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Poverty scourge fuels child marriages

2020-10-30  Loide Jason

Poverty scourge fuels child marriages

Gender minister Doreen Sioka says the prevalence of child marriages is alarming, adding that poverty, culture and tradition are some of the contributing factors. Early sexual debut, teenage pregnancy, lack of educational opportunities and alcohol abuse were also listed as factors fuelling the rise in child marriages. 

While decrying child marriages and calling for urgent interventions, Sioka yesterday announced that 852 persons, including both male and female, were into consensual marriages, while 407 girls were found to be in customary marriages in the country. 
The practice, according to the minister, who launched the child marriage report in Windhoek yesterday, was prevalent in the two Kavango regions (40%),  Kunene and Zambezi with 24% each, Omaheke and Otjozondjupa (23%) and Oshana with 7%.

 “Although data suggests that child marriage is highest in the selected six regions, it does not exclude other regions as the phenomenon occurs in certain pockets of the country. Some may argue that these statistics are very low but for a country like Namibia they are very high because we are a small population in comparison to other SADC countries,” she said. 

She added that child marriage practices were rife in rural areas, which accounted for 22% compared to urban areas, with 15%.  
“Child marriages rob children of their childhood – no child should be married, and we should let children be children so that they can develop their full potential and become productive citizens of this country. The elimination of child marriage has become an international, continental and national priority because adolescent girls continue to die from complications arising from early childbearing,” Sioka pleaded. 
Section 10 of the Child Care and Protection Act of 2015 provides for the age of majority at 18 years and stipulates that a person who is under the age of 21 requires the consent of parents to enter into marriage. 

According to Sioka, the earliest age at first marriage or cohabitation is estimated at 11 years. “This is worrisome because the study also found other emerging issues of concern, which includes high rates of cohabitation among teens and teenage pregnancies. We need to stop these trends because these are children that we are talking about. The state of child marriages in Namibia has not been systematically investigated to fill that gap,” she added. 

The minister also said the law stipulates that a person may not subject a child to social, cultural and religious practices that are deemed detrimental to his or her wellbeing. 
“A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N$50 000 or a period not exceeding 10 years or both,” she warned. 

Sioka further feels some customary practices, including eengoma, olufuko and sikenge were potentially encouraging child marriages. “Most of these practices take place at puberty and are primarily focused on preparing the girl for adulthood and marriage. This study, however, found some of these cultural practices were diminishing as fewer people knew or practised them,” she said.

Survey findings
Director of Child Welfare and Services Helena Andjamba said the 2013 Namibia Demographic Health Survey found that although statistics indicated some cases of gender-based violence in early marriage, there was no statistically significant relationship between early marriage and GBV or HIV status. 

She added that the majority of respondents also had partial knowledge about children’s rights and laws governing child marriages. 
“Child marriages are seldom reported to authorities,” she said. – 

2020-10-30  Loide Jason

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