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The plight of abandoned children



MASERU – A mother left her one-and-a-half year old toddler alone in a locked house with nothing to feed on but a bottle of water.

The village chief and angry neighbours found the child eating his own faeces in a dilapidated rented house on the outskirts of Maseru city.

The woman’s other children aged 15, eight and four years old had also scattered throughout the village.

The four-year-old was found playing in the village after being reported missing by the eight-year-old sibling.

As for the mother, she was found at a beerhouse, drunk.

The chief took her to the police and two weeks ago she was charged at the Maseru magistrate’s court with wrongful, unlawful and intentional “abuse, neglect, abandon(ment) or expos(ure)” of her four children “in a manner likely to cause the children physical, psychological, or emotional injury by leaving them alone unattended”.

The 37-year-old mother, pregnant with a fifth child, pleaded guilty to the charges and faced two years imprisonment.

Seeking her imprisonment, the crown said “it is a growing trend nowadays where a parent neglects their children or leaves them with other children as if it is alright”.

“Such behaviour has to be stopped with immediate effect and our courts have to help us put this under control,” the crown argued.

“No ordinary mother would act as the accused does,” the crown said, adding: “She was found drinking beer by the police while her child ate faeces.”

“Therefore, the fine of M2 000 or two months imprisonment is not a solution. It is too short to rehabilitate her into being a good mother to her children. It is not going to help these children either if (they are) reunited with their mother after two months.”

In another case earlier in September, a 19-year-old woman from a rural part of Maseru was sentenced to five-years in jail without the option of a fine.

The woman, the Maseru magistrate’s court found, left her one-year old toddler alone in a house without food and warm clothes for some days between June 19 and 22 this year.

She pleaded guilty to “unlawfully abusing, neglecting, abandoning or exposing the said child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury or causes or permits the child to be abused, neglected, abandoned or exposed”.

Following her arrest, the child was placed in an alternative care, which is the last resort for the Ministry of Social Development.

Section 44 (1) of the Children Protection and Welfare Act 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 or causes commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M2 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two months 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 Ministry show that 83 children were found neglected countrywide from April to August this year.

Some of these children were taken to care facilities, while others were placed with their relatives.

Many other cases go unreported. Maseru, for example, has dozens of children roaming the streets, scavenging for food in dustbins and living in dirty, abandoned houses.

The Ministry of Social Development’s Director of Child Protection, Mookho Motheo-Lekhanya, defined child abandonment as when a parent dumps a child while neglect is failure for parents to carry out their responsibilities. However, she said they are interlinked.

She said the ministry is mandated to intervene when a parent feels burdened either with parental skills or psychosocial support.

“We have child grant programmes as a means of curbing these issues. And it can only be granted if such a child or family qualifies and some issues don’t require monetary support but psychosocial support,” she said.

She said it is lawful for a parent to opt for adoption if they are not coping with keeping a child “but we don’t encourage it because every child has a right to grow within a family setting”.

“We counsel them along with their families before a child can be adopted to ensure they understand the procedure to avoid abandonment or negligence.”

The Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said child abandonment and negligence cases are widespread.

“Children are supposed to be left under the care of an old person,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

He said public sensitisation on such issues is vital for all stakeholders.

“We have to be proactive. This has to be done regularly so that even those who see them happening can report such cases.”

The Lesotho Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN)’s Democracy and Human Rights Commission Coordinator, Advocate Lebohang Leeu, said parents should take their responsibilities to raise their children seriously.

She said the child protection law aims to protect and promote children’s welfare and rights.

She said child support should not be about material things only “as it takes a whole family to raise a child”.

“Children need love and maintenance from both parents,” she said.

Advocate Leeu admitted that it is difficult to trace irresponsible parents who leave the country and abandon their children in the process.

’Maleeto Malataliana, a Clinical Psychologist at MM Psychological Services, said there are two different, though equally devastating, ways a child can be abandoned – physically and emotionally.

She said physical abandonment occurs when one or more of the child’s primary caregivers disappear from the child’s life. This may happen due to death or divorce.

Sometimes parents walk away because they cannot handle the responsibility and emotional strain of caring for a young child.

She said emotional abandonment occurs when a caregiver is present but is completely emotionally unavailable.

“Causes of emotional abandonment include mental illness, substance abuse, and caregivers selfishly deciding to put their needs before those of the needs of the child,” Malataliana said.

“Abandonment in any form can lead to serious psychological problems. Abandonment issues involve a deep fear of being hurt, rejected or abandoned,” she said.

Malataliana said fear of abandonment is a form of anxiety that often develops in response to specific painful or traumatic experiences like childhood abuse, neglect, or the loss of a loved one.

She said abandonment issues that begin in childhood are almost always the result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACE’s), which describe different types of stressful and traumatic experiences.

In children, she said abandonment issues often show up as anxiety, especially when separating from a caregiver.

“Children with abandonment issues may be more easily upset and often have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may exhibit negative attention-seeking behaviours and have outbursts or tantrums,” said Malataliana.

They can either demonstrate avoidant or antisocial behaviours, withdrawing from peers, or bullying others, she said.

They may also be either fearful of adults or overly trusting, developing quick dependencies.

One common effect of childhood abandonment, she said, is low self-esteem.

“The child may believe that she was abandoned because she did something wrong or because she simply was not good enough to live up to her parents’ standards. The child with low self-esteem often tries to be extra well behaved,” said Malataliana.

They may become perfectionists or seek to validate their self-worth with achievements. If they fail to reach their often unrealistic goals, they may become depressed or even suicidal, she said.

“This child is often easy prey for pedophiles and other abusers because they will do almost anything to please the people who are important to them,” she said.

The Acting Minister of Social Development, Keketso Sello, said about 1 891 calls depicting various types of emergencies for children have been received from July 2021 to June 2022.

Sello said this during the relaunch of the Lesotho Child Helpline in June 2022.

Of these cases, child neglect ranks highest followed by sexual offences and economic related matters, Sello said.

’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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