BY PRESTIGE MUNTANGA BULAWAYO residents are concerned that the continued closure of schools is fueling drug and other illegal substances abuse among teenagers resulting in increased early pregnancies.
Acting president Constantino Chiwenga last week postponed the re-opening of schools by a further three weeks when he announced an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown by 14 days.
Teacher unions have criticised the delay in the re-opening of schools, with the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) saying this showed the government did not care about the education sector.
In separate interviews, several residents said the closure of schools was affecting learners, many of whom were now being tempted to take drugs to escape boredom..
“This prolonged closure of schools has ultimately affected the lives of many teenagers who have resorted to substance abuse such as Ngoma and Mbanje to entertain themselves. It’s so sad to see our children’s future being ruined,” said Silisiwe Bhanda.
“We appeal to the government to reconsider opening schools and rolling campaigns that will raise awareness on the dangers of substance abuse at an early age.”
A cocktail of drugs such as chemically treated marijuana called ‘skunk, white-sniffing-powder Tik and Broncleer cough syrup are popular among the youth.
BronCleer is manufactured in South Africa and smuggled into the country.
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Rita Moyo said learners might also be forced to engage in crime to raise money to buy the drugs.
“The continued school closure will result in us having half-baked students. They are hardly in class and studying, especially those sitting for examinations,” Moyo said.
“Once teenagers are involved in substance abuse, and the next thing they drop out of school. Since 2020 children have been hardly learning. It’s hard to convince them to go back to school. These are the same teenagers that end up robbing us because drugs are addictive and they need to raise money to buy them every day.”
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) chairperson Ambrose Sibindi added: “We have reached a stage where we have learned to live with Covid and encourage people to abide by rules and regulations. Schools should have been open a long time ago. We expect the government to open schools in the next three weeks.”
Sibindi urged churches and communities to launch recreational activities at community centres to keep learners away from drugs.
“Unfortunately due to coronavirus many activities were banned so it’s hard to control children. We encourage churches to do programs and projects that will keep them occupied and protect them from destroying their possible bright future,” he said.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Taungana Ndoro was not reachable for comment.
The health ministry has reported that currently 57 % of all admissions to psychiatric institutions are attributed to substance abuse.
Expects have identified peer pressure, breakdown of the family support system, limited knowledge about the effects of drug abuse and stress as the major factors that drive substance and drug abuse among the youth.