6 October 2017

Namibia: Burning Pregnant Teens Was a Joke - Ekandjo

YOUTH minister Jerry Ekandjo has had to walk back and explain that a remark made in parliament about burning pregnant teens was made in jest and should not be taken literally.

Controversy erupted around Ekandjo this week when he said in parliament that the country needed to reintroduce the old way of leaving pregnant teenagers in the sun and to tie grass around them and set them alight, as an example to other girls.

He said this in response to a motion tabled by DTA parliamentarian Elma Dienda last month on the high teenage pregancy rate in the country, in which she criticised sections of the revised education policy dealing with the prevention and management of teenage pregnancies by schools.

Dienda's motion also proposed the introduction of comprehensive sex and reproductive health education in schools, which should be part of the curriculum, as well as not denying pregnant pupils the opportunity to sit for exams.

In response Ekandjo called for stiffer penalties against girls who fall pregnant while in school.

Ekandjo, however, reversed his words yesterday, saying they were not meant to provoke controversy, but was said as a joke that was not worth the media attention.

"I made a joke that in the past, those who fell pregnant before they were married were rolled in grass and set on fire, leading to the name 'oshikumbu', to set an example to others," he said.

"Ngaye ondaningi ike omashendjo, ndati, ndishi nale aantu okwali haakumbwa shampa yaningi omapunda," he said in Oshiwambo.

"Is that something worth publishing in the newspaper. I was just joking. I did not mean that people must be burned in reality for falling pregnant. I am a joking person," Ekandjo said.

The minister also said that his remarks were in a way directed at home affairs minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, who also commented on the motion.

He said he also made a contribution to the motion about street kids and those living under bridges who are getting pregnant.

"We should also look after them," he said.

A 2016 United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) report stated that more than 46 000 teenagers fell pregnant in 2013 - about 127 girls every day - in Namibia. According to the education ministry, the number of pupils who dropped out of school due to pregnancy in 2015 was 1 843, while last year about 4 000 girls dropped out due to pregnancies.

Dienda's motion has been referred to the parliamentary standing committee on gender equality, social services, development and family affairs.

Ekandjo is expected to stand for Swapo president at the party's congress next month. If he wins, he will become Namibia's next President.

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