SWAZILAND: Fetuses in a stream highlight plight of women

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The discovery of about eighty fetuses in a stream used by a peri-urban community in Swaziland has raised disturbing questions about the desperation of women in a country where unwanted pregnancies are common, abortion is illegal and two-thirds of the population live in poverty.

"A means must be found to give women control, or at least a say, in sexual reproduction, so they do not have to resort to drastic and dangerous measures," Sipiwe Tsabedze, a social worker in the central commercial town, Manzini, told IRIN.

That would be a considerable achievement: before the new constitution was adopted in 2006, Swazi women had the legal status of minors, and were unable to own property or open a bank account without the permission of a male relative or husband; family planning is generally disdained by Swazi men.

A recent national survey investigating the scope of sexual and other types of violence perpetrated against women and girls found that one in every three had experienced some form of sexual violence before turning 18. From infancy until they turned 24, nearly half (48.2 percent) of Swazi women experienced some form of sexual violence.

Desperation in deteriorating conditions

The first small corpse was found on Tuesday in a stream at Logoba, a community on the outskirts of the Matsapha Industrial Estate outside Manzini. The remaining foetuses were discovered by police who continued searching the water and surrounding area.

Logoba residents made a sweep of their informal shantytown and small farms nearby and evicted sex workers, who were accused of being responsible for the aborted fetuses.

With unemployment topping 40 percent and rural job opportunities drying up in the persistent drought, people have been drawn to the Matsapha factories in record numbers. Hundreds idly wander the roads hoping to find work.

Worsening economic and humanitarian conditions in the country have been blamed for the rising number of women resorting to sex work. The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse has documented jobless women trading sexual favours for a meal as common practice.

"These women are not prostitutes per se. They are starving human beings forced by circumstances to degrade themselves. The men who command them do not use condoms, and the women are powerless to make them. The risk of contracting HIV is high, and when pregnancies result there is nothing the woman can do," Alicia Dlamini, who counsels abused women, told IRIN.

Swazi men have shown little sympathy for women forced to undergo abortions. Men calling a national radio show expressed outrage at the women's actions, without pointing out the responsibility of any of the men who had impregnated them.

"Based on the scope of the findings it is clear there is someone who is assisting people to terminate pregnancies through unnatural means. This is illegal," police spokesman Vusi Masuku said in a statement.

"The answer is not to legalise abortion. Swazis are a long way from tolerating that," according to Tsabedze.

Source: IRIN
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