Youth struggle with drug scourge

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am


Two-and-a-half years ago, Ritham Hang Serma was sent for drug rehabilitation in an attempt by his probation officer to spare him a jail term.

Serma had vowed to his family countless times to kick the habit, but each time his resolve melted.

It was not until he was ordered to rehabilitate at Christian Zheng Sheng College in Lantau that he shook free of the scourge - and is now slowly learning Chinese. Now 18, Serma started taking heroin with friends at age 14 while living in Jordan.

'In the beginning, my family gave me money, as I'd always say it'd be my last fix - I really meant it when I said it,' he said. 'When they stopped, I started to steal stuff. At that point, I was completely numb - you just don't care about anything else' but the next fix.

Researchers at Chinese University have found Nepalis have a bigger problem with drug abuse than do members of any other ethnic minority in the city. Drug abuse in Hong Kong in general has fallen in recent years, but the number of Nepali addicts has been on the rise.

Most started taking drugs between 10 and 19, with more than 90 per cent of them hooked on heroin, according to the study, led by anthropology professor Maria Tam Siumi.

'Social and cultural issues have made Nepali youth more susceptible to drug abuse,' Tam said. 'The government's anti-drug campaigns also don't really reach them because of the language barrier.

'Their community is small and isolated, so there isn't a way out for young people. They also do not have equal opportunities in education, employment or social and medical services.'

Serma and three other Nepali friends also at Christian Zheng Sheng College grew up partly in Nepal while their parents worked in Hong Kong, some serving as Gurkha soldiers.

It was not uncommon for Nepali children to be separated from their parents at a young age. Some became addicted in Nepal, where drugs were seen to indicate masculinity and modernity, Tam said.

'It's culturally acceptable for men in Nepal to smoke marijuana,' she said.

That was the case with Serma's friend, Raj Kumar Gurung, 22, who was sent back to Nepal as a child and began using marijuana there, as well as 'brown sugar' - a raw form of heroin.

When Gurung rejoined his parents in Hong Kong, he quickly acquired a taste for heroin.

Once, he spent HK$2,500 on drugs in one day. Since enrolling at Christian Zheng Sheng College, he has been clean for two years.

Hong Kong-born Ashesh Rai, 21, is the newest addition to the group - he has been clean for five months but still struggle at times. Raj got hooked during a 10-year separation from his family in Nepal.

His three friends had encouraged him a lot, Rai said, and he hoped to go to university one day.

Serma said: 'We just need to find someone to walk with us.'