Cheryl's death a chance to ­address GBV

While attention is being paid to abuse, the nation must provide a sustained response to societal violence.

17 September 2018 | Crime

“Consequences of committing a crime are seldom swift of sure.” Dianne Hubbard, LAC

Jana-Mari Smith - The recent discovery of the dismembered body of nine-year-old Cheryl Avihe Ujaha in Windhoek has forced the spotlight back on the epidemic of abuse and violence faced by the country's women and children, and the urgent need to strengthen efforts to combat and reduce this aggressive vein running through Namibian society.

“I believe this incident has shed light on gender-based violence and that we as a nation can no longer ignore this social problem,” Charlemaine Husselmann of LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia said.

Dianne Hubbard of the Legal Assistance Centre's (LAC's) gender research & advocacy programme said the prolonged issue of brutality faced by Namibia's most vulnerable could be linked to studies that have shown that “violence, regardless of its form, is typically an escalating problem characterised by incidents of increasing severity, increasing the possibility of serious injury or fatality”.

She warned that while attention is again being paid to the abuse of women and children “it is important for the nation to provide a sustained response to societal violence.

“Horrific incidents such as the current one attract public attention, but continued long-term action is necessary for lasting solutions.”

State of affairs

A 2012 study by the LAC, titled 'Seeking Safety', indicated that 9 out of 10 victims of domestic violence are women, whilst more than one out of five victims of domestic violence said their children had been harmed or threatened by the abuser.

Statistics from the 2013 Namibian Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) found that 32% of all women aged 15-49 surveyed, had experienced physical violence since age 15, and that 14% experienced physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Namibian Sun last year also reported that police investigated more than 3 800 rapes of children and adolescents between 2003 and 2012, and experts worry that although child rape has become the norm in Namibia, the lack of public and political outcry around the issue inevitably endorses the attitudes that lead to rape.

Police statistics show that 3 656 rapes of female children and teenagers were reported between 2003 and 2012, and 207 of boys.

Overall, the statistics show that close to 40% of rapes during those 10 years were of children, more than one-third of all rapes reported to police.

Silent epidemic

The 2013 NDHS found that 15% of Namibian women who had experienced physical violence never sought help and never told anyone about the violence. Husselmann said that “in many cases the help-seeking behaviour of our Namibian people is lacking and that often individuals feel that it is a private matter and do not seek the necessary assistance in addressing the problems they face”.

Hubbard added that other contributing factors to the widespread violence include “corporal punishment”, which remains rife in Namibia despite being illegal. Hubbard said this type of punishment, still condoned by many parents and teachers, “teaches children from an early age that violence is an acceptable technique for responding to a problem.”

Poverty and economic inequality further compound the problem, leading to feelings of frustration and recklessness, which again exacerbate alcohol abuse and leads to violence, she added.

Hubbard noted that deterrence is not working with criminal justice systems overloaded, which in turn means that the “consequences of committing a crime are seldom swift or sure”.

Husselmann said harmful gender norms, cultural, traditional and religious practices, and the impact of the current socio-economic environment are further drivers of violence against children and women. Moreover, the resistance or ignorance of available services to treat mental and emotional problems are contributing challenges.

Hubbard stressed there is a need to focus more on “teaching young boys that true masculinity does not encompass violence against any other person, and teaching children both self-respect and respect for others to inculcate these values from an early age”.

Last week, UNICEF representative in Namibia, Rachel Odede, said the devastating murder of Ujaha “reminds all of us that many of our children continue to experience acts of violence in their communities”.

Boost regulations

In line with this, Odede said UNICEF is calling “for the speedy regulation of the 2015 Child Care and Protection Act, and welcomes the National Safe Schools Framework that was launched earlier this week”.

Husselmann agreed that implementing the regulations can help speed up processes of reporting instances of child abuse, neglect or trafficking.

She said the child care act combines well with existing legislation on rape and combating gender-based violence.

“The child care and protection act is seen as a progress in the right ­direction of curbing child abuse and providing institutions with the necessary authority to address cases that they are presented with, to prevent instances such as the one of young Cheryl,” Husselmann said.

The LAC's Hubbard agreed that enforcing the Child Protection Act will bring positive change to the level of protection of children, but warned that it is also crucial for society “to consider the factors which cause people to behave violently.

“Laws are typically more useful in guiding responses to violence, than in preventing it in the first place.”

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