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Protection for sexual offense victims in Swaziland

© UNICEF Swaziland/2008/Phakathi
Swaziland's Chief Justice, Richard Banda, cuts the ribbon to open the country's first Sexual Offences Unit. Witnessing are (from left):Justice Monakgeng, UNICEF Representative Dr. Jama Gulaid and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Principal Secretary Sicelo Dlamini.

By Jabulile Phakathi

MBABANE, Swaziland, 30 December 2008 – In response to concern about the alarming rates of violence against children documented in a 2007 national study conducted by UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control, Swaziland has established its first Sexual Offenses Unit for children and young people.

Housed in the Magistrate's Court, the unit has a child-friendly interview room, offices for five prosecutors and a resource centre for staff.

The sexual exploitation of children and women is a major public health issue in Swaziland. One in three females between the ages of 13 and 24 has suffered from some form of sexual violence during childhood. Some 55 per cent of assaults occurred at home or in a friend's home. Victims often suffered in silence, out of fear or to protect a perpetrator who – as is often the case – was someone they knew. Prior to the establishment of the Sexual Offenses Unit, support for victims was largely unavailable.

First step for victims
Swaziland's Chief Justice, Richard Banda, said the Sexual Offenses Unit was a first step towards developing comprehensive care for children and women who have suffered from sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.

© UNICEF Swaziland/2008/Phakathi
A health worker shows the child-friendly interview room at the new Sexual Offences Unit in Mbabane, Swaziland.

"This important unit acknowledges our need to protect our women and children against sexual offenses," he said. He added that Swaziland must establish legislation to ensure the safety and protection of children. And he called for a "one-stop centre" that provides care for victims of violence and abuse.
Swaziland still has far to go to fulfill all the promises it has made to its children. The list of draft instruments awaiting government clearance includes the children's policy, the Child Welfare Policy and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Bill. 
'Another preventable burden'
"Children are facing unprecedented crisis in Swaziland, largely due to the cumulative effects of the worst HIV epidemic in the world, poverty, recurrent droughts, and fuel and food price hikes. Violence is another preventable burden on children," said UNICEF Representative in Swaziland Dr. Jama Gulaid.

"Whatever the cause of the delays, we know that with each day that passes, children miss out on potential benefits and protection that such policies and legislation provide. Without legislation, Swaziland continues to draw unfavorable reviews from regional and global bodies concerned with the rights and welfare of children," he added.

Although much work remains to be done to promote child protection in Swaziland, establishment of the unit is a significant achievement. It is milestone in the national resolve to keep promises to children – and to help combat violence and its physical and psychological consequences.



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