Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but no law specifically addresses spousal rape. Rape was common, and the government rarely enforced the law effectively. According to the Swaziland Action Group against Abuse, one in three girls and women between ages 13 and 24 had been a victim of sexual violence. Although rape is legally defined as a crime, many men regarded it as a minor offense. The maximum sentence for conviction of rape is 15 years in prison, but the acquittal rate for rape was high, and sentences were generally lenient. Prosecutors reported difficulty obtaining the evidence required to try rape and domestic violence cases because witnesses feared testifying against accused rapists. There were few social workers or other intermediaries to work with victims and witnesses in order to obtain evidence.
No legislation or law deals specifically with domestic violence and sexual abuse. If charged as assault, however, domestic violence is illegal. Domestic violence against women, particularly wife beating, was common and sometimes resulted in death. Police efforts to combat the crime were inadequate. Women have the right to charge their husbands with assault under both the Roman-Dutch and traditional legal systems, and urban women frequently did so, usually in extreme cases when intervention by extended family members failed to end such violence. Penalties for men found guilty of assault not involving rape against a woman depended on the court’s discretion. Rural women often had no relief if family intervention did not succeed because traditional courts were unsympathetic to “unruly” or “disobedient” women and were less likely than courts using Roman-Dutch-based law to convict men of spousal abuse. The Roman-Dutch legal system often gave light sentences in cases of conviction for abuse against women.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Accusations of witchcraft were employed against women in family or community disputes that could lead to them being physically attacked, driven from their homes, or both. For example, on September 7, the Times of Swaziland reported a wife blamed by a traditional healer for misfortunes that had befallen her family was forced by her husband to leave her home and community.
Sexual Harassment: Legal provisions against sexual harassment were vague, and government enforcement was ineffective. No cases have ever been brought to trial. Nevertheless, there were frequent reports of sexual harassment, most often of female students by teachers. During the year the Teaching Service Commission suspended and fired several male teachers for sexual harassment of female students, but none was prosecuted.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: Women occupied a subordinate role in society. The dualistic nature of the legal system complicated the protection of women’s rights. Since unwritten customary law and custom govern traditional marriage and matters of inheritance and family law, women’s rights often were unclear and changed according to where and by whom they were interpreted. Couples often married in both civil and traditional ceremonies, creating problems in determining which set of rules applied to the marriage and to subsequent questions of child custody, property, and inheritance in the event of divorce or death.
Civil law is inconsistent with the constitutional stipulation that “women have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic, and social activities.” Civil law defines married women as subordinate to their husbands.
Girls and women faced discrimination in rural areas by community elders and authority figures, who gave preference to boys in education. Women faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). While the constitution provides that women may open bank accounts, obtain passports, and take jobs without the permission of a male relative, these constitutional rights often conflicted with customary law, which classifies women as minors. Both traditional and Roman-Dutch civil law recognize women as dependents of their husbands or fathers. Although women routinely executed contracts and entered into a variety of transactions in their own names, banks often refused personal loans to married women without a male guarantor. The constitution provides for equal access to land and civil law provides for women to register and administer property. Most persons were unaware of this right, however, and customary law forbids women from registering property in their own names.
Customary law considers children to belong to the father and his family if the couple divorce. Children of unmarried parents remain with the mother, unless the father claims paternity. Inheritances pass to and through male children only. When the husband dies, tradition dictates the widow must stay at the residence of her husband’s family in observance of a strict mourning period for one month. Media reported that widows heading households sometimes became homeless and were forced to seek public assistance when the husband’s family took control of the homestead. Women who had jobs sometimes lost them due to absence from work during the extended mourning period. Women in mourning attire were generally not allowed to participate in public events and were barred from interacting with royalty or entering royal premises. In some cases the mourning period lasted up to three years.
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. 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.
