Children in Swaziland are being locked up in juvenile detention, even though they have committed no crime.
And, Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase, Swaziland's Correctional Services Commissioner, is encouraging parents to send their 'unruly children' to the facility if they think they are badly behaved.
Ntshangase was speaking at the open day of the Juvenile Industrial School at the Mdutshane Correctional Institution. He told the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland, 'Noticing the strife that parents go through when raising some of their children who are unruly, we decided to open our doors to assist them.'
The school not only corrected offenders but assisted 'in the fight against crime by rooting out elements from a tender age', the newspaper reported him saying. The children 'will be locked up, rehabilitated and integrated back to society', the Times reported.
The school accommodates pupils who were both in conflict with the law as well as delinquents, the Times said. There are presently 279 children locked up.
Although the newspaper did not say so, this means children who have committed no crime and have not been sentenced by the courts are locked up alongside criminals and treated as if they had broken the law.
The Times interviewed some of the inmates and found a 15-year-old girl locked up by her guardian because she had developed a relationship with a boyfriend that the guardian did not like.
Another girl interviewed was an orphan who 'lived a town life'. She was reported saying, 'In our dormitories which we share, we are deprived all the nice and good things.'
She added the rules at the institution were tough, 'This place is not for the faint-hearted because you lose a lot of privileges that are freely accessible outside. There is neither clubbing, drinking nor time for boys.'
One unemployed father of an 11-year-old boy said he put his son in the facility because he did not have money to pay school fees. 'I am grateful that my son is in school. I cannot afford his education because I am old. My wish is that he finishes school to earn a decent living,' he said.
The guardian of one girl said before she was admitted at the school, she had not been able to contain her behaviour. 'My biggest problem was that I had lost her. She dropped out of school together with my niece (sister's daughter) who is an orphan,' she said.
Children reported that they were not beaten but they were badly fed, getting their supper at around 3pm, which meant they went to bed hungry.
This is not the first time the Swazi juvenile correction facility has been under the spotlight.
In August 2010 it was revealed that a 12-year-old boy was serving one year in Mdutshane because he insulted his grandmother. He had been sentenced to an E300 fine (about US$40), but was too poor to pay so was jailed instead.
In April 2010 it was reported that a 10-year-old boy was serving ten years at the same correctional facility. Reporters were unable to discover what the boy had done to be locked up.