Lesotho children’s education suffers due to forced labour

…US govt report shows that Lesotho children subjected to “worst forms of child labour”,

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…children also trafficked, forced into commercial sex work, burglary and theft

Herbert Moyo/ Limpho Sello

LESOTHO’S children are subjected to the worst forms of child labour, the United States (US) Department of Labour has found.

According to the department’s report for 2020, some of the children- as young as five years old- are victims of human trafficking within and outside the country’s borders. They are forced into the “worst forms of labour” that include commercial sex work, “hazardous tasks” such as herding livestock, crop cultivation and spraying harmful pesticides on the crops and harvesting. They are even forced into criminal activities such as burglary and stealing, the department’s report states.

All this is taking place despite that Lesotho is armed with an arsenal of laws including the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, as well as international conventions and protocols aimed at eliminating child labour. These are children who ought to be school and accessing free primary education in line with the Lesotho government policy that education is free and compulsory at primary level.

In its recently released report, the US Department of Labour acknowledges a “moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour”.

The report is titled: “2020 findings on the worst Forms of Child Labour”.

The 1365-page report contains findings on forced labour in disparate countries- from strife-torn Afghanistan to economic powerhouses such as India and Brazil, Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria- to Lesotho and its regional neighbours, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe among others.

In the foreword, US Secretary for Labour, Marty Walsh, notes that the “United Nations has designated 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour”.

“This could not come at a more pivotal time. This summer the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund released the latest global estimates on child labour. Despite years of progress, these new estimates contain a troubling truth. Global estimates of children in child labour rose from 152 million to 160 million children, leaving I in 10 children trapped in child labour…

“Our Bureau of International Labour Affairs’ Office of Child Labour, Forced Labour and Human trafficking is at the vanguard of efforts to end child labour and forced labour globally at a time when this work is more urgent than ever,” Mr Walsh says.

The report indicates that Lesotho’s problems have persisted despite the government making “moderate” achievements in the quest to eliminate the worst forms of child labour including sex work, street vending and herding livestock.

“In 2020, Lesotho made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. Lesotho’s legislature passed an amendment to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act that removes the requirement for proof of force, fraud, or coercion even in the case of sex trafficking for minors. The addition of this amendment brings the law up to international standards.

“The national police also established the Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Control Unit within the Lesotho Mounted Police Service to oversee human trafficking cases. In addition, multiple trainings were conducted during the reporting period that included strategies to combat forced labour; modern slavery and human trafficking; countering trafficking and victim identification; and national shock responsive social protection for the multisector impacts of Covid-19,” the report states.

But despite all this, “children in Lesotho are subjected to the worst forms of child labour, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking”.

Challenges in accessing education

Challenges in accessing education have been identified as one of the factors behind children dropping out of school and consequently being more susceptible to becoming child labourers.

“Many children face limited access to education due to a shortage of teachers and schools, which causes them to travel long distances. In Lesotho, primary education is free. However, secondary education incurs a fee that is cost prohibitive for many families.

“Children with disabilities encounter difficulties with ill-equipped educational facilities and untrained teachers. These factors increase a child’s vulnerability to the worst forms of child labour such as human trafficking,” the report states.

But then again it is a classic case of the chicken and egg because those children who are subjected to forced labour are most likely to find it difficult to either attend school or to fully concentrate on their studies despite that primary education is free and compulsory.

The report notes that although 90, 3 percent of the children in the 5 to 14 age-group are attending school, 30, 1 percent of this age-group is however, also working. This is despite that the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act sets the minimum age at which a person is eligible to work at 15. According to the same act, the minimum age for engaging in “hazardous forms of work” is 18. But this has not stopped children in the 5 to 14 age group from being employed in such jobs.  Lack of inspection of work premises has been partly blamed for this situation.

“Children also perform dangerous tasks in animal herding and domestic work. The government also lacks sufficient coordination mechanisms to combat child labour, and labour inspections are not conducted in high-risk sectors, including the informal sector.”

The human trafficking scourge affects children’s right to education

Lesotho suffers from a serious problem of human trafficking is already perennial problem of human trafficking which has left it in serious danger of losing out on all forms of US development assistance.

The report identifies the human trafficking scourge as one of the factors behind the high incidence of child labour in Lesotho and beyond its borders.

“Lesotho is also a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Children, especially orphans, sometimes voluntarily travel to other countries, including South Africa, for domestic work, and upon arrival they are subsequently detained in prison-like conditions and sexually exploited.

“The Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment reported in 2017 that the HIV rate in adults (ages 15–59) was 25, 6 percent, the second-highest HIV rate in adults worldwide (after Eswatini). Due to the high rate of HIV among adults, many children in Lesotho become orphans and are vulnerable to human trafficking. Children, mostly orphans driven by poverty, migrate from rural to urban areas to engage in commercial sexual exploitation,” the report states.

Trafficked children find it hard to attend school, more so if they are subjected to forced labour.

Statelessness

The report notes that Lesotho is struggling to register births, with only 45 percent of the births having been registered to date. “The low number of birth registrations results in children becoming stateless, which makes them more vulnerable to the worst forms of child labour,” the report states.

Law enforcement

The report notes that although there are laws in place, there were “gaps within the operations of the criminal enforcement agencies that may hinder adequate criminal law enforcement, including limited funding and personnel”.

It notes that there no prosecutions and convictions of suspects in connection with the perpetration of the worst forms of child labour. Even though specialised agencies such as the Child and Gender Protection Unit have been established, they are not fully capacitated to perform their mandate of fighting child labour, the report states.

“The national police’s Child and Gender Protection Unit does not have guaranteed funding. Rather, it receives funding from the general operations budget of the national police. Research found that the Child and Gender Protection Unit has limited personnel and receives insufficient or no funding to carry out child labour investigations. There is also no evidence of any funding for combating child labour being provided to the public prosecutor’s office or the Children’s Court.

Recommendations

The report recommends the following actions to be undertaken by the government to tackle child labour:

  • Provide adequate funding and training for labour inspectors to carry out mandated duties.
  • Ensure that criminal law enforcement agencies receive an adequate amount of funding, training, and resources with which to conduct inspections and investigations.
  • Ensure that labour inspections are conducted in all relevant sectors, including the informal sector.
  • Ensure that the labour inspectorate is authorised to assess penalties, including those related to the worst forms of child labour.
  • Ensure that all Coordination Teams are active and undertaking activities in support of their missions.
  • Ensure that there is a policy for the elimination of child labour to replace the expired National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour.
  • Ensure that all actions plans are active and being implemented according to their mandates.
  • Integrate child labour elimination and prevention strategies in existing youth policies, such as the Education Sector Strategic Plan.
  • Institute programs that address factors that promote child labour, including the high HIV rate in adults.
  • Ensure that children with disabilities have equal access to education.
  • Address educational and logistical gaps resulting in reduced opportunities for secondary education, including the shortage of teachers and schools and secondary school fees.
  • Increase birth registrations of children to reduce their vulnerability to the worst forms of child labour.
  • Expand existing programmes to address the scope of the child labour problem and ensure that this information is publicly available.

This article was possible because of the support of the German federal foreign office and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) Zivik funding programme. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of the German federal foreign office nor the IFA.

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