Realizing Children’s Rights in Namibia
Since its independence in 1990, Namibia has developed a comprehensive system of children’s rights protection. However, the actual implementation of children’s rights is still inadequate. Many Namibian children ─especially vulnerable children and children in rural areas─ struggle with poverty, inequality, HIV/AIDS, exploitation, violence and abuse.
Children’s Rights Index: 7.39 / 10
Red Level: Difficult Situation
Population: 2.4 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 37 %
Life expectancy: 62.6 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 39.62 ‰
Namibia at a Glance
History: from the first residents to independence
The first inhabitants of what is now Namibia’s national territory were the San Bushmen. Later on, the Nama and Damara arrived and the Khoikhoi displaced the San. The first tribal structures were established by the Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero from the north. From 1884 onwards, what is now Namibia was ─ then known as German-South West Africa─ under the colonial rule of Germany. (Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Namibia)
After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the territory of Namibia was assigned to South Africa by the League of Nations and renamed South West Africa. The government mandate was renewed by the United Nations after World War II. The South African government increased its influence on the country and forced an apartheid regime on South West Africa. The South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) began fighting with arms for the liberation of Namibia in 1966. In 1971 the International Court of Justice upheld a ruling by the United Nations which found that South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was illegal. (Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Namibia)
Although the resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for free elections to be held in Namibia was adopted as early as 1978, it took over ten years of armed struggle after that until the demand was finally implemented. In 1989 Namibia held its first free elections. On March 21, 1990 Namibia officially declared its independence from South Africa. (UNICEF, Country Overview Namibia)
Today there is peace in Namibia. Namibia has turned away from the apartheid regime and adopted a new political direction as a constitutional multi-party democracy. The SWAPO is now a political party, provides the President of Namibia and has a majority in parliament. Namibia is one of the economically strongest states in the region. The main industries are mining and export of minerals, tourism, agriculture and fishing. (Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Namibia)
Despite an area of 824, 292 square kilometres, Namibia only counts about 2.4 million inhabitants, making it one of the least densely populated countries on earth. Namibia is shaped by many different ethnic groups and cultures and has 13 indigenous languages. English has been the official language since independence. (CIA, 2020) Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara and is prone to droughts, floods and outbreaks of water-borne diseases. The frequency and severity of droughts and floods has increased over the years. (UNICEF, Emergencies)
Status of Children’s Rights
Namibia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Children’s Rights Convention) in 1990. (UN, Treaties Collection, CRC, 2020) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and contributes to a fundamental change of the lives of children. (UNICEF, What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child?). The convention contains regulations on the well-being, development and protection of children and provides that the interests of children must be given priority in all considerations in all activities that affect children. Since international conventions are directly binding under Article 144 of the Namibian Constitution, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is part of the national legal system in Namibia.
In 2004, Namibia ratified the African Union’s African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). (ACERWC, 2020) The ACRWC includes the right to freedom of expression, the right to identity, the right to education and the right to health. The ACRWC is also part of the national legal system.
Namibia also ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo-Protocol) (UN, Treaties Collection, Palermo-Protocol, 2020) and the Convention 182 Prohibiting the Worst Forms of Child Labour of the International Labour Organization (ILO) (ILO, Ratifications for Namibia, 2020).
Children’s rights are also enshrined in Namibia’s constitution. Article 15 stipulates, among other things, the right to a name, the right to a nationality, protection against economic exploitation of under 16-year-olds, protection of under 14-year-olds against child labour and protection against forced labour.
Addressing the Needs of Children 
Article 28 of the Children’s Rights Convention guarantees the right to education to all children. Before independence, the education system in Namibia was guided by the basic idea of apartheid. The social and economic development of the state and the people hardly played a role. Here the tide has turned since 1990: The school system has been fundamentally reformed. (Katjavivi, 2016, p. 3)
On average, 22% of Namibia’s annual government spending goes into the education sector. Positive results can be seen in primary education: Namibia has an enrolment rate of over 98% in primary schools and is therefore close to universal primary education. There is parity between the sexes in primary and secondary schools. (UNICEF, Education) The literacy rate among 15- to 24-year-olds is about 95%. (UNICEF, Country Profiles, 2020)
However, when it comes to achieving high quality learning outcomes at all levels, including secondary schools, the education sector still faces major challenges. These include high repetition rates (an average of 20% in grades 1, 5 and 8) and dropout rates. In secondary schools, the enrolment rate is only 57%. Less than half (45%) of 5th grade students achieve the expected level of proficiency in math and English in standardized proficiency tests. The globally accepted standard, however, is at least 80%. Other factors affecting children’s education include teenage pregnancies and violence in schools. (UNICEF, Education)
According to Article 24 of the Children’s Rights Convention, every child has the right to the highest attainable standard of health and to use facilities for treating illnesses and restoring health. States parties should ensure that no child is deprived of the right to access such health services. Measures that the contracting states have to take to ensure the right to health also include the access to hygiene facilities and an adequate supply of clean drinking water and food.
