By Vision Reporter
Sixteen-year-old Jojo knows the different brands of alcohol on the market by name. And not just any alcohol because he has to maintain his “swag”.
Jojo’s father usually tucked away bottles of brandy and whisky in his study room and would occasionally send him to pick a glass for his guests. With time, Jojo got curious.
“One day I waited for my dad to leave his study room,” he says in a hushed tone, almost as if he is afraid of anyone hearing his confession. “I poured a little alcohol in his glass. It was bitter, so I spat it out,” he adds with a smile on his face.
He was 15 at the time. Now, Jojo says he got over the taste. He has done this one too many times. On why he drinks at such a young age, Jojo says: “My friends are also doing it. And they are worse than me. My dad has been drinking for as long as I can remember.”
Jojo’s case is just a replica of many teenagers caught in the web of underage drinking. Their generation associates taking alcohol to being cool, being hip and having swag.
A report, titled State of Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Uganda, released by Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance late last year, shows that most students have had sex under the influence of alcohol.
By law, alcohol should not be sold to people under the age of 18, but this is largely not enforced. Reports continue to show that young people easily buy alcohol from supermarkets and other retail outlets in Kampala, leaving schools and some parents to deal with the repercussions, but they have not been able to do so effectively.
Beer and other spirits sold at supermarkets are usually cheaper than in nightclubs. Due to limited income at their disposal, the young people go to nightclubs just to “top up”.
Without identity cards, it becomes hard for supermarkets and bars to prevent anyone from purchasing alcohol, once the students take off their school uniform.
According to Fagil Mandy, a parent and educationist, some parents think it is okay for teenagers to drink, as long as the parents are watching.
“But do you think such children will hesitate to continue ‘tasting’ the alcohol when no adults are around?” he asks.
Mandy explains that alcohol, especially when taken by someone under 18 years, is bound to make it impossible for one to concentrate on studies, and more likely to engage in unruly activities while in school.
“Alcohol consumption gives teenagers a false sense of courage and makes them want to engage in dangerous acts such as drink-driving or fighting,” he points out.
Mandy adds that once teenagers get addicted to alcohol, they start looking for money beyond the pocket money that is provided. “They resort to stealing or even engaging in grave crimes such as drug peddling to sustain the habit,” he says.
The Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance recommends that alcohol should not be sold to teenagers to prevent alcoholism.
What beer companies say
“Teenagers need to understand that they are too young to drink alcohol. We need money, but it is should never come from making young ones take alcohol,” says Richard Wabwire, the Uganda Breweries corporate affairs director.