17 Dec 2018

Tonga wrestles with growing meth problem

2:35 pm on 17 December 2018

Government and community leaders are grappling with the rising cases of methamphetamine use in Tonga.

Crystal meth

Photo: Wiki Commons

A advocate for women and children said meth or 'ice' was casting an ever-increasing shadow across the kingdom and the issue needs to be urgently addressed.

Youth and church leaders acknowledged the problem but said work had already begun on finding solutions.

The director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre said her office has seen a leap in meth-related suicides and numerous domestic violence cases involving users have occurred

'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki said children were also becoming addicted to the drug referred to as 'ice.'

"We know, first-hand, on the ground, through cases that come to the centre, that this is a growing issue and it is actually growing quite rapidly," she said.

"Just in this last six months, the Crisis Centre has had to deal with three cases where the parents have referred their young children to the Crisis Centre because they are addicts."

No caption

Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki made a passionate appeal for the country's leaders to confront the issue.

"One of the biggest voices in Tonga are the church leaders and I would even extend that to say the biggest voice would be the king and the royal family.

"I would humbly request that the royal family, the king, members of parliament, the heads of our church, get together and say - this is enough, it's starting to destroy our nation," she said.

The Free Wesleyan Church is the largest denomination in Tonga.

Its president, the Reverend Dr Finau 'Ahio, said the church realised drug-use had become a national problem and everyone was working on it.

Dr 'Ahio said over the past two years the church had started doing work in the community related to the meth problem.

"We are not publicising their names, this is very confidential as part of our ministry.

"We want to help them to come back slowly to the church and also to their community."

The Centenary Church of the Free Wesleyan Church

The Centenary Church of the Free Wesleyan Church Photo: Peacebuilders International

He said the work was done quietly and without publicity.

Dr 'Ahio said the church's annual camps this month were also hoping to reach up to 10,000 youth and he said those gatherings would prioritise the issue.

"This camp is purposely for young people and for us, a church, to deal with the problem of drugs and alcohol. We have a reach-out programme for young people.

"This camp is going to be held in every village church," he said.

A local youth advocate said young people were being educated around the dangers of meth.

Elizabeth Kite is head of Tonga Youth Leaders, and a member of the Commonwealth Youth Council.

She said some groups had gone into the villages and met with drug dealers, consumers and other members of the community to discuss the matter.

"A lot of young people are actually going into drugs without really realising what ice specifically does, what the consequences are," she said.

"That's why you are seeing a lot of youth leaders going out into communities and schools and groups and churches, to just talanoa, just have a chat."

Ms Kite said high levels of unemployment and having nothing to do were often cited as reasons.

President of Tonga Youth Leaders and Representative on the Commonwealth Youth Council, Elizabeth Kite

President of Tonga Youth Leaders and Representative on the Commonwealth Youth Council, Elizabeth Kite Photo: supplied

But she said there are things youth can get involved in.

"There is one thing that Tonga also has and this is with agriculture specifically.

"Every young Tongan has access to land and so utilising something like that is such a privilege," Ms Kite said.

"There have been two agricultural project promoting more youth involvement and I think that's one way to help young people realise that there is always something to do in Tonga. You don't have to turn to drugs."

Ms Kite also said Tongans need to return to traditional, Christian values.

However, she was adamant the issue of meth shouldn't define the country.

"We have many things that are very positive of our country that do define us.

"We have many issues as well and ice is one of those issues but ice does not define us and it does not define our future either. We have some positive work on the ground at the moment trying to address this issue, as well as others, to help combat and overcome these problems."

The Police Minister Mateni Tapueluelu did not return calls on the issue.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs