COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF NAMIBIA
20 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second and third periodic reports of Namibia on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Doreen Sioka, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, said that according to Namibia’s 2011 national census, about 60 per cent of the 2.1 million population was under the age of 25, and nearly 40 per cent of the population was under 15 years-old. The Namibian Constitution recognized children’s rights and provided a framework for their well-being. The Government had enacted a number of pieces of legislation to promote and protect the rights of children, and had carried out many reforms, particularly in the area of education. The Education for All National Plan of Action 2005-2015 aimed to ensure that all children, particularly girls and those from marginalized groups, had access to free and compulsory primary education. Namibia was among the few countries in Africa that provided social grants in respect of orphans and vulnerable children on a monthly basis. However, challenges remained, such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and limited human resources.
During the discussion, Experts commended the efforts made by the Government towards universal birth registration, but said more remained to be done in that area as well as in access to citizenship. Experts raised concerns regarding the duality of legal systems resulting from the coexistence of civil and customary laws, corporal punishment and juvenile justice, and about child labour and the negative impact of uranium mining activities. Discrimination against children with disabilities, violence, including sexual violence, against girls, adoption, prevention programmes to combat HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality and juvenile pregnancy were also discussed.
In preliminary concluding observations, Hiranthi Wijemanne, Committee Member acting as Co-Country Rapporteur for the report of Namibia, noted that progress had been made, and welcomed the adoption by the State party of many laws and action plans in the fields of education, nutrition, health and early childhood protection. Many challenges remained to be addressed, such as child mortality and nutrition. Sexual and gender violence issues needed to be higher on the Government’s agenda. Poverty was a challenge, but the Committee was confident that Namibia would continue to uphold the best interests of children.
In concluding remarks, Doreen Sioka said that Namibia had made considerable progress in the field of development, but still faced challenges in aligning the rights of children to the standards set by the Convention. She requested the Committee’s technical assistance in the process of acceding to the Hague Conventions, in analysing the human rights impact of all allocated resources for children services, in the improvement of Namibia’s data collection mechanisms, in streamlining mechanisms for coordination on children’s program and services, and in conducting a survey on the extent on teenage pregnancy.
The delegation of Namibia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, the Namibian Trade Office to the World Trade Organization and the Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Today's public meeting was webcast live: the broadcast (both live and archived) can be watched via the following link http://www.treatybodywebcast.org. The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Namibia towards the end of its session, which concludes on 5 October.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, 21 September, when it will consider the second periodic report of Andorra (CRC/C/AND/2).
Report of Namibia
The combined second and third periodic report of Namibia can be read via the following link: CRC/C/NAM/2-3
Presentation of the Report
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, said Namibia attained its independence on 21 March 1990. Currently, its population stood at 2.1 million, of which 51 per cent were female. According to Namibia’s 2011 national census, about 60 per cent of the population was under the age of 25, and nearly 40 per cent of the population was under 15 years-old. The Namibian Constitution recognized children’s rights and provided a framework for their well-being. The Convention and its first protocol were the first international instruments signed and ratified by Namibia after its independence. The report presented today had been prepared in collaboration with relevant ministries, the United Nations Children's Fund, the general public, civil society and children themselves. The principle of the best interests of the child was recognized in the Child Care and Protection Bill, which provided for children’s participation in the decision-making process in the judicial field. Child participation forums had been established to ensure that children’s voices were heard.
The Government had enacted a number of pieces of legislation to promote and protect the rights of children, such as the Combating Rape Act and the creation of 15 Women and Child Protection Units. The National Disability Act established a National Disability Council which had data-collecting responsibilities. The Education Act prohibited any teacher from using corporal punishment and teachers were trained in alternative disciplinary measures. The Child Status Act increased the rights of children born outside marriage and facilitated the appointment of guardians. The Labour Act prohibited children younger than 14 from working. An inter-ministerial program on the elimination of child labour was in place. The Children’s Act was under review to address the issue of inter-country adoption. The Government planned to pass further legislation in the fields of adoption, juvenile justice, welfare, and also to establish a children’s Ombudsman.
