Drugs and violence against women and children: MRC research findings and policy implications

NCOP Women, Children and People with Disabilities

30 October 2012
Chairperson: Ms B Mabe (ANC; Gauteng)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Medical Research Council (MRC) presented Members with its findings on drugs and violence against women. The presentation included the problem of drug use in South Africa, the rape of women and children, and outlined solutions to reduce drug related violence.

Members and the MRC discussed the motives behind drug use, compared drug use in rich and poor households and proposed solutions to effectively combat drug use. The issue of drugs in sub cultures was raised.

The MRC emphasised the importance of the prevention of alcohol abuse among children. It suggested alternative corrective measures for people arrested for drug possession. The possibility of producing hemp products in a controlled environment as a source of economic development for families was introduced.

The Chairperson felt that in order to effectively fight against drug abuse, the suppliers needed to be found.

The MRC requested that Members promote the idea of surveys in order for the MRC to obtain the required national statistics.

The Chairperson was concerned that South Africa had one of the highest statistics of rape and alcohol consumption in the world. She said that Members needed to be serious and harsh about that matter.

The reasons for the prevalence of 'tik' in the Western Cape were discussed.

Members felt that media advertising encouraged the youth to live a lifestyle in which drug use was accepted. Members also felt that substance abuse was continuing because powerful people were benefiting from it.

Legalisation of cannabis was discussed as well as the implications and challenges that would follow for the state and for children.

The MRC found that the situation in South Africa in terms of drug use and rape was not improving.

Meeting report

Drugs and violence against women and children: research findings and policy implications
Professor Rachel Jewkes, Medical Research Council (MRC) Gender and Health Research Unit Director, informed the Committee that she would be giving a joint overview presentation of the MRC research and the alcohol and drug research unit. She added that the MRC had been focusing on drugs and violence against women for almost 20 years.

Prof Jewkes outlined the problem of drug use in South Africa by discussing the differences in provinces relating to drug abuse, drug abuse beginning from childhood and the non existence of national statistics on the general population prevalence of drug use. Data on drug use was presented on charts from the National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey 2008 and treatment demand, based on data from 8 291 patients from nine provinces in 2011.

There was a modest decline in rapes being reported to the police, but there was a significant increase in rape homicides from 1999 to 2009. In 2009, 25% of girl child homicides involved rape. Prof Jewkes highlighted the linkage between drug use and rape, delinquency and firearms.

Solutions  proposed to reduce drug related violence included developing comprehensive intervention strategies, reduction of drug use by the youth, implementing effective treatment programmes, reducing the supply of drugs, and ensuring that prevention programmes were evidence-based and theoretically grounded.

Mr G Mokgoro (Northern Cape, ANC) commented that people had the intelligence to distinguish between right and wrong; however, there was a prevalent tendency of people to choose wrong over right. He wanted to know what the root cause for this tendency was. Secondly, he asked for a comparison between drug users from rich and poor families. Thirdly, he commented that Parliament could pass laws, but he inquired if there were any other means by which the Committee could effectively fight against drug abuse.

Prof Charles Parry, MRC Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit Director, replied that drugs had different properties, and that some were more likely to be linked to certain activities than others. Alcohol and dagga reduced inhibitions and relaxed people so that they behaved in ways they would not normally behave. Some stimulant drugs made people feel strong, confident and energetic, thus inducing them to commit a crime. The motives behind drug consumption varied. Some criminals had confessed to taking drugs just to give them the courage to commit a crime. 'Coming down' made people feel agitated and in order to get their 'next fix', they committed crime. Heroine users were more subdued as they were only interested in the drug, but stimulant drugs were the problem.

Drug use was present in rich and poor families; the drugs just differed. Alcohol was, however, a main reason for many violent crimes in both classes. Why drug use was not so predominant in rich communities could be attributed to the availability of recreational facilities, as opposed to unemployment and 'nothing to do' in poorer communities.

A book called Drug policy and the public good was distributed by the World Health Organisation in 2010 (see relevant documents). It was compiled by a committee of people from different countries who looked at what countries did to address drug abuse and how effective those strategies were. He picked out the strategies which were found to be the most effective, namely, family parenting programmes, environmental classroom programmes, skills building interventions, and life skills and social skills classes relating to drugs and violence. Mass media programmes and drug testing were found not to be effective.

Dr Andreas Plüddemann, MRC Specialist Scientist: Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit, added the interventions needed to be the correct ones and that they should be as extended as possible. Interventions should also be sustained and interactive so that children did not forget them.

Prof Parry remarked that the prevention of alcohol abuse among young people was very important. The values of children had to be promoted. If children only thought about the coming weekend, they would not focus on their lives in the long term. He accepted that the enforcement of laws against drug use had to continue, but voiced his concern over people being sentenced just for being in possession of drugs. Incarceration was expensive for the state and those funds could be used for alternative solutions like treatment and prevention. He also introduced the possibility of producing hemp products in a controlled environment as a source of economic development for families.

Mr T Makunyane (ANC; Limpopo) pointed out that there was prominent drug use in sub cultures like gangs. He asked the MRC if it could elaborate on other sub cultures that were walking the same path.

Prof Jewkes replied that a sub culture could be developed in a small group of people living within a specific area. In South African culture rape was not accepted as the norm, but in some cultures it was. Examples of these were, as was pointed out, gangs demanding that members rape in order to be accepted. Rape was also prevalent in rural areas in boys who hung out together. When boys were not in school they had nothing to do, so they would try to trap girls going to rivers to get water or fire wood. Drug use occurred in rural areas because it was grown there. Prof Jewkes felt that the issue of sub cultures could be tackled by providing boys with extra curricular activities after school. Poor parenting was also a leading cause of the dysfunctional behaviour of children.

