Last Updated 14 February 2022

The Kingdom of Eswatini (previously known as Swaziland)1 is a landlocked country surrounded – with the exception of Mozambique to its East – by South Africa; it is the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa.2

The population of Eswatini is estimated by the World Bank to be 1,160,1643 and the official languages are SiSwati and English.4 According to the 2017 census, the most recent one, the population was 1,093,238; of this 89.25% were Christian, 0.33% were Muslim, 0.02% were Hindu, 0.04% were followers of the Bahai Faith, 0.45% were Traditionalists, 0.1% were Jewish, 0.31% followed other religions, 7.4% followed no religion, and 2.19% did not state their religious belief.5 Within the Christian category, 37.64% practice Zionism, 25.44% are Evangelicals, 13.4% are Pentecostal, 5.47% are Apostles, 4.52% are Nazarene, 4.15% are Methodists, 3.69% are Roman Catholic, 1.57% are Anglican, 1.22% are Jehovah’s Witnesses, 0.9% are Seventh Day Adventists, and 0.61% are Lutheran.6

Eswatini is a member of regional organizations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, as well as international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations – as a former British territory. Eswatini is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution7 protects thought, conscience and religion.

Article 23 of the Constitution states that:

“(1) A person has a right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion. (2) Except with the free consent of that person, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of the freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section freedom of conscience includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom of worship either alone or in community with others.”

However, under the absolute monarchy and “heavy handed approach”8 of King Mswati III, and the Christian-aligned monarchy, these rights are frequently violated in practice.  Christianity is central in Eswatini government functions; events usually include group prayer by which all civil servants must abide. Traditional laws and customs, interpreted by traditional courts and approximately 360 chiefs, provide less protection to minority religious groups. Chiefs may direct community pressure against a religious group if the chiefs determine that the group’s practices conflict with tradition and culture.

Registration of religious groups

All religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of Home Affairs.9 Processes of registration differ for members of Christian denominations compared to indigenous religious groups and non-Christian religious associations. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxation, but contributions are not tax deductible.10 It is unlikely that a non-religious group would be able to register under these regulations as they are required to evidence a religious leader, a congregation, and a place of worship.

Education and children’s rights

Article 23(3) of the Constitution states that:

“A religious community is entitled to establish and maintain places of education and to manage any place of education which that community wholly maintains, and that community may not be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community in the course of any education provided at any place of education which that community wholly maintains or in the course of any education which that community otherwise provides.”

Christian religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools and is incorporated into the daily morning assembly. Christian education is also compulsory in public secondary schools.11; There are no opt-out procedures. Religious education is neither prohibited nor mandated in private schools.12

In 2017 the government of Eswatini gave a directive that all schools in the country should teach Christian Religious Education only (Circular No.1 of 2017).13 Church leaders in Eswatini welcomed the Christianity-only syllabus. “Christianity is the bedrock religion on which this country was built,” said Stephen Masilela, president of the Swaziland Conference of Churches.14

The only organized religious youth clubs reportedly permitted to operate in schools are Christian. Voluntary school clubs conduct daily prayer services in many public schools. Non-Christian religious holidays are also not accepted absences in public schools – affecting children of minorities.

Girls suffer higher dropout rates from secondary school as they are expected to fulfil traditional roles of labor in the home, taking a toll on their education.15

Family, community and society

Treatment of religious minorities

Religious minorities are not treated equally in Eswatini. Muslims have reported unequal service from government officials and all non-Christian groups report high preferential treatment of Christians e.g., free time on state Radio/TV or newspaper advertisement, while this is not offered to other groups.16 Muslims also report that their mosques are specifically monitored by the government.17

Women’s rights

Eswatini has been widely criticised for discrimination against women, though slow progress has been made. King Mswati III has showed reluctance to push for change, instead promoting a patriarchal society where women are treated inferior to men. In 2019 the Eswatini High court made progress by ruling the doctrine of “marital power” unconstitutional.18; This ‘marital power’ had meant that women were reduced to the status of “legal minors”, unable to independently own property or sign contracts. There is discrimination in marriage minimum ages, girls at 16 and boys at 18.19 Forced marriage and polygamy against women is normalized.20

According to Human Rights Watch,21

“Eswatini’s dual legal system where both the common law, which is based on Roman Dutch law and Eswatini unwritten customary law operate side by side, has resulted in conflicts, resulting in numerous violations of women’s rights over the years.”

