A petition by close to 800 delegates to the Southern African Development Community’s people’s summit has called for an end to child marriages, among other issues.


By Ndanki Kahiurika


The Nambian (21.08.2018) –– The petition was handed over to the new SADC chairperson, President Hage Geingob, at the last session of the 38th summit of heads of state and government last weekend.


Before the official handover, the petition was read out by Sofonea Shale at Ausspannplatz’s Augustino Neto Square after a march by the delegates from the Windhoek Showgrounds.


Compiled after various sessions held on the sidelines of the SADC summit on Thursday, the petition called on the heads of state to ensure that traditional and religious leaders as well as members of parliament play a role in ending child marriages in their communities.


“Efforts to address child marriages must focus on grassroots initiatives recognising that child marriages are more prevalent in rural areas,” read the petition.


Although Namibia does not have statistics on child marriages, civilians have spoken out about its occurrence in rural areas, including the Zambezi and Kunene regions.


Critics have spoken out against the olufuko festival, (a female initiation ceremony prevalent in northern Namibia for girls from the age of 13, to prepare them for marriage) which they feel has led to the objectification of women and encourages child marriages.


Gender equality minister Doreen Sioka also spoke out against child marriages in March this year during International Women’s Day celebrations at the Zambezi region’s capital, Katima Mulilo.


New Era quoted constitutional law expert Eva Jhala as saying sub-Saharan African countries have the highest prevalence of child marriages in the world, with almost 40% of children in some SADC countries being married off before they reach 18 years.


During 2016, the SADC parliamentary forum was reported to have adopted a model law on eradicating child marriages and protecting children who are already in the marriage.


The petition furthermore called for sustainable youth economic empowerment programmes and the diversification of subsidies to support rural women, as well as enacting legislation to end violence against women.


According to the petition, the SADC heads of state should look at securing land rights for women, expedite the implementation of gender-sensitive land reform programmes, and support the United Nations declaration on the rights of villagers and other people living in rural areas.


Reactions on People’s Summit


Human rights activists and chief of one of the /Khomanin Traditional Authority factions, Rosa Namises, told The Namibian on the sidelines of the summit that she was happy about the summit as it serves as a platform where people can gather and exchange ideas.


A member of the Lesotho Rural Women’s Assembly, Mamalefetsane Phakoe (52), said what stood out as most important for her is the call for funding towards agriculture.


Zambian nationals Eddie Musosa (28) and Misheck Muzungu (25) both felt that more could have been discussed on matters affecting the youth since it was the topic for the SADC summit.


Two other youngsters from Mozambique, Aida Nhavoto (29) and Elida Come (27) felt the people’s summit served as a great platform to learn from one another on issues affecting SADC countries.


“It was an opportunity to amplify our work, and to network. I feel empowered, and I will share what I learnt when I get back home,” said Nhavoto.


Her colleague, Come, said the issue of child marriages stood out the most for her as it is one of the headaches in their country.


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