“South African children are drinking from a young age, and our country has the unenviable ranking of being the third-largest consumer of alcohol in Africa, and 19th in the world. The liquor industry is seriously concerned by the stats which show that our young people are in fact drinking from as young as 15 years (which is not the legal age for drinking)”, says Ingrid Louw, aware.org CEO.  “To tackle this problem, we have to start the conversation earlier. That’s the rationale behind this programme, which we are calling, It Starts Today.”

Underage drinking is common in South Africa. Accordingly, aware.org has developed a multi-pronged programme to address underage drinking. One element of the programme is the distribution of specially developed material aligned to CAPS to schools for use in Life Orientation classes, allied with support for the teachers via workshops and online support. Aware.org have also developed a zero-rated content portal (www.awarefreewifi.co.za) to further assist the programmes and community at large.

Findings from a Survey Conducted by HDI-Youth Marketeers shows that:

  • In the average South African home, 1 in every two teenagers is an active consumer of alcohol
  • In a recent high school survey conducted, it was found that 49% of the learners interviewed had consumed alcohol at some stage during their high school tenure
  • In the same high school survey conducted, it came to light that 15% of the male learners and 8% of the female learners said that they had their first drink before the age of 13
  • Research shows that people who begin drinking before the age of 18 are four times more likely to develop an alcohol dependence than those who have their first drink at the age of 20 or older.
  • Teenagers who drink are far more likely to try illegal drugs
  • Teens that use alcohol are three times more likely to be involved in violent crimes

Underage drinking is a key pillar in aware.org’s broader programme to drive social change and promote responsible drinking. The It Starts Today programme aims to change the behaviour of junior high school learners (Grades 8 and 9), and senior primary school learners (Grades 5 to7), with regards to alcohol consumption. This will mean changing harmful attitudes and practices regarding alcohol in these learners, and by changing the attitude towards underage drinking within the broader community in which these learners live. The It Starts Today programme will take its message to parents, teachers, tavern owners, church leaders, local government structures and the rest of society. This community engagement will help to reduce teenage alcohol consumption by changing attitudes and providing information about the realities of alcohol abuse. It will also aim at inspiring the community to assist the youth to imagine—and then attain—a better tomorrow.

An allied initiative, Project Isizwe, will enhance the portal accessibility by providing Internet hotspots across townships. The Project Isizwe Wi-fi rollout includes access to free content, news and a micro-job ambassador programme. It will thus provide Internet support for all It Starts Today programmes by providing the right tools to educate and ultimately change behaviour. The content is tailored material for learners, educators, caregivers and parents alike. In addition, the township Wi-fi roll out will include added services.

The It Start Today programme intervention is underlined by research; the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) as an independent research institution has been contracted to monitor and evaluate this intervention.

Aware.org, together with key partners, recognise the need for early intervention programmes to educate communities around responsible alcohol consumption and behaviour.

Watch this two-minute video to see how a young boy nearly lost everything by making a costly and dangerous mistake because he drank when he was under the legal drinking age of 18. To see how he turned his life around, watch the video now!