Big day for Swazi children as parliament passes two bills
Lobamba, Swaziland – Thursday October 27 2011 will go down as a very important day for the children of Swaziland. This is the day on which the country’s lower house of parliament, the House of Assembly, passed two legislations that are very important for children and women.
It took just one sitting for the house to pass the Children’s Protection and Welfare Bill 2010 tabled by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Honourable Themba Masuku. Another victory for children was scored just moments earlier, when the same house passed the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill 2009 following a debate that spanned two sittings. All that is left now is for the upper house, the House of Senate, to endorse the two bills after which they will be signed into law by His Majesty King Mswati III.
This will be received as the best news for children and a major milestone for Swaziland, in particular children and women, who are the most affected victims of sexual and violent abuse. It will also be seen as a fulfilment of a pledge signed by most members of parliament when they took office in 2008, in which they committed to pass laws that protect children and promote their welfare. A lot of consultations involving government, parliamentarians, civil society organisations and children had preceded the debate in parliament.
Deputy Prime Minister a happy man
The DPM, whose office is responsible for children’s issues, was a happy man. He said after the second bill was passed: “I actually can’t explain how I feel about this.” Looking around the chamber, he added: “Today you have made history; we have all made history, and I would like to congratulate all members of the house for their commitment in this process. The children of this country will look back to this day and remember you honourable members,” he said. Speaker Prince Guduza also praised the House for its commitment in the passing of the bills. Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Chief Mgwagwa who tabled the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, praised the parliamentarians for committing the legislature to creating a safe environment for children and women.
The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill 2009 was particularly praised for its progressive approach in tackling sexual abuse against children and women. And in a country with a high rate of abuse against women and children, members of parliament (MPs) had every reason to praise the bill. MP Bheki Mkhonta, Chairman of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, which led consultations on the bill, gave a background of the consultative process that preceded the debate in parliament. He assured members that the bill had received input from a wide range of stakeholders including government, non-governmental organisations and communities. It had good objectives and was the perfect instrument to eradicate the abuse of children and women, he said. Arguing that it had taken too long for the bill to be passed, Honourable Mkhonta persuaded his colleagues to pass the bill without fear, as he assured that it would take the country forward in its pursuit of children and women’s rights. “This bill, honourable members, is perfectly in line with the bill of rights which is enshrined in our constitution,” said Mkhonta. Swaziland was signatory to international conventions, and therefore should fulfil its obligations by passing the bill, Mkhonta urged. “This is a perfect instrument,” he emphasised. The bill would also help to curb the spread of HIV in the country by maintaining gender balance, added Mkhonta.
He was supported by a number of parliamentarians, who took turns praising it. Honourable Nonhlanhla Dlamini praised the bill for extending the definition of rape to also include young men and boys. “I also praise the bill for clearly defining incest, which created confusion in the past for courts and other law enforcement institutions,” she said. Honourable Esther Dlamini said the bill would help to break the silence on the abuse of children and women. “Now people will report abuse knowing that there is a remedy in law. We have helplessly watched our children being abused. Now we know we have a remedy,” she said. Honourable Mkhululi Dlamini said one of the most important components of the bill was that it would introduce the register for sexual offenders, which would make it possible for parents to verify the records of people who looked after their children, at home and at school. “Swaziland has lagged behind in its international obligations for too long. I praise this bill for taking the country a step forward,” Honourable Patrick Gamedze, who is also vice chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on children.