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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.

Nicole Tau

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The beauty queen of Lesotho



MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.

“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.

It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.

“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.

“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.

Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.

“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.

Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.

“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.

“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.

“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.

Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.

“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.

Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.

“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.

Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.

“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.

“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.

Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.

“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.

“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.

One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.

Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.

“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.

Calvin Motekase

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The stock-theft menace



MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.

If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.

That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.

Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.

Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.

These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.

The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.

Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.

Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.

S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.

But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.

Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.

S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.

In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.

These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.

Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.

The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.

S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.

After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.

The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.

He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.

Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.

He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.

To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.

Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.

“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.

He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.

Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.

He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.

He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.

When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.

S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.

S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.

He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.

He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.

“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.

He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.

“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.

He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.

Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.

He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.

He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.

“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.

He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.

He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.

“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.

And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.

The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.

A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.

It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.

According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.

It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.

And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.

Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.

In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.

This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.

The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.

“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”

The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.

It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.

And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.

Majara Molupe

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Matekane to launch microchip project



MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.

The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.

Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.

“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.

He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.

The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.

That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.

The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.

The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.

The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.

Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.

The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.

The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.

Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.

The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.

Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.

Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel

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