As the country marks the end of Child Protection Week, it is important to acknowledge the link between harmful drinking and the health and welfare of children.
Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility all of the time but, from 30 May to 6 June, National Child Protection Week is commemorated in the country to raise awareness of the rights of children as enshrined in our Constitution and in the UNHCR’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the South African state is a party.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) is particularly concerned with the link between harmful or hazardous drinking and the maltreatment of children. SAAPA SA also considers the high levels of under-age drinking – by children as young as 12 years old – to be an issue needing urgent attention.
According to the World Health Organization WHO, strong links have been found between child maltreatment and alcohol use, especially when drinking is harmful or hazardous. A number of independent studies have also established that alcohol is a significant contributory factor to the physical and psychological abuse of children.
There are strong relationships between alcohol and interpersonal violence in general. Specific links between alcohol and child maltreatment include the fact that, when an individual participates in harmful drinking, it affects their physical and cognitive functioning, thereby reducing their self-control and making them more likely to act violently towards children.
According to Dr Shaheda Omar from the Teddy Bear Foundation, an NGO that is a SAAPA SA Alliance Partner, they have observed at their clinics that there is a clear link between harmful drinking and the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. They have also encountered many examples of purposeful and non-purposeful child neglect.
“What we have experienced is that many children are deprived of basic care, like not receiving food, health care and education, due to excessive drinking on the part of their care-givers,” Omar said.
SAAPA SA Director Maurice Smithers added: “We should acknowledge the link between the harmful use of alcohol by adults in the home and in the community and the physical and psychological abuse of children in our society and take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening.”
Smithers adds that children should be protected from pressure via the advertising of alcohol and by those around them, that results in children consuming alcohol before they have reached the legal drinking age.
“It is not enough to teach the youth not to drink. There also needs to be a change in South Africa’s drinking culture and how we normalise alcohol as something that is fun and aspirational, encouraging young people to assume that alcohol is a natural and necessary part of life,” Smithers said.
This is why SAAPA SA is calling for the passing of the Liquor Amendment Bill, which will go some way towards reducing the threat of alcohol harm to the health, safety and well-being of children.
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