Lesotho fertile ground for human traffickers

Date: January 1, 1970
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“This is one of them,À laments Likeleli Maseko*, pointing out an advert posted on an electrical pole along Maseru Kingsway. I ask, “One of what?À Her reply is chilling. “Glamorous false job offers that lure girls and young women abroad.À

A former teacher’s friend promised Maseko a job as a baby sitter/nanny abroad. Effusive and convincing, she dropped out of secondary school, told her parents she was following her dreams, and packed her bags to leave her home in Heremone, Mafeteng for greener pastures.
Instead, she found herself in Nigeria, forced into a life where, for three years, different men treated her as a sex slave and forced her into sex work. Her experience is one of the many stories, often unreported and undocumented, which remind us that human trafficking is a reality.
Like Maseko, one of the characteristics of human trafficking is usually a false offer, a ploy to move the intended victim from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one. Without appropriate language skills, a supportive social network, money, or laws and customs that they understand, the trafficked persons feel isolated and disoriented.
This disorientation makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Whether forcibly detained or not, the trafficking victim has little chance to escape their circumstances.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Lesotho is a country of origin for trafficking in women and children, mainly to South Africa. The 20-kilometer route from Maseru, Lesotho, to Ladybrand, South Africa, “may constitute the world’s shortest international trafficking route.” The Maseru and Ficksburg bridges are the two most popular border crossing points for traffickers.
Despite its rising profile in many parts of the world, and periodic efforts made to raise public awareness to the problem in Southern Africa, the region remains a fertile ground for traffickers who easily capitalise on the vulnerabilities created by war, endemic poverty, minimal education, unemployment, HIV/AIDS and a general lack of opportunity.
Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, at about 29 percent. An overwhelming population of children, estimated at 100,000, have been orphaned because of AIDS. These children often turn to the streets, where they are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, particulalry because they tend to be attracted to big cities and towns, with the view of earning a living.
For women, vulnerabilities are particularly acute, with many having been ‘sexualised’ as young girls within the context of cultural practices that challenge their sexual integrity. Furthermore, the ongoing food crisis in the region has exacerbated already desperate conditions.
The United States State Department Trafficking in Persons Report of June 2006 states that the existence of a significant human trafficking problem in Lesotho is suspected but unsubstantiated. There are concerns among organizations working with women and children that trafficking is unreported and unnoticed.
Government officials lack awareness of what constitutes trafficking in persons, but have publicly acknowledged that it might be a problem in the country. The traditional chieftain structure that has historically governed the country has not adapted well to handling modern offences, such as trafficking, and the same goes for local government.
The absence of a law specifically criminalising trafficking also limits the government’s ability to address the problem. The police can charge persons suspected of trafficking under the Labour code, the Child Protection Act, and kidnapping statutes enshrined in the constitution. There are no specific laws prohibiting trafficking in persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Gender and Children Protection Unit (GCPU) are responsible for monitoring trafficking.
According to the IOM, Lesotho is among the twelve countries that have ratified the United Nations Protocol against trafficking in persons in the region. Only Angola, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are yet to ratify or accede to the protocols. However, without solid information and implementation plans, such protocols make little difference on the ground.
UNESCO argues that while the existing body of knowledge serves to raise public consciousness, it is still not robust enough to support comprehensive programmes to address its multiple dimensions. There is limited understanding about the relationship between migration and trafficking. Best practices to fight human trafficking require a holistic approach, sensitive to issues of poverty, vulnerability, livelihoods, gender, class and ethnicity.
To combat trafficking, the government should consider drafting and enacting appropriate laws to prohibit all forms of human trafficking, as well as launching a public awareness campaign to educate all Basotho, but particularly women, children, and traditional leaders, on the nature and dangers of trafficking in persons. There is a need to document cases of human trafficking, to understand how and why this is happening.
Migrants must think about the recommendations IOM offers to those leaving home: ensure the job offer is genuine, obtain the correct working permit, sign a contract, have contacts for people/organisations that can provide assistance, and know your rights as an employee. Once you arrive at your destination you should not give your passport away to anyone, and contact your local embassy and inform them that you are in the country.
Migration can be a offer many opportunities for the enterprising, but getting the right information and ensuring safety is paramount. Migrants must take caution, while government and organisations must raise awareness while putting in place, and implementing, laws to ensure perpetrators of human trafficking do not continue in their trade. Only then will human trafficking be prevented, and victims of human trafficking have comfort knowing that their trauma is not going unheard and unrecognised. 
* not her real name.
Teboho Senthebane is a freelance writer and founding member of Media and Arts Watch Association (MAWA) Ts’ireletso, in Lesotho. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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