Young Heroes Session in progress
Sinovuyo participant listening to the Economic Strengthening Facilitators during a session. Credit: Young Heroes
Sinovuyo participant listening to the Economic Strengthening Facilitators during a session. Credit: Young Heroes

Young Heroes of Eswatini: How parenting support is helping keep children safe

20th February 2024

In 15 years, Eswatini has seen remarkable reductions in the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against children. Progress can be traced back to grassroots organizations across the country working to keep Eswatini’s children safe.

Young Heroes delivers a parenting program that teaches caregivers and adolescents to prevent violence against children. Studies have shown how, in just a few years, their sessions have made a difference in children's lives.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in Ekupheleni, a community under Motjane Inkhundla in the Hhohho region of Eswatini. Fifteen children aged 10-14 and their caregivers gather at a pre-school called Makhwane for this week’s Sinovuyo session.

Building where session is taking place 3
Makhwane pre-school, where Sinovuyo sessions take place. Credit: Young Heroes

Sinovuyo is the local name for a program called Parenting for Lifelong Health. It’s an initiative designed to deliver affordable and evidence-based parenting support. Sinovuyo reaches parents and caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children through weekly interactive sessions.

Young Heroes, which works in Eswatini to provide vulnerable children with educational, health and economic support and protection, has been delivering this program since 2017 with funding from PEPFAR and USAID.

Young Heroes Facilitator preparing the meeting room 2
Tryphina, one of Young Heroes' Economic Strengthening Facilitators, prepares the room for the session. Credit: Young Heroes

Today’s session is the eighth for this group, just over halfway through the 14-session course. They’ve already explored a variety of topics in previous sessions, including talking about emotions, dealing with anger, problem-solving and budgeting. This week's discussion focuses on dealing with problems without conflict.

As the session begins, Hlobsile and Tryphina, Economic Strengthening Facilitators (ESF) with Young Heroes, get everyone up on their feet for a quick warm-up to release stress and energize the group. They’ll do it again at the end of the session, to help participants compare their emotions before and after.

Once the group has warmed-up, the discussion begins. Hlobsile and Tryphina use the evidence-based Sinovuyo Teen Caring Families Programme for Parents and Teens manual to guide the rest of the session. This manual has been developed by a variety of international organizations, academic institutions and governments with the purpose of supporting grassroots organizations to deliver the program.

Young Heroes Facilitator acting a story from the facilitation manual 4
Hlobsile and Tryphina act out a story focused on adolescent-caregiver communication using the Sinovuyo Teen Caring Families Programme for Parents and Teens manual. Credit: Young Heroes
Young Heroes Participants exercising 19
Caregivers participate in a warm-up exercise at the beginning of the session, led by Hlobsile and Tryphina. Credit: Young Heroes.

Using markers and flip charts, Hlobsile and Tryphina note down important points raised by the group as they discuss how to improve communication between adolescents and caregivers without conflict.

During the session, parents complain that the adolescents do not listen to them, and they often have to ask them to do something over and over again, which drives them to beat or shout at them. The adolescents argue that it is difficult to talk to their parents, often finding them to be moody and ready to resort to violence rather than communicating.

Young Heroes Tools used to teach during the session 2
Materials used during the session, including the Sinovuyo Teen Caring Families Programme for Parents and Teens manual. Credit: Young Heroes

For instance, when I help with the laundry at home, I sometimes forget the soap outside. Instead of receiving praise for doing laundry, my parents shout at me for leaving the soap outside”, says Zethu, a 17-year-old participant.

The goal of this session is also for parents and teens to spend quality time together and learn to relate to each other. Both the parents and adolescents say the session gives them a chance to hear about each other’s needs, wants and feelings.

Sessions also equip families with knowledge of social services for intimate partner violence support, as well as other health-related services. It makes them an effective strategy to reduce the risk of child maltreatment and other forms of violence against children.

“Our parenting sessions provide a shared learning platform for orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers to learn to prevent violence against children. The main goal of this program is for caregivers to learn how to positively discipline their children, examine their and their children’s behavior, report cases of violence and educate the community about these issues.”

Khulekani Magongo, Executive Director of Young Heroes

At this week’s session, parents complain that they lack time to sit and have a conversation with their teens because of household duties. "The session helps them understand different ways to spend quality time together, not just by sitting down to engage with the teens, but also by doing household chores together. During this session, the adolescents and caregivers have agreed to do chores together in the future to help build their relationship", says Nonjabuliso.

Young Heroes Facilitator posing for a picture while taking down notes
Tryphina uses a flipchart to capture the main takeaways from the session. Credit: Young Heroes

Hlobsile and Tryphina write these takeaways on the flipchart. Building trust between adolescents and their parents, spending time together, and praising good deeds instead of criticizing mistakes are the main points the group agrees on by the end of the session.

During the sessions, we allow parents and adolescents to do activities together so they can learn through doing instead of by being told,“ says Nonjabuliso.

Young Heroes Facilitation in Progress 5
Sinovuyo session being facilitated by the Economic Strengthening Facilitators. Credit: Young Heroes

We sometimes encounter a few challenges, for instance, a participant may become emotional during a discussion due to personal experiences or challenges they're facing at home. When that happens, we try to calm that individual down and talk to them individually to find out the root of their problem.

Research by the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Fort Hare* involving 1,206 pairs of caregivers and adolescents taking part in the Sinovuyo program indicates that it has been successful in reducing harsh parenting, particularly corporal punishment. This research also notes that reductions in corporal punishment are likely to be accompanied by an improvement in teen well-being, including less substance misuse and better school and HIV outcomes.

