Stories from UNODC Southern Africa

Children in focus as Zambia marks the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking


Zambian children speak out during activities to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on July 26 in Lusaka


Lusaka, Zambia – The old belief that children should be seen and not heard went down in flames on June 26 when Zambia joined the rest of the world in marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with children at the center of the commemorations.

Strengthening connectedness and communication in families, schools and communities can increase youth resilience and help to prevent crime and violence. The Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission convened 200 children from 20 schools at an event dubbed the ‘Talent Expo’, under the theme: ‘Listen first: listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe’.

The children did not disappoint the audience – who included the Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Stephen Kampyongo, his Permanent Secretary, Dr. Chileshe Mulenga and the host, Drug Enforcement Commissioner, Ms. Alita Mbahwe - with poems and songs aligned to the international theme.  

Aged between 7 and 13 years old, those present included vulnerable children from Lusaka. The aim was to give them a voice in responding to drug challenges.  

Organisers carefully selected games and activities that shape character, build resilience, encourage cooperation, and promote assertiveness and innovation, among others. For example, tug of war was meant to teach the children to be relentless in the pursuit of what they believe in. Basketball was meant to inculcate a spirit of bouncing back and never giving up in the face of setbacks or failure, while the obstacle race was meant to teach the children to be innovative and always try to find a way.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Mar Cardio said drug abuse is a complex but preventable problem, “it takes a heavy toll on our families and communities, claiming more than half a million lives per year,” he said. Calling for holistic approaches, fair and humane institutions of criminal justice, health and social services working hand in hand, Dr. Mar Cardio advocated for all hands on deck.

“To the parents, guardians and community members, please listen and spend time with your children. Let us look after each other and reclaim our neighbourhoods. Drug trafficking should not be accepted in our homes and communities,” he said. To the children present he said: “Boys and girls, please listen to your parents and teachers. Always talk to an adult if you have difficult questions. We are depending on you for a better and drug free Zambia.”

Honourable Kampyongo told the gathering that the illicit drug problem required “coordination and collaboration” between relevant institutions to deliver “integrated solutions”.

Noting that Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, inter alia, gives children the right to freedom of expression through media of their choice, the Minister hailed the organisers for putting children at the heart of the day’s proceedings.

“It is important to give children a voice in the fight against drug abuse and trafficking in order for them to voluntarily abstain from drug abuse, even in the face of peer pressure in situations where parents and law enforcement agencies may not be able to reach them,” he said.