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Are Europe's teenagers drinking?

Teenager drinking alcohol
How much of a worry is there across Europe about underage drinking?

England's chief medical officer thinks childhood should be an "alcohol-free time". He is advising parents that under-15s should not drink any alcohol. But what about elsewhere? Our correspondents look at attitudes to under-age drinking across Europe.

GERALDINE COUGHLAN, The Hague

As Dutch parents are drinking more wine at home nowadays, like the French, they are more likely to introduce their children to wine at a young age. But under-16s in the Netherlands will soon be fined for possessing alcohol in public.

Research shows that young Dutch people are drinking earlier and more heavily.

The Dutch government's plan to fight the problem of under-age drinking goes far beyond most European countries' policies, such as UK by-laws to prevent drinking in public.

But the government ruled out making it an offence for young people to drink at home, saying that was the parents' responsibility.

Many parents in Ukraine say they will allow their teenage children to have the occasional alcoholic drink
It also decided against a ban on under-18s buying alcohol because it would be impossible to enforce, although a ban on the sale of alcohol to under-16s is already in place.

In the southern city of Delft, a hospital has opened a specialist clinic for children with problems related to alcohol misuse, after a marked increase in admissions of under-16s with alcohol poisoning.

The initiative, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, is a response to paediatricians' concerns about long-term brain damage.

ROB CAMERON, Prague

Alcohol, particularly beer, is deeply ingrained in Czech culture and underage drinking is a big problem.

Beer is known colloquially as "liquid bread". Many pale ales and lagers are variations of Plzensky Prazdroj from the city of Plzen or Budvar from Ceske Budejovice.

But it's not just beer; according to the World Health Organization, the Czech Republic ranks fifth worldwide in per capita consumption of pure alcohol.

The organisation also found that Czech teenagers are among the heaviest underage drinkers in Europe.

In theory, pubs and restaurants are forbidden from serving alcohol to anyone under 18, but ID checks are rare.

A group of MPs is now working on legislation that would introduce much stiffer fines for establishments that serve alcohol to minors.

GABRIEL GATEHOUSE, Kiev

Ukraine has one of the highest rates of under-age alcohol consumption in Europe.

In a survey for the United Nations in 2008, 40% of schoolchildren aged 11-12 said they had drunk alcohol.

The survey suggests that the age at which children in Ukraine start drinking is getting younger, while more and more girls are beginning to consume alcoholic drinks at a young age.

Many parents in Ukraine say they will allow their teenage children to have the occasional alcoholic drink, such as wine or beer, on special occasions.

But the problem, many say, is that the legal age limit for buying alcohol, 18 years, is almost never enforced.

Alcoholic beverages are freely available in many street kiosks, as well as shops and supermarkets.

Some have pointed the finger of blame, at least in part, to an increasing number of pre-mixed alcoholic cocktails, sold in cans, which are widely advertised.



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