The main piece of legislation on children since independence has been the Children’s Act 33 of 1960, a South African law which was inherited by Namibia at Independence.
Shortly after Namibia became independent in 1990, it became clear that this law needed replacement. In 1994, the Ministry of Health and Social Services commissioned the Legal Assistance Centre and the Human Rights and Documentation Centre to prepare draft children’s legislation. To make the law less unwieldy, the initial draft legislation was split into two pieces– a Children’s Status Bill and a Child Care and Protection Bill.
The draft bills were subsequently delayed by various political factors, including the creation of a new Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare in 2000. (The Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare was renamed the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare in 2005).
Since the two draft bills had lain dormant for some time, the Ministry solicited additional input from interested parties at a three-day workshop held near Windhoek in October 2001, while a smaller group of stakeholders continued discussion on the Children’s Status Bill at a workshop in Windhoek in April 2002.
The Ministry appointed a Task Force of persons with expertise in children’s issues to propose refinements to the two draft bills on the basis of the recommendations made at these workshops. The Task Force met during 2002 and early 2003. The draft legislation was submitted to the technical legal drafters in the Ministry of Justice in 2003, along with minutes of the Task Force meetings containing recommendations for revision.
The Children’s Status Bill was tabled in Parliament in 2003 and passed in late 2006 after extensive amendments were made to it at Cabinet and as a result of committee hearings held by both the National Assembly and the National Council. It came into force in December 2008.
Changes in personnel at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare interrupted the progress of the lengthier Child Care and Protection Bill, which remained with the technical drafters at the Ministry of Justice until mid-2008. In 2008 the Child Care and Protection Bill was identified as a law reform priority and the revision process was restarted.
A revised draft Child Care and Protection Bill was completed by the Ministry of Justice in 2008. Since South Africa had recently replaced its child protection law, this draft was based primarily on South Africa’s new Children’s Act 38 of 2005 rather than on the previous Namibian drafts. Because of the extended lapse of time since the last public consultations, and the many developments in the state of Namibian children during the intervening period, a new round of public and stakeholder consultation was undertaken to ensure that the proposed law would meet the needs of Namibia.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare made extensive efforts to solicit public input, with support from UNICEF and technical assistance from the Legal Assistance Centre,. The consultation processes included national and regional workshops, outreach through radio, television and newspaper, and a Facebook group. Many outreach initiatives were aimed specifically at children, using child-friendly materials on the draft bill. Other persons consulted included regional councillors, traditional leaders, social workers, community activists and members of civil society. Input was also received from international experts based on three continents. All of the input was considered, and used as the basis for a revised bill which was approved in December 2009 by the Technical Working Group which guided the consultation process.
A decision was made to reunite the two pieces of legislation, with the Children’s Status Act being set for replacement by a chapter in the Child Care and Protection Act to ensure complete harmonisation of the two laws.
The Child Care and Protection Bill was considered by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation in July 2011 and again in March 2012, and after some revisions tabled in Parliament in September 2014. The National Assembly passed it with amendments to three clauses in October 2014. It was tabled in the National Council in November 2014, and referred to a Joint Committee comprising members of both houses for additional consultations. It was re-introduced in the National Assembly in the next session of Parliament, with a recommendation for minor amendments in March 2015. The National Assembly accepted the amendment proposed by the National Council and made some additional amendments. The Bill was passed in March 2015, signed by the President on 22 April 2015 and gazetted on 29 May 2015. However, due to delays in drafting the accompanying regulations and forms, it was set to come into force only in 2019.