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 informed, police and the judiciary generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; nevertheless, sexual assault and rape were commonplace. According to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report, in 2008 there were 91.6 rape cases per 100,000 persons. Local and international NGOs report that most incidents of sexual assault and rape went unreported. From January to September (the most recent period for which data were available), the police Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) received reports of 648 cases of rape and sexual assault. The Magistrate Court recorded 65 convictions between January and September.
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 did not break down the data by type of violence. 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 Office of the First Lady, CGPU, ministries, and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) 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, WLSA held training workshops to raise awareness of gender-based violence from November 2014-January 2015. Campaigns and radio programs educating women about their rights took place throughout the year. The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women. The shelter offered psychosocial services, but only provided help to women referred to it. The majority of victims did not know about the shelter so it was difficult for them to access such services. There was no hotline for victims.
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 WLSA, 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 the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. In February 2014 a local NGO, in collaboration with the 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 24 of 73 women interviewed had been sterilized without their consent. Then 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. The NGO continued research in the remaining six districts of Lesotho. 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 2014 Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS) revealed the contraceptive prevalence rate peaked among women at 71 percent between the ages of 35-39 and declined to 40 percent among women between ages 45 and 49. It observed a correlation between education, wealth, and contraceptive use; women with living children were more likely than those without living children to use contraceptives.
The 2014 LDHS reported the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was 1,024 per 100,000 live births, largely due to limitations in the country’s health system. Although the MMR dropped slightly from 1,243 in 2009, the change was not statistically significant.
Discrimination: Except for inheritance rights, women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men including rights concerning family, labor, property, and nationality. The law prohibits discrimination against women under formal and customary, or traditional law. Inheritance, succession, and property 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. To have legal standing in civil court, a couple must register a customary law marriage in the civil system.
In April 2014 the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the Constitutional Court’s 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. In 2014 Masupha launched a complaint at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The commission’s request for a response from the government was pending at year’s end.
The Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho held seminars and workshops in Quthing district to advance the human rights of women and children. The program emphasized the need to improve their legal rights concerning inheritance and succession. Promoting the rights of women is among the responsibilities of the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Sports. 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.).