Not least because of the low population density, access to medical facilities in rural areas in Namibia is a major challenge. Aid services reach less than 1% of households and care is frequently interrupted. Ten of the 34 districts in Namibia are home to 80% of the unreached children. (UNICEF, Health) The under-5 mortality rate is 39.62 ‰. (IGME, 2020) 87% of children receive the third dose of DTP vaccination and 56% are vaccinated against measles. (UNICEF, Country Profiles, 2020)
Only 33% of the total population have access to adequate sanitation. This means that over 1.4 million people lack access to sanitation. In the rural population, only 14% have access to sanitary facilities. In the northern regions in particular, the numbers of access are 5% below the national average. In some northern areas less than 10% of the population have access to sanitation. There is also a lack of sanitary facilities in schools: about 23% of schools do not have toilets. Furthermore, schools often lack opportunities to wash hands as well as cleaning systems for the toilets. (UNICEF, Sanitation and Hygiene)
The majority of Namibia’s population (87%) has access to clean drinking water. However, there are also major regional differences here. In particular, the north of the country, which is often at risk from droughts, lacks an adequate supply of clean drinking water in rural areas. (UNICEF, Emergencies) Another major problem in Namibia is malnutrition: a quarter of all Namibian children under five are underweight. (UNICEF, Nutrition)
According to Article 7 of the Children’s Rights Convention, every child has the right to be registered in a birth register and to have a name and to acquire a nationality. Article 8 obliges the contracting states to respect the identity of children.
Registration is essential for children in Namibia. Without registration, children have no access to education and important social and medical facilities. (UNICEF, Birth Registration) Currently only 78% of children are registered within the first five years of their lives. (UNICEF, Country Profiles, 2020) However, on the occasion of the 30th birthday of the Children’s Rights Convention in 2019, Namibia assured that 95% of all children between 0 and 6 years of age will be registered and in possession of a birth certificate by 2022. (OHCHR, 2019)
Risk factors → Country-specific challenges
Since its independence in 1990, Namibia has made significant strides in reducing poverty. Namibia’s natural resources, in particular minerals, combined with its small population in relation to the size of the country have ensured that Namibia now is considered a middle to high income country. By 2009/2010 the number of Namibians below the national poverty line had been halved to 28.7%. By 2015/2016, the proportion of Namibians below the poverty line was even reduced to 17.4%. (Worldbank, 2020)
In addition, Namibia is one of the few African countries with a comprehensive and fully state-funded social assistance system, consisting of old age and disability pensions, pensions for war veterans and social assistance for children. While these grants make an important contribution to improving the lives of those affected, they have not proven to be an effective means of eliminating child poverty yet. (UNICEF, Protection)
In 2010, 34% of Namibian children were living below the poverty line. 18.3% were even living in severe poverty. Children are at higher risk of poverty than the average population. 28.7% of the latter were below the poverty line in 2010 and 15.3% were in severe poverty. (UNICEF, Child Poverty in Namibia, 2012) 34% of Namibia’s working population are unemployed. The unemployment rates for women (38.3%) and young people (43.4%) are even higher. (Worldbank, 2020)
As a continuing effect of the rule of apartheid, the inequality of different ethnic groups is still a major issue in Namibia. Progress is slow in this area, which makes Namibia one of the most unequal countries in the world. The Gini index (0 = equal distribution of income; 100 = maximal inequal distribution of the income) was 57.6 in 2015. This inequality makes it very difficult to reduce child poverty. (Worldbank, 2020)
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been widespread in Namibia since the 1990s. HIV is a virus which attacks the body’s immune system by destroying CD4 cells, thereby reducing the body’s immunity to infections. As the destruction of CD4 cells progresses, immunity from infections continues to decline. A person with fewer than 200 CD4 cells per microliter in the blood has acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Although there is currently neither a vaccine for HIV nor a cure, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can prevent the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as transmission to sexual partners. In addition, ART reduces the replication of the virus in the blood. (WHO, 2020)
