President for collective efforts to root out drug addiction on campuses

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President Dr Arif Alvi chairs a meeting of the committee on drug abuse and welfare of differently-abled students at the Presidency in Islamabad on Thursday. — APP
President Dr Arif Alvi chairs a meeting of the committee on drug abuse and welfare of differently-abled students at the Presidency in Islamabad on Thursday. — APP

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi has stressed the need for collective efforts to root out the growing menace of drug addiction in university campuses and to extend all-out facilities to differently-abled students.

He was addressing an online meeting with vice chancellors of all public and private sector universities on issues regarding differently-abled students as well as drug addiction.

The meeting was also attended by Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, Minister for Narcotics Control Mohammad Azam Khan Swati, Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen M. Mazari, HEC Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri and Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Director General Major General Mohammad Arif Malik.

During the first session on proliferation of drug use on campuses, the meeting deliberated on measures to curtail drug use through student counselling services, creation of a hotline, formation of a whistler-blower mechanism, penalisation of elements involved in use and supply of drugs, constitution of parent-teacher coordination bodies, student counselling, creation of a hotline and coordination with rehabilitation facilities. Steps necessary for supply and demand reduction, progress review and de-stigmitisation of institutions were also brought under consideration.

Mr Swati briefed the meeting about various initiatives for drug control taken by his ministry, and the ministry’s desire to work in close coordination with the universities to curb the menace. He suggested a number of steps to be taken and implemented by the universities.

It was decided that all stakeholders will coordinate and come up with a concrete policy on curtailing the use of drugs on campuses latest by March.

The president directed the HEC to develop appropriate policy guidelines in consultation with all the stakeholders to support universities address the issue in an effective manner.

Dr Alvi stressed that universities must take every step necessary to make their campuses safe fromdrugs.

“This is not only a moral imperative. Universities have a legal responsibility to implement all relevant national laws.” He noted that the environment of many universities around the world is threatened today by the proliferation of drugs.

He emphasised the role of the media in creating awareness about the consequences of drug usage. He said law enforcement agencies are playing an active role in dealing with the issue, yet there is a need for direct engagement with the youth. He said the Ministry of Health has been tasked to develop a broader helpline to deal with health-related issues, particularly illicit use of drugs. He said the academia must utilise the services of psychologists and psychiatrists, social workers and non-governmental organisations in issues pertaining to drug usage.

Vice chancellors of Punjab University, Peshawar University, Haripur University, BUITEMS Quetta and SZABIST Karachi along with others spoke on how they are dealing with the challenge and gave suggestions to strengthen efforts in coordination with all stakeholders.

During the second session on differently-abled students, the participants pondered upon measures to bring such students to mainstream and facilitate them in every possible manner. Suggestions by participants included age relaxation for differently-abled students, wheelchair friendly buildings, scholarship and fee waivers and special transport facility within campuses.

Dr Mazari informed the gathering that the Islamabad capital territory (ICT) Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2020 has already been passed. It extends to the whole of the capital territory and so is also binding on universities in the area. She said provinces may adopt the Act through passage of resolution from the respective assemblies. She asked HEC to review its existing policy for differently-abled students in the light of the Act.

The HEC chairman highlighted the commission’s initiatives to facilitate differently-abled students, including promulgation of a policy, distribution of wheelchairs, establishment of well-being centres and formation of student clubs under Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Programme.

The president appreciated HEC’s efforts to mainstream such students in the higher education sector. He observed that special attention needs to be given to students with visual impairment, hearing disabilities or mobility challenges. He said he himself has taken the task for defining categories of differently-abled students so that there should be a clear distinction among students with different needs.

He expressed the hope that the vice chancellors will take lead in implementation of policies on the issues.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2020