Not only do you need the signature from the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration to get married if you are under 18 years of age, but if you are between the ages of 18 and 21 you need your parents or guardian to sign their consent for you to be married. This is just one of the laws under the Married Person’s Equality Act to prevent Namibian children from forced marriage and child abuse. For defying the law, the penalty is a fine of up to N$50,000, or imprisonment that does not exceed 10 years.
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Day of the African Child, Family of Hope Services hosted a function sponsored by the European Union and Terre des Hommes Italia, with the Acting Deputy Director of the Child Welfare Division, Ms.Celeste Feris, as Guest Speaker. Ms. Feris spoke on behalf of the Honourable Doren Siyoka, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, and identified some of the serious issues facing children in Namibia regarding child marriage.
“We have many unique identities in Namibia that define our cultures and beliefs and who we are,” said Ms. Feris. “But not all of our cultural practices are good. Child marriage is not good. When a child under the age of 18 is given by her caregiver, parent or family to an older person to become his spouse, she doesn’t have a chance in life to play like the children here today. When a child gets married, and it is mostly girls given in marriage, her life changes forever. She no longer goes to school and she can no longer contribute to the social economy. She is often subjected to violence and abuse. And if she gets pregnant, then she is now a child raising another child. As many as 36% of girls as young as 12 years of age are getting pregnant. This perpetuates a vicious circle of poverty,” said Ms. Feris.
Ms. Feris noted that one of the difficulties in stopping child marriages is that the practice is hidden. “We are taught that we should respect our elders, and so the community allows children to be promised in marriage. But these are very harmful practices and beliefs. The Namibian government is putting laws in place under the Child Care and Protection Act to prohibit a child from being subjected to cultural practices in order to prohibit child marriages and abuse. Combined with the Married Person’s Equality Act, there are several laws in place to protect children. For example, it is compulsory for children to obtain an education until they are 16 years of age. If a child is under 18 years of age, the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration must sign the consent for the child to be married. If people don’t obey the law, we can convict them. We encourage everyone to report these abuses,” said Feris. She identified the fine and imprisonment terms for breaking the law. In conclusion Ms. Feris encouraged the guests and caregivers at the event to go out and to spread the word within our communities. “We need to SPOT IT and STOP IT,” said Ms. Feris.
The recently enacted Child Care and Protection Act, 3 of 2015(226), underlines that a person may not subject a child to social, cultural and religious practices which are detrimental to his or her well-being.
Furthermore, a person may not give a child out in marriage or engagement if such child does not consent to the marriage or engagement or is below the minimum age for marriage contemplated as in the Marriage Act as well as the Married Person’s Equality Act.
‘No boy or girl under the age of 18 years shall be capable of contracting a valid marriage except with the written permission of the Minister responsible for Home Affairs; and a person below the age of 21 years requires the consent of his or her parent/s or guardian in order to marry. A person who contravenes these subsections commits an offence and is liable on the conviction to a fine not exceeding N$50,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or both such fine and imprisonment.’
“We need to SPOT IT and STOP IT!” Encouragement from Ms. Celest Feris, Acting Deputy Director of the Child Welfare Division, Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, to report child marriages in Namibia.
The Day of the African Child is commemorated every June 16 in memory of the hundreds of unarmed children and youth who were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while protesting against their education being conducted in Afrikaans in school. Twenty five years ago the Member States of the African Union adopted the African Children’s Charter, in memory of this tragic event. The Charter requires member countries to collaborate on the rights of children on the continent, and to take action and demonstrate what is being done to protect the rights of children within their own countries. The goal is to remove all obstacles to realizing child rights. For the 25th Anniversary, the Committee adopted the theme: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa.