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 one million maloti ($71,140) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of two million maloti ($142,290) 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 ($2,130) or 30 months’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.
For the second consecutive year, the government did not investigate any potential trafficking cases and did not prosecute any suspected traffickers. For the fourth 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 for the second consecutive year. A reliable source reported a senior government official responsible for overseeing the anti-trafficking portfolio allegedly was involved in a scheme to assist third country nationals to illegally enter South Africa, which may have included trafficking victims. Lesotho offered visas on arrival for the nationals of many countries, including Pakistanis, who require a visa to enter South Africa. To circumvent South Africa’s visa requirements, applicants entered Lesotho and illegally crossed the porous borders into South Africa. For a fee, the government official allegedly ensured all record of entry into Lesotho was erased from immigration records. In addition, 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 for the second year in a row. 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. Many law enforcement officials had limited understanding of trafficking and of how to protect victims from potential intimidation from traffickers, and often did not demonstrate a victim-centered approach.
Many front-line officials incorrectly believed trafficking to be a movement-based crime and did not screen for trafficking among vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. Border points between Lesotho and South Africa were porous and law enforcement officials allegedly were complicit with traffickers regularly operating at the Maseru Bridge border crossing. Senior immigration officers acknowledged people, including with children, illegally cross the border in plain sight of officials without repercussion. Front-line responders 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 to further exploitation. In coordination with international organizations, the government trained front-line responders on the anti-trafficking law, victim identification and referral, evidence gathering, investigative strategies, and immigration procedures. Such trainings did not result in tangible efforts to identify victims, prosecute, or convict traffickers. For the fifth 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.