China’s Labour Camps rechristened ‘Drug Rehab Centres’

China’s Labour Camps rechristened ‘Drug Rehab Centres

Being the country with the highest population in the world (at least 1.3 billion based on official estimate in December 2012), it is inevitable that China has the whole world watching its every move. Just earlier this month, Reuters reported that the Chinese government “was scrapping its ‘re-education through labour’ policy” by turning its infamous labour camps into drug rehabilitation centres.

Goodbye, labour camps

Referred to as ‘laojiao’, the penal system began in the 1950s and has been censured by Chinese and foreigners alike in the past decades. Made up of roughly 350 labour camps, since 2008 many accommodate drug rehab centers as well – as that was the year when a new Anti-Drug Law was enforced, in which local police were allowed to subject drug offenders to at least two years of ‘compulsory rehabilitation with forced labour’ – without going through trial.

Reuters reported that earlier this year, camps all over the country had begun changing their names to drug rehab centers, and were releasing inmates that had been imprisoned for non-drug-related offenses such as prostitution, involvement with the banned spiritual group Falun Gon, and other petty crimes.

The article also went on to report  the inhumane way the detainees were treated as described by human rights groups, which included having to do long hours of hard labour with minimal health and safety precautions, physical and sexual abuse. Reuters asked both China’s Public Security Ministry and Justice Ministry about the reports but received no confirmation.

Hello, compulsory rehab centres

According to an article in The Atlantic , the Brookings Institution put the increase in number of registered addicts from 70,000 in 1990 to more than 1.79 million at the end of 2011 — a 16 percent annual growth rate. The institution stated, however, that actual figures may be as high as 12 million. One of the biggest drug-related concerns of China is the spread of HIV, so the government has been enacting various legislative measures in order to combat drug use and abuse.

Censorship too, plays a crucial role. On China’s Twitter-like weibo platforms, word searches for marijuana and other slang terms for drugs (e.g. ketamine) are blocked, although non-specific slang terms (e.g. “postage stamp” (LSD) and “ice skating” (crystal meth) can still be searched. The government has also turned to ‘online dialogues and information campaigns’ to further boost their anti-illegal drugs advocacy.

In terms of treatment, the government claims to offer three types of treatment settings for detoxification and rehabilitation: compulsory detoxification institutions, rehabilitation units through labor (i.e. labour camps), and voluntary detoxification institutions managed by divisions of public security, justice, and health. The country also offers medical treatment that frequently goes along with physical training and psychological counseling.

Despite all of these efforts, why are the number of addicts are growing at such a fast rate? Could it be that all of China’s ‘ treatment options’,  like the rebranded “drug rehab centres”  only claim to offer what they offer. Perhaps China should be more wary that drug addiction is a disease caused mainly by an abnormal genetic makeup. No matter how many compulsory drug rehab centers China sets up – if this fact is not taken into consideration in treatment, it might be impossible for China to truly curb drug abuse and drug addiction.