By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

LERIBE – The United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator (RC) Amanda Khozi Mukwashi has expressed grave concern over surge in abuse and violence against women and girls.

Mukwashi had last week denounced the high rate of gender based violence (GBV) incidents and other violations of women and girls rights.

Breaking away from the conventional diplomatic reticence Mukwashi opted to join the community instead of taking the podium to address the community of Ha-Khabo, in Tšehlanyane in the Leribe district.

Mukwashi expressed her “pain” during the launch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s launch and handing over ceremony of the 2023 State of the World Population Report.

‘8 billion lives, infinite possibilities, the case of rights and choices’ the report lays an emphasis on women and girls rights and choices.

 She called out for collective action and awareness against the abuse of women and girls.

Leribe is reported as the district with high rate of GBV and violence and abuse against women and girls.

According to Sub-Inspector Maraka-Thulo, Child Protection and Gender Unit (CGPU) Leribe, from April 2022 to March 2023, they had received a total 38 cases relating to sexual offenses. These cases, she said, encompassed incidents involving both women and children. Among the 38 cases, the majority, comprising 25 cases, were specifically related to offenses against children.

Sub-Inspector Maraka-Thulo said they recorded a total of 160 cases related to GBV within Tšehlanyane communities. Among these cases, some have been officially opened and are being investigated, while others have not been pursued further. The Leribe CGPU commanding officer also mentioned that their approach in addressing the GBV involves practicing restorative justice.

In instances where there is a problem within a family, they intervene and work towards resolving the issues through the restorative justice approach. This practice involves the focus on healing and repairing harm resulting from violence and it aims to reconcile and rehabilitate rather than punitive measures.

She further said a total of 12 abductions were recorded and these incidents specifically targeted young girls. Additionally, they received four cases related to indecent assault, which she said is a form of sexual assault where there was an attempt at penetration but did not occur.

Sub-Inspector Maraka-Thulo also mentioned that the Children Protection Welfare Act of 2011 was invoked in 15 incidents involving children. This piece of legislation is used to protect and ensure the welfare of children who may be at risk of challenging circumstances. She highlighted that in some cases, parents, especially mothers, and sometimes both, leave their children without ensuring there is adequate care in their absence when they go away in search for job opportunities and this in turn can expose the children to risks and vulnerabilities.

The UN Resident Coordinator told the residents that they need to love “our daughters”.

Mukwashi reiterated that they have a right “just to be” adding that they “didn’t choose to be born in this world, you as mothers and father are the ones who made the decision that you are going to have the child”.

She continued: “When you bring that child into the world, you should protect that child; that child is entitled to your love; you owe her that love and that protection.

“The fathers, I don’t know how many times I have cried since I arrived in Lesotho, I listen to the stories of young girls who tell me that they have got children from their fathers. So what do I say to this girl when she says this to me? It is very, very difficult.

“I am not going to lecture you because you are more experienced that I am; you live here; this is your village; these are your children, your daughters, your sons, what they are going to become is entirely up to you.”

The UN Lesotho RC also challenged the area Chiefs around Tšehlanyane to call out and act against the acts of violence in their communities.

She pleaded with the Chiefs that they should resolve not to tolerate GBV in their villages, child marriages, saying this “will wipe away my tears”. This she said will be a consolation adding that she wants to tell other Chiefs across the country and elsewhere that in Leribe, Chiefs there don’t tolerate violence against women and girls. 

She made a resounding “no, no, no,” saying “let the children grow, let the girls be girls, let them go to school, let them get educated, let them also come and be the Resident Coordinator and let them look after you”.

“I want to talk about how beautiful the place is, I want to talk about how wonderful Basotho are, I want to be able to see young girls thriving, being educated. I want to be able to see women accessing maternal health care and services without fear that they cannot walk at night. They no longer know who to trust,” she lamented.