LUMBOBO, Swaziland — The Lumbobo region of Swaziland announced recently that the district is now host to child-friendly court facilities, made possible by dedication from the United States government to curtailing child abuse in Swaziland.
The new courts allow children to testify against rapists and abusers without having to physically face them. This will hopefully allow children to feel safer and less frightened when delivering their testimonies. Additionally, the child will be able to identify the suspect via video footage and not in real life. The child will remain in a separate room during the court proceedings, where he or she will watch the trial on a monitor and be accompanied by an adult appointed by the court to help the child understand the proceedings. Vice versa, when the child is asked questions by the judge and lawyers, his or her response is captured on video and streamed in the courtroom.
According to research from other countries where similar courts exist, children have an easier time speaking about the traumatic events that have happened to them when they do not have to confront their attacker. This leads to more accurate evidence against the perpetrator, which allows the court to administer the proper justice.
This new court was made possible by PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which funded the construction of the specialized courtroom. Although PEPFAR mainly deals with working to eliminate AIDS/HIV around the world, it does address other health issues in the 58 countries in which it has been implemented. Sexual abuse has a direct correspondence to the spread of AIDS, as rapists usually do not use condoms. AIDS/HIV has become so widespread in Swaziland that the average life expectancy has fallen from 60 years to 30 since the 1990s. Along with the funding for the court’s construction, PEPFAR will also fund the training of the court intermediaries, who help with the child’s understanding of courtroom events and questions.
A few child-friendly courts already exist in other regions of Swaziland, and the fact that they are now spreading to Lumbobo shows the success that is being had with these courts in other parts of the country, as well as progress for the prevention of child abuse in Swaziland as a whole. In 2008 it was estimated by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that one in three Swazi women were victims of sexual abuse as a child, and one in four experienced physical abuse. Less than half of all sexual and physical abuse crimes in Swaziland are reported and there is a general lack of understanding amongst victims that what happened to them is a crime.
The statistics regarding child abuse in Swaziland reflect poorly on the society, as 75 percent of abusers are people the children already know and most abuse takes place at home. This means that these are not random acts of rape and abuse from strangers but that there is a deeper problem embedded within society, which PEPFAR is working to correct. In addition to the new court facilities, the U.S. government has stated that they strongly support the more intensive training of social workers to contribute to a safer and more child-friendly environment throughout Swaziland.
– Taylor Lovett