Johannesburg, Jul 6 (PTI) South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday hit out at unscrupulous tavern owners, saying they are killing children in the country by illegally selling alcohol to them as young as 13.

Ramaphosa was speaking at a stadium in East London where the mass funeral of 21 teenagers who died at a tavern in the area a fortnight ago was held.

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Although speculation is rife that the children found slumped over tables and on floors had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator on the premises, Ramaphosa said it was still not clear exactly what killed them as tests at the University of Cape Town is not yet concluded.

Those who are making money off the dreams and lives of the young people of South Africa by breaking the law and selling them alcohol are to be blamed for the incident, he said.

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“Our country has extensive laws to address and combat substance and alcohol abuse. We are not short of laws. The problem lies in their implementation,” Ramaphosa said.

Referring to the widely-circulated social media pictures of the 21 deceased children who were attending a ‘pens down' party with scores of others in a crowded tavern to mark the end of the school term exams, the president said children should not have been allowed inside a place intended for adults only.

“They should not have been served alcohol. What was happening was illegal. Across the country, there are liquor establishments putting profits before the lives of the children of this country.

“What is common to all of these is that they were selling and serving alcohol to under-age patrons, in violation of the law. We are losing our future generation to the scourge of under-age drinking,” he said.

Legislation prohibits the sale of alcohol and requires owners of taverns to check identity documents of patrons to ensure this. But there are others who are out to make money whatever the cost. They lure young people with promises of cheap or free alcohol. They produce flyers and adverts featuring young people drinking, to make it look cool and acceptable, the president said.

“These unscrupulous operators don't care if their venues become too overcrowded, as long as more people are coming in, paying entrance fees, and ordering from the bar,” Ramaphosa said as he appealed to communities to assist authorities in fighting this scourge.

“We know where these places are. We know who operates them. Sometimes they are right next door to us. But we turn a blind eye, thinking it is not our problem and we are not affected,” he said, noting that South Africa has one of the highest rates of problem drinkers in the world.

The president's comments came amid growing national outrage over mushrooming illegal liquor outlets across the country, including in residential areas of major cities, with authorities apparently unable to implement the strict laws, regulating and even prohibiting these in some instances.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board earlier shut down the Enyobeni Tavern where the teenagers died, saying it would lay criminal charges against the owner.

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from Syndicated News feed, LatestLY Staff may not have modified or edited the content body)