22 June 2016

Swaziland: Innocent Boy, 11, Locked Up for 10 Years

Children as young as eleven years old are being incarcerated in juvenile correction facilities in Swaziland for up to ten years, even though they have committed no crimes.

And, the trend to lock innocent children up is increasing, a United Nations group examining human rights in Swaziland was told.

Parents collaborate with the Commissioner of Correctional Services in what was described as 'the best interests of the child'.

A report submitted jointly to the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland April-May 2016 by SOS-Swaziland, Super Buddies, Prison Fellowship and Luvatsi - Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, gave the example of one child aged 11.

Their report stated, 'There is a growing trend of child and youth abuse done by the state and the parents purportedly in "the best interests of the child". Children and youths are illegal incarcerated in prison centres by parents in collaboration with the Commissioner of Correctional Services who claims that the children are unruly.

'In one incident, Grace (not her real name) who is a single parent to John (not his real name) wrote a request letter to the Commissioner of Correctional Services requesting that John be incarcerated for unruly behaviour. In the letter, Grace states her concerns that eleven years old John might not finish school; hence her reason for wanting him incarcerated and attending the juvenile school at Malkerns Industrial School for Rehabilitation.

'Responding to the same letter of request by Grace, the Commissioner of Correctional Services stated that under normal circumstances, they do not admit persons who have not been sentenced by the courts and directed therein through committal warrants.

'However, the Commissioner agreed to rehabilitate John under the stated conditions; that the 11 years old John is institutionalised at the juvenile school for 10 years; there is an order from a presiding officer giving him a custodial order of ten years without remission; and that he will cooperate with His Majesty's Correctional Services while under its care.

'With that response, Grace [sic] the letter to a presiding officer who then wrote a custodial order for the stipulated time and John was admitted to the juvenile school in 2013. The 11 years old John lodges with other juveniles who have been charged by the court of law for various crimes they have committed. Grace pays tuition fees and up-keep fees for John, and she will continue doing so for the next ten years until 11 years old John is 21 years.

'This case is one of many, and the children are of different ages and varying backgrounds. It is only recently that a joint task team comprising of UNICEF, Prison Fellowship Swaziland, Lawyers for Human Rights-Swaziland, Save the Children Swaziland working together with the department of home affairs are exploring means to curb this situation and probably provide solutions for both the parents and children.'

In 2012, the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported that Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase, Swaziland's Correctional Services Commissioner, was encouraging parents to send their 'unruly children' to the facility if they thought they were badly behaved.

Ntshangase was speaking at the open day of the Juvenile Industrial School at the Mdutshane Correctional Institution. He told the newspaper, '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 were 279 children locked up at the time of the interview.

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 was not the first time the Swazi juvenile correction facility had 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.

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