Consumer Diaries, September 06, 2011

Who is a consumer? Do consumer violations respect age? Why is it important for young people to be knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities? These are some of the burning questions in the mind of the young generation and in this and subsequent articles to come; I will try to provide the answers.

To start with, let’s reflect on some of the pertinent issues that the welfare of young consumers hinges on, especially at school level.

“Is there any day in your life time when you were forced by your school authorities not to buy a uniform or any other necessities from any other place apart from their preferred place?.

“Have you ever bought something in a shop, being convinced that the product is in good condition, but later when you use it, you discover that it is defective?

“In your spree times, whilst having ice cream, a drink or any other consumable items; you find that there is a foreign matter in that particular product you are consuming. How would you react?. Did you think of approaching the shop owner/cashier for compensation or refund?”

There are many more cases you might wish to add to the ones I have raised. But what is important is how knowledgeable you are about your rights as a consumer. The simplest definition of a consumer is “a person who buys or hires a good or service including a beneficiary of that good or service”. There are more lengthy definitions and you may wish to refer to the Competition and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 for the legal definition. Why is it necessary to refer you to this law for further reference? My reason is simple. I want to break the autonomy of thinking that laws are meant for lawyers or that they are difficult to understand or interpret. And more specifically, the myth that a young person cannot interpret such Laws.

It is important to note that there is an increasing demand for consumers to be informed and skilled enough to make responsible choices so that they can participate effectively in the market. One of the responsible ways to ascertain consumer education, especially for young consumers, is embedding it in a school curriculum.

We cannot afford to wait for today’s school children to grow up, to educate them on consumer awareness. Many productions and services are targeted at young consumers. The market is not wholly perfect and responsible enough to guarantee quality goods and services, as those in business are fighting over supremacy through wooing of consumers. As this exploration is happening, businesses tend to venture into unfair means. We are regularly from time to time educated by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) about some of the Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) that has characterised the Zambian Market, such as misleading advertisements and tied selling among others. These are prohibited, with CCPC descending harshly on offenders. But the earlier examples I gave are examples of these prohibited practices, which are still going on unreported as those consumers who face them do not know that they are being abused. Therefore, students must grow up as educated and informed consumers.

Overall, education in different contexts must respond to the challenge of developing knowledge about how consumer awareness can be strengthened in an ever-changing society like Zambia. It should be noted that, consumer education is a process, which is permanent, gradual and in step with the students capacity to evolve. Students require this specialized knowledge to take responsibility for their own life, their family, obligations to society and the environment. Often increasing a student’s stock of experiences is considered an important goal.

Teaching methods used in imparting consumer education should involve the students and be based on their everyday life and their interests. Practical and concrete tasks heighten students’ ability to understand the usefulness of consumer education. More specifically teaching methods should evoke the student’s personal responses. In short consumer education is not simply a matter of following a prescribed amount of material or memorizing it, rather more researching into the real situation surrounding us in order to understand the clear concepts and effective procedures.

Teaching about consumer issues thus aims at developing an analytical and critically aware attitude to consumption, where needs and requirements for quality, price, service, resources and the environment are made explicit. Schools therefore, both private and public must make deliberate policies within their structures to promote consumer education while government on the other hand should ensure that consumer education is embedded and well tabulated in curriculums.

Let me end here for now. I will try to revert back with some key tips on what to do when one’s rights are violated. But please feel free to contact me on +260 979 22 13 24 or email I will be glad to receive your comments and views vis-à-vis experiences.

The author is the Acting Centre Coordinator at Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International, Lusaka

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