Monday, August 30, 2010

Teen drinking

John Michael Njenga Mututho (KANU, Naivasha) is on a campaign to better regulate the alcoholic beverages industry by moving a motion that would seek to regulate the manufacture, sale and distribution of all alcoholic beverages in Kenya. He has a point. In the recent past, many Kenyans have died or been blinded by the effects of methanol-laced alcoholic beverages, some produced in industrial units. It seems that the standards bureau has been ineffective in ensuring that the quality of what we consume is regulated effectively. This is not the first time that Kenyans are suffering injury or death after enjoying a drink at their local, but it seems that the government is not interested in checking the proliferation of distilleries that peddle such toxic offerings to the unsuspecting public. Every time there is such a mishap, the Provincial Administration swings into action and a few jua kali distilleries, usually in our expansive slums, are raided and the contents of their drums poured down the drain. This is what Hon. Mututho seeks to change.

The National Campaign Against Alcohol and Drugs Abuse Authority (NACADA) is the government's chief agent in educating the public about the harm that alcohol and drugs cause in people. It has been a failure for the most part. The number of youth who indulge excessively in alcohol and drugs is increasing. NACADA had a victory in seeing the Tobacco regulation Bill become law in 2008. If they have their way, the Alcohol Regulation Bill will also become law. However, it will not solve the underlying problem of alcohol and drug abuse among the youth.

In Kenya, even after the East African Breweries started insisted on carding people at clubs and pubs, images of teenagers smoking and drinking still continue to emerge. One news story showed how the students of a secondary school in Nairobi's Ngara area, in uniform no less, managed to access a pub near their school even on school days. Nairobi School was famous for the number of students caught in police swoops in Kangemi pubs. It got so bad that the police actually set up a police post in the school to ensure that the children concentrated on the studies and not on happy hour at the hundreds of vibandas that dotted Kangemi. Up-country students, more often than not, know the location and price-lists of every chang'aa den in the vicinity of their schools and frequently end up being the number-one customers. This is a problem that is getting out of hand and in some districts, it has become an epidemic.

Even if Hon. Mututho and NACADA successfully steer the alcohol Bill through Parliament, unless they start to educate the youth about the pernicious effects of alcohol and drugs, the problem of lethal brews will not go away and the arrest and prosecution of chang'aa brewers will not cease simply because there is a new law that requires them to meet KEBS standards. In the West, this problem is usually tackled by punishing heavily the owners and managers of pubs who 'contribute to the delinquency of the youth'. This should be a rule adopted in Kenya. It should be made prohibitively expensive for a pub owner or such similar person to offer for sale, sell or supply any person under the legal age any alcoholic drink or tobacco product. The children should not be let off either. In addition to constant education on their ill-effects, teenagers should face the consequences of their actions too. Some form of punishment is warranted that impress upon their still-forming minds that it is wrong to circumvent the law, even when one is a minor. In the end, if we value the children that we have charge over, we cannot sit idly by as an entire generation becomes captive to substances that are clearly harmful to their health and evey parent, guardian, care-giver and adult should take part in ensuring that minors are protected, even from themselves.

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