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 informed, police generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, cases proceeded slowly in the judiciary. Sexual assault and rape were commonplace. Local and international NGOs reported that most incidents of sexual assault and rape went unreported. From December 2015 to August, the police Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) received reports of 150 cases involving rape or sexual assault of children. Between January and March, the CGPU received 157 reports of all categories of sexual offenses, of which 79 were pending investigation and 44 pending prosecution. There were convictions in four cases and five were withdrawn. During the same period, the CGPU received 25 reports of sexual assault (a subcategory of sexual offenses). Seventeen were pending investigation, six were pending prosecution, and authorities obtained one conviction. From January to August, the Magistrate Court recorded 202 sexual offense cases involving 230 suspects. Sixty-five cases were completed and 52 suspects convicted. Police withdrew 10 cases, eight of which involved children, due to lack of evidence.
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 but did not break down the data by type of violence. 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 Office of the First Lady, CGPU, ministries, and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) 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. The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women. The shelter offered psychosocial services but provided help only to women referred to it. The majority of victims did not know about the shelter. There was no hotline for victims.
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, but no estimate on its extent was available. When the perpetrator’s family was wealthy, the victim’s parents often reached a financial settlement rather than report the incident to police. According to the Sunday Express newspaper, the minister of education and training said that in Mokhotlong District, where the rate of school dropouts was highest, the abduction and killing of girls were most prevalent.
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 WLSA, sexual harassment in the textile sector increased. Police also 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 the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
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. Many international and local NGOs worked in partnership with the government to provide such services. The 2014 Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS) revealed the contraceptive prevalence rate peaked among women at 71 percent between the ages of 35-39 and declined to 40 percent among women between ages 45 and 49. It observed a correlation between education, wealth, and contraceptive use; women with living children were more likely than those without living children to use contraceptives.
The 2014 LDHS reported the maternal mortality ratio was 1,024 per 100,000 live births, largely due to limitations in the country’s health system. Although the ratio dropped slightly from 1,243 per 100,000 live births in 2009, the change was not statistically significant. 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 for their most recent birth. Only 41 percent, however, had their first antenatal visit during the first trimester, and only 74 percent had the recommended four or more visits.
Discrimination: Except for inheritance rights, women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women in access to employment or credit, education, pay, housing, or in owning or managing businesses. The law prohibits discrimination against women under formal as well as customary or traditional law. Formal, but not customary, law protects inheritance, succession, and property rights. Civil law defers to customary law, which 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 polygyny, 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. To have legal standing in civil court, a couple must register a customary law marriage in the civil system.
In April 2014 the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the Constitutional Court’s 2013 decision to dismiss Senate Masupha’s suit to inherit her father’s title and estate as principal chief of Teyateyaneng, ending her four-year legal battle. The Court of Appeal upheld male primogeniture. In October 2014 Masupha launched a complaint at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. According to the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs, the commission had not ruled on admissibility of the case.
Promoting the rights of women is among the responsibilities of the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Sports. It supported efforts by women’s groups to sensitize society to respect the status and rights of women.
Birth Registration: According to the constitution, birth within the country’s territory confers citizenship. According to the Office of National Identity and Civil Registry (NICR) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, all births in hospitals and local clinics are registered. Births of children in private homes are reported to the offices of local chiefs, which provide letters to parents for presentation to the NICR for issuance of birth certificates. The law stipulates registration within three months of birth but allows up to one year without penalty. After one year a nominal fee of 2.50 maloti ($0.18) is charged. In 2013 the Ministry of Home Affairs began implementing the National Identity Cards Act of 2011 by issuing identity cards to citizens over age 16. Applicants for these cards and electronic passports must submit new birth certificates with added security features.
Education: By law primary education, which goes through grade seven, is universal, compulsory, and tuition-free beginning at age six. The law leaves open the age by which children must complete grade seven; however, the Ministry of Education 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 fine of not less than 1,000 maloti ($71) or imprisonment on a parent whose child failed to attend school regularly. There were no reports of police fining or imprisoning parents.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), many children did not attend school. The problem was particularly prevalent in rural areas, where there were few schools. Attending school regularly was most difficult for orphans and other vulnerable children, those involved in supporting their families through subsistence activities, or those whose families could not afford fees for the purchase of uniforms, books, and other school materials.
Child Abuse: While the law prohibits child abuse, it was nevertheless a problem, especially for orphans and other vulnerable children. Neglect, common assault, sexual assault, and forced elopement–a customary practice of abducting a girl with the intention of marrying her without her consent–occurred.
With branches in all 10 districts, the CGPU led the government’s efforts to combat child abuse; however, lack of resources limited its effectiveness. The CGPU sought to address sexual and physical abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children, and protection of the property rights of orphans. It also advocated changing cultural norms that encourage forced elopement.
The Maseru Magistrate’s Court had a children’s court as part of a government initiative to protect children’s rights.
There were no media reports of violence at traditional initiation schools. Attended mainly by rural youth, these schools used traditional rituals to initiate teenage boys into manhood. While the activities of these initiation schools were secret, in years past media reported violence against students, teachers, and members of surrounding communities.
Early and Forced Marriage: The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act defines a child as a person under age 18. Under the Marriage Act of 1974, however, a girl can marry at age 16, while a boy can do so at age 18. The act states that “if the girl is 16 years of age, but is not yet 21, parental consent is required” for marriage. Customary law does not set a minimum age for marriage. According to UN Population Fund data collected between 2000 and 2011, an estimated 19 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18. Starting in June the minister of social development held public gatherings in five districts in a campaign to end child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18. Anyone who commits an offense related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children is liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than 10 years. Child pornography carries a similar sentence. An antitrafficking in persons 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 fine of two million maloti ($142,857) or life imprisonment. The court may apply the death penalty if a knowingly HIV-positive perpetrator sexually assaults a child who becomes infected. Authorities enforced the law.
