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Schoolgirl drinkers

By Andre Bagoo Thursday, July 10 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar...
Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar...

SCHOOLgirls comprise a significant proportion of the teenage population now developing a drinking habit, according to the findings of a regional study highlighted by Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar yesterday.

The Chief Magistrate — who presides over the most serious criminal cases at the Magistrates Court — disclosed that the study conducted by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission in 2010 found that more girls in secondary schools are turning to alcohol than boys

As it relates specifically to Trinidad and Tobago, the study obtained by Newsday showed that overall, 82 percent of students surveyed had turned to alcohol. This was well above the regional average of 70 percent and was the second-highest in the region. (Haiti’s rate was 86.2 percent.)

Speaking at the launch of a two-day workshop at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, St Ann’s yesterday on implementing a planned juvenile drug treatment court, the Chief Magistrate also noted the prevalence of marijuana use in schools was also found to be high.

“A higher proportion of girls were experimenting with alcohol than boys,” the Chief Magistrate told participants of the workshop. She cited the results of the 2010 study, which was entitled, ‘Comparative Analysis of Student Drug Use in Caribbean Countries’. That study represents the most recent statistical breakdown of the problem of teenage drinking, a National Drug Council spokesperson said yesterday.

An analysis of alcohol prevalence by gender showed 83.16 per cent of females (as opposed to 80.82 per cent of males) reported alcohol use.

A total of 3,909 Trinidadian students were sampled out of the total regional sample of 38,534. About half the local sample comprised students under 14-years-old. One third was between the ages of 15 years old and 16 years old. The remaining students were 17-years-old or older.

Countries sampled included: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Other findings of the study highlighted by the Chief Magistrate included findings that: marijuana use “was found to be high” in some countries; students reported having “easy access” to drugs and there was a correlation between drug use and behavioural problems.

“It is not surprising that the number of juvenile offences has increased,” Ayers-Caesar said. “The problem of drug abuse among the Caribbean population began to escalate in the 1980s. The impact of this epidemic not only affected the social welfare and health of the individuals and their families but impacted on the criminal justice system as well. Arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations of drug offenders dramatically increased and severely strained our courts and our prisons.” She said magistrates witness cases of repeat drug offenders daily.

The Chief Magistrate, who chairs a youth-focused sub-committee of a multi-sectoral judicial team on implementation of a drug treatment court pilot, said tackling drug addiction from an early stage was necessary.

“The prevention of addiction will allow participants to confront other problems such as...gang involvement and delinquency,” Ayers-Caesar said. She added that a possible juvenile drug treatment court would act as a “viable alternative to incarceration”.

The Chief Magistrate’s comments came just one week after Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan stated there was an increased rate of alcohol consumption among teenagers.

At a launch of a National Drug Policy 2014, also held at the Hilton Trinidad last Wednesday, Khan said, “We have in this country an increasing amount of alcoholism among teenagers and adults. In schools, teenage alcoholism and teenage drug addiction believe it or not is on the rise.”

Also addressing yesterday’s workshop was Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

“This is the continuation of a dream that I have that fits within the larger focus and philosophy I have within the judiciary,” the Chief Justice said. “Juvenile justice is a critical component of any drug treatment court. If you leave addiction unattended in early life it will only exacerbate the problems of adult life.” The Chief Justice said a youth court would be poised to implement provisions of the Children’s Act and the Children’s Authority Act, both measures which are on the books but in abeyance.

Antonio Lomba, of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organisation of American States, asked, “What can we do better in order to avoid having a revolving door of individuals in the court system?”

Speaking at the same event, High Commissioner for Canada to Trinidad and Tobago Gerard Latulippe, noted, “crime and drugs are big drains on economic and social development.”

“These drug treatment court programmes promote dialogue between institutions to ensure the problem is addressed in a systematic way,” Latulippe said. He noted drug treatment courts are being used in a growing number of countries such as Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Belize, Costa Rica.

“I hope this project will also get support from local business and the community because the community has to be involved,” Latulippe said.

Orlando Prescott, a judge of the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court at Miami Dade, Florida, United States, said that his organisation stood ready to assist in the establishment of a court here since it would be mutually beneficial to both countries.

“This is a mutual endeavour in which we all will benefit from with the ultimate goal of positively affecting the lives of our drug-affected youth,” he said. “This is just the beginning. My team is here to assist in any way possible.”

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