22 May 2018

Swaziland: Sex Offences Bill Still Not Passed

Photo: Uganda Women's Network
The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence.

Swaziland's controversial Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Bill may not become law unless it is passed before the forthcoming election.

The Bill has been around in some form since 2009.

An election is due later this year at a date yet to be set by King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. If a bill is not completed by the end of a parliament it is usually shelved. It is one of six bills yet to be finalised.

The Bill has been passed by the House of Assembly and is now in the Senate. A Council of Chiefs also has to study the Bill to advise the King on matters relating to Swati Law and Customs.

SODV has caused controversy among traditionalists. The Swazi Observer identified three areas of concern. 1. Flashing - as an act of revealing of private body parts to another person or other people without their consent. 'This caused an uproar from traditionalists, who were worried that people wearing traditional regalia could be classified under people who could be considered to be flashing,' the newspaper reported in April 2018.

2. Abduction - This is forcibly taking someone away against their will. 'Traditionalists also raised their concerns here, saying at times, this could be used against people who have taken their loved ones to stay with them for some time at a certain place,' the newspaper said.

3. Stalking - This is an unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. 'Traditionalists asked for protection on this issue, saying at times, they would not be able to propose love to ladies because this could be considered as stalking. Sometimes, a lady does not readily give in to a proposal by a man. Therefore, it would be difficult to determine if a lady was interested or not,' the Observer reported.

Marital rape is an other areas that concerns traditionalists. At a meeting of the Deputy Prime Minister's Portfolio Committee, senators heard that marital rape was a 'homewrecker'. Senator Moi Moi Masilela said it could open floodgates for women to abuse the law, the Times of Swaziland reported.

Senator Chief Kekela said if the Bill passed into legislation without amendment, Swazi men in polygamous marriages would find themselves getting arrested. The Times reported, 'Chief Kekela said out of rage, a woman in a polygamous marriage could end up using it against her husband to spite him. He said jealousy prevailed in most of the marriages as the women always have demands they make to their husbands and always want attention.'

In 2013, a 317-page document called The Indigenous Law and Custom of the Kingdom of Swaziland (2013) was presented to King Mswati. It said that under Swazi Law and Custom a husband could legally rape his wife or his lover.

Under Chapter 7, which addresses offences (emacala) in Swaziland, rape is said to be committed only if the woman forced is not the man's wife or lover.

In April 2018, the International Commission of Jurists urged Swaziland to pass the SODV Bill without delay to meet its obligations under regional and international human rights laws to criminalise and sanction the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

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