Despite efforts to make schools safe and free of controlled substances, our students are increasingly coming in conflict with law.
Students from Changzamtog MSS recently walked to some 400 shops near their campus to advocate on illicit sale of alcohol and controlled substances. It is unlikely that the shops would pay heed to the notification but the message that has been sent is more than advocacy.
It shows that school authorities are overwhelmed by the increasing number of students abusing controlled substances and alcohol. It means that shops in the neighbourhood are selling alcohol and controlled substances to minors.
These practices show that we are fighting a losing battle in curbing substance abuse.
Narcotics officials and teachers have observed an increasing number of students abusing thinners and alcohol. In a recent case, teachers in one of the schools in Thimphu were shocked when they learnt that the prize money some students had won in a competition was spent on drinking alcohol.
While celebrating a win, these children were imitating the elders.
One assessment on the use of drugs and controlled substance use in Bhutan found that two percent of male students and 0.4 percent of female students believe that drinking alcohol is a ‘smart thing to do.’ Another survey reported that underage drinking is common among students after it found that 37 percent of students among grades 7–8 and 48 percent among grades 9–10 consumed alcohol. These developments are disturbing.
It took the country years to put in place the alcohol reduction framework that is designed to tackle the accessibility, availability and affordability aspects of alcohol. But at the rate our students are abusing alcohol, especially in the urban centres, we may have already failed in implementing the policy. With about 5,500 bars across the country, of which over 1,200 are in Thimphu alone, initiatives such as suspending the issuance of new bar licences would not have made a difference in reducing alcohol consumption.
Several studies have been done to understand the rising problem of children coming in conflict with law. We have identified factors that push children to commit offences such as theft and alcohol consumption. Peer pressure is considered a major factor that lead youth to substance use. It manifests in the form of being bullied into consuming alcohol or drug and also takes more subtle forms such as curiosity and enjoyment. But it appears that we are only good at identifying factors that lead our children to commit offences.
Being complacent means losing more youth to drugs and alcohol. We have policies in place but remain handicapped in implementing them. We have to accept that we have failed to address the alcohol problem the country is buckling under.