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Botswana Alcohol Aids Project

A SUMMARY OF THE VIEWS OF YOUTH ON ALCOHOL USE AND ABUSE & HIV/AIDS

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In May, 2003, the Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a Nationwide Rapid Assessment on this subject. Only now, one year later, are the results being distributed.

Focus Group Discussions were utilized as the main method of data recovery. The youth assessed were both in School and Out-of-School and the areas covered were both urban and rural.

The results of this assessment are both disturbing and revealing and confirm as well as document the very serious level of Alcohol abuse among the youth of Botswana and the connection between that Alcohol abuse and the continued spread of HIV/AIDS.

The report mentions this project (BAAP) as the only project in Botswana focused on HIV/AIDS and Alcohol and reports favorably on the Alcohol Free Picnics sponsored in Francistown by BAAP.

Partial List of Points Made in the Assessment

A. How youth spend their leisure time: One of the major things reported by the youth which they feel drives many youth to engage in risky behavior like alcohol abuse and unprotected sex is the extreme lack of recreational facilities and lack of employment opportunities. Many youth indicated that they just loitered during the day because they had very little to occupy them. They are drawn to bars, liquor restaurants, nightclubs, shebeens and chibuku depots because it is there that there is music, pool tables, darts, etc. The fact that liquor laws are rarely enforced was reported as a major problem in their view. Young males say there cannot be any nice time without alcohol, music and girls. Young girls report having no money but go to bars to engage in sex for money or in exchange for alcohol.

B. How youth define Alcohol Abuse: Youth made a clear distinction between alcohol use and alcohol abuse. To them alcohol abuse means losing the ability to control oneself. They say young people who drink alcohol excessively are unable to make good judgments, that they verbally abuse adults and fight a lot and also mess themselves up. Some of them rape and use knives to stab others. Girls undress in public to seduce boys to have sex with them.

C. The gender dimension: This presents ambiguity. Data collected during the survey indicates no real difference in the consumption of alcohol between the sexes. But, there are definite perceptions made by the youth. One of those perceptions made by male youth suggests that females were worse in terms of alcohol abuse. The general impression is that female youth drink more than their male counterparts. This creates a problem of lost respect by the males of their female counterparts. They say; when they are drunk, girls engage in sex with anybody. The views expressed by males in regard to females drinking could be influenced by an old Botswana tradition that has not tolerated women who drink alcohol, especially in their reproductive age range.

D. The failure of parental influence: (BAAP Commentary and statements made by the youth). Parenting skills in the Botswana of today do not measure up to the level of negative influence introduced by television and modern music. Most parents were raised in a Botswana still dominated by tribal cultures and have not attained the ability to deal with a youth strongly influenced by materialism and modern western values. Young people complained bitterly about the absence of communication between them and their parents. They asserted that problems experienced by young people are a result of a lack of parental guidance and counseling. Young people reported that some parents have given up on their children saying that they are uncontrollable thus abdicating their responsibilities in raising their children to be responsible citizens.

Many parents refuse to accept that their children are engaged in sexual relationships and strongly disapprove of the distribution of condoms. The young people say, parents refuse to communicate with us; they don't even have the will to find out whether we have sexual relationships & they prefer to live under the illusion that we don't have sex when we do. When they try to talk to us they show their impatience with us. We treat strict parents who talk too much without giving us a chance as just empty bottles, Radio Botswana Channel 2 or Volume 6. That's what we call them.

E. Strategies and solutions suggested by youth: Their suggestions mainly focused on engaging youth in activities that could draw them away from bars and nightclubs where they get involved in alcohol consumption. The youth expressed a need for recreational facilities, organizing talk shows, workshops to discuss problems affecting youth and organizing youth clubs.

F. BAAP and Safe Haven Youth Centers: BAAP is struggling to find funding that will permit the development of Safe Haven Youth Centers which will provide youth oriented and youth friendly recreational and counseling centers. (Note: This statement is added by BAAP and was not included in the MOH report)

G. Educational materials: It is now a known fact that Botswana youth do not read much and thus do not respond well to written educational materials on alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS or behavioral issues. Botswana youth much prefer comic book style materials and video materials. BAAP needs funding to purchase such teaching materials.

CONCLUSIONS

High unemployment among the youth and the lack of recreational facilities are the leading contributory factors to youth loitering resulting in alcohol use and abuse and thus in the continued spread of HIV/AIDS. Youth are very much aware of the consequences of alcohol use and abuse. They said that alcohol use and abuse lead to unprotected sex and HIV/AIDS infection, teenage pregnancy, school dropout, crime including rape and violent behavior.

Many young people report starting drinking as early as 10 years of age. Other reported reasons why youth drink alcohol are; violent family background, broken families, lack of parental guidance, and peer pressure. Youth call for youth friendly government assistance schemes and vocational training opportunities in addition to recreational opportunities.

Youth indicated that many of the existing condom distribution points are not convenient to them since they are most often at health facilities where adults also visit. The youth suggest that those responsible for condom distribution consider using schools and phone shops as distribution points in addition to existing sources.

General access to alcohol is not a problem for the youth, especially females. Young people employ several strategies to access alcohol. Some level of prostitution takes place regularly, particularly in frontier places (along the main highways). In addition, females employ the strategy of targeting men who have money and who appear to be willing to buy girls alcohol with the aim of asking for sex favors in exchange for the alcohol provided. The whole strategy is that the girls would drink the alcohol and then disappear and leave the invisible sepoko (ghost man) in the cold.

Alcohol use and abuse is a MAJOR contributing factor to the continued spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana. Unless serious steps are taken by the government the current reality that the death rate exceeds the birth rate will continue and ultimately Botswana, as a nation could cease to exist.

Copyright 2004, Botswana Alcohol Aids Project - Jim MacDonald Webmaster. Contact Jim at djm@paonline.com