The International Catholic Child Bureau and drug abuse: contributions to drug abuse prevention by a non-governmental organization concerned with children


The experience of the International Catholic Child Bureau
The therapeutic community: a possible answer
A global approach to prevention in applied research
The family as resource
The training of educators
The religious dimension
Inter-denominational initiatives
Moral values


Author: F. RUEGG
Pages: 9 to 15
Creation Date: 1991/01/01

The International Catholic Child Bureau and drug abuse: contributions to drug abuse prevention by a non-governmental organization concerned with children

F. RUEGG Secretary-General, International Catholic Child Bureau, Geneva, Switzerland


The present article is an attempt to demonstrate that a broad-based approach to matters directly affecting children, with special emphasis on meeting their non-material and spiritual needs, can effectively contribute to drug abuse prevention, in particular, by promoting personal values that encourage constructive use of goods and time.

The International Catholic Child Bureau (ICCB) has adopted its approach to drug abuse prevention, particularly in respect of "street children", and, through its vast network of experts and practitioners familiar with intercultural and interdenominational education, has implemented a number of projects in Africa, Europe and Latin America, primarily involving the use of therapeutic communities, workshops and "street educators".

The religious dimension of the work of ICCB is particularly important because it highlights a fundamental aspect for youth -of all cultures, i.e. integrated preparation for life as responsible members of the community. ICCB is of the view that it is imperative to provide children with possibilities for a life that is free of substance dependence, once they are able to make the right decisions.


The opening up of the world to all lines of thought, the popularization of knowledge and the globalization of markets have led to hitherto unimagined communication and interchange. Thus, government representatives are coming together to discuss problems such as drug abuse control at an ever-increasing number of meetings, and non-governmental organizations have extended their networks all over the world, across all geographical and cultural barriers. Like economic problems, social problems, including drug abuse, appear unsolvable despite the financial and technical resources channelled to the agencies that deal with such problems.

It has now become clear, however, that no single Government, organization or agency can come to grips with the scourge of drugs or even limit it to manageable proportions at the local level. No sooner is an operation such as the control of a substance or the eradication of an illicit poppy crop a success than we are faced with a new substance or a new problem related to drug abuse, such as the spread of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

In recent years there has been a rapprochementbetween Governments and non-governmental organizations in the application of measures for drug abuse control and an enhancement- in the participation of non-governmental organizations in the work of intergovernmental bodies. Non-governmental organizations are being called upon more frequently to collaborate. Exchanges between intergovernmental organizations have been increased and intensified, and the specific nature of the responsibilities of each is becoming more well-defined in response to widespread and global problems such as drug abuse.

Associations are increasingly filling the social gap in big cities, caused by the destruction of both community and family life.

The experience of the International Catholic Child Bureau

Among the non-governmental organizations concerned with drug abuse control, ICCB plays the role of a general practitioner. Its members include experts in the areas of research, education and communication. Its main feature is its constant effort to safeguard the non-material needs of the child and the child's integral growth, referred to in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, annexed to General Assembly resolution 45/25, as the "best interests of the child". [ *] ICCB is therefore able to engage in a variety of activities in the field of drug abuse control.

Since the International Year of the Child (1979), of which ICCB was one of the foremost proponents, ICCB has focused its efforts on "street children". Together with a number of other non-governmental organizations, ICCB has been working in a programme with fieldworkers in charge of various projects involving street children in different parts of the world and with some of the key organizations involved in the protection of children, including the United

*The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains two articles relating to drug abuse, one of them being specific and the other dealing with several forms of abuse:

"Article 33


"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.

"Article 39

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of.- any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child."

Nations Children's Fund [ 1] . That work has demonstrated that, regardless of whether a country is rich or poor, children are not only increasingly being abandoned, but also have no further recourse or place of refuge.

In a so-called "normal" family structure there would be a relative who could act as a link between the home and the street. Such links are gradually disappearing, as witnessed by the emergency telephone lines that are being swamped by calls from children who have been maltreated in all sorts of ways or who have simply lost hope of reconciliation with their families.

A child who has slammed the door behind him or her or who has been turned out and is thus suffering from unbearable loneliness is at the mercy of the first promoter of illusions that he or she encounters. Forced to migrate, such young people are brought into direct contact with drug abuse.

