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May 24, 2024
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ECONOMIC DEPENDENCE LEAVES GIRLS VULNERABLE TO TRAFFICKING

By: Kefuoe Phate

Maseru, Oct 24 — The United Nations (UN) defines Human trafficking also known as Trafficking In Persons (TIP) as the movement of children, women and men against their will using force or deception with the purpose of exploiting them sexually and economically. Some are forced into the sex industry, forced labour or domestic servitude. The movement can be locally and or internationally.

Compared to boys, girls under 22 years are vulnerable thus making them easy targets for trafficking as according to the World Vision International Lesotho (WVIL). They are the most vulnerable ones to human trafficking because of their economic dependence, they lack the means to support themselves financially and depend on men.

Speaking with the WVIL National Director Mr. James Chifwelu, he told the Agency that the vulnerability and economic dependence of young girls is caused by the fact that they are not valued in most societies, they come second to boys and thus they are discriminated against in terms of educational and employment opportunities, and this is the case in most rural areas in Lesotho.

Besides that, he said the issue of children, especially girls, being left with responsibility of heading families at their young age exploit their minds that they find themselves easily falling for human trafficking tactics.

He stipulated that as WVIL, they have a case of a young girl who just turned 18 and was trafficked to South Africa (SA) in a promise of a job but she was later married to an unknown man. 

Mrs. Chifwelu stated that the matter was reported to World Vision under the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Project (PPHR) in Lesotho, and it was referred to the Police, and the girl was referred to one shelter for psycho-social support through WVIL partnership with Beautiful Dream Society (BDS) and the girl will later go back to school. 

He said as one of the measures to combat Trafficking of young girls, the PPHR project funded by the European Union (EU) is addressing this issue by empowering communities on the identification and monitoring of cases, and support for survivors is also guaranteed. He said this they do in collaboration with other stakeholders.

Speaking with the Awareness Officer at Beautiful Dream Society (BDS) Mrs. Mamokete Mokhatla, says the society has so far helped over 230 trafficked persons since its inception in May 2010, most of whom are women and girls aged between ages of 13 and 56 years. 

She noted that children, especially young girls are vulnerable to trafficking because they are a good source of cheap labour, adding that they are promised good paying jobs, relationships with lucrative benefits and they fall easily to such kinds of tricks due to hunger and poverty.

Mrs. Mokhatla stressed the issue of social media as one of the platforms used by traffickers to attract these young girls, exposing them to sexual exploitation, besides that, she added that traffickers use different ways to entice their victims depending on which one they want. 

“The increase in demand for children to be exploited sexually is worrying as more become victims of this inhuman activity that robs them of their human rights’’, she explained. 

Furthermore, she mentioned that children suffer greatly in the countries they are trafficked to, making their lives miserable and this denies them an opportunity to experience a normal childhood stage.

She noted that the BDS works jointly with other stakeholders to provide victims with counselling for the purpose of rebuilding victims minds, taking them to health centres so as to restore their medical state or condition while also helping them make means of living after they have experienced such a trauma.

She said they are pleased that some of these victims are excelling in their different businesses, while young ones are doing well in their respective schools.

In conversation with the Founder as well as the Managing Director of Lesotho Child Counselling Unit (LCCU), Mrs. Lydia ‘Muso implied that human trafficking has increased and combating the crime is a major challenge for governments, Lesotho included as the traffickers keep changing their means of carrying their trade.

She indicated that since the establishment of the LCCU more than 15 years ago, they have managed to provide counselling for over 100 children and they are in a good state of mind. 

Mrs. ‘Muso told the Agency that two girls aged between 14 and 15 from Berea and another aged 15 from Quthing were rescued in SA with child labour and were forced to go there by their relatives after a long conversation with perpetrators on social media, Facebook to be precise. 

She said the other case was of a two-year-old boy who was kidnapped into Lesotho from SA, and 15 girls who were also brought back to Lesotho after they were found in one brothel in Thaba-Nchu, SA.

She said in all these cases, perpetrators were prosecuted but were given lighter bails that did not exceed M500.00 each. “They all managed to pay it and are walking freely wherever they are,’’ she noted. 

She said the vulnerability of women and young girls has put them at risk of being trafficked. It is therefore imperative to deal with the factors that make it easy for criminal gangs to smuggle innocent children and women. 

