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When drugs become a way of life

Local News

AS the sun sets, a group of youths sits inside a dark, tiny shack in Harare’s most densely populated suburb of Mbare.

“Pa Base” they call it, being a citadel for all drug addicts in Harare, school children included.

Sarah Chiwoniso (not real name), who is only 15 years of age, is one of the youths inside that shack.

She watches as people flock into the shack with money, and they leave with a small bottle of Bron Cleer, an illegal cough mixture, or crystal meth, popularly known as mutoriro.

The children involved say the drug kingpin is Richard, but told NewsDay that they do not know his surname.

With a delighted face, he counts wads of United States dollars in the shack, and then places them in a small bag.

He supplies different people and children with all manner of illegal substances.

He is reportedly politically connected, and is well-known in Mbare for selling illegal substances to youths.

The drug problem is rampant in some of Harare’s oldest suburbs.

Chiwoniso spends most of the time in the shack because she has no money. She simply sits there to puff the smoke of burning substances in the shack to quench her cravings for drugs.

Richard then barks at her, ordering her out of the shack because she allegedly owes him a lot of money for drugs.

Seductively, Chiwoniso later walks towards Richard and he pulls up her already very short dress.

She then grabs his neck and whispers something into his ear.

Richard’s face beams and he quickly hands her one of the substances, and then barks at all other young people to go out of the shack.

The Pa Base’s wooden door then closes, with Richard and Chiwoniso left alone inside.

Mbare is one of the country’s drug hotspots and young people are now into sex and drugs.

Sadly, the young drug addicts can do anything to acquire these drugs — stealing from their parents, or selling sex.

A survey by NewsDay in Harare townships like Mbare, Glen Norah and Highfield revealed that young girls are now into hard sex and drugs.

Most of the girls become drug addicts at a tender age, but because they are not self-sufficient, they end up exchanging sex for drugs.

“I was forced to go into drugs due to depressing circumstances in my family,” one young girl told NewsDay.

“I ended up sleeping with distributors to get the drugs.”

Sadly, some of the girls end up contracting sexually transmitted diseases and even falling pregnant.

Children’s rights lawyer Caleb Mtandwa said there was need for diverse and complementary measures in dealing with children who use drugs.

“Arresting and prosecuting them alone cannot cure the scourge. There should be measures aimed at their rehabilitation and reintegration. The children need to undergo mental health assessments, counselling. They must be separated from environments that push or pull them to use drugs, among other measures.

“For those children who go through the criminal justice system, there should be facilities to separate them from adults to avert the risk of them becoming worse. Ultimately, children will still have to return to the same communities and families, hence the measures should also target these when dealing with the push and pull factors to drug use by children,” Mtandwa said.

“The law should also be targeted more on the drug dealers rather the children who in reality are victims. For us to successfully deal with drug use by children, it, therefore, calls for all stakeholders to work together. It is not a matter which can just be left to the police and those in the criminal justice system.”

He also noted that government should facilitate access to comprehensive services to children who use drugs, adding that the law was not adequate enough.

Another legal expert and director of Ezer Zimbabwe Trust, Takunda Witness Mtetwa, told NewsDay that his organisation was dealing with numerous cases of children using drugs and juveniles involved in other nefarious activities like early sex.

“A lot needs to be done from home monitoring, community mobilisation to national consensus if we are to take a strong point in the fight against drugs and substance abuse. One of the most useful systems available in the fight against drugs and substance abuse is the legal system,” Mtetwa said.

“In terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [CHP 9; 23] it is a punishable offence to unlawfully possess or use dangerous drugs under section 157 and under section 156 therein. Those that possess drugs, ‘users’, are the ones often arrested. The majority of drug-related cases in Zimbabwean courts are currently grappling with unlawful possession or use of dangerous drugs. Arrests are mainly focused on this group of people.

“In a majority of cases, small quantities of drugs are then recovered. The reasons why law enforcement agents target this group vary a lot. But the usual explanations range from poor or shoddy investigation techniques, pressure to prosecute matters, to simply prove that arrests are being made, favouritism, inadequate resources and corruption as well.”

Mtetwa noted that most disappointing is that the offence of unlawful possession or use of dangerous drugs ends with the convicted person sentenced to either a fine not exceeding level 10 or imprisonment not exceeding five years.

“Thus given this sentencing scale, these matters fall within the jurisdiction of a provincial magistrate though in practice they are currently being tried in the regional courts. This fact though doesn’t change matters as the sentencing provisions are still the same.”

He said due to lenient sentences, it is only a matter of time before the same cases are brought back before the courts, clogging the bench.

Mtetwa said the recent discovery of drugs in the country’s learning institutions reflects ineptitude to deal with the scourge by the country’s law enforcement agents.

“There is need for a resilient anti-drugs culture by both the citizens and government from community level to the national level. There is need for an unyielding system that will harness the dangerous drugs proliferation algorithm. The law needs to be applied in full force. Resources must be concentrated on arresting and prosecuting the bulk dealers of dangerous drugs,” he said.

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