Report: Youth and Public Policy in Swaziland

In recent years, Swaziland has made significant progress in developing national policies, laws and strategies of relevance to youth. The country adopted its first National Youth Policy in 2009, ratified the African Youth Charter in 2013 and has developed public policies in a range of areas. In the same period, Swaziland has adopted a number of international frameworks, and worked with international organisations to develop programmes that seek to improve the lives of young people. However, despite these commitments, the majority of young people in Swaziland face significant challenges and exceptionally poor outcomes, particularly in the areas of health, employment and participation.

It is this gap between aspirational policy frameworks and the realities experienced by young people in Swaziland with which this review is concerned. With support of the New York-based Open Society Foundation’s Youth Initiative, a team of young researchers sought to investigate the extent to which public policies that affect youth, reflect their aspirations, ambitions, and realities. The review also aims to identify potential opportunities to improve outcomes for youth in the country.

Research MethodologyReview_Swaziland_Cover_Full

Between September 2013 and December 2014, a four-person team was as- sembled to conduct this review. This team included one international advisor, one local lead researcher, and two country researchers. The research process was divided into four phases:

  • Initial desk review of background documentation and empirical research. Key data, reports and policy documents were gathered and analysed in order to establish baseline data and identify areas for investigation.
  • Country report draft. A preliminary literature review was drafted based on data collected from the initial desk review. Evident gaps and hypotheses arising from this initial country report draft served to inform the research questions for the country field visits.
  • Country field visits. Two field visits took place; the first with young people from Manzini and Shiselweni, explored their aspirations and the challenges they face; the second involved meetings with policymakers, government officials, NGO leaders and community leaders in various locations around the country.
  • Finalisation of country report. Results and findings from this field visit were analysed and compiled into this report.

Key Findings

In examining the situation of young people, the review highlights the ‘youthful’ nature of the country. The review team reports that nearly four in five Swazi’s are under the age of 35, and two in five are between the ages of 15-35 – the definition of youth employed by the 2009 National Youth Policy. Within this context, the extent to which the country’s prospects are dependent on securing positive outcomes for its youth becomes apparent.

Yet the reality is disturbing. Although classified as a lower-middle income country, 63% of Swaziland’s population live on less than US$ 1 per day, making it one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, current employment prospects for youth are unlikely to change this situation. In 2009, the official youth unemployment rate was 49.3% down from 52.7% in 2007. However, over the same period there has been no increase in youth employment. The situation is most pernicious for young women and young people in rural areas.

The review examines youth participation in political processes. The ‘youth bulge’ – combined with increased opportunities for global communication and youth activism – have put governments under increasing pressure to listen and respond to the demands of young people worldwide. However, despite the fact that the laws and policies of the country appear to provide an enabling environment, young people in Swaziland face serious challenges in accessing and influencing policymaking processes and governance in the country.

The pressing challenge of HIV is also examined, and the stark reality of gender inequality in this area revealed. Although the situation is improving, Swaziland has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence amongst youth in the world. The disparities between men and women are enormous with 5.9% of young men and 22.7% of young women aged 15 to 24 infected.

Throughout the review, the role of gender in determining life chances for young Swazis is reiterated. The review reinforces the commonly held perception that there is significant discrimination against women in Swaziland. This is manifested in terms of restricted access to productive resources such as land, education, and employment, and high levels of gender-based violence. It is also noted that discrimination against the LGBT community is prevalent in society, and throughout the country’s political and legal systems.

The review examines Swaziland’s youth policy context and notes that the Swazi government has put in place a plethora of national policies, laws, and strategies. However, it finds that laws and policies encouraging youth participation in political processes are limited.

The main findings of the review are presented in the Swaziland policy realities chapter. A range of factors, most notably the country’s poor macro-economic performance, and the failure of the economy to create employment opportunities, explains the weakness of the labour market situation. Swaziland’s economy grew at an average rate of 2.2% in the last decade, lower than every other country in the Southern African Development Community. In addition, it is reported that the situation of youth unemployment is exacerbated by: difficulties in access to credit; a mismatch between the content of curricula and the skills demanded by the labour market; saturation of graduates in particular fields of study; access to public sector jobs (when available); the need to be linked to personal networks and at times to bribe officials; and the struggle that Swazi businesses face in being competitive within a globalised market place. The systems and processes put in place by the Swaziland government for business registration, and the acquisition of relevant operating licences, are reported to hinder the growth of youth-led businesses in the country.

The review highlights that health outcomes for young women are worsened by a range of socio-cultural factors, such as low status, exposure to intergenerational relationships, and the prevalence of gender-based violence. Young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services is of particular concern; the participants interviewed believed that most women, and young women in particular, do not have full control over their sexual and reproductive health. Owing to perceived failures in the government health care system, the preference amongst some youth for traditional health services is highlighted.

The ban on political parties, the Tinkhundla system of governance, and a gerontocratic climate in which the views of youth are considered less significant than those of elders is reported to restrict youth participation in governance and exclude voices of dissent. Youth voices are missing in policy formulation as a top-down approach is adopted to their issues: older people monopolise the decision-making process in the country; gender stereotypes and the exploitation of culture are seen as ways of curtailing the participation of young women and women in public life; and youth-led NGOs face lack of capacity and financial challenges.

A series of factors that hinder the attainment of equality between young women and young men is presented. The study reveals that the main barriers to the attainment of gender equality include a lack of development opportunities, the reinforcement of gender-based stereotypes through socialisation and culture, early marriage, and a discriminatory legal and political framework.

The review explores the policy implications of the findings, and outlines a series of recommendations related to the policy areas of health, employ- ment, gender and participation.


The full audit report can be downloaded as a pdf document here:

English: Youth and Public Policy in Swaziland (2 MB, pdf)


We extend our thanks to Simangele Mavundla, Nondumiso Dlamini, Ntombikayise Nyoni, Dabesaki Mac-Ikemenjima, Zanele Thabede, and Bahlelisiwe Ngeti Luhlanga for their hard work on the report, to all the persons we were able to interview and discuss the situation of young people and the impact of public policies on youth in Swaziland, as well as to the teams of the Open Society Youth Exchange and Youth Policy Labs.