In addition, she stated that more needs to be done to protect them from modern day slavery, adding that child trafficking in particular has increased and this is due to the prevailing situation of high rate of youth unemployment, and by the high profits accrued from the activity by those who drive it.

Both Mrs. Mokhatla and Mrs. ‘Muso stressed the issue of non-compliance to the law, saying human trafficking cases are not well administered and not given much attention they need in the courts of law.

They said the crime of human trafficking is extremely secretive and remains a clandestine activity, and many cases of human trafficking are not reported while many of those reported often remain untraced.

“The problem of human trafficking is deep despite there being international initiatives to push governments to take action against the vice trade,” they said.

In an interview with the Senior Inspector (Snr. Insp.) Beleme Moerane from Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), TIP occurs in many ways, young girls are given promises of jobs and marriages and that results in them falling victims of human trafficking. 

He said children are easy to manipulate hence traffickers have an easy time in luring them, and the high demand for children and the fact that traffickers see them as commodities increasing their exploitation.

He mentioned that children fall for promises of better life or education easily, once they are taken out of the country, they become disoriented and without papers, they are forced to endure suffering in prostitution or as domestic servants. Adding that some are pushed into early marriages and others forced to work in hazardous environments.

Snr. Insp. Moerane indicated that cases of human trafficking have recently been completed in Lesotho in which two of the accused were a Nigerian and Zimbabwean man who were found guilty of engaging in human trafficking acts and were both sentenced to 10 and 50 years imprisonment respectively.

The trio (Muso, Mokhatla and Moerane) noted that due to sensitivity and difficulty of these kind of cases, it is not so easy to have conversations or interviews with the victims because they get exposed and discriminated against. Adding that due to that, it is also hard to say the exact statistics of the cases before courts of law, the reported ones and those that are pending.

The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011, Section 66 is clear that a person who takes part in any transaction the object or one of it to transfer or confer, wholly or partly, temporary or permanently, the possession, custody or control child for any valuable reason commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M20,000.00 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both. 

In addition to the law and policies that regulate human trafficking, the WVIL Safeguarding Policy also gives special protection to children and guides those handling children’s issues. 

In an attempt to curb these acts, the Prime Minister (PM) Mr. Samuel Matekane has launched a Youth Empowerment Initiative named SEBABATSO which stands to embrace sustainable development and empowerment of young innovators and entrepreneurship.

In his keynote address, the PM indicated that unemployment, high crime rates, gender-based violence, and poverty have cast shadows only young people whose energies and aspirations remain untapped, mostly young girls who find themselves falling prey for human trafficking tactics.

He said as emphasised in the Lesotho National Youth Policy, entrepreneurship is the key that can unlock thousands of jobs and drive innovation across sectors. 

”The key is in the hands of our young people, the benefits of Entrepreneurship goes beyond just providing employment. In societies where hopelessness and idleness prevail, crime often becomes an escape route, and when our young women are economically empowered, they are less vulnerable to abuse and exploitation”, noted the Prime Minister. 

Apart from this, PM said they will create a national platform for youth to showcase their businesses and talents annually, with his presence and investors, development partners, private sector and all organisations and individuals who would like to be part of this initiative.

He added that they will further forge collaborations with potential investors and mentors to ensure that youth enterprises grow beyond boundaries, and also put focus on nurturing youth innovators, to bring forward solutions for communities. With support from the United Nations (UN) and its agencies, they will prepare youth entrepreneurs for investment opportunities.   

The Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism also launched the Entrepreneurship Hub meant to empower young people into establishing their own enterprises.

In an interview, Minister Mokhethi Shelile of Trade said the focus is mainly on women and young people having realised that they contribute to a large number of unemployment hence they fall easily onto human trafficking tricks. 

He said there are 15 young people, girls included, that will be attending a youth entrepreneurship conference in SA to learn more about business establishment and their stability. He added that the aim is to have at least six groups of beneficiaries of the conference. 

Minister Shelile highlighted that it is worth empowering young women and adolescent girls as that will allow them to claim their rights, and create an environment where they can live free from discrimination and violence. 

Moreover, he said youth must meaningfully be involved in developing policies and programmes for their voices to be heard so that the Government can be in a position to understand them better.

