Thousands of slaves in Swaziland - survey

By Lewis Simelane Time of article published Nov 25, 2014

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Mbabane - Nearly 7 000 slaves are held in subjugation in Swaziland, according to the Global Slavery Index 2014.

Swaziland is listed as having a medium-high level of slavery, compared with South Africa, which has a low level.

However, in absolute numbers South Africa’s population, which is five times higher than Swaziland, contains 105 000 persons defined as slaves.

Calling modern slavery a hidden crime often involving forced labour and human trafficking, the Australia-based human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation said: “All forms involve one person depriving another person of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to control their own body.”

In Swaziland, 6 700 people were reported as being possessed or controlled “in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal”.

Swaziland’s government receives a low score of four on a scale of one to 12 for its response to slavery in the country, but at 31 out of 41 sub-Saharan countries, does not have the highest percentage of individuals held in slavery – 4 percent of Mauritania’s population are slaves.

In absolute numbers, Nigeria is Africa’s human slavery capital, containing 834 200 slaves including hostages of the terror group Boko Haram.

Lesotho has double Swaziland’s number of slaves, at 15 500. In Swaziland many slaves are migrants who fled violence and natural disasters in other sub-Saharan countries and had their freedom taken away by Swazi employers, either in commercial establishments, domestic servitude or prostitution.

Perpetuating slavery in Swaziland is the country’s relatively weak government, which is ranked as less stable by the survey than the governments of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

With state institutions ineffective, the government is unable, or lacks the motivation, to adequately address slavery – either migrants’ servitude or Swazis who are captive as child labourers or adult slaves.

Forced marriage for underage girls is also considered a form of slavery. Polygamy is legal in Swaziland, where King Mswati has 15 wives and older men customarily wed younger girls.

Within the dual legal system of Swaziland, statutory laws demarcating 18 as the legal age for marriage may not apply for traditional marriages. - Independent Foreign Service

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