THE government has failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking which include investigating and arresting suspects, the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report has revealed.
The Trafficking in Persons Report was recently released by the United States government. It sheds light on the scourge of human trafficking and highlights specific steps that each government can take to protect victims of human trafficking, prevent trafficking crimes and prosecute traffickers around the world.
The findings in the report help inform policymakers, law enforcement and civil society on gaps and areas of concern, as well as serve as a roadmap to end the scourge of trafficking.
The report indicated that most law enforcement officials in Lesotho lack a proper understanding of human trafficking and therefore fail to provide adequate protection to the victims.
“For the third consecutive year, the government did not address jurisdictional issues impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable,” part of the report states.
“The magistrates’ courts, which are the courts of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes. The government appointed a new magistrate responsible for hearing trafficking cases at the High Court…but it did not provide adequate training to magistrates on the anti-trafficking law.
“Many law enforcement officials reportedly had limited understanding of trafficking and how to protect victims from potential intimidations.”
The report further revealed that no arrests had been made for the past two years (2016 and 2017), the penalties prescribed by law were relatively lenient.
Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act criminalises child sex trafficking offences but prescribed penalties of a fine not exceeding M30 000 or 30 months imprisonment or both.
“During the reporting period, the government investigated one case of sex and labour trafficking involving 10 victims and initiated 10 prosecutions which included four sex trafficking cases, two of them, together with six labour trafficking cases, were all tried under the anti-trafficking act.”
The report also noted that there were no convictions and the government also failed to address a backlog of trafficking cases some of which have been pending for the past five years.
The report further noted that the government also failed to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labour. It also notes that the regulations for the anti-trafficking act directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel but it did not conduct such training during the reporting period.
Although the report acknowledges the government’s increased efforts to protect victims through the police’s Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, it however, says there is a lack of funding for the welfare of victims.
“The government identified and referred a greater number of potential trafficking victims to care. The government also coordinated with foreign governments to repatriate victims exploited abroad and referred all potential victims to care. The CGPU identified 12 trafficking victims who it referred to a non-governmental organisation that provided counselling and assistance.
“In the reporting period the government provided financial support for utilities at the shelter but for the seventh consecutive year, it did not allocate funding for the Trafficking Trust Fund which was established to ensure consistent provision of protective services and to provide restitution for victims.
“In 2016 the government implemented an agreement signed earlier with the South African government which enabled the increased protection for Basotho workers, including domestic workers, employed in South Africa by authorising a long-term work permits requiring signed employment contracts.”
Government spokesperson, Nthakeng Selinyane, said although he had not seen the Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, the government was still to release its first anniversary report which will assist on improving where there are challenges. The current government only came into office in June last year after the snap elections that same month.
“I have not seen the report as yet but what I know is that the issues of human trafficking involve several ministries including Home and Foreign Affairs as well as the police who should be working together on such cases.
“However, the LMPS has been working closely with International Police (Interpol) on human trafficking cases, including the recent one of the South African Mokena Nhlapo who faces multiple human trafficking charges,” Mr Selinyane said.