A shocking 1 669 boys and 3 828 girls have become victims of child marriages in Namibia, after having been married off in traditional
This is according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Namibia Representative Micaela de Sousa, who also said that about 26% of Namibian girls give birth to their first child before their 18th birthday.
The statistics were lifted from the last National Census in 2011.
De Sousa was speaking at the commemoration of the Day of the African Child at Groot Aub yesterday.
This year’s commemoration is taking place under the theme: ‘25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in
According to De Sousa, 12% of the girls in Eastern and Southern Africa are already married before they turn 15, while 38% are married before their 18th birthday.
“I wish to highlight the sad and unfortunate fact that child marriages and teenage pregnancies in Namibia reflect the wide imbalances affecting children in Namibia,” she
She also emphasised that evidence has shown that harmful religious and cultural practices contribute to child marriages.
“Children in rural areas and those from the poorest families are most at risk of child marriage and teenage pregnancy,” said De Sousa.
She added that UNICEF is therefore pledging its commitment to the Namibian government’s strategies to empower families economically through child welfare grants.
She expressed optimism that these complex traditional factors, which put children at risk, can be addressed through long-term programmes and a willingness to learn.
According her, laws such as the recently promulgated Child Care and Protection Act are commendable.
Some of the main objectives of the Act are to protect children from discrimination, exploitation and other physical, emotional or moral harms and hazards.
The Act, which was promulgated recently, prohibits the marriages of children under the age of 18 without permission from the Minister of Home Affairs.
The Act also stipulates that a child younger than 21, but older than 18, can only enter a marriage once the parents’ consent is granted.
Deputy Minister of Gender Equality Child Welfare, Lucia Witbooi, said child marriages in Namibia are hidden in villages and homesteads.
Witbooi delivered the keynote speech on behalf of Minister Doreen Sioka.
According to her, these harmful practices are kept in the dark and continue unabated, because it is unthinkable for communities to go against their customs or to report their elders.
“We can no longer put the lives of our young girls in the hands of men, because of poverty and other economic benefits. Let us help our girls to acquire education, which will equip them for better employment opportunities and a better future,” said Witbooi.
Africa has the second highest rate of child marriages in the world after South Asia.
In West and Central Africa, two out of five girls are married off before they turn 18.
According to the African Union Concept Note for the Day of African Child 2015, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which include Namibia, have made progress to curb these practices.
“At least 12 countries have reduced the incidence of child marriage by 10% or more. This feat should accordingly encourage these countries and others to accelerate their efforts to end child marriage,” read the Concept Note.
According to this document, the increasing cost of living and poverty is pushing families to marry their girls off in order to send their boy children to school.
According to the AU, the lack of reliable data on child marriages is a major factor that makes it difficult for countries to eliminate the practice.
It also states that although laws implemented by countries criminalise child marriage, access to justice for victims remains elusive.
GROOT AUB JEMIMA BEUKES