Here’s my statement on behalf of SWAGAA for the press…it was picked up by the Times of Swaziland this week…
The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse is extremely thankful the house of Senate passed the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill on 20 May, 2013. It has been a lengthy and arduous process. SWAGAA, in collaboration with other NGOs, funding partners and government agencies, has been advocating for a specific law to address sexual offenses and domestic violence since 2004.
Outdated colonial legislation with light sentences, omission of some offences, and little survivor support will now be replaced. The new law means stiffer sentences for perpetrators, which in turn will deter future offenders. The terms of various international conventions the country has signed, regarding of protection of women, will now be honoured.
The new law is not only about increased punitive measures, but provides for peace binding to help mitigate the effects of domestic violence within a family. It also stipulates the creation of a register of sex offenders that can be used by organizations to help screen potential employees working with vulnerable populations.
The passing of the Bill into an Act is a powerful step forward, but Assent from King MiSwati III is also necessary. Even after receiving the King’s Assent, there are many mechanisms that must be put into place before the law becomes operational. We can only hope these requirements are met swiftly so that Swaziland becomes safer, more fair, and equitable for all of its citizens.
Swaziland passed the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill in 2009 but has not made it into law yet. Instead, laws that are over 100 years old govern sexual abuse charges….SWAGAA and other NGO and agency partners are advocating for the Bill to be enacted right now. We have a workshop tomorrow explaining the bones of contention for some Parliment members. Here are some of the facts…
Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill, 2009
Currently, COMMON LAW covers the following offences:
• Indecent assault
• Public Indecency
Legal proceedings (Statutory Offences) are dictated by outdated Acts:
1. Crimes Act of 1889
2. The Girls and Women’s Protection Act of 1920
Gaps in the Existing Law vs. Provisions of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill:
Some Gaps in the existing Legislation:
The following are currently not offences in Swaziland:
• Rape of a male/boy child
The existing definition of rape only relates to men raping women. Similarly the Girl’s and Women’s Protection Act of 1920 only relates to women and girls and does not cover male children. Sexual penetration of a male is considered an indecent assault which is a lesser charge.
• However the Sexual Offences Bill Broadens the Definition of Rape to cover “ the insertion even in the slightest degree, of the genital organs of a person into the genital organs, anus or other orifice of another person”.
At common law rape is not possible within marriage, as women are considered to have consented to sexual intercourse by entering into the marriage contract. If a woman does not consent to sexual intercourse it is rape and should be treated as such, whether she is married or not.
• The Sexual Offences does not address the issue of Marital Rape, it does not criminalize it.
Indecent Treatment of Children
(Sexual behaviour that does not include penetration)
• The Sexual Offences Bill deals in details with this under S36. this has been a gap in the existing legislation. Indecent treatment of children in the Sexual Offences Bill includes unlawfully and indecently dealing with children, unlawfully procuring a child to commit a sexual violation, unlawfully permits himself to be unlawfully dealt with by a child, wilfully and unlawfully exposes a child to a sexual violation by him or another person.
Maintaining a Sexual Relationship With a Child
Having an offence such as this means that you do not need to prove every event of sexual intercourse.
• This is covered in the Sexual Offences Bill and it is not a requirement that one must have had sexual Relationship with that child for conviction.
Compelled Sexual Assault or Self Assault
• S 7 and 8 of the Bill deals with this two issues. It provides that forcing one to commit a sexual violation with another commits an offence. It further provides that any persons who compels another without his or her consent to do certain acts like masturbation or sexually suggestive or lewd acts commits an offence.
• Sexual Harassment is now covered in the bill. It includes
• Subjecting a person to a unsolicited intimacy with including but not limited to physical contact such as patting, pinching or touching in a way that gives you sexual pleasure.
• Making an unsolicited demand or request for sexual favours.
• Making a remark with sexual connotation.
• Penalties/Sentences for Offences
Penalties for sexual offences have not been updated for sometime. As a result penalties for sexual offences often do not reflect the serious nature of these crimes.
