University of the Western Cape (UWC) research found that children as young as 8 years old in Grabouw – about 70 kms outside Cape Town – use drugs and alcohol to escape circumstances characterised by poverty and social problems including absentee parents, domestic violence, crime and high rates of HIV.
“My father killed my mother in front of me, and although I feel sad inside, ganja [marijuana] puts a smile on my face,” said one child quoted in the research, which was conducted among about 150 youth, parents, teachers and social workers.
The study was conducted by UWC’s Department of Social Work student Naome Mudavanhu and was recently presented by the department’s Prof Rinie Schenck. The work looked to uncover the factors driving high levels of substance abuse in the area.
The research also suggests that drugs are widely available in communities and that substance abuse is also common in adults.
Apart from using drugs to escape their circumstances, youths also reported using it to win social favour with friends, and gain “courage” to partake in sex work or gang-related activities in order to “make pocket money”.