Abused women have nowhere to run

By Jade McClune

THERE is currently no place of safety for women in the Erongo region who may be at risk of abuse in the home. Confidente this week spoke to a number of women who have been subjected to violence at home, one of whom had to flee the country to escape.

The victims of domestic violence that spoke to this publication off the record all noted their concern that there are no places of refuge that women can turn to in an emergency. Often they are forced to return to the place they ran away from.

A police officer at the Gender Based Violence Protection subdivision at Walvis Bay said on Tuesday this week that they are often at a loss for what to do with victims of domestic violence who cannot safely return to their homes. “There is nothing available for women,” the officer said.

Asked about the possibility of converting the old German fortress that now serves as the Youth Hostel in Swakopmund into a place of safety and refuge for women and children who are at risk of violence, the officer said it would be a very good idea, given that there is a pressing need for such places.

She pointed out though that such an undertaking would have to be discussed with all concerned stakeholders and there will need to be adequate security, food and support services.

The regional head of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Margret Richter, said that there are a number of places of safety for children who have been placed under the protection of courts, but there is no facility in the region to accommodate women who are subjected to violence in their homes.

In Walvis Bay there is one facility, Kids Haven, where children are housed in a secure environment with support services until such time as the authorities are able to find foster homes, adoptive families or safely return the children to their families or guardians.

Richter said any effort by the community to address the problems facing women and children, specifically with regard to the protection of vulnerable people and victims of gender-based violence (GBV), would be welcome but the resources would have to come from the community.

Confidente reported in November 2018 that only two out of 15 safe houses operated by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare countrywide were fully operational and that there was an acute shortage of social workers to attend to victims of GBV, as noted by the Auditor-General (AG) last year.

The AG found that the Ministry of Gender Equality had only 39 social workers during the period under review – not nearly enough to support the thousands of GBV victims that required critical counseling. Across the 14 regions, the ministry had 15 safe houses but they were not equally distributed. They are located in four regions: Khomas (1), Kunene (3), Omusati (5), and Karas (6). Only two were fully operational though, the AG found.

It is understood that the government recently initiated the construction of a number of houses of safety, but none were built in the Erongo.

The AG also found that the electricity supply to some safe-houses had been cut due to unpaid bills and that a lack of food supplies meant that GBV victims had to bring their own. Victims that could not afford food were in some instances forced to return to the abusive environment they had fled from. Other victims, especially children, were kept at hospital where they did not get any additional support, as no doctor was assigned to the GBV unit.

At the time of the AG’s audit, the ministry had recorded over 50,000 cases of GBV in Namibia.

The evidence shows that violence against women and children does not only occur at home. The 2018 US State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons found Namibia to be a country of origin, transit, and destination for foreign and Namibian women and children at risk of forced labour and prostitution.

That report said traffickers exploit Namibian children, as well as children from Angola and Zambia, through forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. In some cases, parents unwittingly sold their children to traffickers.

Reports indicate that Namibian children are recruited for forced prostitution in Angola and South Africa, typically by truck drivers. There is also evidence that traffickers take Namibian women to South Africa and South African women to Namibia to be exploited in forced prostitution.

Business owners and farmers were also said to participate in trafficking crimes against women and children. The victims are often forced to work long hours and complete hazardous tasks, and may be beaten or raped, it was found.

– Additional reporting by Maria

Kandjungu, Marianne Nghidengwa