The Local Authorities Act establishes local authority councils within local government and defines their powers, duties and functions. The Act provides that the slate of candidates from any given political party up for election in a municipal, village or town council election must contain at least three female persons where the council consists of 10 or fewer members and at least five female persons where a council consists of 11 or more members, in an attempt to increase the presence of women in decision making positions.
Women and Justice: Jurisdiction
The Combating of Immoral Practices Act aims to prevent and reduce prostitution and the existence of brothels. The Act imposes a criminal penalty for keeping a brothel of imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or imprisonment and a fine. The Act punishes procuring or attempting to procure any female to have unlawful carnal intercourse with imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years. The Act also imposes criminal sentences for offenses related to prostitution and various immoral acts, such as the owner or occupier of a property permitting such acts, living on earnings of prostitution, or enticing someone to commit an immoral act.
The Social Security Act provides maternity benefits to women through a compulsory combined scheme for sickness, maternity and death benefits through matching employer and employee contributions. The Act establishes the National Medical Benefit Fund to administer the payments for such benefits and the National Pension Fund for pension benefits for those who have retired. The Act also makes a provision for the funding of training programs for disadvantaged and unemployed persons through a Development Fund.
The Communal Land Reform Act 2002 aims to regulate the allocation of customary land rights in communal lands and to establish Communal Land Boards. Communal land that previously belonged to indigenous communities is now vested in the state, which then distributes and allocates the land among the rural communities. This Act takes precedence over customary law and is much more favorable to women’s rights. Under the Act, four women must be appointed to the Communal Land Boards. Furthermore, the Act provides that a customary land right that was allocated to a particular holder of such right shall upon the death of such holder be re-allocated to the surviving spouse. This provides protection to a surviving wife who may now remain on the communal land where previously she would lose the rights to such land upon the death of her husband.
The aim of this Act is to achieve equal employment opportunities through affirmative action plans to redress the conditions of designated persons in the Act who have been previously disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws and practices with the aim of eliminating discrimination in the workplace. The Act also establishes an Employment Equity Commission. Women are specifically mentioned as a designated group. An affirmative action plan achieves its purpose by obliging employers to make equitable efforts to accommodate and further the employment opportunities of those in designated groups. Employers must also fill positions of employment by giving priority and preferential treatment to those in designated groups. Where employers do not adhere to the Act, they may be referred to the Commission or to mediation, and may be placed under review. Furthermore, any person who discriminates against a person who has participated in the proceedings provided for in the Act, or obstructs or prevents compliance with the Act by any party, or fails to comply with certain provisions of the Act can be held criminally liable and on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding N$16,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 4 years or both.
This Act states that where a co-operative has more than five female members, or if more than one-third of its members are women (whichever is the lesser) and no woman has been elected as a member of its board, the board must appoint a woman as a board member within its first meeting to increase the representation of women in management positions. A similar provision is provided for sub-committees of boards.
The Labour Act (the “Act”) establishes protections for employees and regulates the employer/employee relationship. In particular, this Act prohibits any form of child labor, forced labor, or discrimination and/or sexual harassment in the workplace. The Act also provides for basic conditions of employment to which an employer must adhere, including maternity leave for female employees. An employer may not provide disadvantageous terms in an employment contract or promote unfair labor practices. Violations of this Act expose employers to various penalties. Employees may refer disputes to the Labour Commissioner or the Labour Court to obtain relief.
The Maintenance Act (the “Act”) imposes equal rights and burdens in relation to the payment of child support (and enforcement of child support orders) on both parents and abolishes customary laws to the contrary. The Act also states that husbands and wives are equally responsible for each other’s maintenance.
Among other things, the Children’s Status Act gives children born out of wedlock the same legal privileges as children born to married couples (e.g., inheritance rights, custody, guardianship, etc.) and provides various legal mechanisms (e.g., court orders) to protect these rights.
The Married Persons Equality Act (the “Act”) abolishes the marital power of the husband over his wife and her property and amends community property laws. It further provides women with the power to register immovable property in their own name, gives them legal capacity to litigate and contract, and allows them to act as directors of companies. The Act also establishes that the minimum age for marriage is 18, thereby prohibiting child marriages.
The Abortion and Sterilization Act (the “Act”) was adopted from South Africa and prohibits abortions, except in extreme circumstances where either: (i) the mother’s life is in danger; (ii) not having an abortion would constitute a serious threat to the mother’s mental health; (iii) there is a serious risk that the child will be born with physical and/or mental defects; or (iv) the child is a product of rape or incest. It also criminalizes performing abortions, except in the circumstances listed above. Finally, the Act states the circumstances in which sterilizations may be performed, including on people incapable of consent.
