Caswell Tlali & Tefo Tefo
MASERU — Two women and as many men who were arrested last weekend for alleged human trafficking have been set free because the state is yet to decide their charges.
Two of the suspects, the women, were arrested last Sunday after three girls they were allegedly planning to use as sex slaves were discovered at their home during a police raid carried out with the help of the girls’ parents.
The two male suspects were arrested after the two female suspects allegedly implicated them in their statements to the police.
The four were kept in police custody until Thursday after police had been granted permission by a court allowing them to detain the suspects for more than the stipulated 48 hours.
But when police brought the suspects to the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on Thursday for trial the prosecutors had not yet decided on the charges.
They were then set free with the prosecution promising to lay formal charges against them on Friday.
Yet when they came back to the court on Friday the prosecution had still not made up its mind on the charges to prefer against them.
The crown then announced that the trial could only proceed by way of summonses.
The Sunday Express understands the crown is still to decide whether to charge them under the Sexual Offences Act or the recently enacted Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha had earlier said the police were investigating if the suspects had violated the Sexual Offences Act which makes it a crime for an adult to induce or coach a minor to have sex with an adult.
“A person who invites, persuades or induces a child to allow himself/herself or another person to commit a sexual act with the child for financial or other reward, favour or compensation to the child or to any other person commits an offence,” reads a section of the Sexual Offences Act.
The Act also says it is a criminal offence if a person fails to report an unlawful sexual act against a child.
But Assistant Home Affairs Minister Lineo Molise-Mabusela told Lesotho Television that the suspects were going to be charged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
“If found guilty, a person trafficking in humans will be fined M2 million or 15 years in prison or both,” Molise-Mabusela said.
“If he or she was trafficking in children, he will be fined M2 million or imprisoned for a lifetime or both.”
It has however emerged that it is not possible to charge the suspects under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act because it was only signed into law by King Letsie III a few days after they had already been arrested.
Parliament approved the law in December.
The Act describes human trafficking as use of threat, force or other means of coercion, abduction, kidnapping, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability of the victim or debt bondage to recruit a person or take them to another place.
It also makes it an offence for someone to be paid or pay others to recruit, transport, transfer, harbour, adopt, sell, supply or receive persons for the purpose of exploitation.
The four were allegedly running a syndicate that recruits young girls and women into prostitution in Maseru and South Africa.
Three girls, who cannot be named because they are minors, were allegedly recruited to become sex workers and were kept at a house in Ha-Tsolo, south of Maseru, where they were together with others from various places.
The recruitment place was in Motimposo, about four kilometres north of Maseru.
Once recruited, the girls were allegedly used to provide sexual services to truck drivers who ferry goods to and from South Africa.
They were also taken to one of the local hotels as sex workers.