Yemeni Children Addicted to Khat are Skipping School

khat, Yemen, youth, illiteracy, education, water shortage, addiction

Khat addiction in Yemen has reached epic proportions and not only among adults. A recent report released by the World Health Organization shows that up to 20% of the nation’s children under twelve are also addicted to chewing the bitter stems of the Catha edulis plant, which produces a mild high akin to the effects of caffeine.

Whereas drinking khat juice is the new hip thing to do in Tel Aviv, in Yemen the epidemic has more serious consequences among the youth. Not only do children suffer from pale complexions and weak bones, but they also skip school in order to stay home with their khat-chewing families. This, warn commentators, could produce several generations of illiterate children.

Insatiable demand for a bitter high

By now, the detriments of chewing and trading khat are well-documented. Not only are Yemeni families ripping out coffee and fruit plantations to supply the country’s insatiable demand for this euphoric drug, using up to 50% of scarce water resources, but may also cause high blood pressure and psychosis in long-term users.

Khalid al-Karimi is a translator and reporter for The Yemen Times. Speaking with Al Arabiya, he explained why khat is especially unhealthy for children.

“Its impacts are not confined to the skeleton but to the psyche as well,” he said. Fragile bones and pale skin are enough to make anybody admit of the qat’s grave effects. If a child spends his time chewing that means schooling has not, and cannot, be provided. Consuming qat paves the way for a multitude of illiterate generations and destroys the health, heralding a desperate future.”

A drug more important than food

In March The Guardian reported that roughly 22% of Yemen’s population was facing severe hunger, yet most households spend up to 50%  of their income on feeding their khat addiction. Almost 80% of the country’s residents spend three to four hours every day chewing khat, and men are the most prevalent abusers among them.

Mohammed al-Asaadi, Communication Officer, UNICEF Yemen told Al Arabiya, “The income that should go to food, health, education and clothing of the children is spent on qat, which affects the family and the wellbeing of children.”

Chewing khat is not cool if it’s keeping young people from attending school. But how are these children getting hold of khat in the first place? According to al-Assadi, parents feed it to them in order to keep them safe from politically-motivated hostilities outdoors, and it is learned behavior.

Will the nation’s recently-launched campaign aimed at curbing khat consumption succeed? We certainly hope so.

:: Al Arabiya

Image of young man with khat via Bittermonk, Flickr

More on Khat:

Khat Juice is Pumping Up Israeli Hipsters

Leafy Narcotic Khat Trade May be Funding Terror

Khat – the Middle East’s Bad Habit

Yemen’s Economic and Environmental Problems Blamed on Khat

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2 thoughts on “Yemeni Children Addicted to Khat are Skipping School”

  1. It’s not the leaves that are chewed but the stems. You strip off the “bark” if you will and chew that with bubble gum. Because it is an appetite suppressant (I know from experience), children in Yemen that chew it aren’t getting the right amount of nutrients. Whilst I also don’t agree with the indiscriminate war on drugs, in Yemen’s case the detriments of khat far outweigh the benefits.

  2. Aviva Weisgal says:

    According to Wikipedia there is a lot of iron in Ghat, so a weakening of bones is not one of the side effects of use. As far as I know, the leaves are what are chewed.

    I don’t think highly of Israel’s war on drugs, but I think that the legal use of Ghat is one of the smarter decisions Israel has made about drug use, and I’m waiting for the legalization of marijuana!

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