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Namibia: Forced marriages, including whether families choose, for a spouse, someone who is a cousin, or uncle; whether polygamy is practiced; state protection available for those who defy traditional customs

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 10 May 2011
Citation / Document Symbol NAM103733.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Namibia: Forced marriages, including whether families choose, for a spouse, someone who is a cousin, or uncle; whether polygamy is practiced; state protection available for those who defy traditional customs, 10 May 2011, NAM103733.E, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
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.

Forced marriages

A press statement issued in December 2005 by the Women's Leadership Centre (WLC) -- "an organisation that primarily aims at promoting women's writing by focusing on women's rights, culture and HIV-AIDS" in Namibia (The Namibian 30 Aug. 2007) -- identifies forced marriages as a harmful practice that violates women's rights:

Arranged marriages and forced marriages for young women are also common practice in some communities in Namibia. Young women are given away to uncles and cousins, usually men who are much older [than] themselves. Young women in these communities do not have a choice; parents and other clan members decide to whom they will be given into marriage. …

Other forms of forced marriage take place when a woman is forced to marry her deceased sister's husband, or when a widow is forced to marry her brother-in-law or another relative of her deceased husband; again to keep the wealth in the extended family. (WLC 12 Dec. 2005)

According to the statement by the WLC, a woman's choice on who she marries is made by her family in order to "keep the wealth within the extended family" (ibid.). Four years later, in 2009, the Director of the WLC wrote again that Namibian women are still raised to accept harmful practices such as forced marriages (New Internationalist 1 July 2009).

A 2009 report that identifies and discusses ways of reaching vulnerable adolescents in Namibia also indicates that there are situations in which young women between 10 and 14 years old are "fleeing a forced marriage" or "may already be child brides" (Population Council and UNFPA 2009, 23). The report was written by the Population Council -- "an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization" involved in conducting research "to improve policies, programs, and products" on poverty, gender, and youth, among others -- and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (ibid., ii). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), in Namibia, said that, although they do not have any statistical information on forced marriages, they are aware that they exist (LAC 16 Apr. 2011).

p class="refinfo-body">However, the Namibian Constitution states that "marriage shall be entered into only with the free will and full consent of the intending spouses" (Namibia 1990, Art. 14(2)). According to the Coordinator for the Gender Research and Advocacy Project, this means that "any person" must give his or her consent to becoming engaged or married (LAC 16 Apr. 2011). The Coordinator also indicated that there is a Child Care and Protection Bill that has not yet been tabled in Parliament that will address "harmful social, cultural and religious practices" by reiterating the requirement for consent and providing a penalty for those who contravene it (ibid.).

Practice of polygamy

Prisca N. Anyolo, a contributor to Children's Rights in Namibia, a publication funded by the Namibian office of the Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung think tank, defines polygyny in Namibia as one man marrying several women, and cites a 1995 book on marriage and customary law in Namibia which explains that traditional marriages performed under customary law are "potentially polygynous" (Anyolo 2009, 255). She adds that the book's authors say that customary marriage is understood "as a union between two families or kinship groups" rather than as a marriage between individuals (ibid.). Somewhat similarly, Namibia's combined second and third periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) indicates that "Namibian law does not require the registration of customary marriages" and that they are viewed as "a union between the families of the bride and groom" (Namibia 2 Sept. 2005). Anyolo also points out that although customary law does not establish an age at which either men or women are to enter into a marriage contract, they do not normally do so before puberty or "the attainment of an acceptable level of social maturity" (Anyolo 2009, 255).

The Coordinator for the Gender Research and Advocacy Project said that polygamy is permitted in Namibia, but that it is not recognized by civil law (LAC 16 Apr. 2011). He also said that Namibia has a Recognition of Customary Marriages Bill that, if enacted, will ban polygamy (ibid.).

Further information on the practice of polygamy could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Anyolo, Prisca N. 2009. "Children in Polygynous Marriages from a Customary Perspective." Children's Rights in Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia: Macmillan Education Namibia. (Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung) [Accessed 18 Apr. 2011]

Legal Assistance Centre (LAC). 16 April 2011. Correspondence from the Coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project to the Research Directorate.

Namibia. 2 September 2005. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties: Namibia. (CEDAW/C/NAM/2-3) (Official Documents System of the United Nations) [Accessed 18 Apr. 2011]

_____. 1990. The Namibian Constitution. (United Nations Public Administration Network) [Accessed 21 Apr. 2011]

The Namibian [Windhoek]. 30 August. 2007. Kakunawe Shinaya. "Govt Urged to Up Efforts on Women's Issues." <<> [Accessed 9 May 2011]

New Internationalist [Oxford]. 1 July 2009. Elizabeth Ikhaxas. "Writing for Our Daughters: 'We Are Writing for Our Daughters, and to Bring About Changes in Our Cultures and Traditions'." (Factiva)

Population Council and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 2009. The Adolescent Experience In-depth: Using Data to Identify and Reach the Most Vulnerable Young People. Namibia 2006/07. [Accessed 27 Apr. 2011]

Women's Leadership Centre (WLC). 12 December 2005. "Harmful Cultural Practices and Beliefs for Women." (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) [Accessed 5 Apr. 2011]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: A professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, the Public Outreach Manager at the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) in Namibia, and an associate with the Population Council were unable to provide information for this Response. Attempts to contact the Director of the Human Rights and Documentation Centre (HRDC) at the University of Namibia, a representative of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the Executive Director of Women's Action for Development (WAD), and the Director of the Women's Leadership Centre in Namibia were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential [London]; AfricaFiles;;; Amnesty International; Factiva; FAWE; GBV Prevention Network; Gender Index; Human Rights Watch; Informanté [Windhoek]; Namibia Women's Health Network (NWHN); New Era [Windhoek]; United Nations (UN) - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Refworld; United States (US) Department of State; WAD; Women's Leadership Centre.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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