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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Namibia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Namibia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1b40.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

NAMIBIA

Namibia is a multiparty, multiracial democracy with an independent judiciary. President Sam Nujoma, leader of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), won Namibia's first free elections in November 1989. President Nujoma and the SWAPO party received just over 70percent of the vote in the December 1994 Presidential and National Assembly elections, which, despite some irregularities, were generally regarded as free and fair. Although the Constitution limits the President to two terms in office, in May the SWAPO party congress recommended that the Constitution be amended to permit President Nujoma to run for a third term in 1999.

The police, supervised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Namibian Defense Force (NDF), supervised by the Ministry of Defense, share responsibility for internal security. The civilian authorities maintain effective control over the security forces, although members of the police force committed some human rights abuses.

Namibia's modern market sector produces most of its wealth, while a traditional subsistence agricultural sector (mainly in the north) supports most of its labor force. The principal exports are diamonds and other minerals, cattle, and fish. Mining, ranching, and fishing--the mainstays of the market sector--are still largely controlled by white Namibians and foreign interests. Government policy, however, is to Namibianize the increasingly important fishing sector, so that more indigenous entrepreneurs are able to participate, and to provide opportunities for black Namibians in the potentially lucrative and labor-intensive tourism industry. Per capita annual gross domestic product is $1,860. There remains, however, a wide disparity between income levels of blacks and whites. Whites have an average per capita income of $14,000 a year and many of the poorest blacks earn just $65 a year.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although there were problems in several areas. There continued to be credible reports that police beat or otherwise abused criminal suspects. Using an apartheid-era law, the President attempted to ban public demonstrations that did not have prior police approval. Police in the north broke up a private meeting between attorneys and their ethnic minority clients. The ruling party voted to amend the local election law in a manner that favored the ruling party's chances in local elections. In addition, the President and other high government and ruling party officials made repeated, well-publicized verbal attacks on the independent press. The Government rejected a request by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hold hearings in Namibia and still refuses to provide a full accounting of missing detainees who were in SWAPO camps before independence. Namibian defense forces admitted to seven cases of extrajudicial killings since 1994 along the northern border with Angola. Prison conditions remain harsh, and a large court backlog continues to lead to lengthy delays of trials.

Although violence against women and children, including rape and child abuse, continue to be serious problems, the President, members of his Cabinet, and parliamentarians have spoken out forcefully on these problems which are receiving significant attention at all levels of government. Women married under customary law, however, continue to experience serious legal and cultural discrimination. Relatively little has been done to elevate women to high-level positions in government and the ruling party despite promises by the President to nominate more women. Racial and ethnic discrimination and glaring disparities--especially in education, health, employment, and working conditions--continued despite sustained efforts by the Government to reduce them. Discrimination against indigenous people persists, and the problem was exacerbated during the year by governmental actions involving Bushmen.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

After repeated prodding by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), in July the Government admitted that since 1994, seven civilians had been killed by Namibian security forces along the northern border with Angola. The admission came after the Namibian Defense Force and the Ministry of Defense conducted an investigation into charges that over a thousand civilians had disappeared along the Angolan border (see Section 1.b.). One NDF officer was charged with murder and another was found guilty of culpable homicide. Investigations into the other killings were ongoing.

b. Disappearance

While there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, a local NGO charged that more than 1,500 persons disappeared along the northern border with Angola after being deported by Namibian security forces. This charge has not been substantiated, and an investigation by the Ministry of Defense found that seven civilians had been killed by Namibian Security Forces (see Section 1.a.). Human rights organizations, political parties, and the public continued to call for a full accounting of unexplained disappearances of persons detained by SWAPO prior to independence. In August 1996, President Nujoma released the long-promised, official SWAPO memorial book, known as the Heroes Book, which lists the names of nearly 8,000 people who died during the liberation struggle. Local human rights organizations harshly criticized the book, characterizing it as an unconvincing cover-up and declaring that the listing is fraught with inaccuracies and omissions regarding those who died or disappeared in SWAPO detention camps.