A National Conference on Education had been held in 2011 to discuss the many challenges in the education sector. Following the Conference, the Government handed down a directive that free education had to prevail in accordance with the Convention. As of January 2013, free primary education would be rolled out in phases within three years. Access to education facilities had improved over the past five years due to the creation of many new schools and the education sector received 20 per cent of the national budget. The National Policy for HIV/AIDS for the Education Sector also catered for orphans and vulnerable children. The Education for All National Plan of Action 2005-2015 aimed to ensure that all children, particularly girls and those from marginalized groups, had access to free and compulsory primary education. The National Agenda for Children was recently launched and was a five year plan to ensure that all children were healthy and well-nourished.
Namibia was among the few countries in Africa that provided social grants in respect of orphans and vulnerable children on a monthly basis. Namibia still faced challenges, such as HIV/AIDS and poverty. Furthermore, due to some parents not having civil documentation, it had become difficult for their children to qualify for public documentation, and therefore to access grants. The Birth, Marriage and Death Act was currently under review. Limited human resources were another obstacle to the implementation of the Convention.
Questions from the Experts
AWICH POLLAR, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Namibia, thanked the Head of Delegation for her presentation, and said that much progress had been made in the field of children’s rights since the independence of the country in 1990. Namibia quickly ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, and had no reservations to the Convention or its protocols, although its reservations on the Refugee Convention could restrict the rights of child refugees.
Non-governmental organizations had to register with the State, Mr Pollar noted. Could the Delegation explain what rules governed the registration of non-governmental organizations? Was financial support given to non-governmental organizations working in the field of children’s rights? The Country Rapporteur commended Namibia for the fact that the principle of the best interest of the child was recognized in Namibian law, but asked how the State party ensured that that principle was implemented in practice. Namibia was ranked as the best African country for freedom of the press. There were, however, concerns to be raised on the right to privacy. How did the State ensure reparation for children and families whose right to privacy had been violated?
An Expert saluted the efforts made by the Government towards universal birth registration. However, despite those efforts, the numbers were very low. Furthermore, there was no law governing the registration of orphans. Finally, there seemed to be discrimination against children of undocumented migrants, who were often not registered. Special measures were needed to ensure the registration of all those children. On citizenship, an Expert noted that the legislation contained gaps and asked whether Namibia would ratify the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Could a Namibian mother married to a foreigner transfer their nationality or not?
Namibia had accepted many recommendations during its Universal Periodic Review, including on the ratification of further international instruments, but rejected recommendations to ratify the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Family. Would Namibia reconsider that position? Did the international conventions prevail over domestic law? What role did judges play in the enforcement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
An Expert said there was a high level of resources allocated to the health and education sectors, however those resources were not distributed equally across the country. Furthermore, the impact and results observed did not seem to be proportional to the resources allocated in those fields, which suggested inefficiency or corruption had taken place. Would the State improve its data collection in order to make its policies in the fields of education and health more efficient?
On the dissemination of the Convention, an Expert asked whether the Convention had been translated into local languages, since people in remote areas probably did not speak English. How were children informed on policies and decisions affecting them? Was their opinion taken into account? What was the level of young women’s participation in public life, including in youth forums? How were girls empowered to express their views?
There was a great deal of gender violence and sexual harassment affecting girls. Did Namibia undertake activities to ensure equality between girls and boys? Was the gender aspect of children’s rights taught during training programmes for teachers? There was not much information on gender discrimination in the country report, an expert noted, although other reports referred to such issues. How was the State party to address gender stereotypes and discrimination and violence against girls?
There was a lack of awareness within schools on the legislation on corporal punishment and on the possible legal remedies for children. Furthermore, corporal punishment was not explicitly banned by law in all circumstances.
