By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The World Population Review report on ‘Rape Statistics by Country’ reports that Lesotho has 82.68 percent rape rate and around 1 777 incidents in per 100 000 people.

Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) report, from January to July 2022, there have been 184 sexual offense cases reported, and 45 assault cases perpetrated against women.

According to Afrobarometer- a non-partisan African research network, in Lesotho 56 percent of the interviewed respondents believe that women will be victimized for reporting on gender-based violence (GBV) acts. The findings further point that 38 percent of Africans interviewed in 39 participating countries believe that GBV is “somewhat common” and “very common” in their communities.

Mohale’s Hoek’s District Commissioner (DISPOL) Senior Superintendent ‘Matholoana Tholoana says she is deeply concerned with the high rate of sexual offenses troubling the district under her police watch.

In an exclusive interview with this publication, Senior Superintendent Tholoana said they receive many reports of sexual assault in that southern district.

She said while there are convictions for the perpetrators, those are seemingly not deterrent as this crime remains rife.

According to the reports, this crime affects a significant proportion of girls and women including young children. Alcohol and substance abuse have also been attributed as some of the driving forces behind sexual abuse especially amongst teenagers and youth.

There is sensitization by the government and some civil society organisations as well as the community leaders, but this crime persist nonetheless.

The Penal Code Act of 2010 criminalises rape, sexual contact with minors, and the indecent assault. Section (5)(2) of the Sexual Offenses Act, 2003 makes criminally liable “a person who induces another to submit to a sexual act through use of his authority, status, power, privilege, or other undue influence, commits an offense”. 

Sexual offense is not only a health and a social concern, it is also an economic concern.

Mohale’s Hoek DISPOL mentioned that Mohale’s Hoek is still visited by other crimes such as common assault, theft, murders, but sexual offense is a leading crime. She could not quantify the cases they receive, stating that she did not immediately have figures at hand during the interview. However, she stressed that sexual offenses are the most commonly reported matters to their posts in their district.

Senior Superintendent Tholoana said most victims are young girls resulting in unplanned pregnancies. “This is a common occurrence, we have had two to three weeks where youth were admitted in high numbers at the hospital with suspicion of [complications from unsafe] abortions that were administered at Holy Cross, there is a pill which they use and we have launched our investigations to bring to book people operating those illegal abortion rings.”

She said they recently received the reports of three girls who faced serious health complications after undergoing “backdoor abortions”.

“Rape is rampant in Mohale’s Hoek, targeting children, youth and old people alike. It is challenging to pinpoint a specific hot spot, as it pervades the entire district. The incidence of rape is high among residents of this district,” she stressed.

DISPOL said they are working tirelessly around the clock engaging in sensitization where they regularly engage youth, community leaders and residents to dissuade the people from rape behaviour.

She also cautioned the girls to desist from engaging in night life with strangers at taverns as it exposes them and increases their vulnerability to rape.

Abortions are criminalised in Lesotho unless in cases where pregnancy results from rape or it is performed by a qualified medical practitioner for health reasons.

She recounted a story that happened at Ha-Potsane where a toddler was raped by a family member, and the victim was taken to a shelter and the perpetrator was brought before the courts for the law to take its course.

The parliament has passed the Counter Domestic Violence Bill, attempt hailed for addressing the scourge of GBV in the country.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Unite initiative by 2030 calls for a global action for the heighted awareness, galvanization of advocacy efforts and the spread the messages to combat and end all types of violence especially against women and girl child.

For the 2023, the Unite runs under the theme ‘Invest to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls.

“In every country and culture, more action is needed to ensure women in all their diversity live free of violence and coercion. Health impacts of violence can last a lifetime, affecting physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health,” reports the World Health Organisation (WHO).