Parents who give children under 15 alcohol to drink should face prosecution, a charity has said today.
At present it is legal to give children alcohol from the age of five in the home, but Alcohol Concern says raising this limit would help to control rising rates of children consuming alcohol and send a "stronger message" to parents about the risks of young people drinking alcohol.
Its call is based on a review of the government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and statistics showing a large increase in the amount of alcohol drunk by 11- to 13-year-olds.
The Glass Half Empty report, based on a survey of 8,000 schoolchildren, claims that boys between the ages of 11 and 13 drank about 12 units of alcohol a week in 2006, an increase of four units since 2000.
Girls in the same age group meanwhile said they drank an average of eight units a week in 2006, compared with five units in 2000.
Alcohol Concern chief executive Srabani Sen said: "Even for an alcohol body like us these are scary figures - what we are seeing is girls and boys who are drinking are suddenly consuming so much more.
"Our report shows that we are simply not doing enough to protect our children from alcohol."
The charity is also calling for a 16 per cent rise in alcohol taxes, a lowering of the drink-drive limit, a ban on alcohol advertising and a programme of alcohol education in the national curriculum.
Commenting on its report, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Sandra Gidley said: "The government is failing our children with its ineffective alcohol reduction strategy. We will be building up huge problems for the future unless we deal with these problems now.
"We must urgently tackle the wider social problems which lead to so many children drinking regularly at such a shockingly young age."
Public health minister Caroline Flint has defended the government's strategy on alcohol.
"The government is serious about tackling alcohol-related harm and excessive consumption," she said. "Recent data shows that levels of binge drinking are no longer rising."
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