The 2012 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act sets the age of majority at 18. It defines child abuse and imposes penalties for abuse; details children’s legal rights and the responsibility of the state, in particular with respect to orphans and other vulnerable children; establishes structures and guidelines for restorative justice; defines child labor and exploitative child labor; and sets minimum wages for various types of child labor. At year’s end, the government had not implemented most of the law’s provisions.
Birth Registration: Under the constitution, children derive citizenship from the father, unless the birth occurs outside marriage and the father does not claim paternity, in which case the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A foreign woman who marries a citizen may become a citizen by filing an application with the Citizen Board of the Ministry of Home Affairs. If a Swazi woman marries a foreign man, however, even if he is a naturalized Swazi citizen, their children carry the father’s birth citizenship and have no legal claim to the mother’s Swazi citizenship.
The law mandates compulsory registration of births. According to the MICS, 50 percent of children under age five were registered and 30 percent had birth certificates. Lack of birth registration may result in denial of public services. For example, a child needs a birth certificate to enter school or obtain a passport.
Education: The constitution does not state that education is compulsory, but regulations provide for fining parents who do not have their children attend school. Primary education was tuition-free through grade seven, but students’ families continued to pay for uniforms and supplies. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received an annual budget allocation to pay school fees for orphans and other vulnerable children in primary and secondary school, but some schools expelled such children if the office did not provide funding. Schools sometimes raised supplemental private funding for building maintenance, including teachers’ housing. Rural families favored boys over girls if they could not send all their children to school. Principals and teachers routinely demanded bribes to admit students.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including rape of children and incest, was a serious problem, but the crime was rarely reported. If reported, perpetrators were seldom prosecuted, and when prosecuted and convicted, sentences seldom matched the maximum penalties allowable. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), approximately one in three young women experienced some form of sexual violence as a child, three in 10 experienced emotional abuse, and nearly one in four experienced physical violence. According to the MICS, 12 percent of children were subjected to “severe physical punishment.” Children with disabilities, children not in school, and orphans were at particular risk. Some families kept their children with disabilities out of public view.
On June 20, the Times of Swaziland newspaper reported that a teacher, Charity Hullet, removed her stepson’s trousers and sat him on a burning hotplate to punish him. She was arrested and charged with violation of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act. She was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison.
Corporal punishment by teachers and principals is legal and routinely practiced. School rules and regulations allow a teacher to administer up to four strokes with a stick on the buttocks to a student under age 16, and up to six strokes to students age 16 and older. Teachers often exceeded these limits with impunity. In 2015 the Ministry of Education and Training introduced less severe disciplinary standards--the minister warned that teachers who beat pupils would be held accountable for such abuses. Despite this policy change, there were no reports of teachers being punished and the abuses continued.
On August 4, the Times of Swaziland reported that a Siyendle Primary School teacher severely whipped a grade two student. Authorities did not discipline or charge the teacher with any offense.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 years for both boys and girls, but with parental consent and approval from the minister of justice, girls may marry at 16. The government recognizes two types of marriage, civil marriage and marriage under traditional law. Under traditional law marriages are permitted for girls as young as 13. Although the deputy prime minister criticized this practice, civil law was generally not enforced to prevent it. According to the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, however, “A child has the right to refuse to be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom or practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental, and intellectual development.” According to a 2015 UNICEF report on child marriage in the country, 1 percent of adolescent girls are married before age 15 and 7 percent are married before age 18. The majority of these girls bear children before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Girls were victims of sex trafficking. Orphans and other vulnerable children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation at truck stops and in bars and brothels. The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act includes a specific provision criminalizing “mistreatment, neglect, abandonment, or exposure of children to abuse.” Offenders convicted under these provisions are liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years, while persons convicted of violating the child labor provisions of the law are liable to a fine of not less than 15,000 emalangeni ($1,011), a prison term of not less than two years, or both. Provisions of older law address child prostitution as “defilement of a ward” or “unlawful carnal connection with a girl,” and pornography under “obscene publications.” Statutory law sets the age of sexual consent at 16, while criminal law states that a girl under age 14 may not consent to sexual intercourse. The penalties for conviction of statutory rape and prostituting a girl are from six to 25 years’ imprisonment, up to 24 lashes with a whip, and a fine of 1,000 emalangeni ($67). Penalties for child pornography are up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 emalangeni ($6.74). The People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) Act prescribes up to 25 years’ imprisonment for conviction of trafficking, including the prostitution of children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.