Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. The law defines rape as the commission of any sexual act under coercive circumstances. The courts tried numerous cases of rape during the year. The government generally enforced court sentences of those convicted, which ranged between five to 45 years’ imprisonment.
Factors hampering rape prosecutions included limited police capacity and the withdrawal of allegations by survivors after filing charges. Survivors often withdrew charges because they received compensation from the accused; succumbed to family pressure, shame, or threats; or became discouraged by the length of time involved in prosecuting a case.
Gender-based violence (GBV), particularly domestic violence, was a widespread problem. According to police data, more than 2,643 GBV cases were reported in 2020 and 2021. Police noted significant underreporting of abuses of children and from rural communities.
The government and media focused national attention on GBV. The president and first lady spoke out publicly against GBV; the Office of the First Lady actively promoted awareness of GBV and remedies in every region. Activists submitted a petition to the government demanding establishment of a register of convicted sexual offenders, a review of sentencing laws for conviction of sexual offenses and other GBV (including murder), hastening the investigation of all reported sexual offenses and other GBV cases, institution of armed neighborhood patrols, and an evaluation of school practices regarding victim shaming. The matter was debated in parliament, and the Ministry of Justice was instructed to spearhead public consultations concerning establishment of a register and the issues raised in the petition.
The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, and serious emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse, range from a token fine for simple offenses to sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
The law provides for procedural safeguards such as protection orders to protect GBV survivors. When authorities received reports of domestic violence, GBV protection units intervened. GBV units were staffed with police officers, social workers, legal advisors, and medical personnel trained to assist survivors of sexual assault. Some magistrates’ courts provided special courtrooms with a cubicle constructed of one-way glass and child-friendly waiting rooms to protect vulnerable witnesses from open testimony. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare operated shelters; however, due to staffing and funding shortfalls, the shelters operated only on an as-needed basis with social workers coordinating with volunteers to place survivors and provide them with food and other services.
In July the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court opened a GBV survivor-friendly lower court. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Child Welfare convenes quarterly GBV and Human Rights Cluster meetings with stakeholders in government and civil society. Police continued implementation of the GBV National Action Plan to improve responsiveness, expedite investigations, and promote collaborative and consultative interventions with stakeholders.
Sexual Harassment: The law explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. By law employers must formulate a workplace sexual harassment policy, including defined remedies. Employees who leave their jobs due to sexual harassment may be entitled to legal “remedies available to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed.”
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Supply chain problems limited access to contraceptives through the public sector.
GBV investigation units present at most state hospitals provided forensic examinations to survivors of sexual violence, including prompt access to medication to prevent HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases. Emergency contraception was not available. Access to postabortion care was very limited because by law abortion may only be performed under strict medical supervision in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 195 per 100,000 live births. A general lack of access to effective health care, including the treatment of eclampsia, resulted in prolonged labor complications and contributed to the high rate of maternal mortality. HIV and AIDS was the leading indirect cause of maternal mortality, linked to more than 4 percent of maternal deaths. According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate was 62 per 1,000 girls and one in four girls and women become pregnant before age 20. From 2010 to 2022, authorities recorded 160,800 adolescent pregnancies, an annual average of more than 13,000 pregnancies.
Discrimination: Civil law prohibits gender-based discrimination, including discrimination regarding employment, divorce, education, housing, and business and property ownership. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Women experienced some discrimination in employment and persistent discrimination in access to credit, salary level, owning and managing businesses, education, and housing. Some elements of customary family law provide for different treatment of women. Civil law grants maternity leave to mothers but not paternity leave to fathers. The law bases marital property solely on the domicile of the husband at the time of the marriage and sets grounds for divorce and divorce procedures differently for men and women. The law protects a widow’s right to remain on the land of her deceased husband, even if she remarries. Traditional practices in certain northern regions, however, permitted family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
By law all traditional communities participate without discrimination in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources. Nevertheless, due to their nomadic lifestyle, the San, the country’s earliest known inhabitants, were unable to exercise these rights effectively because of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities, and their relative isolation. Some San had difficulty obtaining a government identification card because they lacked birth certificates or other identification. Government identification cards are required to access government social programs and to register to vote. A lack of access to police, prosecutors, and courts prevented San women from reporting and seeking protection from GBV.
Indigenous lands were effectively demarcated but poorly managed. Many San community members lived on conservancy (communal) lands but were unable to prevent members of larger ethnic groups from using and exploiting those lands. Some San claimed regional officials failed to remove members of other ethnic groups from San lands. An October 2021 Amnesty International report stated unequal access to health care left the San community vulnerable to tuberculosis. The government responded the problem was not discrimination but a lack of San-speaking health-care providers.
