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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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Lesotho remained on Tier 2.  The government increased funding for anti-trafficking law enforcement, victim protection, and awareness efforts.  The government appointed a prosecutorial focal point for trafficking cases and established two new district-level multisectoral committees (MSC).  The government trained its diplomats on the SOPs and NRM for victim identification and referral.  The government increased coordination across agencies on anti-trafficking efforts and with foreign governments on investigations.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government continued to rely on one NGO to provide all services to trafficking victims without dedicating sufficient government funding, and shelter options remained limited.  Additionally, significant backlogs of pending trafficking prosecutions remained.  Gaps in training resulted in some front-line officials lacking awareness of the NRM and SOPs for victim identification and referral.

  • Institutionalize specialized trafficking in persons training to police investigators, prosecutors, magistrates, judges, immigration officials, labor inspectors, social service personnel, and health care professionals to identify and refer victims using the NRM.
  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes; address court backlogs; and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • 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 response to all potential trafficking cases.
  • Dedicate funding for the Victim of Trafficking Trust Fund, establish reporting requirements for transparency, and ensure appropriate allocations for victim protection, including shelter.
  • Increase joint operations between law enforcement and labor inspectors to increase identification and referral to services of forced labor victims, 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 collaboration with foreign governments 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.  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 – six for sex trafficking, one for labor trafficking, and three where the form of trafficking was unspecified – and continued 14 investigations from previous reporting periods.  This compared with 10 investigations initiated during the previous reporting period.  The government initiated one trafficking prosecution, compared with 16 in the previous reporting period, and continued 12 prosecutions from the previous reporting period.  A court convicted and sentenced one trafficker to 50 years’ imprisonment, the same as the previous reporting period.  As reported in previous reporting periods, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) arrested the alleged trafficker of a Nigerian victim, who was permitted to operate his business with impunity; the investigation remained ongoing.

Although magistrate courts, which are the courts of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes, legal authorities determined magistrates could refer trafficking cases to the High Court to issue longer sentences, though it was unclear if magistrates were aware of this procedure.  The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) assigned a team of prosecutors to process the large backlog of trafficking prosecutions; the team faced continued challenges due to missing dockets or the inability to include victim testimony after repatriation of foreign national victims and witnesses.

The LMPS Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Control (ATMC) Unit maintained five specialized anti-trafficking focal points, composed of three to four investigators, in Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, and Maseru.  In other districts, the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) investigated trafficking crimes.  Members of each focal point received basic training on combating trafficking in persons, but lacked specialized training on victim identification, trauma-informed interviewing, and investigating trafficking crimes.  The ATMC Unit continued to hold meetings, as needed, with the 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, conducted joint inspections targeting forced labor; the joint task force referred several cases for investigation involving potential foreign national victims.  Some members of the joint inspection teams lacked sufficient training to identify falsified work and visa documentation during inspections.  In 2022, the Governments of Lesotho and South Africa, with support from an international organization, began implementation of the Bi-National Commission of Cooperation to increase and formalize cooperation in multiple areas, including law enforcement coordination on trafficking cases.  The LMPS coordinated with the South African Police Service on three cross-border investigations; however, the LMPS reported difficulty engaging with their South African counterparts.

The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes, however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns.  Government officials were allegedly complicit in the illegal entry, transportation, and harboring of foreign nationals, which the government investigated in two cases during the reporting period.  The government continued implementing a rotational system for immigration officials to deter participation in illicit activities, including human trafficking.  In an effort to ensure accountability, observers reported law enforcement required training on appropriate conduct and mechanisms to ensure victims are treated respectfully during investigations.

The government increased overall protection efforts.  The government identified and referred to care 25 trafficking victims, compared with 24 victims identified and referred to care in the previous reporting period.  The government identified four potential trafficking victims through joint labor inspections.  The government, with support from an international organization, continued implementation of its SOPs for victim identification and the NRM to refer victims to services.  The NRM was translated into Sesotho and disseminated to local officials.  The government’s Trafficking in Persons Coordinator supervised district social workers handling trafficking cases and trained them on issues related to human trafficking.  Observers reported the need for additional training for law enforcement and frontline workers on the SOPs for victim identification and NRM on referral to care.  NGOs and international organizations intercepted 350 potential victims of trafficking through transit monitoring at airports and border crossings.

An NGO had an MOU with the government to provide emergency shelter to both foreign and Basotho female victims – and their dependent children – and child victims of trafficking, sexual assault, as well as domestic violence.  The NGO provided short-term housing, medical care, counseling, job skills training, and legal assistance to 33 trafficking victims, including 16 sex trafficking victims, six labor trafficking victims, and 11 victims of unspecified forms of trafficking.  The government increased its allocated funding for victim services in 2022 to 150,000 maloti ($8,823), compared with 82,500 maloti ($4,868) in 2021.  This funding paid for the shelter’s utilities and security as well as medical fees for victims.  Additionally, in some circumstances, the government paid for victims’ legal fees, counseling services, school fees, transportation, and other expenses.  However, the shelter required significant external funding to maintain operation.  While trafficking victims had a choice whether to enter the NGO shelter, it was the only shelter available; victims had freedom of movement while residing at the shelter.  The NGO provided support 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 to expand their existing shelter capacity for trafficking victims.  Observers expressed a need to establish shelters nationwide.  Victims were not required to participate in investigations to access services.  In cases where victims experienced fear or intimidation by traffickers, the government provided a separate room for victims to testify or facilitated virtual court proceedings.  The government provided trafficking victims with legal representation at no cost.

