Underage drinking is a huge problem in Australia and more and more minors are having access to alcohol. This is having a big impact on their mental, emotional and physical growth as well as on the society at large. The existing laws do not provide stringent punishment to the offenders, especially those who are making it easy for underage drinkers to have access to alcohol and it is time the Government increases the punishment to make it more difficult for them to have access to it. The Government should also pass laws that will fill the existing loopholes and also provide a support system for young kids to turn to when they have emotional problems. A combination of these measures can go a long way in curbing underage drinking in Australia.
Underage drinking is a common problem in many parts of the world including the developed economies like Australia, United States, Canada and Europe. In fact, it is a public health problem in these countries and this is having an impact on the social and culture of the society too.
Why do minors drink?
As kids move from childhood through youth to adulthood, they undergo numerous physical, hormonal and emotional changes in their body. This is the period when they feel they are adults and have control over everything, but in reality, they are still adolescents. A lot of kids associate drinking with an adult behavior and so they want to emulate it to prove that they are also adults. This is one of the major causes of underage drinking.
Another problem is the lack of support from family and friends during this crucial period of teenage and adolescence. The United States and other countries are seeing an increasing number of single parents who raise their children alone and this can lead to immense emotional trauma for the children. One way to take out this frustration is drinking.
Yet another reason is the influence of media on children. Drinking and smoking are considered to be common social acts that all adults indulge in and so the adolescents feel that they have to cultivate that habit too in order to be accepted in the adult group. Unfortunately, they indulge in binge drinking and consume excessive levels of alcohol. For many of them, it is a part of risk-taking and they want to know what happens when someone is on a "high" after drinking alcohol. To experience it, they drink excessively and face the problems that come with it.
Economic and social impact of underage drinking
The economic and social problems of underage drinking is immense. It affects every facet of the society and reduces the number of responsible adults who can make meaningful contribution to the growth and development of the country in the future. The National Institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism estimates that more than 5,000 people under the age of 21 die every year and out of this, about 1,900 people die from car accidents, 1,600 as a result of homicide and 300 from suicides. This is apart from the hundreds of thousands that suffer injuries resulting falls, burns and accidents. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2010).
The average age for drinking has been reducing during the last few years and currently it is 14. At this age, the brain and other body parts are not even fully developed and this leads to numerous chronic health problems as these underage drinkers grow up. Binge drinking leads to liver damage and when this happens at an age where the liver is still developing, then the effects are likely to be permanent. Scientists believe that it can lead to obesity and other growth-related problems. Another part of the body that can be affected is the brain though the extent of damage and its direct correlation to drinking is still under study.
The adolescence age is when boys and girls attain puberty and excessive drinking during this crucial phase can lead to problems with proper hormonal development. The effect is still under study, but it is estimated that it can have a bearing on the ability of girls to produce ovaries and have babies. These are serious health problems that teenagers are exposed to due to the neglect of parents, irresponsible behavior of alcohol manufacturers and sellers and the society at large that turns a blind eye to the entire problem.
Existing laws related to underage drinking
In Australia, consuming alcohol is legal and there are rules that relate to its manufacture, distribution and consumption. Each state is responsible for punishing the offenders related to alcohol use. In south Australia, it is governed by the Liquor Licensing Act, 1997 and under this legislation, the administration of these laws is done by the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner. The main aim of this law is to regulate the consumption, distribution and sale of alcohol and ensure that there is minimal harm to the parties concerned.
Under this law, any person requires license to sell and distribute alcohol to others. The term selling includes offering free alcohol along with other purchases or offering alcohol to a community-based program that charges an entrance fee or selling alcohol for money to others (Drug and Alcohol Services, South Australia, 2009).
There are strict laws related to drunk driving in Australia. It is an offense to drink and drive all over the country and any person attempting to do so can be charged with two offenses -- Driving Under Influence (DUI) and exceeding the Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) (Drug and Alcohol Services, South Australia). The police also have the right to charge any person who is believed to have higher alcohol in their blood than the established levels. These levels are 0.05% for license holders and boat operators and 0.00% for bus drivers, truck drivers, probationary and unlicensed drivers. Also, any person who has committed a driving offense or is involved in an accident or approaching the Random Breath Testing Center can be asked to test for alcohol content in the blood. If the above-limit levels are found, then they can be charged with a driving offense under the Road Traffic Act (1961). These strict laws ensure that the number of drunk driving cases are at a minimum.
The legal age for drinking in Australia is currently 18 and anyone found to be drinking under this age is liable for punishment. Also, those who supply drinks to minors are punishable too. When alcohol is supplied to a minor, then the adult supplying the alcohol is liable for a maximum penalty of $11,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment. On the other hand, if a minor tries to obtain alcohol from any party, then he or she is also subject to the same punishment as mentioned above. If a licensed institution or restaurant allows alcohol to be sold to minors, then the licensee is subject to the punishment mentioned above. (NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, 2010). The licensee can be exonerated from any punishment if he or she can prove beyond doubt that he or she was authorized by the minor's parents or guardians to obtain alcohol and in such a case, the punishment gets passed on to the parent or guardian. The only circumstance in which a minor can be allowed to be on the premise of an establishment that is selling alcohol is when he or she is an apprentice in training as defined under the Apprenticeship and Traineeship Act of 2001. This training should not be in the selling or supplying of alcohol.
The minors can also be charged with punishment for certain actions. They are charged a sum of $2,200 for drinking alcohol on licensed premises, carrying alcohol away from licensed places, refusing to give the name and address when asked by a person of authority like a police officer and for falsifying the age for the purpose of drinking alcohol. If a minor is found to be consuming alcohol in a licensed premises without the presence of a responsible adult, then the minor can be charged with a fine of $2,200 and the licensee can be charged a maximum penalty of $5,500 for allowing the minor to consume alcohol in the premises without the presence of a responsible adult. For this purpose, a responsible adult is someone who is a parent, step-parent or guardian of the minor, the minor's spouse or de-facto partner and anyone who is standing as the parent for the minor during the given period of time. (Underage drinking laws, 2008).
The law also states that no adult should request or order a minor to obtain alcohol from licensed premises and any adult found to be doing so can be penalized an amount of $3,300 through the court or $1,100 on the spot. The responsible adult should not allow a minor to consume alcohol in licensed premises as well and anyone found violating this…