Lesotho (Tier 2)

The Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Lesotho was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims and increasing investigations and prosecutions. The government launched its national action plan and allocated funding for implementation; finalized and implemented guidelines for victim identification and referral to care; and increased its anti-trafficking training and awareness-raising efforts for law enforcement, diplomats, and the public. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Several investigations and prosecutions from the previous reporting period, including cases of alleged official complicity, were still pending. The government did not amend existing laws that created jurisdictional issues that prevent magistrate courts from issuing the maximum penalty for trafficking crimes. The government continued to rely on one NGO to provide all services to trafficking victims in the country with nascent government funding, and shelter options remained limited.

  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes, and impose sufficiently stringent penalties.
  • Amend the Subordinate Court Act to fix jurisdictional issues preventing magistrate courts from issuing the maximum penalty for trafficking crimes.
  • Adequately fund the Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Control Unit and establish focal points with training on human trafficking investigations for all 10 districts of Lesotho to ensure effective responsiveness to all potential trafficking cases.
  • Institutionalize specialized trafficking in persons training to police investigators, prosecutors, magistrates, judges, immigration officials, social service personnel, and health care professionals.
  • Fully fund the Victim of Trafficking Trust Fund, establish reporting requirements for transparency, and ensure appropriate allocations for victim protection, including shelter.
  • Establish a confidential human trafficking hotline for victims to access referrals to services and to facilitate reports of human trafficking, including official complicity.
  • Increase joint operations between law enforcement and labor inspectors to increase identification of victims of forced labor, particularly in manufacturing and agriculture sectors, and facilitate effective criminal investigations against traffickers.
  • Institutionalize and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies, including by eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers and holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable.
  • Formalize cross border collaboration with regional governments through developing effective professional relationships with judiciaries and law enforcement agencies to increase information sharing and coordination on transnational trafficking investigations.
  • Systematically collect and analyze anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection data.

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, although serious allegations of official complicity in trafficking remained significant. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, as amended, criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government initiated 10 investigations into potential human trafficking—five for labor trafficking and five for unspecified exploitation—and continued three investigations from previous reporting periods, compared with four investigations initiated during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted 16 trafficking cases, compared with four previously, and convicted one trafficker, which is the same as the previous reporting period. Of the 16 prosecutions, six cases involved forced labor, and 10 cases involved sex trafficking, all of which involved Basotho victims. The government convicted and sentenced one trafficker to 10 years in prison and a fine for forced labor; however, the sentence was suspended on the condition that the trafficker return to their home country within two months of release. The government appealed the suspended sentence; however, the appeal did not proceed since the trafficker returned to their home country. In 2020, South African officials deported a Nigerian victim of labor trafficking exploited in Lesotho. The trafficker was permitted to continue operating his business in Lesotho for two years with impunity; however, during the reporting period, the government opened an investigation and arrested the trafficker, who was released on bail. The case remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

For the seventh consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable, although officials drafted and submitted to parliament an amendment to the Subordinate Court Act, which would address the issue, but it remained pending approval at the end of the reporting period. The magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes. For a majority of the reporting period, courts adopted an abbreviated schedule due to pandemic-related public health restrictions; however, they continued to hear cases and introduced online hearings to continue deliberations without physical attendance at court houses. Additionally, due to a shortage of magistrates and a large backlog of criminal cases, only three magistrates were assigned to hear trafficking cases. However, 10 magistrates received training during the reporting period to hear trafficking cases in their respective jurisdictions. The government appointed seven high court judges to ameliorate the backlog of criminal cases.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Control (ATMC) Unit was responsible for all trafficking-related investigations. The ATMC Unit added four new specialized trafficking in persons focal points, comprised of three to four investigators, in Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, and Mohale’s Hoek, in addition to one already established in Maseru. The ATMC focal points received some logistical and administrative support from LMPS; however, they lacked a dedicated budget. Members of each focal point received basic training on trafficking in persons but lacked specialized training on victim identification, trauma-informed interviewing, and investigating human trafficking. The ATMC Unit held monthly meetings with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to conduct joint case reviews and facilitate prosecution-led investigations. The LMPS, Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with support from an international organization, formed a joint task force to conduct joint inspections targeting forced labor; the task force identified several cases involving potential foreign national victims. The LMPS developed relationships and informal platforms to enable coordination between LMPS and the South African Police Service to expedite investigations and prosecutions; however, LMPS reported difficulty engaging with their South African counterparts due to strict border restrictions and corruption. Lesotho and South African governments collaborated on the ongoing prosecution of two trafficking cases involving Basotho victims in South Africa.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. Two investigations into officials allegedly complicit in trafficking-related offenses, initiated in the previous reporting period, remained ongoing. In one case, a senior government official allegedly assisted third-country nationals with illegal entry into South Africa via Lesotho by circumventing South African entrance requirements. The case was investigated as a trafficking crime, but elements of human trafficking could not be established to prosecute under the human trafficking law. The official was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The LMPS also initiated an investigation into the potential trafficking of a child transported to South Africa under the promise of employment with implications of official complicity. The government implemented a rotational system for immigration officials to deter participation in illicit activities, including human trafficking. In an effort to enforce accountability, observers reported law enforcement required training on appropriate conduct and mechanisms to ensure victims are treated respectfully during investigations.