The government increased allocated funding for anti-trafficking efforts, including victim services through a dedicated bank account, to 2 million maloti ($118,008), with 1.5 million maloti ($88,235) disbursed by the end of the reporting period.  This bank account remained in use from the previous reporting period to handle anti-trafficking funds, instead of the required Victim of Trafficking Trust Fund, which would provide stronger accountability measures as stipulated under the anti-trafficking law.  While the law provided restitution in trafficking cases, no prosecutors petitioned it and, therefore, judges did not order it during the reporting period.  The anti-trafficking act and its implementing regulations prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked and allowed foreign victims to elect permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal.  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.

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 continued implementing the National Strategic Framework and Action Plan (NSFAP) 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 national 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 train 56 government and NGO participants, including 42 government officials, and establish two district-level anti-trafficking MSCs in Botha-Bothe and Mokhotlong.  The MFA, in collaboration with the MSC and an international organization, trained the government’s diplomats at four consulates and the Lesotho High Commission in South Africa on identifying and referring trafficking victims to care.  The MFA also maintained focal points based in all 20 of Lesotho’s foreign missions and consulates to respond to cases of human trafficking of its citizens identified abroad and continued disseminating a trafficking in persons handbook for diplomats, developed in partnership with an international organization.

The government increased efforts to raise awareness, especially outreach to vulnerable communities, and continued its participation in NGO-led activities.  Government officials conducted prevention education and awareness activities, some organized by an NGO, consisting of 326 campaign events in all 10 districts, educating approximately 60,000 Basotho on human trafficking.  Campaign materials were printed in Sesotho and English, with picture illustrations for illiterate community members.  The government continued targeting outreach and awareness efforts to Basotho diaspora communities in collaboration with NGOs serving Lesotho citizens abroad.  The government also integrated human trafficking awareness into a national campaign to issue identification documentation to students and other community members.

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 in South Africa.  The government employed 29 labor inspectors, who received training on human trafficking and child labor and conducted 875 inspections in 2022, primarily in textile factories; two cases of child labor were identified.  MOLE developed a human trafficking checklist to assist labor inspectors to identify human trafficking crimes during inspections.  The government drafted standard guidelines for migrant recruitment from Lesotho to foreign countries to enhance protections for migrant workers; however, the guidelines did not eliminate recruitment fees elicited from workers.  The government continued to implement its labor migration policy focused on recruitment malpractice 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.

Through support from an international organization, the government operated a child protection hotline, including trafficking.  Law enforcement operated a hotline for reporting all crimes, including human trafficking.  MHA’s general hotline received reports of six trafficking crimes during the reporting period, which were referred to LMPS for investigation.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  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 previous reporting period, MHA commissioned a study by an NGO to examine trends and patterns of human trafficking in Lesotho.  MOLE finished an assessment of child labor, including child trafficking, in Lesotho, which awaited final release by the end of the reporting period.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Lesotho, and traffickers exploit victims from Lesotho abroad.  Limited economic opportunities, exacerbated by the pandemic and inflation, 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 and to South Africa or the Middle East.  Traffickers, including in religious institutions, fraudulently advertise scholarships or lucrative jobs in hospitality on social media to recruit victims into forced labor and sex trafficking, increasingly in the Middle East.

In Lesotho, traffickers exploit Basotho children, especially orphans, in forced labor in domestic servitude and animal herding and in sex trafficking.  Young girls employed in domestic work in exchange for room and board are vulnerable to forced labor and abuse.  In previous years, there were anecdotal reports that “workshop masters” force children to produce and sell arts and crafts in market vending.  There were reports of 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 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 migrate to South Africa, where traffickers detain some in prison-like conditions and exploit others in sex trafficking, notably in Welkom and Klerksdorp.  Some parents send children to South Africa to work as domestic workers, and they are exploited in forced labor.  Basotho traffickers target factory workers in Maseru, with offers of lucrative employment in South Africa, and force them to work in factories in Newcastle and Mandeni, South Africa.  In 2022, the Government of South Africa did not renew work permits for some Basotho migrant workers employed in South Africa’s agricultural sector, which increased their vulnerability to 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 Basotho men in derelict and ownerless gold mines.  Some of these miners, known as “zama zamas”, recruit young girls in Lesotho to exploit in sex trafficking in South Africa.  Traffickers also compel Basotho to commit crimes in South Africa, including theft, drug trafficking, and smuggling under threat of violence.

Climate change, including slow-onset climate events, such as flooding and droughts, impacted agricultural production and food security, increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking.  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.  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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