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Stepfathers rape stepdaughters

Dianne Hubbard, Coordinator of the Gender Research & Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre and the Rev. Maria Kapere, General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia at the launch of the step family report. (photograph contributed).Stepchildren are in a legal desert with regard to their positions in their families.
This week the Legal Assistance Centre released a report showing real step families are on the increase, yet there exist no laws that govern the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren. The latter are regarded as “legal strangers”.
Titled “Stepfamilies in Namibia: A Study of the Situation of Stepparents and Stepchildren and Recommendations for Law Reform”, the youth interviewed in five different regions, identified discrimination and abuse faced by stepchildren as the two most pressing problems.
The study, which is the first on this topic, explores the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren, with a particular focus on abuse, maintenance, inheritance and parental duties and responsibilities. It analyses the situation of stepfamilies and offer an in-depth discussion of relevant law reform options. The study conducted group and individual interviews with 199 young people, key informants and adults from the five regions and revealed that participants perceive stepfamilies to be very common and such relationships are common in every target region.
The participants strongly felt that stepparents have responsibilities to care for and support their stepchildren, although agreement was generally more pronounced amongst adult participants than the young. Many of the adult participants felt that when you enter into a relationship with a person who already has children, you must take them as “a package”. However, although there was wide agreement that stepparents should take responsibility for stepchildren even if they are not married to the biological parents, participants frequently indicated that this was not necessarily happening in their communities.
Whilst this is by choice in some families, the lack of legal clarity means that some stepparents do not know how to formalise their relationship with their stepchildren. Participants in all regions also viewed stepchildren as being disproportionately vulnerable to physical, emotional, economic, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse based on the child’s non-biological status. In particular, sexual abuse of stepdaughters by stepfathers was cited as a widespread problem. As one participant said, “If you make a mistake and bring a girl and the man is strong he will sleep with her (the stepdaughter), it happens a lot”.
The study reveals that many participants are in favour of a law reform and most supported imposing a legal duty of maintenance upon stepparents, with this duty being secondary to that of the biological parents. Many people also supportes a voluntary, easily accessible legal process that would allow stepparents to acquire parental rights and responsibilities and therefore legally formalise their relationship with their stepchildren.
The research also revealed that many countries have responded to the world-wide rise in stepfamilies, developing a range of laws that impose a range of rights and duties upon stepparents, to protect stepchildren and to give legal recognition to the relationship. Stepfamilies in Namibia offers an extensive and in-depth comparative analysis of the laws governing stepfamilies in over a dozen different countries, including the current legal situation in Namibia and neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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