One of the major problems afflicting our youth and their families in India today is addiction of various kinds; not only to tobacco, liquor, drugs, but also to the Internet. The last includes the dark net which can only be accessed through specific software, configuration, or authorisation. All the unfathomable horrors that you can think of are available on the dark net, which is, unfortunately, attracting a certain group of disillusioned, unhappy, misled and misguided youngsters, many of them in schools. On this dark net, you can buy drugs through the black market, access pornography, get information about credit and debit card numbers, bank accounts details and social security numbers, leaving them vulnerable to hacking and even firearms.
A Rotary Action Group on Addiction Prevention (RAG-AP) has been functioning under the chairmanship of past RI president Kalyan Banerjee, with Johan Maertens from Belgium having put in a lot of hard work in fighting substance abuse, through Rotary, across the world, particularly in Europe. As you will read in this issue an article, which is also the cover story for the coming issue of Rotary News, this RAG is very active in India under Banerjee’s leadership. The core team working under him is deeply concerned about how younger and younger children are getting addicted to not only harmful substances but also the Internet, including the dark net, from which hellhole, even suicides have been committed by youngsters.
As PDG Ulhas Kolhatkar (RID 3142), a paediatrician himself, puts it, now the Internet has taken precedence over the other three forms of addiction — tobacco, alcohol and drugs — among the young. While earlier doctors like him used to see 14–15-year-old students of Classes 9 or 10 with Internet addiction, now the age has come down to 12–13 years. “We now find that Class 7 and 8 kids are getting addicted to first tobacco, and then beer or other softer forms of alcohol… not hard liquor.”
As for Internet addiction, can you imagine that children between 5 and 8 years getting addicted, and this has happened thanks to the Covid pandemic forcing parents to give mobile phones and Internet access to their children for online classes. Even homes where a certain age bar had been strictly put in place for making available the mobile phone to kids, have had to do away with this restriction for the sake of their children’s education.
It is good to note that this RAG is depending on the younger arm of Rotary — Rotaractors — to help in spreading awareness about addiction and substance abuse. A 2.5-minute video prepared by Rotaractors is getting great traction, and has become rather popular. Along with other simple material and concrete tips on what Rotary clubs can do to combat this great evil in our communities, it can be downloaded from the website rotaryaddictionprevention.in.
We all know how the young listen to, and trust, those closer to their age much more than older people. Invariably, a sibling proves more useful than a parent in solving a problem of conflict pertaining to a child in a family. If the power of Rotaractors and Interactors can be unleashed by Rotary to fight the evil of addiction and spread awareness of substance abuse, it would have climbed one more summit in the world of doing good.