CHILDREN in Ha-Senkatana in Mohale’s Hoek have been deprived of their rights, among them the right to play, as they have to assume the responsibility of sourcing water due to the scarcity of the lifesaving commodity in the area.
The children have to spend long hours queuing at the village’s only tap.
Previously, the villagers used to travel long distances to neighbouring villages which are at least four kilometres away to get portable water as their well was uncovered hence unsafe for drinking. This only ended in 2016 after the Lesotho Red Cross Society (LRCS) covered the well and erected a tap.
However, the drought experienced in the country in the 2018/19 rainy season has worsened the situation as the tap often has no water and villagers have to wait sometimes up to midnight to fetch water.
This has forced some households to send their children to queue for water while the older people concentrated on other household jobs. The situation has left the families battling to understand where to draw the line in terms of safeguarding the rights of the children.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) affords all children rights despite their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status has rights.
Article 31 of the convention says children have a right to relax and play. Also enshrined in the convention are rights to freedom of expression (Article 13) the right to safety from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).
During a recent visit, Lesotho Times observed that several children spend long hours queuing for water. While in the queue, they have to be vigilant and avoid distractions to ensure that they are not cheated by other villagers.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times during a recent media field trip ‘Matseko Lekhafola, a villager in Mohale’s Hoek, said over 500 villagers from Ha-Senkatana rely on the tap.
Ms Lekhafola said she has to send her primary school going son to fetch water because the path to the well is steep and slippery hence it is dangerous for her to walk with her eight months old baby strapped on her back while balancing a bucketful of water on her head.
“I have no other option because my baby is just too young to go to the tap especially because of the dangerous walkway so my other child has to draw water for the family,” Mr Lekhafola said.
“He is at tap right now and has to wait for the water levels to recover so that he can draw water. He has to stay at the tap all the time because if he leaves, those who will be behind him can take advantage and fetch before him. That causes a risk that he may eventually fail to get water if the well runs dry.”
Ms Lekhafola said she also has to wait for her son to come back from school so that he can fetch water for the family because her husband does not stay with the family.
The water situation also affects the elderly, like 77-year-old ‘Mamoipone Tšoeu from the same village, who said even if she lived with her grandchildren, she would never send them out to fetch water due to the harsh weather.
“Even if I had children, I wouldn’t send them to go and wait in the cold at night to fetch water,” Ms Tšoeu said.
She said whenever they cannot go to the tap, they have to buy water from other villagers who have boreholes and sell the commodity for anything from M5 to M8 for a 20 litre bucket.
Mohale’s Hoek Urban Councillor Paki Mokutoane said they are frustrated that the central government seems not to hear their please.
Mr Mokutoane said as much as drought is a natural occurrence, they are also worried about the instability of governments which has disrupted developmental programmes.
He said the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) has previously promised to connect the villagers through its Rural Water Supply department but the constant changes of governments, which has seen the last two administrations barely surviving beyond two years, have scuppered the plans.
“Currently the delays are being caused by lack of funds because the Rural Water Supply says they already have the pipes to connect us but there is no money,” Mr Mokotoane said.
The villages also have the tanks which are only awaiting the availability of funds for the project to start.
UNICEF Child Protection officer Lipotso Musi said they do not condemn the practice of children helping out with chores at home. She however, said Child Protection mainstreaming also takes into cognisance concerns related to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in that particular community.
Ms Musi added that it was vital to considere safety and the distance walked by the children.
“The time they spend at the well is also a concern. Chances are that they will spend a long time waiting for the well to recover. This means that if such children have homework then they may have to compromise on doing their school work to fetch water because water a necessity at home,” Ms Musi said.