Windhoek-There is a lack of data on all aspects of early marriages and the practice from a human rights perspective, making it extremely difficult to outlaw the harmful practice in Namibia.
This was revealed by the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Doreen Sioka, in the National Assembly, when contributing to the debate on child marriage in Namibia, which was tabled by DTA Member of Parliament Jennifer Van der Heever.
Sioka said these data gaps need to be filled to inform policies and programmes and provide a basis for effective advocacy and response.
“Gender-based violence including harmful practices is a national concern,” she noted. A comparison between the census of 2011 and the demographic health survey of 2013 indicates that the statistics on child marriage show a decline. According to the 2013 survey, amongst women aged 20-49 at the time of the study, almost 2 percent had been married by age 15 and almost 8 percent had been married by age 18.
Again, looking at the marital status of females aged 15-19 at the time of the survey, only 15 were married.
“However, as government, our position is that no child under the age of 18 should be married or experience child marriage as it is truly a disservice to the girl and boy child, the family and even to Namibia as a country,” Sioka said.
According to the demographic survey, among girls and young women aged 15-19 at the time of the study, almost 19 percent had begun childbearing, of whom 14 percent had given birth and 5 percent were pregnant.
Sioka said the National Gender Policy advocates elimination of all harmful cultural practices that impede the development of both the boy and girl child and men and women.
The Namibian constitution in Article 19 promotes any culture as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, meaning that all cultural practices must be in line with the constitution.
Child marriage is one of such practices that need to be outlawed.
It is on this basis that she said the gender ministry is conducting a formative research to obtain reliable and relevant information on child marriage in Namibia.
She explained the focus would be on regions where child marriage is suspected to be more common.
According to her, information will be utilized to inform the development of evidence-based policies, legal reform, resource mobilization and programming.
“This is the first effort to compile, synthesise and analyse data to broaden the understanding on prevalence, scale, drivers, patterns, consequences and responses, including coordination. Findings will be instrumental in ongoing and future programme design and delivery,” Sioka said.
Further, she noted, a consultant has been appointed for the research and commenced work on September 1.
The duration of the study is three months – meaning it will be concluded on November 30.
The overall objective of the study is to conduct a formative research on child marriage in the selected regions of Kunene, Omusati, Ohangwena, Kavango West, and Zambezi, and its relation to HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Sioka explained that the regions were selected based on high HIV prevalence, high teenage pregnancies, primary and high school dropout and completion rates, high poverty, high reported cases of gender-based violence, regions with traditional set-ups where early child marriage is likely to take place and regions with a high rate of child marriage, according to the census data of 2013 and the inter-censal demographic survey of 2017.
She said the consultant is responsible for the study and will provide the overall technical supervision and quality assurance.