Hi! Hugh here again! Hope all’s well with you.
Lightning is crackling over the Khomas Hochland, the sky, when it isn’t flaring into life, is a sulky grey. Low clouds. Rain tonight I think! And everybody will welcome it (apart from all the English tourists who have just arrived expecting un-remitting sunshine).
Following up on the Claudia/Leonard post of yesterday, I’m placing two posts. They make for rather depressing reading. They are preliminary drafts of two Issue papers I wrote and researched for UNICEF. The information is slightly dated, incomplete and the full versions are probably available (complete with pictures) on UNICEF Namibia’s website (or,if you are here in Namibia, from the UNICEF office which is near the Hidas Centre off Sam Nujoma Drive. )
I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture of Namibia, Annabel our daughter has always been loved by the people here (spoiled rotten actually!) and none of the stuff you will read affects tourists. It’s more a local thing. But this Blog wants to open closets. And rattle the bones of the skeletons hiding inside.
Then bury them.
So hey ho! Let’s go!
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN.
Although Namibia is a signatory to numerous conventions designed to enshrine and enforce the rights of women and children and although some domestically introduced legislation, for example The Combating of Rape Act, 2000, is arguably some of the most progressive in the world, the country nonetheless faces an epidemic of sexual and domestic violence against women and children that has reached crisis proportions.
And there is every indication that unless preventative and mitigating measures are vigorously instituted, and the flaws in the current social and legal systems are eliminated, the problem has the potential to continue its horrific escalation.
As the number of orphans continues to rise (by 2021 it is predicted that over 250,000, or one in three, Namibian children will be orphans) and family social support structures are disrupted by factors such as HIV-AIDS, more and more young people are becoming vulnerable to abuse and are being subjected not just to a violation of their basic human rights but are also being exposed to potentially lethal Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
Despite popular outrage and demonstrations triggered by several recent high profile child murder and rape/mutilation cases the media continues to report the rapes of adults and minors and instances of domestic violence on a daily basis. And there is no indication that the public attention generated by the murders and trials has in any way stemmed the tide of the ongoing violence.
Compounding the problem is that although the “stranger danger” issue unquestionably exists, the overwhelming majority of victims are being hurt by those known personally to them. In more than 60% of reported cases, for example, the complainant and the accused were living in the same household at the time the violence occurred. To take another example, in a recent UNICEF-sponsored survey of 1150 women, 74 (6%) of those who have had children reported that their partners had beaten them during their pregnancies.
Nationwide almost one third (31%) of ever-partnered women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their partners. Other studies variously suggest that between 40% and 70% of all female murder victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Overall, moreover, violence of any sort in Namibia is overwhelmingly sex-biased with between 80% and 90% of incidents being male upon female.
Rape is also rife. And victims as well as perpetrators are increasingly getting younger. The UNICEF study states that a “staggering number of minors” are involved. This is confirmed by officers of the police and police Women and Child Protection Units who report processing juveniles as young as ten for sexual assault on younger children and even toddlers.
The growth in the number of reported rapes does not necessarily indicate that the number of incidents has risen. The statistics may reflect the increased levels of awareness in society that abused citizens have recourse to the law. This said, most experts are convinced trends are up and it is an undeniable fact that the number of reported rapes rose from 564 in 1991 to 854 in 2000 to 1,184 in 2005. For every 100,000 people there are currently 60 rapes per annum, one third of which involve children under eight years.
Various factors have been identified as motives for, or root causes of, abuse, most notably the cultural socializing processes traditionally (and currently) at work in Namibia. These encourage the philosophy of female submissiveness and inferiority and set this stereotype against a preconception of male authority thereby engendering a social power imbalance and instilling a pervasive attitude of domestic ‘ownership’ (see table 2). This can manifest itself in extreme forms such as the custom of “widow cleansing” (involving the male relatives of the deceased having forced sex with the bereaved to ‘drive away evil influences’) and the forced marriage of under-aged girls by their families to old or middle-aged men.
Both practices, while relatively uncommon, still occur, particularly in the north.