The Chairperson stated that in order to effectively fight against drug abuse, the root cause needed to be addressed. She felt that the root cause was the suppliers of drugs, therefore she wanted to know who the suppliers were.

Prof Parry responded that who the drug suppliers were depended on the drug concerned. Regarding cannabis, locals grew it throughout South Africa. Most of it was being grown in the Eastern Cape due to poverty and lack of economic development. Mandrax was brought from China to Durban’s harbour and then distributed in the Western Cape. Local people were also involved in the chain so it did not help just to look where it was physically manufactured. Cocaine was from South America, Angola, Peru and Brazil. Heroine was from Nigeria, Tanzania, Asia, Thailand and Pakistan.

Dr Pluddemann added that due to the vastness of containers being received at harbour ports, it was difficult to patrol, monitor and search every single package. He added that raw ingredients were coming in from outside the country and the drugs would then be manufactured on small holdings and farms.

The Chairperson said that discussing statistics on a national level would be more accurate, but the MRC did not have national data for drug abuse. She wanted to know if there was anything the Committee could do to assist in obtaining that data.

Prof Parry replied that two sources of national drug prevalence data were available. Firstly, the Youth Risk Survey which was conducted in schools in 2002, 2003, and 2008. Secondly, the National Aids Survey was conducted for adults by the Human Science Research Council. Data coming from that had shown very low rates of drug use because people were hesitant to answer openly and honestly. That survey was not designed to ask about drug use. Smaller studies were done in smaller geographical areas but those did not give a national picture. In 2011 data was taken from Western Cape treatment centres. Data was also taken from demographic health services surveys, but they were not conducive in obtaining information on drug us. Prof Parry requested that the Committee promote the idea of surveys as that was what the MRC needed in order to obtain the required national statistics.

The Chairperson noted that the MRC had not discussed drug use and rape in the family environment and how parents could make their children aware of those social evils.

Prof Jewkes replied that rape cut across all socio economic income families, although different families could be viewed differently. Drug use was seen as a risky and antisocial practice which gave pleasure and was seen as recreational. Drug use was a normal feature of adolescence where girls and boys tested boundaries as part of growing up. Parental drug use could have been a contributing factor to why it occurred in both high and low income families. She added that the problem of rape would not be resolved until the problem of the way in which rape was accepted and tolerated was addressed, as the sub-cultural tolerance of rape was a key feature.

The Chairperson expressed her concern that South Africa had one of the highest statistics of rape and alcohol consumption in the world, especially as countless rape cases went unreported. The Committee needed to be serious and harsh about that matter. She felt that, for clarity, rape needed to be defined again. She wanted to know why ganja and alcohol consumption was the most popular.

Prof Parry replied that ganja and alcohol were the most popular because they were used the most in the past. Cannabis and alcohol had basically become part of South African culture, therefore many people did not view them as a problem. Cannabis was cheap and easily available. Certain drugs were also marketed in particular areas as being socially acceptable.

Mr D Worth (Free State, DA) wanted to know why there was a preponderance of 'tik' in the Western Cape.

Dr Pluddemann responded that 'tik' was strongly controlled by the Cape-based gangs who used drugs as a business commodity. In the past it was mostly mandrax and ganja, but now these gangs had turned their attention towards 'tik'.

Mr Mokgoro raised the issue of the media's advertising drug use as a lifestyle which the youth should aspire to, as it was linked to enjoyment, power, status and wealth. The underlying messages of advertising were, therefore, a great problem. He added that South African Breweries (SAB) was one of the biggest industries in the country; therefore they benefited from substance abuse. SAB was an important part of the local economy, even though they had to encourage responsible drinking. Substance abuse was continuing because there were powerful people who benefited from it.

Prof Parry responded that most people did not have satellite television to influence them to become involved with drugs, but they saw the example of drug use through other media around them, and through the example of the township gangsters driving expensive cars, wearing costly jewellery and spending a lot of money. He agreed that SAB and powerful people benefiting from substance abuse were also a key factor in the problem. He suggested breaking the influence of the powerful elite rather than just focusing on the small businesses.

The Chairperson mentioned that there were people lobbying for the legalisation of cannabis. She wanted the MRC’s opinion on that as well as on what impact it would have on society, and would challenges be lessened by it or not.

Prof Parry replied that the amount of money going into policing drug use was not effective. The USA was spending R17 billion on policing but the drug problem was not improving. Criminalising cannabis made it more attractive for criminals to get involved with, because they could make a profit from it. He suggested that cannabis be depenalised, not decriminalised. If someone was caught with a small amount of cannabis, it would not be treated as a criminal offence but as an administrative offence, therefore, one  would just have to pay a fine. Money was being wasted on locking people up when it could be used for treatment, prevention or anti-drug advertising. He felt that South Africa was not ready for the legalisation of cannabis as not enough information was available to take that step.

Prof Jewkes added that it was important not to send messages to children that the use of cannabis was acceptable. It was found that users of cannabis who were under 18 suffered adverse effects on their mental intelligence later in their lives. Drug use should therefore not be encouraged or facilitated among children.

Prof Parry commented that the situation in South Africa did not seem to be getting better in terms of drug use and rape. In 2000 the MRC conducted drug tests in police stations. 50% of persons arrested for rape tested positive for an illicit drug. 42% tested positive for cannabis and 21% for mandrax. He was certain that by now the numbers had increased.

The Chairperson thanked the MRC for the enlightening discussion.

The meeting was adjourned.


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: