Rape and Domestic Violence: During the year the government enacted the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act, establishing a broad new framework to curb sexual offenses and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape, including spousal rape. The penalties for rape are up to 30 years’ imprisonment for first offenders and up to 40 years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenders. The penalties for domestic violence are a fine of up to 75,000 emalangeni ($5,400), 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. The SODV Act has seen rapid implementation since becoming effective on August 1, with harsh sentences imposed for crimes that likely would have gone unpunished in prior years. For example, in November a husband received a 10-year prison sentence for beating his wife with the blunt edge of a bush knife after she had come home late.
Rape remained common, and domestic violence against women sometimes resulted in death. According to UNICEF, one in three Swati women experienced sexual abuse by age 18, while 48 percent reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. There were few social workers or other intermediaries to work with victims and witnesses to obtain evidence of rape and domestic violence.
Rural women who sought relief in traditional courts 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.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Accusations of witchcraft were employed against women in family or community disputes that could lead to their being physically attacked, driven from their homes, or both.
Sexual Harassment: The new SODV Act, which became effective on August 1, establishes broad protections against sexual harassment, with penalties of a fine up to 25,000 emalangeni ($1,800), 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
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 traditional 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 sometimes 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.
Although customary law considers children to belong to the father and his family if the couple divorce, custody of the children of unmarried parents typically remains 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 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 two years. No similar mourning period is expected of men.
The law 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 Swati woman marries a foreign man, however, even if he is a naturalized Swati 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 younger than five were registered and 30 percent had birth certificates. Lack of birth registration may result in denial of public services, including access to education.
Education: The law requires that parents send their children to school through the date that they complete primary school. Parents who do not send their children to school were required to pay fines for noncompliance. 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 (OVC) in both primary and secondary school. Approximately 70 percent of Swati children were classified as OVC so had access to tuition-free education through the secondary level.
Child Abuse: The new SODV Act established broad new protections for children against abduction, sexual contact, and several other forms of abuse. The penalty for indecent treatment of children is up to 20 or 25 years’ imprisonment, depending upon the age of the victim. Child abuse remained a serious problem, especially in poor and rural households.
Corporal punishment in schools still occurred, despite a 2015 announcement by the Ministry of Education and Training that teachers who hit pupils should be reported to the ministry for disciplinary action. Education regulations that permit corporal punishment remained in effect, and some teachers continued such practices with impunity.
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 13. Although government officials have criticized this practice, civil law has not yet provided an effective deterrent. For additional information see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The new SODV Act prohibits and provides strong penalties for commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procuring of children for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Children were occasional victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The law criminalizes “mistreatment, neglect, abandonment, or exposure of children to abuse” and imposes a statutory minimum imprisonment of five years. Although the law sets the age of sexual consent at 16, the new SODV Act provides for a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child,” defined as a relationship that involves more than one sexual act with a person younger than 18.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community is very small, and there were no 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 law protects the rights of persons with disabilities (i.e., physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities), including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. During the year the government enacted the Persons with Disabilities Act, which domesticates the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and enhances the socioeconomic and cultural rights of such persons. The new law mandates access to health care for persons with disabilities and accessibility to buildings, transportation, information, communications, and public services. Because the new law became effective on August 1, it was unclear how effectively the government would enforce its provisions.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for upholding the law and for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities complained of government neglect and a significantly lower rate of school attendance for children with disabilities. Newer government buildings, and those under construction, included various 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 Swatis, primarily persons of Asian descent and those of mixed race. Nonethnic Swatis sometimes experienced difficulty in obtaining official documents, including passports, and suffered from other forms of governmental and societal discrimination, such as delays in receiving building permits for houses, difficulties in applying for bank loans, and needing special permits or stamps to buy a car or house.
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 law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government asserted that same-sex relationships and acts were illegal but did not prosecute any cases during the year, and apparently there has never been a prosecution of consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons remained widespread, 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. Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swati nor Christian. Despite these barriers LGBTI persons organized the country’s first-ever Pride Parade, which occurred in June without incident. LGBTI groups have held spirited public discussions with religious leaders in a mutual effort to build improved understanding and lines of communication.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
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 they would not be able to withstand strenuous training.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There was social stigma attached to albinism, and persons with albinism were subject to discrimination, called names, and at risk of being killed for ritual purposes.
Belief in witchcraft was common, and those accused of witchcraft were at risk of being assaulted or killed. Notwithstanding the continuing stigma and discrimination, unlike last year there were no reports of assaults or deaths linked to albinism or witchcraft.