The therapeutic community: a possible answer

A pilot project launched by ICCB at Bogota is aimed at rehabilitating young drug abusers and, in the long term, preventing drug abuse. The project, which was inspired by the International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, held at Vienna from 17 to 26 June 1987, provides care for about 50 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16 and street children who are victims of drug abuse. It is a good example of the contribution that non- governmental organizations can make to drug abuse control.

The Religious Congregation of Capucine Tertiaries at Bogota takes in street children and, at a university it has set up, trains "street educators" to educate them. Psychiatrists and experts on drug dependence and on drug abuse prevention from the Catholic University of Leuven at Leuven, Belgium, the University of Fribourg at Fribourg, Switzerland, and the San Raffaele Hospital and the International Family, Health and Community Institute at Milan, Italy, are involved in the project-, ICCB is responsible for its coordination and fund- raising.

The project, which is being financed by the European Economic Community, provides training for 12 street educators and promotes the exchange of experience between experts and practitioners on an international scale. The project at Bogota should be feasible in other Latin American countries with a similar environment.

Although participation in the project is on a voluntary basis, more than half of the participants entered the project because they had been urged to do so by local juvenile court judges. All of the participants were seriously involved in drug abuse and other delinquent behaviour (in connection with street gangs, prostitutes, murderers, thieves etc.) [ 2] .

A global approach to prevention in applied research

The ICCB regional secretariat at Montevideo is sponsoring a working group of 14 non-governmental organizations to study multiple prevention models, emphasizing education, the family and the community, with each organization focusing on its own area of competence.

Recognizing the multiple causality of the phenomenon of drug abuse, the working group has avoided the use of a reductionist medical, psychological or legal model. It is promoting a concept of prevention that includes mobilizing the entire community as opposed to abstract models of self-realization. Prevention is considered a tool for wider-ranging education in which the child is an active agent of his or her own development [ 3] .

The family as resource

The literature on the subject [4-6] has shown how important the role of the family can be in drug therapy, as well as in prevention of drug abuse. The social pressure put on families and the emergence of the "new poverty" seem to prevent a vast number of families from playing a greater role in educating the young and preventing drug dependence. Thus, the role of the family could be enhanced by better social policies. The proclamation by the General Assembly, in its resolution 44/82, of 1994 as International Year of the Family is a sign that the international community is willing to move in that direction.

The training of educators

The training of street educators, undertaken by ICCB in cooperation with an association concerned with street children in a Paris suburb, does not focus only on drug dependence.

The International Intercultural Training Centre (CIFI), founded in 1988, operates in close liaison with the Alouettes Association, a member of ICCB located at Antony, France.

CIFI is asking educators to study fundamental cultural symbols, such as the home, language, and social roles in order to develop an understanding of the messages and pleas for help sent by children, who are often culturally disadvantaged. Children living in a precarious environment must find meaning in life in order to avoid drifting into chronic delinquency. It is a lengthy process that, if successful, may result in young people being saved from a life of drug dependence.

Initiatives undertaken by ICCB should indirectly help to create. a favourable climate for the integral growth of the child and should promote normal family life. Its representatives to the various United Nations specialized agencies enable it to provide a link between practitioners and Governments, thereby acting as a spokesperson for the needs of children. Some research and programmes relate to general measures such as media education and the child- to-child health education concept; others relate to the needs of special categories of children, including refugees and those involved in pornography and prostitution [ 7] .

The religious dimension

The religious dimension, which plays an important role in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons and in the prevention of drug abuse, is often confused with psychology or ethics. Recognition of the relationship between the person and a higher order governed by God is not an exhaustive description of the religious aspect of the matter. But it does make it possible to single out the concept, attitude [ 8] and basic orientation of a social group that determine the behaviour of its members. This "vertical" relationship also enables a person to understand his or her origin and destiny (orientation) and, consequently, to give meaning to his or her life, to share that meaning with others and to avoid sinking into the loneliness and despair that haunt drug-dependent persons before, during and after their drug dependence. Groups not directly linked to a particular religion have also successfully used the, vertical relationship. One example is Narcotics Anonymous, which helps drug-dependent persons to establish stable relationships with "reliable" persons.

After a lengthy period of anti-religious rationalism and psychological or psychoanalytical reductionism, the role of the spiritual side of treatment may now be seen in its true light. The value of religion in prevention and, consequently, in the education of the child, however, is still a long way from being unanimously accepted.

