Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the common law, which criminalises acts of ‘sodomy’. The penalty provided under the law is not known. Only men are criminalised under this law.

The law was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Eswatini. Eswatini retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today.

There is no evidence of the law ever being enforced, and it appears to be largely obsolete in practice. Nevertheless, the mere existence of this provision is itself a violation of human rights and underpins further acts of discrimination (see further).

There have been some reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including stigma, the denial of registration of NGOs, assault, and a homophobic murder.

Sexual Offence Law Assessment

We’ve also assessed Eswatini’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Although Eswatini continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity, in recent years it has updated its other sexual offence provisions and provides good protection for other marginalised groups, though some areas for further reform remain.

Find out more


The US Department of State report states that although there are colonial-era common law prohibitions, no penalties are specified and there has never been an arrest or prosecution under the law.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State report mentioned one unconfirmed media report of an attack by transport drivers against a gay couple at a Mbabane bus station in September.


Research by civil society association Rock of Hope found that 60% of LGBT respondents in Eswatini reported having experienced violence in their lifetime and that one in four lesbians reported sexual violence, according to the 2022 US Department of State report.


In September, the registrar of countries refused to register an LGBT NGO on the basis that there is no constitutional protection of sexual orientation, and that same-sex sexual activity is prohibited. The organisation challenged this ruling.


In March, a woman was reportedly murdered by a man in a bar in the southern town of Nhlangano after being identified as a lesbian.


In September, a gay man was attacked after being discovered having sex with another man in a toilet. The man was “inspected” to determine his gender, while the other man managed to flee.

One report in November indicated that less than 10% of the LGBT community who responded to a survey had talked about their sexual orientation with a person from outside of their immediate family.

[Being gay is] an abnormality and a sickness.

Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, former Prime Minister, 2018

Related Countries


Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and a fine.


Namibia criminalised same-sex sexual activity between men. The sentence available under the law were not clear.


Zambia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Local Organisations

House of our Pride

a HIV-focussed organisation which primarily works with men who have sex with men.

The Rock of Hope

a local organisation working to end stigmatisation and discrimination against LGBT people.

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