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Under-age drinking must be stopped

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Children's Corner with PANIC CHILUFYA
IN ZAMBIA like many other countries, underage drinking has become widespread often with serious consequences. This is because children are now experimenting with alcohol at a much earlier age. According to research, children are more vulnerable to being addicted because the pleasure centre of their brain matures before the part of the brain that is responsible for control and decision-making. In other words, the capacity for pleasure for children who take alcohol at an early age reaches adult proportions well before they are capable of making important decisions for the future.

It is therefore, not surprising to learn that in Mazabuka, about 50 children were arrested for underage drinking last Wednesday as Zambians commemorated the 53rd Independence anniversary.

According to District Commissioner Jenny Chirwa, children aged between 12 and 14 years and others much younger were arrested for drinking alcohol from various clubs in the district.
How do these children some even younger than 12 manage to leave their homes in order to patronise drinking establishments without parents noticing their absence? And how possible is it that those who sell alcohol do not realise that they are dealing with children; is it a case of making easy money while disregarding the negative consequences alcohol poses to underage patrons. It is time that both parents and sellers of alcohol behaved in a responsible manner for the sake of children. It is worth noting that when children take their first drink before the age of 14 they are six times more likely to develop problems associated with alcohol than those who begin to indulge when they are much older.
There are numerous risks associated with underage drinking and they cannot be ignored. Drinking alcohol at an early age reduces a child’s mental and physical abilities because it affects judgment and coordination which can often result into accidents or injuries. This is because children have a lower body weight and a limited ability to metabolise alcohol, therefore, acute intoxication happens much more quickly.
Underage drinking brings about health issues like weight loss, headaches and even liver damage; a very serious medical condition. Children do not realise that when they begin to drink early and regularly, they cause liver damage and this can eventually lead to death. While others develop mental health issues; evidence shows that in some cases, mental health in some young people is closely-related associated with the misuse of alcohol.
Because puberty is a tricky time for children both emotionally and physically, it increases the tendency to experiment and take risks like underage drinking. This puts children in vulnerable and dangerous situations as they are often tempted to indulge in risky or anti-social behaviour like sexual activity putting them at risk of sexually-transmitted infections and early pregnancies. Some end up taking drugs, getting involved in crime or violent activities.
Although Ms Chirwa has ordered a one month suspension of liquor licences for clubs found guilty of entertaining underage patrons; parents also have an important role to play in curbing this dangerous trend.
Parents can make the difference by having conversations with their children to make them understand the dangers associated with the vice. Parents should take an interest in knowing who their children interact with socially; what they talk about or do. The biggest catalyst to underage drinking is when children have friends who drink; they end up being influenced due to peer pressure. It is important for parent to get to know their children’s friends and parents as way as a way of monitoring behaviour. Children should be made to understand that once they begin to drink alcohol at an early age it is usually very difficult to stop because it can only get worse.
As role models, parents should be careful about the kind of message they impart on their children especially if alcohol plays a big part of their social life. Children being who they are, often pay attention to what parents do than rather than what they have to say. It is therefore, important to show good judgment about how adults handle alcohol because children are likely to emulate that behaviour.
There are some parents who think that they can ‘teach’ their children to drink moderately, by allowing them to drink at home under supervision. This is not a good idea, because developmentally children are not ready. It is not a guarantee that their children will follow the advice about drinking in moderation when they are somewhere else. Regardless of the circumstances, children should not be allowed to take alcohol, after all underage drinking is an offence.
It is only when parents begin to take their responsibility seriously because ‘charity begins at home’ that others like club owners will also act responsibly by turning away underage patrons.
Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.
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