The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small land-locked country in Southern Africa; it is geographically small, but culturally rich. The population of approximately 1.1 million people live in an area roughly the size of New Jersey. The country is considered to be Africa’s last true monarchy under the rule of King MSwati III.
While Swazi culture is considered relatively homogenous by African standards, it boasts myriad challenges as well as strengths. Nearly one third of adults are HIV positive (the highest prevalence rate in the world) and more Swazis contract tuberculosis in a year than anywhere else in the world (over 1,000 cases per 100,000 people). Infant and child mortality is a significant issue as 1 in 10 children born in Swaziland will not live to see their sixth birthday. Although technically a middle income country, the country has a high inequality of wealth distribution as measured by the GINI coefficient and 63% of the country are currently living below the poverty time. Unemployment in rural areas stands at over 60% and opportunities for self-sufficiency are severely limited. The poorest 20% of the country account for just 1.4% of the national consumption.
The health and social challenges of the country have contributed to and complicated concerns around orphans and vulnerable children. Currently 20% of children under 18 are orphaned and another 60% are classified as vulnerable. Collectively this amounts to 71% of the population being either orphaned or vulne rable. The rate is even higher in the rural areas. In the country the number of children considered at-risk is over 375,000. Even children who have not been orphaned face significant challenges; 54% of those under 18 have a parent who is chronically ill – a situation that reduces care options and increases family burdens. These social issues contribute to cycles of risk such as OVCs having a significantly higher risk of contracting HIV than others.
Risks to women and young girls is of particular concern with 48% of females admitting to having experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes. Violence in general is also a particular concern in Swaziland. According to a 2014 UN report, Swaziland had the highest murder rate in Africa, with a vast majority of those killings being related to intimate partner violence. The social service delivery system in the country is still nascent despite significant investment in recent years.
Despite the challenges, progress is being made. Swaziland has reached the tipping point with HIV as the rate of new initiations on life-saving anti-retroviral drugs is higher than the rate of new infections. In terms of the socio-economic situation, new education opportunities as well as employment opportunities are starting to take hold. In the lowveld where Cabrini is based, sugar cane expansion is providing new income and infrastructure improvements. Legislatively, new laws are being passed to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The coming years will be indicative of the future prospects of the country as Swaziland seeks to re-establish itself after decades of death and loss causes by HIV and the subsequent social fall out. Cabrini Ministries is committed to not only continuing to provide essential services, but also to evaluating and adjusting its plan for service delivery to meet the changing needs of the country.