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Teenagers enlisted to fight in drugs war

Anti-drug campaigns usually focus on the dangers to the abuser but a Europe-wide project starting in the New Year is trying an alternative approach.

Instead of governments funding campaigns telling young people to "Just say no", teenagers will be asked to debate and exchange ideas on the wider issues surrounding drug production and trafficking - and devise policies that could target the root of the problem.

The initiative, which will involve 2,000 16 to 19-year-olds from eight EU countries in a series of European Youth Parliaments, is being organised by an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations, the European NGO Council on Drugs and Development (ENCOD). Joep Oomen, a Brussels spokesman for ENCOD, says: "We hope that the young people will be able to talk this over in a profound way that is free of prejudice and prior assumptions and think of new ways to solve the drugs problem."

He explained that discussions would, for instance, go beyond looking at short-term enforcement measures to examining how rich countries' trade and aid policies can encourage the production of the raw materials of the drugs trade such as coca plants. This can happen when aid deals require the ending of measures to protect local crop production from cheap imports of, say, rice, maize and wheat. Peasant farmers who cannot compete with industrial producers' economies of scale switch to coca to eke out a living, but they supply a trade in which 95 per cent of the profits stay in rich countries in the hands of traffickers and the banks where the drugs money is invested.

Up to 35 youth parliaments will be organised across Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, with up to 60 participants in each one. In the UK, where the project is being co-ordinated by the Council for Education on World Citizenship, materials will be developed, schools recruited and teachers trained from the New Year so that the parliaments can take place in 1997-98. Likely venues are Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham, London and Tunbridge Wells.

During the debates students will represent key players in the national and international debate on drugs and development - for instance the US government, governments of drug-producing countries such as Bolivia and Thailand, peasant producers, anti-prohibitionists and the police. Between the sessions, there will be public hearings with experts, including representatives from developing countries, to guarantee the quality and scope of information given to students.

Finally, each parliament will send representatives to a concluding debate with delegates from all the countries, to be held in either Brussels or Strasbourg, to elaborate a joint European Youth proposal to the EU, the Council of Europe and national governments, for a just, effective, drugs policy and to suggest paths of action.

Patricia Rogers, director of the Council for Education in World Citizenship, says: "We hope to help the participants have a fuller understanding of drugs and their implications so that they can take fuller responsibility for the choices they make."

Schools interested in taking part, contact CEWC, tel: 0171 329 1711.

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