Court shoots down NamRights

NamRights has described the court decision as shocking and its executive director Phil Ya Nangoloh vowed to appeal the “diehard ruling on child weddings”.

11 December 2019 | Justice

NamRights says it will “leave no stone unturned” in its bid to have a High Court ruling overturned, which said that the human rights organisation has no legal standing to approach the court to have the Olufuko festival banned.

On Friday, acting High Court judge Collins Parker dismissed the application brought by NamRights executive director Phil Ya Nangoloh for lack of legal standing.

The judge ordered NamRights to pay the costs of the four respondents who had opposed the matter - the government, the Ombalantu and Ombadja traditional authorities and former president Sam Nujoma.

Nujoma, the festival's patron, oversaw the official opening of the event in August.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down a NamRights media statement described the decision as shocking and Ya Nangoloh vowed to appeal the “diehard ruling on child weddings”.

NamRights said it will “leave no stone unturned” to have the ruling overturned.

It said the judgment is “destined to send shockwaves among women's rights groups, human rights lawyers, judges and legal experts around the world as well as the Law Reform and Development Commission of Namibia”.

NamRights previously stated that Olufuko is a harmful cultural practice that holds no value in terms of culture and tradition.

The organisation warned that the festival resembles a “trade fair where [children] are paraded in what can only be described as a strip show”.

“It is against the law and promotes patriarchy and is used to make women submissive.”

Ya Nangolo said the parading of half-naked girl children takes place without their consent and is contrary to Namibia's contemporary, civil, cultural, political and social customs and practices.



Standing

In his judgment Parker said NamRights, legally represented by Ya Nangoloh, had brought the application “on behalf of some nameless, phantom girl children who are not over the age of 18”.

The judge said NamRights had not placed “one iota of evidence before the court to explain the nature of the relationship the applicant has with the parents or guardians of the girl children and why those parents or guardians are unable to approach the court themselves for relief”.

Parker dismissed ya Nangoloh's argument that as a human rights organisation NamRights has the necessary legal standing to bring the case.

The judge said only persons directly involved in the matter are legally entitled to bring an application against the festival.

Ya Nangoloh on Friday said NamRights “at no point” claimed it acted on behalf of “the victims of Olufuko”.



Bad rites

He said the organisation believes that government's participation in “those child weddings are unconstitutional and it violates the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed under Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution”.

Ya Nangoloh said Parker had erred in law in his judgment and underlined that NamRights believes “such child wedding are unconstitutional”.

Parker on Friday said that the festival, which was revived in 2012, is a “rite of passage for girl children once they have experienced their first menstrual period”.

The judge said the practice was intended to “transition girl children to adulthood”, and like similar initiation rites on the continent, “is a traditional custom at the centre of preserving a girl child's sexual identity, self-respect and family honour”.

The judge added that the Olufuko festival “promotes proper sex education and discourages sexual encounters by girls before they are mature and responsible”.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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