Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault and rape were commonplace. 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. When informed, police generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, those cases prosecuted proceeded slowly in the judiciary. Local and international NGOs reported that most incidents of sexual assault and rape went unreported. From January to August, 247 complaints of sexual assault and rape were filed at magistrate courts in the country’s 10 districts. During that period 40 cases were prosecuted.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. The government Child and Gender Protection Unit (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 few cases were prosecuted. The law does not mandate specific penalties. 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, ministries, and the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) sought to change public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing that violence was unacceptable. 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 were not aware of 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; no estimate of its prevalence was available. If a perpetrator’s family was wealthy, the victim’s parents often reached a financial settlement rather than report the incident to police.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment. 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. The CGPU produced radio programs to raise public awareness of the problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
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, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.
Under the civil legal system, women have the right to make a will and sue for divorce. A customary law marriage does not have legal standing in a civil court unless registered in the civil system. Civil, but not customary law protects inheritance, succession, and property rights. Civil law defers to customary law that does not permit women or girls to inherit property.
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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: By law primary education, which goes through grade seven, is universal, compulsory, and tuition free beginning at age six. 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 ($76) or imprisonment on a parent whose child failed to attend school regularly. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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.
The Maseru Magistrate’s Court had 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 protection of the property rights of orphans. It also advocated changing cultural norms that encourage forced elopement.
Early and Forced Marriage: Civil law defines a child as a person under age 18 but provides for a girl to marry at age 16. Customary law does not set a minimum age for marriage. (For more information, see UNICEF website)
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 imprisonment for a period of not less than 10 years. Child pornography carries a similar sentence. An 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 fine of two million maloti ($151,500) or life imprisonment. The death penalty may be applied if a knowingly HIV-positive perpetrator infects a child. Authorities generally enforced the law when cases were reported. (For information on the incidence of sexual exploitation of children, see the UNICEF website.)
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. 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.
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. Unlike in prior years, 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 that the insufficient number of sign language interpreters in the judicial system for hearing-disabled persons who could sign resulted in case postponements. Braille and JAWS (computer software used by persons with vision disabilities) were not widely available. Hearing-disabled persons who signed could not access state services. Children with physical disabilities attended school; however, facilities to accommodate them in primary, secondary, and higher education were limited.
There were no reports of persons with disabilities being abused in a prison, school, or mental health facility, but according to the LNFOD, such abuse likely occurred regularly.
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 does not address consensual sex between women. 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. LGBTI rights groups stated that there was discrimination in access to health care and participation in religious activities. There were no reports of employment discrimination.
The Matrix Association, an LGBTI advocacy and support group, recorded one report of police abuse of LGBTI persons during the year.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Media reported killing of elderly persons, primarily in connection with accusations of witchcraft. On August 16, the Ministry of Social Development launched an Elderly People Protection Program to address this and other abuses faced by the elderly. Sporadic incidents of mob violence targeting suspected ritual killers and other criminals remained a problem.
According to the Post newspaper, local gangsters raped women in a deep gulley between Ha Lebona and Ha Koeshe villages. A nurse based at Ha-Koeshe clinic stated that some patients stopped visiting the clinic due to fear of leaving their neighborhoods. Media continued to report retaliatory killings among competing accordion music artists and gangs of fans in Mafeteng District because of insulting lyrics directed at each other.