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The plight of child labourers



MASERU- TLHOHONOLOFATSO, 14, thought she was moving from Thaba-Tseka to Mazenod for a job as a domestic worker. At least that is what her aunt told her family when she pitched the idea.
Tlhohonolofatso, who had just dropped out of primary school, was not thrilled but she knew this was the only way for her to help provide for her family. But when she arrived in Mazenod her employer raped her and declared that she was now her wife. What was supposed to be a means to help feed her siblings back in Thaba-Tseka has turned into a nightmare. Tlhohonolofatso’s case occurred in 2020 but no one is yet to be arrested because the police say investigations are still ongoing. Meanwhile, Tlhohonolofatso has been scarred for life.

In another part of Thaba-Tseka, 16-year-old Lerato’s parents trusted a family friend who said she had found her a job as a domestic worker in Leribe. With her mother a domestic worker, a brother hustling in the South African mines, and the rest of the family unemployed and unable to go to school, Lerato jumped at the opportunity. Little did she know the horror that awaited her. Just days into her work Lerato discovered that her reason for being there was to be married against her will.

The family friend who sold her is currently serving time in prison for human trafficking. The cases of Lerato and Tlhohonolofatso, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, were dealt with this year by the Beautiful Dream Society (BDS), a Christian and Humanitarian anti-trafficking organisation. BDS helps rescue underage girls who are trafficked for domestic work and marriage. The BDS says Lerato is still a domestic worker despite her ordeal. “When we made a follow-up, we were told that she had to go back to work as a domestic worker as her family was still struggling,” says Puleng Maluleka, the BDS’ Anti-Trafficking Shelter coordinator.

“We do not have control over our client’s decisions so the least we could do was to ensure that she worked under good conditions and was not exploited,” Maluleka said. Maluleka says rampant poverty and the rate at which young girls drop out of school are strongly linked to their employment as domestic workers. Most girls in the rural areas, where six in ten Basotho live, don’t go beyond primary school. This is because the government only offers free education up to Grade Seven. “As much as we want to prevent it, it needs to be addressed at the root, not just saying that they should not work,” Maluleka says.

“Their needs are right there in front of them, so this is not something that can be stopped by simply telling them not to work,” she said, adding that “we need to address the reasons why children choose to work and why families allow and even ask their children to work.” Because of poverty, there is always an underage girl ready to be hired for domestic work.  Even those unwilling are forced to work by their families that often don’t have any idea of the dangers that their children face. Organisations like BDS seem to be fighting a losing battle because the victims often move from one abusive employer to the other. For every girl rescued there are hundreds more being hired and abused.

It is a scorching Monday afternoon and a group of girls is milling around Nanny Caregiver Agency’s offices in Maseru. This is the time when most secondary school students are writing their exams but these girls are instead hoping to be hired as domestic workers in Lesotho and South Africa. One of those girls is Puseletso, 14, who has been forced to look for a job because she could not afford to proceed to secondary school. “I’ve always thought of working so I could also help my brother put food on the table,” says Puseletso in a conversation with ten other young girls lined up in the sweltering sun. Puseletso, whose parents are unemployed, has been hunting for a job since she passed Grade 7 in 2021.

She dreams of becoming a doctor but her chances of pursuing her secondary education are bleak. “My brother is the only one with a job,” she says. Moshoeshoe, 16, sobs as she recounts how she had to flee after a male neighbour made several attempts to break into her house. She was staying alone since her mother crossed the borders to be a domestic worker in South Africa. “My grandmother knows and so does my mother but both seemed indifferent to my problem,” Moshoeshoe says. “He only comes at night and has tried to break in several times. The last time he got in, I managed to escape through the window.”

Moshoeshoe says the incidents were reported to the chief but the neighbour has not been held accountable. Moshoeshoe, who is afraid to return home, currently lives with her boyfriend’s family and is seeking work as a domestic worker. Among the ten other girls gathered in the foyer of the Nanny Caregiver Agency is 15-year-old Tšepang, whose parents left her and her siblings for South Africa in 2018. Tšepang completed Grade 7 in 2021 and wants to be a domestic worker so she can raise money for her secondary studies. Adolescent girls often find themselves vulnerable after finishing primary school.

Many of those that make it to secondary drop out in Grade 8 to support themselves and their families. Nanny Caregiver Agency is owned by Matšeliso Ntulo who became a domestic worker at 16. Ntulo understands the harrowing experiences that underage domestic workers have to endure because she is a victim herself. Nanny Caregiver Agency was born out of her drive to ensure that no girl suffers a similar experience.
Ntulo trains the girls, connects them with potential employers and helps them negotiate fair pay.

Ntulo says she turns away under-aged girls who come to her offices every day. “They come to my office almost every day and even camp at the gate,” Ntulo says. “It makes me feel terrible having to turn them away, especially when I see their desperate need for work.” “As the agency, we will not take someone underage. We understand that from 18 they are eligible to work, but below, they are still minors.” The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act 2011 says a child is a person under the age of 18 years. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may only engage in light work that is unlikely to harm a child’s health or development, the Act says.

