No, eSwatini has not passed a law allowing King Mswati to marry 14-year-old virgins

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on December 13, 2018 at 18:16
  • 3 min read
  • By Tendai DUBE, Nongi ZULU
Multiple posts on social media state that eSwatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, passed a law allowing King Mswati III to marry 14-year-old virgins. There is no evidence that such a law exists and a spokesman for the government denied the claim, adding that it was “lunacy”.  The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act was passed into law in July 2018, providing minors legal protection against harm from sexual acts and acts of domestic violence. However, the king has complete control over parliament and government as well as the judiciary, civil service and security forces.

A tweet from December 9, 2018 said that the parliament had passed a law allowing the king to marry 14-year-old virgins. Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch, re-tweeted a screenshot of the claim saying, “If true this is tragic. Will investigate further”.

A similar version of the narrative reads, “Rape legalized for King Mswati” and was shared 1,587 times as of publication. It can also be seen in a tweet shared more than 600 times and under a Facebook search with a growing number of posts.

A screenshot taken on December 11, 2018 of a false Facebook post

Another post on Facebook, shared on December 10, 2018, misspelled the king's name. It reads: “IT SHOULD BE MSAWATI'S ROLE TO BREAK THE VIRGINITY OF THE GIRL; SWAZILAND PARLIAMENT”. 

The post falsely claimed that the age of the king's potential wives needed to be reduced from 17-year-old virgins to 14-year-olds, “because as most girls start getting loose at the age of 15”. 

The claim cited an Elder Muyoti as saying: “A King is not allowed to enter where other souls have entered according to our custom”. 

A screenshot taken on December 10, 2018 of a false Facebook post

Slindele Nxumalo, Communications & Advocacy Officer for the NGO, Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse told AFP that such a law does not exist in eSwatini.

“Contrary to these fake news, there are actually two laws besides the Constitution of eSwatini that seek to protect and promote the health and safety of every child here, namely:

The Child Protection Welfare Act of 2012 and the
Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2018
,” she said.

“The Sexual Offences & Domestic Violence Act indicates that any offender found guilty of having committed an offence against a child will not be offered an option of a fine nor bail,” she said.

Nxumalo added that both laws define a child as anyone from 0-18 years of age and were passed and signed by King Mswati III.

eSwatini government spokesman Percy Simelane responded to AFP enquiries about the posts saying they “refuse to entertain lunacy”.

He added that the press office struggled to handle “madness of this calibre”.

Sibonsile Mamba, a director of Swaziland Women in Action, an NGO supporting women’s rights, said she was not aware of such law, “but given the status in our constitution where the king is elevated above the law, such marriage can happen and there can be no legal measures that can be taken against him. I think the sentiments emanates from that reality."

The king is one of the world's last absolute rulers, with complete control over parliament and government as well as the judiciary, civil service and security forces.

Mswati, 50, has 14 wives and more than 25 children -- and the right to choose a new wife at the annual Reed Dance, when thousands of bare-breasted virgins dance for him.

The country has the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate, with a 27.4 percent of adults aged 15 - 49 living with HIV.

EDIT 13 December 2018 Adds byline

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