The decline in religious belief in industrialized societies coincides with the promotion of individualism [ [ 9] [ 10] [ 11] ]. Post-modern individualism is a negation of social dependence. What remains is dependence on products, objects and impersonal institutions and excessive consumerism and marginalization of populations. Social uprooting, which begins with migration away from rural areas to cities, ultimately results in various manifestations of solitude and family dysfunction. The religious dimension maintains a fundamental link that has a favourable impact on primary prevention that is not restricted to drug abuse.

Inter-denominational initiatives

The Christian religion does not judge or condemn drug-dependent persons but, on the contrary, extends understanding, compassion and reconciliation. A manual adopted by the Commission of the Governor of Florida in the United States of America, provides a good example of the usefulness of spiritual values common to several religions in the control and prevention of drug abuse. In the introduction to the manual, the Director of the Drug Abuse Prevention Department of the Archdiocese of Miami writes:

"It is the role of the religious institutions to transmit to society the human and spiritual values which can provide initial vaccination and protection for the population against dependence. These values include discipline, honesty, patience, endurance, courage, hope and the body seen as the temple of God" [ [ 12] ].

This example illustrates the need for collaboration, not just between different religions, but also between them and local political authorities.

Moral values

Simple moral values follow the same line of thought. In a recent article, one author wrote:

"Unless young people are helped to accept their responsibilities with regard. to drug abuse, which is done by giving them responsibilities and encouraging them to assume them in other areas of their life, it is unreasonable to expect them to be able to react in a satisfactory manner to the complexity of the decisions to be taken in the area of drug use" [ 13] .

If the young can be given opportunities to excel in many areas, it would be possible for them to renounce illicit drugs. The great benefit of that approach, based on values, whether explicitly religious or not, is that it sets out a global life context and therefore answers essential global questions, not merely those related to drug abuse.

ICCB is of the view that the religious and moral approaches constitute the best forms of prevention. They provide generations of people with a global system for interpreting their existence or a global system of instructions for living their lives: each child acquires a personal identity and understands his or her place in the universe and is able to see his or her life in an eternal dimension (survival and hope).


One of the many changes that have occurred in technologically more advanced societies is related to the concept of time [ 14] . From a psychological standpoint, the more time a person has to live, the less time he or she seems to have for life. Furthermore, time is no longer fixed in the sense that everything can be done at any moment. One of the roles of religion is precisely that of fixing the use of time. In the absence of a time framework, the tendency to engage in delinquent behaviour, such as drug abuse, becomes more likely. In part, a surplus of free time coincides with an increased level of drug-taking [131. In the absence of standards concerning the use of time it is difficult to inculcate the notions of the proper use of substances.

Because non-governmental organizations are often involved in dealing with drug abuse problems in a direct and practical way, their views on the appropriate reaction to such problems constitute a valuable contribution to the development and adoption of effective policies in the field of drug abuse control.



See M. J. Coloni, Sans toit ni frontires (Paris, Fayard, Le Sarment, 1987).


J.-Y. Hayez, "La Comminute thrapeutique de San Gregorio", unpublished report, 1988.


El Menor y la Droga, unpublished report by the Montevideo Mesa Relacionadora Working Group of the Primer Seminario Latinoarnericano de Pedagogia Reeducativa, 1988.


See J. P. Roussaux and M. Derely, Alcoolisme et toxicomanies: tudes cliniques (Brussels, Ed. Universitaires, 1989).


G. Ausloos, Lettres levantines: No. 1, 50 families d'heroinomanes (Lausanne, Association du Levant, 1986).


P. 0. Angel and S. Angel, Familles et toxicomanies (Paris, Ed. Universitaires, 1989).


The Sexual Exploitation of Children: Field Responses (Geneva, International Catholic Child Bureau, 1991).


J. Servier, L'homme et l'invisible (Paris, Payot, 1980).


G. Lipovetsky, L're du vide (Paris, Gallimard, 1983).


A. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (Paris, Juillard, 1987).


"L'individualisme: le grand retour", Magazine Littraire, No. 264, April 1989, pp. 16-92.


The Religious Community's Response to Substance Abuse: an Inter-faith Guide to Alcohol and Drug Use Issues (Washington, D.C., Catholic Charities, 1988).


"Developing our understanding of young people and drugs", Children of Society, No. 2, 1988, pp. 35-42.


Les cultures et le temps (Paris, Payot/UNESCO, 1975).