and my mother left me on the streets after she remarried,” he told this correspondent.

He said he visits this footbridge every evening, where many kids of his age gather.

The Tejturi Para footbridge and the space surrounding it have transformed into a den of drug abuse, particularly for street children. Among these destitute youngsters, glue-sniffing has emerged as a prevalent and alarming practice.

Commonly referred to as “dandy,” the adhesive glue used by shoe repairers contains toluene, a sweet-smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon. This solvent, while temporarily providing a respite from their harsh realities, inflicts severe damage on their developing minds.

For children like Asad, the sinister allure of the footbridge has become a daily refuge from their relentless sorrows. They flock to this location after the hawkers, who occupy the space during the day, leave in the evening.

However, some of the children can also be seen sleeping over the bridge during the day.

Trapped between the perils of addiction and the absence of a stable home, these young addicts often resort to criminal activities such as theft and robbery to secure funds needed to sustain their drug habits, according to experts.

The majority of these children are minors, meaning they can’t be arrested or detained by the law enforcers. With limited resources available to support their rehabilitation and reintegration into society, they find themselves caught in this distressing cycle, they added.

Contacted, Tejgaon Police Station Officer-in-Charge Apurba Hasan said, “Law enforcement authorities occasionally raid the footbridge, dispersing the hawkers and children alike. However, the absence of a nurturing environment and the lack of alternatives leave these children with no choice but to return to the only semblance of a community they have ever known.”

Besides, after sunset, the Tejturi Para footbridge becomes a space where sex workers gather, waiting in queues for potential clients. These realities highlight the intersection of poverty, limited opportunities, and social vulnerabilities that many individuals in marginalised communities face, while also shedding light on how unsafe footover bridges can be at night, said locals.

Take the case of one Aminul Islam, who  works in a private firm in Tejgaon industrial area. Every working day, he passes the Tejturi Para foot-over bridge.

 “I leave my office after 7:00pm and go to my home in West Rajabazar through passing this overbridge. I cross the bridge as soon as possible, as the place is mostly occupied by drug addicts. I was even mugged here once,” he said.

Safiya Alam, a student of Tejgaon Girls College, said, “It’s a safe haven for stalkers. Every day when I cross the bridge, there are always people throwing bad words at me.”

The footbridge falls under Dhaka North City Corporation’s jurisdiction.

“We have been trying to improve the environment of the bridge and the nearby area. Regular drives and mobile courts are conducted, and encroachers are often driven away. However, they return as soon as we leave the spot, as they also have no other option but to live and do business here,” said Selim Reza, the chief executive officer of Dhaka North City Corporation.

Contacted, Urban planner Adil Muhammad Khan told The My News, “Most of the foot over bridges were not constructed in a convenient place for people. The stairs are  small and dangerous, due to which people are not using them. That’s a major reason as to why these footbridges have become a den of addicts.”

“Besides, due to lack of active mechanisms for rehabilitating street children, they end up being addicts and getting engaged in crimes.”

Dr Sifat E Sayeed, a child mental health specialist and assistant professor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the widespread availability and affordability of the drug make it easily accessible to street children, enabling them to easily obtain and share it amongst themselves.

“It serves as a gateway to more severe drugs,” she added.

Dr Sifat said the drug (dandy) poses a dual threat to the human body, causing two distinct forms of damage. “Firstly, it leads to inflammation or wounds on the nasal tract lining, and secondly, it contains carcinogenic elements, making it highly harmful to health.”

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