The government increased victim identification and protection efforts. The government identified 24 trafficking victims, including 10 labor trafficking victims and 14 sex trafficking victims, compared with two victims during the previous reporting period. The government referred all identified victims to care. The government finalized, with support from an international organization, and launched its standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and national referral mechanism (NRM) and began implementation. The government appointed a Trafficking in Persons Coordinator to supervise district social workers handling trafficking cases and train social workers on human trafficking. NGOs and international organizations identified 60 potential victims of trafficking through transit monitoring at airports and border crossings.

An NGO had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government to provide emergency shelter to both foreign and Basotho female and child victims of trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence, as well as their dependent children. The NGO provided medical care, counseling, job skills training, and legal assistance. For the first time in several years, the government paid for the shelter’s utilities, totaling 50,000 maloti ($3,150) during the reporting period, and contributed 32,500 maloti ($2,050) to cover legal fees, counseling, school fees, and other expenses. Additionally, the government paid for security and medical care for victims. However, the shelter requires significant external funding to maintain operation. While trafficking victims had a choice to enter the NGO shelter, it was the only residential assistance available. At the shelter, victims had freedom of movement and could terminate their residency at will. The NGO provided supportive services to male trafficking victims; however, there were no shelters equipped to house male victims. The government donated a building in Maseru to an NGO for additional shelter space once renovations are completed. Observers expressed a need for shelters countrywide since victims of human trafficking are identified in all districts. NGOs and international organizations provided care to 55 trafficking victims, including six sex trafficking victims, 32 labor trafficking victims, and 17 victims of unspecified exploitation. The government facilitated virtual court proceedings in cases where victims experienced fear or intimidation by the accused trafficker. The government provided trafficking victims with legal representation at no cost. Observers reported the need for additional training for law enforcement and frontline workers on the SOPs for victim identification and the NRM and to increase accessibility by translating both into other languages.

For the first time, the government allocated funding for efforts to combat trafficking in persons through a dedicated bank account, which was created instead of the required Victim of Trafficking Trust Fund, as stipulated under the anti-trafficking law, for reasons of expediency. The bank account included no reporting mechanism to ensure accountability. The MHA approved 500,000 maloti ($31,480) for the reporting period and 2 million maloti ($125,930) for the following year; however, funding allocations were not provided. While Lesotho law provided restitution in trafficking cases, no judges ordered it during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking act and its implementing regulations prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, allowed foreign victims to elect permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal, and encouraged victims to assist in the investigation of traffickers. For foreign victims, provision of care beyond a 60-day reflection period was dependent on their cooperation with law enforcement; authorities repatriated victims who did not cooperate with law enforcement after the reflection period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was responsible for coordinating with the victim’s home country for the issuance of travel documents within 60 days of victim identification if the victim no longer had possession of their travel documents. If a foreign national victim cooperated with law enforcement, they could remain in Lesotho for the duration of the criminal case; however, barring safety concerns or qualifications of other immigration benefits, the victim had to return to their home country following the conclusion of any criminal proceedings. For citizens of Lesotho exploited abroad, the government facilitated repatriation and coordination of services for two Basotho victims identified abroad in collaboration with the local government.

The government increased anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The Prime Minister’s cabinet subcommittee to combat trafficking in persons convened regularly—setting the agenda for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts—and launched the National Strategic Framework and Action Plan (NFSAP) to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2021-2026, with assistance from international partners. The NSFAP provided a roadmap for anti-trafficking efforts that delineated responsibilities among government ministries and included dedicated resources for implementation. The government’s multi-sectoral committee (MSC), led by MHA and charged with implementing the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, met regularly in Maseru and held additional meetings across the country with support from an international organization. The government partnered with an international organization through a donor-funded program to update and launch the MSCs’ SOPs for victim identification. Training was conducted by an international organization on the NRM and SOPs to 160 government and NGO participants, including at least 20 government officials from each district representing the Ministry of Social Development, LMPS, Magistrates, the Crown Counsel, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the District Administrators Office. The MFA, with support from an international organization, conducted pre-departure training on trafficking in persons for all diplomats and launched a trafficking in persons handbook for diplomats. The MFA also appointed focal points based in all 20 of Lesotho’s foreign missions and consulates to respond to cases of human trafficking of Lesotho citizens identified abroad.

The government increased efforts to raise awareness, especially in outreach efforts to vulnerable communities, and continued its participation in NGO-led activities. Government officials participated in prevention education activities organized by an NGO, consisting of 306 campaign events in five districts, increasing awareness of trafficking in persons to more than 17,490 Lesotho citizens. Campaign materials were printed in Sesotho and English, with picture illustrations for illiterate community members, and a video screening of a film was conducted in Sesotho with English subtitles. Beginning in August 2021, the government conducted awareness raising activities on trafficking in persons for communities in the 10 districts of the country; the program was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government also targeted outreach and awareness efforts to Basotho diaspora communities accompanied by NGOs serving Lesotho citizens abroad. MHA, in collaboration with the Lesotho Consulates in South Africa, NGOs, and taxi operators’ associations, embarked on roadshows in South Africa to raise awareness of human trafficking. Additionally, LMPS conducted 220 public gatherings, 46 school visits, 109 orientations, and 32 radio and TV programs to raise awareness of trafficking in persons.

