Editorial: Put The Welfare Of Our Children First

Editorial: Put The Welfare Of Our Children First

IT is encouraging that many members of the National Council are increasingly lending weight to their pivotal parliamentary role as a House of Review.This was underscored last week by the Council’s decision to refer the Children’s Status Bill to its Committee on Gender, Youth and Information for further scrutiny.

Rightfully so. They have also shown themselves to be responsive to civil society concerns.Rightfully so.In the words of NC Vice Chairperson, Margreth Mensah-Williams, “The Children’s Status Bill is too important just to be passed like that by us.”The bill is set to play an important role in the lives of children, defining many of the rights to be accorded to particularly youngsters who are already discriminated against.It provides for children to be treated equally, regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of marriage, and also gives equal child-custody rights to both parents of a child born outside of marriage.While correct legislation can never be put in place quickly enough, it is vital that what is approved goes through the rigours of debate, that due diligence is applied in assessing the impact of clauses that have the potential to affect, if not shape, people’s lives for better or worse, and that the rights of those affected are weighed with sensitivity and fairness.The role of the National Council in ensuring that this happens cannot be underestimated.NC lawmakers, in essence, should act as our safety net.They need to test the decisions of their colleagues in the National Assembly, and show no fear or favour in referring legislation for further scrutiny.While it was perhaps too much to have expected the House of Review to indulge in a more sober debate on the emotive issue of the Founding Father of the Namibian Nation Bill, their reasoning on the Children’s Status Bill is well founded.Members were in favour of the bill but felt that a number of loopholes had been overlooked in the National Assembly, which appeared to rush through the legislation to get it out of the way.But a number of issues remain to be sorted out: more clarity on who gains guardianship over a child when both parents die; and, possible additional vetting on applications for custody to try and eliminate one or the other parent seeking custody for financial gain.A burning issue which still needs to be resolved is a loophole which could allow rapists to claim full parental rights over a child born from such an offence, or even try and claim custody of the child.According to civil society organisations, a woman who is raped will not even be able to give up the child for adoption without the consent of the rapist.How this could ever be in the interest of a child is incomprehensible.As incomprehensible is how the National Assembly could have overlooked something that will militate against the welfare of the vulnerable in our society, the very young people the legislation is designed to protect.While some concerns were raised by some National Assembly Members of Parliament, when push came to shove, haste won the day.To say “pass now, we can amend later” is not good enough.The consequences can be costly – both in financial and human terms.The Children’s Status Bill is long overdue, and must be welcomed.But it is imperative that once in place, the legislation gives effect to its prime purpose: nurturing and protecting the rights of children who have, in the past, often either been marginalised or used as a domestic football in parental power play.What a tragedy it would be, if the legislation ended up lending itself to the abuse of those it is meant to protect.In the case of this legislation, the welfare of our children has to be the overriding consideration.They have also shown themselves to be responsive to civil society concerns.Rightfully so.In the words of NC Vice Chairperson, Margreth Mensah-Williams, “The Children’s Status Bill is too important just to be passed like that by us.”The bill is set to play an important role in the lives of children, defining many of the rights to be accorded to particularly youngsters who are already discriminated against.It provides for children to be treated equally, regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of marriage, and also gives equal child-custody rights to both parents of a child born outside of marriage.While correct legislation can never be put in place quickly enough, it is vital that what is approved goes through the rigours of debate, that due diligence is applied in assessing the impact of clauses that have the potential to affect, if not shape, people’s lives for better or worse, and that the rights of those affected are weighed with sensitivity and fairness.The role of the National Council in ensuring that this happens cannot be underestimated.NC lawmakers, in essence, should act as our safety net.They need to test the decisions of their colleagues in the National Assembly, and show no fear or favour in referring legislation for further scrutiny.While it was perhaps too much to have expected the House of Review to indulge in a more sober debate on the emotive issue of the Founding Father of the Namibian Nation Bill, their reasoning on the Children’s Status Bill is well founded.Members were in favour of the bill but felt that a number of loopholes had been overlooked in the National Assembly, which appeared to rush through the legislation to get it out of the way.But a number of issues remain to be sorted out: more clarity on who gains guardianship over a child when both parents die; and, possible additional vetting on applications for custody to try and eliminate one or the other parent seeking custody for financial gain.A burning issue which still needs to be resolved is a loophole which could allow rapists to claim full parental rights over a child born from such an offence, or even try and claim custody of the child.According to civil society organisations, a woman who is raped will not even be able to give up the child for adoption without the consent of the rapist.How this could ever be in the interest of a child is incomprehensible.As incomprehensible is how the National Assembly could have overlooked something that will militate against the welfare of the vulnerable in our society, the very young people the legislation is designed to protect.While some concerns were raised by some National Assembly Members of Parliament, when push came to shove, haste won the day.To say “pass now, we can amend later” is not good enough.The consequences can be costly – both in financial and human terms.The Children’s Status Bill is long overdue, and must be welcomed.But it is imperative that once in place, the legislation gives effect to its prime purpose: nurturing and protecting the rights of children who have, in the past, often either been marginalised or used as a domestic football in parental power play.What a tragedy it would be, if the legislation ended up lending itself to the abuse of those it is meant to protect.In the case of this legislation, the welfare of our children has to be the overriding consideration.

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