17 February 2013

Rwanda: Despite Campaigns, Drugs Abuse Still Increasing Among Youth

A report commissioned by the ministry of youth and ICT last year showed that 52.5% of young Rwandans have tried a drug, including alcohol, even though only 5% of them ever tried an illegal substance, mainly marijuana. The report revealed high levels of alcohol consumption (34%) and tobacco (8.5%) among youth aged between 14 and 35.

A random survey in some of Kigali biggest schools showed that more students are getting into binge drinking and smoking, which many are blaming on parents who either give too much money to their teenage children or give them excessive freedom.

According to the State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Mathias Harebamungu, the government is aware of the prevalence of alcohol and drugs, especially among urban students below 18, yet he stresses that these cases do not happen within the institutions. He points out that according to a study by Mineduc, most students involved are day scholars who exploit the gap between school and home as well as their parents' carelessness, to engage in alcohol and drug abuse.

He further remarks that eliminating these habits from the schools and their environment is not easy because loopholes remain between the time the children leave school and reach home. "The government initiatives to fight drug abuse in schools have paid off. From the way the curriculum is prepared and student monitoring mechanisms, there is no room for students to engage in such behavior, which are mainly a result of being idle," he explains. "But there is little we can do once the children are out of the hands of the school."

"In one incident, we found a student in Kigali with pocket money worth Frw 800,000, and the parents admitted to have given it to him."

Harebamungu partly blames the parents who give too much freedom to their teenage students as well as a lot of pocket money. "In one incident, we found a student in Kigali with pocket money worth Frw 800,000, and the parents admitted to have given it to him."

The communities surrounding the city schools also bear part of the responsibility, the Minister says, because not only do they fail to act as safe havens but worse, some of its residents are the ones who supply illicit drugs - as was confirmed for example at one school in the Gitega area, where the drugs were sold by an area resident.

As a result, the government has issued strong directives to school heads aimed at limiting drug abuse in schools. The directive ropes in district authorities, police and the communities, as well as students themselves, where each of them becomes a monitor for the others.

According to Martin Masabo, the headmaster of Lycée De Kigali, his school carried out awareness campaigns within and outside the institution, which has seen alcohol and drug abuse levels decline in the school's precincts. The school with more than 1,500 students is located in Rugunga, close to the slum settlements of Gikondo, Biryogo and Lower Kiyovu, all of which are known to have high levels of drugs prevalence.

"We went to the communities and told them to help us in this fight and it has paid off," Masabo said. "Even those who want to do drugs don't have anywhere to hide because the communities act as our eyes."

Yet that efforts by Lycée De Kigali should in fact not be necessary, considering that the ministry of youth in partnership with different institutions in June last year introduced a six-month campaign dubbed "Neighbor's eye," exactly aimed at using the communities as the eyes of the authorities to spot drugs use and trade in their neighborhood. It wound up two weeks ago, but considering the facts on the ground, more efforts will be required.

According to Supt Emmanuel Ngendo, the director the Anti-Narcotics Unit at the national police, apart from sensitizing schoolchildren against using drugs and the dangers that come with them, they also attempt to break the demand and supply chain of drugs as a preventive measure.

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