The MHA and Department of Immigration collaborated with NGOs and international organizations to increase proactive identification of potential trafficking victims through transit monitoring at key border crossings and airports. The government had an agreement with the Government of South Africa aimed to increase protections for Basotho employed in South Africa, including in domestic work. The agreement authorized the issuance of long-term work permits, required signed employment contracts, and allowed Basotho to register for unemployment insurance in South Africa; despite this agreement, Basotho remained vulnerable to trafficking. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Labor inspectors conducted 500 inspections in 2021, primarily in textile factories, and identified one case of forced child labor, compared with 70 inspections with no cases identified in 2020. MOLE reported holding monthly forced labor awareness campaigns for workers in formal economy businesses. The government continued to implement its labor migration policy focused on recruitment malpractice during the reporting period and incorporated screening for trafficking indicators into labor inspectors’ interviews with migrants. The government also continued to discuss trafficking in persons in pre-departure sessions for migrant workers and conducted inspections to confirm licensure of recruitment agencies and their compliance with labor code provisions. The Ministry of Police and Public Safety, through the financial and technical support of a foreign government and an international organization, held a one-day workshop on human trafficking, vulnerabilities, and identification of victims for 50 labor inspectors, migrant liaison officers, and recruitment agency staff. The Immigration Department within the MHA conducted trainings for 59 border officials on assessing fraudulent documents, identifying human trafficking, and referring victims to services using the NRM. Pandemic-induced restrictions on gatherings hampered government efforts to provide additional training.

The government did not operate a hotline for trafficking victims to locate services or for public reporting of the crime. Through support from an international organization, the government operated a child protection hotline. Law enforcement operated a hotline for reporting all crimes, including human trafficking. During the reporting period, MHA established a general hotline, which identified and referred four victims of trafficking to services using the NRM. With support from an international organization, the government contributed information to a centralized anti-trafficking database that collected national data on criminal cases and victims identified and shared it with countries in the region. During the reporting period, MHA commissioned a study by an NGO to examine trends and patterns of human trafficking in Lesotho. Starting in the last reporting period, MOLE continued an assessment of child labor, including child trafficking, in Lesotho, and allocated 2 million maloti ($125,980) to the study.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Lesotho, and traffickers exploit victims from Lesotho abroad. Traffickers increasingly use social media to identify and recruit victims into forced labor and sex trafficking. Limited economic opportunities, exacerbated by the pandemic, resulted in vulnerable populations, including women and orphaned children, enticed by traffickers with false promises of legitimate employment or educational opportunities, to migrate from rural into urban areas, South Africa, or the Middle East. In Lesotho, traffickers exploit Basotho children in domestic servitude and animal herding; traffickers also exploit children, especially orphans who migrate to urban areas, in sex trafficking. Young girls, especially orphans, regularly engaged in domestic work in exchange for room and board; such informal, imbalanced, and private arrangements render these children vulnerable to forced labor and abuse from employers. There were anecdotal reports that “workshop masters” force children to produce and sell arts and crafts in market vending. There were reports of rampant sexual harassment in Taiwanese-, People’s Republic of China- (PRC), and South Asian-owned textile factories in Lesotho, including widespread reports that managers and supervisors coerced female workers into sexual relationships in exchange for maintaining employment, receiving better working conditions, and avoiding further sexual harassment. Pandemic-induced layoffs increased vulnerabilities of the predominantly female textile workforce, resulting in some engaging in commercial sex.

Basotho women and girls seeking work voluntarily migrate to South Africa, where traffickers detain some in prison-like conditions and exploit others in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, although unauthorized and often without identity documents, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining in forced labor; many of these men work for weeks or months before their employers report them to South African authorities for deportation on immigration violations to avoid paying earned wages. Traffickers connected to organized crime syndicates operating in South Africa allegedly exploit and sometimes kill Basotho men in derelict and ownerless gold mines. Traffickers also compel Basotho to commit crimes in South Africa, including theft, drug trafficking, and smuggling under threat of violence or through forced drug use.

The pandemic increased vulnerability of migrant workers returning to Lesotho after losing employment in South Africa. Increased unemployment due to the closure of factories drives some Lesotho citizens to enter South Africa while undocumented in search of work, which may increase their vulnerability to trafficking. COVID-19 testing requirements for entry caused some migrants entering Lesotho from South African border crossings to seek alternative routes. Foreign nationals, including PRC nationals, Pakistanis, and Nigerians, subject their compatriots to sex trafficking in Lesotho. Cuban nationals working in Lesotho may be forced to work by the Cuban government.

U.S. Department of State

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