SWAPO was again viewed widely in 1997 as having failed to deal forthrightly with the missing detainee issue. In May the Government formally rejected a request by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hold hearings in Namibia. Such a hearing might have shed light on disappearances that occurred on both sides during the liberation struggle. While some of the Government's critics would be satisfied with an official apology for SWAPO abuses against these detainees, others are pressing for full accountability through a truth commission, prosecutions, and convictions.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution provides that no persons shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. There were published newspaper reports, however, that members of the police beat or otherwise abused civilians, either during arrest or in police station houses in the northern towns of Oshakati, Ombalantu, and Omungwelume. Twenty-five official complaints of police brutality were recorded as of July. According to human rights organizations, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of police brutality, and the problem remains particularly acute in northern areas. One human rights advocate noted that the increase in reported cases of brutality was likely due in part to growing public awareness of citizens' rights and a willingness to report such cases. The Attorney General has ordered a full investigation of these complaints.

Prison conditions are harsh, and during the year there was at least one case of a prisoner being murdered by fellow inmates in a crowded cell. Human rights organizations continued to complain about prison overcrowding. In March 1995, the Government created a Ministry of Prisons and Correctional Services, charged with administering the country's prisons and jails. The Ministry emphasizes correctional and rehabilitation functions, including vocational training, and has made some concrete progress. The Government is also making efforts to separate youthful offenders from adult criminals, although in many remote and rural areas juveniles continue to be held with adults.

The Government continued to grant NGO's and diplomatic officials regular access to prisons and prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution forbids arbitrary arrest or detention, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice. According to the Constitution, persons who are arrested must be informed of the reason for their arrest and must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of their detention. The accused are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice, and those who cannot afford a lawyer are entitled to state-provided counsel. In practice, however, many accused persons in remote and rural areas are not legally represented, primarily due to resource constraints. A trial must take place within a reasonable time, or the accused must be released. Human rights organizations criticized the length of time that pretrial detainees were held, which stretched up to 1 year in many cases while investigations were pending.

Some traditional leaders reportedly continued to detain and imprison persons accused of minor offenses without recourse to police or judicial review. The Government continued training traditional leaders on the legal limits of their authority.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

The formal court system has three levels: 30 magistrates' courts, the High Court, and the Supreme Court. The latter also serves as the court of appeals and as a constitutional review court.

Most rural Namibians first encounter the legal system through the traditional courts, which deal with minor criminal offenses, such as petty theft and infractions of local customs, among members of the same ethnic group. A special commission, created to make recommendations on the prospective jurisdiction of traditional courts, concluded that traditional cultural practices and structures should be maintained, provided that they were consistent with constitutional protections and existing laws. The Traditional Authorities Act delineates which offenses may be dealt with under the traditional system.

The constitutional right to a fair trial, with a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, is generally afforded by the judiciary. However, long delays in hearing cases in the regular courts and problems associated with the traditional system limit this right in practice.

The lack of qualified magistrates, other court officials, and private attorneys has resulted in a serious backlog of criminal cases, which often translated into long delays of up to a year or more between arrest and trial. Many of those awaiting trial are treated as convicted criminals. This practice contravenes Namibia constitutional provisions for the right to a speedy trial.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides all citizens with the right to privacy and requires arresting officers to secure a judicial warrant before conducting a search. Government authorities respected these rights in practice, and violations were subject to legal action.

Under the Central Intelligence Service bill passed by the National Assembly in July, this agency is authorized to conduct wiretaps, intercept mail, and engage in other covert activities, both inside and outside the country in the interests of national security. Wiretaps and other forms of covert surveillance, however, require the consent of a judge.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights.

