Statistics by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group has shown that some children start drinking when they are only 11 years old.
The figures revealed that one in 10 children under the age of 14 years has drunk alcohol in the last month, with less than three in 10 teenagers between 15 and 17 years having consumed alcohol in the past month.
Ingrid Louw, the CEO of the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (Aware.org), said the problem is widespread, noting that possible reasons (for underage drinking) range from a lack of self-esteem, peer pressure, a lack of confidence in oneself, an unstable home environment and boredom.
“You’re bored and you just don’t know what to do and all of your friends are going down to the tavern on the corner to get a quart,” Louw explained.
“The other thing, and this is data that hasn’t been unpacked and contextualised yet, but a simple thing like the accessibility of the liquor can also be to blame.
“So the number of taverns in an area close to schools plays a role. Sometimes there’s too many taverns.”
To try to combat this the nonprofit organisation, in partnership with the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, is launching a sports and recreation programme next month aimed at teenagers and young adults. The programme aims to spread dual messages of responsible drinking to young adults and against underage drinking to teenagers.
Aware.org spokesperson Ashveer Kewalpershad said they plan to host five sporting tournaments in the Eastern Cape, the first of which will be held towards the end of next month and the last to be staged in February.
He said the programme was part of a R6-million investment into harm-reduction programmes in the province.
East London-based Dr Daya Appavoo said when taken in excess alcohol affects the liver, heart and muscles. “It impacts on your whole system and the problem becomes apparent almost immediately,” he said.
“School children who consume alcohol may start performing badly in school, some drop out and others don’t participate in sport.”
Appavoo continued: “They may become anti-social and display behavioural problems in the classroom. They stand a higher chance of becoming addicts if they start drinking from a young age as the habit becomes entrenched in them.”
Rhiannon Bond, senior social worker at the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said that there was a specific programme aimed at teenagers who experimented or indulged in occasional drinking.
“Most of our minors coming in are experimenting with either alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes as those are the main gateway substances,” Bond said.
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