The government decreased law enforcement efforts, and the human trafficking law remained inconsistent with international law. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1 million maloti ($69,690) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of 2 million maloti ($139,370) for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act criminalized child sex trafficking offenses without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion, but prescribed penalties of a fine not to exceed 30,000 maloti ($2,090) or 30 months’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.
During the reporting period, the government did not investigate any potential trafficking cases and did not prosecute any suspected traffickers, despite many cases being reported to the police. In comparison, during the previous reporting period, the government investigated one case of sex and labor trafficking and prosecuted 10 cases. For the third consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. The CGPU, a specialized anti-trafficking unit within the Lesotho Mounted Police, was operational but did not receive adequate financial or political backing to effectively investigate potential cases of trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns and appeared to inhibit all law enforcement action during the year. For example, while experts reported the significant case backlog dating back at least six years was the result of the government officials never prosecuting such cases due to corruption; rather, authorities commonly postponed cases until the court dropped or removed them from the docket following payment from alleged traffickers. Although the government was aware of an organized crime syndicate operating a brothel in South Africa where sex trafficking of Basotho women occurred, efforts to liaise with South African officials did not yield tangible results, such as arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of the traffickers involved. Observers reported the lack of progress over several years to disrupt the suspected traffickers was due to official complicity of both Basotho and South African officials closely linked to the brothel. Observers alleged Basotho diplomats in South Africa were involved with facilitating fraudulent documents to support illegal migration during the reporting period, which may have involved trafficking victims. Many law enforcement officials had limited understanding of trafficking, how to protect victims from potential intimidation from traffickers, and often did not demonstrate a victim-centered approach.
Many front-line officials believed trafficking to be a movement-based crime and did not screen for trafficking among vulnerable groups, including migrants. Border points between Lesotho and South Africa were extremely porous, immigration officials did not screen for trafficking indicators, and law enforcement officials were allegedly complicit with traffickers regularly operating at the Maseru Bridge border crossing. Moreover, senior immigration officials acknowledged that people regularly cross the borders in plain sight illegally, including with children, without repercussion. Front-line responders regularly conflated gender-based violence and trafficking and some police officers exhibited extreme insensitivity towards child victims of sexual abuse, including potential trafficking victims. Observers noted that reporting potential trafficking cases to the police made child victims more vulnerable. Despite the significant need for training across all agencies, the government did not train front-line officials during the reporting period. There was a lack of coordination between law enforcement officers and prosecutors, which sometimes resulted in acquittals if police did not collect proper evidence, prosecutors were unable to charge a suspect for trafficking, and magistrates could not amend the charge once it reached them. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable: the magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes.