Windhoek - Education officials have expressed frustration at communities and families who are reluctant to report cases when girls are
impregnated, effectively protecting paedophiles and rapists.
The different lockdowns, due to Covid-19 since last March, have shone a spotlight on statutory
rape. It is reported that 1 542 girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy in 2019. But that number rose to 2 348 in 2020.
“You will remember that the statistics that we got from the regions said 3 600, but what is captured in the system as dropping out is 2 348,” the executive director (ED) in the ministry of education Sanet Steenkamp told New Era as she clarified what was initially reported earlier in the year. The statistics for 2021 are yet to be captured.
“Our annual education census data is usually captured in September,” she explained. A firm believer that rape is wrong and that perpetrators need to be held accountable, a frustrated Steenkamp narrated that for example in teacher/learner relationships, witnesses in many of the ministry’s disciplinary cases do not come forward.
“Either the witness is being bribed by a staff member, or the witness or family is offered either cattle or money to not provide evidence. So, justice cannot be served,” she stated.
Be it Namibian Defence Force (NDF) members, pastors, truck drivers or teachers, “it is mature adult men of sound mind who impregnate learners. And they need to be held accountable,” she continued.
Often, these girl-children fall back into a cycle of poverty, with many never returning to school. The little maintenance money, if any, does not provide the girl with a lifeline to take care of herself or her child.
“We strongly feel it is time that the community assists the ministry of education, not with advocacy campaigns, but to strictly look into school boards and their roles in educating children, bringing information forth, and ensuring that teachers operate according to the teaching code of conduct. Other public servants should equally be held accountable for their actions,” said Steenkamp.
Social activist Che Ulenga weighed in on the matter, saying sexual perpetrators are found in the homes and communities of these victims.
“Our communities and those who know about these sexual offences are failing children dismally by not speaking up about what happens before our eyes and in our homes. We continue destroying futures because we are protecting perpetrators. If we won’t talk to our children about sex and who can touch you how, then let’s find and strengthen other platforms and avenues such as educational institutions and youth platforms to empower adolescents on their sexual rights and laws to protect them,” she observed.
Echoing the sentiments of the ED was Fanuel Kapapero, the education director in Kavango East, the region with the highest number of teenage pregnancies.
“This is exactly the challenge that we have. When the parents start colluding with these perpetrators, we find it very difficult to get to the bottom of the story. In the end, the case is dismissed because we don’t get enough evidence to get to the culprits,” stressed a downcast Kapapero.
Irene //Garoës is the project coordinator at Young Feminists Movement Namibia, and believes it’s a serious issue, whose ‘silencing’ has escalated during the pandemic. The movement has regular consultative meetings with adolescent girls and young women in different regions when it comes to violence against them. She said culture is one of the issues that silences victims.
“Girls are not taught to speak up, especially when it comes to sexual violence,” said
//Garoës, who lists alcohol abuse as another factor. “Parents neglect children and don’t give them the emotional support they need, and of course the economic pressures on the families allow for rape and child marriages. The system is not holistically supporting girls, while psychosocial support is also lacking,” she continued. All ministries, such as safety and security, justice, education as well as civil society need to pull together.
“At Young Feminists Movement Namibia, we work with different communities and collaborate to end violence against girls. Through feminism, we build the voices of communities. They need to know that they have the voice by naming harmful cultural practices.”
“it’s not time for finger pointing, but to pull together from every sector and hold the perpetrators accountable by looking deeply into all factors which lead to teenage pregnancy and to defuse this culture of silencing we have created as a society,”