Keeping an eye on initiation schools

Keeping an eye on initiation schools

THABA-BOSIU– A LAW meant to protect the secrets of initiation schools as well as curtail hooliganism associated with the practice is on the cards.
Leaders of initiation schools at an indaba held in Thaba-Bosiu last Saturday commended the move.
Speaking at the indaba, Tourism Minister Motlohi Maliehe said the government hopes that cases of criminality will decline after the initiation law is passed in parliament.

The idea of a law to regulate and institutionalise initiation schools was mooted in 2004, Maliehe said.
He said the challenge was that many MPs were uninitiated and too unfamiliar with the practice to initiate any meaningful discussion on the proposed law.

The practice is shrouded in secrecy. Customarily, it is viewed as a transgression to discuss initiation practices with uninitiated men.
He said when Parliament was supposed to make the law, initiated MPs refused to “discuss men’s issues with boys’.
“We were told that we did not even go to initiation school therefore we knew nothing,” he said.

Committees of initiated men from around the country were invited to the indaba to discuss the proposed legislation among them. The was meant to ensure that by the time the proposed law reaches parliament only issues that are not secrets can come to the fore.
The law will bar children below the age of 18 years from enrolling in initiation schools.

Maliehe said the absence of a solid law poses a serious challenge to children who are forced into initiation school at a young age.
Maliehe said children were leaving school in “great numbers” to join initiation schools.
“After the initiation the same children think they are men therefore they are capable of raising their own families,” he said.

Some unscrupulous school owners have turned the traditional practice into a money-making venture, which is against Basotho customs.
“This ends up making our culture lose meaning and credibility. We should stop it,” he said.
Maliehe said the law should be written in Sesotho “so that other races do not have a chance to read about our culture.”
He also said hospital circumcision does not count as initiation.

“Initiation is teaching people their cultural norms. Therefore after doing hospital circumcision people should go to initiation school,” he said.
Some women attended the indaba because there were no “hard core” issues discussed there.
’Maseisa Ntlama, Director of World Vision, a humanitarian ecumenical organisation was one of them.

Ntlama said their concern was children abandoning formal education to enrol at initiation schools.
She also said they made a pledge to have helped 550 000 children from 210 000 families to attend school and provided food parcels in 2020.
“We found out that many male students leave primary and secondary education to go to initiation schools before the age of 18. After that they refuse to go back to formal school,” she said.

A representative from the Ministry of Education, Cylia Malefe, said the introduction of free primary education has failed to stem initiation-induced drop-outs.
She said that last year 825 children dropped out of primary school to go to initiation schools.

“And here you should understand that they are below 13 years of age, just because there is no law,” she said.
She said 600 secondary schools students dropped out of schools to go to initiation school last year.
“Initiation places are placed at open spaces so that children are attracted or captured while passing so as a result they drop out of school,” she added.

Malefe also said children who go back to school after initiation “feel like men or bosses and they fail because they do not listen to their teachers”.
Ntlama said after initiation the boys marry females of their age on the understanding that they are men, fuelling child marriages.
She said last year UNICEF said 24 percent of all marriages were ‘child marriages’.

Most children who undergo initiation tend to marry early, as they believe they have attained manhood or womanhood.
Initiation School National Committee chairman, Poea Letsielo, acknowledged some criminal activities at initiation schools.
“One of major crimes is people who are beaten while passing through the initiation places,” he said.

A Ministry of Health representative, Baroana Phenethi, said the ministry’s challenge is of nurses who did not go to traditional schools.
“Only a few of them went there, including me,” he said, adding that some young boys struggled with conditions at the initiation schools.
“Their bodies cannot adapt easily to conditions and many of them are infected so they should get medication,” he said.
“Nutrition in some initiation schools is poor so children under the age of 18 suffer from malnutrition,” he added.

Police Senior Inspector ’Malebohang Nepo said law enforcement agents were hamstrung by the lack of a law regulating initiation schools.
At times, police fail to attend to crimes committed at initiation schools if they are not in the company of initiated people, said Nepo.
She said after initiation school some families disown their children because many of them would have rebelled and dropped out of school and opted to be initiated.

“They then become criminals and are taken to jail at a young age,” she said.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Keketso Monaheng said the proposed law would empower the police.
“After the law is passed everything will be monitored,” said Monaheng, who took time off work as a senior cop to attend Monaheng initiation school four years ago.

The Principal Chief of Koeneng, Chief Lesaoana Peete, said he went to initiation school after graduating from university with a law degree.
“I went to initiation school because as a chief I have to protect our culture,” he said.
“The laws are going to help us a lot as people who love our culture,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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