Lesotho is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking, and for men subjected to conditions of forced labor. Within Lesotho, women and children are subjected to domestic servitude and children—both boys and girls—increasingly endure commercial sexual exploitation. Basotho women and children endure these same forms of exploitation in South Africa. Basotho women and girls voluntarily migrate to South Africa seeking work in domestic service and are detained in prison-like conditions and/or forced to engage in prostitution. Some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, though illegally, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining become victims of forced labor; many work for weeks or months, only to have their employers turn them over to South African authorities to be deported for immigration violations in order to avoid paying them. In 2013, traffickers were suspected of recruiting three Basotho nationals into forced labor in South Africa. Basotho are also coerced into committing crimes, including theft, drug dealing, and drug smuggling under threats of violence or through forced drug use. Chinese and Nigerian organized crime rings reportedly acquire Basotho victims while transporting foreign victims through Lesotho to Johannesburg. The trend of foreign nationals subjecting their compatriots to trafficking in Lesotho, first observed in 2011, reportedly continued, although no specific cases were identified by government or NGO stakeholders during the reporting period.
The Government of Lesotho does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period; therefore, Lesotho is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government initiated several prosecutions of trafficking offenses in 2013. The government also appointed a new chair to its anti-trafficking committee charged with finalizing a national action plan to combat human trafficking; however, the committee was inactive for much of the reporting year and failed to develop formal referral procedures and establish victim care centers—key portions of the 2011 anti-trafficking act that remained unimplemented for the fourth consecutive year. The government has not successfully prosecuted a trafficking offender under the 2011 anti-trafficking act and failed to address systematic weaknesses—including questions of jurisdiction among courts, lack of anti-trafficking training for officials, and official complicity—during the reporting period. The government identified four trafficking victims and referred three for care; however, the government made minimal efforts to protect victims. It continued its reliance on NGOs to identify and assist victims, without providing funding or in-kind support for these services.
Recommendations for Lesotho:
Finalize and implement the draft national anti-trafficking action plan; enact implementing regulations for the 2011 anti-trafficking act and address jurisdictional issues impeding the hearing of trafficking cases in the Basotho court system; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses under the 2011 act, including both internal and transnational cases; provide care to victims of trafficking via government-run centers or in partnership with international organizations or NGOs; develop a formal mechanism, in line with the 2011 act, to refer victims to service providers; develop a formal system to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; differentiate the process of victim identification from the prosecution of trafficking offenders; provide adequate resources to support anti-trafficking efforts, especially provision of protection services such as victim witness support; increase oversight of labor recruitment agencies licensed in Lesotho; and establish a system to collect and analyze data on victims identified and assisted, trafficking offenses investigated and prosecuted, and trafficking offenders convicted and punished.
The government maintained its modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which came into effect in January 2011, prohibits and punishes all forms of trafficking in persons. It prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $125,000 under Section 5(1) for the trafficking of adults, and up to life imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $250,000 under Section 5(2) for the trafficking of children; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Child Protection and Welfare Act, enacted in March 2011, prescribes penalties of life imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $125,000 for child trafficking. Labor recruiters who knowingly recruit workers for forced labor are liable for the same penalties as those who hold them in servitude. In February 2014, the government’s anti-trafficking committee partnered with UNODC to begin drafting implementing regulations necessary to enforce the anti-trafficking act.
The government has never punished a trafficking offender under the 2011 anti-trafficking act. In 2013, the government initiated prosecutions under the act involving three suspected trafficking offenders for their alleged involvement in labor or sex trafficking. One suspect was prosecuted in an internal trafficking case involving Basotho boys in cattle herding and, in a separate case, another suspect was tried for forcing a Mosotho boy to sell drugs. One Mosotho woman was charged under the act for alleged involvement in attempting to transport a Mosotho girl to South Africa for the purposes of prostitution; the woman remained in jail pending trial at the end of the reporting period. In addition to these three defendants, at least one suspect in a separate trafficking case remained free and was not arrested or charged by officials during the year.
