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Child neglect cases on the rise

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A 22-year-old woman from Keiting lost two children to malnutrition and claims she lacked the means to properly feed them. Now she is facing criminal charges for neglecting other minors under her care – one of many cases of child neglect and abuse blighting Lesotho.
The woman appeared in court charged with child negligence of her younger brother aged 16 and her three other children aged six, five and two.

According to prosecutors, the woman unlawfully left the minors at night between January and June this year, subjecting them to physical and psychological risks.
thepost has decided not to publish the name of the woman to protect the identities of the children.

She pleaded innocent but did not ask to be released on bail, saying she is too broke to even afford bail money. The court remanded her to Tuesday this week.

Speaking to thepost last week, she said she is heartbroken, lamenting that she faces imprisonment for not taking care of the children, yet she does not have the financial means to do so.

“My parents left me with two of my siblings aged 16 and seven. I am burdened, having to take care of so many children yet I am unemployed,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

She disclosed that she buried her eight months old child who died of malnutrition two weeks ago, while her youngest with whom she went to prison with is also malnourished.

“Doctors even told me that she might never be able to walk. I will learn to accept everything that is coming my way because I do not have a choice. Maybe prison is the solution I need to survive in this cruel world. But I am worried about these children and their survival as I will not be there for them anymore. All I ever wanted was for them to go to school,” she said.

She added, sobbing: “I am hopeful that God will see my tears and answer my prayers because I opened a file at the (Ministry of) Social Development but unfortunately, I never got the help I needed.

“If I had money, I would look for a lawyer to win the case and be able to live for these children who rely on me for survival. I want them to attend school.”

Another woman aged 29 from Ty appeared before court for neglecting her 13-year-old son.

The accused unlawfully left her son without providing for his basic needs such as food, clothes and guidance on separate occasions from 2021 to July 13, 2023
She was granted a M1 000 bail, which she managed to pay and surety of M10 000. She must not interfere with state witnesses, hamper police investigations and should attend remand hearings and stand trial to finality as part of the bail conditions.

The two were charged with contravening section 44 (1) of the Child Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA).

The cases are just a tip of the iceberg, according to authorities, who say many other cases go unreported in the district.

Section 44 (1) of the CPWA states that a person who abuses, neglects, abandons or exposes a child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine, imprisonment or both.

The Act further states that “a parent or guardian or other person legally obliged to maintain a child shall be deemed to have neglected the child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury if he fails to provide adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, lodging, care, guidance and protection to the child.”

The Act provides that “a child has a right to live with his parents and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with his parents shall…lead to significant harm to the child”.

It also states that a child shall not be subjected to any cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual development.

The same law states that the government should provide “special protection for a child deprived of family environment and ensure that appropriate alternative family care or institutional placement is available in such cases”.

The Act says a child is in need of care and protection if they have been or there is substantial risk that the child will be physically, psychologically or emotionally injured or sexually abused by the parent or guardian or a member of the extended family or any other person.

The Act provides that a police officer, the Department of Social Welfare, a chief or member of the community who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child and place him in a place of safety.

It is the role of the state, through its agencies, to ensure the supervision of the safety, well-being and development of any child placed in alternative care and the regular review of the appropriateness of the care arrangement provided.

Statistics from the Social Development Department show that 83 children were found neglected countrywide from April to August 2022. Leribe topped the list with 20 cases, followed by Qacha’s Nek with 17. From January this year to date, 10 cases of negligence have been reported and three of the children were taken to care facilities, while others were placed with their relatives.

The District Child Welfare Officer in the Department of Social Development, Lerato Kopo, expressed concern over escalating cases of child neglect in the district.

She said they are mandated to protect children and when they come across such cases, they identify relatives and ask them to support the children. In instances where there are family members who are unavailable, the department places them with care facilities.

Kopo said vulnerable children or families can qualify for child grants aimed at assisting those in dire need of help.

“However, some issues don’t require monetary support but psychosocial support hence we chip in to offer one in collaboration with our partners,” she said, adding “Unfortunately, some parents choose alcohol and dating over their children. Being near Matatiele worsens the situation.”

Kopo said the existing CPWA helps them address the issue, although there is need for amendments to plug some loopholes.

“Both parties (police and social development) should fulfil their roles to strengthen child protection,” she said.

Kopo said lack of resources, in particular vehicle shortages, poses a major challenge.

Sergeant ‘Mamatheko Bohloa, the Qacha’sNek Police Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) Officer, who is also the local Human Trafficking Unit Focal Person, said they are overwhelmed with cases related to child ill-treatment by parents or guardians.

Just last week, about five women and two men appeared in court in connection to child abuse and neglect charges.

“Children are supposed to be left under the care of an older person,” she said.

Bohloa said public sensitisation programmes have been helpful in raising awareness, but reaching remote places has been a challenge due to transport problems.

“We are trying to be proactive. This has to be done regularly so that even those who witness neglect cases happening in their localities can report such cases to ensure the safety of children,” said Bohloa.

She acknowledged the different problems people encounter and warned that “addressing them shouldn’t be at the cost of children.”

“We need a temporary shelter for affected children so that they don’t have to return to the very same toxic environment when we are attending to their issues,” she said.

Currently, the perception is that the district is not doing enough to protect children, hence the need to strengthen efforts, said Bohloa, revealing a recent case of a 15-year-old child who slept at her place as they awaited help from the Social Development Department.

“She can’t afford to go back to the same place where she is deprived of a right to education and childhood as she babysits her aunt’s children,” said Bohloa.

Ntlotliseng Hlokase, a counsellor at Khanya Consultancy, defined child neglect as a failure by parents or guardians to carry out their responsibilities of providing basic needs such as food, clothes, shelter and support to children.

She said although factors contributing to the scourge differ, poverty, single parenting, cultural practices and unsupportive family systems are most common.

“Often it is tough to be a single parent, hence such parents struggle to meet all the basic needs leading to child neglect. Some families are child-headed because once they lose their parents to death, relatives do not take the responsibility, while other parents are absent from their children’s lives yet they are still alive.”

She said lack of self-esteem and inferiority complex, mental health illnesses such as stress and depression and personality or behavioural disorders are some of the common effects of child neglect.

“Some children even resort to violence as a coping mechanism because of neglect. They blame themselves for being neglected as they may believe that they were neglected because they did something wrong or because they simply were not good enough to live up to their parents’ standards,” she said.

Hlokase said the presence of both parents in a child’s upbringing is vital to address this issue as parents can share responsibilities for the betterment of the child’s development and for them to reach their full potential.

She said parents should pay attention to the wellbeing of their children in all aspects – from physical, mental to emotional well-being for them to be able to notice even small changes.

“This will result in children being assured that they live in a safe space to share their views…if they are unable to voice their opinions within their homes, they are easy targets for human rights violations as they lack confidence,” she said.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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