The Government of Swaziland / eSwatini does not does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of people trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so, according to the latest annual report from the United States State Department.
The report covered the year 2018. ‘Poor performance by leadership personnel at the anti-trafficking secretariat remained the principal obstacle to progress on trafficking during much of the reporting period,’ the report stated.
The government shelved a long-pending draft bill to amend the 2009 People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) Act, as it determined it would have created expensive new bureaucratic structures.
However, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act came into force in August 2018 which included provisions for people trafficking. The Act provides for penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to E100,000 (US$6,970), or both, for the commercial sexual exploitation of an adult and, up to 25 years’ imprisonment with no option of a fine if the offense involved a child.
The report stated the government investigated more than 2,000 cases under the SODV Act, although it was unclear how many included potential trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It finalized a new, five-year national action plan. The task force for the Prevention of People Trafficking and People Smuggling was re-established in January 2017 after a four-month lapse and met regularly in 2018 and early 2019.
The report stated, ‘As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Eswatini, and traffickers exploit victims from Eswatini abroad. Swati trafficking victims come primarily from poor communities with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.
‘Traffickers exploit Swati girls, particularly orphans, in sex trafficking and domestic servitude, primarily in Eswatini and South Africa. Traffickers force Swati boys and foreign children to labor in agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country.
‘Mozambican boys migrate to Eswatini for work washing cars, herding livestock, and portering; traffickers exploit some in forced labor. Traffickers use Eswatini as a transit country to transport foreign victims to South Africa for forced labor.
‘Traffickers reportedly force Mozambican women into prostitution in Eswatini, or transport them through Eswatini to South Africa. Some traffickers force Swati into commercial sex in South Africa after voluntarily migrating in search of work.
‘Reports suggest labor brokers fraudulently recruit and charge excessive fees to Swati nationals for work in South African mines—means often used to facilitate trafficking crimes. Swati men in border communities are recruited for forced labor in South Africa’s timber industry.’
King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland, was himself named in a global report on modern slavery in 2018 for forcing his subjects to weed his fields.
His supporters say the work is done in the name of culture but others say if they do not work for the King they are punished.
The Global Slavery Index 2018 said there was evidence that the practice of kuhlehla continued, ‘where the community is forced to render services or work for the King or local chiefs’.
The report estimated there were 12,000 people in Swaziland in modern slavery. This number increased from 1,302 people in 2013 and 6,700 people in 2014. The numbers for 2018 may have been distorted by changes in the way victims were counted.
The report stated modern slavery, ‘refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and / or abuse of power’.
This was not the first time King Mswati was named in a report on modern slavery or human trafficking. The annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017 from the United States State Department said, ‘Swazis are culturally expected to participate in the seasonal weeding and harvesting of the King’s fields and those who may refuse are subject to coercion through threats and intimidation by their chiefs.’
Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than the equivalent of $US2 per day. They can be forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998 which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.
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