By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK A recommendation for the provision in the Children Status Bill for rapists to have custody, guardianship or access to a child conceived in this brutal way was summarily rejected in a report to the National Council this week. A total of 22 organizations and 30 individuals from the public made inputs at hearings held in the capital. “The majority of the participants strongly holds the view that provision be made in the Bill to deny convicted rapist fathers of their rights to custody, guardianship or access to the child born outside marriage because people should not benefit from their own crimes. It is inconceivable for a rapist, who has forced pregnancy on a woman through a brutal act of forced sex, to have decision or say over the child such as an adoption; telling a rape victim to cooperate with her rapist to make joint decisions about raising the child, a product of rape, is too horrific to contemplate,” said the chairman of the committee, Sebastian Karupu in submitting the report. The key concerns for the committee had been the best interest of the Namibian child born outside marriage and the removal of all forms of discrimination against them because of the marital status of their parents. “I am sure members will agree that we are dealing with a very important matter, which may have profound impact on all of us as parents and as a nation. The focus is to follow the international trend of moving away from the competing rights of the mothers and fathers towards a more child-centred approach,” Karupu told the National Council and asked for its wholehearted support. A number of Grade 4 learners of St Paul’s College were present in the House during the submission of the report. Convincingly dressed in schoolgirl outfit, school shoes and ribbons and all, the Deputy Chairperson of the National Council, Margareth Mensah-Williams, attracted a lot of attention from the public and the House. “I am dressed like this to take part in this debate through the eyes of a child,” she told those appreciative members present. “Based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, principally putting all children on an equal footing, we are determined to respect the dignity of the child and to secure the wellbeing of all children, regardless of their status in society. It is worrisome that the children’s Status Bill treats children differently and is discriminatory according to their status whilst our Supreme Law provides that all citizens are equal irrespective of creed, race, sex, religion or ethic origin,” Mensah-Williams said in support of the report. She agreed with certain pronouncements by the committee that custody and guardianship of a child should not be about being the mother or father. “You get good mothers as well as bad mothers, even if there are a few. Equally you get good fathers and bad fathers, even if they are also a few. Therefore, I believe that the custody and guardianship of a child should be granted to the parent with best merit to avoid psychological effects if it is granted to an unsuitable parent on assumption. Imagine what traumatic experiences they go through since the mother already started a hate relationship with such an infant,” she argued. Mensah-Williams also agreed with the committee on the issue of rights to a father who is the perpetrator of rape. “In this respect, the Bill is very silent since in the world of today where we are faced with high incidences of abuse, rape and incest, custody and guardianship cannot be granted to a perpetrator of such a horrific and violent crime. Equally the Bill is silent about the children within marriages where legal divorce is not effected, and could live in a hate relationship. In my opinion, both children in or outside marriage should be treated equally in all aspects of their upbringing. Let history not absolve us, but rather build a solid foundation for our children that is free of cohesion and discrimination,” she said. To Frieda Siwombe, the Children’s Status Bill is long overdue and should be passed speedily in order for the inequalities between children born in and outside wedlock to be properly addressed. “Chaos normally erupts over inheritance when parents of children die, especially in rural areas. The majority of workers in rural areas do not have formal wills for inheritance purposes, something very dangerous nowadays. I would like to encourage workers to write wills to prevent children from falling victim of unnecessary arguments and misunderstanding about property,” Siwombe said. She also urged children to accept stepparents as their own and respect them as such. “Workshops should be held to educate children to respect their parents and accept one another, those born inside and/or outside wedlock. Fathers should also lead by example as heads of families and treat stepchildren equally with their own children,” she said. “No child ever asked to come to earth. Therefore, children don’t deserve to be victims of what is happening to them such as some fathers impregnating their own daughters and some mothers selling children as sex workers in some instances where a child is given away in the custody of one of the parents. Children are God-given gifts and must be treated with love, dignity, care and respect,” said Ferdinand Kavetuna. The debate on the Children Status Bill will continue in the National Council this morning.
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