Research shows that South Africans are the sixth-largest consumers of alcohol in the world, with children as young as 10 already drinking.
In a bid to deal with these alarming statistics, a campaign has been launched in the Eastern Cape.
Nonprofit organisation The Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education, also known as aware.org, in partnership with the Eastern Cape Liquor Board and the provincial education department, have collaborated to combat underage drinking in particular and address the scourge of alcohol abuse in general.
Their campaign, called It Starts Today, was launched on Thursday at the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg, near King William’s Town.
According to education MEC Fundile Gade, this area, along with the northern regions of Port Elizabeth and Mthatha West are among the most affected in the province.
The launch follows two similar campaigns initiated last year in the Free State and Mpumalanga.
According to Ingrid Louw, the chief executive of aware.org, It Starts Today aims to empower young people with knowledge and information to enable them to make better choices pertaining to their consumption of alcohol.
“South African children are drinking from a young age and our country has the unenviable ranking of being the sixth-largest consumer of alcohol in the world. The liquor industry is concerned about these statistics as they also indicate that our youth are, in fact, drinking from the age of 10,” said Louw.
She added that aware.org was established by the liquor industry as an independent organisation with the aim of creating awareness about the country’s high levels of alcohol abuse and binge drinking, and of working towards reducing this through targeted intervention programmes.
Louw said statistics showed that one in two South African teenagers use alcohol, and that 49% of learners interviewed in a recent high school survey said they had drunk alcohol at some stage.
“The initiative comprises a three-part early intervention programme, which aims to address underage drinking in schools – both primary and secondary – and to reduce harmful drinking patterns among the youth,” said Louw.
“The programme also focuses on increasing knowledge in order to change attitudes, perceptions and, ultimately, behaviour through awareness and education – and in doing so, secure a generation of South Africans who are free from alcohol abuse.”
She said the programme would be rolled out nationally later this month.
Mlungisi Mvoko, the Eastern Cape’s MEC for finance, economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said it was frightening that South Africa had dropped from its number 19 ranking in terms of alcohol consumption to number six.
“This has to do with moral decay in our society. It is very scary and we fully support the efforts of aware.org and this week’s collaborative action plan,” said Mvoko.
Mvoko, who was MEC of education until the May elections, cited findings that showed that the proximity of taverns to schools was one of the major contributing factors to underage drinking.
He said that out of the 7 332 licensed liquor outlets, 312 were close to schools.
By law, liquor outlets are forbidden to be located within 100m of a school.
Mvoko, who is the regulator of the province’s liquor industry, said the number (312) was only in reference to those liquor outlets that were licensed by the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, adding that there could well be many other illegal outlets closer to schools.
Gade said underage drinking was rife among learners, especially in the township areas.
“You can see that the children most affected are those in township schools. That is why our strategic entry point must be in homes, in trying to stabilise life at home in the townships.
“It is not much of a challenge in rural areas. You get just one village out of 100 villages [that require interventions]. If we focus more on the township institutions, we should see positive changes.”
Louw said it was hoped that the It Starts Today pilot programme would create a baseline for her organisation, enabling staff to obtain updated, relevant information by engaging with young people and finding out from them why they were drinking, where they obtained their alcohol from and what pressures drove them to drink.
“We want to put this issue on the national agenda. We want South Africans to talk about it. We want to hold a mirror up to them and challenge their inherent belief systems.
“We are hoping that this targeted intervention will give us the data we need that will inform further interventions,” said Louw.
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