The proposal to rise legal drinking age emerged among resolutions of the recent 15th forum of Unity Club Intwararumuri following discussions on the behaviours of youth, a segment of the population considered to hold the country’s future.
The Unity Club is an association that brings together members of cabinet - former and present, their spouses, and other top government officials, with a purpose of promoting unity and contributing to the socio-economic development of the country.
Speaking to IGIHE, Tito Rutaremara, a political expert and the Chairperson of Rwanda Elders’ Advisory Forum affirmed that drunkenness and drug abuse is among issues affecting the youth.
He however observed that rising legal drinking age is not the only solution.
"The solution should be about enforcing laws, to discourage people serving alcohol to minors and get them arrested because the situation might remain the same if the age is raised to 21 without close monitoring,” he said.
"Besides, bar owners need to be strict and refrain from serving alcohol to minors. On the other hand, they might order alcoholic drinks through other people. So, the most important thing is that parents have to own the problem, educate children on the negative effects of alcohol and prevent them from consuming alcohol.
The youth and schools should also play their part in this sensitization. In brief, the policy needs to be devised, have people serving them with alcohol punished and call for collective efforts to contain alcohol consumption among teenagers,” added Rutaremara.
Figures from Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) show that 744 teenagers aged below 18 represent 3% of people arrested over drunkenness and drug abuse between 2018 and 2022.
For people aged between 18 and 30, the number increased to 14,765 representing 58.7% while 9,658 are people above 30 representing 38.4%.
According to statistics from Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Teaching Hospital, in 2021/2022, 96,357 mental health patients were received by the hospital, and of these, 70 per cent are youth with issues induced by alcohol and drugs.
According to the World Health Organisation, 5.3 per cent of all deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption.
Globally, around 61 per cent of countries have a drinking age of 18 or 19. India is the exception, where some states have a minimum drinking age as high as 25 and 30 years old.
In Africa, the highest legal drinking age is 21 in Egypt while the lowest is 15 years old in Ethiopia. In countries like Algeria and Benin, there is no legal drinking age.
Despite the fact that part of the youth fell for different vices including alcohol, Rutaremara explained that Rwandans should not feel like the country’s future is destroyed because there are others with good conduct.
“The youth have a lot of evil obsessions but it would be wrong to assume that they are all in the same case. There is a large number of youth with good manners but we have to work hard to bring others in the right direction,” he said.