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Adults should make it their business to keep children away from drugs

Health & Science
 Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital staff led by their Chief Executive Officer Wilson Aruasa in a procession to mark World Day against Drug Abuse in Eldoret on June 23, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

A recent headline in The Standard read; 'Children as young as six abusing drugs'. The news story further indicated that these children were exposed to drugs by their parents during family functions, according to a survey by National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada).

In the education calendar, a six-year-old is just beginning the first grade in primary school, and barely knows how to write the full alphabet. He or she is learning how to tie their shoe laces as their baby teeth start to fall off. That child is still not only being introduced to peers in the neighbourhood or pupils in school, but also to the outside world, away from their parents or guardians' attentive care.

From house parties, weddings, family gatherings and recreational facilities, use of alcohol, cigarettes, bhang and other substances is happening under the children's watch. This is a very worrying trend. Adults continue to tag along young children while binge drinking, without paying attention to the long-term negative effects on the children.

When we walk in the streets of Nairobi and its outskirts for instance, we are likely to come across street children sniffing glue, a habit they most likely have picked from the 'street family'.

During one of our visits to street families as 'Share Some Love Foundation', we listened first-hand to their experiences on how they ended up living in the streets. Many said that use of drugs made them homeless.

Back in school, the grade one pupil who has been exposed to drugs is unlikely to concentrate in class, may suffer from serious medical complications such as respiratory diseases, mental illness and an unfortunate death. Children who grow up in an environment exposed to illicit brew are also at risk of inhaling dangerous chemicals such as methyl-l-propanol and other toxic chemicals. Exposure to these drugs affects their physical, social, health, emotional, psychological and intellectual development.

News media have published stories of adolescents and youths caught intoxicated during school trips or house parties, a trend attributed to peer pressure. Unfortunately, the consequences are depression, school drop-outs, cases of teenage pregnancy to mention but a few. In today's world, children and young people are vulnerable. The causes of alcohol and substance abuse may include exposure to music videos or films, family feuds or dysfunction, or childhood trauma. Many suffer from stigma that lowers their confidence levels, leading them to shy off from seeking help.

As the world commemorates International Day Against Drug Abuse, themed 'People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention', it is our collective responsibility as citizens to protect children from indulging in harmful drugs and substance use. Through knowledge sharing on drug abuse, its negative impact, preventive methods and support services that the young people require, use of media should take precedence in advocating against drug abuse.

Nacada's report indicated that alcohol was the most abused drug with over three million people affected, while over two million people were affected by tobacco and over 900,000 by khat. Drug addiction is preventable. Even as the government implements laws and policies to regulate drug addiction, families should ensure that their children are not neglected and exposed to drugs and substance use.

Nyumba Kumi leaders should be the first point of call to curb this behaviour. We should initiate more rehabilitation programmes in a bid to realisation of a country free of street families. There is need for concerted efforts from educators, social workers, health care professional, government and other non-state actors to bring the desired change in curtailing the drugs menace. Let us all change the narrative and pay more attention to our children.

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