In Namibia about 210,000 people are currently infected with HIV (around 8.75% of the total population). Women are affected significantly more often (130,000) than men (72,000). 10,000 children under the age of 15 are also infected with the HI virus. It is estimated that 95% of those affected know about their status. Although the number of treatments has increased significantly in recent years only 85% of those who are infected receive ART. After various measures within the framework of national aid programs, over 95% of the sick mothers are receiving therapy to prevent mother-child transmission. (UNAIDS, 2020)
Further challenges in connection with HIV/AIDS are the social stigma with which those affected currently live (13% of respondents would not buy vegetables from someone who carries the virus) and the education of young people on this topic. Only 58% of people between the ages of 15 and 25 have knowledge of HIV prevention. (UNAIDS, 2020)
Child labour is any work that is capable of endangering the physical, mental or moral integrity of the child or her or his education. (ILO, Study on Child Labour, 2010, p. VIII) Child labour is widespread in Namibia. The child labourers are often employed in agriculture or in private houses, where they work under poor conditions as domestic servants for little money and without an employment contract. (Namibia Economist, 2017)
A study from 2010, which was carried out on 845 child workers in the agricultural sector in some regions of Namibia, shows that a working day of a lasts an average of 11 hours for full-time working children and an average of 6 hours for part-time working children. None of the children had an employment contract. The wages were extremely low; many of the children were paid in food. The children often cited poverty and orphanhood when they were asked for the reasons why they are working. (ILO, Study on Child Labour, 2010, pp. 15 -16)
Child trafficking and forced labour
Child trafficking and forced labour have also been a problem in Namibia for years. According to Article 3 (c) of the Palermo Protocol, child trafficking is the recruitment, transport, transfer, accommodation or reception of a child for the purpose of exploitation. Forced labour is, according to Convention 29 of the ILO, all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
Namibia is both a country of origin and a destination country for children who are exposed to forced labour and child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Namibian children are particularly exposed to forced labour in agriculture, livestock and domestic work, and sex trafficking. Among the ethnic groups of Namibia, San and Zemba children are particularly vulnerable to forced labour on farms or in private homes. Children from less affluent neighbouring countries are exposed to both sex trafficking and forced labour, including street vending in cities and in the fishing sector. Children from Angola are brought to Namibia for forced labour in cattle breeding. (U.S.-Department of State, 2018)
Child abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect (De Klerk, 2009, pp. 348-349) Often these forms of abuse go undetected. Children are afraid of reporting abuse to their parents or caregivers, and sometimes children have conflicting emotions when they are abused by someone they love. (Legal Assistance Centre, 2012, p. 21) Domestic violence is not uncommon in Namibia. 28% of women and 22% of men in Namibia between the ages of 15 and 49 consider marital violence to be justified under certain circumstances. (UNICEF, Country Profiles, 2020)
A serious problem is violence against children in the form of physical discipline. A 2007/2008 study found that almost half (45%) of the children surveyed had been exposed to some form of physical discipline within the three months prior to the survey. More than a third (36%) even fell victim to what was considered excessive physical discipline. (Legal Assistance Centre, 2012, p. 22)
Some studies indicate that many Namibian children have already been victims of sexual abuse. A 2006 study found that 25% of respondents aged 10-14 and 15% of those aged 15-24 had been exposed to one or more forms of sexual abuse by parents or caregivers. According to this study, sexual abuse is sexual contact with a parent or a caregiver, the compulsion to sexually touch a parent or a caregiver, or the compulsion to have sexual intercourse with a parent or a caregiver. (Legal Assistance Centre, 2012, p. 22)
Written by Giulia Welge
Last updated on 31 August 2020
 This article does not purport to be a complete or representative representation of children’s rights in Namibia. One of the many challenges is the barely updated or missing information about children in Namibia. Often, information is unreliable, unrepresentative, out of date or not available.
 The poverty line in Namibia is low compared to other middle to high income countries, which means that some people who would be considered poor in other middle to high income countries may not be included in these statistics.