MASERU — The government of Lesotho is working on a new law to curb human trafficking, a serious crime that various international study reports have accused the southern African country of not taking seriously.
The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill 2010 is expected to be brought before parliament when it reopens in September from a three-month winter break.
It defines human trafficking as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, sale, supply or receipt of persons within and across the borders of Lesotho.
Various international reports have in the past said Lesotho is not doing enough to combat human trafficking.
They have pointed out Lesotho’s lack of legal and policy systems to fight human trafficking.
A United States State Department 2010 report described Lesotho as “a source and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labour and forced prostitution, and for men in forced labour”.
It rated Lesotho as one of the many countries in the world whose systems are too weak to curb human trafficking.
It said the country’s lack of a “comprehensive anti-trafficking law” makes it difficult for the government to address human trafficking.
A 2007 policy paper by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) raised similar concerns about Lesotho’s fragile ability to deal with human trafficking crimes.
The laws that are currently in place in Lesotho are inadequate, the policy paper said.
Several other reports have also raised similar concerns.
By proposing this Bill, the government seems to have started taking the issue seriously.
The Bill proposes to jail a person who “intentionally trafficks another” for 15 years or order him to pay a fine of M1 million.
Anyone who transports, recruits or habours victims of human trafficking will face the same punishment.
That means a person who employs a person who has been trafficked will be as liable as people who supply that person.
That includes families which employ herd boys, gardeners and domestic workers who have been trafficked.
The same goes for companies that employ victims of human trafficking.
The Bill proposes a punishment of 30 years imprisonment or a fine of M2 million if the perpetrators are parents, relatives, public officials or organisations.
Illegal adoption is also classified as human trafficking according to the Bill.
“Where the victim is a child the offender shall be liable to life imprisonment,” the Bill says.
The Bill also proposes that a person convicted of any human trafficking offence forfeits “all the proceeds and properties derived from the commission of an offence of trafficking unless they were the property of a third person not liable for the unlawful act”.
The convict’s property, the Bill says, will be sold and the proceeds will be deposited into a victim trust fund to be established under the law.
The proceeds will then be used to compensate the victims.
Well-wishers, the government and private entities may contribute to the fund, the Bill says.
There will also be a centre where victims will be protected, rehabilitated and reintegrated.
The Bill will also allow members of the public to arrest human trafficking suspects.
A civil arrest, the Bill says, may happen when a person has committed the crime or a member of the public “has reasonable suspicion that the person has committed an offence”.
A report by the US State Department said Basotho women and children were the main victims of human trafficking within Lesotho.
It said they were subjected to “involuntary domestic servitude” adding that although cases of children being used as commercial sex workers were not very prevalent they still existed.
“Most internal and transitional traffickers operate through informal, loose associations and acquire victims from their families and neighbours,” said the report.
“Chinese and reportedly Nigerian-organised crime units, however, acquire some Basotho victims while transporting foreign victims through Lesotho to Johannesburg, where they distribute victims locally or move them overseas”.
Orphans and children who are heading households are most vulnerable to trafficking, the report added.
The report said long-distance truck drivers were the major culprits in human trafficking as they target vulnerable people who want to cross into South Africa to look for jobs.
“En route, some of these women and girls are raped by the truck drivers and then prostituted,” the report says.
The report also explains that women and children are not the only victims.
It said many men who migrate voluntarily to South Africa to work illegally on farms and in mines become victims of labour trafficking.
“Victims work weeks or months for no pay; just before their promised “pay day” the employers turn them over to authorities to be deported for immigration violations,” says the report.
The Unesco policy paper said poverty, gender discrimination lack of information and education, HIV and Aids, violence against women as well as a lack of legislative and policy framework were some of the major causes of human trafficking.
It said open borders and better transport between South African and Lesotho had helped feed this industry which the US State department estimated to have been worth between US$7-US$10 billion.
It said even those measures that Lesotho has put in place to protect people against human trafficking were not enough.
The police’s “Child and Gender Protection Unit is underfunded, understaffed, and lacks sufficiently trained personnel to deal with human trafficking crimes.
According to the US State Department figures for 2005 between 600 000 and 800 000 people are trafficked annually across international borders every year.
Unesco estimates that nearly 1.2 million children were trafficked globally in 2000.