The law mandates compulsory registration of births. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 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, including access to education. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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. 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. Principals and teachers routinely demanded bribes to admit students.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including rape of children and incest, was a serious problem. If reported, perpetrators were seldom prosecuted, and when prosecuted and convicted, sentences seldom matched the maximum penalties allowable. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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. In 2015 the Ministry of Education and Training introduced positive disciplinary standards based on counseling–the minister warned that teachers who beat pupils would be held accountable for such abuses. Nevertheless, teachers often exceeded these limits with impunity. For example, on August 2, the Times of Swazilandreported a Salesian High School student was caned on his bare buttocks by a teacher.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 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 age 13. Although the deputy prime minister criticized this practice, civil law was generally not enforced to prevent it. According to a 2015 UNICEF report on child marriage in the country, 1 percent of adolescent girls were married before age 15 and 7 percent were married before age 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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. 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 ($76). Penalties for conviction of child pornography are up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 emalangeni ($6.58).
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.
The Jewish community is very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution provides for the rights of persons with disabilities but does not differentiate among physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires parliament to enact relevant implementing legislation, which parliament has not done. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for upholding the law and for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. No laws prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment. Persons with disabilities complained of government neglect. No laws mandate access to health care for persons with disabilities or accessibility to buildings, transportation, information, communications, or public services. Government buildings under construction included some improvements for persons with disabilities, including access ramps. Public transportation was not easily accessible for persons with disabilities, and the government did not provide any alternative means of transport.
There were only minimal services provided for persons with disabilities, and there were no programs in place to promote the rights of persons with disabilities. There was one private school for students with hearing disabilities and one private special-education school for children with physical or mental disabilities. The hospital for persons with mental disabilities, located in Manzini, was overcrowded and understaffed.
By custom persons with disabilities may not be in the presence of the king, as they are believed to bring “bad spirits.”
Governmental and societal discrimination was practiced against nonethnic Swazis, generally persons of Caucasian or Asian descent and persons of mixed race. Although there were no official statistics, an estimated 2 percent of the population was nonethnic Swazi. Nonethnic Swazis experienced difficulty in obtaining official documents, including passports, and suffered from other forms of governmental and societal discrimination, such as needing special permits or stamps to buy a car or house, delays in receiving building permits for houses, and difficulties in applying for bank loans.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books, no penalties are specified, and there were no arrests. The government asserted that same-sex relationships and acts were illegal but did not prosecute any cases during the year. Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons who were open regarding their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one’s home. Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swazi nor Christian. LGBTI advocacy organizations had trouble registering with the government. One such organization, House of Pride, was under the umbrella of another organization that dealt with HIV/AIDS. It was difficult to determine the extent of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because victims were not likely to come forward, and most LGBTI persons were not open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On July 23, a third-year University of Swaziland student committed suicide, reportedly because he found himself isolated after his family rejected him due to his sexual orientation.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Swaziland had among the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world in 2011. The People Living with HIV Stigma Index reported that, of a study sample of 1,233 persons, 18 percent believed their HIV-positive status caused persons to gossip about them; 7 percent were insulted or harassed; and 3 percent were assaulted. Experience of internal stigma included: 25 percent had low self-esteem, 24 percent felt shame, 17 percent felt guilt, 14 percent felt isolation, and 7 percent had suicidal thoughts. In a 2014 nationally representative sample of HIV-positive persons within the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 7.7 percent of women and 12 percent of men ages 15 to 59 years reported discriminatory attitudes.
Social stigma associated with being HIV positive discouraged persons from being tested. Nevertheless, there were often long lines, especially of young persons, waiting to be tested during prevention campaigns. The armed forces encouraged testing and did not discriminate against active military members testing positive. Persons who test HIV positive, however, were not recruited by the armed forces because military authorities claimed that they would not be able to withstand strenuous training.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There was social stigma attached to albinism. Several persons with albinism stated they were subject to discrimination, called names, and at risk of being killed for ritual purposes. The government condemned such acts but took no further action.
Belief in witchcraft was common, and those accused of witchcraft were at risk of being assaulted or killed. For example, on February 23, Lomthantazo Eunice Tfwala of Lubhuku was strangled to death by her stepson and nephew for allegedly practicing witchcraft.