THREE female members of the Lesotho Defence Forces (LDF) who were forced to terminate their pregnancies to save their employment in 2014, this week said they were still traumatised by the experience that they endured.
In 2014, the LDF introduced a standing order barring female soldiers from falling pregnant during their first five years of service because of what the former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, said was a demanding schedule.
The standing order immediately applied to 50 females out of the 299 new soldiers who graduated in 2014, with Lt-Gen Kamoli saying there was no room for child-bearing because of the heavy artillery the soldiers would be using over the next five years.
“This group will not be expected to have children for the next five years because we have very big things planned for them,” Lt-Gen Kamoli said at the time.
“They are going to be using heavy weapons which require people who are strong and healthy.”
Speaking to the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, three female soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were forced to hide their pregnancies until they aborted because they did not want to lose their jobs.
According to the female soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity, the hiding and termination of the pregnancies exposed them to health complications, stress and left them with inexplicable trauma.
One of the female soldiers said she was already married when she joined the army and graduated in 2014.
She said she got scared when she discovered that she was pregnant in June 2016 after the dismissal of Privates, Lieketso Mokhele, ‘Masaule Letima and ‘Masine Ntsoha when they fell pregnant.
“When I found out, I decided to hide the pregnancy from my husband and family and get rid of it immediately. I did not want to lose my job because of the extended family responsibilities that I have,” she said with teary eyes.
“In Sotho culture, a married woman is expected to bear children and expand the family tree. It is no exception for me, I have to give my husband children and I felt that he would not allow me to abort so I kept my pregnancy a secret.”
The soldier said she was two months pregnant when she visited to a man who gave her a drug that is used to terminate pregnancies by killing the foetus.
“I saw an advert on a street pole about safe and pain-free abortion. I contacted the person and we later met on the same day at a restaurant in town where he gave me the pills for M1000 and instructions on how to use them,” she said.
She said she began to bleed a day after she took the pills and suffered excruciating pain but had to pretend it was ordinary period pains so that her husband would not suspect anything.
She continuously bled and endured severe abdominal pain for three weeks until she sought medical attention in Bloemfontein.
“I had to go to Bloemfontein to seek medical help because I knew that at least in South Africa abortion was legal,” she said.
A scan that was conducted indicated that she needed to have her womb cleaned as there were clots after the blood discharge.
Another soldier said she had support from her husband to terminate the pregnancy to save her job as he was still in university and a job loss would have affected them financially.
“My husband gave me all the support but deep inside, I feel empty and stripped of my right as a woman to fall pregnant and give birth,” she said.
“Since it is illegal in Lesotho to have an abortion, I applied for a leave and went to South Africa and had a vacuum aspiration abortion. Despite the counselling that I go from the nurses prior to the termination, I am still angry and traumatised.”
Another soldier said her marriage has suffered since the abortion in 2016.
“I had to share with my husband and suggest a termination to save my job. My husband insisted that I would rather lose my job than the child but I went ahead and had an abortion,” she said.
“However, it got difficult because I aborted with the assistance of an individual operating illegally in Maseru. I do not know the name of the procedure but I was injected and after few hours the cervix was stretched open, allowing a tube to be inserted. The unborn child was suctioned out.”
She said the procedure was so painful and expensive because she got very sick afterwards.
“It took me a long time to heal because I was scared to seek medical assistance thinking doctors would see that I had aborted. I bled for more than a month but I had no option but to deal with the issue alone.
“My husband got so angry with me after he learnt that the Constitutional Court had ordered the LDF to reinstate the female soldiers who were fired because they fell pregnant. He still accuses me of being a stupid woman who does not know how to stand for her rights. I am now terrified that he might leave me because of that,” she said with a trembling voice.
Last month the Constitutional Court ordered the LDF to reinstate Privates, Mokhele, Letima and Ntsoha under the standing order.
Attorney Monaheng Rasekoai who represented the trio in their challenge yesterday confirmed to this publication that his clients were reinstated to the LDF with effect from 1 March 2018.
“They are all back to their respective positions within the LDF,” he said.