The Combating of Rape Act (the “Act”) seeks to prevent rape and provides minimum imprisonment sentences for rape. It also abolishes the previous law, which presumed that a boy under the age of 14 was incapable of rape and sexual intercourse. This Act also regulates the granting of bail to perpetrators to further protect the rights of the victim, and provides protection to victims of rape and sexual abuse. Finally, it abolishes the customary rule, common among rural areas, that marriage is a justification for, or a defense to, rape.
The Combatting of Domestic Violence Act (the “Act”) prohibits domestic violence, which it broadly defines to include physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, entering the private residence of the complainant without consent, emotional, verbal or psychological abuse, and any threats of the above. Various types of relationships are also covered, including customary or religious marriages and relationships where the parties are not married. The Act amends the Criminal Procedure Act 1977, and allows courts to issue protection orders for victims and to punish perpetrators with a fine not exceeding N$8,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The Constitution serves as the fundamental law of Namibia and establishes the Republic of Namibia as an independent, secular, democratic, and unitary state safeguarding the rights to justice, liberty, dignity, and equality. Chapter 3 of the Constitution protects fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, including on the grounds of sex. It also bans child marriages and mandates equal rights for men and women entering into marriage, during the marriage, and at the dissolution of the marriage. Additionally, Parliament may not make any laws that contravene the Constitution, nor can the Executive take any action that abolishes or contravenes Chapter 3 of the Constitution. Any such laws or actions would be invalid.
The respondent, a German national, was denied permanent residence in Namibia despite being in a committed relationship with a Namibian woman, residing in Namibia for many years, and having a highly skilled job in Namibia. The respondent claims that the only reason her application was denied is because she was a lesbian woman in a homosexual relationship. She therefore filed suit against the Immigration Selection Board (“ISB”), arguing that it had discriminated against her in denying her application. The lower court found in favor of the respondent and ordered the ISB to grant the respondent’s application. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the decision, finding that the respondent had not proven discrimination and that the ISB had wide discretion to deny applications. However, the Supreme Court judge explicitly stated: “I must emphasize in conclusion: Nothing in this judgment justifies discrimination against homosexuals as individuals, or deprive [sic] them of the protection of other provisions of the Namibian Constitution.”
The respondent was charged with two counts of sexual harassment of female coworkers and with the verbal abuse of another female coworker. His employer (the “company”) found that he had violated the company’s policies and fired him. The respondent brought a claim for wrongful termination to the Office of the Labour Commissioner, and the dispute was referred to arbitration. The arbitrator found in favor of the respondent and ordered the company to reinstate him and pay him N$102,000 in lost wages. The company appealed the decision to the courts. The judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision, finding that he overlooked numerous relevant facts in making his conclusions, which “no reasonable court or tribunal court have reached.” The court held that the company acted appropriately in terminating the respondent’s employment because sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are serious offenses that create obstacles to equality in employment.
The accused murdered her newborn child and pleaded guilty to the crime. In determining her prison sentence, the judge took into account mitigating circumstances such as her young age (21 years old), the fact that the child’s father denied responsibility for the child, and the fact that her family nearly kicked her out of their home when she had her previous child. The judge also acknowledged that she was a first-time offender and showed remorse for the crime. However, he reiterated the seriousness of the crime and stated that he did not want his leniency in this case to serve as a message to other young women that infanticide was acceptable. He further stated that newborn infants have just as much a right to life as anyone else. For the murder, he sentenced the accused to three years imprisonment with 30 months suspended for five years on the condition that the accused not be convicted of murder during the suspension. For the concealment of the birth of her newborn child, the judge sentenced the accused to six months imprisonment to run concurrently with the murder sentence.
The accused conceived a child after incestuous sexual intercourse with her brother. After the child was born, the mother tied a scarf around its neck and buried it alive. At trial, she claimed that the child was strangled by its own umbilical cord and was already dead when she buried it. However, medical and forensic evidence showed that the child died from strangulation and suffocation due to the mother’s actions. She was convicted of murder.
The accused was charged with raping a 10-year-old girl (the “complainant”). The trial judge convicted the accused of attempted rape, finding that the prosecution did not prove penetration beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor was not satisfied with the sentence and appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking a conviction for rape. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that penetration had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the Supreme Court stressed that the slightest unwanted penetration of a woman’s genitalia by a man’s genitalia is sufficient to constitute the crime of rape.
