By ‘Majirata Latela
Lesotho is crossing its fingers that it will be upgraded to Tier One on the watch list soon after showing signs of rooting out human trafficking through its ministry of home affairs.
It was just last month when the country was upgraded to Tier Two in the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report for taking concrete measures to eliminate trafficking even though the country did not meet the minimum standard to that status.
But the ministry leading the exercise of eliminating human trafficking is optimistic the kingdom will be further upgraded to the higher level in a very short period of time.
This, according to the ministry, is in cognisance of the efforts that it is taking to ensure human trafficking is brought to a lasting end.
The ministry’s consolidated plans to bring to an end the practice globally abhorred emerged during last week’s commemoration of anti-trafficking in persons.
With the help of non-governmental organisations, the ministry has shown some work it did to eliminate trafficking. The government provided a shelter for female victims of trafficking where they are rehabilitated in a safe and secure space.
“We are in partnership with a local NGO Beautiful Dreams Society (BDS) Lesotho which provides food, shelter, education, medical, and psychosocial support to the victims of trafficking. While on the other hand the government pays forks out money for utilities such as water, electricity, and security services.
“You will be pleased to note that to date the shelter has housed nine victims of trafficking (VoT). Six of them were trafficked for purposes of sexual activities while the other three were to be involved in labour activities,” home affairs minister Motlalentoa Letsosa disclosed in his speech.
He recalled that in last April his ministry in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the European Union and the American government launched the national strategic framework and action plan to combat trafficking in persons for the years 2021- 2026. The effort was undertaken to combat, prevent, protect, care for victims and ensure prosecution and punishment of responsible perpetrators.
He further mentioned that the legislator has successfully amended the Anti- Trafficking in Persons Act, 2011, which is in line with international norms. He said with the closure of key legislative gaps, including criminalizing all forms of sex trafficking and prescribing penalties commensurate with the offences the Lesotho Mounted Police Service is currently investigating other alleged cases of trafficking.
So far only one perpetrator has been convicted and imprisoned for committing the criminal act.
Letsosa further showed that through the One Stop Business Facilitation Centre (OBFC) they found fictitious foreign manufacturing businesses posing as investors. Such 15 bogus companies facilitated incidences of alleged forced labour and or trafficking in persons for an assortment of reasons.
The plan is to move such services back to the ministry of home affairs.
Twenty-one-year old orphaned Moliehi Tlou* narrated her story while pleading with all stakeholders to hold hands and work hard to make sure that trafficking in persons is a thing of the past. She strongly believed that Lesotho was capable of eliminating all forms of trafficking.
Together with her friend Lineo Mosito* was told about a job in the Free State which they were excited about as they thought they were finally going to be able to support their families.
“The friend told us how we could cross into South Africa illegally. When the time came for us to go a friend directed us to a place in Maputsoe where we found men who were willing to assist us to cross the Mohokare River. We did follow the men.
“Once of the other side the man insisted on payment, having no money we were told to surrender the only mobile phone that we shared is use. This was our only way to contact our friend in Bloemfontein. And, we could not agree to give out the device.
“Sadly one man raped my friend in exchange for the assistance to get across. Our nightmare had begun. We took a bus from Ficksburg and told the driver that we will pay upon our arrival at the destination. When we arrived we were excited to see our friend getting out of a car and started talking to the driver,
“We really hoped that our ordeal thus far would be worth it. We got in the car with our friend and the driver navigated to the location of our new life and after a short ride we arrived at a flat in town where we were introduced to our new Nigerian boss.
“He took me into his room for several hours and repeatedly raped me and abused me. He took away my dignity and made me feel worthless and at the end threw some clothes at me and explained what my new job would be. I still couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I felt like I was having a bad dream,” she said.
Laying down the rules to her, the man told her that if her sexual engagement would fetch R1000 (equivalent to M1000) he would reward her with a R50 (equivalent of M50) to buy food. She would go hungry the next day if she failed to hit the required gain.
She said caught wind of the fact that her friend had experienced a similar fate for months leaving her with sad memories. Her attempts did not end soon as she tried on several occasions to escape the ordeal.
But at one stage point she escaped with one of the man’s friends, but only to end in other wrong hands.
Upon a raid of the flat by the South Africa Police Service, the man was arrested.
However, after the arrest, the culprit’s friend became a substitute while the lady was already pregnant and sick. An attempt to abort the baby took place. Later the man was also arrested.
Eventually she was rescued from the bondage by one lady who donated some transport fare to her to return home.
“I had a miscarriage shortly after and was referred to Beautiful Dream Society (BDS). On arrival, I kept my head covered with a hood thinking that I was being trafficked again,” she said.
After months of care and therapy she began to open up and allowed new things to come into her live. That was followed by being enrolled into a school where she passed her Junior Certificate with a second class.
The report shows that the government made key achievements during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.
According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report on Lesotho, the country sentenced a perpetrator to a jail term of four years.
The enactment of the law regarding the ant-trafficking, prohibits all forms of sexual human trafficking and encourages investigation of all alleged acts of human trafficking.
The law also makes provision for funding support for victims’ protection.
“Despite these achievements, the government did not meet several key minimum standards. Law enforcement efforts remained insufficient compared to the problem, in part due to the lack of training and experience necessary to conduct complex multi-jurisdictional investigations.
“The government did not investigate several credible allegations of trafficking of its citizens in South Africa, nor did it investigate credible allegations of abuse of trafficking victims by South African and Lesotho police officers. Victim identification efforts were weak, and the government continued to rely on one NGO to provide all victim shelter and care with nascent government funding. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not finalize standard operating procedures on victim identification or the national referral mechanism, and for the 10th consecutive year, did not allocate funding for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund. Law enforcement and front-line responders continued to lack regular anti-trafficking training, which at times resulted in law enforcement re-traumatizing potential victims,” the report indicated.