Reporters for independent newspapers criticize the Government openly and do not engage in self-censorship. During the year, there was a series of attacks on the private media by the President, the Prime Minister, and other members of the Government. These attacks included charges that the independent press was foreign owned and an enemy press. While such charges may have been calculated to quiet criticism, they do not appear to have had any impact on the aggressive style of the independent media.

The government-owned Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) operates most radio and television services. NBC provided significant coverage to opposition points of view. Some believe that NBC reporters exercise self-censorship on certain controversial issues, such as the question of missing detainees and the issue of a third term for President Nujoma. Despite these complaints, NBC is generally balanced in its reporting.

There are three private radio stations, one private television station in the town of Rehoboth, and a private cable and satellite television service that broadcasts Cable News Network, British Broadcasting Corporation, and a range of South African and international news and entertainment programs. There are no restrictions on the private ownership of satellite dishes.

On October 28, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MOIB) issued new regulations that require foreign journalists seeking to visit Namibia to provide 1 month's advance notice to the MOIB, stating the purpose of their proposed visit. Journalists are required to schedule appointments with government officials through the MOIB and request permission to visit areas under the control of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Additionally, journalists must obtain a temporary work permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs. There were no reports of complaints from journalists.

The Government respects academic freedom. During the year there were numerous seminars held at universities and other venues in Windhoek on controversial issues.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association.

While in the past the Government has generally respected these rights in practice, in July the President announced a ban on all public demonstrations that did not have prior police approval. This ban was based on an apartheid-era law. The ban was selectively enforced in late July when police in the northern town of Okanguati broke up private meetings between a public interest law firm and its clients, Himba tribesmen opposed to the construction of the Epupa Dam, which the Government supports (see Section 5). In August the High Court struck down the 1989 law used by the President to justify the ban. The Government plans to appeal.

During the year various organizations, including political parties, religious groups, women's organizations, students, and unemployed and former combatants held large meetings and public gatherings without interference.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and UNHCR officials have observed a marked improvement in the Government's refugee policy. The Government's eligibility committee has met on a regular basis to consider asylum requests. Refugee status has been accorded to a number of asylum seekers, and those rejected are generally not being deported. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status, although illegal immigrants are often detained in prisons for long periods of time before being deported.

Namibia is a first asylum country and continues to permit asylum seekers to enter the country. There are presently more than 2,200 refugees and asylum seekers at Osire camp, 90percent of whom are from Angola. The rest are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and other African countries. Asylum seekers are interviewed by government officials, and those granted refugee status are permitted to work and attend school including the University of Namibia. Schools have been established at the Osire refugee camp. Residents are free to leave the unfenced facility, and many travel to Windhoek and other towns on personal business and to sell handicrafts. On November 29, 129 Angolan refugees were voluntarily repatriated to Angola. There were no credible reports that persons were forcibly returned to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercised this right for the second time in December 1994 in what observers generally agreed, despite some irregularities, to be free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. The Government printed and distributed useful and informative voter guides with lists of government and opposition candidates and requested international election observers. There were televised debates, and the opposition parties were able to campaign freely. Two new parties were established during the year.

The Constitution establishes a bicameral parliament and provides for general elections every 5 years and regional elections every 6 years. Incumbent President Sam Nujoma was reelected to a second 5-year term of office during the country's first postindependence elections for the National Assembly and Presidency in December 1994. Although the Constitution limits the President to two terms, in May the ruling SWAPO party's national congress recommended that the Constitution be amended to permit President Nujoma to serve a third term.

The ruling SWAPO party holds 53 of the 72 elected National Assembly seats, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA, the major opposition party) has 15 seats, and three smaller parties occupy a total of 4 seats. Members of the National Assembly are elected on a party list system on a proportional basis.

In April the ruling SWAPO party voted to changed the voting procedure, under the Local Authorities Act, for local elections to be held early next year. The change required local elections to be held on a party list instead of a ward system. It is generally believed that the party list system favors the ruling SWAPO party, although SWAPO claimed that it amended the law to promote more female candidates and because wards could not be delineated in time for the scheduled elections. Opposition members walked out of Parliament in protest when SWAPO used its overwhelming majority to amend the Local Authorities Act.

