42% underage girls sexually active

By Tracy Tafirenyika

THE Ministry of Gender has found out that at least 42 percent of underage girls across the country between the ages of 12 and 17 are already indulging in sexual intercourse.

This was revealed in the Child Marriage study that was carried out by the ministry this year. The study indicates a strong link between child marriage, limited decision making and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services including for HIV and AIDS. 

The underage girls have reportedly been driven by poverty, customary and religion beliefs, alcohol abuse and lack of education opportunities to have sex at a young age. 

According to the report, in some areas commencement of puberty was marked as the end of childhood and viewed as the beginning of eligibility for marriage and child bearing. The report also detailed that most common forms of child unions are traditional marriages and cohabitation.

As stated in the report, the consequences of adolescent girls having sex is that it will lead to poor educational attainment and unemployment, poor health outcomes including sexual and reproductive health ills, gender based violence especially intimate violence against the girl child including sexual, physical, verbal abuse by their husbands or partners who are often much older.

The executive director of gender, Helena Andjamba also told Confidente about what her office is doing to cut down the high rate of sexual activities amongst adolescents.

“The ministry is in the process of popularising the CCPA (Child Care and Protection Act) by training service providers and all stakeholders on the provisions of this Act, so that they can understand their role when it comes to the protection of children. The ministry does not work in isolation when it comes to child protection; it is a shared responsibility amongst various line ministries for example the Ministry of Education, Health, Justice and so forth. As a ministry responsible for the protection and wellbeing of all children, this (child marriage) was an issue of concern that is the reason why the ministry commissioned that the National Formative study be conducted to find out the extent of child marriages in Namibia.”

The findings will be used to fill data need gaps that are essential to inform the development of evidenced based policies, legal reform, resource mobilisation and programming for children who find themselves in these unions as well as to employ strategies to prevent child marriages.

She furthermore explained that, the law is clear in terms of Section 226 of the Child Care and Protection Act, No. 3 of 2015: “The law explains that a person may not subject a child to social cultural and religious practices which are detrimental to his or her wellbeing. It further states that a person may not give a child out in marriage or engagement if such child is below the minimum age for marriage. Those that contravene this provision commit a crime and are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N$50 000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years or both. The ministry is working with all stakeholders including parents to prevent child marriages.”

In order to get an insight on the psychological impact on an adolescent who has sex at a young age, Yvonne Stramiss a phsychological counsellor told Confidente that,

“Being in the 21st century reality it seems it did not untie us from the 20th century susceptibility.  The old double standards still fail to burden men, while women are put at the end of the double edged sword. Psychologically and mentally they are most likely to suffer from post traumatic stress and symptoms of depression. 

“Being in such a situation leads to feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that can result in suicidal ideation, especially when they feel they do not have any way out, neither have any support from their family and have to abide by rules put in place for them because they have no rights,” she said.