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. As of August 23, authorities had received 527 reports of rape, almost double the 247 rapes reported during the same period in 2017. Of the 527 reported rapes, 325 involved children.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. For example, on August 13, the press reported the fatal stabbing of a woman in Lithabaneng by her husband.
The LMPS Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) did not compile data on domestic violence. The LMPS included reports of domestic violence data with assault data but did not break down the data by type of violence and death. Assault and spousal abuse are criminal offenses, but few cases were prosecuted. The law does not mandate specific penalties if convicted. Judges may authorize release of a convicted offender with a warning or order a suspended sentence or, depending on the severity of the assault, a fine, or imprisonment.
Advocacy and awareness programs by the CGPU, ministries, and NGOs sought to change public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing that violence was unacceptable. The prime minister and the queen have also spoken strongly against rape and gender-based violence. In March the queen urged the wives of principal chiefs to work together to eradicate gender-based violence.
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 or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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.
By civil law women have the right to have a last will and testament and to 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. Delays in the court system hampered government efforts to enforce the law effectively.
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 ($77) or imprisonment of parents convicted of failing to assure regular school attendance by their children. 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. For example, on August 20, Mamokhoane Mofolo of Butha-Buthe District whipped to death an 11-year-old girl suspected of theft. On August 31, in response to the child’s death, Minister of Social Development Matebatso Doti denounced on television acts of violence against children.
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. In March the queen called upon the wives of principal chiefs to work together towards eradication of child marriage.
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. 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 ($153,846) or life imprisonment. The death penalty may be applied if an HIV-positive perpetrator is convicted of knowingly infecting a child. Authorities generally enforced the law when cases were reported. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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.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. Persons with intellectual disabilities, however, were legally barred from testifying in court until, on March 28, the Constitutional Court repealed the law. 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 did not incorporate 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. 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 persons with hearing disabilities who could sign resulted in case postponements. Braille and JAWS (computer software used by persons with vision disabilities) were not widely available. Persons with hearing disabilities who signed could not access state services. Children with physical disabilities attended school, but facilities to accommodate them in primary, secondary, and higher education were limited. The Ministry of Social Development drafted a disability equity bill to provide for greater access to services, health, education, employment, and social inclusion.
There were few reports of persons with disabilities being abused in prison, school, or mental health facilities, 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 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. The LGBTI rights organization Matrix reported that discrimination in access to health care and in participation in religious activities lessened during the year due to its public sensitization campaigns. The government involved Matrix during the drafting of the Health Ministry strategic plan. There were no reports of employment discrimination.
On May 19, police allowed LGBTI persons to conduct a march through the city center. Police also issued a statement pledging to cooperate with LGBTI groups.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports of societal violence. On July 23, music gang gunmen shot and killed five women in Rothe on the outskirts of Maseru. Rothe Principal Chief Bereng Mohlalefi Bereng stated that the incident brought the number of gang-related killings to 14 in the first seven months of the year. Sporadic incidents of mob violence targeting criminal suspects remained a problem. For example, on October 22, a mob attacked and severely beat a former police constable accused of robbing a house in the Qoaling area of Maseru. He fled and died in hiding at a friend’s house.