Sexual health / Reproductive rights

In terms of sexual health, HIV and AIDs are the largest issues Eswatini faces, with 26% of the population aged 15-49 years diagnosed with HIV.22 The HIV/AIDs epidemic has also had greater effects on women, who face extra stigma and obstacles accessing treatment. In 2018, 35% of women were HIV-positive, compared to 19.3% HIV-positive men, meaning this lack of access is particularly damaging for women.23;

Reproductive rights are limited, abortion is illegal except in circumstances of rape and incest24 or where a doctor certifies exceptional circumstances.25 Due to these high restrictions, women resort to illegal abortions and put themselves at risk – resulting in many botched abortions and deaths. As Eswatini society is deeply rooted in Christianity, the subject of abortions is taboo and ignored, causing delay in legal progress and in consequence forcing women with unwanted pregnancies towards unsafe options.26


Traditional healers, known locally as tinyanga and diviners (tangoma) are classified as witches under Chapter 4 of the Crimes Act of 1889.27 Persons found practising witchcraft can be sentenced to life imprisonment. Section 77(4) defines a witchdoctor or witch finder as umngoma or isangoma or inyanga yekuphengula (a healer who uses supernatural powers when helping his patients).

Section 75 defines imputations of witchcraft, stating that “Any person who imputes to another the use of non-natural means in causing any disease in any person or property or in causing injury to any person or property or shall name or indicate another as a wizard or witch or who by means of pretended supernatural power indicates anyone as being responsible for or the cause of any injury to any person, animal or thing shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction liable to a fine of one thousand rand or imprisonment not exceeding five years”.

Section 76 outlines what happens when witchdoctor names another as a wizard or witch, stating that “Any person who having named or indicated another as a wizard or witch or having by means of pretended supernatural power indicated another as being responsible for or the cause of any injury to any person, animal or thing and who is proved to be by habit or repute a witchdoctor or witch finder shall be guilty of an offence and conviction liable to a fine of one thousand rand or imprisonment for life”.

Section 77(1) establishes the law for employing a witch doctor, stating that “(1) Any person who by himself or by an agent or messenger employs or solicits a witchdoctor or witch finder as such to exercise his pretended power of divination or other pretended supernatural power shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of four hundred rand or imprisonment not exceeding one year and the agent or messenger so employed shall also be guilty of an offence and punishable in like manner”.

“Any person who is found wearing any charm, dress, ornament, emblem or insignia which according to Swazi custom indicates the wearer as a diviner, witchdoctor or witch finder shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of E200 or imprisonment not exceeding six months,” reads Section 78 (2) of the Act.

In 2019, the Eswatini government banned a planned witchcraft competition over fears it would “poison minds”. The ban was conducted in accordance with the 1889 Witchcraft Act which highlights voodoo as a crime.28

Accusations of witchcraft are employed against women in family or community disputes are known to lead to their being
physically attacked, driven from their homes, or both. However, there have been no recent reports of assaults or killings, though the stigma and discrimination remains. 29;

LGBTI+ rights

The LGBTI+ community in Eswatini suffer from a lack of rights: homosexuality is illegal and discrimination against LGBTI+ people is widespread.30

LGBTI+ people are banned from IVF and adopting children, banned from donating blood, the right to change legal gender is denied, same sex marriage is illegal, same-sex activity is only legal for females while male homosexuality has been labelled by some government officials as “satanic”.31 In 2017 Prime minister Dlamini publicly stated that homosexuality is “an abnormality and a sickness”.32 Such homophobic rhetoric echoes through those in power, with the chief police communications officer and preacher Kulani Mamba claiming “this country will not tolerate the LGBTI community”.33

Eswatini’s government initially prevented planned Pride events in 2016 and 2017, but activists persisted and the first pride was held in 2018,34 many hope this will lead the way to decriminalization.35 The event was met with opposition, with a letter in the Sunday Observer calling the event a promotion of “paedophilia and bestiality” and “unnatural behaviour”.36

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Despite constitutional guarantees to free expression, these rights are severely restricted in practice and can be suspended by the king.37 Eswatini scored 19/100 in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report for 2021, and was deemed ‘not free’.38

Publishing criticism of the ruling family is banned.39 Self-censorship is widespread, as journalists are routinely threatened and attacked by the authorities.40 The recent 2017 Public Order Act41 also meant that any critique of Swazi culture, king or tradition is illegal. The government reportedly uses draconian legislation, such as the Suppression of Terrorism Act42 and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, to silence media.43

The government restricts freedoms of assembly and association, and permission to hold political gatherings is frequently denied. Demonstrators routinely face surveillance, violence and arrests by police.44 The government of Eswatini has been accused of committing gross human rights abuses in its handling of 2021 protests, in which several protesters were shot dead by the armed forces.45; The armed forces have been accused of excessive use of force to quell protests after 46 people died, 245 people had gunshot injuries, 22 people multiple gunshot injuries, and 118 people had unspecified injuries.46 According to the ICJ, protesters had been calling for “the lifting of the bang on political parties; a meaningful, safe and transparent process of national dialogue leading to democratic change; and the release of all political prisoners, including two members of Parliament, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube.”47


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