IN this edition we carry a story about the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill (2010) that the government of Lesotho has proposed.
The law is meant to protect people against human trafficking.
The Bill defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, sale, supply or receipt of persons within and across the borders of Lesotho.
It is expected to be presented in parliament in September.
This is encouraging news especially after the government of Lesotho has, for years, been accused of not doing enough to curb human trafficking.
Several reports have described Lesotho as a source and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons to be used for forced labour and prostitution.
Other organisations have said Lesotho does not have comprehensive laws and policies to deal with the problem.
Yet others have accused the government of not taking human trafficking crimes seriously.
Fewer cases are investigated and fewer suspected perpetrators are arrested, they have said.
This criticism has not been without merit.
With rampant poverty, caused in part by HIV and Aids and lack of economic means, Lesotho provides a ready source of human trafficking victims.
Lesotho has about 180 000 HIV and Aids orphans, most of whom are so vulnerable that it takes very little effort to lure them into forced labour and commercial sex.
Many have become easy prey.
The economic disparity between Lesotho and South Africa, its only neighbour, makes our kingdom a fertile ground for victims for a ready market across the border.
Because we have no comprehensive laws, syndicates are harvesting our children and women while making this country a safe base for their operations.
Our loose border controls do not help matters.
It is not a secret that vulnerable women and children have been trafficked to Lesotho to work as maids and commercial sex workers in South Africa.
We have also heard stories about herd boys and maids who have been “sold” by their guardians and parents to be used as cheap labour in Lesotho.
But for a long time it seemed that the government was not taking this issue seriously.
Hence the damming reports.
It is therefore encouraging that the government has decided to deal with this serious problem.
The consequences of not doing so are too ghastly to contemplate.
If we do nothing Basotho children, women and men, to a lesser extent, will continue to be abused both within and outside our borders.
To turn a blind eye to this evil gives the impression that Lesotho does not care about basic human rights.
Lesotho will continue to be a haven for human traffickers to spread their nefarious activities into the region and beyond.
Our inaction makes us an accomplice in this serious crime.
Our reputation as a country will be tarnished forever.
But the economic repercussions are even more serious.
United States ambassador to Lesotho Robert Nolan told a workshop last Thursday that if Lesotho does not make significant strides in dealing with human trafficking the US government might withdraw aid.
Aid is something Lesotho can’t do without.
Nolan said the US had come up with a three-tier system to rank efforts by countries around the world to combat trafficking in persons.
He said countries listed under tier one, such as Nigeria, had publicly recognised the problem and were taking steps to address the problem.
He said if Lesotho is downgraded this would seriously affect the bilateral assistance provided by the US to the government of Lesotho.
The US government could withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance such as the Millennium Challenge Compact funding, Nolan said.
We must however caution that laws are not the only panacea to this problem.
Proper social safety nets and social welfare programmes to cut the supply chain of victims must be strengthened. Education and information is key.
Poverty alleviation is paramount.
And political will to deal with human trafficking is crucial.