Fast facts

Total population: 1.2 million

Internet penetration rate: 58.9%

State bodies tasked with tackling GBV: Ministry of Justice | Ministry of Gender and Family Issues Unit | Gender Coordination Unit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office | National Children’s Coordination Unit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office | Ministry of Social Welfare | Sexual and Reproductive Health Unit in the Ministry of Health | Eswatini Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration | Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) | National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA)

GBV laws and policies in ESwatini

Section 20 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of. Further, section 28 outlines the rights and freedoms of women, with section 28(2) placing a positive obligation on the government to “provide facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them to realise their full potential and advancement.”


The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act was passed in 2018 and criminalises various forms of sexual violence, including rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. It provides legal protections for victims of GBV and outlines procedures for reporting, investigating, and prosecuting cases of sexual and domestic violence. However, several of the SODV’s provisions are to be operationalised much to the frustration of stakeholders. These include the establishment of a national register of sexual offenders by the Minister; the establishment of specialised courts for domestic violence cases and for cases involving children. Prior to the enactment of the SODVA, sexual offences were mostly governed under the common law.

This Act is outdated and has been the subject of calls for repeal and review in recent years. It has been criticised for enshrining gender inequality, by granting more marital power to men, indirectly fuelling the social conditions for GBV. The Act also only recognises heterosexual marriages.

The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act includes protections against child abuse, exploitation, and neglect. It also establishes the Children’s Court which has jurisdiction.

This Act addresses human trafficking and, therefore, indirectly regulates GBV in the form of sexual exploitation.

The Act includes provisions related to workplace violence, threats or ill-treatment of others, which can contribute to GBV. However, it does not specifically address gendered elements of workplace discrimination and consequently does not provide comprehensive protection.


The National Gender Policy 2023, issued by the Department of Gender and Family Issues within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister describes strategies and objectives for the country to move towards gender equality. Some of the thematic areas covered in the policy are family and socialisation, education and training, as well as poverty and women’s economic empowerment.

The National Development Plan, issued by the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, outlines the country’s strategy toward economic sustainability. While the Plan cites gender equality as a cross-cutting issue, it does not include clear and nuanced goals to foster equality. 


Passed in 2022, the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act criminalises certain forms of online abuse such as cyber-bullying, cyber stalking, harassment, child pornography, and online hate speech. While some of these provisions could be brought to bear on incidents of OGBV, the Act has been widely criticised as a media suppression tool, and in any case does not offer clear legal recourse for those affected by OGBV.

The SODV caters for harassment or abuse which is carried out via electronic means.

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GBV trends and resources in ESwatini

The Kingdom of Eswatini is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and the only one in Africa, with King Mswati III, who came into power in 1986, bearing the responsibility of appointing the Prime Minister and other senior officials, appointing judges, passing legislation, and dissolving Parliament among others.

A number of incidents in Eswatini over the last few years have called into question its human rights track record and issues relating to political governance. For example, in 2021 and the midst of national protests regarding political participation, 46 people were killed and there were at least two internet shutdowns.  In 2023, triggered by the parliamentary elections of September 2023, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution strongly condemning the murder of human rights lawyers and activists. Thulani Maseko, and broadly calling on the government to uphold human rights including the freedom of assembly, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and access to information, including access to the internet and social media.

With respect to gender-based violence (GBV), studies have found that one in three women experience violence by the age of 18, with domestic violence being a primary form. Women and girls often face physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within their own homes, perpetuated by intimate partners or family members.

In 2014,  the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern at the “low level of reporting of violence against women, owing to a culture of silence and impunity, and at the lack of data on the number of reported cases involving violence against women that have been investigated and prosecuted and on the nature of sanctions imposed on perpetrators.” Cultural norms and attitudes exacerbate the prevalence of domestic violence in Eswatini. The concept of familial privacy, or tibi tendlu, is perceived by GBV activists as a contributor to a culture of silence on GBV.

Eswatini has one of the world’s highest HIV rates with a prevalence of 19.5%. Women and girls are five times more likely to test positive for HIV/AIDS than men and boys. In December 2023, the Deputy Prime Minister, Thulisile Dladla, publicly noted the correlation between the HIV infection rate and GBV.

High rates of adolescent pregnancy, particularly in rural locations, are also a concern. According to UNICEF’s 2020 Country Programme Document flags adolescent pregnancy as a key barrier to girls’ education, with the rate being cited as 16%. Community-level poverty has been found to be a key socio-economic driver of adolescent pregnancy.