Namibia was one of the countries in the world that would suffer most from the effects of climate change, an Expert said, which suggested a very negative impact on agriculture and food security. An Expert also noted with satisfaction that a Directorate for the Management of Disaster had been created, which included a Children Division. Was that Division also working on prevention of disaster and on preparing solutions to address the negative effects of climate change on the rights of children?
An Expert asked whether the delegation could clarify the concept of the child in Namibia, and particularly regarding the age at which someone was not considered a child anymore, and regarding the minimum age to marry. On the issue of coordination, an Expert said that many Ministries were involved in children’s issues. Were efforts being made to set up coordinating systems? An Expert asked about the relationship between customary and civil laws in Namibia, which sometimes seemed to set different standards. An Ombudsman had been set up, but had not received many complaints so far. Were there any facilities to ensure that children could have access to that monitoring system?
Response by the Delegation
Regarding legal matters, a Delegate said that Namibia had enacted legislation on customary courts, which was not yet implemented. Citizens in Namibia used civil courts for criminal matters. There was a children’s court to deal with juvenile offenders. Trials by that court were not open to the public. A child was defined as a person under 18 years-old, at which age people could vote or to marry. The age of civic participation however, was set at 21 years old. Discussions were taking place with a view to harmonize those ages. The customary law set that marriage was not allowed before puberty, but no specific age or definition of puberty existed. The Government was working on a reform of customary laws relating to marriage.
Before the ratification of international instruments, reforms of customary law were always undertaken to put it them in line with the instrument to be ratified. The reservation on the United Nations Convention on Refugees was based on the experience of Namibia’s current leaders, and refugees could still send their children to schools.
The Constitution did not explicitly refer to corporal punishment. However, the courts interpreted the Constitution’s prohibition of torture and other ill-treatments as including a prohibition of corporal punishment. The Education Act explicitly prohibited corporal punishment in schools. In order to implement these, training programmes were conducted for teachers, warning them that corporal punishment was a criminal offence. There was a pending judicial case that was dealing with that issue. The issue of corporal punishment in homes was covered by other legislation.
Regarding education, there was an education forum in every region, which included representatives of children. A case of misconduct could be brought by local education councils against teachers accused of sexually harassing girls. There were also programmes that tackled the issue of violence in schools. On the impact of resources, it was a fact that most of the money allocated in the field of education was used for salaries. There were, however, indicators to monitor the quality of education and to assess the impact of education policies. Data collection was to be improved, and all Ministries would, in the future, collect data on all the areas they covered.
Children were registered in hospitals at their birth. In some cases, particularly in rural areas, registrations did not take place. That happened, for example, when the parents themselves had no civil documentation because they were illegal migrants, and therefore refused to register their children. Children of illegal migrant were nonetheless eligible for registration. Regarding migrants, a birth certificate was not an automatic visa for citizenship. Citizenship was given to children born on Namibian territory, but only after they proactively submitted a request to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Abortion in Namibia was a crime, and so was the abandonment of a child. The Government was therefore doing everything it could to protect children.
On the question of the protection of children from climate change, Namibia had faced devastating floods recently, which had caused great suffering for families. The Disaster Management Committee had been established, which contained all stakeholders, including those that worked on child protection. Child protection and access to education during natural disasters were a priority, and more resources would be allocated for that issue in case of disaster.
Questions from the Experts
The high-level of maternal mortality and the lack of access to maternal health services were big issues. The high rate of HIV/AIDS, including during pregnancy, was worrying. Were there structures to provide services to affected children and mothers? What kind of policies, awareness-raising programmes and reforms were undertaken to make contraception available for all women?
Were there alternative measures to the imprisonment of children? Were there national strategies to train judges and lawyers on the Convention? Despite Namibia’s very good legal framework on the prohibition of child labour, the phenomenon continued. Did Namibia plan on increasing the minimum age for labour to make it consistent with the normal age for completing education?
