Skip to content
Key findings
  • A majority (58%) of Namibians say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children. Opposition to physical discipline (42%) is practically unchanged since 2017 (44%).
  • More than half (52%) of respondents say the use of physical force to discipline children is not very common in their communities.
  • About half (49%) of Namibians say out-of-school children are a widespread problem in their communities, while 42% report frequent child abuse and neglect.
  • Slightly more than half of Namibians say resources are generally available in their community to help abused and neglected children (55%), children with disability (56%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (53%).
  • Six in 10 Namibians (61%) say the government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

At the end of April 2020, Namibian police, acting on a request for assistance from the Netherlands police, arrested a 51-year-old former Namibian policeman on 75 charges of child abuse, including rape, production of child pornography, and child trafficking (Menges, 2022). This is perhaps the largest such case since independence, and confirms that Namibia is connected to a growing global problem.

Namibia has a comprehensive legal framework regulating children’s issues. The country became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and in 2002 also signed the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

In addition to the Constitution, the Child Care and Protection Act of 2015 is the primary legal instrument protecting Namibian children’s rights, safety, and physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being. Laws adopted between 1990 and 2015 address child-related issues in the context of domestic violence, rape, child maintenance, economic exploitation, access to legal services, and protection against neglect.

Despite the comprehensive legal and policy framework, issues pertaining to the safety and protection of children remain prevalent and persistent.

One study (Namibia Statistics Agency, 2012) found that children are more likely to live in poverty than adults and that poverty has a long-term impact on children, especially if it starts at an early age or persists over several years. Stunting, poor educational prospects, and harm to emotional and psychosocial well-being are some of the direct effects of growing up poor.

Problems such as child trafficking, child labour, chronic absenteeism from school, and lack of access to appropriate facilities and services for children living with disabilities often receive media coverage but are difficult to track through formal statistics, in part because they often occur in isolated rural areas where authorities have little capacity. Teenage pregnancies stand out as a particularly serious problem often attributed to insufficient parental monitoring and poverty. According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, one in four young women become pregnant before turning 20 years of age (Matthys, 2022), and many drop out of school as a result.

The Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in 2019 reported that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 39.6% of women and 45% of men had experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional violence in childhood (Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, 2020).

First instances of sexual violence for girls and women occur most often in schools, universities, or colleges, according to the report, while for boys and men, they are most common at home. The problem is compounded by the fact that many victims of sexual violence do not speak to anyone about their experiences. Male victims are even less likely to receive help than female victims.

The 2022 Disrupting Harm survey focusing on online child sexual exploitation and abuse reported that 9% of Internet users aged 12-17 in Namibia were subjected to clear examples of online child sexual exploitation and abuse. This amounts to roughly 20,000 children per year. The report also presents findings that most offenders are known to the child (ECPAT, Interpol, and UNICEF, 2022).

Social media platforms feature prominently in cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, and victims who do decide to disclose their experiences often prefer to do so via interpersonal networks rather than formal reporting channels. The report also found that law enforcement, justice, and social support systems have insufficient awareness, capacity, and resources to respond appropriately and in a child-friendly manner.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ attitudes and perceptions related to child welfare.

Survey findings show that about half of all adult Namibians report that children not attending school is a frequent problem in their community, while slightly fewer report child abuse and neglect as a common occurrence.

A majority of citizens view using physical force to discipline children as justified, although a similar proportion believe that the use of physical force for discipline does not occur frequently in their community.

More than half of Namibians believe that vulnerable children can find help in their communities, and most are satisfied with the government’s efforts to protect the well-being of children in the country.

Overall, these views are shaped by where respondents live, their wealth, and their educational levels.

Christiaan Keulder

Christiaan Keulder is the national investigator for Namibia.