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A Call for Community Action - Message from Fern Ngai, Chair of KELY Support Group


In light of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26), Fern Ngai, Chair of KELY Support Group, has written an opinion piece to call for a community action to address the global issue of drug abuse and trafficking.

KELY Support Group calls upon the city of Hong Kong to combat illicit drug use and trafficking

26 June marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, designated by the United Nations to strengthen global efforts towards a society free of drug abuse. Now in its 27th year, the day serves as a reminder of the on-going war that is being fought around the world on illicit drug use and trafficking, and that unless there is concerted, sustained effort, Asia may be at risk of fighting a losing battle.

In May, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) confirmed Asia to be the largest synthetic drug market worldwide. Guangdong province has been a major illegal drug production centre since the 1990’s, and Hong Kong is both a port and destination for these drugs. Since 2009, there has been a three-fold increase in seizures of ketamine in Hong Kong and China, and the region accounts for almost 60% of ketamine seizures worldwide. Amongst all synthetic drugs, seizures of the highly addictive methamphetamine, also known as ‘ice’ or ‘crystal meth’, have tripled in the last five years, and continue to surge in East and South-East Asian markets.

Recently, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported that in Hong Kong, youth drug-related offenses are up almost 1.5 times that of the previous year - from 40 cases during 2012-13, to 97 cases in 2013-14. An alarming total of 95 children, aged 10-15, were arrested for drug trafficking in the past year – nearly double the previous year’s figures.

Many of the young people involved in these trafficking cases claimed that they were bribed into these activities, and were unaware of what they were being asked to transport. Most also admitted that they earned ‘quick cash’, even as low as HK$20. A 17 year-old, who was bribed into trafficking HK$30,000 worth of ketamine for HK$1,000, was recently sentenced to almost 5 years in prison.

Are these young people being lured into this illegal activity because they needed money, or because they were naive or ignorant? The transactional nature of these trafficking cases is shocking, and they reflect a community of vulnerable teenagers who are uninformed of the severe consequences and dangers of the illicit drug trade, which is dominated by organised crime groups.

According to the Government’s Central Registry of Drug Abuse, 1 of 4 reported drug abusers are under the age of 25. Nearly half of these young people initially took drugs to relieve anxiety, depression, and boredom, and eventually fell into drug abuse. While recent statistics may indicate a declining trend of reported drug abuse over the last few years, hidden drug abuse amongst young people is growing, and is much more difficult to detect.

According to Mr. Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, “Illicit drugs threaten people's health and welfare. Up to 200,000 people die every year due to illicit drugs; but drugs do not just affect the user, they cause tremendous hardship and misery to families and loved ones. Drug use disorders undermine close relationships, damage home lives, including those of children, and can ruin education and employment opportunities. Their impact is felt in communities, criminal justice systems and across society.”

At KELY Support Group, we believe in the power of young people and their ability to make informed choices about drugs. Some of them simply do not understand the depth to which illicit drugs can destroy their futures. What young people need is on-going engagement, education and awareness of the dangers of drugs, along with understanding, guidance and support from peers, parents, teachers, and other adults, who have a shared responsibility to keep informed of the perils of drugs.

We wish to call upon the city of Hong Kong to join our citywide campaign against drug abuse and trafficking. Over June and July, we will be conducting three community outreach programmes across the city, including an interactive communal art installation at a shopping mall, a street public awareness campaign, and the launch of the first-ever drug-free resource booklet specially designed for Hong Kong’s ethnic minority and non-Chinese speaking youth community.

Through our campaign, we hope to reach as many people as possible, with the aim to prevent young lives from being lured into taking or trafficking drugs. Our role as a leading NGO in this field is to educate, prevent and support, and we urge all members of the public to work with us towards a healthy, drug-free Hong Kong.

Fern Ngai, Chair, KELY Support Group

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