The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, although serious allegations of official complicity in trafficking remained unaddressed. Lesotho law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking but until 2021 remained inconsistent with international law, as the act 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 anti-trafficking act prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1 million maloti (LSL) ($68,150) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of 2 million LSL($136,300) for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the penalties in the anti-trafficking act were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
However, in January 2021, the government enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Amendment Act of 2021, which amended the definition of trafficking to criminalize all forms of sex trafficking and removed the option of a fine in lieu of imprisonment for trafficking offenses. Because the 2021 Amendment removed the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA) criminalized child sex trafficking offenses without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion. However, the CPWA prescribed penalties of a fine not to exceed 30,000 LSL ($2,040) or 30 months’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.
The government initiated four trafficking investigations, continued three from previous reporting periods, prosecuted four cases, and convicted one trafficker—an increase from zero new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in the previous reporting period. Two of the new investigations involved Basotho girls allegedly exploited in trafficking in South Africa. In the first case, the victim’s uncle allegedly abducted her and transported her to South Africa for sex trafficking. In the second case, an alleged trafficker recruited a girl for domestic work in South Africa, smuggled her across the border, and withheld her wages, purportedly to repay travel expenses. Of the four prosecutions, all of which came from investigations initiated in previous reporting periods, one case involved adult forced labor and three involved adult sex trafficking. The government convicted its first trafficker in four years. The forced labor prosecution led to conviction of the perpetrator and a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment; the sex trafficking prosecutions remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. For the sixth consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable. Namely, the magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns and continued to inhibit law enforcement action. In a change from previous reporting periods, the government reported two investigations into officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking-related offenses, both of which were ongoing at the close of the reporting period. In one case, a senior Ministry of Home Affairs official, responsible for the anti-trafficking portfolio, allegedly assisted third-country nationals from South Asia with illegal entry into South Africa via Lesotho by removing all records of their entry into Lesotho. This allowed the travelers to circumvent South African entrance requirements. The government investigated the case as a trafficking offense but was unable to establish elements of human trafficking that would allow for prosecution for human trafficking. Police placed the official on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The government did not make efforts to address other, repeated allegations of complicity. The government was aware of alleged trafficking of Basotho women to South Africa for commercial sex. For the third consecutive year, the government’s efforts to form a liaison relationship with South African officials to investigate these allegations and to target those allegedly involved in these schemes did not yield tangible results. In the previous reporting period, officials deported a Nigerian labor trafficking victim; for the second consecutive year, the government did not take any action against his alleged trafficker, whose identity was known and who operated his business in Maseru with impunity. There were continued allegations of complicity in trafficking among law enforcement officers at the Maseru Bridge border crossing.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) led anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts until October 2020, when the government established the Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Control Unit within the LMPS, which assumed responsibility for all trafficking-related investigations. The trafficking and smuggling unit had dedicated investigators and received some administrative support. Like the CGPU, however, it lacked a dedicated budget, and members did not receive training on trafficking in 2020. The government did not have trafficking-specific courts, although three magistrate judges had special training to hear human trafficking cases. 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. In addition, many 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 exploitation.