• The Sexual offences Bill comes with high sentences, making provisions for 50 thousand fine for some of the offences.
Failings that need to be Addressed
• Delay in reporting
At present any delay in reporting a sexual offence can be held against a victim. This is unfair and does not take account of the trauma which victims suffer and the different ways victims deal with sexual abuse.
• The sexual offences Bill takes into account that a victim may due to certain hindrances not be able to report in time.
• Lack of Children’s Courts
Children’s cases are generally tried in mainstream courts where they are administered by personnel without specialised training. Whilst a Children’s Court has recently been established in the High Court, numerous cases involving children are still tried in the Magistrates Courts which have no special facilities for children.
Obligation to Report
Whilst in other crimes the law makes it mandatory to report, the same does not apply for sexual offences.
• The Bill makes it an offence if a person fails to report abuse.
Domestic Violence – Restoring Peace
The court procedure for applying for an interdict or a peace binding order is cumbersome and difficult to understand. People are often told they need a lawyer to get protection from the Court. A simple process for applying for protection from the Court needs to be developed so that protection is available to all.
• The Domestic Violence part of the Bill is not punitive, it seeks to restore peace in different family setting taking into account cohabiting spouses. It makes the courts more accessible for victims of domestic violence.
The mini skirt march almost didn’t happen. The police thought the girls were “indecently dressed.” Ironically, they had to change into jeans and longer skirts. Doubly ironic considering the barely-there “cultural” attire at the Reed Dance!
As tomorrow is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign, I thought I’d tally up the week’s awareness-raising accomplishments. On Tuesday, I accompanied Doreen, the Girls Empowerment Club co-coordinator, to the Swaziland Broadcasting station (SBIS) where she did a terrific phone-in radio show. Some of the callers wanted to know why men aren’t targeted during the campaign. They are, but with 77% of the survivors being women, well, they get the lion’s share of attention. We did have one man come and speak at the launch about the financial abuse he suffered at the hands of his wife’s family, who cleared out his home when she died. Nomthandazo, SWAGAA’s child counselor, did three radio shows on Voice of Church, talking about child, adult and youth sexual abuse. I wrote a half page advertorial that ran in the Times about the link between gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. I also had an article on the same topic published by The Nation magazine. Wednesday I spoke at the Girls Empowerment Club stakeholders’ meeting, with 50 girls club members, about why we were wearing the white ribbon on our chests and what wonderful ambassadors the girls are 365 days of the year, helping to report cases of abuse and spreading the word on how to prevent it. Friday was the mini-skirt march and the UN Women’s Ride On, Men Speak Out campaign, where bikers from eight countries rode through Manzini in support of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign. I personally got to pin white ribbons on all these tough, burly and hugely supportive fellows!
Tomorrow is the last day of the campaign. There’s going to be a media breakfast at Mountain Inn. The Deputy Prime Minister’s office will make remarks, as will the executive director of SWAGAA. Ntombi Nyoni, the SWAGAA legal officer, will discuss the Gender Protocol Barometer, a monitoring of gender policies throughout Southern Africa. There will also be a media Q&A session. Newspapers, radio and TV have been very influential in getting the message out this year and the Gender Consortium, (I’m on the Media Committee), is very thankful.
Even though tomorrow is the end of the campaign, the work will continue to roll forward. Behaviour change is the most difficult kind of change. The message may have been dispersed, but now we have to see it put into action.
Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku with winners of the essay competion at International Day of the Girl Child festivities on Oct. 11, 2012.
After two months of planning, the Swaziland International Day of the Girl Child was a smash success! Three weeks of media were a great lead up to the actual day. Representatives from SWAGAA (including me) and various NGOs spoke on radio and TV about the dangers of teen pregnancy, early sexual debut and the reality of sexual abuse in this country. The statistics are shocking, but at least there are prevention measures such as education and awareness campaigns in place.
