11 Dec 2012 02:00
Qat, a plant found in the Arabian Peninsula that acts as a stimulant when chewed, has begun to have an effect on economic, health, and environmental issues. The World Health Organization ruled it a "drug of abuse" because it can cause a mild to moderate psychological dependence.
The plant is accused of 'destroying the future of Yemen,' in particular when children begin chewing it at an early age. Children between 8 and 15-years-old can become addicted to the stimulant, often with the consent of their parents or guardians. It's a common belief, advocated by fathers, that chewing qat is a sign of adulthood and wisdom, and thus it's practiced at weddings at funerals.
Some fathers give their children qat as in incentive to stay home and finish homework instead of staying out in the streets, but youth also chew it in secret with their friends, both in public and in their private residences.
The economic crisis in Yemen has pushed children to work, and some choose to plant qat or sell it, often resulting in a discontinuation of their formal education.
"One reason behind children's addiction to qat is the tendency to leave school and enter the qat industry. This is due to the bad situations their families are going through, so the parents are not completely in control," says Dr. Adel Al-Sharjabi, a professor of sociology at Sana'a University. "Some parents even travel outside of Yemen, leaving their children to make their own decisions. Another reason is the lack of education and common knowledge among both parents and the youth," adds Al-Sharbaji.
Along with affecting society, the drug also affects health, causing hypertension and what some call "emotional disturbances."
Mohammad Al-Qadsi, a civil servant, said, "I chew qat, but I don't want my son to do so because of the harm it inflicts. If I allow him he will lose his childhood and his studies."
The money spent on Qat is about 60 million Yemeni riyals, which equals 6.5 percent of the total GDP, excluding oil. According to the Yemeni government's five-year development plan, 24 percent of all employed workers are involved in the qat industry.