Windhoek — Members of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs have expressed concern over the constant withdrawing of police cases by gender based violence victims.
The parliamentary standing members on gender equality, social development and family affairs are worried that this trend needs urgent interventions.
Parliamentarians Ida Hoffman, Jennifer Van Den Heever, Sebastian Karupu, Agnes Limbo and Petrina Haingura who were on a two-week visit of the Otjozondjupa and Omaheke regions uncovered this disturbing tendency in the two regions with the San community mostly at the receiving end.
This phenomenon is mostly attributed to poverty. Most victims are adolescent girls, some below the tender age of 16, who are preyed on and sexually abused by older men with money. Most cases go unreported or are withdrawn by the victim after being offered monetary compensation.
Sixteen years is the legal age of consent for sexual activity in Namibia. Men that violate such a law are liable for prosecution on a charge of statutory rape.
However, older men have found a loophole and often escape the long arm of the law by using money as an escape route. Some parents have become accomplices upon receiving these rewards and in other cases even encourage adolescent girls to act as cash cows, it was revealed.
Van Den Heever noted that an intensive awareness campaign on sexual choices and rights and statutes that address such challenges needs to be rolled out particularly among the marginalized communities such as the San, who are often on the periphery of mainstream society.
"I believe, a lot of people lack information. We need to intensify our education and awareness campaigns especially among the San community. It is very disturbing because even health officials themselves are not aware of the fact that if they don't report a case of statutory rape, they are actually contravening the law. It is so heart-breaking that parents will accept money they would spend immediately while their daughters are scarred for a long time," Van Den Heever observed.
Haingura shared the same sentiments, adding that women and girls should be empowered to avoid poverty and the dependence syndrome that are compelling them to withdraw cases in order to protect their livelihood.
"We need to educate our community especially women and girls. There is also need to empower women and girls economically because some are falling prey to these abuses because of poverty and dependence," noted Haingura.
With alcohol and drug abuse identified as one of the major drivers of gender based violence including teenage pregnancy and HIV and AIDS among the youth in the two regions, Limbo called for the removal of alcohol outlets in residential areas.
"Alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and gender based violence are somehow interrelated. Let's try to remove shebeens in residential areas. They are killing us. We have seen people as young as 10 to 14 indulging themselves in alcohol consumption and risky sexual behaviour. If this continues what do you think will happen to this nation in future? Limbo asked rhetorically.
Hoffman concurred, noting that teenage pregnancies are further worsening already destitute families. "Teenage pregnancy is a serious challenge that should be addressed rigorously at all levels. People at grassroots level should get involved. Some of these girls giving birth already come from poor families," said Hoffman.
Karupu suggested statutes that deal with gender based violence should be strictly enforced in a manner that suits the wellbeing of the victim when quizzed about the continued withdrawal of Police cases by victims.
"We need to find a mechanism of enforcing the law and not allow GBV victims to be traded with money. They continue to suffer physically and emotionally because they are forced to withdraw cases either by families or due to economic reasons," Karupu further said.
The lawmakers toured the two regions to ascertain the condition of health facilities and interrogate sexual reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS issues through a project of the SADC-Parliamentary forum.
* George Sanzila is chief information officer in the division research, information, publications and editorial services at the National Assembly.