15 September 2021
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Eswatini on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with Committee Experts welcoming legislative progress, and asking about child health related issues, such as age determination and nutrition, also raising the issue of corporal punishment.
Presenting the report, Themba Nhlanganiso Masuku, Deputy Prime Minister of Eswatini and head of the delegation, noted that children made up almost half the country’s population, adding that their education, social protection and health was a priority for the Government. However, challenges to the welfare of Eswatini’s children included the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which had closed schools for over a year, as well as global warming and climate change. Rainfall was becoming unpredictable and unreliable, affecting subsistence agriculture, which negatively affected food security and child nutrition.
In the dialogue, Committee experts focused on issues related to the legislative progress that Eswatini had already made through amending its current laws and relevant regulations. The Committee asked the delegation to elaborate on issues related to the health system in the country, especially in the light of mental health, children with disabilities, and Eswatini’s process for issuing birth certificates. The Committee Experts also enquired on how different financial aid was distributed timely and efficiently in Eswatini. They also asked about the situation of Swazi prisons and refugee camps.
The delegation, in its responses, explained the many grants and aids available to children in Eswatini, including for instance electricity aid and water aid for children in rural areas. Food was distributed to children in need, as well as to their caregivers if they did not have sufficient resources or access to nutrition. When it came to age determination for children without birth certificates, the law made provisions around determining their estimated age, but neighbours from the village the child was from would assist the professionals in determining the age of the child, the delegation explained.
The delegation of Eswatini was comprised of representatives of the Eswatini Government, including its Deputy Prime Minister, Principal Secretary, Acting Director, Principal Crown Counsel, Coordinator, Senior Planner, and Protocol Officer.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations and recommendations on its review of Eswatini at the end of its 88th session, which concludes on 24 September. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 16 to hold the first of two segments of an online Day of General Discussion.
The Committee had before it the combined second to fourth reports of Eswatini (CRC/C/SWZ/2-4)
Presentation of the Report
THEMBA NHLANGANISO MASUKU, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Eswatini and head of the delegation, presented the report saying that his country invested considerable resources and efforts to safeguard and promote children’s rights. Children made up almost half of Eswatini’s population. Eswatini prioritized education, social protection, and health, as the foundation for human development. Some of the country’s key programmes included free primary education, school feeding, maternal and child health services, grants for persons with disabilities, and grants for orphaned and vulnerable children. Free primary education had improved the total primary school enrolment to 98% and maternal mortality had also been reduced. Neonatal mortality had been reduced, and adolescent pregnancy had also been reduced. The country also made strides in eliminating maternal HIV transmission.
Eswatini’s constitution and other legislation aimed to strengthen children’s rights and protect them from social norms which threatened their future, freedom, and their very survival, he said. One such piece of legislation was the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2018. To show its commitment to eradicating sexual violence, a series of programs aimed to facilitate its effective implementation. Regulations for a 2012 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act had been developed and were expected to be passed soon. Noting that his country was well-known for its “beautiful cultures”, he underscored that the value of culture was found in its ability to deliver social and economic benefits that protected children. Eswatini’s children were protected by the law to choose which cultural practices they wished to participate in.
Current global challenges such as economic recession, global warming, and the COVID-19 pandemic had caused developing countries to find themselves in a dilemma of choosing between spending on current issues or investing in the future. Another dilemma was prioritising between survival and human development needs. Global warming and climate change was negatively affecting children’s rights, with Eswatini experiencing unprecedented weather changes including cyclones, drought and temperatures reaching 44 degrees Celsius. Rainfall had become unpredictable and unreliable, affecting subsistence agriculture and thus food security and child nutrition.
The COVID-19 pandemic had interrupted school for children, with some grades having to close for over a year. Most children could not afford mobile phones and data to participate in online classes. Programmes preventing teenage pregnancy had also been adversely affected by school closures, with 1760 teenage pregnancies observed in the country during the pandemic period. Children had also suffered due to civil unrest earlier in 2021. Eswatini was finalising a national Plan of Action for Children to cover 2022-2026 in order to ensure a systematic way to the fulfilment of the rights of children in line with the Convention. Eswatini was fully committed to a society where the rights and dignity of children was fully respected and promoted in line with the Convention.
