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 were commonplace, and most incidents were not reported. From June 2013 to March (the most recent period for which data are available), 2,939 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported to the police Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU). The Magistrate Court recorded 142 convictions between January and October.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. The CGPU did not compile data on domestic violence. The LMPS included reports of domestic violence with assault data, but these were not broken down by type of violence. Categorized as assault, domestic violence and spousal abuse are criminal offenses, but authorities brought few cases to trial. The law does not mandate specific penalties, and judges have wide discretion in sentencing. Judges may authorize release of an offender with a warning, give a suspended sentence, or, depending on the severity of the assault, fine or imprison an offender.
Advocacy and awareness programs by the CGPU and ministries changed public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing that violence was unacceptable. The activities of local and regional organizations, other NGOs, and broadcast and print media campaigns bolstered these efforts. For example, one campaign focused on 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.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, but it was not practiced in the country.
Other 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, but no estimates on its extent were available. When the perpetrator’s family was wealthy, the victim’s parents often reached a financial settlement rather than report the incident to 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. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment. According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, sexual harassment in the textile sector was on the increase. Police also believed sexual harassment 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. In February a local NGO, in collaboration with Community of Women Living with HIV, conducted research on forced sterilization among HIV-positive women in Quthing, Thaba Tseka, Mafeteng, and Maseru districts. The study found that of 73 women, 24 were sterilized without their consent. Deputy Minister of Health Nthabiseng Makoae stated that if the allegations were true, the act was unlawful as every individual has a right to decide when to stop having children. Social and cultural barriers, but no legal prohibitions, limited access to contraception and related services. Regardless of the patient’s background, government hospitals and clinics provided equitable access to sexual and reproductive health services. These services included skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth; emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion; prenatal care; and essential obstetric and postpartum care.
There was access to modern 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. The UN Population Division estimated that 40 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2013.
According to UN estimates, the incidence of maternal mortality was 490 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 64. Approximately 15 percent of these deaths 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 also significant factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate.
Discrimination: Except for inheritance rights, women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women under formal and customary, or traditional, law. Inheritance rights are an exception; civil law defers to customary law, which 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 couple must register a customary law marriage in the civil system.
On April 17, the Court of Appeal, a panel of five South African judges that sits twice a year, unanimously upheld the Constitutional Court’s May 2013 decision to dismiss Senate Masupha’s suit to inherit her father’s title and estate as principal chief of Teyateyaneng, ending her four-year legal battle. The Appeals Court upheld male primogeniture.
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. Promoting the rights of women is among the responsibilities of the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports, and Recreation. It supported efforts by women’s groups to sensitize society to respect the status and rights of women.
The law prohibits discrimination against women in access to employment or credit, education, pay, housing, or in owning or managing businesses. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, business, and access to credit (see section 7.d.).