EARLIER this week, the Guyana Police Force disclosed that its ranks were investigating an alleged murder in Region One which was fuelled by heavy drinking. The suspect, a 17-year-old boy, was subsequently arrested.
According to the police, the teen and the victim were observed drinking high wine prior to the alleged murder and they both appeared to be intoxicated. The victim was identified as a 21-year-old man.
This particular case is concerning on so many levels and while this is only one case, we are all aware of the many problems youths are causing. Many of them are engaging in meaningless activities (liming, gambling, smoking, drinking, just to name a few), and this will end disastrously if there are no interventions.
High wine is no ordinary liquor. Its alcoholic content stands at over 60 per cent, which means that whoever is able to continuously withstand the burning sensation it causes as it runs down their throat, is an experienced drinker.
The suspect is 17 and the victim is just a few years older, both in the prime of their youth and at a stage where they should have been experiencing the good side of life and planning for a bright future.
In Guyana, it is a crime to sell alcoholic drinks to anyone under the age of 18. Any adult who allows a child to consume same, particularly “hard liquor” such as high wine, is equally guilty of a crime, whether morally or legally.
In this modern society, whether it is peer pressure or not, children are in such a hurry to grow up. The sad reality is that adults who ought to know better and who should be role models, facilitate this.
It is unacceptable for any child to be openly drinking alcohol, more so in the company of an adult and everyone who sees this stays silent. It is known that in the hinterland, things are different. Underage drinking may be a regular occurrence and it is time that it is seriously addressed.
Alcohol and marijuana are jostling to be named the number one stimulant of choice among Guyanese youths.
Alarming statistics show that 79 per cent of schoolchildren have their first alcoholic drink before age 14 and 32 per cent of youth are consuming it occasionally. The Organisation of American States (OAS) and PAHO have jointly concluded that 51 per cent of Guyanese aged 15 and 16 use alcohol frequently.
However, it can be concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic might have increased these numbers dramatically.
The Government of Guyana has created so many opportunities for youths to be engaged in meaningful activities.
At the secondary level, whether on the coastland or in the hinterland regions, the Ministry of Education has been working around the clock. From the establishment of smart classrooms to the construction of new secondary schools and the enhancement of existing ones to making educational resources available to all students. The efforts to create equal access to quality education must not go unnoticed.
With regard to those who have exited the school system, opportunities are being made available to them as well. While some may argue that those on the coast have easier access, it must be appreciated that government is spending billions of dollars per year to ensure that hinterland youths have access to higher education and can gain access to the working world.
Aside from GOAL scholarships which are free, there are avenues to access scholarships to the University of Guyana and other tertiary educational facilities on the coast. The government has been working hard to establish ICT hubs in remote communities which will allow hinterland residents to access GOAL programmes which are all taught virtually.
There is absolutely no reason for school-leavers to be imbibing alcohol with adults or engaging in unsafe or socially disruptive behaviour. There are too many opportunities available.
Now is the time for village leaders and community elders to engage youths and steer them back on to the path of success. Parents also have a responsibility to ensure that their children get the best out of life. Poverty or limited financial resources must never be used as an excuse to allow children to destroy their lives.
Guyana is recording too many incidents involving excessive alcohol consumption. It is time for a national conversation to save our society and our youths from the self-destruction that is taking place.
Underage drinking must no longer be tolerated and driving under the influence must be nipped in the bud. It is not only about strengthening the laws as without enforcement, they will all be pointless. The time for collective action to address this damaging scourge, is now.