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Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime.  Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges; however, police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators.  By law the minimum sentence for rape is 10 years in prison, increasing to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIVpositive and unaware, and 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIV-positive and aware.  By law formal courts try all rape cases.  A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.

The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but it remained a serious problem.  Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murders.  For example, in July police arrested a man suspected to have murdered and decapitated his girlfriend.  The United Nations publicly condemned the murder and “increasing incidences” of violence against women and children.  A local NGO said it appeared more victims were reporting incidents of violence to the police.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors.  Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand.  Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, continued to be a widespread problem.  For example, two staff members of the Law Society of Botswana filed complaints senior colleagues reportedly had sexually harassed them.

Coercion in Population Control:  There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination:  Under the constitution, women and men have the same civil rights and legal status, but under customary law based on tribal practice, a number of traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas.  Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults.  Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and in general the government enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.


Birth Registration:  In general citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory.  The government generally registered births promptly; however, unregistered children may be denied some government services.  For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education:  Primary education was tuition free for the first 10 years of school but not compulsory.  Parents must cover school fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books.  These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.

Child Abuse:  The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children.  There was reported widespread abuse of children.  For example, according to staff at Tsabong hospital, sexually abused children represented the third highest reason for patient intake, although only a fraction of victims sought treatment.  Staff said in many cases, sexual predators, rather than family members, assault children left unaccompanied during the day.  Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child.  Police referred the children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, as well as to local NGOs.  Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

Early and Forced Marriage:  Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes.  The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is under the minimum legal age of 18.  For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the prostitution and sexual abuse of children.  Sex with a child younger than 16, including a prostituted child, constitutes defilement and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration.  In April parliament amended the penal code raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years of age.

Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

Displaced Children:  There were small communities of “squatters’ camps” where homeless families lived in makeshift shelters without regular access to water or sanitation.  One such community outside the mining town of Jwaneng had an estimated 200 residents, although numbers fluctuated.  In some cases children were unregistered and did not attend school.  According to an international organization, 61,649 orphans and vulnerable children received government support between April and September 2018.  Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.

International Child Abductions:  The country is not 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


There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of antiSemitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but it does not prohibit discrimination by private persons or entities.  The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking.  It mandates access to public buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities, but access for persons with disabilities was limited.  Although new government buildings were being constructed in such a way as to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible.  Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended school, although in 2017 a human rights NGO raised concern the Children’s Act does not guarantee accessible education to children with disabilities.  In August the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons.  The special rapporteur also noted the absence of sign language interpreters in the health care sector inhibited the dissemination of information.  The government made some accommodations during elections to allow for persons with disabilities to vote.

There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities.  The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination.  Individuals may also bring cases directly to the Industrial Court.  The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The government does not recognize any particular group or tribe as indigenous.

The eight tribes of the Tswana group, which speak mutually intelligible dialects of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence, are officially recognized by law, and were granted permanent membership in the House of Chiefs.  Constitutional amendments subsequently enabled the recognition of tribes from other groups.

English and Setswana are the only officially recognized languages, a policy human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized, particularly with regard to education, as forcing some children to learn in a nonnative language.  In August the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted the lack of mother tongue education or incorporation of minority languages into the school curriculum may constitute discrimination, and encouraged the government to review its language policy with regard to education.  In September the minister of basic education stated the government was considering introducing interpreters in primary schools to assist students who spoke languages other than Setswana.

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San.  The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents.  The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa in employment, housing, health services, or because of cultural practices; however, the Basarwa remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land.  The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, lacked adequate political representation, and some members were not fully aware of their civil rights.

The government interpreted a 2006 High Court ruling against the exclusion of Basarwa from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to apply only to the 189 plaintiffs, their spouses, and their minor children.  Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling.  Negotiations between Basarwa representatives and the government regarding residency and hunting rights in the CKGR stalled after a separate court ruling provided the right to access water through boreholes.

Government officials maintained the resettlement program was voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife.  In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous people.  In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives.

No government programs directly address discrimination against the Basarwa.  With the exception of CKGR lands designated in the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.

In previous years the government charged Basarwa with unlawful possession of hunted carcasses.  In 2014 five Basarwa filed a lawsuit against the minister of environment, natural resource conservation, and tourism over the hunting ban in the CKGR; the case was pending at year’s end.  Meanwhile, President Masisi stated in his November 5 State of the Nation Address the government would act immediately after his administration’s review of the ban had concluded.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not explicitly criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct, but it includes language that has been interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults.  The law criminalizes “unnatural acts,” with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment.  There was widespread belief this was directed against LGBTI persons.  A case challenging the relevant penal code sections remained pending before the court.

There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity.  There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt official intimidation.  In November Lesbian, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo), a group that advocates for LGBTI rights, condemned an attack on a transgender person near Gaborone recorded on video and shared on social media.

In September 2017 the High Court ruled in favor of a transgender man who sued the Registrar of National Registration to change from female to male the gender indicated on his government-issued identity document.  In a separate case, in December 2017 the Gaborone High Court ordered the registrar of births and deaths to amend the gender marker on a transgender applicant’s birth certificate from male to female within seven days, and to reissue the applicant’s national identity document within 21 days.

A major international LGBTI conference and public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI issues occurred without disruption or interference.  In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register LeGaBiBo formally.  LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.  In October the minister of health and wellness posted on social media seeking input on policy direction with the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to UNAIDS data for 2017, the HIV prevalence rate for adults ages 15 to 49 was approximately 23 percent.  According to the UN Population Fund, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly services, as well as gender-based violence, contributed to high HIV rates.  The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs.

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