While the law clearly prohibits any alcohol consumption for children under the age of 18, some parents have admitted to allowing their children to drink - especially when they are in their presence.
The South African National Council on Alcoholism said that contrary to this growing norm where parents were drinking alcohol with their children, allowing under-aged children to consume alcohol was breaking the law that clearly states that the age limit for alcohol consumption in South Africa is 18, said Thembekile Msane.
Msane added that teens are more vulnerable to addiction because the pleasure centre of the brain matures before the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and executive decision-making.
“Substance abuse is a national concern as indicated by the United Nations World Drug Report in 2014. 7.06% of the South African population abuses narcotics and it is estimated that 1 out of 14 people are regular users of substance and that roughly translates to 3.74 million people,” she said.
Developing a drinking habit exacerbates societal issues and leads to an alcohol dependent society, explained Msane. She further said that repercussions of early drinking include violent behaviour, engaging in unprotected sex - sometime with multiple sex partners and also developing alcoholism.
It is estimated that the average age of starting to drink alcohol is 13 years for girls and 11 years for boys.
“Underage drinking is a serious problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance of abuse among young people in South Africa, and drinking when you’re underage puts your health and safety at risk,” she says.
In spite of what the statistics say, parents surveyed are adamant that drinking with their children is the best way to curb abuse. Like Lindelwa Mkhize* from Soweto who allowed her daughter to drink at home when she was in Grade 11 and only 16 years old, “because I wanted to study her behaviour when she has had too much to drink and guide her”, she said.
“When I drink with her, I also use that platform to be an example to her on how to handle her alcohol, and what better way than to practically teach her than when I’m with her?” she said.
The 40-year-old mother of two said people’s opinions and disapproval of her parenting approach did not bother her because she did not view it as being immoral.
Another parent, Lerato Mokoena* who lives and raises her 17-year-old son in Johannesburg CBD, echoed Mkhize’s sentiments, saying her decision was solely based on educating her son about responsible drinking and discouraging from over-drinking. Asked if she was breaking the law, she said “I don’t think I am breaking the law because as his parent, I allow it and I monitor him to make sure he never oversteps what is acceptable,” she said.
The SA Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use’s statistics indicate that youth aged between 13 and 20 years are at high risk of substance use and abuse. The most concerning revelation was that 28.5% of these children were binge drinkers and would have a drink on more than one day in a week. These learners (12.7%) even drank on school premises.
Mona-Lisa Snyman, a legal professional at Law For All said: “We have to keep our kids’ best interests at heart. Not only is underage drinking in South Africa illegal, but The National Liquor Act (2003) says that no one may supply liquor to minors.”
* Not her real name.