The appellant was convicted of rape under the Combating of Rape, Act 8 of 2000 (the “Act”) in the Regional Court for inserting his finger into the vagina of his friend’s eight-year-old daughter (the “complainant”). This insertion caused bruising to the complainant’s vagina that lasted longer than 72 hours. The complainant’s hymen, however, remained intact. The appellant was sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which five were conditionally suspended. On appeal, the appellant argued that he had not committed rape under the Act because he had not penetrated the complainant’s “vagina” as that term is defined under the Act, but rather touched the areas around her vagina. Accordingly, he argued that, at most, he had committed indecent assault, and therefore his sentence should be reduced. The appellate court denied the appeal and upheld the original sentence, finding that the labia minora, labia majora and the para-urethral fort all form part of the complainant’s genital organs and therefore satisfy the definition of “vagina” within the Act.
The accused was an 18-year-old woman charged with the crime of abortion under the Abortion and Sterilization Act, 2 of 1975 (the “Act”). The Act outlaws abortion and prescribes no minimum sentence for the crime. The accused pleaded guilty and testified that she performed the abortion on herself, which terminated a two-month-long pregnancy. The Court sentenced her to pay N$3,000 or serve two years in prison. On review, the High Court found the sentence to be “completely” disproportionate to the crime. The Judge referred to the Old Authorities and stated that sentences for abortion should be less harsh in cases where a very young fetus is involved. The Judge also found that the accused personal circumstances and the particular circumstances of her trial, including the fact that she was a minor at the time, did not have counsel to represent her, and was not given the opportunity to explain her actions, warranted mitigation of the penalty. Finding that the lower court did not factor in any of these mitigating circumstances, the High Court reduced the sentence to N$300 or three months in prison, which he suspended on the condition that during that period the accused was not convicted of any abortion-related crime.
The accused was convicted of pre-meditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment after stabbing his girlfriend (“the victim”) 27 times and locking her in a room until she bled to death. Prior to murdering the victim, the accused sent her a text message describing how he would kill her. At trial, the court determined the crime was aggravated by the fact that the accused had a direct intention of murdering his girlfriend and did so in a domestic setting. In imposing a sentence, the court took into account retribution, prevention of crime, deterrence and reformation. The court further found that the accused did not care about the victim’s right to life, but rather his own wellbeing, that he “played victim,” and that he showed no remorse. The judge stated that it “is high time that men in relationships with women should understand that once a woman tells them that they are no longer interested in continuing with the relationship, she means just that and her views and feelings should be understood and respected.”
The accused was charged with assaulting and murdering a woman. At trial, the accused filed an application for his discharge at the close of the prosecution’s case, arguing that the prosecution failed to make a case requiring the accused to answer. According to prosecution evidence, after buying alcohol and drinking it with a group of women he did not know, including the deceased, an argument began because the accused stated that he could have sex with all the women. The driver stopped the car when the accused hit the deceased with a bottle. The accused continued to beat the woman outside of the car and the others drove away in fear for their lives to report the attack the police. Upon their return to the scene, they found and picked up the deceased, who was running down the road after escaping the accused. She later passed away from her injuries. At trial, prosecutors presented several eye-witnesses to testify against the accused, as well as direct and circumstantial evidence to support their case. The accused argued that the eye-witnesses had been intoxicated at the time of the assault and therefore their testimony was unreliable. He also argued that the prosecutors failed to meet their burden to convict him. However, the court agreed with the prosecution and refused to discharge the accused, finding that the prosecution’s evidence presented a prima facie case that the accused was legally obliged to answer.
The accused stabbed and murdered a pregnant minor girl with whom he was in a relationship when he was approximately 18 and she was 15 years old. Their relationship was one filled with domestic abuse and violence. He was convicted of murder and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. He was also convicted of assault for unlawfully and intentionally threatening to kill the deceased’s grandmother, thereby causing her to believe that the accused intended, and had the means, to carry out his threat.
The appellant was charged with the rape and indecent assault of a three-year-old girl (“the complainant”). He pled “not guilty” to both counts but was convicted on the first count and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment. The trial court acquitted the appellant on the second count. On appeal, the appellant argued that (a) the charge did not contain adequate particulars of the date and time of the alleged crimes; (b) the degree of the injuries to the complainant made it doubtful that he could have raped her; and (c) the cautionary rule was not correctly applied when the trial court reviewed the complainant’s evidence. The Supreme Court confirmed that the trial court was not only aware of the risks associated with the evidence presented by a sole young witness, but also exercised appropriate caution in considering the complainant’s evidence. It further found that the evidence presented at trial, including testimony by the complainant’s mother and older sister provided sufficient details to uphold the conviction. The appeal was accordingly denied.
