Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of women or men, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Rape convictions carry a minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape were commonplace, and according to local and international NGOs, most incidents went unreported. When informed, police generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, those cases prosecuted proceeded slowly in the judiciary.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. There were numerous reported abuses. On July 23, body parts of a woman were discovered at Kholokhoe Village. The victim was identified as Makhutlang Lesekele. On September 16, Morero Posholi surrendered to police, admitted killing her, and led them to a neighbor’s pit latrine where he hid her remaining body parts. According to police, Posholi killed Lesekele for ending their relationship.
In January, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli implicated then prime minister Thabane and his wife Maesaiah Thabane in the 2017 killing of his former wife, Lipolelo Thabane, who had refused to grant him a divorce. On February 4, Maesaiah Thabane was indicted for the murder; however, the former prime minister was not indicted, although police stated there was substantial evidence of his involvement. She remained free on bail at year’s end (see section 1.e.).
Advocacy and awareness programs by the LMPS Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), ministries, and NGOs sought to change public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing violence was unacceptable. The prime minister also spoke strongly against rape and gender-based violence (GBV).
The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women. The shelter offered psychosocial services but provided help only to women referred to it. Most GBV survivors were unaware of the shelter. In May the government launched a hotline for survivors. Prime Minister Majoro acknowledged GBV had increased markedly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other 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. For example, on August 23-26, a man reportedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in Ha Sekake in his home. The perpetrator escaped arrest.
If a perpetrator’s family was wealthy, the victim’s parents often reached a financial settlement rather than report the incident to police or allow the case to proceed to trial.
Labia elongation–the act of lengthening the labia minora (the inner lips of female genitals) through manual manipulation (pulling) or physical equipment (such as weights)–was practiced. According to the NGO Federation of Women Lawyers, labia elongation was not a common practice.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment; however, victims rarely reported it. Penalties for those convicted of sexual harassment are at the discretion of the court. Police believed sexual harassment to be widespread in the workplace and elsewhere (see section 7.e.). There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. Police Inspector Makatleho Mpheto filed a legal complaint against Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete for sexual harassment. She alleged that on April 29, Mokete groped her buttocks. On July 14, Prosecutor Pontso Janki charged Mokete with sexual assault. A trial date had not been set by year’s end.
The CGPU produced radio programs to raise public awareness of the problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. However, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or fetal impairment.
Social and cultural barriers, but no legal prohibitions, limited access to contraception and related services. There was access to modern contraception for a minimal fee; male and female condoms were readily available free of charge.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services informed by guidelines for medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence.
According to the most recent data available from the 2014 Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 102 per 100,000 live births. The high rate was primarily attributed to limitations of the health system. The rate of contraceptive usage was 71 percent among married women between ages 35-39 and declined to 40 percent among married women ages 45-49. The survey identified a correlation between education, wealth, and contraceptive use; women with living children were more likely than those without living children to use contraceptives. According to the survey, 95 percent of women who gave birth in the five years before the survey received antenatal care from a skilled provider. Only 41 percent, however, had their first antenatal visit during the first trimester, and only 74 percent had the recommended four or more visits.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Except for inheritance rights, women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, access to credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. There were no reports women were treated differently from men regarding employment, including in regard to working hours and most occupations and job tasks. There were, however, legal limitations on the employment of women in some industries, such as mining. Women have the right to execute a last will and testament and to sue in court for divorce. A customary law marriage does not have legal standing in a civil court unless registered in the civil system.
Although civil law provides for women to have inheritance, succession, and property rights, customary law does not permit women or girls to inherit property and takes precedence over civil law in property disputes.
Birth Registration: According to the constitution, birth within the country’s territory confers citizenship. The law stipulates registration within three months of birth but allows up to one year without penalty.
Education: By law primary education, which ends at grade seven, is universal, compulsory, and tuition free beginning at age six. The Ministry of Education and Training set the maximum age for free primary education at 13. Secondary education is not free, but the government offered scholarships for orphans and other vulnerable children. Authorities may impose a nominal monetary fine or imprisonment of parents convicted of failing to assure regular school attendance by their children.
