Zimbabwe- SOME school kids below the age of 18 are now commonly seen in many Zimbabwe beerhalls drinking beer like their parents, it has been reported.
Legally, anyone below the age of 18 is prohibited from setting foot in beerhalls and other places where liquor is sold, but in modern Zimbabwe that law is no longer maintained, it has been established..
It has also been established that minors are now freely buying cigarettes from shops just like adults.
The influx of young boys and girls in public drinking joints is on the increase as youths take to the bottle with some puffing cigarettes against the backdrop of laxity in enforcing laws meant to protect minors from harmful substances and practices.
It is now common to see young people playing pool, puffing at cigarettes and sipping alcoholic beverages even during the day, especially now when schools have closed for the holidays.
An ever-increasing number of school-going children are turning to alcohol and smoking in their unending pursuit of youthful pleasures.
Alcohol and cigarettes have become widely accessible in shops, street corners and shebeens, raising concern whether retailers are still following the age limit restriction, which does not allow “under-18s” in bars.
The youngsters are now throwing a number of “bashes”, reggae cup clashes, MC contests and house parties where alcohol flows freely. They buy the alcohol in supermarkets dotted across Harare without any restriction.
Despite the country having promulgated laws for child protection and liquor licensing, which prohibit the passing-on of alcohol or harmful substances to young people, businesspeople are now flouting the laws.
Alcohol sellers who spoke to our correspondent admitted that while they were aware of the legal provisions which were part of the licensing of their businesses, there was often pressure to offload their products on anyone regardless of age.
“We know of the law, but nowadays we are no longer adhering to it because we have to make money first before the laws. We are in business and we need every cent and again you can’t tell whether the person buying beer is under 18 or not,” said one alcohol dealer from Marondera.
A bottle store owner who operates in Chitungwiza said the fact that the law had never been enforced had caused them not to uphold it.
“This law has never been enforced and as such alcohol sellers have relaxed. I can’t stop someone from entering my bottle store when he wants to buy,” he said.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Andrew Phiri recently said there was no law that prohibited children from drinking beer. He said when a minor was found consuming alcohol, they would not be arrested.
“There is no law that prohibits children from drinking alcohol,” he said. “In fact, the Liquor Act prohibits selling of alcohol to minors and we as police will arrest and charge any persons found selling alcohol to children below the age of 18 years.
“Under the circumstances, however, the law has been very difficult to enforce due to circumstances such as manpower shortage.” Parents interviewed, however, urged the police to act swiftly for the sake of their children.
“The police need to help us on this one. Our children are getting wild by each day and it’s very disappointing because even the girls are becoming drunkards at a tender age,” said Martha Matonho from Budiriro.
Other parents said they feared that after getting drunk or intoxicated with drugs, their children would engage in risky sexual behaviour under the influence of alcohol.
David Chidende, programmes officer for lobby group Youth Information and Education for Behaviour Change (YIEBC), said the police needed to enforce the law.
“The problem is the police concentrate on arresting women at beerhalls just to get bribes while bar operators destroy young people driven by the profit motive, ignoring the enforcement of the age limit law. It’s now high time for the police to act,” he said.
The last Global Status Report on Alcohol (2004) ranked Zimbabwe at number 12 on the list of top beer-drinking nations in Africa.
And it is possible that by now Zimbabwe has broken into the top 10.
Most African countries have laws that prohibit under-age drinking, but these are poorly enforced or often completely ignored.
In Kenya, authorities are currently drafting a law that will raise the legal drinking age to 21 from 18 years, following a 2010 law that banned alcohol sales in grocery stores and in bars before 5pm.
South Africa is crafting a new law to restrict alcohol advertising while also raising the minimum drinking age to 21 from 18 years – ZimDiaspora/Newsday.