Children as young as seven among the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghur minority of northwestern China are falling prey to drug addictions, but to date authorities have failed in attacking the problem at its source.
"Most of these young kids encountered drugs while they were influenced by their families and certain evil-minded people in society without knowing the harmful effects of drugs," an official at a drugs rehabilitation clinic in the regional capital of Urumqi told RFA. "Young kids can be easily manipulated by others."
Asked if children could easily obtain drugs, the official replied: "It is hard to say. They can find drugs as long as they are in an environment that has drugs."
According to official statistics for the Uyghur region of Xinjiang, drug use has risen sharply in the past 10 years, and the level of addiction is more serious than before, with around 56 percent of users now directly injecting drugs into their veins.
The vast majority of drug users are Uyghurs, an ethnic minority subject to unpopular quasi-military rule from Beijing. Two percent of users are just seven or eight years old. And 93 percent of all HIV/AIDS infections in the region came from the sharing of dirty needles.
Children become inducted into drug-using circles by peers or family members at a young age, an Urumqi police officer told RFA. "These young kids were deceived and brought by those evil-minded people into inner China to become thieves or heroin sellers. Then they themselves became drug users."
"Some of their parents were involved in using or selling drugs...There are many kids who died after using injections. Many people have died from using illegal drugs," the officer said.
The incidence of drug use in the Uyghur region is now second only to that of the southwestern province of Yunnan, which borders the notorious Golden Triangle. The range of hard drugs available in the region has also increased in recent years.
A 19 year-old patient at a rehabilitation clinic in Gulja City said he had become addicted to heroin at 15 following the breakup of his family. "Four years ago, my family fell apart after my parents were divorced. I was deceived by my neighborhood kids and got addicted to heroin," Mavlan Tursun told RFA. "After I was addicted to heroin, I traveled to inner China and used drugs over there using the money I made."
"Finally, I could not continue working due to the effects of drugs. Then I became a street vendor. At the end, I could not make the ends meet. Now I have come back to Gulja and am receiving treatment here."
"An addiction to illegal drugs destroys a human body and all those who care about you. I hope other young people strongly stick to their self-confidence and don't follow in my footsteps. I don't want them become a victim of the 'white monster,' too," Mavlan — ; who agreed to have his interview broadcast to warn others — ; said.
An official at the rehabilitation clinic said many of his patients had the support of their families in kicking the habit. "We mainly use a method of stabilizing their ideas and educating them about its harmfulness," the official said. "For those who are deeply addicted, we have injections and other medicines to lessen their addiction."
"Most of them know the harm done by drugs. Most of them came here voluntarily, in accordance with their families' and their own decision," he said.
Some in the region believe the Chinese authorities lack the political will to solve the problem at its root, however.
"Why can't the government stop the drugs from entering the region?" a Uyghur woman recently arrived in Germany said. "I think the government should strengthen the border patrol in Xinjiang. What is the point of trying to prevent the drugs after they've been sold into the region. Why can't the government stop it at the source?"
"The drugs are brought from the inner China via bus and train routes. If the government is determined to stop the drug-trafficking, it has the ability to do so," she said.
Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1940s but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949.
According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese — ; up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.