THE recent unearthing of child predator, Johann Maree, who has been accused of taking pornographic pictures, as well as sexually molesting minors, has caught the attention of international organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF, along with the Ministry of Social Welfare, has raised concerns over the issue.
Rochelle van Wyk, Public Relations officer at UNICEF Namibia, stated that the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare and UNICEF have observed with concern the magnitude of the Maree case and the abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society, children.
Maree was recently charged with 40 counts related to the sexual abuse of children between the ages of 9 and 17.
“We commend the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security and the Office of the Prosecutor General for their vigilant investigations and swift action to ensure that the children are safe,” Van Wyk said.
She added that global evidence shows that sexual predators seek out children at especially playgrounds, youth clubs, schools, at their homes and online.
“They groom them into a relationship of friendship that soon turns into abuse and exploitation. Survivors are often ashamed to tell anyone, feel guilty or are afraid they will be blamed,” explained Van Wyk, adding “The best way to protect our children is to make them aware of the risks and encourage them to talk to someone they trust if something happens to them.”
Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, Doreen Sioka added that in just a matter of months, COVID-19 has interrupted the lives of children and families across the globe.
“With school closures and movement restrictions, children’s routine and support systems have changed. Global evidence shows that during these unprecedented times the safety of children can be compromised, underscoring the importance of collective response to closely monitor children’s safety, offline and online,” Sioka said.
Representative of UNICEF Namibia, Rachel Odede, also added that the situation is worse for children who are not closely supervised and those who live in overcrowded settings are particularly at risk.
Since independence, Namibia has taken the protection of children seriously by ratifying the UN Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).
It implies that Namibia is committed to fulfil all obligations towards the well-being of children as stipulated in certain treaties.
Namibia has also enacted some progressive pieces of legislation, such as the Child Care and Protection Act, 2015 (Act No. 3 of 2015); Combating of Rape Act, 2000 (Act No. 8 of 2000); Combating of Immoral Practices Amendment Act, 2000 (Act No. 7 of 2000); Domestic Violence Act, 2003, Act No. 4 of 2003) amongst others aiming at child protection.
In 2016, it joined the We PROTECT Global Alliance to End Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Online, and relevant Ministries, NGOs, academia, mobile and internet service providers have joined hands in a national task force on child online protection to implement a national response.
Namibia, with support from UNICEF and other UN agencies, has since strengthened the capacity of the GBV Protection Division, High Profile Crimes Division, Cybercrime Unit to investigate cases of online and offline child exploitation abuse and case management thereof.
Over 70% of all GBV Protection Units police officers, prosecutors and magistrates in Namibia have been trained to date in child-friendly investigation and interviewing.
Social Workers attached to the GBVPU were also trained and are better able to support victims to access justice and provide counselling.
“Still, the worrisome emergence of online child sexual exploitation and abuse encroaches on the progress that has been made, and calls for more action, including closing some legal gaps – through the Cybercrime Bill or a specific piece of legislation as is done in other countries.
“The Government takes this very seriously. I call on everyone to do what they can to fight this gross violation of our children’s rights. Talk to your children, make them aware of the risks and help them access justice and counselling, if anything happens to them.,” said Sioka.
Anyone can report any child sexual abuse material they come across to their nearest GBVPU or at the online reporting portal or Helpline/Childline
106 or 116 hosted on Lifeline Childline’s website.