Rape and Domestic Violence: During the year authorities actively implemented the 2018 Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act that established a broad framework to curb sexual offenses and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape, including spousal rape. The penalties for conviction of rape are up to 30 years’ imprisonment for first offenders and up to 40 years’ imprisonment for repeat offenders. The penalties for conviction of domestic violence are a fine of up to 75,000 emalangeni ($5,200), 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. Several convicted perpetrators have received sentences of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, and one man was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment for conviction of two counts of rape, one of which was of an 11-year-old girl. Another convicted perpetrator was sentenced to 12 years in prison without the option of a fine despite the victim’s request to withdraw charges. Although men remained the primary perpetrators, women have also been arrested and convicted under the SODV Act. In May a REPS inspector told the press 430 cases of rape were reported in the first eight months after the enactment of the SODV in August 2018.
Rape remained common, and domestic violence against women sometimes resulted in death. 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 failed, 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. In January a traditional healer and church bishop and his mother were accused of witchcraft and killed by relatives, who were arrested and charged with murder.
Sexual Harassment: The SODV Act establishes broad protections against sexual harassment, with penalties if convicted of a fine up to 25,000 emalangeni ($1,750), 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. In May REPS stated 28 cases of sexual harassment were reported under the SODV from August 2018 to March. In December 2018 a chef in a Manzini restaurant was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment or a 10,000 emalangeni ($700) fine for conviction of sexually harassing a subordinate employee.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information see Appendix C.
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 certain matters of 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.
In August the High Court ruled common law “marital power” that formerly denied married women the right to act without their husband’s consent in many instances is unconstitutional. The High Court also struck down sections of the Marriage Act that allowed marital power and spousal property rights to be governed by Swazi law and custom.
Women faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). The constitution provides for equal access to land, and civil law provides for women to register and administer property, execute contracts, and enter into transactions in their own names.
Girls and women faced discrimination in rural areas by community elders and authority figures. Boys received preference in education. 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. 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 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 applied to 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.
Birth Registration: Birth on the country’s territory does not convey citizenship. 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, 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 2014 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 provide for their children to complete primary school. Parents who do not send their children to school through completion of primary education were required to pay fines for noncompliance. 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. Seventy percent of children were classified as OVC and so had access to subsidized education through the secondary level.
Child Abuse: The 2018 SODV Act provides broad protections for children against abduction, sexual contact, and several other forms of abuse. The penalty for conviction of 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 occurred, despite Ministry of Education and Training policy that teachers who hit pupils should be reported to the ministry for disciplinary action. Education regulations permit school administrators to administer corporal punishment, and there were reports some teachers performed 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. By traditional law marriages are permitted for girls as young as 13, although marriages at such an age were rare. For additional information see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The SODV Act prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procuring of children for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography; conviction of these acts carries strong penalties. 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 of five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Although the law sets the age of sexual consent at 16, the SODV Act provides for a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of “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/reported-cases.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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law protects the rights of persons with 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. The 2018 Persons with Disabilities Act codified into domestic law the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and mandated access to health care for persons with disabilities and accessibility to buildings, transportation, information, communications, and public services. Little progress has been made to date in expanding accessibility and access to public services for persons with disabilities.
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.” Persons with disabilities were sometimes neglected by families. In March local newspapers reported that a teenager with disabilities was forced to stay alone in a makeshift structure outside the family home, isolating and exposing her to harsh conditions.
Governmental and societal discrimination was practiced against nonethnic Swatis, primarily persons of South 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 being required to obtain 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 there are colonial-era common law prohibitions against sodomy, no penalties are specified, and there has never been an arrest or prosecution for consensual same-sex conduct. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. 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. Church elders in Siphofaneni demoted a pastor on allegations he was bisexual. Despite these barriers, LGBTI persons conducted the country’s second Pride Parade, which occurred in June without incident.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although HIV-related stigma and discrimination appeared to be in decline, discriminatory attitudes and prejudice against persons living with HIV persisted. Individuals living with HIV reported it was difficult or uncomfortable for them to disclose their HIV status and that frequently their status was revealed to others without their permission. The armed forces encouraged testing and did not discriminate against active military members testing positive. Persons who tested HIV-positive, however, were not recruited by the armed forces.