Swaziland must urgently enact the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a report released on Thursday (24 May 2018).
The Bill which has been around in one form or another for at least 10 years has stalled at the Swaziland Senate.
The ICJ said there were many discriminatory practices in the kingdom based on customary laws and traditional beliefs undermining equality between men and women. It said this inequality promoted 'patriarchy, which in turn perpetually promotes inequality resulting in prevalent violence'.
It said sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was at 'crisis point' in the kingdom.
It added, 'It has been reported that violence against female children is highly prevalent in Swaziland. It has been stated that, approximately one in three women experience some form sexual violence as a child; nearly one in four women experience physical violence as a child; and approximately three in ten women experience emotional abuse as a child.
'Boyfriends and husbands are the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence, and male relatives the most frequent perpetrators of physical violence, while female relatives are the most frequent perpetrators of emotional abuse.'
It added, one in three women experience some form of sexual violence by the time they reach the age of 18 years, while almost one in two (48 per cent) women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Almost one in five (18.8 per cent) of women have been coerced into having sexual relations.
'It has also been reported that at least 49.2 per cent of sex workers experience sexual violence and 33.5 per cent of these are reported to have been raped since the age of 18,' the report added.
At present there are is no specific provision in the Swaziland Constitution that addresses SGBV, the ICJ said. 'The lack of specific legislative provisions aimed at combating SGBV has made it difficult for authorities to combat and eradicate it,' it added.
The SODV Act, 'was first drafted over ten years ago, but it has still not been passed into law, specifically because there is a perception that four of its provisions will infringe on Swazi law and custom. It has been reported that: "It has been argued that some clauses in the bill would hinder Swazi cultural practices".
'The preservation of culture is the crutch upon which traditionalists are relying on to ensure that the Bill is not passed.
'The provisions in question pertain to:
'- Abduction - clause 42 seeks to protect children (anyone under the age of 18) from child marriages, sexual acts, harmful rituals or sacrifices and any other unlawful purpose. In terms of Swazi law and custom, a girl becomes of marriageable age at puberty, regardless of the child's age when reaching this stage.
'- Incest - clause 4 of the Bill clearly specifies the classes of relatives that may not be involved in sexual relations. There is a concern among traditionalists that the classes as between uncle, aunt, nephew or niece are too broad within the Swazi context, particularly because of the extensiveness of the recognised extended family structure.
'- Flashing - the nature of Swazi traditional attire is such that there is some display of flesh. For example, during the reed dance, young maidens and girls go around bare-chested with their breasts in full display and wearing short beaded skirts that show off their buttocks, potentially in violation of clause 47 of the Bill. The Constitution, however, protects the right to privacy as well as dignity.
'- Unlawful Stalking - under Swazi culture, a woman may be proposed to relentlessly no matter how many times she may refuse the proposals. Traditionalists perceive this type of courting as likely prohibited under clause 10 of the proposed law.'
The ICJ said Swaziland had international human rights obligations and commitments on SGBV. The kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has signed up to but not implemented the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, and the Protocol to that Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol).
The ICJ reported that surveys in Swaziland on attitudes towards domestic violence demonstrated strong support for traditional gender roles, high levels of rape-supportive attitudes and tolerant attitudes for violence.
'For example, only 51 per cent of men have been surveyed as believing that a woman may refuse to have sexual intercourse with her husband, while 88 per cent believe a woman should obey her husband and 45 per cent believe a husband has a right to punish his wife if she does something he deems is wrong.'