“The program has strengthened the bond between the parents and the adolescents, which has helped them to understand and pay attention to each other’s interests. Ever since they began attending the sessions, both parents and teens are happy with the ways of communicating at home.”

Nonjabuliso, Economic Strengthening Facilitator with Young Heroes

Sinovuyo is one of the interventions taking place country-wide to create safer environments for children. Eswatini is one of the African countries leading the continent’s efforts to prevent and put an end to violence against children. It was the first country ever to conduct a Violence Against Children & Youth Survey (VACS) in 2007. In 2022, it became one of the only two countries, along with Kenya, to conduct a second one.

Young Heroes Session in progress 6
Hlobsile uses a flipchart to capture the main takeaways from the session. Credit: Young Heroes
Young Heroes Session taking place 2
Sinovuyo session being facilitated by the Economic Strengthening Facilitators. Credit: Young Heroes

Eswatini’s 2022 VACS found remarkable reductions in the prevalence of different forms of violence against children. Importantly, it reflected considerable progress in many of the areas targeted by parenting programs like Sinovuyo.

Data on the perpetrators of physical violence against children and adolescents reflects important changes in approaches to parenting in the country. According to the 2007 VACS, mothers would perpetrate 18% of instances of physical violence against under-18 females, and fathers, 17%. The second survey found that in comparison, only 4% of females and 8% of males under 18 experienced physical violence by a parent or adult relative.

Young Heroes Facilitation in Progress 4
Nomsa, one of the caregivers taking part in this Sinovuyo session. Credit: Young Heroes

Nomsa, one of the caregivers taking part in Young Heroes’ program talks about the impact it has had on her relationship with her children: "I used to beat my children with anything I would come across. Now I am able to solve problems with them without using sticks. I have learned that communication is the best way to solve problems without conflict.”

Young Heroes A caregiver making a submission during the session while the other caregivers look on
Zethu, one of the adolescents taking part in this Sinovuyo session. Credit: Young Heroes

Zethu, the 17-year-old participant continues: “This program has helped me and my parents as they used to hit me whenever I did something wrong. Now we are able to sit down and deal with the problems without any conflict.”

Similar reductions were found with regard to the prevalence of emotional violence. In 2007, 12% of the incidents of emotional violence against under-18 females** were perpetrated by mothers and 11% by fathers. By 2022, the figure for under 18 females who had ever experienced emotional violence by a parent or other adult relative was down to 5%, and 3% for males.

Nomsa stressed how the program had helped her family adopt more positive attitudes toward each other: “I now praise my children frequently. My children have also learned to praise each other.”

A key aspect of this program is preventing and addressing violence against children and improving communication between adolescents and caregivers around this issue. Nomsa said: “I wanted to have more knowledge about abuse and to be aware if one of my children is abused in any way.”

VACS figures also give insights into improvements in this area. The first survey found that over half of all incidents of child sexual violence were not reported to anyone. In contrast, in 2022, among those who ever experienced sexual violence, 66% of females and 48% of males told anybody about their experience. For females, 68% of those told a relative.**

Because conflicts are resolved through talking and not physically, it can conclude that the relationship between parents and their children is strengthened and that families now respond better to crisis”, says Nonjabuliso.

HIV prevention is another key objective of this program. “Parents are now able to discuss these sensitive issues with their teenagers, which has led to the decrease of new HIV infections.”, says the ESF.

At the national level, this decrease in HIV levels was reflected by the findings of the 2022 VACS. The first VACS found that approximately 32% of females aged 13-24 years old reported having been tested for HIV**. By 2022, this number had risen to 79% for females, and it stood at 81% for males.

Additionally, knowledge of where to get an HIV test was high among 13-24-year-olds: 91% of females and 88% of males knew where to go for an HIV test. The survey reflected that 7% of females and 3% of males aged 13-24 were HIV positive in Eswatini.

This program has not only made an impact in households only, but it has also impacted the community at large,” says Nonjabuliso. The change in attitudes around corporal punishment, the increased awareness of the importance of communication and bonding between caregivers and their children and adolescents, and the involvement of children and youth in decision-making within the home have contributed to creating safer environments for children.

Still, work remains to be done to put an end to all forms of violence against children. Eswatini's 2022 VACS showed that the most common location of the first incident of sexual violence for 13-24-year-old females and males was at a home – 61% for females, and 48% for males – a figure which has risen since 2007 when it stood at 33% for females.**

The results from Eswatini's 2022 VACS proved that violence is preventable, and showed how, in just over a decade, the country has made remarkable strides in adopting interventions that help keep children safe.

By promoting positive parenting and discouraging harsh discipline techniques, there’s evidence that Parenting for Lifelong Health is one of those interventions helping create a safer environment for children in Eswatini. Quite simply, it works.

Sinuvoyo’s success shows that locally delivered interventions have the power to change harmful norms and practices and build communities where children can thrive. Making sure it has the resources to continue is one of the critical factors in continuing to make sure children in Eswatini are able to grow up safely.

Young Heroes Participants chatting after session 8
Sinovuyo participants gather outside Makhwane pre-school after the session. Credit: Young Heroes

Project partners

USAID logo
PEPFAR Eswatini
Young heroes
Phila Unotse

* PLH SUPER Study Team (2023). Eswatini: Parenting for Lifelong Health Scale-Up of Parenting Evaluation Research (PLH-SUPER) Universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Fort Hare.

** The first Eswatini VACS did not collect data on males.

All photos and quotes featured in this story were provided by Young Heroes.

We would like to thank Young Heroes and the PLH SUPER Study Team at the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Fort Hare for their generous support and contributions to this piece.