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Setting minimum standards for residential child care in Namibia

© Bep van Slotten 2009
Three residents of a children’s home draw pictures of their ideal home during a session to help the Namibian Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare design Minimum Standards for Residential Child Care Facilities.

By Natasha Bissessur

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

WINDHOEK, Namibia, 12 Aug 2009 – Treza Cooper has been living at the Namibia Children’s Home for three years. She’s a bright and dedicated student and is involved in many activities at her school. When she was asked to become the Child Representative to a group developing Minimum Standards of Residential Child Care Facilities (RCCF), she accepted the challenge.

When the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW) launched the ground-breaking Minimum Standards programme at the government-run home where Treza lives, she was on hand to watch.

“The facilitators asked us children to play games and draw pictures of the RCCFs we’d like to live in. Little did we know they would become tools for the finalisation of the standards in the future,” Treza said.

Orphans and vulnerable children

According to a 2006 Demographic Health Survey by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Namibia has an estimated 155,000 orphans, and 250,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), which encompass more than a quarter of all children in Namibia.  Extended families are increasingly overwhelmed with the caring burden, and alternative care systems are under strain.

Over 105,000 children receive government child welfare grants to help their families provide for their care and support, according to the MGECW. However there is increasing pressure on the 42 registered RCCFs currently caring for over 1,000 children who require residential care.

A need for minimum standards

Before the launch of the Minimum Standards, there were no basic standards required in a residential child care facility. Some independently run RCCFs were reported to be filthy, with no basic health and safety standards, and others were reported to have had incidences of sexual abuse. Some housed children as a way to raise funds for their organizations, when the children could have been placed with their families, which is the preferable option.

According to an MGECW assessment, fewer than 20 per cent of the residential facilities for children RCCFs are qualified to provide care and support for children.  In response, UNICEF partnered with PACT/USAID and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to create the Minimum Standards. The standards cover how to staff and administer the facilities and how to house and care for the children.

The Minimum Standards were created at the suggestion of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the independent body in charge of enforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and were based on standards developed in the UN.

“The minimum standards ensure that children have a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, good food to eat, but most importantly, that RCCFs and the care-workers give children care, support and love,” said the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Marlene Mungunda.

Strengthening children’s rights
The Minimum Standards are designed to strengthen the rights of those children who cannot be cared for by their families, and Treza’s involvement in the process also strengthens the important right of children to participate in decisions that affect them.

“Though such residential facilities for children should be seen as a last resort, these minimum standards are one step closer to ensuring that children’s rights to the best care possible are met in RCCF,” said OVC Specialist in UNICEF Namibia Matthew Dalling.



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