In her speech during the launch of the SEBABATSO, the United Nations (UN)  resident Coordinator Miss. Amanda Khozi Mukwashi has applauded the government of Lesotho for the SEBABATSO initiative, adding that as UN Agencies, they are committed in supporting Lesotho in its transformative journey, with measures to combat human trafficking included.

She said as the UN, they are the champions of the ideas of sustainable development, inclusivity and empowerment. It therefore brings immense joy to see those very ideals in the SEBABATSO initiative. 

Ms. Mukwashi stated that empowering young people is not a soiled endeavour, but a golden thread that weaves through every facet of the economy. She added that the magnitude of these challenges that results in human trafficking demands cohesive, government-led initiatives. ”Our financial institutions must recognise and reward the potential of young entrepreneurs with accessible capital, handholding and recognition”, she said.   

One other initiative taken by both Lesotho and SA in curbing human trafficking is through the awareness campaigns facilitated by the Cross Border Crime Prevention Forum (CBCPF), and one of the Coordinators Mr. Litaba Mohapi said the campaigns are aimed at raising awareness on issues of human trafficking between the borders. 

He pointed out that human trafficking allows traffickers to profit at the expense of their victims by compelling them to perform labour as unpaid or engage in commercial sex.

 Additionally, Warrant Officer Nikiwe Mokatsanyane of Hawks department in SA said activities involving human trafficking happen within communities with which the societies are silent. She added that Hob House in Thaba-Nchu has been identified as a hotspot area of human trafficking as a lot of children are crossed over to Lesotho with the purpose of putting them into initiation school.  

The Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police Mr. Tumelo Raboletsi indicated that they have recently completed a case of human trafficking and the culprit is prosecuted, while there are other new cases being reported and investigations are underway.  

He said up to thus far, the government rescued over 30 Basotho from being trafficked, he said this is a significant progress the government has made since embarking on human trafficking campaigns not so long ago.  

He said the government is at least seen to be doing something against the crime of human trafficking, adding that this was achieved through joint efforts by public servants at different border posts across the country. 

“We have trained employees at our border posts who are able to spot and identify prey of human trafficking, this is because trafficked persons have similar and or common signs that can easily be seen,’’ he said. 

He also mentioned that the government has increased funding for anti- trafficking law enforcement, victim protection, and awareness efforts.

“The government appointed a prosecutorial focal point for trafficking cases and established two new district-level multi sectoral committees (MSC). 

In addition, he said the government trained its diplomats on the standard operating Procedure (SOPs) and National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victim identification and referral’’, said the PS.  

He concluded by saying the government increased coordination across agencies on anti-trafficking efforts and with foreign governments on investigations.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.

Speaking with one Miss. Sehlomeng Mothebesoane aged 21, the issue of spending most of their time idling has brought about many temptations some of which are dangerous to their lives.

She said human traffickers are luring them day in, day out and that is so challenging to reject such kinds of offers made to them looking at how poorly they live in the country, indicating that they are glad that the government is doing something about the challenges youth are faced with, adding that if all the initiatives come to functionality, they can foresee fruitful outcomes.

According to the 2023 Trafficking In Persons Report, the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. 

The Report stated that the government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity therefore, Lesotho remained on Tier 2, meaning it falls under countries which do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims ProtectionActs (TVPA). 

It further said the government continued to rely on one NGO to provide all services to trafficking victims without dedicating sufficient government funding, and shelter options remained limited. 

Additionally, significant backlogs of pending trafficking prosecutions remained. Gaps in training resulted in some front-line officials lacking awareness of the NRM and SOPs for victim identification and referral.

Despite the lack of consistently reliable data, the Agency has observed that Lesotho is principally a country of origin where traffickers target women and children due to the particular geography of the region because most victims end up in SA. 

The Agency further noticed that the economic conditions influence the occurrence of this type of crime, impoverished communities, high

unemployment, low levels of education and pronounced gender imbalances overlap with an ever-thriving demand for cheap labour, thus generating an optimal environment for the spread of human trafficking in Lesotho.  

In conclusion, the Agency further learnt that Lesotho offers particular allure to traffickers due to the monetary rewards that human traffickers offer along with Lesotho particularly lenient penal prosecutions. 

In the case of human trafficking, Lesotho punishes with fines instead of imprisonment. Occasionally victims themselves voluntarily cross the border on false hopes of employment and ameliorated conditions only to fall prey to violence and abuse. 

Ends

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