Cyprus Mail

Worrying figures over student drug abuse

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Over 400 secondary school students were referred for drug treatment programmes over the past three years, MPs heard on Wednesday.

The figure was revealed by Justice Minister Marios Hartsiotis at the House education committee where he highlighted the fact that the police drug squad Ykan was being left to deal with the problem when in fact teachers also needed to get more involved. He invited everyone across the education sector to cooperate on the issue.

“From 2021 to 2024, Ykan sent 420 young people, mostly students, to therapeutic programmes,” the minister said.

Hartsiotis said that the burden of dealing with the drug problem in schools was falling to police when it was widely known and where parents and teachers often hesitated to press charges either to protect their children from the law, or in the case of teachers, out of fear for their own safety.

The minister underlined the need for cooperation so that there could be better results. He acknowledged that there was a drug problem in schools, both inside and outside. MPs even heard that there was a problem at least in one primary school.

Education Minister Athina Michaelidou, speaking after the committee meeting, acknowledged that teachers were hesitant to report drug trafficking in schools, but data showed this was changing.

“The ministry encourages teachers to report anything that seems strange to them,” she said, adding that an internal electronic platform had now been set up where incidents in schools could be reported. “In the past there was a tendency to not want to create a bad image for the school,” Michaelidou said.

Asked about the report related to drug trafficking outside primary schools, the minister said: “It doesn’t help to either exaggerate situations, or cover them up.”

Drug problems were not the only issues in schools, the MPs heard. Juvenile delinquency in general was a problem. Police chief, Stelios Papatheodorou, who was also at the committee, said the number of cases were down. Criminal acts involving minors were 496 in 2021 and 393 last year.

He also highlighted that every school has a liaison with police so that they can confidentially report incidents of drugs or delinquency. Regarding cases involving the sexual abuse of a minor, he said that these are handled by the vulnerable persons management service.

A week ago, the education committee, behind closed doors heard that a high school pupil who was sexually abused by his classmates was still at the same school as his abusers a month and a half after the incident.

Michaelidou, mentioning the specific case, said that until the police investigation is completed, there was little the school could do.

“The legislation obliges anyone who has even a suspicion of the involvement of a minor in a case of sexual abuse to report the incident directly to the police,” she said. “And, given the latest data, it appears that children and teachers are breaking their silence,” she added.

Michaelidou said a decision had been taken to increase the number of people on the Immediate Intervention Team, while she acknowledged that more educational psychologists and counsellors were needed.

Akel MP Christos Christofides pointed out that currently there is only one psychologist for every 1,800 pupils.

“I think this shows the amount of work that can or cannot be done,” he said. “Of course, we welcome the fact that the ministry of education recognises the problem but we expect solutions soon with the right staffing of all these key services.”

Regarding the juvenile detention area, as provided for by the 2021 legislation, Hartsiotis said a deadline of 2026 for completion of the facility had been set and meetings were ongoing with the attorney-general’s office.

In the meantime, Michaelidou said a new study programme was being prepared for children with delinquent behaviour.

Christofides said it was all well and good to create resources after the fact but put none into prevention.  “We cannot let social problems develop and then run behind the problem with management, which no matter how good it is cannot deal with the problem itself,” he said.

“The root causes of the problem should be struck, which are poor social conditions and problem families. There should therefore be an emphasis on prevention.”


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