Perhaps more disturbingly, however, from a whole-country perspective, is the fact that many men (44% of adult male population according to Government figures) still believe that wife beating is entirely justifiable if the woman a) neglects the children, b) argues with the man of the house, or c) refuses sex. This figure varies considerably when the Government country study is broken into regions. 90.1% of men in Caprivi Region in the north east, for example, consider it appropriate to beat their wives for neglecting children and 69.4% think that if a spouse or partner refuses sex this is justifiable cause for assault. By contrast in Karas Region in the south the respective figures for the above two scenarios are only 8.3% and 3.6% respectively.
Education and cultural socializing processes are not the only forces in play. Frustration born of poverty, the ‘live for the moment ‘ mentality that is generated by a sense of having no worthwhile future, jealousy spurred by multi-partner relationships, lack of access to education/anger management and counseling are all implicated. Whatever the cause, or combination of causes, of the wave of violence washing through Namibia, a predominant trigger is the excessive consumption of drugs but mainly alcohol.
Categories of violence against women and children as identified by Government and other bodies range from the physical (kicking, beating, burning, choking, even be-heading etc.) to the sexual (rape, including marital rape – according to new legislation sexual abuse in marriage is now an offence – child molestation etc.) to the emotional (intimidation, threats, insults, humiliation etc.) and the economic (withholding/stealing household income, failing to pay child maintenance, spending all income on alcohol etc).
As mentioned earlier, Namibia’s post-Independence legislation to address these various forms of abuse is far-sighted and extremely progressive when it comes to embracing issues over-looked by earlier laws. It also empowers courts to sentence criminals to extremely long terms of imprisonment.
There is, however, an increasing awareness among government, NGOs and civic groups that it is not having the desired (and anticipated) effect of deterrence when it comes to crimes such as rape and violence. As Minister of Safety and Security, Peter Tsheehama stated, “Tough sanctions given to offenders do not offer any remedy. The introduction of the combating of Rape and Domestic Violence Acts, tough as they are, has not brought expected results as perpetrators seem not to take heed of them.”
Indeed one unforeseen and unwelcome side effect to the lengthy sentences threatening convicted rapists as a result of the Rape Act is that sexual offenders are increasingly targeting the frailer members of society – the old, the very young, the physically or mentally disabled etc. in the hope that they will be too intimidated, or indeed, be physically incapable, of testifying at trial (a legal pre-requisite if a case is to proceed). It has been further conjectured that the blinding, mutilation or murder of victims has been stimulated by the fear of imprisonment and the desire to silence witnesses.
It is now generally accepted that the root of the problem lies not in the legislation but in its enforcement and practical implementation. These remain inadequate, tardy and unwieldy.
The length of time it takes to bring perpetrators to justice is an area of particular and fundamental concern. Prosecutions can regularly take as long as three years or more and during this time of waiting many complaints are withdrawn due to peer or family pressure, intimidation by the abuser, acceptance of financial compensation by the victim’s family (but usually not the victim)from the perpetrator, the death of the complainant, loss of evidence or most commonly because of economic reasons – if the bread winner is to be jailed or is waiting for bail to be posted, the families of the abuser are left without income. This can actually lead to the victim of abuse being censured and ostracised for reporting the abuse to the authorities thereby depriving their family or community of financial support.
As a spearhead in the campaign to tackle domestic violence and sexual abuse 15 Women and Child Protection Units (WCPUs) have been established in Namibia’s 13 regions (Photo 2), but again their efforts are being hampered by numerous factors. Their role, while universally recognised as important and badly needed, is undermined by easily rectified failures largely arising from a lack of resources and, in some cases, commitment to the duties they are expected to perform.
Negligence when it comes to providing a victim friendly environment – no privacy during interviews (no private reception facilities), no toys for child rape victims, filthy toilets, interviews conducted through interpreters because the investigative officer is not familiar with local languages, lengthy waiting times before seeing an officer, even a lack of signs advertising the location of the unit – all are common complaints.
