The impact of poverty on marginalised families and communities continues to hamper government’s efforts to ensure the provision of education for all.
Poverty also hampers the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education targets put in place to address issues pertaining to education and development in the country.
Disparities in the retention, completion and performance rate in some schools in the most marginalised communities indicate that girl children’s right to education is not fully protected as they continue to be left behind, with some high grades occupied only by boys.
A visit to Otjikoyo Primary School in the Epupa Constituency in the Kunene reveals that the school – which is located in the remotest part of the region – offers classes from grades one to seven to 106 children, but grade seven is occupied only by boys.
The school continues to experience a high rate of school dropouts, with the majority being girls.
Many girl children are lagging behind due to social, economic and cultural factors, with early marriage being one of the main obstacles.
This was revealed by Grade four teacher Kapirikua Korukuze, who says the influence of cultural practices, whereby girls are married off by their parents at a tender age, is negatively affecting the education of girl children.
Children’s lives are often put in the hands of older men, because of poverty and economic benefits derived by their parents and relatives, thus effectively robbing the child of their right to education, protection and a healthy childhood. It further exposes them to harmful practices associated with early sexual activity.
Child marriages are derailing government efforts to improve the status of education for both boys and girls, especially in marginalised communities.
Kurukuve said, although it is part of the culture in some communities in the Kunene Region, the fact that a girl can be married off at a young age and given to her husband when considered mature, may well put the life and future of the girl child at stake, considering that the determination of her level of maturity lies with other people and not herself.
It is also a norm that the decision to take the girl out of school to go and performthe role of a wife is taken based on the demand by the so-called “husband”, without considering the age, maturity, health, as well as emotional and psychological effects that come with it.
In most cases such girls are married off to men who may be old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers.
This, she said, is for economic reasons as in many cases the parents would consider marrying off their children to men considered economically better off.
This year’s theme for Day of the African Child is, ‘Accelerating Our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa’.
Namibia has legal instruments to protect the rights of children, according to which a person, who is considered a child by law cannot marry, as this is a form of child marriage. The Constitution stipulates that any person under the age of 16 is considered a child.
Article 15 of the Constitution stipulates that children are entitled to be protected from economic exploitation and shall not be employed in – or be required to – perform work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education, or to be harmful to their health, or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
The Child Care and Protection Act of 2015 offers strict guidelines on how to care for and protect children, so that no child under the age of 18 should be married. It is also stipulated that young people under the age of 21 should get parental consent before marriage.
Furthermore, in 1990 Namibia ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to adhere to the commitments made to protect children.
However due to poverty, economic hardship and cultural beliefs, girl children’s rights are still violated in communities and villages, often in the name of culture and tradition.
When she addressed children on the celebration of the Day of the Namibian Child in September last year, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Doreen Sioka said incidents of child marriages in Namibia are hidden in villages and homesteads and are not exposed, due to people’s loyalty to their culture and respect for their elders.
She said child marriage violates the child’s right to enjoy their childhood, to associate with other people, their right to privacy, right to education, right to protection against abuse and torture, and their right to parental care and protection. Child marriage also exposes children to sexual exploitation, trafficking, abduction, child labour and to the risks of early pregnancy, as well as dangerous diseases, such as HIV and AIDS.