The accused was convicted of culpable homicide for kicking his girlfriend to death, despite his claims that her death was caused by falling on a rock. In sentencing the accused to 10 years imprisonment, the court noted that violence against women is a serious problem in Namibia and that this should be taken into account in sentencing decisions as an aggravating factor.
The accused negligently killed his daughter by beating her to death with a stick, which he meant as punishment. He also intentionally shot and killed his son with a shotgun and attempted to shoot his wife. He was convicted of culpable homicide, murder, attempted murder, obstructing the course of justice, possession of a firearm without a license, and the unlawful possession of ammunition. The court sentenced him to 44 years imprisonment. With respect to the conviction for negligent homicide, the court found that parents do not have carte blanche to punish their children. The court also found that the accused’s previous acts of violence against his wife and children constituted aggravating circumstances. The court further emphasized the seriousness of domestic violence and noted that sentencing in such cases should serve as retribution for those harmed, including the community at large and as deterrence to others.
The appellant and respondent are divorced parents of three children. At the time of the divorce, custody of the children was awarded to the respondent. The appellant then moved for an interim protection order, claiming that the respondent physically abused their minor children. A court granted the interim protection order on October 3, 2011, and awarded the appellant interim custody of the children, subject to visitation by the respondent, and ordered respondent to cease abusing the children. The Magistrate’s Court subsequently discharged the interim order on October 24, 2011, based on Section 12 of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act 4 of 2003, reasoning that the beatings were an isolated incident and were only meant to punish the children for bad behavior. The appellant challenged the discharge. The appellate court agreed with appellant and granted a final protection order effective through July 2013, which awarded the appellant custody of the children with visitation for the respondent on alternate weekends and holidays. In its decision, the appellate court stated the importance of rooting out the “evil that is domestic violence in order to give effect to the protection of the constitutional value of human dignity.”
The respondent in this appeal is the biological daughter of the deceased. The respondent’s mother was not married to the deceased, and thus, the respondent was considered an “illegitimate child” under Namibian law. The appellant is the sister of the deceased and the respondent’s aunt. The deceased died intestate on May 30, 1991, and his estate was administered per Namibian law on intestate succession. Because the respondent was classified as an illegitimate child, she was not entitled to inherit from her father’s estate. The respondent challenged the constitutionality of this common-law rule, which the High Court had declared unconstitutional in July 2007. The Supreme Court confirmed the High Court’s finding.
The appellant, E.S., was a 38-year-old mother of three. She was practicing Jehovah’s Witness who consistently maintained that blood transfusions were against her religion. She told her obstetrician at her last pre-delivery appointment that she would refuse a blood transfusion if complications arose during delivery. After that appointment, E.S. gave her husband, also a Jehovah’s Witness, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Nonetheless, her brother, A.C., filed an ex parte application to serve as her “curator to the person,” for the purpose of authorizing medical procedures on E.S., including blood transfusions after she suffered complications including a hysterectomy after giving birth. In support of his application, E.S.’s brother argued that, as a parent, E.S.’s individual autonomy had to be weighed against the interests of her family. He also offered testimony from her doctor, who explained that her blood and oxygen levels were too low to support full brain function. The trial court granted the application. The Supreme Court addressed three issues: whether the matter was moot after E.S.’s medical recovery, whether the lower court erred in granting A.C.’s application to be appointed his sister’s curator and have blood transfusions administered, and whether young children’s right to be raised by their parents supersedes the right of an individual to refuse a blood transfusion in life-threatening circumstances. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court, finding that “written advanced directives which are specific, not compromised by undue influence, and signed at a time when the patient has decisional capacity construe clear evidence of a patient’s intentions regarding their medical treatment” (¶56) and “the right to choose what can and cannot be done to one’s body, whether one is a parent or not, is an inalienable right” (¶ 71). The court made clear that a woman’s status as a mother does not restrict her right to liberty and privacy, especially where decisions of medical treatment are involved.
Plaintiff filed for divorce from her abusive husband after he threatened to kill her. Under Namibian law, before a judge can issue a final divorce decree, the plaintiff must ask the defendant to restore his or her conjugal rights. This process effectively requires the filing spouse to give the other party, in this case an abusive husband, a chance to re-enter the marital home to restore his/her conjugal rights. The High Court of Namibia (“High Court”) recognized the danger of applying this requirement in domestic violence cases, where the respondent may use the judicially-mandated restitution of conjugal rights as an opportunity to access and further abuse the filing spouse. In light of this risk, the High Court held that a spouse who files for divorce based on acts of domestic violence is exempt from the restitution of conjugal rights requirement.
