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The scourge of child marriages



A 13-year-old Semonkong girl is tricked into a marriage with a young man aged 21. Her mother weeps and longs to be reunited with her daughter. In comes the police, and she is filled with hope that the perpetrators would be arrested, and she would get her daughter back in accordance with the law.
But she gets the shock of her life. Instead of enforcing the law and charging the perpetrators as per their mandate, the Semonkong police decide to negotiate. In a disturbing turn of events, the police in Semonkong on Wednesday last week brought families together for talks, a move the girl’s mother describes as an attempt to subvert the law.

“I do not have money to hire a lawyer and I don’t know what to do anymore to bring her back,” she told thepost.
thepost has decided to refrain from publishing the names of the girl and her mother to protect their identities.

The girl eloped with the 21-year-old Lekhafola Tšele to his village of Marakabei, a day-long journey on foot from her village.
The girl is in Grade 7 at a local primary school.

Her 42-year-old mother says her daughter eloped a month ago but relatives whom the girl had visited deliberately delayed informing her of the development.
She says her daughter left home with a close relative but was in the dark about the planned illegal marriage.

“They hid from me information that my daughter had eloped,” the mother said tearfully, adding that some elderly people were behind the plot to marry her daughter despite her tender age.

“It was my unbending belief that she was in a safe place at her uncle’s home,” she said.

According to the mother of three, the relatives whom the girl had visited were informed that she had eloped, and they did not have any qualms about it.
The woman, a widow, said her relatives sealed a deal with the family that her daughter eloped to without informing her.

“When I demanded answers about the issue, I did not get any explanations. Instead, I was hurled with insults,” she said.
Faced with such a difficult situation, she approached the police for intervention.

She said the police summoned the two families for talks on Wednesday last week and the family of the man failed to turn up for the meeting.
“I was insulted together with my son who did not support this from the beginning,” said the desperate mother.

The other murky part of the story is that the family that accepted the girl as their bride gave a different version when asked about his date of birth when they later agreed to go to the police.

“They flatly denied giving the man’s age before the police. They said they did not know it,” the girl’s mother said.

On the day of the talks at the Semonkong police, the woman was given back her daughter, but the reunion did not last long.

On the way back to their village, the girl disappeared and wormed her way back to the family where she had eloped to.

Now the woman is desperate and frustrated to get her child back again.

She said her husband died in 2006 and she has been struggling to raise their children as a single parent.

Because she is poor, the girl’s mother said it is an uphill battle for her to fight the case in court. To put bread on the table, she does piece jobs such as laundry at people’s homes.

The woman says she also does not know what steps to take to seek legal intervention in the matter.

She said she is desperate to see her daughter furthering her studies and become a top fashion designer or a hairdresser and help provide for the family.
“Now my dreams about my daughter have been shattered by the early marriage,” she lamented.

Phahameng Tšele, the father of the 21-year-old man at the centre of the scandal, claims he has just “learnt that the girl is still underage”.

He says the two families went to the police to give the girl back to her parents, but she returned back to his home.

“I handed her over to her parents in front of the police, but she came back,” he said. “What should I do now?” Tšele asked.

The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act states that a “child is in need of care and protection if the child has been or there is substantial risk that the child will be physically, psychologically or emotionally injured or sexually abused”.

It states 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 or her in a place of safety.

If a member of the community is of the opinion that a child is physically, psychologically or emotionally injured as a result of being ill-treated or neglected, abandoned or exposed to intoxication or is sexually abused, they shall immediately inform a chief, police or the Department of Social Welfare.

A member of the community who fails to comply with the law is considered to have committed an offence and could be sentenced to community service.

The law also states that a person, parent or guardian who does not have lawful custody of a child and takes a child, without appropriate consent, whether within or outside Lesotho, commits an offence and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding M10 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 months or both.

A person has lawful custody of a child under this section if he or she has been conferred custody of the child by virtue of any written law or by an order of the Children’s Court.

The girl’s relatives who allowed her elopement, the 21-year-old Lekhafola Tšele, and his parents who received the child as their daughter-in-law until the mother sought police intervention, could fall foul of the law.

Police deputy spokesperson, Inspector ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka, said it is illegal for a 13-year-old girl to get married.

“All those who are behind this marriage should be dragged to the courts to account for this,” Inspector Mofoka said, without committing that there will be arrests. She also did not say why the police have not arrested the perpetrators.

Inspector Mofoka says they once experienced such a case in Thaba-Tseka “some years ago”.

The president of Ifo Lapeng, a women’s social home-building movement, Rebecca Makhalemele condemned child marriages, saying such arrangements compromise the future of a girl child.

“This is against the law,” Makhalemele said, adding that legal steps have to be taken against those in breach of the law.
Makhalemele promised to investigate the case of the13-year-old Semonkong girl.

“We are going to follow up on this. We are going to work on it to its finality,” Makhalemele said.

The Executive Director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), Advocate Libakiso Matlho, also criticised the development.

“For the child to enter into marriage at the age below 18-years-old is totally wrong. It is unlawful,” Advocate Matlho said.

Advocate Matlho says there are a lot of social factors that lead to child marriages that include but are not limited to peer pressure.
“It is a sensitive issue,” she said.

In this case, she says the girl would have wanted to go back to her so-called “husband” because she thinks she might be a laughingstock and viewed as a failure for returning home and being out of “wedlock”.

Also, she might have fallen pregnant as she had stayed with the man for a month.

On occasions like this one, the girl should receive counselling to help her through this trauma, said Advocate Matlho.

Advocate Matlho says the girl’s family should institute criminal proceedings against the family of the young man.
“It boggles my mind why the girl has spent so much time in that marriage,” she said.

Adolescent Health Manager at the Ministry of Health, ’Mathato Nkuatsana, described the girl as a high-risk client because of her age.

Nkuatsana said there are both social and health issues that have to be considered regarding the case, including issues of safety of the baby if the girl has fallen pregnant.

“This case has to be handled with great care because it involves a minor,” she said, adding that the girl might be going through serious trauma and needs counselling to make her understand that she is still part of the community.

“At the moment, she might be dealing with issues of rejection by her peers and the community at large. She is considered married and not part of adolescents,” Nkuatsana said.

Because she is still a child, pregnancy could have far-reaching consequences.

“Her body is not ready to conceive a child,” Nkuatsana warned, adding that the girl will need close monitoring.

Under the Marriage Act 1974, the minimum legal age of marriage is 18-years for boys and 16-years for girls.

However, under Article 27 both boys and girls can be married before the ages of 18 and 16 years respectively with the permission of the Minister of Home Affairs and with parental consent.

Contracting a marriage under civil law requires free consent of the parties under this Act.

Under customary law, the man is obliged to exchange bohali (bride price) for a marriage to be valid.

A UNICEF study published in 2021 says in Lesotho, nearly one in five girls marries before the age of 18 (19.4 percent in 2018).

UNICEF says that as with unintended adolescent pregnancy, rates of marriage are higher among girls in rural areas (24.9 percent vs 13.8 percent urban) and among those who are the poorest and have the lowest levels of schooling.

Staff Reporter

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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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