Women are increasingly involved in the political process but remain seriously underrepresented despite promises by SWAPO to increase the number of women on the party's appointed central committee. There are 2 female ministers and 3 female deputy ministers out of a total of 42 ministerial and deputy ministerial positions. In addition, two women hold cabinet-level positions, as Director of the Department of Women Affairs in the Office of the President and Director of the National Planning Commission, and another woman serves as Ombudswoman. Women hold 15 of 98 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly and National Council. In 1996 female legislators formed a Women's Caucus in Parliament to review legislation for gender sensitivity. Historic economic and educational disadvantages have served to limit the participation of the indigenous San ethnic group in politics, although virtually all of Namibia's other ethnic minorities are represented in Parliament and the Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local nongovernmental organizations, such as the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) and the Legal Assistance Center, the Breaking the Walls of Silence Movement, and those working with the Himbas in opposition to the Epupa Dam, freely criticized the Government's handling of the SWAPO detainee issue, the ban on public demonstrations, misconduct by security forces along the border, and discrimination against women and indigenous ethnic groups. In addition, other human rights organizations such as the Media Institute for Southern Africa, the Center for Applied Social Sciences, and the Human Rights Documentation Center worked openly on a variety of human rights issues affecting the press, women, ethnic minorities, and other groups.

Although no specific grounds were made public, the Government briefly questioned the admission of the National Society for Human Rights to consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), but in February it decided not to prevent the NGO from associating with the U.N. body.

Representatives of international human rights organizations traveled to Namibia and discussed human rights issues with governmental and nongovernmental representatives.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, gender, or religion, and specifically prohibits the practice and ideology of apartheid. Over the past year, there was a significant improvement in the attention paid to women's issues and the rights of the disabled.

Women

Violence against women, including beating and rape, is widespread. Traditional attitudes regarding the subordination of women exacerbate problems of sexual and domestic violence. In 1997, however, there was a dramatic improvement in the attention paid to the problems of rape and domestic violence. Government ministers joined in public protests against violence. The President, members of his Cabinet, and parliamentarians spoke out forcefully against violence and called for longer prison sentences for sexual offenders. Model rape legislation, prepared by the Women's Law Reform and Development Commission, was introduced in Parliament. Courts handed down longer prison sentences to convicted rapists, and police confirm that more women were coming forward to report cases of rape and domestic violence. Centers for abused women and children in Oshakati, Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Walvis Bay, and Rehoboth are staffed with specially trained female police officers to assist victims of sexual assaults.

In 1996 the President elevated the head of the Department of Women Affairs to cabinet rank. The passage in that year of the Married Persons Equality Act also eliminated discriminatory practices against women married under civil law. Women married in customary (traditional) marriages continue to face legal and cultural discrimination. During the year, Oshiwambo chiefs denounced traditional practices that permit family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children. Efforts are underway to address this issue and the problem has been considerably reduced.

Children

The Constitution enumerates children's rights, including those in the area of education and health. The Government devotes 31 percent of the national budget to education and an additional 15 to 20 percent towards health. In practice, however, outmoded policies and laws and an untrained work force lead to inadequate attention to child welfare. Many San children do not attend school, and it is difficult for the Government to afford basic protections to children living on remote commercial farms.

Child abuse is a serious and increasingly acknowledged problem. The authorities vigorously prosecuted cases involving crimes against children, particularly rape and incest. One particularly heinous sexual assault on a baby was widely publicized in the media and led to a national outcry against the problem of sexual attacks on children. Courts are handing down stiffer sentences against child rapists and the Government is providing training for police officials to improve the handling of child sex abuse cases. Centers for abused women and children are actively working to reduce the trauma suffered by abused children.

The Government is expanding programs to separate juvenile offenders from adults in the criminal justice system.