The defendant, an 18-year-old uncle of the complainant, was criminally charged for housebreaking with intent to rape and raping his 12-year-old niece. The complainant alleged that the defendant, on three separate occasions, came to the complainant’s home and raped her. The complainant’s mother found out after take the complainant to a clinic, which confirmed that she was pregnant, and confronting the defendant through the headman, as tradition dictates. According to the defendant, the complainant invited him to her home and agreed to have sex with him for money, specifically N$6. Given the conflicting testimony, the High Court of Namibia (“High Court”) found that the prosecution failed to prove the housebreaking with the intent to rape and rape charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In explaining its reasonable doubt, the Court cited the facts that complainant did not mention until her cross-examination that her uncle in fact gave her money on the day of the first rape, that she did not wake her seven-year-old brother or otherwise raise an “alarm” when her uncle arrived at her hut at night, and that she continued to withhold information from her mother “after her mother created a secure environment and the accused failed to execute his threat” to beat the complainant if she told anyone. Still, the Court did not believe the defendant’s testimony that his niece was a “great temptress.” Instead of homebreaking with intent to rape and rape as charged by the State, the High Court convicted the defendant under section 14, sexual offences with youths, of the Immoral Practices Act, 21 of 1980, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding N$40,000. The Court found that the State proved the three elements of that offense: the defendant (1) committed a sexual act with a child under the age of 16 (2) when he was more than three years older than her and (3) not married to her. Although the defendant claimed that he did not know the complainant’s age, the High Court held that, in order to avoid conviction, the defendant had the burden of proving that the complainant deceived him regarding her age. The defendant failed to provide such proof.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of Namibia (“Supreme Court”) affirmed the High Court of Namibia’s (“High Court”) decision in LM and Others v. Government of the Republic of Namibia that sterilization procedures require informed consent. The three respondents sued the Namibian government, alleging that doctors at state hospitals forcibly sterilized them without their consent in violation of their constitutional rights. They claimed that the forced sterilizations left them unable to bear children, ruined their marriage prospects, constituted discrimination against them based on their HIV status, and caused ongoing pain and suffering. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ claims lacked merit because they consented to the procedures. The court found that the alleged “consent” was deficient because the defendants failed to prove that they adequately informed the plaintiffs of the consequences of sterilization, or that the plaintiffs clearly and knowingly consented to the procedures before they went into labor. However, the Court found no evidence that the complainants were sterilized because of their HIV status and dismissed that claim. Emphasizing the serious personal nature of the decision, the Supreme Court stated that the decision to be sterilized “must be made with informed consent, as opposed to merely written consent” (¶ 3). The Supreme Court stated that the choice to undergo a sterilization procedure must lie solely with the patient noting that “there can be no place in this day and age for medical paternalism when it comes to the important moment of deciding whether or not to undergo a sterilisation procedure.” (¶ 106). The Supreme Court also denounced the practice of obtaining “consent” for sterilization during labor noting that patients may not fully appreciate the consequences of giving their consent when experiencing the immense pain involved in labour. The Supreme Court also agreed with the lower court that plaintiff-respondents did not provide any evidence that they were sterilized because of their HIV status.
Abraham Alfeus was convicted of murder with direct intent after admitting to shooting his intimate partner twice with a shotgun. The presiding judge, Naomi Shivute, read the ruling citing provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, Act 4 of 2003 and sentenced Alfeus to 30 years in prison. In the ruling Shivute stressed a need for stiffer sentences in response to extremely high levels of domestic violence against women and children in Namibia; including that it was a matter of protecting the constitutional right for human dignity, the rights of the victim, and in the interest of society generally. The judge’s ruling was meant to deter future domestic violence offenders and is an important precedent in Namibia where domestic violence runs rampant but is rarely prosecuted.
The State appeals the decision in the High Court to acquit the accused of all charges of rape and abduction of an 11 year old by taking her away from her guardian with the intent to have sexual intercourse with her. The Court reversed the acquittal and found the accused guilty on the charges of rape and abduction and affirmed an earlier judgment that the cautionary rule discriminates against women in violation of the Constitution and should only be used at a judge's discretion in extreme cases where there is some valid reason to question a complainant's veracity