Kunene parents using girls as cash cows

… as child marriages thrive unabated

By Shallot Mohutege and Tracy Tafirenyika

PARENTS in Kunene region are allegedly marrying off and selling their underage daughters as cash cows while others are being trafficked to older men and tourists, Confidente has learnt.

According to the Namibia Rural Women Assembly (NRWA) which conducted a constituency engagement in the Kunene region recently, 45 girls from different corners of the region came forward revealing their shocking experiences of getting married at a young age.

This situation is so dire that three men accused of child trafficking namely Dirk Rinovita Kandiimuine, Ngonde Tjambiru and Tjikundi Tjiposa appeared in the Opuwo regional court on July 9 and were remanded out of custody to September 29.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the 2011 Namibian census findings revealed that 3 828 girls were living in traditional marriages or consensual unions.

Four of the child marriage victims explained everything they endured when they were dragged into marital unions at a young age, as their parents collected the bride price.

Karina Mure (37) said, “I was 15 years old when l got married. I never went to school and it was a traditional marriage. I endured a lot of burden in the marriage because l was still very young. One day, my husband left and never returned. I haven’t heard from my husband till today or word on where he went, he just left me alone with the kids.”

Another victim, Vakupuavi Tjiheruka told Confidente that she was married off at the age of 14 just after she completed her first menstruation cycle.

“I was in grade seven when my father passed on. According to my culture, parents can start negotiating about marrying you to somebody else at the age of two and you will grow up knowing that you belong to somebody.

“I however did not stay in the marriage for long because l was forced to be in the marriage and l did not have any kids with my husband.”

She further went on to express that she would not allow her kids to get married in that way.

Another victim who prefers to remain anonymous explained that she was forced into marriage and is now 21 years old, still married and a mother of four. She also explained that the last time she attended school was in grade 6.

She went on to explain that women in such marriages are not allowed to have family planning and are also unable to discuss with their husbands regarding the use of contraceptive methods such as condoms; they also cannot say no to sex. This is due to the fact that the victims are still underage and uneducated of their rights; and hence are forced to follow set traditional norms.

NRWA project manager Melanie Gaoes, stated that she does not agree with child marriages because they deprive young girls of a lot.

“The girls are hugely disadvantaged because they lose out on education and enjoying being a child. They have to become mothers and wives at a very young age. Our young girls should be taught that they are more than mothers and victims to traditional norms.”

Gaoes also highlighted that these girls deserve a life where they make their own choices and stand up for themselves. She attributed the main reason why these issues are still happening to poverty which is leading some parents to sell their children in exchange for money.

In an interview with Confidente, Emmaculate Mogotsi, a human rights activist and senior researcher at the University of Namibia explained that child marriage was unfortunately rife in some Namibian communities.

“Child marriage has a historical background which has been there before colonialism. The younger the girl is, especially when she is still a virgin, the higher the bride price that the family will get despite us having our children rights law in place.”

Mogotsi further stated that one of the challenges is that laws are well interpreted and adhered to in urban areas, but not enough effort is put in ensuring that the rural areas understand these laws.

“We need to sensitise communities outside the urban areas; communities that don’t have access to radio signals, where they cannot hear about these laws. We don’t even engage some of the traditional leaders in the most rural parts of our country. We know that from a legal perspective, child marriages have been abandoned. It is a crime to marry off a child who is younger than 18 years, but if people don’t know that they are committing a crime and that marrying off their daughters for a price is the only way to survive, then lawmakers must take some portion of the blame,” she said.

Kunene Detective Chief Inspector Theresia Shilula acknowledged that child marriages were still happening but victims of the crime do not come forward.

She added that the police had not received child marriage reports but only those of human trafficking and child labour.

“They do not come to us. However, we encourage those children to report such issues because according to the Child Protection Unit (CPU) it is not allowed. We have so far received two cases of child labour in the Kunene region,” said Shilula.