The revelations about the high use of alcohol and illicit drugs among our school children are enough to make any right-thinking adult shudder.
Admittedly, the fact of child drug abuse is not new, but we are all too familiar with the information deficit on such critical social issues.
But that’s no reason to dismiss the data that warns of a burgeoning problem for parents, teachers, authorities and the wider community.
According to Manager of the National Council of Substance Abuse (NCSA) Betty Hunte, school children have reported that they have used alcohol as early as age nine, and more often than not, they drink not on the streets or at a hide-out but in the comfort of their home.
“In 2006, the mean age of the first use of alcohol was 10.9 years. And in 2013, a fifth of students admitted that they had used alcohol by the age of nine. So our problems have not developed overnight. In 2016, for alcohol, more females than males had indicated they had used alcohol . . . . In 2006, our secondary school students indicated that the place where they most often got alcohol was at the home. By 2013, however, the most popular place to have alcohol was at social events and that was followed closely by at home,” Hunte reported.
The information on the use of marijuana at such tender ages is equally disheartening.
“In 2013, 75 per cent of our secondary school students indicated they had used marijuana by the age of 14 years, and that their first use was around nine years old.
“By 2016, with regard to marijuana, that figure had almost doubled -15 per cent of our students felt that marijuana was not harmful. In 2013, persons indicated that if they wanted marijuana, the easiest place to get it was on the block, and that changed seven years later, as our survey showed that the easiest place to get marijuana was at social events, and that was followed closely by in the home,” the NCSA official said.
If you are still thinking that that was then and that we have got this problem under control in 2019, think again.
The NCSA is set to release new data at month-end and the new findings could be even more disturbing.
While we anxiously await the research, it is clear that we must confront the growing problem of substance abuse among our children.
The NCSA research primarily probes the use of alcohol and marijuana, but these days, youngsters have also been using concoctions of cough syrup, candy and soda to get high.
Now there are electronic cigarettes providing different flavours that attract children.
The consequences of underage drinking and substance abuse are profound and grave. It’s bad for long-term health to start drinking at a young age, and the consequences of dabbling with mind-altering drugs are harsh in the short and long term. Yet, we continue to turn a blind eye to stark warning signals.
As a society, we have to change our attitude to these problems to achieve any real progress in other spheres of our development.
Obviously, it all starts with parents. Parents need to stop encouraging toddlers and infants to take a sip of beer, creating an ominous appetite. Wine and liquor cabinets should be off-limits to children and their friends who visit, even at festive occasions. They must stop excusing the introduction of alcohol to children by suggesting ‘a little can’t hurt’ or ‘a little will make you a man’.
Parents also need to know where and with whom their teenagers are spending time. Drugs can be equally accessible on the block, at the community fair or the friendly neighbour.
Shopkeepers who break the law and sell liquor to the underaged, even if it is for them to transport alcohol home to an adult should be prosecuted. It is against the law – full stop.
And law enforcers and communities must call out those who knowingly lure unsuspecting youth to try out a spliff or to make quick money by selling illegal substances to their peers. The courts must also aggressively deal with those who supply these deadly substances to children.
It is urgent that we fight this scourge, thus leaving no room for our children’s lives to be ruined.