Right ago Namibia undertook a review of how its children are being cared for by the institutions that government has specifically set up to protect and educate them, and ensure that we have healthy children living in a clean environment.
The outcome of that review was an eye-opener and highlighted that Namibia is struggling to effectively protect children from violence. Cases of violence against children are not vigorously pursued. The country’s pre-school teachers – and others who deal with children – were found to lack capacity to timeously detect neglect and abuse of children, so that it can be nipped in the bud as soon as it raises its ugly head.
However, the shocker is that Namibia seems to have not registered the importance of having robust regulatory systems in place to address specific child protection risks such as child online abuse and exploitation.
The review also found that early child development programmes have been put on a back burner, and the country is producing fewer educated children. In fact, the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture speaks of how it “needs to show value for money”, because as of now it cannot quantify the impact of early child development and education against the billions of dollars – N$12,8 billion for the current year – poured into education.
Sanitation remains another huge challenge, and so is the absence of water. All these mean the social environment is not as hygienic as it should be for the Namibian child.
It is not all doom and gloom though. The Namibia of today is not the same as that of 2006 or 2013 in as far as provision of water, sanitation and hygiene is concerned. A comparison of figures for the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene show a remarkable improvement in rural areas where many Namibian children reside and at schools where children spend most of their day. Yet more needs to be done.
The review was the mid-term review by the Namibian government and UNICEF of the period between 2014 and 2018. Reports presented during the review were from Child Protection and Social Protection in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare; the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture; Ministry of Health and Social Services, on child health and nutrition; the Ministry Agriculture, Water and Forestry on water, sanitation and hygiene.
Educating the Namibian Child
There has been good progress in provision of education, partly thanks to the introduction of free education. Yet in her report, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Sanet Steenkamp, notes a “relatively slow growth rate in enrolment” in the period between 2013 and 2016.
The national number of learners enrolled in school in 2013 was 638 789 and for 2016 it is 707 878 learners. This shows that only 69 089 new learners were enrolled between 2013 and 2016, a mere 10,81 per cent increase.
“[There is] considerable scope for having more children in school,” Steenkamp says.
Government’s investment in educational infrastructure has been astounding though. Government built 59 new schools in the three years from 2014 to this year, bringing the total number of schools to 1 796, from the 1 737 in 20013. That is a rate of 19.6 schools built each year. But Steenkamp sedately notes that “increased financial investment does not equate to improved academic performance.”
The national faculty of teachers was also infused with 1 870 new teachers from 26 016 teachers in 2013 to 27 886 teachers as of this year.
Nevertheless, the education ministry says it wants to address the slow implementation of early childhood development programmes. Also, with the amount of money poured into education, the ministry wants to see the bang for its buck.
Key achievements since 2014, according to the ministry, are the training of school health professionals, and school boards. The other was the teacher incentive study that was found to be the best in 2015 by UNICEF.
Child Protection and Social Protection
Namibia has – or had as of the 2011 national census – about 1 million children aged 18 years and below. Now the question is in what sort of society are these children growing up? The answers are not that good. To start with, Namibians are abusing their children. And the girls are the most vulnerable – 31 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 19 years according to the statistics in a presentation by Helena Andjamba, the Director of Child Welfare in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
Andjamba reports a “23 per cent increase in child protection cases addressed by the gender-based violence protection units,” and there is “regional inequalities in access and quality of care”.
As if that is not enough, 73 per cent of rural children below the age of 5 years, and 71 per cent of those aged between 13 and 18 are classified as “deprived” – in other words: they are really poor.
As of June 2016 Namibia has 221 087 children on child grant support. Using the census figures, the country has over 220 000 children growing up in households that depend on social grants for a living.
What the government is doing now is to address various shortcomings in the system so that it provides better care for children. For instance, the administration of social welfare and protection was fragmented across various ministries, says Andjamba.
There is also the urgency to address the “underdeveloped capacity of sectors to prevent, screen and timeously detect neglect, abuse and disability of pre-school children”.
Andjamba also lists the “low prosecution of child cases” as one of the “challenges in programming the environment”.
On lessons learned she lists the importance of diversifying partnerships to address specific child protection risks such as having a partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the communications regulatory authority for online abuse and exploitation.
Andjamba also says “the lack of formal cross-sectoral collaboration and a referral system limits the quality and effectiveness of child protection services on the ground.”
The priorities from now onward to 2018 include implementing the new ‘National Agenda for Children 2017 – 2021.’ Others are to “accelerate national response to online child sexual exploitation and abuse” and to “enhance integrated and one-stop service delivery to advance protection from violence; birth registration and social protection strengthening.”
Children, Wash Your Hands
Children, and adolescents too, are not washing their hands at all. Not with water and soap, as far as the 2014 UNICEF-funded research figures show. They are well informed about the benefits of hygiene but they are just not washing their hands. According to Theopoline Nantanga, from the agriculture and water ministry, statistics indicate that hygiene knowledge is at 87 per cent but there is a challenge on washing with water and soap. In urban areas only 68 per cent of children and adolescents are washing their hands with water and soap. In rural areas the percentage is at 37 per cent. The national average is at 53,9 per cent.
It is even a huge challenge to have learners at school not washing their hands. That is largely owed to the fact that 16 per cent of the schools do not have water for hand washing.
Nevertheless, sanitation and water provision remain a challenge at schools, where 20 schools have no sanitation facilities.
“Over 28 per cent of girls had to use toilet facilities that were not separated from those of the boys and 53 per cent schools made no provision for girls in relation to menstruation,” says Nantanga.
It has now been taken as lesson learnt that to have an effective hygiene and sanitation campaign, traditional and community leaders would have to get involved. Schools too must come on board because better hygiene and sanitation at school “has a positive impact on girls’ school attendance”.
The review concluded that there is a need to specifically advocate for children issues in the upcoming fifth National Development Plan and budgeting processes. And that in education the greater focus would be on early childhood development and pre-primary education.