People With Disabilities

While discrimination on the basis of disability is not addressed in the Constitution, the Labor Act of 1992 prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in employment. However, enforcement in this area is weak.

The Government does not legally require special access to public buildings for the disabled, and many ministries remain inaccessible to the disabled. Some municipal governments, however, have installed ramps and special curbing for the disabled at street crossings.

Indigenous People

The Bushmen, also known as the San people, the country's earliest known inhabitants, historically have been exploited by other ethnic groups. While the Government has taken a number of measures to end this societal discrimination against the San, including seeking their advice about proposed legislation on communally held lands and increasing their access to primary education, little has been done to bring San representatives into the Government.

By law all indigenous groups are able to participate equally in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocations of natural resources. Nevertheless, the Bushmen and other indigenous citizens have been unable to exercise fully these rights as a result of minimal access to education and economic opportunities under colonial rule, coupled with their relative isolation in remote areas of the country.

In January authorities arrested 73 members of the Hai//om Bushmen community for blocking the gates to a national game park. The Bushmen were protesting in support of the return of their ancestral lands which had been seized in order to create the park. The Hai//om maintained that their previous requests to discuss the case with government officials had been ignored. The protesters were released on bail, and later in the year the case was dropped.

In April the Government unilaterally announced plans to expand a prison in the West Caprivi Game Park on land claimed by the Kxoe ethnic group. The expansion would deny access by members of the Kxoe ethnic group to revenues from community-based tourism projects on their lands. There is some question, however, regarding the Kxoe's right to occupy that land. The project was an important mechanism for empowering the Kxoe to benefit from tourism activities in their community.

The Government's plans to build a dam on the Kunene river that would flood ancestral graves and grazing areas of the seminomadic Himba people proved controversial. The Government has made repeated efforts to consult with Himba leaders regarding the project, but many of the Himba chiefs remain adamantly opposed to the project. Namibian leaders have harshly criticized those opposed to the project, terming them enemies of development. In July police in Okanguati broke up a private meeting between Himba chiefs and their lawyers (see Section 2.b.).

The Traditional Authorities Act, which came into effect in December 1995, defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders. The act provides that customary law that is inconsistent with provisions of the Constitution is invalid and it enumerates the types of crimes that may be dealt with in traditional courts. The act assigns to traditional leaders the role of guardians of culture and tradition, and also mandates that traditional leaders elected to Parliament choose between their traditional and elected offices before the end of 1996. This provision has not been enforced, and several traditional leaders remain in Parliament.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race and other factors and specifically prohibits the practice and ideology of apartheid. Nevertheless, as a result of more than 70 years of South African administration, societal, racial, and ethnic discrimination persists, and some apartheid-based statutes have not yet been repealed or replaced by the Parliament. Many nonwhites continued to complain that the Government was not moving quickly enough in education, health, housing, employment, and access to land.

Some opposition parties, including members of the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, also complained that the SWAPO-led Government provided more development assistance to the numerically dominant Ovambo ethnic group of far northern Namibia than to other groups or regions of the country. Nevertheless, members of smaller ethnic groups hold prominent government posts, including the offices of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Speaker of the National Assembly. In June leaders of the Baster community in Rehoboth reconciled with the Government and dropped their demand that the Government return the community's traditional lands which had reverted to the central Government upon independence.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, including freedom to form and join trade unions. The 1992 Labor Act extended that right to public servants, farm workers, and domestic employees. Trade unions have no difficulty registering, and there are no government restrictions on who may serve as a union official. No union has been dissolved by government action. During the year, the Namibian public service held vigorously contested union elections.

Unions are independent of Government and may form federations. The two principal trade union umbrella organizations are the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), and the Namibia People's Social Movement (NPSM). The larger NUNW continues to maintain its strong affiliation with the ruling SWAPO party. Roughly half of the wage sector is organized to some degree, although less than 20 percent of full-time wage earners are organized.

