Alcohol harm to children is often overlooked and seen as unavoidable. But the reality is that alcohol harm is pervasive in children’s lives and community voices are working hard to bring the issue to attention, for instance through contributing to consultations, publishing media articles, conducting research and advocacy. In Ireland, there are clear laws and provisions in the Public Health Alcohol Act that address the problem and yet children’s exposure and vulnerability to alcohol harms remains a blind spot.
Data is however very clear about the magnitude of the problem faced by Irish children:
- Ireland is estimated to have the third highest prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the world.
- At least 1 in 6 young people are impacted by parental alcohol problems, an adverse childhood experience that can have lasting impacts into adulthood.
- Every year 60,000 children start using alcohol. Starting to use alcohol as a child, is more likely to lead to heavy episodic alcohol use also known as binge alcohol use and is a known risk factor for later alcohol dependency.
- Irish youth aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of binge alcohol use in the European Union.
- Alcohol and other drug abuse features in 1 in 5 of child care cases that come to court.
- Alcohol was identified as a risk factor in three quarters of Irish teenagers for whom social workers applied for admission to special care.
- The Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group found alcohol to be an issue in one third of the cases of unnatural deaths reviewed. Alcohol was found to be the second most prevalent issue after neglect and twice as prevalent as other drugs in the home.
- Alcohol is a factor in approximately half of all youth offending.
- 85% of Garda Youth Diversion Programs named alcohol-related crime as first on the list of offences committed in their area.
Irish society is evidently failing to protect children and youth. It is not for the lack of laws but lack of implementation. The severe harm from alcohol in children and youth, as depicted above, is entirely preventable.
The evidence is clear: Ireland is complacent and young lives are ruined. This complacency becomes ever more evident every day, week, month, that goes by where laws that could make a difference in fighting alcohol harm remain unimplemented,” wrote Alcohol Action Ireland.Alcohol Action Ireland
Alcohol harm is a child rights issue
As well as being a public health and social justice issue, alcohol harm is very much a child rights issue.
Every child has a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and to an adequate standard of living for physical, mental and social development. Children have the right to be protected from harm, to develop fully and to participate in decisions which affect their wellbeing. These rights mean that every child has the right to grow up free from alcohol, a fact underlined by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (WHO Europe) and the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy.
For example, research shows that young people who are exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to consume more alcohol, initiate alcohol use earlier and engage in binge alcohol use.
The Public Health Alcohol Act includes a range of measures such as the introduction of minimum unit pricing – proven effective in several jurisdictions including Scotland and Wales; restrictions on advertising; and labelling of alcohol – to inform alcohol users, including those who are pregnant, of risks of alcohol use. These measures can significantly reduce the alcohol harm that Irish children are exposed to but are not yet implemented in Ireland, despite being adopted.
Alcohol Action Ireland and communities across the country are calling on the Irish Government to implement these laws to better protect Irish children and to promote their right to health and development.