It says children above 15 may do more light work but still exclude domestic work due to the nature of the job. Domestic work, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is one of the worst forms of child labour under Article 3(a)-(c) No. 182, because it not only deprives children of their right to education but also cuts them off from their families, fundamental rights, negatively impacts their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and robs them of their childhood. According to the 2021 Findings of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Report, by the US Department of Labour’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs, Basotho children, particularly orphans, sometimes voluntarily travel to other countries, including South Africa, for domestic work, only to be detained in prison-like conditions and sexually exploited.

Lesotho has ratified several international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on the Prohibition and Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182) and the Minimum Age of Employment Convention (No. 138), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Welfare and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Despite this, Lesotho’s dualist legal system of a modern parliamentary government and a traditional (customary) system allows children to engage in domestic work, in an informal sector that is difficult to regulate or inspect due to the nature of the work.

Nthabiseng Letsie, the Child Labour Unit coordinator, says the Labour Ministry has been fully aware of the problem of child domestic workers since the 1990s, citing studies that identified domestic work, herding, and commercial sex work as the main areas of exploitation for young girls and boys. Letsie says the Child Labour Unit has had the Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour for years but cannot do much because it lacks its own budget.She says the unit was not fully capable of carrying out its mandate six years after inception and eleven years after the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act 2011 was enacted. Asked if she thought the issue of child labour had improved or worsened since the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act 2011 was passed, Letsie could not give a definitive answer.

She says the notable difference is that now people are more aware of what child labour is, and have conversations about it, while before the establishment of Child Labour Unit in 2016, conversations about child labour were negatively received as western concepts. “In this way, we’ve been hiding behind our upbringing, which taught us that boys were supposed to herd (livestock) and girls were supposed to be domestic workers,” Letsie says.
“But that has changed significantly because we can now have decent conversations about when a child can start working and how serious child labour is.” “But things haven’t changed much because child labour hasn’t stopped. It’s almost as if the more one raises awareness about it, the more opportunity it creates for employers to look for children and how they can hide it.”

Tšepang, Puseletso, and other adolescent girls aged between 13 and 17 years cited a lack of access to free secondary education, absent or unemployed parents, lack of information and economic deprivation as motivators for pursuing domestic work. Some have been supported up to a point by their older siblings, but still have had to drop out. The girls stated that they found the steps to acquiring a grant as well as being a part of social programmes to be the most useful, taking it upon themselves to follow the proper procedures to receive the necessary social assistance. “Before this interview, I did not know that I could go to the chief in my area for guidance as a starting point with regard to social assistance.

“I believe that will change my life and enable me to go to school. It is just that I do not have a birth certificate yet,” says ’Mathakane, a 14-year-old double orphan. Interviews with the girls at the Nanny Agency also revealed that many of them do not have all of the necessary documentation that they can use to apply for social grants. The Ministry of Social Development has the Department of Social Assistance with programmes such as the Child Grant Programme, Public Assistance, and School Bursary. Nonetheless, a child grant is the smallest grant in comparison to other grants, being around half or less of the elderly pensions’ grant of M850 per month.
Child grants, calculated based on how many children are in each household, are normally paid every three months.

The Director of Child Protective Services, Mookho Motheo, says the Social Development Ministry is aware that giving out grants alone is not a solution. Rather an intervention as a response to alleviate poverty, such as community development, a programme that aims to assist in livelihood sustainability through vulnerability assessments, can work. Motheo says the majority of “illnesses in society are attributed to dysfunctional families”.
The ministry collaborates with Non-Profit Organisations such as Sepheo sa Motimposo, which works with street children, and Sisters of Good Shepherd, which is a skills training centre for teenage mothers.
However, Motheo says they still face challenges, adding that even if they can provide assistance to teenagers, some of them still drop out of school.

“We concluded that even if we offer them different grants, cash grants or public assistance in kind, there will be problems as long as there is no aspect of empowering families and youth about being responsible citizens and about their rights,” Motheo says. “That is why we are considering beginning a programme that focuses mostly on family development, stemming from what we are now drafting as the Response Plan to violence against children,” she says.

Motheo says the lack of resources and the privacy of domestic work make it difficult for the ministry to conduct child labour inspections, identify adolescent girls in such circumstances and assist them with the programmes that they have. In its 2021 Report titled ‘Worse Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour,’ the US Department of Labour recommended that Lesotho should ensure that there is a policy for the elimination of child labour to replace the expired National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour. This, the report says, will address educational and logistical gaps resulting in reduced opportunities for secondary education, including secondary school fees.

*The names of minors have been changed for ethical reasons.

Supported by Media Monitoring Africa MMA and UNICEF as part of the Isu Elihle Awards Initiative

Nicole Tau

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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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