Child Abuse: While the law prohibits child abuse, it was a continuing problem, especially for orphans and other vulnerable children. The penalties for conviction of ill treatment, neglect, abandonment, or exposure of a child to abuse are up to two months’ imprisonment and a nominal monetary fine. Neglect, common assault, sexual assault, and forced elopement occurred.
The Maseru Magistrate’s Court has a children’s court as part of a government initiative to protect children’s rights. The CGPU led the government’s efforts to combat child abuse. The CGPU sought to address sexual and physical abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children, and to protect the property rights of orphans. It also advocated changing cultural norms that encourage forced elopement.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Civil law defines a child as a person younger than age 18 but provides for a girl to marry at age 16. Customary law does not set a minimum age for marriage. During the year the Ministry of Social Development conducted public awareness campaigns against child marriage in a number of districts.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18. Anyone convicted of an offense related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children is liable to not less than 10 years’ imprisonment. Child pornography carries a similar sentence. The antitrafficking law criminalizes trafficking of children or adults for the purposes of sexual or physical exploitation and abuse. Offenders convicted of trafficking children into prostitution are liable to a substantial fine, life imprisonment, or both. The death penalty may be applied if an HIV-positive perpetrator is convicted of knowingly infecting a child. Authorities generally enforced the law. Although police stated there were no reported cases of sexual exploitation of children, they believed it occurred.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was a small Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. National disability policy establishes a framework for inclusion of persons with disabilities in poverty reduction and social development programs, but the government did not incorporate objectives or guidelines for the implementation of these programs.
Law and regulations provide for persons with disabilities to have access to public buildings. Public buildings completed after 1995 generally complied with the law, but many older buildings remained inaccessible. According to the executive director of the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD), air travel services were adequate for persons with disabilities. The executive director stated the insufficient number of sign language interpreters in the judicial system who could sign resulted in case postponements for persons with hearing disabilities. Moreover, persons with hearing disabilities who signed could not access state services. Braille and JAWS (Job Access with Speech, a computer software used by persons with vision disabilities) were not widely available. Although the 2020 National Strategic Development Plan was printed in braille, it was uncommon for government documents to be printed in braille.
Children with physical disabilities attended school, but facilities to accommodate them in primary, secondary, and higher education were limited. In August 2019 the Ministry of Education and Training instituted a policy to provide for greater access to education for children with disabilities. The policy provides for increasing the capacity of mainstream schools to accommodate children with disabilities instead of having them attend segregated schools. During the year funding provided by UNICEF for implementation of the policy was redirected to the government’s COVID-19 response.
There were no reports of persons with disabilities being abused in prison, school, or mental health facilities; however, according to the LNFOD, such abuse likely occurred regularly.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
By law, “any person charged with sodomy or assault with intent to commit sodomy may be found guilty of indecent assault or common assault if such be the facts proved.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced societal discrimination and official insensitivity to this discrimination.
The law prohibits discrimination attributable to sex; it does not explicitly forbid discrimination against LGBTI persons. The LGBTI rights NGO Matrix reported discrimination in access to health care and in participation in religious activities continued to decline due to its public sensitization campaigns. There were no reports of employment discrimination.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Media reported killings of the elderly across the country. For example, on March 5, three men killed three elderly women accused of witchcraft in Ha Kholopo Village. The government held gatherings to raise public awareness of the problem of elder abuse.
There were reports of societal violence. In February gunmen shot and killed Chief Neo Mankimane and two gravediggers at Ha Makhakhe Village in Mafeteng District. Area Councilor Sebofi Moeketsi believed the killings were related to gang activity.
There were sporadic incidents of mob violence targeting criminal suspects. For example, on June 12, a mob attacked and burned to death two men suspected of the rape and killing a female student at Thabong Village in Maseru.