Sunday, 9 February marked the 30th anniversary of Constitution Day.
11 February 2020 | Youth
Knowledge of the Constitution can help young people guide the direction of their respective countries. The Zone explores this idea.
Celebrated every year on 9 February, Constitution Day highlights the governing document drawn up by the first 21 of the 72 candidates that made up 1990’s constituent assembly.
Since independence, the Constitution had to be amended a few times with the first being in 1999. This amendment was to allow the founding president, Sam Nujoma, to serve a third term of office.
The second amendment was to make the Anti-Corruption Commission a constitutional body. The ACC was founded in 2006. The third amendment came last year through the Namibian Constitution Third Amendment Bill. The bill allows the appointment of the country’s vice president, the increment in seats of both houses of Parliament and the provision for independent judiciary, administrative and financial autonomy, amongst others.
Speaking to The Zone, Ingrid Husselmann, a children’s advocate at the office of the Ombudsman, said to conceptualise a Namibia where young people know their Constitution the same way they know their national anthem is to ensure that children receive human rights education from a very young age. Compulsory human rights education must be part of the Namibian school curriculum, she said.
Husselmann added that young people must be taught about democracy and what it means.
“They must learn that they have a duty to be active and not passive; that the success or failure of government is their responsibility because a constitutional democracy means that every citizen, young or old, has the duty to know and understand the Constitution in order to hold the government accountable.”
She further said the Constitution is not a self-executing document. The Namibian Constitution contains a progressive list of fundamental rights and freedoms, however, if people don’t know their rights and freedoms, they become meaningless words in printed form.
“Children know or are ignorant of their rights depending on several factors. In our experience, children who live in urban areas know their rights better than children who live in rural areas; older children know their rights better than younger children; children who are raised in more affluent circumstances know their rights better than children who are raised in extreme poverty,” she said.
Husselmann also said in this vein, the office of the Ombudsman will host events to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Constitution Day. This year marks 30 years since the adoption of the Namibian Constitution on 9 February 1990.
“It was decided to have a very special occasion to commemorate Constitution Day in the six towns where the Ombudsman has offices, namely: Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Swakopmund, Otjiwarongo, Ongwediva and Katima Mulilo.”
Why is the Constitution important to young people?
The Constitution provides guidelines for the function of the State and the youth have a duty to ensure that the branches of the State are acting constitutionally. Furthermore, the Constitution lays down the fundamental rights and duties of all citizens. Most countries have a set of political rights which are secured under the Constitution. For example: The rights to liberty, fair trial or freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
It is important to know whether rights are absolute or qualified. Absolute rights refer to rights for which there are no exemptions or exceptions. On the other hand, qualified rights such as the right to privacy or freedom of speech are not absolute and can be exempted from. This means that, in certain circumstances, laws can be passed to stop citizens from enjoying these rights.
An example of this is where freedom of speech is limited by laws of defamation. An individual can say whatever he/she likes, but if they say something that lowers the perception or status of another person in society, then this freedom can be limited.
Therefore, if a right is infringed upon, it is important to ascertain whether the executive’s or Parliament’s law or action can fall within an exception. It must also be noted that all rights are accompanied with duties. It is important to know these duties as well.
Grace Makzina, the City of Windhoek junior mayor, said she believes in the power of discourse, thus throughout her term, she has availed myself with face-to-face discussions with the youth of Namibia.
“I have engaged in talks of sexual rights violations and awareness as well mental health and suicide talks to facilitate the rights young people have to life and freedom,” she said.
Similarly, her involvement with the Afrox Leadership Academy has allowed her to facilitate small groups at her high school, Delta Secondary School, to educate teens about their rights.
Makzina added that she will be collaborating with the Pan African Association to further publicise the rights Namibian children have pertaining to the Constitution with regards to areas which are not as recognised such as mental health which affects Namibian children indiscriminately.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child
In November 1989, world leaders made a historic promise to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international agreement on childhood.
The Convention is the first-ever global set of legally binding rights to apply to all children. Today, 30 years on, it remains the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
The CRC has changed the way children are viewed and treated everywhere. The convention confirmed that children are individuals with their own distinct set of rights, rather than passive recipients of charity. The agreement recognises that childhood is a time of vulnerability and that children need special care and protection, provided by those responsible for their well-being from parents to communities, from service sectors to governments. The CRC also recognises the right of all children to be heard and participate in decisions affecting their lives.