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When babies have babies



MOKHOTLONG – AT just 12-years-old, Tšepiso is pregnant with her first child and has been forced to drop out of school. She was doing Grade Six.

Tšepiso is not her real name, thepost will not mention to protect her identity as a matter of policy. The incident has shocked many in her village.

Mokhotlong district has one of the highest rates of unmet need for family planning in the country at 24 percent, compared to 18 percent nationally.

The high Teenage child bearing cases put Mokhotlong in the second place in the country at 24 percent, with Butha-Buthe topping the list with 25 percent. Mokhotlong has the highest fertility rate at 4.4 percent.

It also has the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) at 48 percent according to the Lesotho office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA Lesotho).

This scenario leads to high rates of unplanned pregnancies, school drop-outs, child marriages, teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.

The acting principal at the school that Tšepiso attended said primary students are already engaging in sexual activities from an early age.

“Almost every year we have dropouts due to pregnancy,” the principal said.

“This year is even worse as we have a 12-year-old,” she said, revealing that most are below the age of 15.

She said their policy allows pregnant children to continue with their education at the school but many leave once they fall pregnant.

She said Tšepiso’s mother requested her to leave school until she gives birth.

“Her fears were that she might give birth at school. She wanted to fully monitor her child’s pregnancy until the end,” the principal said.

She said schools offer Life Skills Based Sexuality Education (LSBSE) subject from Grade Four to Grade Seven.

This is the kind of education Basotho in general rejected when the Ministry of Education introduced it in primary schools three years ago. Many argued that such a subject would corrode children’s morals.

“We collaborate with nurses to talk to them but children are children, they will just laugh during the lesson and this being (a Roman Catholic Church) school doesn’t help,” she said.

The church, as a matter of religious policy, does not promote the use of contraceptives, let alone by children who are expected to remain celibate until they are grown up and married.

“Children in this era don’t care about education and don’t relate the lessons taught to real life situations. They think they are taught for grades. They don’t understand,” the principal said.

She said the school encourages children to protect themselves but “it’s difficult to control them as once they leave school, they don’t care”.

She said some parents do not have interest in education but “we still encourage them to talk openly about Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) with their children and know their children’s movements”.

The principal said children engage in sex because they do not know about the changes in their bodies.

“Sex education is still a challenge but they should try it.”

’Maitumeleng Lenepa, the Mapholaneng area village health workers supervisor, said teenage pregnancy among students is high and some conceal pregnancies, although she does not have the exact figures.

“Students strangle their newborns or abort while others self-deliver and dump babies,” Lenepa said.

“I encourage them to use contraceptives and they prefer “biscuits”. They boldly ask for them and I distribute them,” she said, referring to condoms as biscuits.

Lenepa says she also warns children on the dangers of being pregnant at a young age.

“We approach parents as well but it seems our messages are ignored because cases of teenage pregnancy are still rampant, some children are even sex workers,” she said.

She narrated the pain she endured when her own daughter became pregnant at 12.

“She was already menstruating but I never thought she was already engaging in sexual activities. If I knew, I would have given her contraceptives,” said Lenepa, adding that her daughter dropped out of school and went to work in Durban.

She said her daughter’s then boyfriend denied responsibility and “although it was painful, it was a blessing in disguise because she was still too young to get married”.

“Pregnancy doesn’t mean marriage.”

Lenepa said she started pushing for the use of contraceptives by teenagers after she felt the pain of having a pregnant child at such a tender age.

“I don’t wish for any mother to experience the pain I went through. It was unbearable because I have contraceptives.”

She said she encourages other parents to introduce their children to family planning once they start menstruating.

“And if they are too shy to take them to the clinic, I accompany them, I don’t have any stress. The pain I experienced I don’t want any mother to feel it as well.”

Tlokoeng village health worker, ’Mabonang Sethathi, described her work as “easy”. She says the village chief often give her a platform to sensitise villagers about contraception during community gatherings.

“The uptake is positive,” Sethathi said.

The Ministry of Education’s CEO for Secondary Education, ’Mabakubung Seutloali, said early pregnancy has resulted in many children dropping out of school.

“We lose a lot of pupils to teenage pregnancy,” Seutloali said.

“Preventing early and unplanned pregnancies is therefore an important component of a wider response to ensure the right to education for all,” she said.

According to a 2017 United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, Lesotho is among countries with high rates of early and unintended pregnancies.

In 2013, Eastern and Southern African Ministers of Health and Education committed to teaching Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to adolescents and young girls in schools and making it compulsory from Grade Four to 12.

“However, we learnt recently that it wasn’t taught in all schools, although teachers were capacitated,” Seutloali said.

“Their explanation was that they were afraid to talk to the children about the subject. We are currently doing follow ups to capacitate teachers again, inclusive of providing psychosocial support,” she said.

What makes teachers feel embarrassed to teach the subject is that they have to teach children about sexual body parts and their functions in sex using Sesotho language.

Many consider it as vulgar to mention private parts in Sesotho, even if it is for educational purposes. This came to the fore when sex education was supposed to be included in the school curriculum a few years ago, and the proposal was met with fierce resistance from parents and churches. About 90 percent of schools in Lesotho are owned by churches.

In 2017, UNESCO conducted an assessment that revealed that 12-14 year olds are initiating sexual activities.

In 2021, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the UNFPA to commission a consultant to develop a policy to manage students’ pregnancies at school and protect them from all forms of abuse.

Data from School Report Cards collected from schools participating in the School Improvement Project indicates that pregnancy and early marriage were the number one reason for girls dropping out of secondary school (46.7 percent in 2018 and 45.7 percent in 2019).

The Ministry of Health’s Family Planning Manager, ’Mankosi Sithole-Tšotetsi, said the goal of family planning is to protect the health of women and adolescent girls by reducing high risk pregnancies.

Sithole-Tšotetsi said it also aims to protect the health of children by allowing sufficient time between pregnancies, reducing abortions, supporting women’s and adolescent’s rights and opportunities.

“Family planning saves the lives of women, newborns, children and teenage girls,” Sithole-Tšotetsi said.

She said many pregnancies pose serious health risks for mothers and their children, specifically pregnancies characterised as too early, too many, too late and too soon.

“Girls under 18 face a higher than normal risk of death or disability from pregnancy and their babies have more health risks,” she said.

She said the most commonly used methods of contraception are injections at 60 percent, followed by pills at 31 percent.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health have introduced a self-administered contraceptive injection in some rural districts of the country.

The move is expected to result in more rural women taking up contraceptives and avoid unwanted pregnancies as they will be able to self-inject after every three months than constantly travelling long distances to health centres.

The new contraceptive is called Subcutaneous DMPA (DMPA-SC), under the brand name Sayana Press.

It comes in a pre-filled, all-in-one injection system and is delivered every three months to rural women and girls who have the greatest need for contraceptives but have to travel long distances, often on foot, to access contraceptives.

It is offered for free in public hospitals. This contraceptive is safe, according to officials.

Officials from the Ministry of Health, with assistance from the UNFPA, trained health practitioners on the use and administration of the injection.

The health practitioners passed on the knowledge to village health workers who work with women and girls in rural communities.

The injection has come in handy for those who have to take contraceptives secretly to avoid detection by their husbands or parents.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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