Questions by the Committee Experts
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Member and Country Coordinator for Eswatini, noted that Eswatini had made progress on legislation, namely through its Child Protection and Welfare Act. What were the next steps on allocating resources for effective implementation? Was there progress in improving the distribution of development aid?
ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Member, asked for more information on the implementation and the actual role of the Eswatini’s Disability Act. On the Child Protection and Welfare Act, she asked for details on the operational training and preparation that judges and others received in order to work more efficiently. What support was available to families from the government, who was eligible, and what were the amounts? What steps had been taken to protect orphans?
PHILIP JAFFE, Committee Vice-Chair, expressed concern for girls who never received help following sexual violence. Had Eswatini requested assistance from international organisations on that issue? In the local community, how many people were working for entities working on that matter? Was there a fully functional national phone line available to help all parties concerned? What actions had the government taken to reduce corporal punishment in families, and was there a view to prohibiting that practice in law?
Replies by the Delegation
Regarding the budget, Eswatini had a unit in charge of coordinating financial aid in its Ministry of Economy, the delegation said. Some legislation might need to be changed, the delegation said, especially in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On the issue of data collection, there were two systems operating in Eswatini, which conducted various surveys in the country. Eswatini’s Marriage Act, as well as its Citizenship Act were under review, and as regards birth legislation, every birth was registered. However, births that happened at home, not in a hospital, were still not registered. The problem was that some people did not want to register the birth of their children, said the delegation.
People with disabilities wishing to receive aid had to go through a specific procedure. Training was also provided to all public officials, including health and police, and judiciary workers. On the matter of sexual assault, the delegation said that victims were afraid to file a complaint. That was the reason the government tried to provide education, as a preventive measure against sexual assault. Many organisations, such as the World Food Programme, operated in Eswatini and helped the population with their daily lives. As for a phone line, it was operational as line 116, where citizens could call to file a complaint. Regarding corporal punishment, the Ministry of Education had developed guidelines to discourage corporal punishment both in schools and homes.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Member and Country Coordinator for Eswatini, came back to the issue on development aid, asking for more information on details of distribution. On the Marriage Act and the Welfare Act, he asked how the courts and law enforcement agencies dealt with issues such as child marriages.
ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Member, wanted to understand whether State aid was given to the caregivers of children with disabilities. Regarding training, she asked for further clarification on how it was guaranteed by the State party. Also, who decided how financial aid was distributed? On the issue of children in alternative care, she said the Committee would publish a report with general guidelines on how to prevent children from being institutionalized, and instead let them stay with their families. On birth registration, she suggested that incentivising the family might work better than punishment. Had Eswatini taken any measures in that direction?
PHILIP JAFFE, Committee Vice-Chair, pointed out that there was a lot of research on positive parenting, and asked whether Eswatini had a professional social workforce to tackle violence against children?
SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member, asked for more information about children born at home. She then asked for more information on poverty levels in Eswatini, which was currently high according to the Committee’s information. Could the delegation provide more information on the situation around HIV and AIDS in the country? With regard to mental health, were there any people trained to deal with children with such problems?
JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Member, asked what measures were currently in place to fight corporal punishment concretely? Regarding children with disabilities, he praised the fact that there was already legislation into place in Eswatini, however, he asked for more information on how the situation had actually improved after the country had implemented the relevant law. Which measures had been taken to improve the health services in the country, as well as sexual education? Which measures had been taken to mitigate industrial pollution threatening drinking water? Which measures had been taken to protect children with mental health problems?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Member, asked about the number of refugee children in Eswatini. Were there trained staff at the center where they were held? He also asked about training of other public officials who worked with children in Eswatini. On the matter of employment, were any cases of child labour prosecuted, and what happened to the perpetrators? Was there any national plan to tackle corporal punishment? Which measures were taken to help victims of trafficking?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions about child marriages, the delegation replied that according to law, a person below the age of 18 was not allowed to have sexual relations, which practically meant they could not get married at an early age. There was also a provision in the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act that further protected children from unwanted sexual acts. Regarding birth registration, almost all mothers delivered their babies at a hospital, and the births were registered immediately. Births at home could also be registered within three months and receive birth certificates free of charge. The child was named immediately. Some families did not see the importance of a birth certificate, unless they needed it for access to a hospital later.