More serious and but equally capable of remedy are the reported absence of rape test kits at WCPUs, the absence of spare clothing to replace clothing that needs to be withheld as evidence (some victims are sent back “footing it” to change their clothes and are told to bring back their original clothes from the same house where they were raped), instances of victims being told to come back the next day due to the unavailability of officers (obtaining evidence as soon as possible is essential for rape investigations) and the lack of availability of appropriate transport to investigate alleged rape scenes or to take vulnerable people to places of safety. The Windhoek WCPU, for example has only two vehicles to cover the entire Khomas region (36,805 km2, population in excess of 250,000) and these are largely tied up delivering Protection Orders. In another WCPU there is one vehicle available but three of the officers have no driving licenses and the fourth is not authorized to operate a government vehicle.
Basic office equipment such as computers, photocopiers, fax machines and even telephones at WCPUs are frequently absent, faulty or have gone un-repaired for many months, and in some cases even facilities such as toilets and sinks for washing hands are non existent making medical inspection of rape victims impossible. Only two WCPUs have full-time social workers and even these, like part-time social workers, are only on station during working hours. At night, when most crimes occur, they are off-duty.
No doctors are stationed at WCPUs. The Units instead rely on medical staff ‘borrowed’ as the need arises from nearby hospitals and clinics. This inevitably results in lengthy delays before abuse victims can receive professional examination. Virtually no WCPU’s possess facilities for victims to stay overnight.
While accessing the services of WCPUs is relatively straightforward for urban dwellers, those people living in remote areas with no access to a phone or transport face tremendous hurdles simply reaching them. Unit officers frankly acknowledge that many crimes in rural areas go unreported and that even if the victims wish to make a case there is still some confusion as to where to go and who to see. In many instances poorly educated people are still unaware of what legally constitutes abuse particularly in the fields of emotional and economic abuse.
Pro-active outreach and community awareness programmes that could rectify these latter problems are noteworthy for their absence either due to staff inertia or a lack of resources, materials and Government support.
To address the current shortcomings in the legal procedures and the WCPU network aggressive action needs to be taken on the part of government, police and legal bodies to significantly accelerate and improve the processes of investigation and prosecution, more Public Prosecutors must be retained to ensure prompt trial scheduling, more emphasis must be placed on witness protection, and sufficient resources must be placed at the WCPUs’ disposal to enable them to develop victim friendly infrastructure, install and upgrade basic office facilities and initiate conduct outreach programmes to engage local communities. There is also a desperate need for more social workers at WCPUs – insufficient personnel currently frequently makes follow up service provision or even immediate counseling for victims of abuse impossible – and while there is limited victim counseling training provided to some members of the police at this time, the training needs to be rolled out to all attached serving officers.
Other measures are required; increasing access to relevant education not just on domestic violence but on alcohol abuse, the stationing of psychologists at schools to teach anger management to young people (violence by minors on minors is an increasingly widespread but under-reported phenomenon), the provision of more sheltered housing for abuse victims and multi-media awareness campaigns are all initiatives that are, in some cases, ongoing (eg UNICEF’s Window of Hope programme) but which need to be scaled up.
These steps in themselves, of course, are not a cure-all for the current epidemic of violence against women and children. The factors contributing to such behaviour are diverse, wide ranging, in some cases deeply engrained socio-culturally, and are to be found at individual, family and societal level. This inevitably complicates preventative and rehabilitative measures and makes a multi-dimensional approach essential requiring the participation and co-ordinated involvement of church groups and networks, civil society, NGOs, Government, and Development Partners.
But there is no doubt that if the investigative and legal process was radically streamlined and accelerated it would not only send an un-missable message to potential abusers but would offer comfort and a relative sense of security to thousands of affected and vulnerable Namibian citizens and society at large.
The following quotes have been taken from reports, case studies and the media.
“Yes, I abuse sexually,physically, whatever. So what? A female is there for a man’s purpose, and that’s that.”
“I think I have a right as the head of this household to control my family, even use force to control them.”
“In most areas even 13-year-old girls are having sex, therefore, for a boy to get a virgin, the girls need to be ‘taken’ at a very young age.”
“In the Bible a woman is made out of the rib of a man so they need to be inferior.”
“The case of going to small children is not that he wants to go there, but rather it is the case that he cannot control it.”
“The introduction of the Combating of Rape and Domestic Violence Acts, tough as they are, have not brought expected results as perpetrators seem not to take heed of them.”
Minister of Safety and Security, Peter Tsheehama.