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- Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - From Print Edition


JALALABAD, Afghanistan: They play badminton, kick a ball around and huddle over computer games just like normal children.


Except that they are recovering drug addicts aged around three to 12, representing a growing proportion of drug users in war-torn Afghanistan. In response, increasing numbers of rehabilitation centres are weaning such children off their addiction and giving them a new appetite for life in a country that produces 90 percent of the world’s opium used to make heroin.


While there are no statistics for kids, the rate of relapse is high for their parents, experts say. For now two young girls, dressed in a blue uniform and playing badminton, and a group of boys playing football are all active and healthy — the total opposite of when they arrived.


“When I see them for the first time, the kids are depressed, unhappy. They don’t play actively, they don’t care about hygiene,” said care assistant Massouma Khatima. “They’re like ghosts,” added one of her colleagues.


The centre, run by Afghan charity Wadan, which is partly funded by the United Nations, offers 25 children and 35 women the chance to get clean. Those who suffer from diarrhea, constipation or headaches as a side effect from addiction are given medical treatment.


More hardened addicts among the adults are treated with hydrotherapy — in this case mostly cold showers. Marwa, 10, is one of the girls who has recently recovered. Now she dares to dream of becoming an engineer, a fairly remote prospect for a girl from a poor community where few women are educated.