Foreign youth studying English or completing high school in Canada face a high risk of cocaine use, sexual abuse and being lured into prostitution, researchers said on Tuesday.
Thousands of teenagers from East Asian countries are sent alone each year to Canada to study English or to obtain diplomas from Canadian high schools.
“Canada is internationally known as a destination country to learn English” and in westernmost British Columbia province alone, foreign students pay millions annually for tuition to private English-language schools or public school boards, and for room and board in private homes, said the study published in the Canadian Journal of Health.
The industry, however, is largely unregulated and home-stay “parents” who take fees from foreign students “are considered custodians, not legal guardians, and have no legal obligation to nurture youth,” the University of British Columbia and non-profit McCreary Centre Society researchers noted in calling for government oversight of the sector.
“We have systems in place for licensing daycare providers and foster parents for Canadian children and youth,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, coauthor and research director at McCreary, a non-profit institution dedicated to youth issues. “Shouldn’t we also have systems for protecting foreign teens when they are here for years without their parents?”
The study said 23 percent of home-stay girls reported being sexually abused, compared with 9 percent of immigrant or Canadian-born girls from East Asian cultures.
“The rates of sexual abuse among home-stay girls are far higher than we would expect,” Saewyc said. “When you add to that the higher numbers of home-stay girls using cocaine ... it raises a concern that some of them may be experiencing sexual abuse or exploitation here in Canada.”
The study also reported that one in five home-stay students were smokers, compared to only 5 percent to 9 percent of other students. Home-stay students were two to six times more likely to report using cocaine compared to others their same age, it found.
The research was based on information collected from more than 3,000 foreign students, in 2003.
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