On the actual day, Oct. 11th, there was a commemorative event at Happy Valley Casino and resort, where the winners of the essay contest were able to read their essays. It was enlightening, upsetting and heartwarming all at the same time. Beautiful 10-year-old girl children telling their stories and warning perpetrators to stop abusing girls. I cried, and I laughed with joy watching them do dances, songs and poems that blew the rest of the house away as well. Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku attended, as did U.S. Ambassador Makila James, and top represetatives from the UNFPA and the UNDP offices.
Having attended all the planning meetings, and having coordinated the essay contest, it was a big day for me and all the girl children of Swaziland.
CONGRATULATIONS! WE GOT THE WORD OUT!! SWAZILAND GIRLS DESERVE TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. LET THEM REACH FOR THE SKY!!
1st place essay competion winner in the 14-18-year-old category.
The DPM presents the winner in the under-13 category with her prize.
A beautiful song from the Lusoti Primary School girls.
Members of the Girls Empowerment Club, Swazi National High School with SWAGAA's Doreen Ngwenya (lower, centre), co-ordinator of the clubs, and a teacher from the school (r).
An article I wrote that appeared in The Times of Swaziland…..
The first International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 is an exciting event for the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) as it marks a culmination of a several efforts and initiatives aimed at supporting the Girl Child worldwide and in the country.
A prime example, which is the pride and joy of SWAGAA, is the Girls Empowerment Clubs programme. This initiative is modeled after a programme in Zimbabwe and was born out of a belief that all girls have a right to a safe space where they can freely and openly learn about their human rights, share their experiences, and their hopes for the future. SWAGAA started the program in 2008 with the support from Canada’s Crossroads International as a way to encourage the development of a positive self-concept among young girls while providing comprehensive education about sexual and gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS and healthy life choices. The establishment of the school-based clubs was in response to the disturbing findings of a UNICEF 2007 study on Violence Against Children which showed one in three females in Swaziland have experienced sexual violence as a child.
Currently there are 12 clubs, five in primary schools and seven in high schools in both rural and urban areas in the country. On an annual basis, more than 400 young girls benefit from these safe spaces and begin to realize their strength and potential. To date, more than 2,000 Swazi girls have gained the skills that will prepare them to become dynamic women in leadership and agents of change for society.
Assessments of the program show some very positive results, which among others include: reported decrease in school drop-out rate due to teenage pregnancy, reported increase in club members’ academic achievement despite poor performance prior to club establishment – some have even ranked in the top five achievers.
One of the most effective tools used in the club is a personal journal, which every club member receives. When permitted by the girls, club leaders read through the journals to identify and report challenges in the girls’ lives. This exercise allows the girls to speak out about their life experiences and enables the club leaders to assist them, whether through identifying and referring cases of abuse to SWAGAA, or to connect the girl with other relevant structures within the community such as child protection committees for other support needs. The examples are many. One leader recalled a nine-year-old girl in a rural area who drew a house with no windows, roof or doors. It was empty. She also drew a picture of herself and two younger siblings looking very lonely, playing outside. After reading through the journal, the leader asked her about the picture. The girl said she wanted to become a better person tomorrow, so she could finish the house her deceased parents left to them. This further enabled the club leader to identify the abject poverty the children were living in and connect them to other agencies (including Crossroads International, which provided them with school uniforms) and community structures which monitored their situation and ensured the children attended school and had a healthy living situation.
Through working with trained mentors, SWAGAA ensures that the girls also develop a strong sense of responsibility toward the development of their communities. Girls are encouraged to do community outreach programs to get buy-in from the community, while raising awareness about the Girls Empowerment Clubs and the activities they engage in.
SWAGAA appreciates the importance of empowering the boy child too, particularly in the area of human rights and gender. It is important to challenge and deconstruct status quo notions of masculinity starting at an early age and it is for this reason that SWAGAA has developed a program for engaging men and boys as agents in promoting Human Rights and Gender Justice in Swaziland.
On October 11th, the world celebrates the girl child because globally, where there is poverty, disease, lack, exploitation, discrimination, unemployment, illiteracy, mortality, and hunger — the most vulnerable to these social ills is the girl child. There is a need to champion the girl child, to break the divide and ensure that girls and boys, men and women, can have equal opportunities and be celebrated equally.