Glue Kids and Hard Realities

According to a study by ECPAT Cambodia, around 75% of the country’s victims of sex trafficking are children.

He knocked on my truck window as I was preparing to back out of the market area.  His face was a mess of grime; his hands filthy; his clothes torn and soiled. There he stood holding his hand out asking for money.

I knew this kid.  He was part of a group of children our team served dinner to the night before.  The Glue Kids -- children who no longer have a home and instead roam the streets of Poipet, the border town in Cambodia where we have worked for the past 10 years.  Addicted to glue, these kids are a gang of sorts, with teenage leaders who provide the children an ample supply of glue to keep them high. Carrying their supply in plastic bags, they dispense the drug into empty water bottles or smaller bags their underlings can easily carry, sniff, and enjoy the high.

It is these kids for whom my heart shatters.  What price do they pay to their ‘glue-pimps’ in exchange for more glue, more high?  With the shocking statistic, it’s not hard to imagine: 75% of all sex trafficking victims in Cambodia are children.  

And there this young boy stood.  Holding his hand at my window asking for money.  I quickly put the truck in park and got out to talk with him.  I asked if he and his friend were hungry? Both answered yes. Purchasing food at the market, I returned to the ragged boys and noticed the water bottles with the bright orange glue held in each of their hands.  I asked if they would give me their glue bottles in exchange for the food I had for them. Both looked at me in shock. The younger of the two looked down at his bottle and then back into my eyes before letting his eyes linger on the food in my hands.  He quickly said yes and handed me his bottle of bright orange glue. The other boy though, he didn’t move. He held his glue with a fierce determination and with equal passion told me ‘no’.

While one boy ate the food, the other stood in strong defiance.  No amount of coaxing or reasoning would convince him to give up the glue in exchange for the food his body was desperate for.  And that’s what happens day after day in the Cambodian community where we work. Glue kids, so severely addicted, don’t know their very bodies are starving to death.  And when they run out of glue, they will do anything – yes anything – to get more.

This is the reality for people where Landmine Design works.  It’s not just a statistic to us. These are the very children we see as we work.  Children. Victims – a full 75% of the victims in this entire country. And it is for these children, and the ones who are yet to be in such risk, we work so tirelessly.  We work to PREVENT them from ever having to face the darkness that is just inches away.

Oh and that boy who held so fiercely to his bottle?  How could I leave him and carry away the food he so desperately needed?  With deep sadness and resignation, I handed him the food and told him we cared.  I told him Jesus cared too. I climbed back into my truck and drove away with one glue bottle and no food while two young boys ate.  Was it the right thing to do? I have no idea. But, I often wonder what Jesus would have done.

By Co-Founder and Director, Karla Tillapaugh