Drug abuse, rife in many South African high schools, is now creeping into primary schools as well, prompting the Medical Research Council’s (MRC’s) alcohol and drug research unit to recommend that the dangers of drug use should be included in primary school curricula.The latest report by the MRC’s South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (Sacendu) notes that children as young as seven are abusing dagga, with harder drugs being used by some children in higher primary school grades.
Interviews with school principals and children in Cape Town reinforced the findings.
A grade four pupil in Kewtown, part of the suburb of Athlone, said he knew of a grade six boy at his school who smokes dagga in a tree at the back of the school premises during break.
“I’ve also seen how children (smoke) tik with the lolly (glass pipe) and use ungah (cheap heroine). They cut it up fine on a piece of tile with a blade and then either smoke or sniff it,” he said.
A grade seven learner in neighbouring Bridgetown said he knew of many primary school children who smoked dagga at school or in their spare time.
Some sold it at school, he said.
He was fully conversant with how dagga is cleaned and packed into a broken bottle neck, and even how best to smoke it that way.
A group of primary school boys interviewed on the street said dagga was often smoked by their peers in a hookah pipe. Sometimes they replaced the water in the pipe with alcohol, which was referred to as a “juicy pipe”.
The grade seven learner said most children first started smoking on a parent’s or elder brother’s hookah before trying out cigarettes, then dagga, and later moving onto harder drugs.
Principal of Norma Road Primary School in the Athlone area of Silvertown, Junaid Daries, two 13-year-old boys at the school were caught with dagga last year.
Daries said there were also “five to six” learners displaying signs of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Additionally, ‘tik babies’ – children whose mother smoked tik during pregnancy –were entering the school system, he said.
Cypress Primary School principal Bruce Titus said he was not aware of any of his pupils abusing drugs but said he was in favour of implementing “basic level” drug prevention programs at primary school.
Principal at Bokmakierie Primary, Larry Lewis, said the school is already involved in substance abuse awareness programs as “it’s shocking to see how much children know about drugs”.
Sacendu’s recommendation is based on the Report on the Risk and Protective factors associated with Substance Abuse amongst the Youth in selected areas of the Eastern Cape: Implication for Prevention and Treatment services commissioned by the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development’s Population Unit
It states there’s a worrying trend of early age of onset of drug use, with peak usage appearing at around 17 years of age.
The study conducted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conducted surveys and focus groups involving just under one thousand children aged 16 to 21.
In finding out how odl some of the 54 percent of participants who used drugs were when they started, the researchers found that some “were introduced to substances at a very tender age”.
One participant started using drugs at age seven and at least three participants at the age of eight.
Veonna Goliath one of the NMMU researchers said a lot more was needed in regard to education on substance abuse at schools.
She said although the life orientation curriculum dealt with it, “there is no scope to integrate it with knowledge by engaging with them on what their views are”.
Sacendu’s senior scientist Andreas Plüddemann said younger children abusing drugs was a concern as programmes were developed for adults, not young children.
“It’s difficult for such young children to adapt to an adult treatment or to integrate into groups consisting of adults,” said Plüddemann.
Kewtown community worker Amina Rajap agreed that children were experimenting with drugs at a younger age.
She said over the December holidays she found a seven-year-old boy with a tik lolly next to the river. – Yugendree Naidoo, West Cape News