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Status Of Gender-Based Violence in Namibia

Windhoek, 13 January 2010, (Namibian) - The Namibian recently published an article summarising some of the notable judgements that came from the courts in 2009 (‘Delays erode justice in 2009’, The Namibian, Friday, January 8). What may not have been immediately apparent to the reader was the fact that six of the 16 cases – five about rape, one was about the murder of a partner – were about gender-based violence (GBV). This is nearly half the cases. The fact that such a high proportion of cases are due to gender-based violence is a matter of concern. It has long been acknowledged that Namibia has a high rate of GBV and this latest review of cases is yet another reminder of how prevalent rape, passion killing and other forms of GBV have become in Namibia.
 
Terrible crimes are being committed in Namibia on a daily basis. The cases reported are some of the most disturbing to have occurred during the year – the gang rape of a schoolgirl, the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, the rape and murder of a three-year-old child, the violent rape of an 80-year-old woman. These are terrible crimes. The 16-year-old girl had a future ahead of her but no longer. The three-and-a-half-year-old girl had a future ahead of her but no longer. The women that survived have had their lives irreversibly changed. These cases are a reflection of reality and an indication that something must be done.
 
The Government is trying to work towards change. The Namibian has also reported that “crime statistics for the Erongo Region for 2009 have decreased to levels comparable to 1996”. (‘Erongo crime stats down to 15-year low’, The Namibian, Monday, January 11). However, in an article printed on the same day, the Regional Police Commander for Karas, Deputy Commissioner Josephat Abel, was quoted to have “concern over the persistently high incidence of rape in the region” (‘December crime rate falls in the Karas Region’, The Namibian, Monday, January 11). The Ministry of Safety and Security is now responsible for 15 Woman and Child Protection Units across the country – but according to the latest review of poverty and inequality in Namibia (published by the Central Bureau of Statistics), the average distance from a household classified as “poor” to a police station is 24.1 km. For every step of progress made, there also seems to be challenges, blockages and failures in the system. Progressive laws are in place, such as the Combating of Rape Act and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, but high levels of violence continue. What is happening in Namibia? Why are these crimes continuing to occur? Will the crime level continue unabated? Will The Namibian report the same type of cases at the end of this year as last?
 
In the cases reported, some of the criminals received sentences of 14, 16, 18 or 45 years in prison. Violent crimes have been committed, and the sentences must be strict. The problem is that too many cases go unreported, or the cases fail in court. It is estimated that in only one in every five cases where rape is alleged does a case result in at least one person being convicted of rape or attempted rape. The case of the raped and murdered three-year-old child resulted in an acquittal due to inadmissible evidence. A push must be made to ensure that the investigation of all cases is of a sufficient standard. Furthermore, the necessary services and support must provided to witnesses to reduce the number of witnesses who withdraw their statements. In 2006, the Legal Assistance Centre reported that an estimated one-third of all rape cases are withdrawn. Considering that there are approximately 1 600 cases of rape and attempted rape per year, this means that approximately 1 000 victims of rape are not receiving justice each year. Some of the most common reasons cited for rape case withdrawals include family pressure, shame and bribery. This means that communities have a responsibility to address this problem – to make sure that victims do not feel so ashamed that they cannot take their case forward for fear of stigmatisation; to make sure that victims are not forced to accept compensation against their will; to make sure that justice is administered.
 
It is clear that GBV is a problem in Namibia, but a mere announcement of this problem is not enough. Currently there is talk about GBV but too little action. In the articles reporting progress against crime rates, it was stated that interventions such as community radio and community policing assisted in helping to disseminate crime prevention messages and to reduce crime levels. These are two ideas than can be further implemented across Namibia. Other specific goals and targets need to be identified. Last year the Legal Assistance Centre called on people to join in the fight against GBV. This year, the Legal Assistance Centre wants to ask more of communities. Many people acknowledge that GBV is a problem, many people want to help tackle the problem. But what actually needs to be done? Why is the problem continuing unabated and why are these violent crimes still continuing? We do not have the answers. The answers must come from within. What can be done?
 
* The author of this opinion piece is with the Gender Research and Advocacy Project, Legal Assistance Centre
 
Source: The Namibian