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Letter to president Hifikepunye Pohamba.

At a meeting with the National Executive Committee of the Namibian NGO Forum (NANGOF) on 7 October 2005, you asked for suggestions to curb the appalling escalating phenomenon of violence against women and children. The NANGOF Gender Sector warmly welcomes your concern about this matter.

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This pandemic will not abate in Namibia without serious action and investment. As the budget is now open for discussion we hope that you will take the opportunity to consider the following proposals and prioritise mechanisms to safeguard the lives and well-being of women and children in Namibia.

Namibia has passed some excellent laws aimed at advancing sexual equality and combating gender-based violence. We have the Married Persons Equality Act, the Combating of Rape Act, the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, provisions to protect widows in the Communal Land Reform Act, procedures to make court appearance easier for vulnerable witnesses in the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act--just to name a few. But violent crimes against women and children show no signs of abating.

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One problem is that some of Namibia's landmark new laws are not yet well-implemented in practice. Urgent attention must be given to making the new laws into living laws instead of just paper tigers. Here are suggestions for improving implementation:

* On domestic violence, we recommend that more police and court resources be devoted to assisting complainants to obtain protection orders which are designed to prevent future violence in the family.

* Public education campaigns on how to use the domestic violence law, and on what to do in the aftermath of a rape, should be intensified. This should include information on PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis to reduce the chances of HIV infection) and the importance of obtaining it as quickly as possible after a rape.

* On rape and domestic violence, we recommend the provision of more child-friendly court facilities, such as those in Katutura and under construction in Oshakati.

* There is a need for intensified training of prosecutors and presiding officers on the legal provisions designed to reduce the trauma of court appearances for vulnerable witnesses.

* Fears about being able to maintain children often keep women in violent relationships. Therefore, effective implementation of the Maintenance Act is also crucial to breaking the cycle of violence. For example, the Act provides for the appointment of maintenance investigators to trace unsupportive parents and their assets, but not a single such investigator has been appointed anywhere in Namibia as yet. There is also a need for intensified training of maintenance officers and presiding officers on how to use the new civil enforcement methods to ensure that children receive support.

The Legal Assistance Centre is in the process of conducting systematic studies of the operation of these three laws. The first study, an assessment of the Combating of Rape Act, will be published in May 2006. We hope that this research will lead to additional recommendations on how to improve the implementation of the laws in question. We are also in the process of preparing training videos for clerks of court (on domestic violence), prosecutors (on rape) and maintenance officers (on maintenance) in conjunction with the relevant ministries. We hope that these efforts will assist government to work on improved implementation.

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Some people have called for heavier sentences in crimes of gender-based violence. There are already heavy minimum sentences for rape in the Combating of Rape Act. The new Criminal Procedure Act of 2004 (which has been passed but not yet brought into action) goes farther, setting life imprisonment as the minimum sentence for the most serious cases of murder and rape. But the prospect of heavy sentences has not deterred rapists.

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We recommend a focus on increased conviction rates rather than increased punishment. Punishments do not have any deterrent effect if perpetrators think that they are unlikely to be caught and even less likely to be convicted. And yet it seems that many offenders now go free, because of slow police investigations or poor medical evidence or long delays in finalising court cases. We suggest the following measures to improve conviction rates:

* To ensure that more resources are devoted to obtaining convictions in rape and domestic violence cases, make specific budgetary allocations to police and prosecutors for work on cases involving gender-based violence.

* Provide intensified training for police, prosecutors and magistrates on the laws on rape and domestic violence, as well as on specialised investigation and prosecution techniques to use in such cases.

* Increase the number of specialised police, prosecutors and magistrates in various regions who are equipped to deal with such cases effectively and sensitively.

* Initiate a campaign backed up by appropriate sanctions to encourage doctors, especially state-employed doctors, to complete forms detailing medical evidence accurately and thoroughly.

* Institute a fast-tracking system which gives cases of gender-based violence priority in police investigations and on the court roll, especially where children are involved.

* Devote more police resources to protecting the safety of persons who lay charges in cases of gender-based violence.

* Provide special assistance to persons in remote rural areas who may be suffering from gender-based violence, such as the provision of telephones within reasonable distances, increased availability of transport to police and clinics, and the mobilisation of traditional leaders to provide appropriate assistance and support.

Another problem is that victims of gender-based violence sometimes withdraw charges, because of fear or intimidation. To counter this problem, we recommend the establishment of a Victim Support Programme. Such a programme could be staffed primarily by trained volunteers who could provide information and support for victims, under the supervision of the Office of the Prosecutor-General. This would help to keep victims from losing courage as the criminal case progresses, thus reducing case withdrawals and possibly increasing the conviction rate. It would also reduce some of the trauma associated with court appearances. Several other countries have successfully instituted programmes to support victims in this way. We believe that such a service could be established in Namibia at a very low cost, and that it would be of great practical assistance to violence victims.

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Another helpful intervention would be diversion programmes for first-time offenders in domestic violence cases where there is no serious injury. Instead of proceeding to trial, the accused could agree to participate in an appropriate treatment or counselling programme. This could be combined with assistance for alcohol and drug abuse in appropriate cases. The availability of this option should depend on the circumstances of the case, taking the victim's wishes into account. The goal would be to emphasise rehabilitation and prevention in appropriate cases, in light of the fact that some victims want help for the perpetrator rather than punishment. It was reported at a recent conference of the Woman and Child Protection Units that a project of this nature in Oshikoto Region has already had some success.

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The prevention of gender-based violence should be our highest priority. But prevention efforts are hampered by the fact that we currently do not have enough information on the causes of violence in Namibia. People cite the hopelessness of poverty, the influence of alcohol and Namibia's violent past, but we do not yet understand why such factors lead to violence in some men but not others. A few studies on this topic are already underway. However, we suggest that government should initiate a comprehensive, nation-wide, in-depth study of the causes of violence in Namibia. This might give us guidance on how to move from a "culture of violence" to a "culture of care".

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When it comes to prevention, we believe that it is important to start with our youth. We recommend the incorporation of units on gender equality and gender-based violence into the school curricula at all levels, starting from Grade One.

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And young men need role models. Young people will develop their values on the basis of what they see around them as being acceptable behaviour. Non-violent men need to stand up and be counted. NAMEC and the White Ribbon Campaign are already mobilising men against violence, but we need more men to show the way. We suggest an intense year-long campaign against violence led by Namibia's most prominent political leaders, sports stars, traditional leaders, church leaders and media personalities, initiated and organised by government. Parliament could lead the way. For example, every MP could make a pledge as to what he or she will personally do from Women's Day 2006 to combat violence, with each person reporting back to Parliament what they did and what impact it had. There is nothing like concrete personal action to start building momentum.

We also suggest that NBC be requested to show films with anti-violence messages. The documentary series on domestic violence produced by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare in conjunction with UNICEF has already being screened. But we need to engage hearts as well as minds. There are some excellent films produced in Africa and elsewhere which contain powerful anti-violence messages. We suggest an NBC anti-violence film festival which could help to inspire the public towards less violent behaviour.

If you have any questions regarding these proposals and would like to meet with the NANGOF Gender Sector to discuss them, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours respectfully and sincerely

Dianne Hubbard

on behalf of the NANGOF Gender Sector

Your Excellency

From the NANGOF Gender Sector, March 2006

Re: Request to NANGOF for mechanisms to curb the phenomenon of violence against women and children
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Title Annotation:domestic violence
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1580
Previous Article:Women's Solidarity Namibia is launched!
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