Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Rape convictions carry a minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. When cases were reported, police and the judiciary generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, sexual assault and rape reportedly were commonplace, and most incidents were not reported. From January to December 2011 (the most recent period for which data are available), 1,073 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported; 420 individuals were convicted.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. The Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) did not compile data on domestic violence. Reports of domestic violence were included with assault data, which were not broken down by type. Categorized as assault, domestic violence and spousal abuse are criminal offenses, but few cases were brought to trial. The law does not mandate specific penalties, and judges have wide discretion in sentencing. An offender can be officially warned and released, given a suspended sentence, fined, or imprisoned, depending on the severity of the assault.
Violence against women and children was increasingly considered socially unacceptable, due in part to government advocacy and awareness programs by the CGPU and other ministries. The activities of local and regional organizations, other NGOs, and broadcast and print media campaigns bolstered these efforts. Activities included teaching youth and parents how to report such offenses and access victim services. Campaigns and radio programs educating women about their rights took place throughout the year. The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women and victims of trafficking.
Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of forced elopement, a customary practice whereby men abduct and rape girls or women with the intention of forcing them into marriage. The superintendent of the Thaba-Tseka district police, Khethisang Koro, estimated that six cases of abduction and rape were reported each month in his district alone. Community Councilor Daemane Boutu indicated that victims’ parents, if they are wealthy, often settle with the perpetrator’s family rather than report the incident to the police.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, indecent exposure, and sexual assault. Penalties for those convicted of sexual harassment are at the discretion of the court. Sexual harassment is rarely reported. According to the registrar of the Labor Court, only one case has been reported since 2002, and that case was withdrawn by the plaintiff’s lawyer. However, sexual harassment was believed to be widespread in the workplace and elsewhere. The CGPU prepared radio programs to raise public awareness of the problem.
Reproductive Rights: The law gives couples and individuals the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers limited access to contraception and related services. Regardless of the patient’s background, government hospitals and clinics provided equitable access to reproductive health services. These services included skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. There was access to contraception for a minimal fee; male and female condoms were freely available. Many international and local NGOs worked in partnership with the government to provide such services.
According to UN estimates, the incidence of maternal mortality was 620 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010; of the 5,500 childbirth-related deaths that year, 41 percent were AIDS-related. The Lesotho Health Systems Assessment released in 2010 indicated that poor roads, lack of transport, and the lack of emergency obstetric care at many hospitals were significant factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate.
Discrimination: Women and men enjoy equal rights in civil and criminal courts. The law prohibits discrimination against women under formal and customary, or traditional, law. However, inheritance rights are an exception; civil law does not address the issue, and customary law discriminates against women and girls as it pertains to inheritance. Customary law limits inheritance to male heirs only; it does not permit women or girls to inherit property. A woman married under civil law may contest inheritance rights in civil court.
Although the civil legal code does not recognize polygamy, a small minority practiced it under customary law.
Under the civil legal system, women have the right to make a will and sue for divorce. In order to have legal standing in civil court, a customary law marriage must also be registered in the civil system.
A court case filed by Senate Masupha challenged the discrimination against women in customary inheritance. Section 10 of the Chieftainship Act denies women the right to succeed to chieftainship. Masupha sought to inherit from her late father the position of principal chief of Ha Mamathe in Berea District. The case was pending in the Constitutional Court at year’s end.
Women’s rights organizations took a leading role in educating women about their rights under customary and civil law, highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the democratic process. The Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports, and Recreation is charged with promoting the rights of women. It supported efforts by women’s groups to sensitize society to respect the status and rights of women.
Women were not discriminated against in access to employment or credit. Women were not discriminated against in terms of education, pay, housing, and owning or managing businesses.