Except for workers providing essential services (e.g., jobs related to public health and safety) and workers in the nascent export processing zones (EPZ's), workers enjoy the right to strike once conciliation procedures have been exhausted. Under the Labor Act, strike action can only be used in disputes involving specific worker interests, such as pay raises. Disputes over worker rights, including dismissals, must be referred to a labor court (which is convened when needed in the existing magisterial districts) for arbitration. The Labor Act protects legally striking workers from unfair dismissal.

Unemployment, which is nearly 40 percent, remained a significant problem in Namibia, affecting largely the black majority. Apartheid-era attitudes among some employers contributed to a divisive, 10-week strike at a major mining firm. While the atmosphere at the three mine sites was tense and occasionally violent, the confrontation was eventually defused by high-level government intervention.

Trade unions are free to exchange visits with foreign trade unions and to affiliate with international trade union organizations. Unions have exercised this right without interference. The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, through its African-American Labor Center representative in South Africa, provided technical assistance to the NUNW during regular visits to Namibia.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1992 Labor Act provides employees with the right to bargain individually or collectively. Collective bargaining is not widely practiced outside the mining and construction industries; wages are usually set by employers. As unions become more active, however, informal collective bargaining is becoming more common.

The Labor Act provides a process for employer recognition of trade unions and protection for members and organizers. The law also empowers the labor court to remedy unfair labor practices and explicitly forbids unfair dismissals, which may be appealed to the labor court.

The Labor Act applies to the prospective EPZ in Walvis Bay. A compromise on this point was reached by the Government and NUNW representatives in August 1995. However, trade unionists continued to challenge the constitutionality of the compromise because it precludes strikes and lockouts. Under the compromise, labor-related issues in the EPZ would be referred to a special EPZ Dispute Settlement Panel, composed of employers and workers, for expeditious resolution. With only a few businesses operating in the Walvis Bay EPZ, the effectiveness of this compromise in securing the rights of workers in the EPZ could not yet be determined.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced and bonded labor of adults and children is prohibited by law. During the year there were ongoing reports in the media that farm and domestic workers often receive inadequate compensation for their labor and are subject to strict control by employers. Ministry of Labor inspectors sometimes encountered problems in gaining access to the country's large, privately owned commercial farms in order to document possible Labor Code violations.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children (see Section 6.c.). Under the 1992 Labor Act, the minimum age for employment is 14 years, with higher age requirements for certain sectors such as mining, construction, and night work. Ministry of Labor inspectors generally enforce minimum age regulations, but children below the age of 14 often work on family and commercial farms, and in the informal sector. A 1991 census report on the status of children estimates that 13,800 children under 15 years of age are already in the labor force. Of these, 41 percent are working as unpaid laborers on family and commercial farms. Boys in rural areas traditionally start herding livestock at the age of 7. According to 1991 figures, approximately 2 percent of farm workers are children (mainly from the San ethnic group). There were also reports that Angolan and Zambian children, who are not protected by the Labor Act, worked on communal and cattle farms in border areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no statutory minimum wage law. In Windhoek's nonwhite townships, many workers and their families have difficulty maintaining a minimally decent standard of living. White citizens earn significantly more on average than do black citizens, in large part because whites own most of the country's productive resources and have had access to education that enables them to take advantage of the skilled labor shortage.

After independence the standard legal workweek was reduced from 46 to 45 hours, and includes at least one 24-hour rest period per week. An employer may require no more than 10 hours per week of overtime. The law mandates 24 consecutive days of annual leave, at least 30 workdays of sick leave per year, and 3 months of unpaid maternity leave. In practice, however, these provisions are not yet rigorously observed or enforced by the Ministry of Labor. In 1996 two important NGO studies--one of farm workers and the other of domestic employees--highlighted the dismal conditions which some employees encounter while working in these occupations.

The Government mandates occupational health and safety standards. The Labor Act empowers the President to enforce them through inspections and criminal penalties. The law requires employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. It provides employees with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations.

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