Various stakeholders yesterday called for positive change, collective responsibility and action to safeguard the girl-child.
The call was made at Groot Aub during celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child.
The Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Doreen Sioka, in a statement delivered on her behalf by her deputy Lucia Witbooi yesterday said that in Namibia child-marriages are hidden “at the villages and homesteads, and because we are respectful of elders and loyal to our cultures we allow this practice to happen.”
“Child marriage violates the child’s right to enjoy her or his childhood, it violates the right to associate with whoever the child would want to associate with, it violates the child’s right to education, it violates the privacy of the child, it violates the right to protection against abuse and torture, it violates the right to parental care and protection, it violates the right to protection in case of separation and to parents and the family environment,” stated Sioka.
Micaela Marques de Sousa the Unicef representative said that in Namibia current evidence shows child marriages affect both girls and boys. More than 3 000 girls and nearly 1 700 are living in traditional marriages or so-called consensual union.
According to studies in the country, 26 percent of girls aged 18 have begun child bearing, while 3.6 percent of girls are mothers at the age of 15. “These numbers show us that the rate of child marriage in Namibia may be relatively low, but we are also greatly concerned with the high numbers of pregnancies among teenagers in marriage and those outside of marriage,” stated de Sousa
She applauded the government for seeing value in developing laws and policies to protect and safeguard children through prohibiting child marriages.
“I am aware that through your ministry, the government has achieved a milestone in passing the Child Care and Protection Bill. This conforms to the country’s regional and international agreements for children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and further prohibits child marriage in traditional unions,” she stated.
Sioka said Namibia has joined the campaign to end child marriages and everyone should speak out against it at every opportunity.
“We can no longer put the lives of our young girls in the hands of men because of poverty and other economic benefits,” said Sioka.
She also said her ministry has a variety of programmes to support children.
“The recently adopted Child Care and Protection Act, Act No. 3 of 2015 provides strict guidelines on how to care and protect our children and as the minister responsible for children, I will do my best to support Namibian parents within the guidelines of our laws,” assured the gender equality and child welfare minister.
She called on traditional leaders, parents, uncles and aunts to allow children to be children.
“As the government we have resources available to help educate our children to become responsible citizens,” she said.