It seems like as a society we are losing our moral compass when it comes to underage drinking. Peer pressure plays a fundamental part in influencing our teenage children, that’s true in all societies, but the ease with which they can participate in this pastime is alarming. It’s time we stood up together as a society and realise that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb. In England underage drinking has become a phenomenon that authorities have little control over. We certainly want to avoid going the same way as them.
In Durban one just has to visit any of the major centres such as Ballito or Umhlanga on a Friday or Saturday night to witness the size of the problem at hand. Underage children are to be found at most establishments. Girls as young as 13 are stumbling around the place often dressed in miniskirts. Gateway shopping centre is a magnet for underage girls and boys getting totally smashed. I witnessed children being allowed into an over 18 rave at the Wavehouse. The police were in attendance and just seemed to turn a blind eye. The bouncers never ask for I.D despite the centres conviction that they are strict on identification. I stood around for 20 minutes as a stream of young kids made their way into the event with not one of them being asked to present identification.
At other establishments they accept certified copies of identification which can easily be photo shopped. I honestly don’t believe that these establishments want to enforce the age restrictions though. These clubs in Ballito and Umhlanga and these huge events at Gateway are willing to turn a blind eye for the sake of profit. There is a restaurant in Umhlanga which is situated on the first level. They serve drinks to underage drinkers at tables on the ground floor. Their waiters make trips down the stairs to serve drinks to this target market. All the underage children know that this is where they can get drinks without being the legal age. The owners of these establishments have lost their moral compass and are conducting illegal activities. They are earning money from the proceeds of crime and should be treated like any drug dealer. The police should take a hard line with these establishments and attach their assets. This brings us to the next point.
Law enforcement in this country seems to have no interest in policing these establishments. In the past the police used to conduct raids on night clubs, arrest any underage drinkers and then charge the owners. It is evident that this no longer happens. How do we combat these establishments if the law is unwilling to take action? The liquor board has an obligation to ensure that those that are issued their licenses are operating legally. It seems that law enforcement turns a blind eye and these businesses are free to conduct their businesses whichever way want, sadly to the detriment of our youth.
The part about underage drinking that hurts the most though is the behaviour of parents. I have a 15 year old daughter and most of the times when I hear of kids getting drunk the parents seem to condone these activities. Of course a lot of kids go under the radar and hide the fact, but in most cases I have come across the parents allow their children free reign and are aware of their activities. I hear horror stories of other parents. Parents who smoke marijuana with their kids, parents who take cocaine in front of their kids, parents who buy their kids booze. There was an incident in Umhlanga recently where a 13 year old girl who had a fit because she drank too much alcohol and was diabetic. Her parents were horrified because she was sleeping at a friends and expected their daughter to be in good hands. When they took it up with the friend’s mother she said she had no problem with them going to clubs. She said her 13 year old had an older brother so she was used to going out to clubs.
Who is looking out for these kids? Are parents that naïve to understand the damage that is being done. Come on! You are destroying your children’s lives. Surely your love of your child and paternal instinct will want you to protect them from danger. This saddens me to the core. Parents need to take responsibility for their children’s actions. When I counsel a child for drug addiction the parents always say they can’t believe it’s happening to them. When I look deeper into the whole scenario it soon becomes apparent how little the parents are involved in their children’s lives. They are so busy with their own lives that children are just sent out to fend for themselves. They don’t have time to listen to their children’s needs.
This problem is so huge that only drastic action is going to make a difference. I only have experience with Umhlanga and Ballito but I am sure in other areas it is just as bad or worse. Drug and alcohol addiction is going to explode in the next generation. Raise the legal age limit for drinking to 21. Let’s do whatever we have to do to keep our children safe. That’s the least they deserve.