Next time the Swazi Prime Minister tells us that Swaziland is a peaceful country – and we should shun people who want to make changes in the kingdom, because they will destroy the tranquillity - send him a copy of this blogpost.
Swaziland may be ‘peaceful’ if you define ‘peace’ as ‘an absence of war’, but for ordinary girls in the kingdom, life is Hell.
A report published last week by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that one in three Swazi women has suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child, while one in four experienced physical violence. Often the abusers are the girls’ own fathers or boyfriends.
The survey, the National Study on Violence Against Children and Young Women, based its findings on interviews among rural and urban communities. Disturbingly, it concluded that violence and sexual assault against girls primarily took place at home.
Jama Gulaid, UNICEF representative in Swaziland, said, ‘We found that 75 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence were known to the victim.’
Gulaid said, ‘It is not surprising that sexual abuse of girls is a household problem, because Swazis reside in multi-generational homes, usually isolated farms. Relatively few girls are raped by strangers in towns because less of the population resides in towns, and there is a heightened awareness of security there’.
Only 43.5 percent of girls said their first sexual experiences were freely willed and devoid of coercion: a little less than five percent said they had been introduced to sex as rape victims.
According to a news report circulated by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks and published around the world (to see the full report click here) a third of Swazi females interviewed for the study reported they had experienced emotional abuse. Often, the perpetrators had been abused themselves as children.
‘The established “hand me down” passing on of abuse is evident from what we were told,’ said Pamela Dlamini, a sociology student at the University of Swaziland, who was one of the survey interviewers.
‘Emotional abuse of girls is mostly carried out by the girls' female relatives, who were abused themselves. Sometimes there is jealousy. Instead of reporting an abusive husband or unable to police [the girl], the girl’s mother or aunt will treat the girl as a rival.
‘This comes from a culture where any post-pubescent girl is considered eligible for marriage in a polygamous household, even if she is 13, although Swazi culture does not allow for the incest we find rampant in households where abuse occurs.’
Underscoring the urgency of addressing violence against girls was the AIDS crisis.
‘Rapists don't use condoms, and if a father or uncle are so inclined to rape a daughter or niece, or a boyfriend forces himself on his girlfriend, the danger of HIV transmission is rife,’ IRIN reported Victor Ndlovu, a voluntary testing and counselling officer in the central commercial town of Manzini saying.
‘Add to that the reluctance of girls to report abuse or in many instances to rightly understand they have been violated, we are faced with a serious public health challenge, aside from the individual suffering incurred by the girls.’
The UNICEF study is the first of its kind conducted in Swaziland where anecdotal evidence suggests an alarming number of female children are victims of abuse: more disconcertingly still, the mushrooming population of orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland provides yet more opportunities for sexual exploitation to occur.