Following political unrest from 2021 to 2022, GBV incidents escalated in Eswatini leading to CSOs and human rights groups calling for the government to declare GBV a national disaster. CSOs have sustained efforts for government commitment and intervention with a recent delivery of a statement to the prime minister in November 2023 and plans to move a motion in parliament declaring GBV a national disaster. In 2022, GBV made headlines when a prominent lawyer was brought before a court to face four charges under the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, reportedly for committing sexual assault against his four daughters, his niece, and a domestic worker.

LGBTQIA+ rights remain suppressed in Eswatini under the colonial-era criminal offence of sodomy, defined as same-sex relations between men. In 2021, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights surveyed 100 individuals across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum on their experiences with discrimination in Eswatini. About 35% indicated that they had experienced stigma, 28% experienced harassment and 15% indicated that they had experienced a combination of stigma, harassment and violence. While the non-discrimination clause in the Constitution has been interpreted as non-exhaustive, it bears mentioning that it does not expressly recognise sexual orientation as a protected characteristic. In terms of notable legal developments, in 2023, the Supreme Court ordered the Registrar of Companies to enable the registration of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM), which advocates for the protection of LGBTQIA+ persons. Despite the judgment, the group was denied registration.

Eswatini does not have any laws specifically addressing online GBV (OGBV). While the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act, which was passed in March 2022, does not speak specifically to OGBV, it criminalises certain forms of online abuse, including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, child pornography, and the dissemination of hate speech online. While some of these provisions could be brought to bear on incidents of OGBV, the Act has been widely criticised as a tool for media suppression too and for its ambiguity in certain instances.

In Eswatini, it is reported that one in three Swazi women will experience some form of sexual violence by the time they are 18, while almost half of Swazi women will experience some form of sexual violence over their lifetime. Intimate partners, such as husbands and boyfriends, are most likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence against women.

An in-depth study of several hundred female students at the University of Eswatini found that 60% had experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, with more than half of these having involved the respondent’s romantic partner.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a spike in reported violence against women and girls. The Rapid Gender Assessment on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Men In Eswatini found that approximately 80% women and men felt that GBV had increased during the pandemic. During the pandemic, a quarter of women reported feeling less safe in their communities as a result of movement restrictions.

The Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) reported a 30% increase in rape cases in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019 and a 40% increase in domestic violence during the same period. The National Surveillance System on Violence reported that Eswatini had seen 9399 cases of GBV between January and September 2020. Given the challenges with underreporting of abuse, it is presumed that the actual number is much higher.

From 2021 to 2022, Eswatini was rocked by nationwide protests by pro-democracy supporters, which prompted a violent security crackdown that resulted in deaths and disappearances, and reports of GBV. The political unrest, coupled with the pandemic, reportedly compounded GBV. A report by the International Commission of Jurists found there was a significant backlog of GBV cases and that survivors experience insurmountable difficulties in accessing justice. The report cites several causes for poor GBV justice delivery including significant shortages of staff, including a lack of trained police officers and prosecutors to handle GBV cases, delays in acquiring results needed for forensic evidence, insufficient access to rape kits and swabs, and a lack of transportation to One-Stop Centres.

Only a third of a sample group noted that the government is doing well in terms of gender equality. Approximately 42% of men and 41% who participated in the study indicated that GBV is the most important gender-related issue for the government and society to address. In second place was the lack of representation of women in public office and third, gender disparities in relation to property ownership.

Government has faced sharp criticism for poor implementation of its existing GBV laws, failure to ensure justice for GBV survivors, and lack of commitment to address some of the root causes of GBV such as the dual legal system and oppressive cultural beliefs and practices.

The country’s National Strategy and Action Plan to End  Violence in Eswatini for 2017 – 2022 was reportedly neither implemented nor funded. A revised plan has been developed: the National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini and Costed Plan 2023 – 2027.

In 2018, King Mswati signed the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act into law following a prolonged legislative process after the law was initiated in 2009.

In January 2024, the government announced that it would be setting up a GBV information management system to assist in gathering data on reported cases. Ultimately, data will be used to inform intervention strategies.  Government has provided assurance that service providers are required to protect the personal information of victims and survivors.

Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS)

Swatini Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGGA)

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM)

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM)

Women Unlimited


* This factsheet was prepared with the assistance of Vimbai Kapurura.

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