Sexual abuses against children occurred often. Was there any entity in charge of implementing legislation on that issue? How well informed was the public on the access to services for victims of abuse? Was there a system to protect and support the victims of child abuse? Had progress been made to combat traditional harmful practices against children?
The employment of the new Community Childcare Workers seemed a sign of progress, but what other measures had been undertaken to increase the number of social workers, for example, raising their wages?
An Expert welcomed the information that primary education would be free by 2015, and that the Government would abolish the school development funds, which had led to corruption and discrimination. The Committee commended the fact that a lot of money was allocated to education, but asked whether Namibia could allocate more funds to the content of the education, rather than a large proportion to the salary of its personnel. The retention rate of children was relatively low. A problem was that most children did not continue school after primary education, and did not continue to secondary school. Were there any programmes to tackle that problem?
Mining activities had a negative impact on environment and on health, an Expert commented, and there had been no assessment on the negative impact of those activities. Had the State taken any measures to regulate the activities of mining companies, to hold them accountable for the negative impact of their activities, and to provide remedy to the victims?
There was an open and a close adoption system in Namibia, noted an Expert. In the open system, how did the State ensure that there were contacts between the biological and adoptive parents of the child? How did Namibia ensure that the any of those systems did not facilitate trafficking of children?
Were there specific programmes for teachers to teach to children with disabilities? Were schools being accommodated to welcome children with disabilities? Was the State undertaking awareness-raising activities to reduce stigmatization and to promote the inclusion of children with disabilities?
Regarding juvenile justice, an Expert asked whether special procedures were in place for juvenile offenders, and whether there were alternative measures to detention. Were children held in the same institutions as adults?
Were there services that provided help for early pregnancies? Were there prevention measures undertaken? Did girls have access to contraception? How did the law on abortion address the issue of early pregnancies and pregnancies resulting from rape?
Response by the Delegation
A road map was being implemented to reduce maternal mortality, but needed to be reviewed, a Delegate said. Under-fives mortality was also being addressed by the Government. With support of United Nations agencies, a programme on HIV/AIDS had been adopted and was now to be implemented. The Namibia Alliance for Improved Nutrition addressed the improvement of maternal and child nutrition. Namibia was developing a multi-sectoral action plan on the issue of malnutrition. A plan for addressing the transmission of HIV to children was also being finalized. A conference had been organized to raise awareness of the population on child dumping and on the transmission of HIV to children.
Under the law, it was a criminal offence to engage in sexual relations with children under 18 years old. On the issue of contraception, the State did try to prevent young girls from engaging in sexual relations, but should that happen the State did facilitate access to contraception. There were debates among the public and in media about the free distribution of condoms in schools. Preventative measures were being taken to reduce early pregnancies.
The delegation stated that in Namibia, all children were supposed to be registered at birth. Traditional authorities and hospitals could perform the registration. A child’s citizenship was determined by the Bureau of Citizenship; Namibian citizenship may be granted by various means, whether by registration, naturalization, adoption or even residence, among others. In any event, the birth certificate was not a document which automatically entitled a child to Namibian citizenship.
When collecting data on schools, the authorities did surveys on why children dropped out. The main reasons were distance, poverty, the need to find a job, the cost of education and pregnancy. The Government was fully committed to undertaking reforms to ensure free education and to develop policies of inclusive education that prevented children from leaving schools.
Education officials were taking part in training programmes, radio conferences and television programmes to inform the public about child-related issues, including children’s rights. With regards to children with disabilities, children suffering from a handicap were encouraged to undertake activities.
Concerning the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the delegation noted that Namibia had made a reservation in respect of Article 26 of that instrument. Refugees in Namibia could send their children to any educational institutions in the country, be it primary schools, secondary or higher education. In addition, they could work anywhere in Namibia subject to obtaining necessary permits.