Birth Registration: The constitution provides for citizenship by birth within the country to a citizen parent or a foreign parent ordinarily resident in the country, or to those born outside the country to citizen parents. Registration was provided on a nondiscriminatory basis. Nevertheless, many persons born in the country lacked birth registration and were therefore unable to prove their citizenship. Failure to register a child’s birth resulted in denial of public services, including education and social services. Single mothers registering a birth are not required to identify the child’s father.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem, and authorities prosecuted crimes against children, particularly rape and incest. By law the penalties for conviction of child abuse include a substantial fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare assigned social workers throughout the country to deal with cases of child abuse. They also conducted public-awareness campaigns aimed at preventing child abuse and raised awareness of services available to survivors.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits civil marriage for both boys and girls younger than age 18. There were reports of child or early marriages in rural areas.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child pornography, child sex trafficking, and the actions of both sex buyers and traffickers in cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18. NGOs reported HIV and AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children engaged in commercial sex without third-party involvement due to economic hardship and lack of support services.
The government enforced the law; perpetrators accused of the sexual exploitation of children were routinely charged and prosecuted. The penalties for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of a child (including through pornography) are a substantial fine, up to 30 years’ imprisonment, or both. The law makes special provisions to protect vulnerable witnesses, including individuals younger than age 18 or who were survivors of sexual offense.
An adult convicted of commercial sexual exploitation of a child may be sentenced for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for a first offense and up to 45 years’ imprisonment for a repeat offense. Any person convicted of aiding and abetting trafficking in persons, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, within the country or across the border is liable for a substantial fine or up to 50 years’ imprisonment.
The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. According to End Violence Against Children, a United Nations-funded platform for collective, evidence-based advocacy and action, 9.8 percent of girls and 5.1 percent of boys were subjected to sexual violence before age 18. The penalty for conviction of statutory rape, sex with a child younger than age 14 when the perpetrator is more than three years older than the survivor, is a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment if the survivor is younger than age 13 and a minimum of five years’ imprisonment if the child survivor is between ages 13 to 16. There is no minimum penalty for conviction of sexual relations with a child between ages 14 and 16. Possession of or trade in child pornography is illegal. The government trained police officers in handling child-sex-abuse cases. Centers for abused women and children worked to reduce the trauma suffered by abused children.
Infanticide, Including Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reported cases in which parents, usually young mothers, abandoned their newborns, sometimes leading to the newborn’s death. The government enforced prohibitions against this practice by investigating and prosecuting suspects.
There is a small Jewish community of fewer than 100 persons in the country, most of whom live in Windhoek. There were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: By law sodomy is criminalized. The law does not address penalties for conviction. There were no records or reports of enforcement of the law in recent years.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Despite progress in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons (LGBTQI+) human rights movement, widespread discrimination in access to judicial, health, and social services continued. Assaults on LGBTQI+ persons were underreported due to fear of official discrimination and potential legal consequences. NAMPOL faced increased scrutiny during the year due to its poor handling of sexual violence cases.
In January an LGBTQI+ rape survivor alleged discrimination by police and health-care providers, citing denied services in his attempt to report an assault and receive appropriate medical attention. In 2021 the High Court ruled in favor of a transgender woman who in 2018 sued the Ministry of Safety and Security for police physical abuse and awarded her 58,742 Namibian dollars ($3,400). Also in 2021, a transgender comedienne was attacked by a security guard who demanded that she present herself as a male.
Discrimination: The law does not address discrimination by state and nonstate actors based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Same-sex marriage is not recognized. Lower courts dismissed challenges to existing law and deferred adjudication to the Supreme Court. Past Supreme Court rulings sustained nonrecognition of same-sex couples.
LGBTQI+ persons encountered discrimination in education, employment, health care, and housing. A study released during the year found that some gender-nonconforming students were bullied or isolated in schools.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Authorities do not allow individuals to change their gender identity marker on legal and identifying documents to bring them into alignment with their gender identity.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: According to NGOs and LGBTQI+ community members, there were instances of “corrective” rape targeting LGBTQI+ individuals. No information was available on other so-called conversion therapy practices.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: LGBTQI+ persons and organizations enjoyed freedom of expression, association, and were not restricted from holding events, including a week-long Pride festival featuring a parade and a beauty contest.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities often did not have equal access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government did not provide information and communication on disability concerns in accessible formats.
The constitution protects the rights of “all members of the human family,” which is interpreted by domestic legal experts to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in any employment decision based on several factors, including any “degree of physical or mental disability.” It makes an exception in the case of a person with a disability unable to perform the duties or functions of the job in question. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and societal discrimination persisted.
By law official action is required to investigate and punish those accused of committing violence or abuse against persons with disabilities; authorities did so effectively.
The government requires the construction of government buildings to include ramps and other features facilitating access to persons with physical disabilities. The government, however, does not mandate retrofitting or other measures to provide such access to already constructed public buildings.
Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools. Blind and deaf children have the option to attend specialized schools. The law does not restrict the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but a lack of access to public venues hindered the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life.
The National Policy on Disability states the government must pursue equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities by removing barriers to full participation in all areas to allow persons with disabilities to reach a quality of life equal to that of other citizens.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, and according to the Namibian Employers’ Federation, discrimination based on HIV status was not a major problem in the workplace.
Societal discrimination and stigmatization against persons with HIV remained problems. Some jobs in the civilian sector require a pre-employment test for HIV; however, there were no reports of civilian employment discrimination specifically based on HIV or AIDS status.