Hard-hitting national awareness and education campaign launched to address the epidemic of underage drinking in South Africa

The Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (aware.org.za) has launched its official Underage Drinking Campaign, the first multi-platform harm reduction education and awareness campaign of its scale that aims to drive behavioural change with regards to the rising wave of children consuming alcohol across South Africa.

Underage drinking is one of the most serious challenges facing our children today. Aware.org wants to shine the spotlight on this epidemic with this campaign and in so, deliver on their mandate to realise a culture of harm reduction in South Africa and affect positive change.

“Underage drinking is reaching alarming levels with South African children drinking from as young as 10 years of age – and this is an issue that is prevalent across the board in South Africa. Our country is the sixth-largest consumer of alcohol in the world. To tackle this problem, we need to start the conversation earlier, and encourage every single person in South Africa to realise that they have a role to play. We believe this will ultimately see real impact on the ground. Past campaigns, which used shock tactics and sought to wag the finger at people have not been effective,” says Ingrid Louw, CEO of aware.org.

The national harm reduction campaign, with Kabelo Mabalane as its ambassador, is informed by evidence-based in-depth research. The campaign underpinned by the message ‘Underage drinking starts long before it begins. You can stop it.’ is built on the insight that many people’s first exposure to alcohol is usually at a young age and is generally enabled by parents and/ or other caregivers.

This enablement can be explicit or subtle, ranging from a widespread culture of drinking for all occasions, acknowledging the coming of age, allowing “child sipping” at home, to just ignoring it when underage drinking happens.

Aware.org has brought this insight to life through an integrated campaign championed by radio and television adverts crafted to challenge all South Africans to re-examine the role that they play in the choices that children make. A series of scenes and experiences are captured where children, caught in various situations, are introduced to their first alcoholic drink in what is shown to be a pervasive culture of drinking in the South African context. In each scene, the catalyst is an older relative such as a parent or older sibling who either directly encourages or, in a more subtle way, enables the first drink.

In addition to television and radio commercials, the campaign will be rolled out on billboards, print media and social media, keeping the conversation going by encouraging all South Africans to share their stories under the hashtag #MyFirstDrinksStory.

“Our mission from the onset was to be bold in finding innovative solutions to stop the scourge of underage drinking,” Louw continues. “By adopting a shared, collective partnership approach based on relationships, we realised we could put people and communities at the heart of how we execute our mandate”

The campaign is further supported by integrated education activities, as well as strategic on-the-ground implementation of rolling out a series of focused, high-impact projects targeted, not just at children, but their parents, siblings and older community members.

One of the key elements in the Underage Drinking campaign is the ‘It Starts Today’ initiative, a three-part early intervention programme that focuses its efforts in primary and secondary schools. Working closely with its strategic partners, the Provincial Liquor Boards and the Departments of Education and using the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) system, aware.org developed a wealth of content for the national school curriculum for Life Orientation modules.

“The most crucial aspect of the campaign is that it is based on a whole community approach, which encourages the community to take ownership of the problem so that the impact is more sustainable,” Louw adds. “We are taking the message directly to parents, teachers, tavern owners, church leaders, local government structures – the whole of society.”

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