12 Year-Old Namibian Jailed For Theft Without Options Of Fine Or Alternative Sentence

Werner Menges

A 12-year-old boy has become one of Namibia's youngest prison inmates - if not the youngest - after he was convicted of housebreaking and theft at Karasburg.

The boy was sentenced to six months' imprisonment without the option of a fine or alternative sentence.

He is now being kept at Hardap Prison, where he was transferred on Thursday last week after he had been kept in custody at Keetmanshoop since his sentencing - all despite a court order that he should serve his sentence at the Elizabeth Nepembe Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre near Rundu, almost 1 400 kilometres from his home and his family.

Sources working with juvenile justice issues have over the past week expressed concern over the boy's situation in a prison that, according to them, is not equipped to deal with a juvenile prisoner as young as this.

Sources who have seen the boy have described him as looking even younger than his age - he is reported to be able to pass as an eight- or nineyear- old child.


The Namibian Prison Service has been approached for comment since Tuesday, but one of its senior officers indicated yesterday that he would only be able to comment on the issue today.

The boy was 11 years old when he was arrested and charged with housebreaking with intent to steal and theft in connection with a burglary at a shop at Karasburg in August.

Two older suspects were also accused of involvement in the burglary.

burglary was committed when the then 11-year-old climbed through a window of the shop and stole goods from the shop.

The boy's trial ended in the Karasburg Magistrate's Court on October 19, when he was sentenced to an unusually severe sentence for a child his age: six months' imprisonment at Elizabeth Nepembe Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre, without any option of paying an alternative fine and with no part of the sentence suspended.

His case has since then been sent to the High Court on review.

High Court staff indicated yesterday that the case was still in the hands of a reviewing Judge.

The Judge will have to decide whether to confirm the conviction and sentence or to change the decision of the Magistrate who presided over the trial of the boy and his co-accused.


A brief pre-sentence report, written by a Karas Region school counsellor, was placed before the Magistrate before the sentencing.

It indicates that the boy is a child with serious behavioural problems and a difficult family background.

In the report, the school counsellor recommended that the boy be sent to Elizabeth Nepembe Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre.

She reported that the boy's father, who is disabled, cannot provide proper care to his son.

While he was attending school, the boy was doing so "on his own conditions," the counsellor reported.

She added that at the age of eleven the boy was still in Grade 2, and still could not read.

He was staying in a school hostel this year, but the hostel "as an alternative care option does not really work, as it is not possible to provide (the boy) with the individual attention a neglected child as him need (sic)", the counsellor reported further.

In a report from the school attended by the boy it was said that his mother had died.

The school in addition reported that the boy was "more on the street" than at school, and claimed that he "takes part in everything - smoking, drugs, alcohol abuse, burglaries".

The boy "does not want to bend under authority - he does as he pleases", according to the school report.

"He is very aggressive at times and just wants to 'bully' small ones over their own things", it was further stated in the school's report.

The school's report also indicated that the boy was dealing with deep emotional problems.

"He has at times tried to commit suicide - at home and also at the hostel," it was stated.

By going on review to the High Court, the boy's case is following where various other cases involving juvenile offenders have gone in the past.

In one of the most publicised of these cases recently, the court in early March this year set aside a six-month prison term that had been imposed on two San girls, aged 17 and 15, after they had pleaded guilty to a charge of housebreaking with intent to steal and theft.

In a review judgement on that case, Judge Sylvester Mainga stated that an underlying principle in accepted guidelines on the sentencing of young offenders "is that child offenders should not be detained except if the detention is a measure of last resort, in which case the child may be detained only for the shortest appropriate period of time".

Judge Mainga also stated: "When imposing sentence on a child, the child's best interest is of paramount importance."

He remarked that in the two San girls' case, a prison sentence was inappropriate.

In another review case involving a youthful offender, the High Court in February set aside a four-year prison term that had been imposed on an 18-year-old girl who had also admitted guilt to a charge of housebreaking with intent to steal and theft, and replaced it with an effective term of one year of imprisonment.

In his judgement in that case, Acting Judge Annel Silungwe stated: "(E)xtra care is needed in determining a suitable sentence for a young (or juvenile) offender where the possibility of reform is great and the result of an indiscriminate exercise of the court's discretion is potentially irreparable."

He also stated: "(I)f the young offender can be dealt with in a manner which will present a reasonable chance for his rehabilitation, such action will, in the long run, be in the interests of society.

Thus, in sentencing a young offender, a fine balance is needed for the simple reason that the interests of society cannot be served by disregarding the interests of the young offender."

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