Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Rape convictions carry a minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. When cases were reported, police and the judiciary generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, sexual assault and rape were commonplace, and most incidents were not reported. From April 2012 to March (the most recent period for which data are available), 1,572 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported to the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU). From January to October, magistrates convicted 150 individuals.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. The CGPU did not compile data on domestic violence. The LMPS included reports of domestic violence with assault data, which were not broken down by type. Categorized as assault, domestic violence and spousal abuse are criminal offenses, but authorities brought few cases to trial. The law does not mandate specific penalties, and judges have wide discretion in sentencing. Judges may authorize release of an offender with a warning, give a suspended sentence, or, depending on the severity of the assault, fine or imprison an offender.
Advocacy and awareness programs by the CGPU and ministries changed public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing that violence was unacceptable. The activities of local and regional organizations, other NGOs, and broadcast and print media campaigns bolstered these efforts. For example, one campaign focused on teaching youth and parents how to report such offenses and access victim services. Campaigns and radio programs educating women about their rights took place throughout the year. The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women and victims of trafficking.
Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of forced elopement, a customary practice whereby men abduct and rape girls or women with the intention of forcing them into marriage. The superintendent of the Thaba-Tseka district police, Khethisang Koro, estimated that seven cases of abduction and rape were reported each month in his district alone. Community Councilor Daemane Boutu indicated that victims’ parents, if they are wealthy, often settle with the perpetrator’s family rather than report the incident to police.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, indecent exposure, and sexual assault. Penalties for those convicted of sexual harassment are at the discretion of the court. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment. According to the registrar of the Labor Court, only one case has been reported since 2002, and the plaintiff’s lawyer withdrew that case. Police, however, believed sexual harassment to be widespread in the workplace and elsewhere. The CGPU prepared radio programs to raise public awareness of the problem.
Reproductive Rights: The law gives couples and individuals the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers limited access to contraception and related services. Regardless of the patient’s background, government hospitals and clinics provided equitable access to reproductive health services. These services included skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. There was access to contraception for a minimal fee; male and female condoms were freely available. Many international and local NGOs worked in partnership with the government to provide such services. According to U N estimates, 46 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2009.
According to the government’s Demographic and Health Survey (2009), the incidence of maternal mortality was 1,155 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Lesotho Health Systems Assessment released in 2010 indicated that poor roads, lack of transport, and the lack of emergency obstetric care at many hospitals were significant factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate.
Discrimination: Women and men enjoy equal rights in civil and criminal courts. The law prohibits discrimination against women under formal and customary, or traditional, law. Inheritance rights are an exception; civil law does not address the issue, and customary law discriminates against women and girls as it pertains to inheritance. Customary law limits inheritance to male heirs only; it does not permit women or girls to inherit property. A woman married under civil law may contest inheritance rights in civil court.
Although the civil legal code does not recognize polygamy, a small minority practiced it under customary law.
Under the civil legal system, women have the right to make a will and sue for divorce. In order to have legal standing in civil court, a couple must register a customary law marriage in the civil system.
On May 16, the Constitutional Court dismissed the gender discrimination case of Senate Masupha, who challenged the constitutionality of the Chieftainship Act, which denies women the right to succeed to chieftainship based on the tradition of male primogeniture. Masupha sought to succeed her late father as principal chief of Ha Mamathe in Berea District and to inherit his estate. The court ruled no discrimination had taken place and noted that even if the law discriminated based on gender, such discrimination would be justifiable because the constitution enshrines patriarchal customary law. Masupha appealed the decision; the Court of Appeal scheduled the case for March 2014.
Women’s rights organizations took a leading role in educating women about their rights under customary and civil law, highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the democratic process. Promoting the rights of women is among the responsibilities of the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports, and Recreation. It supported efforts by women’s groups to sensitize society to respect the status and rights of women.
The law prohibits discrimination against women in access to employment or credit, education, pay, housing, or in owning or managing businesses. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, business, and access to credit. The labor code does not explicitly make provision for equal pay for equal work but states there should be no discrimination based on gender.