An opposition party lawmaker has raised the alarm about underage drinking on Cayman Brac where she said children younger than 14 can sometimes be seen struggling to walk down the street as a result of having too much alcohol.
MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly’s comments came during the legislature’s debate on the 2007-08 Cayman Islands budget proposal.
Ms O’Connor Connolly, who represents Cayman’s Sister Islands, asked for additional law enforcement to make sure minors are not allowed to buy alcoholic beverages.
It is illegal in the Cayman Islands to sell alcohol to a person younger than 18. It is also an offence to allow someone younger than 18 to drink alcohol in any establishment that has a liquor licence, or to allow anyone working in that business to sell alcohol to someone younger than 18.
The law prohibits anyone younger than 18 from consuming alcohol and makes it an offence to buy liquor for an underage person.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Officer in charge of neighbourhood policing on the Brac said the department has been working on several strategies to combat underage drinking.
But Officer Robert Stewart said in a written statement that police can’t do it by themselves.
‘If you know a minor is obtaining alcohol you need to tell us,’ he said. ‘If you see children drinking you need to report them. We need people to come forward with evidence or we cannot pursue prosecutions.
‘This is something we all should take responsibility for.’
Establishments that own liquor licences can have them revoked if caught selling alcohol to minors. Fines for selling alcohol to someone younger than 18 can be as much as $5,000.
‘I have recently sent a letter to the licensees on the Brac reminding them that it is an offence for underage people to be in the bars,’ said James Tibbetts, chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
‘I will tell you that at a recent event that was held at one of the local establishments I received a couple of complaints that there was somebody there that they believed to be less than 18,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘There was a picture of this teenager posted on a website.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the picture showed the teen at the bar with a beer in his hand. He said the matter was reported to police.
‘I think that we do need enabling legislation that would make it easier for the licensee to demand identification from customers coming into their establishments,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘They don’t have to (ask for ID), so they don’t for the most part.’
‘Obviously, if I go there almost 50, losing my hair and overweight they probably shouldn’t ask me. But if it’s anybody you have any doubt about whatsoever you should probably ask.’
According to a 2006 Cayman Islands National Drug Council survey, binge drinking among island youth has doubled in the past decade. Students in grades seven to 12 at Cayman Brac High School were included in that survey.
The study found that 15 per cent of the nearly 2,500 students that participated admitted to having five or more drinks within the past month. A 1998 survey of 1,950 Cayman students found just over seven per cent of students had five or more drinks within the past month.
Binge drinking among seventh graders went from 1.5 per cent of those surveyed in 1998 to about 10 per cent of those who filled out the survey in 2006. Students in grade 12 also reported a significant increase in binge drinking according to the survey; going from 19.5 per cent in 1998 to 30 per cent last year.
The National Drug Council’s acting CEO Simon Miller said the statistics are being broken down for each school surveyed, but those figures weren’t available by press time.
Those who filled out the 2006 survey said they got alcohol in a variety of ways. Fourteen per cent said they buy it themselves, 15 per cent said friends buy it for them, 16 per cent said friends offer it to them, 18 per cent said parents offer it to them, five per cent said they buy it in restaurants and bars, and three per cent said they stole it.
Another 30 per cent said they obtained alcohol in other ways.