YEMEN

Chewing narcotic khat leaves… that your dad gave to you

Videos of children chewing khat leaves are making the rounds on the web. The mildly narcotic plant has been consumed for centuries in Yemen, but in recent years, consumers have become increasingly young, with some children being given the leaves by their own parents. Read more and see the videos...

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Videos of children chewing khat leaves are making the rounds on the web. The mildly narcotic plant has been consumed for centuries in Yemen, but in recent years, consumers have become increasingly young, with some children being given the leaves by their own parents.

For the Yemenis, khat leaves are as routine as the baguette is for the French. Containing the psychotropic substance cathinone, a natural amphetamine which is released when the leaves are chewed, khat has been grown in vast amounts since the 13th century (doctors originally prescribed the plant to sufferers of hunger and fatigue).

Most khat consumers, who often chew in groups, are seeking "kayf", a state of euphoria described by one khat-specialised website as "similar to a strong dose of caffeine or a low dose of cocaine".

According to the World Bank, khat sales represent around six per cent of Yemen's gross domestic product (GDP), its production keeps 14% of the country's workforce employed and uses up 30% of water allocated for agricultural irrigation purposes. A World Bank survey taken out in 2006 revealed that 72% of Yemeni men and 33% of Yemeni women chew khat. 

According to the same survey, the average age of a first experience with the substance is between 16 and 24 years old. But one of our Observers there says it's much younger. There's certainly no law stopping minors from accessing it - in Yemen you can both grow and chew khat legally, and at any age.

Khat and cigarettes

An adult films a child chewing khat, and then helps him to light a cigarette. Video filmed in the south of Yemen, in the Yafeh province. Posted on YouTube by "kasem712".

Chewing khat at a wedding

Video filmed in Sanaa and posted on YouTube by "mwalad", on 14 Feb. 2010.

“I saw a horrible scene when a nine-year-old was chewing khat in front of his dad”

Hafid Nasser is a student from the faculty of management and economic sciences in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.

It used to be seen very badly, for children to chew khat. But over the past decade, we've seen more and more children doing it. It's often the parents who push their children to chew during public ceremonies - weddings, funerals etc. At one of my friend's weddings, I saw a horrible scene when a nine-year-old was chewing khat in front of his dad. Shocked, I questioned his father, who answered simply that khat was ‘every man's necessity'.

People from all social backgrounds chew khat. It's very affordable [sold in ‘bouquets', each costs the equivalent of 40 euro centimes]. Many child addicts are workers; employers believe that if he they chew khat they'll work more efficiently.

Chewing khat carries grave health hazards. Numerous studies show that khat consumers are much more likely to suffer from mouth or throat cancer."

He chews, he dances

Video posted on YouTube by "alsary33", 29 Dec. 2009.