Contraception was also distributed free of charge in Eswatini. When new legislation or practices were put in place, new magistrates and judicial officers were trained through workshops. On incentives to leave children with their families, the delegation explained that when there was serious illness or another serious issue in the family, it was believed that it was better to give children shelter outside the family instead. Some legal provisions in Eswatini envisaged the prevention of corporal punishment indirectly, but there was no law to prosecute a person (a parent or a teacher) who admitted meting out that kind of punishment to a child. Advocacy programmes in schools and in homes aimed to educate teachers, caregivers and parents on preventing corporal punishment, and also how children should react when someone was touching their bodies. There was further training provided to social workers as well.
The delegation explained that regarding financial grants, some took longer to disburse, due to verification procedures ensuring that people actually complied with the criteria for receiving the aid. In rural areas, children benefited from different aids (for instance, electricity and water aid) at the same time. Children had access to health care; that included children involved in prostitution. People involved in trafficking children, including for the purposes of prostitution, faced penalties. Eswatini applied the human rights model to people with disabilities meaning that they had the right to housing, food, and many other rights. Autism was included on the list of disabilities. A disability grant was also available to children diagnosed with such disabilities.
Food was distributed to children in need, as well as to their caregivers if they did not have sufficient resources or access to nutrition. A foundation had been created to fight HIV, and was reaching its targets for reducing HIV infections. Other programs promoting health were also successfully launched in Eswatini. There were clinics specifically devoted to mental health problems. Psychological first care had also been introduced to stabilise the situation of any person who might have experienced injury that could have a serious impact on their mental health. Most health services in Eswatini were provided free of charge, the delegation said.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee members asked for further information on the distribution of financial aid in Eswatini. They also asked for information about reported cases of children locked up with adults in prisons in the country. In cases where a child had no birth certificate, what was the specific procedure that Eswatini used to assess the child’s age? Committee members expressed concern that the methodology that was currently being used for age determination might be outdated. Were there any specific provisions in law that guaranteed that a child was consulted on matters that concerned them?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation pointed out that Eswatini’s education budget was reduced in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not affect the education of children itself. The around 700 people in the refugee camp had access to schools, social and health services. Regarding questions about children locked up together with adults, the delegation suggested that perhaps the Committee was referring to cases where a mother had given birth in prison. Otherwise, the law prohibited imprisoning children alongside adults.
The delegation explained that the specific prison referred to by the Committee member was a prison for adults, adding that there was no possibility that an adult would be in custody with a child. As to the question on age determination for children without a birth certificate, the law made provisions for such a child to be presented to a social officer, medical officer and then magistrate, to determine their estimated age. The delegation explained that neighbours from the village the child was from would assist the professionals in determining the age of the child. Children participated in youth groups in schools, where they could express their opinions.
Committee members thanked the delegation for the updates given on progress in Eswatini on the rights of children. Despite progress in some areas, there were matters that needed further attention, including on the way laws were drafted. The Committee noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed down the legislative process. The high-level presence of the Deputy Prime Minister was noted positively, as he had proven to be a knowledgeable expert on the questions raised. Eswatini was the first delegation to attend its review in person following the COVID-19 pandemic, which had not allowed for meetings in person.
THEMBA NHLANGANISO MASUKU, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Eswatini and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee and said his delegation had already learned a great deal from the expertise of the Committee members, which would be put into place immediately in Eswatini. Among other lessons, the delegation had learned how Eswatini could improve some of its regulations and action plans. Expressing optimism about future harmonisation of the legislation and regulations in Eswatini, Mr. Nhlanganiso Masuku assured the Committee that Eswatini’s next report would not only show significant improvement in its legislation, but a general enjoyment in the way children were safeguarded in Eswatini. The delegation was committed to responding to all questions that were not covered during the meeting.
For use of the information media; not an official record