THE police in Maseru are worried by the increase of rape and sexual assault cases in Semonkong due to the continued practice of shobeliso.
Shobeliso is the practice of abducting a girl or a woman for marriage. Often, the girl is then raped soon afterwards so that when her family wants to take her back chances are that she may already be pregnant.
Statistics from the area show that there were 18 reported cases of rape/assault cases in the area in 2017. However, in the first six months of 2018 the area has already recorded eight reported cases.
The police said they have begun conducting public gatherings to educate communities on the rights of girls.
A highlight of such cases is that of a 14-year-old girl who was abducted by a 22-year-old who intended to marry her in March this year. When the girl’s parents took her back, the girl went was then expelled from school after it was discovered that she was pregnant.
Speaking at a recent public gathering Inspector Mofoka Mofoka said they realised there was a need to sensitise the communities about the continued abduction and rape of minor girls.
“Abduction has become a normal so much that communities have ignored the fact that it is a criminal offence,” Inspector Mofoka said.
“Abduction has never been lawful but ignorance is a great challenge in the communities. You cannot marry a 13-year-old girl and expect her to look after a family. Boys here are herd boys and most girls are forced to drop out of school because they are also forced into child-marriages.
“Most rape and abduction victims especially those whose cases are not reported to the police are now young mothers. They are forced to deal with the adult responsibilities when their bodies and their brains have not fully developed to handle such tasks.”
The police further emphasised that having sexual relations with an under-age child (under 18 years) is a criminal offence. Inspector Mofoka said the communities were also complicit for failing to report crimes and they would be prosecuted if it was proven that they have concealed criminal activities.
He said the communities have to collaborate with the police to ensure that abuse of children is curbed.
Also present at the gathering, Deputy Minister of Health ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli said abduction was a criminal practice that infringed on the rights of young girls.
“You cannot abduct a girl and rape them along the way and call that culture or even marriage. It is wrong. A girl is supposed to be allowed to grow until she reaches the appropriate age.
“By allowing under-age girls to be married we have violated the children’s rights and we have disrupted their dreams. Chances are that a girl who enters into an early marriage will no longer achieve her dreams and becomes dependent on the man for everything.
“Rape and child marriage oppress the girl child,” Ms Phohleli said.
A concerned parent, Matṧepang Shakhane urged the police to hold more public gatherings in the outskirts of Semonkong where she said the abduction for marriage practice was rampant.
“I wish people from the rural areas were here today to hear for themselves because girls in areas like Ketane live in misery.
“It is sad to see an 18-year-old with two or three children already looking like an old lady and she is supposed to take all the responsibility for the family.
“The government must ensure that more public gatherings are held in the rural areas because that is where the rate of abduction and rape are high,” Ms Shakhane said.
The gathering was also attended by the Deputy Minister of Education and Training, Maphoka Motoboli, Deputy Minister of Local Government Kotiti Liholo and the Member of Parliament Tṧepang Tṧita Mosena.