MASERU — The police in Quthing have arrested a 22-year-old man for customarily marrying a 15-year-old girl in violation of the law.
It is suspected the man also had sex with the under-age girl.
The girl, whose name has been withheld, eloped with her “husband” and was customarily welcomed into her husband’s family as his wife under a traditional marriage arrangement called chobeliso.
She was even given a new name, a Sesotho traditional custom that shows that a daughter-in-law has been accepted into her new family.
But the police last Monday arrested the man for breaching the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which criminalises sexual relations between adults and minors.
The man could be jailed for up to 15 years if convicted.
Police say the girl’s parents had not consented to their daughter eloping with the man.
But customarily when chobeliso happens parents on both sides are usually not involved.
Chobeliso is only agreed upon by a young man and woman who are marrying.
It is not yet clear if the girl had agreed to elope with the man.
Even if they had agreed, it is a criminal offence for an adult to marry a child or to have sex with her or him.
“It is unlawful for a man to marry a girl who is underage in spite of the agreement of the two parties,” Masupha Masupha, the police spokesperson, said.
“The suspect’s relatives are saying they had even given the girl a name to show their appreciation.”
The admission by the man’s parents that they welcomed the girl into their family as their son’s wife is itself a criminal offence, according to the Child Protection Act.
The Act says anybody who knows of a child being abused, sexually or otherwise, and does not report to the authorities is guilty of an offence and could be imprisoned.
Chobeliso is rife in Lesotho’s rural areas.
In most cases, a young man elopes with a young woman because the woman is pregnant.
Many teenage girls enter into this kind of marriage because they are pregnant.
Meanwhile, a nine-year-old girl from Mohale’s Hoek was allegedly sexually assaulted by a herd boy last Thursday.
Police said the victim was playing with her friends when the suspect called her at around noon.
“It was reported that the suspect then started beating the victim with a stick chasing her to a nearby forest. When they got into the forest the suspect then started raping the victim,” Masupha said.
“He pulled her into the forest by force and was even hitting her with a stick. The suspect then ran away after the incident.”
Masupha said the suspect stays in the same village with the victim and is also known by the victim’s parents
In another incident, a 27-year-old gardener from Mohale’s Hoek was arrested for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl last Thursday.
The victim reported the matter to her parents leading to the man’s arrest.