Swaziland
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A PLEA TO SOCIAL WELFARE

Every time I engage with people on the provisions of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act of 2018, there are always concerns that arise regarding the protection of kids. I always point out the importance of keeping our children safe by pointing out the fact that the SODV Act has a section specifically for offences involving children. And if you go through those offences and punishments you will realise that none of the offences involving children have an option of a fine.

An offender who commits any crime against a child is put away from society for a long time. But this knowledge doesn’t change the cringe-worthy fact that children still experience abuse at alarming rates and, sadly, in some communities child abuse is normalised. In the Shiselweni Region one teacher raised a crucial point and she said that there are well-known and respected men in society who get away with impregnating young schoolgoing kids and no one bothers to report them. They have their reasons, but I don’t believe there can ever be a reason good enough to keep anyone from reporting a societal pest.

Children are the foundation of society, and they have to be protected in a very good way, because abuse and neglect of children can lead to negative consequences such as depression, developmental delays and the risk of developing substance abuse during adulthood. In addition to the impact on the child, child abuse and neglect also has profound and broad implications on communities. Some of the less developed societies have child abuse as one of the predicaments they are facing. SiSwati says ‘umntfwana ngumliba loya embili’ and this is not possible because kids drop out of school, become depressed and go through hardships that prevent them from growing up in a healthy environment so that they can one day make meaningful contributions towards the development of their communities.

Equal

All forms of violence against people under the age of 18 are violence against children. For infants and younger children, violence mainly involves child maltreatment (ie physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect) by parents and other authority figures. Boys and girls are at equal risk of physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and girls are at greater risk of sexual abuse. Peer violence, intimate partner violence and child maltreatment become highly prevalent as children reach adolescence.

The Social Welfare offices in Eswatini have the mandate to implement measures that are meant to protect children from abuse and maltreatment. Sadly this office is also the reason why so many children are in the state they are, because too many women have laid complaints about the lack of help they get from these offices. I’m a witness to a number of cases that go stale without any real results. The importance of child protection is to build a healthy society, not to punish parents who neglect or abuse their children. So the Social Welfare offices need to do better if we want to raise future generations that will take this country to the First World status that we so dearly talk about.

For a while now, civil society has asked government to declare gender-based violence (GBV) a national crisis, because it affects children too. GBV refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, abuse of power and destructive norms; and it is a severe violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue. It is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence. During the COVID-19 lockdown the threat of GBV significantly increased for women and girls in the country, and it was worse for children. So the importance of having in place laws that protect children is made apparent every day. How can we, as individuals, institutions and communities, do better?