GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
HAPPENINGS on the infamous Devil Street in Lusaka’s Emmasdale township leave much to be desired on levels of moral decay and alcoholism in Zambia.
Those familiar with happenings on that street, which is overly catered for in terms of bars and
nightclubs, know the concerns of many parents and residents.
It’s on this infamous street that you find grocery stores, hair salons and barbershops, but it’s the bars and nightclubs that are more popular.
And conveniently, some nightclub owners in the area have built some rooms at the rear of their facilities to cater for clients who can’t make it home in the night because, either they are intoxicated, or they want to spend the night with sex workers.
So, some bars operate as brothels right in the heart of a township where young children live, and apparently some girls get lured into prostitution.
As early as early 18:00 hours, you can see girls, some of school-going age, fraternising with men at the lure of beers and other enticements that money can offer.
By law, the under-18 girls should have no access to these clubs, but the owners care less since their clients need the company of women to spend more on alcoholic beverages.
If they chase the girls, they will lose clients, and so most, if not all, bar owners make the immoral decision of admitting underage patrons.
At about 20:00 hours, these nightclubs are filled to the brim, and some men and women can be seen drinking beer from the roadside.
Passers-by can actually see men sharing beers with ladies, some young enough to be their children, while other ‘couples’ take advantage of the cover of darkness to get intimate with their partners.
This is an area where I once lived, and my heart always got troubled when I saw teenage girls socialising with men over a beer.
I could not help but imagine how the environment was potentially conducive for child defilement (of girl patrons) and of course the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
At the weekend, a good number of patrons are adolescents who, under normal circumstances, should put their education first, but some get enticed by mischievous activities that are done in the open.
Anything that happens on ‘Devil Street’ is known to the children because convenient stores on that part of Emmasdale stand side by side with the bars.
Walking past the street after 20:00 hours, one could see all sorts of mischief around the nightclubs. Sex workers also seize the opportunity to hook up with potential clients.
For over two decades, the area has been notorious for beer parties, underage consumption of alcohol and commercial sex work, thus the street earning the pet name ‘Devil Street’.
By the way, the real name of that street is Florida, but it has been overshadowed by debauched activities.
Well, the happenings and lifestyles in that part of Lusaka are reminiscent of the behavioural patterns in other parts of the country.
Problems to do with binge-drinking, underage patronage of bars as well as the sale of alcohol to children below the age of 18 are common in many parts of the country.
President Lungu, in his state of nation address to Parliament on March 17, 2017, expressed concern over underage patronage of bars and alcohol abuse in general.
The President’s address to Parliament was unique because it focussed on the application of our national values and principles as enshrined in the Constitution.
He also expressed worry regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages in bus stations, markets and other public places. He said this was leading to an increasing number of accidents on the roads and places of work, resulting in unnecessary loss of innocent lives.
President Lungu also mentioned that the abuse of alcohol was exacerbating gender-based violence (GBV), defilement and transmission of diseases in the communities, including HIV and AIDS.
With specific concern on moral decay among children, the President urged parents, teachers and religious leaders to monitor the young ones closely and stop the fall-off of morals.
“Let me also urge all parents, teachers and religious leaders to take a lead in inculcating high standards of morals and ethical values in our people, especially the young, starting from our families, communities, schools and places of worship.
“Parents, teachers and religious leaders have been singled out because of their role in the daily lives of our children and youths. If our children are not at home, they must be in school or at least at church. Unfortunately, what prevails in our society is that our children patronise social places such as bars and cinemas, which don’t instil good moral values. They sometimes spend time indulging in underage drinking and watching pornographic movies on social media, which are both prohibited by the Zambian laws,” President Lungu said.
From the foregoing, we can deduce that binge-drinking, including among children below the minimum legal age for purchasing and consuming alcohol, poses a serious problem in Zambia.
No wonder, a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014 found that Zambian women were the hardest binge-drinkers in the world with about 41 percent of them binge-drinking at least once a week.
Zambian men, at 48 percent, ranked sixth highest binge-drinkers in the world.
Binge-drinking is defined as drinking at least 60 grams (about 4.3 servings) or more of pure alcohol at least once in the past week.
The happenings on Florida Street in Lusaka where people binge-drink until the early hours of the day, confirm the scale of the problem of alcoholism in our country.
My concern with Zambia’s record of binge-drinking is the negative effect on families and the nation at large.
For regular patrons of nightclubs, their families are affected in terms of child negligence and rifts that develop between husbands and wives when either party becomes addicted to alcohol.
Obviously the men or women who stay out late or return home in the wee hours, have got spouses who need their attention and children who look up to them as role models.
For some couples, alcoholism is the reason why men batter their wives and vice versa.
At national level, widespread binge-drinking means loss of man-hours when intoxicated workers abscond from work or become less productive.
In addition, the State has to dip into its coffers to contain lifestyle diseases caused by over-indulgence in alcohol.
In concluding, I would say, the Lusaka City Council (LCC) did well to raid bars on Florida Street last week that are violating the law and causing noise pollution beyond the stipulated time. But the problem is that their operations come once in a blue moon, thus become ineffective.
According to the LCC, bars should operate from 10:00 hours to 22:00 hours while nightclubs need to shut at midnight, but the owners flout the law with impunity.
In a nutshell, councils all over the country should constantly keep bar and nightclub owners in check and also ensure that they do not admit underage children.
Our children are the future, so let’s do all we can to protect them.
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