Child prostitution was a problem. Impoverished young girls and boys, many of whom were orphans, moved to urban areas to engage in prostitution. After being fraudulently recruited with promises of better opportunities, Basotho girls were also exploited in prostitution in South Africa. UNICEF and government officials agreed that while the numbers remained small, the commercial sexual exploitation of children was a growing problem.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was a small Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The constitution does not refer to specific disabilities or to access to air travel and other transportation. The labor code and Public Service Act do not specifically provide for meaningful access to employment in both the private and public sectors by persons with disabilities. The national disability policy establishes a framework for inclusion of persons with disabilities in poverty reduction and social development programs, but by year’s end, the government had not incorporated objectives or guidelines for the implementation of these programs. The Association of the Disabled promoted the rights and needs of persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities were disadvantaged regarding access to public buildings, employment, education, air travel, and other transportation, information and communications, and health care. Laws and regulations stipulate that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings. Public buildings completed after 1995 generally complied with the law, but many older buildings remained inaccessible. There was no accommodation for persons with disabilities in air or other transportation. The Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled complained about the limited budget for sign language interpreters in the judicial system, resulting in case postponements. Braille and JAWS (computer software used by persons with vision disabilities) were not widely available. Service providers in the government or private sector did not provide sign language interpreters (except Lesotho Television–see below), so hearing-disabled persons who sign could not access state services. There were limited facilities for training persons with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities attended school; however, facilities to accommodate them in primary, secondary, and higher education were limited. One school accommodated specifically children with vision disabilities, two schools accommodated specifically children with hearing and speech disabilities, and two schools accommodated specifically children with intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities. An additional 243 schools integrated children with disabilities into their general student population. Although the government did not effectively implement laws that provide for persons with disabilities to have access to information and communications, in 2013 Lesotho Television introduced sign language interpretation during its daily news broadcast. On August 18, the Ministry of Social Development held a workshop for banking institutions and insurance companies. The director of disability services urged the institutions to review their policies to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.
There were no reports of persons with disabilities being abused in a prison, school, or mental health facility. According to the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled, however, such abuse likely occurred regularly but went unreported.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits consensual sexual relations between men, but authorities did not enforce it. The law is silent on consensual sex between women. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced societal discrimination and official insensitivity to this discrimination. LGBTI rights groups complained of discrimination in access to health care and participation in religious activities.
The law prohibits discrimination attributable to sex; it does not explicitly forbid discrimination against LGBTI. Matrix, an LGBTI advocacy and support group, had no reports of employment discrimination from its members. Same-sex sexual relationships were taboo in society and not openly discussed. While there were no assaults reported, LGBTI persons often did not report incidents of violence due to fear of stigma.
Matrix operated freely and had members in all 10 districts. It reported having a good working relationship with the LMPS. For instance, in December 2015 the brothers of a woman who identified herself as a lesbian forced her out of her home when they discovered her sexual identity. She took the matter to police, who intervened, and the brothers allowed her to return home.
Matrix engaged in public outreach through film screenings, radio programs, public gatherings, and social media. On May 21, Matrix organized the third International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march. Approximately 200 individuals, mainly family and friends of LGBTI persons, marched peacefully and without incident from Lakeside (city outskirts) to Central Park in Maseru. Matrix representatives noted police officers escorting the march were generally supportive, which they attributed to Matrix’s previous outreach efforts to the LMPS. Matrix for several months also had an electronic billboard advertisement in central Maseru supporting LGBTI rights.
Addressing the media in June following the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said the government would look into decriminalizing same-sex relationships to stop the spread of HIV. This was the first pronouncement made by a high-level government official on the issue.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy increased, with 143,371 persons receiving treatment, according to the Ministry of Health April to June report. This number remained below national targets and was lower than needed to control the epidemic in line with UNAIDS’ (UN AIDS program) 90/90/90 targets. On April 14, the country adopted a “test and treat” approach whereby all HIV-positive individuals are immediately eligible to enroll for treatment.
In the most recent (2014) LDHS, a majority of women and men reported having tolerant attitudes toward HIV-positive relatives, teachers, and shopkeepers. More than 90 percent stated they would be willing to care for HIV-positive members of their families, 92 percent of women and 81 percent of men would accept HIV-positive female teachers in the classroom, and 88 percent of women and 80 percent of men would buy fresh fruits or vegetables from a vendor known to be HIV-positive. Far fewer women and men indicated they would disclose that a family member was infected with HIV/AIDS (56 percent of women and 53 percent of men).
Almost 94 percent of women accessing antenatal care were tested for HIV; of that number, 24 percent were HIV-positive. Of the women who tested positive, 91 percent received ARV prophylaxis or highly active antiviral therapy to protect both mother and child.
The Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (LENEPWA) Executive Director Boshepha Ranthithi stated that HIV/AIDS stigma could not be comprehensively addressed due to the 2011 closure of the National AIDS Commission and the lack of a law specifically addressing the problem. Widespread discrimination and stigma persisted. The government reestablished the commission in December 2015.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The media reported killing of elderly persons, primarily in connection with accusations of witchcraft, and sporadic incidents of mob violence targeting suspected criminals. For example, in April a mob at Ha Tsolo, Maseru, assaulted and burned to death a murder and burglary suspect. They also assaulted another suspect, but police rescued him as the mob attempted to burn him.
The media reported a spate of retaliatory killings among local accordion music artists fighting over provocative lyrics that insulted other artists in Maseru, Mafeteng, and Mohale’s Hoek districts.