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Key findings
  • About three-fourths (74%) of Emaswati say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children. Opposition to the practice has nearly quadrupled since 2018, from 7% to 26%. o Support for the use of physical force to discipline children declines as respondents’ education level and economic status rise.
  • More than one-third (36%) of citizens say the use of physical force to discipline children is “somewhat common” or “very common” in their community.
  • Fewer than three in 10 Emaswati (27%) say child abuse and neglect are common problems in their community, while 35% say the same about out-of-school children. o Poor citizens are significantly more likely than well-off respondents to report that child abuse/neglect and out-of-school children are frequent problems in their community.
  • Fewer than half of Emaswati say resources are available in their community to help abused and neglected children (49%), children with disabilities (42%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (37%). o Citizens who are poor are considerably less likely than their better-off counterparts to report that support services for vulnerable children are available in their community.
  • More than six in 10 Emaswati (62%) say the government is doing a “fairly bad” or “very bad” job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

In Eswatini, children below age 17 make up 43% of the country’s population (OHCHR, 2021;  UNICEF, 2022). The most recent Household Income and Expenditure Survey (2016/2017)  reports that a staggering 70% of these children live in poverty, with alarming levels of  exposure to hunger and health and educational disadvantages (UNICEF, 2020). 

According to a 2022 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey, roughly six in 10 Emaswati  girls (58.7%) and boys (62.5%) aged 13-17 years are unable to consistently access food (Kingdom of Eswatini, 2023). One-quarter (26%) of children under age 5 are stunted (World  Food Programme, 2022). 

Many Emaswati children are also vulnerable to violence and abuse. UNICEF (2020) found that an astounding 88% of children aged 1-14 years experienced psychological or physical  punishment within the month preceding its survey, and one-third of young girls will fall victim  to sexual violence before age 18. 

At 27.9%, Eswatini registers the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world (UN News, 2023;  BBC News, 2023). While significant strides have been made in curbing new infections,  HIV/AIDS is the most common cause of death among children below age 5 (USAID, 2023),  and it has left tens of thousands of children without parents or caregivers. The COVID-19  pandemic orphaned 5,200 children, exacerbating an already dire situation (Mkhonta, 2022).  

The state’s legal arsenal to protect children includes the Constitution (Section 29), the  National Policy for Children (2009), the Free Primary Education Act (2010), the National  Gender Policy (2010), the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act (2012), the Persons with  Disabilities Act (2018), the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (2018), the National  Youth Policy (2020), and most recently, the National Plan of Action for Children in Eswatini  (2023-2027) (Kingdom of Eswatini, 2005; UNICEF, 2023). 

These domestic commitments are strengthened by international obligations in the form of the  United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and  Welfare of the Child, the ILO Convention on Minimum Age of Admission to Employment, the  Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with  Disabilities (UNICEF, 2023). 

This dispatch reports on a survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023)  questionnaire to explore African attitudes and perceptions related to child well-being. 

Survey findings show that a large majority of Emaswati endorse the use of physical force to  discipline children, although opposition to the practice has increased in recent years. 

While most respondents describe child abuse and neglect and out-of-school children as  infrequent occurrences in their community, fewer than half of citizens say resources are available in their community to help children who are abused or neglected, children with  disabilities, and children and adults facing mental or emotional problems. 

Poor citizens are particularly likely to endorse the use of physical force, to say that corporal  punishment is common, to see child abuse/neglect and out-of-school children as common  issues, and to report that support services for vulnerable children are not available in their  community. 

Overall, fewer than four in 10 Emaswati approve of the government’s performance in  protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children. 

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa