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close this bookPrevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)
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View the documentYoung people and children
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Groups at risk, risk factors, or risk situations?

The designation of certain groups as populations potentially at risk is a thorny issue in preventive education. It is particularly difficult, indeed even dangerous, to set the criteria for such a designation. In other words, designating a given population as being at risk can even increase the risk for this particular group and, consequently, for the population as a whole and can result in blame being placed on scapegoats in different groups where social interaction is complex. And the fight against AIDS has taught us much on this matter.

Another approach is the notion of risk factor. where the traditional model of cause-effect is replaced by taking into account a series of risk factors clearly highlighted by statistical studies. Particular emphasis is placed on the multifaceted nature of the origin of the problem, each risk factor acting in combination with others and being linked to social and economic development indicators. Notwithstanding, individuals identified as being at risk are those who are more likely to manifest a problem in the long term, thus inexorably becoming groups at risk. Even if these particular groups at risk are obtained by cross referencing several factors, we will, in this case, yet again find the same perverse effects of designation.

So drug abuse interpreted as a socio-cultural phenomenon would, it seems to us, merit some careful reflection on terminology. It is preferable to speak of " risk situations " rather than " groups at risk ", for the perverse effects of social overdetermination can give rise to social exclusion.

Many studies have established multiple links between drug addiction, AIDS and social exclusion (9) Without doubt, drug abuse appears as one of the most evident pathologies of social, cultural and economic instability Social exclusion seems to be the major risk in drug abuse as evidenced by the correlation frequently established between poverty, delinquency and drugs.

(9) Lebeau, Bertrand. New York, London, Paris. AIDS, drug addiction, exclusion. Proceedings of the Triville Colloquium, Paris, January 1993

In the field of preventive education, UNESCO directs its particular attention to two categories of the population - young people and children and women - who are particularly vulnerable and less capable of taking part in human development. Both through their number (especially in developing countries) and through their as yet unexploited potential, young people and children and women combine the characteristics to make them a preferential target for preventive education.

Young people and children

The consumption and increase in consumption of drugs is indissolubly linked to the development of the consumer society, of which young people form a very large part. The demographic and symbolic weight of youth and children in all societies, particularly in developing countries, acts as a mainspring in the overall growth of consumption, including the consumption of drugs. In effect, drugs can become a social network for the fragile adolescent who has been unable to integrate or be integrated into any other network. This is especially true when these young people are part of the rural exodus.

In this case, it is also important to emphasize the distinction which should be made between the singular and the global. " Youth " as a general abstract category does not exist. Young people have to be considered from the standpoint of their cultural and ethnic specificity and their age group, (for example, in Senegal, a man of thirty years is still not considered as an adult). The fragility of this time of transition between childhood and maturity, makes young people particularly defenseless, especially in societies where unemployment and exclusion restrict access to autonomous social status. Drugs can then become a solution to a difficult individual or social situation. In industrialized and developing countries alike, a value system based on social success and the consumer market creates conditions wherein some young people turn to drugs.

"Despite the general lack of statistics (even in the Northern countries), the World Health Organization estimates that 80 million children live on the streets and in hidden corners of cities worldwide, mainly in the Southern countries. Deprived of a childhood, the children of this misery go headfirst into a world which is no better than that of the grown-ups, which they will perhaps reach ... Already suffering the handicap of being poor and weak, the Third world children become today, the frailer victims of the ills of our era, drug and violence" (10)

(10) In: Revue Interdndances» No. 13, May-June 1993

Economic and social instability which can force children into the streets, an upsurge in racism and xenophobia, conflicts of ethnic and religious identity, are all factors which combine to increase the vulnerability of young people, leading them into risk situations and to seeking the " easy " way out.

At all costs, preventive education for youth and children must eschew the " satanization of products " current in some information campaigns which spotlight the harmful effects of consumption on the organism. Such strategies can lead to converting the use of other products (for example, volatile solvents like glue, or other chemical products, such as those used in car paint, which are much more damaging to the body).

These are just some of the factors which go to substantiate the fundamental importance of UNESCO's action in preventive education for young people and children.


Women also merit UNESCO's special attention in preventive education. Like youth, " women " do not exist as an abstract category. Their identity is neither homogeneous nor uniform, differs from culture to culture, from one social situation to another, and varies according to economic status and religious denomination. Women occupy a wide variety of places in society and play an increasingly important role in socio-economic development. Moreover, women can be mothers, teachers, prostitutes, managers, politicians. They can be in close proximity to young people living in situations at risk, or might themselves live in precarious states or suffer from discrimination, i.e. in high-risk contexts.

According to the Human Development Report (11) «No country treats its women as well as it treats its men. «... «In industrialized countries, gender discrimination (measured by the HDI) is mainly in employment and wages, with women often getting less than two-thirds of the employment opportunities and about hag the earnings of men. In developing countries the great disparities, besides those in the job market, are in health care, nutritional support and education. For instance, women make up two thirds of the illiterate population...»

(11)Human Development Report, Op. cit., pp. 16/1

As a result of these conditions of inequality and modern social vulnerability, women in general, and each woman in particular, are particularly exposed to drug abuse.

Subject and object of preventive education, women are privileged partners in some pilot projects set up by UNESCO, mainly in innovative peer teaching educational strategies. On the eve of the World Conference on Women organized by the United Nations, it is urgent to take into account the increasingly important role of women in society within the context of socio-economic and human development and to consider the multiple, transverse and specific needs of women in the implementation of realistic and pragmatic preventive education strategies.