Gender ministry will study child marriages

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Nuusita Ashipala
Ongwediva

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare will conduct a 90-day study on child marriages in order to define and determine the right course of action to address the issue.

The study, which is expected to kick-off not later than June this year, is expected to unveil the contributing factors so the ministry can formulate measures to mitigate the problem.

Gender and Child Welfare spokesperson, Charlie Matengu said the study would reveal the extent of child marriages in the country, as the ministry does not have informed statistics.

He said the statistics people currently refer to could possibly be out-dated as child marriages are on the increase in Kunene, Zambezi and the two Kavango regions.

Child marriages among Ovahimba in Kunene is deemed an ‘acceptable traditional norm’, but in some regions child marriages are fuelled by poverty.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says more than 5,400 children have become victims of child marriages in Namibia after they were married off in traditional ceremonies.

The statistics, which were lifted from the 2011 National Statistics, also revealed that about 26 percent of Namibian girls give birth before they reach the age of 18 years.

An investigation by New Era recently discovered that parents were marrying off girls as young as five in traditional ceremonies in the pastoralist Ovahimba community in Kunene Region.

This is despite the country’s age of consent being 16 years and above.

Matengu said they had always found it a challenge to bring the perpetrators to book because the community was reluctant to report the cases and often concealed them.

However, what disheartens the ministry most is that people silence the victims’ families with monetary compensation.

“When we investigate, the community try really hard to conceal because they do not want to be held responsible for speaking out about an issue which questions their traditional norms in a case like Kunene,” Matengu said.

He called for the community’s effective participation in the study, which it would use as the ministry’s guiding tool in addressing harmful practices in the society.

“This study is very important for the ministry, because it will give us accurate statistics of the child marriages in the country.

“It will also inform us exactly where the problem is mostly concentrated, because every case will need to be dealt with differently, as the reasons for engaging in these practices vary,” Matengu said.

While the mind-set in some communities poses a challenge, the ministry will continue to advocate and sensitise the community to harmful cultural practices, including child marriages.

He said their office only assisted the victims in dealing with their trauma, but it was not involved in prosecution.

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