By Hamdan Alalia
Chewing Qat is remarkably spreading not only among youth and elderly people, but also among children of ten years and over. Children in Yemen chew, plant, and promote Qat. Most children start to chew after they see their fathers and people around chew it continuously and freely.
Ali Mohammed, a father of four children, said that his ten-year-old son likes qat and believes that it gives him focus and success. “I could not stop him and I give him Qat on some occasions so he does not go and chew Qat with bad friends without my permission and knowledge.”
Some parents do not know the risks of Qat on their children because they chew it themselves; some even urge their children to chew it to show maturity. It is also spreading because of boredom, as a motivation for study, and to imitate adults. A lot of street beggars’ children and working children in Yemen chew it to help them through their difficulties.
Some children have died after being asphyxiated with Qat. The last victim was a child in the Khawlan area southeast of Sana’a who chewed Qat and went out to play football.
On the other hand, most Yemeni families in the countryside live on the revenues of Qat sales. Children are forced to work in the field to plant, cultivate and promote Qat. Children are involved in agriculture, irrigation and spraying Qat trees with pesticides, exposing them to serious diseases, especially respiratory, skin diseases and cancer.
Mohammed Ghanem said that his son suffers from cancer in the throat because of the ongoing work in Qat farm and from chewing it. “I spent a long time traveling between Yemeni hospitals to save my son’s life, but with no benefit. I had to travel to Cairo to complete the treatment, and this cost me huge amounts of money.”
Dr. Rami al-Maqtari confirmed that the health complications of Qat on children is obvious to parents, but they do not care because they see their children moving and not effected by disease. Al-Maqtari warned of the dangers of chewing Qat for pregnant women, which also affects the fetus.
The Democratic School Organization has begun to find Qat alternatives among children through a program called “Children’s Parliament”, which was established by the school as the first parliament of its kind in the Middle East in 2000 in order to enable children to express their views and discuss their concerns, most notably the phenomenon of chewing Qat.
The head of the Democratic school, Jamal al-Shami, said that one of the most important conditions for the admission of children in the Parliament is to stop chewing Qat.
The Parliament called on the Yemeni government to implement previous recommendations to prevent chewing Qat by children under the age of 17 years and launch an initiative to stimulate villages to prevent children from chewing Qat.
Previous study conducted by researcher Najat Khalil show that chewing Qat is spreading among male children more than females and among children who work for a living.
The study added that 36% of parents prevent their children from chewing Qat, while 40.5%. of parents who give their children Qat. The study targeted 400 children.
The World Health Organization does not consider Qat a narcotic substance that causes addiction, but Qat consumption involves physiological and social impacts, especially on children.
World Bank estimates show that about 90% of adult males in Yemen chew Qat, 50% of women chew, and 15-20% of children under the age of twelve chew.