Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines rape in broad terms and allows for the prosecution of spousal rape. The courts prosecuted numerous cases of rape during the year, and the government generally enforced rape penalties, which provide for sentences of between five and 45 years’ imprisonment for convicted rapists. Government officials indicated more rapes were being reported than previously. According to police statistics, 1,085 cases of rape were reported in 2011, a slight increase from 2010 when 1,082 cases were reported. The true extent of rape was thought to be higher, and only a minority of cases were prosecuted or resulted in a conviction. In November the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and LAC completed their multiyear Zero Tolerance for Gender-Based Violence and Human Trafficking campaign, concluding with a formal National Plan of Action on Gender-Based Violence 2012-16. In July LAC released an extensive survey of studies on domestic-based violence since the country’s independence and made recommendations to the government for improving the situation.
In one region, Erongo, the regional police commissioner received reports that 21 women and children were raped between January and June. Five of the victims were between the ages of five and eight and 10 were between the ages of 11 and 17. Police arrested at least 14 men and a 16-year-old boy in connection with these cases.
LAC’s statistics indicated that more than one-third of rape victims withdraw their court cases, due to compensation from the accused, family pressure, shame, threats, or the length of time involved in prosecuting a case. A number of factors continued to hamper rape prosecutions, including lack of police transport, poor communication between police stations, lack of expertise in dealing with child rape complainants, and the withdrawal of cases by rape complainants after they filed charges.
Expressing frustration about wasted time and resources when victims withdraw their cases, the Erongo region police commissioner announced in August that victims would now be required to approach the courts to have such cases withdrawn. LAC argued additional training and greater awareness were required at all levels, and across all involved government ministries, to address child rape cases more effectively.
According to LAC statistics, approximately 70 percent of rape suspects were arrested, but only 18 percent ultimately were convicted in a court of law. Most cases are heard by traditional authorities, rather than in government courts. A January 2011 article in the Namibian Law Journal complained that judges were applying “inconsistent and problematic” approaches to sentencing rapists.
The law prohibits domestic violence; however, the problem was widespread. Penalties for domestic violence, which includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, and serious emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse, ranged from a fine of N$300 ($34) to10 years’ imprisonment and a fine for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
LAC published a comprehensive survey of domestic violence in August, entitled Seeking Safety--Domestic Violence in Namibia and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act 4 of 2003. The report explained that it is difficult to collect statistics on this problem, since domestic violence cases have not been set apart from nondomestic crimes in police records, domestic violence against children has never been directly studied in the country, and very little is known about domestic violence against men, the elderly, or within gay or lesbian relationships. The report further indicated that, based on an earlier study, nearly one-third of reported rape cases occurred within a “domestic relationship.” However, no official information was available on enforcement of the antidomestic violence law, except as it involved rape. In 2003 the law codified the issuance of protection orders in cases of domestic violence and provided that certain crimes of violence--including murder, rape, and assault--would be handled differently if the crimes took place within a domestic relationship. When reported, the Women and Child Protection Units of the Namibian Police intervened in domestic violence cases.
There were 15 women’s and children’s protection units staffed with police officers trained to assist victims of sexual assault, social workers, legal advisors, and medical facilities. During the year UNICEF; the People’s Education, Assistance, and Counseling for Empowerment Center; and other NGOs continued to provide training to these units. In some magistrates’ courts, there were special courtrooms to protect vulnerable witnesses from open testimony; the courtrooms featured a cubicle constructed of one-way glass and child-friendly waiting rooms. By the end of the year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare had completed renovation of shelters in six regions for victims of gender-based violence.
Sexual Harassment: The Labor Act explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees who leave their jobs due to sexual harassment may, under the law, be entitled to “remedies available to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed.”
In 2006 LAC brought the country’s only sexual harassment claim to court under the 1992 Labor Act. The employer settled the case in 2008, before a judgment was issued.
Reproductive Rights: There are no government restrictions on the provision of contraceptives, except to children under the age of 18 years old, the legal age of consent to medical treatment. Aside from several narrowly defined circumstances, abortion remained illegal. The government and NGOs provided for equitable access to contraception to all citizens. Women who lived in urban areas had better access to skilled attendance during childbirth and postpartum care than those who lived in rural areas. According to statistics released in 2010 by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the country’s maternal mortality ratio in 2006 was 449 per 100,000 live births, a near doubling of the rate in 1992. The high rate was attributed to the general lack of access to effective healthcare in treating eclampsia (seizures during pregnancy), hemorrhage, and obstructed or prolonged labor. HIV/AIDS is the leading indirect cause of maternal mortality. UNICEF reported that unsafe abortions account for nearly 20 percent of maternal deaths. The government and NGOs continued to make a strong effort to educate men and women equally in the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
The government had no policy to sterilize HIV-positive women forcibly. However, LAC reported these women were often “encouraged” to agree to sterilization by medical personnel. In July the High Court ruled that doctors at state hospitals wrongfully sterilized 16 HIV-positive women in 2008 without their consent, following caesarean sections. However, the court ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove they were sterilized because of their HIV status.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination, including employment discrimination; however, men continued to dominate positions in upper management in both the private and the public sectors. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Employment Equity Commission, which report to the minister of labor, were responsible for addressing complaints of discrimination in employment; however, neither was effective due to the backlog of cases.
The law prohibits discriminatory practices against women married under civil law, but women who married under customary law continued to face legal and cultural discrimination. Traditional practices that permitted family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children continued.
The custom by which a widow or widower marries the brother or sister of the deceased to ensure that the surviving spouse and children are cared for is still practiced in some areas of the country. According to a 2005 study, Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights in Namibia, published by the University of Namibia, the practice of widow inheritance (levirate) and widower inheritance (sororate) were still common among the Ovambo, Herero, Lozi, and, to a lesser extent, the Kavango. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this has been decreasing in recent years, and now is done mostly with the consent of both parties.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is responsible for advocating for women’s rights. The Ministry of Justice’s Law Reform and Development Commission advocated for women’s rights in legislation.