LESOTHO is crafting a law that will govern the operation of initiation schools and other cultural institutions.
This came out at a recent national dialogue on the enactment of the bill to arrest the numerous cases of child marriages and school dropouts.
The dialogue was held at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village in Maseru on Thursday.
World Vison Lesotho partnered with the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture and other stakeholders for the programme.
Members of the National Initiation School Committee and other stakeholders from government ministries addressed legislators, ministers, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) directors and Faith Based Organisations at the dialogue.
The dialogue was themed “Enact the Initiation School Bill to reduce school drop outs and End Child Marriage in Lesotho”.
World Vision Lesotho Advocacy and Justice for Children Manager Maseisa Ntlama said the dialogue sought to contribute to the reduction of school drop outs and child marriages. She said this would ensure that boys and girls have access to quality education towards the achievement to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, of which Lesotho is a signatory.
Ms Ntlama said there were 19 percent child marriages according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study of 2016. The number increased to 24 percent according to statistics of the 2017 Population Census.
She said the absence of the Initiation School Bill has left the organisation to fight a losing battle in ending early child marriages. This is also coupled with the high number of male school dropouts who chose to enroll into initiation schools.
“It has been very difficult to find a long-term solution to these challenges the reason being the absence of a law that can enforce clear rules on the operation of initiation schools in Lesotho,” Ms Ntlama said.
“This will deter underage children to enroll into initiation schools.
She said as a child focused organisation, they have realised that the high number of school drop outs and child marriages is caused by boys who, after enrolling into initiation schools, become rebellious to their parents. This she said was caused by lack of proper administration of initiation schools which would be decisively dealt with through the enactment of the law.
Ms Ntlama also lamented the involvement of initiation school students in criminal activities and also said there were numerous deaths at the institutions due to unhealthy practices.
She said the impact of initiating under age children is dangerous as the teachings that they get from the institutions leads them astray. She said in the end the communities wonder what form of cultural is being instilled in the children.
“The impact of initiation schools on school dropouts is also a challenge and the protection and security of those who are still at school is compromised. Often the initiation schools are built near the roads where school children pass by when they go to school.
“In some instances, these children are abducted and forced into initiation with claims that they have witnessed the process that they were not supposed to see therefore they should take part.
“When we see such practices, we tend to wonder what is being taught at the school, whether that is the ‘culture’. They come back different individuals,” Ms Ntlama said.
Ms Ntlama said the Bill would clarify blurry lines in terms of the operation of initiation schools.
“We stressed the need to ensure that underage children are not admitted in the schools. Culture should be cherished but the lessons at initiation schools are not meant for the young children who are now being initiated.”
She also said some of the lessons at the initiation schools are also meant to be a secrete to the public but they end up leaking because the children that are enrolled are not old enough to keep such information.
On his part, initiation schools committee coordinator, Tumelo Makolometsa, said the enactment of the bill would bring transparency on their work. He said it would also help avoid several challenges that the initiation schools are faced with.
“I will agree that the initiation schools have taken a wrong turn painting a bad picture on something that is supposed to be valued as culture,” Mr Makolometsa said.
“The availability of the law will change all that.”
Mr Makolometsa said he was aware that most graduates from initiation schools engage in criminal activities. He also conceded that this was a result of the enrollment of under age kids.
He said this was caused by the fact that the underage graduates often experiment on the wrong platforms after they leave the institutions.
Mr Makolometsa however said when enacted, the new law would stop all the challenges.
“I am sure that the communities will start to value initiation schools again because operators will not be doing as they please. Children will also understand that school comes first and culture will follow as it is something that will always exist when they are mature and responsible enough,” Mr Makolometsa said.