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Government Concerned Over Drinking in Kenya

Almost half of the Kenya's adult population drinks alcohol, and some drink too much, putting their children at risk.

At one of Nairobi's so-called "family entertainment" spots, children play happily in a playground while their parents drink nearby.

Scenes like this are disturbingly common in Kenya and have wide-ranging implications, says Jennifer Kimani, CEO of the government's National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, or NACADA.

"The culture of parents going to entertainment joints or hotels, and they sit in one corner and they take their beer or alcohol until they get very drunk. At the same time the children are playing just next to where they are and the children are running back, sometimes sipping daddy's drink, mummy's drink, and then they go back and continue," Kimani said.

Forty percent of Kenyans between the ages of 15 and 65 years consume alcohol, according to a recent national survey.

Children exposed to alcohol can face enormous consequences, such as taking up drinking themselves. "About eight percent of children aged between 10 and 14 years have used one type of alcohol or another,: Kimani states, "and we also realized that two percent of them have actually used changaa, and changaa is the most commonly abused illicit brew in Kenya."

Ann Mathu's decades-long addiction to alcohol began early in life. The drug and alcohol abuse counselor says it all started when her father gave her a drink when she was 10 years old and continued to do so throughout her childhood.

"Having been introduced into alcohol drinking by my father who was my role model, I never saw any problem or any danger in that. I thought it was fun," Mathu says, "I thought it was cool until later on in life when I started losing my job, when I started losing touch with myself, with my children, and even with God."

Since then, Mathu has been to hell and back many times, the lowest point being when she and her brother drank jet fuel. "I took two glasses, he took two glasses. By the time I got home, I blacked out for more than 24 hours. The following day when I woke up, I started puking, and the puke was bloodstained. That is when I called a friend in recovery and that is when they took me to Asumbi Treatment Centre in Homa Bay," she recalls.

Even if children do not consume alcohol directly, they still lose out when their parents drink heavily.

In many cases, money that should be spent on childrens' school fees, food, clothing and other basic needs is instead being spent in the bar.

Anthony Kang'ethe is coordinator of Asumbi Treatment Centres, a residential program for people addicted to alcohol and drugs. "In the final analysis, you might get even these children are denied their rights, like rights to good education. You get even some of those drop-outs that we have in the villages - they are just as a result of that," he said.

Kang'ethe and others say they are working hard to sensitize the Kenyan public about the dangers of alcohol abuse and urging parents who drink too much to seek treatment.