The government failed to address systemic weaknesses in its anti-trafficking response that prevented it from holding traffickers accountable. In April 2013, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions assigned three additional prosecutors to handle a backlog of trafficking cases, which had accumulated under one previously assigned prosecutor; however, no prosecutions were completed during the year. Judicial sector officials contend that Lesotho’s High Court—which has the jurisdiction to hear trafficking cases—should not be the court of first instance, and Magistrate courts—where judges have attempted to hear cases—lack jurisdiction to appropriately sentence convicted offenders or to refer trafficking cases to the High Court.
The government did not investigate or prosecute any instances of alleged complicity by government officials during the year. Despite reports of suspected traffickers exerting influence to facilitate the arrest of victims to prevent them from testifying in 2012, no investigation was conducted into these allegations. The government failed to adequately train law enforcement and judicial sector officials on trafficking issues during the year; however, the government partnered with an NGO, as part of a donor-funded project, to train 237 police, magistrates, prosecutors, paralegals, journalists, and community leaders. Although government officials cooperated with the South African Police Service to repatriate victims, Basotho officials failed to initiate any joint investigations of trafficking cases with the South African government for the second consecutive year.
The government made minimal efforts to protect victims during the reporting period, and continued to lack formal victim identification procedures or a process to refer victims to appropriate services. The Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) identified four potential trafficking victims in 2013—a reduction from eight identified in 2012—and referred two victims to an NGO shelter for care. NGOs identified 36 trafficking victims in 2013. The government failed to directly assist these victims or provide support to NGOs that did so during the year, despite its previous pledges to provide such NGOs financial support. During the reporting period, the government did not establish victim care centers or a fund to protect and rehabilitate victims, as required under the 2011 anti-trafficking act. Medical services were accessible to victims of crime, including trafficking, free of charge at government hospitals and clinics, and the CGPU had the capacity to provide limited counseling to such groups; it is unknown how many victims received such services during the year. Lesotho Immigration officials worked with the South African Police Service to repatriate one sex trafficking victim identified in April 2013.
The 2011 anti-trafficking law protects victims from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, provides foreign victims with permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal, and encourages victims to assist in the investigation of traffickers; however, the government unevenly applied these provisions during the reporting period. In the previous reporting period, the Ministry of Home Affairs denied immigration petition of one Ethiopian trafficking victim because the prosecution of her abuser did not result in a conviction, which NGO stakeholders report was in part a result of witness intimidation in the case.
The Government of Lesotho increased its capacity to prevent trafficking and more effectively coordinate official efforts to address the crime by designating a new lead of its national coordinating body. In November 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs appointed the Commissioner of Refugees as the new chairman of the multi-sectoral committee. Although the committee failed to meet for much of 2013, after the Commissioner’s appointment, the committee met three times and made efforts to finally complete the long-pending national action plan. The committee failed to coordinate awareness activities during the year. The Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation partnered with an NGO to raise awareness on human trafficking as part of its gender-based violence (GBV) outreach through television programs and community events. Multiple forums held throughout 2013 focused on educating adults and children—in separate sessions—on the causes and consequences of GBV and trafficking. Three radio and television programs allowed over 11,500 listeners to learn about the topic, interact with presenters, and share experiences during phone-in sessions. Lesotho’s annual campaign, “16 Days of Activism Against GBV,” targeted more than 80 officers from the armed forces. The Ministry also carried out efforts to educate boys in cattle herding on GBV issues, including human trafficking; a train-the-trainer program targeted 350 herders. The Lesotho Mounted Police Service, in partnership with an NGO, coordinated awareness-raising events with children to alert them to recruitment schemes used by traffickers.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) conducted approximately 1,000 labor inspections during the year. The effectiveness of these inspections in identifying forced child labor was limited since they focused on the formal sector, whereas forced child labor was most prevalent in the informal sector, including in private homes. MOEL issued 40 licenses to labor agents recruiting workers from Lesotho for farms and construction companies in South Africa. MOEL required these companies to use standardized contracts; however, some companies failed to adhere to their provisions upon the workers’ arrival in South Africa. Although it receives many complaints from returned laborers about their working conditions, MOEL only files complaints against and suspends the permits of these companies when the violation involves many reported victims or extreme violence. Although there were no such suspensions in 2013, in December 2013, the government signed an agreement with the South African Ministry of Labor to cooperate on dispute resolution and information sharing on labor issues. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex during the reporting period.