Applications for adoptions were done at the magistrate’s office. Both open and closed adoptions were monitored by the Ministry of Equality. Open adoptions mostly happened among families. The Government provided a grant to foster carers and collected data on children who were in foster care. Both adoption and foster care procedures were dealt with by social workers, who took into consideration the best interest of the child. Namibia had not ratified the Hague Convention on International Adoption because it would make it difficult to ensure the full rights of children.
A Child Witness Support Programme had been created to improve the response of the State to sexual violence. There was a lack of social workers in the country, which limited the possibility for the authorities to address all cases. Less than a hundred cases had been taken before the courts. Through the Child Witness Support Programme, the child was not compelled to face the perpetrator and was supported by a child protection officer. There were child-friendly courts throughout the country. Training was a big part of Namibia’s activities in term of rolling-out child protection services, but the lack of resources was sometimes a challenge.
Regarding juvenile justice, a delegate said that in Namibia the age for criminal responsibility was seven years old, but children could only be deprived of their liberty – or sent to prison – if they were 11 years old or more. A new piece of legislation, the Correctional Service Act, established by law the separation of juvenile offenders from adults in detention centres. A new institution had been created to host juvenile offenders. Offenders were separated in different parts of detention centres, according to the security risks they represented.
Under civil law the minimum age for sentences that deprived an individual of their liberty, or custodial sentences, was 12 years old. Children between 12 and 16 years old could be detained. The law and the Constitution were silent on criminal responsibility. A seven year-old could be considered criminally responsible but would be held in juvenile centres. Only offenders older than 21 years old could be detained in the same way, and with, adults. A new law was being prepared to address alternatives to custodial sentences, or detention. Namibia had no Criminal Code.
Child labour was a challenge in Namibia, and it was considered a crime to hire a child under 14 years old or to make a child under 16 years old carry out dangerous work. Child labour happened more often in rural areas. Some cases involving child labour were pending before courts. The Office of the Prime Minister was considering the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The Delegation had no instructions on whether Namibia would ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189 on Domestic Workers. There had been debates on whether to raise the minimum age for children to be allowed to work, and to harmonize it with other legislations. A potential law on domestic workers, which would include a minimum age for domestic workers, was also being discussed.
Environmental impact assessments were mandatory prior to any uranium-related projects in Namibia. Namibia complied with all of its international obligations to guarantee the safety of uranium activities. The Government was looking at how to address poverty and inequalities in a sustainable manner.
Regarding traditional harmful practices, a delegate said that there were not many cases of female genital mutilation. Traditional early marriages, which were allowed under customary law when the girls had reached puberty, were not recognized in the civil legal system. The Minister of Justice was working on a law to recognize marriages under customary law in general. Training sessions on gender equality were being rolled out as part of the National Plan of Action on Gender Violence.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was not translated in any local language, but its content was disseminated broadly, for example during the Children’s National Day. Training and awareness-raising were conducted on many platforms, particularly at school level.
HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Member acting as Co-Country Rapporteur for the report of Namibia, thanked the delegation of Namibia for the fruitful dialogue. She noted that progress had been made, and welcomed the adoption by the State party of many laws and action plans in the fields of education, nutrition, health and early childhood protection. Implementation of those texts was still needed, and many challenges remained to be addressed, for example regarding child mortality and nutrition. There were opportunities for children to access services, but they needed to be expanded, particularly for adolescents. Sexual and gender violence issues needed to be higher on the Government’s agenda. Poverty was a challenge, but the Committee was confident that Namibia would continue to uphold the best interests of children.
DOREEN SIOKA, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, thanked the Committee for the discussion and said that Namibia had made considerable progress in the field of development, but still faced challenges in aligning the rights of children to the standards set by the Convention. She requested the Committee’s technical assistance in the process of acceding to the Hague Conventions, in analysing the human rights impact of all allocated resources for children services, in the improvement of Namibia’s data collection mechanisms, in streamlining mechanisms for coordination on children’s program and services, and in conducting a survey on the extent on teenage pregnancy. Namibia would continue to work for the fulfilment of the rights of the child with all relevant stakeholders.
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