Thursday, March 21, 2019

Swaziland family treat teenager like a dog because she cannot walk and care for herself

A report in Swaziland / eSwatini says a teenager with physical challenges was forced by her family to live in a shack like a dog.

It demonstrates the extreme difficulties people with disabilities in the kingdom face. They are often hidden away because it is thought they are cursed or bring bad luck.

The latest case involving a 17-year-old girl at Mhlaleni in the Manzini Region was reported by the Times of Swaziland on Monday (18 March 2019). She has deformed feet and has never been able to walk. 

The newspaper reported her stepfather said at first they tried to accommodate her in the family house but as she was physically challenged she would frequently soil herself if there was no one around to assist her. 

The Times reported, ‘The stepfather claimed that the situation was so unbearable to a point that they decided to relocate the girl to the make-shift structure to remedy the situation.’ She has been there for two years.

The Times added, ‘The make-shift structure is constructed out of timber with spaces in between, allowing cold air into the structure. The structure also has a leaking roof and during rainy days, water seeps through, a scenario that poses hazardous effects to the health of the child.’

Her case is not unusual in Swaziland where people with disabilities are often hidden by their families. 

In 2017 Autism Swaziland Director Tryphinah Mvubu said people with Autism were often excluded from social services because their parents kept them away from the public in fear of embarrassment. 

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported her saying, ‘Some parents refuse to accept children with this condition as this disorder is considered to be a bad omen, hence they are locked in the house day in and day out so they cannot be seen by members of the community. They are so stigmatised to an extent that in some cases they are not even counted as members of the family.’

It is not only autistic children who are hidden. In July 2016, it was reported in local media that two disabled orphan children in Swaziland had been concealed from the world after a government official told their family it would harm the image of the kingdom if people knew of their condition.

It was reported that the two children aged 16 and eight might be suffering from polio. It was said they had not walked since they were born and had shrunk muscles and could only crawl. They both cannot talk. 

The abandonment of the children was one of many examples of poor treatment of people with disabilities in Swaziland.

A report published by SINTEF Technology and Society, Global Health and Welfare in 2011 that studied living conditions among people with disabilities in Swaziland, found, ‘There is a general belief that those who have a disability are bewitched or inflicted by bad spirits.

‘Many believe that being around people with disabilities can bring bad luck. As a result, many people with disabilities are hidden in their homesteads and are not given an opportunity to participate and contribute to society.’

It also found that people with disabilities had been abandoned by the Swazi Government. The report stated, ‘The absence of any comprehensive laws and policies to address people with disabilities’ access to equal opportunities reflect a lack of political will and a failure to recognize disability as a human right issue contributes to the devaluing and dehumanising of people with disabilities.

‘People with disabilities have the same rights as able-bodied people and they are entitled to enjoy all citizenry rights.’

See also

Sick kids 'hidden to save Swazi image'

Hidden sick kids: UNICEF responds

Disabled people ‘treated like animals’

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