100 signatures reached
To: Government, The President
Abuse of alcohol linked to GBV: Put the rights of women and children first.
The Covid-19 epidemic has shone a light again on the value of each human life, and the message from our leaders is that lives must be saved through urgent and radical action. In his speech to the nation on Wednesday 17 June 2020, President Ramaphosa stated that, especially in the light of the unbridled violence against women and children, “we will also need to look at further, more drastic measures to curb the abuse of alcohol”.
Gender-based violence is driven by gender inequality, made worse by social and economic marginalisation, failures of policing and justice, and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. No single intervention will address it, and we must tackle all of these factors at the same time. We note the steps that have been taken as part of the National Strategic Plan to combat Gender-Based Violence. We also agree with the President that it “is not alcohol that rapes or kills a woman or a child. Rather, it is the actions of violent men. But if alcohol intoxication is contributing to these crimes, then it must be addressed with urgency”.
In this regard, there are a number of ‘best buy’ measures that the World Health Organization has identified which are highly cost-effective, feasible and implementable at low cost. These are not drastic measures. They make both economic and social sense and need to be implemented as a matter of urgency.
1. A ban on advertising of alcohol (except on the site of sale, where it should not be visible to those under 18 years).
2. Increase the price of alcohol, both through excise taxes and by introducing a minimum price per unit of pure alcohol in liquor products.
3. Reduce the legal limit for drinking and driving to a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or below.
4. Reduce the availability of alcohol, especially in residential areas (by limiting the density of liquor outlets, shorter trading hours, and ending the sale of alcohol in larger containers like 1-litre bottles of beer).
5. Intensify the availability of counselling and medically assisted treatment for persons struggling with dependence.
Why is this important?
Binge-drinking is a strong proximate risk factor for violence against women and children, and a notable contributor to intimate femicide. 50-60% of South African men who drink alcohol drink in heavy, episodic ways (> 5 units at one time). Alcohol is an acknowledged factor in perpetration of more than 40% of rape. In addition, binge-drinking is strongly associated with interpersonal violence, motor vehicle accidents and risk-taking behaviour. These associations are even stronger in poorer communities than wealthier ones.
The measures described above have been shown to significantly reduce the societal harm of alcohol and should be supported by other interventions shown to be effective, including raising the legal drinking age to nineteen years and ensuring that product tracking and tracing is in place to close the supply routes to illegal vendors. These provisions are included in the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill. We call on the government to proceed with the implementation of this Bill and other legislation aimed at reducing alcohol harm such as the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill. Equally critical is effective enforcement of national and provincial legislation and local by-laws, including adherence to trading hours, prevention of underage drinking, confiscation of alcohol sold at illegal outlets and restrictions on public drinking.
The alcohol industry will point to its contribution to GDP of about 3% per year, and we recognise its benefits to the local economy and the value of its exports. However, this contribution does not take into account its costs to society and the economy. Alcohol causes the deaths of 62000 South Africans every year. When the direct costs of alcohol-related crime and injuries are factored in, the net economic benefit of the industry is halved (to about 1.5% of GDP). When alcohol-related premature morbidity and mortality is factored in, the net contribution is negative. In other words, the alcohol industry costs the country more than it contributes to the economy. These costs stem largely from excessive drinking that is not sufficiently curbed by legislation and policy.
Reducing the benefit and harm of alcohol to economic terms alone masks the devastating effect on the lives of families and individuals harmed through the abuse of alcohol. The liquor industry and lobby groups will point to individual freedoms and rights. We agree. This is a critical consideration, and it is the role of government to ensure that the freedoms and rights of one part of society are not upheld to the detriment of another. None of the interventions above is intended to restrict responsible alcohol use and social drinking. They are aimed at curbing the harm of excessive drinking. We can no longer allow poorer people, and women and children in particular to bear the costs of alcohol abuse.
Many of the individuals and organisations described below have undertaken substantial research with respect to the potential impact and viability of implementation of the measures described above. We would be pleased to work with government to inform the drafting of the relevant legislation and policies.