Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape without specifying gender but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. By law formal courts try all rape cases. Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges, although police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators. In 2019 the BPS Commissioner announced BPS would no longer allow the withdrawal of gender-based violence cases waiting to be heard by magistrate court. In October 2020 President Masisi announced the BPS would establish standard operating procedures for dealing with gender-based violence, including establishing dedicated units to handle such cases, establishing a special hotline for victims, and requiring victims to be interviewed in private spaces. In November 2020 the government introduced special courts to hear gender-based violence cases. By law the minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment; the sentence increases to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender was unaware of being HIV-positive; and increases to 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender was aware of being HIV-positive. A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.
The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but domestic violence remained a serious problem. Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murder cases. For example, over the Independence Day weekend in October, authorities reported six women were killed in domestic violence incidents.
The government regularly referred survivors of gender-based violence to a local NGO that ran shelters for women.
In April 2020 shelter operators and civil society groups reported a significant increase in victims of gender-based violence at the start of the seven-week COVID-19 lockdown. The shelter operators noted the situation has since stabilized but was still significantly higher than before COVID-19 emerged. The government made statements to discourage such violence but did not devote extra resources to address the issue or help shelters overwhelmed by the influx of victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors. Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand. Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, was widespread.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. A 2018 study of family planning found that 98 percent of women knew of at least one family-planning method. The major factors hindering greater contraceptive prevalence rates included a shortage of supplies, provider biases, inadequately skilled health-care workers, HIV status, culture, religion, and popularly accepted myths and misconceptions. Access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was widespread, with 95 percent of the population living within an average of five miles from the nearest health facility.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including postexposure prophylaxis, emergency contraceptives, counseling, treatment of injuries, and rapid HIV testing.
According to 2019 data, the maternal mortality ratio was 166 deaths per 100,000 live births. The leading causes of maternal mortality included postpartum hemorrhage, genital tract and pelvic infections following unsafe abortion, and ectopic pregnancy.
Discrimination: Under the constitution women and men have the same civil rights and legal status. Under customary law based on tribal practice, however, several traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults. Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and the government generally enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The eight tribes of the Tswana group, who speak mutually intelligible dialects of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence, are officially recognized by law, and were granted permanent membership in the House of Chiefs. Constitutional amendments subsequently enabled the recognition of tribes from other groups.
The government does not recognize any group or tribe as indigenous.
An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San. The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents. The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa in employment, housing, health services, or because of cultural practices. The Basarwa, however, remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land. The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, and lacked adequate political representation. Some members were not fully aware of their civil rights. During the year there were no reported threats to the Basarwa from business or commercial interests.
The government interpreted a 2006 High Court ruling against the exclusion of Basarwa from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to apply only to the 189 plaintiffs, their spouses, and their minor children. Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling.
Government officials maintained the resettlement programs for Basarwa were voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife. In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous persons. In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives. There has been no ruling in the case to date.
No government programs directly address discrimination against the Basarwa. Except for CKGR lands designated in the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.
Birth Registration: In general, citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory. The government generally registered births promptly. Unregistered children may be denied some government services, including enrollment in secondary schools and national exams.
Education: Primary education is tuition free for the first 10 years of school but is not compulsory. Parents of secondary school students must cover tuition fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books. These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.
Human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized the policy that designates English and Setswana as the only officially recognized languages, thereby forcing some children to learn in a nonnative language. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted that the lack of mother tongue education or failure to incorporate minority languages into the school curriculum may constitute discrimination and encouraged the government to review its language policy regarding education. In July the government announced the final draft of an education language policy to provide guidance on implementation of mother tongue teaching in schools. The government proposed to implement 11 languages for Phase 1 beginning January 2022.
Child Abuse: The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children. There was reportedly widespread abuse of children. Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child. Police referred children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as to local NGOs. Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.
The deputy opposition whip, Pono Moatlhodi, was charged in 2020 with assault for allegedly setting a dog on a boy age 12 he suspected of stealing mangoes. The lawmaker offered the boy 40,000 pula ($3,480) in compensation, but government prosecutors rejected the offer and pursued an assault case against him. The case began May, but there was no verdict as of the end of the year.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes. The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is younger than the minimum legal age of 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child sex trafficking and sexual abuse of children. Conviction of sex with a child younger than 18 constitutes defilement (statutory rape) and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration. The penalty for conviction of not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from a substantial monetary fine to imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both. Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished, if convicted, with a substantial monetary fine, imprisonment for no less than five years but no longer than 15 years, or both. The law further requires the government to develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. In 2019 member of parliament Polson Majaga was charged with defilement of a minor and was subsequently suspended by the BDP from party activities but retained his seat in the legislature. In March Majaga was acquitted of defilement.
Child advocacy groups reported increases in sexual abuse of children during COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, in April 2020 UNICEF reported 23 cases of defilement and 22 rape cases during the first seven days of the national lockdown.
Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Displaced Children: Orphans and vulnerable children received government support. Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.
International Child Abductions: The country is not 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/reported-cases.html.
There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not always access education, health services, public buildings on an equal basis with others. The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking. It mandates access to public buildings and transportation, but access for persons with disabilities was limited. Although newer government buildings were constructed to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible. Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities. The government at times provided government information and communication in accessible formats. President Masisi, however, gave several national addresses on COVID-19 and other issues during the year that did not include a Botswana Television-provided sign language interpreter.
Violence against persons with disabilities was not common, and authorities punished those who committed violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but there is no specific disability act. Children with disabilities attended school, although human rights NGOs raised concerns the law does not stipulate inclusive education for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended both public schools and segregated schools, depending on resource availability and the wishes of parents. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed that most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons. The special rapporteur also noted that the absence of sign language interpreters in the health-care sector inhibited the dissemination of information. The Independent Electoral Commission made some accommodations during elections to enable persons with disabilities to vote, including providing ballots in braille and installing temporary ramps at polling places that were not accessible to disabled persons.
There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities. The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination. Individuals may also submit cases directly to the Industrial Court. The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities. During the year parliament passed an updated National Policy on Disabilities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
According to 2020 UNAIDS data, the HIV prevalence rate for persons 15 to 49 years of age was 20.9 percent. According to the UN Population Fund, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly services, as well as gender-based violence, contributed to high HIV rates. The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and no reported cases of authorities investigating abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally because of overt official intimidation.
The penal code previously included language that was interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. In 2019 the High Court found this language unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct in the country. While the ruling party welcomed the decision, the government appealed the judgment. In November the Court of Appeals ruled to officially decriminalize same-sex sexual activity.
Security forces generally did not enforce the laws that previously forbade same-sex sexual activity; there were no reports during the year that police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity.
Public meetings of LGBTQI+ advocacy groups and debates on LGBTQI+ matters occurred without disruption or interference. In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register the NGO Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) formally. LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.