School of hard knocks

School of hard knocks

MASERU – For many Basotho women, journeys to South Africa are taking an ugly turn as dreams of a brighter future are replaced with the reality of jail. Mojabeng Mosebo is one such woman. With the help of a close relative, she crossed into South Africa with the hope of getting a job as a clothing store sales person in 2009. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. Little did she know she would end up as a drug mule and convict.
Mosebo learnt soon after arriving in Gauteng province that it was never about selling clothes.

A panel of Nigerian men interviewed her, before telling her that she was in the country to smuggle drugs to Sri Lanka. They later changed the destination to Japan. Her family was in the grips of poverty and she needed the money.
But her instinct told her to decline the offer – until she called her husband who told her about the financial difficulties back home.
Their two daughters had just been expelled from school over school fees.

“I was exasperated. I said things I do not remember well before I could hang off,” she said.
“I had to find money for the children.”

She proceeded to Japan where she was arrested at the airport and subsequently sentenced to four years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to three years and she was released in 2012.

It is a story that Mosebo is unashamed of repeating to those who care to listen, if only to save fellow women from falling into a similar trap.
Last Friday, she told the story in front of Queen ’Masenate at a function hosted by Beautiful Dreams, an organisation fighting for the rights and welfare of women.

The event was in commemoration of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“Away from home, in prison in a foreign land and where people speak a language you don’t understand. You can just imagine how I missed my family, my people and my home,” she says.

“I missed my children very much.”
Reuniting with her family was not easy when she returned.
“I did not know where to start,” she said, adding that some would encourage her to pick up the pieces.
Eventually, Mosebo decided to break the silence by sharing her experience with the media in South Africa and Lesotho.
“I said I had left two little girls at home and if I did not get out of that and tell this story this practice will continue and many people will suffer,” she said.

“When you have been trafficked people look at the crime you committed. You walk around with the stigma.”
“I decided that I would not allow myself to live in an invisible prison. I would not allow anybody to intimidate me.”
She said while she kept telling her sad story many people started coming to her telling her that they were at the edge of losing hope because they had problems.

“Human trafficking is real, it does not matter who you are. It can happen to anybody, whether young, old, rich or poor,” she said on Friday.
Mosebo has penned a book titled ‘In a Strange Land’ narrating her life story from childhood.
She urged people to stand together and fight human trafficking.

Beautiful Dreams Society partners the Lesotho Ministry of Home Affairs to operate a 24-hour Crisis Care Shelter for victims of human trafficking in Maseru. It also trains police officers, magistrates and prosecutors, while a court preparedness course is aimed at assisting victims of trafficking appearing before the courts.

The organisation is partly funded by the International Organisation of Migration and Japan.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. At least 5.5 million of these are children while 14.2 million are victims of labour exploitation.
Failure to recognise women’s rights and gender equality is a significant factor in making women targets of human trafficking in Lesotho, according to Beautiful Dreams.

For example, in Lesotho women did not enjoy the right to own property until 2010.
There is a huge need to educate people on this issue in a country where under tribal law, a woman or even a minor child could be kidnapped by a man and all he has to do is pay the bride price or lobola to her parents to make the marriage legal, according to Beautiful Dreams.
The organization says women and girls in Lesotho are exposed to three main types of trafficking.

Child marriages are one form, with girls still being vulnerable to human trafficking, especially in the rural mountainous areas where girls as young as 13 are pulled from school by their families and forced to marry a husband chosen for them.
Such girls have to endure abuses such as rape.

Some women are exposed to labour trafficking. Orphans are particularly vulnerable to promises of work across the border in South Africa.
Some have their identity and travel documents confiscated and forced to work long hours amid abuse, threats and manipulation, said Beautiful Dreams.

Their families never hear from them again unless they somehow escape or are rescued and brought to the Beautiful Dreams Society Crisis Care Shelter. Then there is sex-trafficking, which has seen young women and girls fall prey to cross-border and domestic prostitution rings.
Typically, girls are promised employment in South Africa but face abuse and threats that force them to work as prostitutes. They are often dosed with drugs to make them pliant.

There are several contributing factors to human trafficking in Lesotho: the high HIV rate, high death rate of adults, high orphan rate, gender inequality in the culture, poor understanding of the new Anti-trafficking Act of 2011, lack of resources to enforce the law, lack of resources to prosecute cases and lack of resources to care for victims. Queen ’Masenate called for more awareness programmes to end the scourge.

Tokase Mphutlane

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