2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Lesotho

LESOTHO: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Lesotho was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included convicting the first trafficker in four years and sentencing him to imprisonment; enacting a new anti-trafficking law that closed key legislative gaps, including criminalizing all forms of sex trafficking and prescribing penalties commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes; commencing criminal investigations into multiple government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses; devoting, for the first time, modest funding for victim protection; and passing a 2021-2026 anti-trafficking national action plan. Despite these achievements, the government did not meet several key minimum standards. Law enforcement efforts remained insufficient compared to the problem, in part due to the lack of training and experience necessary to conduct complex multi-jurisdictional investigations. The government did not investigate several credible allegations of trafficking of its citizens in South Africa, nor did it investigate credible allegations of abuse of trafficking victims by South African and Lesotho police officers. Victim identification efforts were weak, and the government continued to rely on one NGO to provide all victim shelter and care with nascent government funding. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not finalize standard operating procedures on victim identification or the national referral mechanism, and for the 10th consecutive year, did not allocate funding for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund. Law enforcement and front-line responders continued to lack regular anti-trafficking training, which at times resulted in law enforcement re-traumatizing potential victims.


Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers through independent and fair trials, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes. • Adequately fund the police trafficking and smuggling unit and establish a focal point in all 10 districts of Lesotho to ensure effective responsiveness to all potential trafficking cases. • Increase oversight of labor recruitment agencies licensed in Lesotho to mitigate fraudulent recruitment for mining work in South Africa. • Adequately fund shelter and protective services for victims. • Allocate funds for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund and implement procedures for administering the funds. • Finalize and implement guidelines for proactive victim identification and standard operating procedures for referring identified victims to care, in line with the anti-trafficking act regulations. • Allocate funding to support operation of the anti-trafficking taskforce and implementation of the 2021-2026 national action plan. • Provide trafficking-specific training to police investigators, prosecutors, judges, and social service personnel. • Fix jurisdictional issues that prevent magistrate courts from issuing the maximum penalty for trafficking crimes. • Increase efforts to systematically collect and analyze anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection data. • Develop effective professional relationships with South Africa and other judiciaries and law enforcement agencies throughout Southern Africa to increase information sharing, and bilateral and regional coordination on trafficking investigations.


The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, although serious allegations of official complicity in trafficking remained unaddressed. Lesotho law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking but until 2021 remained inconsistent with international law, as the act required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The anti-trafficking act prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1 million maloti (LSL) ($68,150) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of 2 million LSL($136,300) for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the penalties in the anti-trafficking act were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

However, in January 2021, the government enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Amendment Act of 2021, which amended the definition of trafficking to criminalize all forms of sex trafficking and removed the option of a fine in lieu of imprisonment for trafficking offenses. Because the 2021 Amendment removed the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act (CPWA) criminalized child sex trafficking offenses without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion. However, the CPWA prescribed penalties of a fine not to exceed 30,000 LSL ($2,040) or 30 months’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.

The government initiated four trafficking investigations, continued three from previous reporting periods, prosecuted four cases, and convicted one trafficker—an increase from zero new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in the previous reporting period. Two of the new investigations involved Basotho girls allegedly exploited in trafficking in South Africa. In the first case, the victim’s uncle allegedly abducted her and transported her to South Africa for sex trafficking. In the second case, an alleged trafficker recruited a girl for domestic work in South Africa, smuggled her across the border, and withheld her wages, purportedly to repay travel expenses. Of the four prosecutions, all of which came from investigations initiated in previous reporting periods, one case involved adult forced labor and three involved adult sex trafficking. The government convicted its first trafficker in four years. The forced labor prosecution led to conviction of the perpetrator and a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment; the sex trafficking prosecutions remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. For the sixth consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable. Namely, the magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns and continued to inhibit law enforcement action. In a change from previous reporting periods, the government reported two investigations into officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking-related offenses, both of which were ongoing at the close of the reporting period. In one case, a senior Ministry of Home Affairs official, responsible for the anti-trafficking portfolio, allegedly assisted third-country nationals from South Asia with illegal entry into South Africa via Lesotho by removing all records of their entry into Lesotho. This allowed the travelers to circumvent South African entrance requirements. The government investigated the case as a trafficking offense but was unable to establish elements of human trafficking that would allow for prosecution for human trafficking. Police placed the official on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The government did not make efforts to address other, repeated allegations of complicity. The government was aware of alleged trafficking of Basotho women to South Africa for commercial sex. For the third consecutive year, the government’s efforts to form a liaison relationship with South African officials to investigate these allegations and to target those allegedly involved in these schemes did not yield tangible results. In the previous reporting period, officials deported a Nigerian labor trafficking victim; for the second consecutive year, the government did not take any action against his alleged trafficker, whose identity was known and who operated his business in Maseru with impunity. There were continued allegations of complicity in trafficking among law enforcement officers at the Maseru Bridge border crossing.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) led anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts until October 2020, when the government established the Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Control Unit within the LMPS, which assumed responsibility for all trafficking-related investigations. The trafficking and smuggling unit had dedicated investigators and received some administrative support. Like the CGPU, however, it lacked a dedicated budget, and members did not receive training on trafficking in 2020. The government did not have trafficking-specific courts, although three magistrate judges had special training to hear human trafficking cases. Many front-line officials incorrectly believed trafficking to be a movement-based crime and did not screen for trafficking among vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. In addition, many conflated gender-based violence and trafficking, and some police officers exhibited extreme insensitivity towards child victims of sexual abuse, including potential trafficking victims. Observers noted that reporting potential trafficking cases to the police made child victims more vulnerable to exploitation.


The government maintained victim identification and protection efforts. The government did not finalize standard operating procedures for victim identification or the national referral mechanism for the fifth consecutive year. The government identified two child trafficking victims, the same number identified in the previous reporting period. The government did not directly assist the trafficking victims but informally referred them to an NGO for care. The NGO had an memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government to provide emergency shelter to female and child victims of trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence, as well as some medical care, counseling, job skills training, and legal assistance. For the first time, the government paid for the shelter’s utilities, including reimbursements for prior years’ utilities, totaling 147,000 LSL ($10,020). It did not provide any other financial or in-kind support for trafficking victim care. While trafficking victims had a choice of whether to enter the NGO shelter, it was the only residential assistance available. Neither the government nor the NGO offered independent living options. At the shelter, victims had freedom of movement and could terminate their residency at will. There were no shelters equipped to provide protective services for male victims. In previous years, government social workers often did not respond to requests to certify victims or respond to potential cases. The CGPU and trafficking and smuggling unit, which also had the lead for trafficking victim identification, had limited capacity to respond to potential trafficking cases in Lesotho’s 10 districts because they operated from Maseru. They could only provide guidance to other police units that were less capable of responding to trafficking cases.

For the tenth consecutive year, the government did not allocate funding for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund, which it had established to ensure consistent provision of protective services and to provide compensation for victims. While Lesotho law provided restitution in trafficking cases, no judges ordered it during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking act and its implementing regulations prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, allowed foreign victims to elect permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal, and encouraged victims to assist in the investigation of traffickers; however, the government did not implement these provisions during the reporting period. For foreign victims, provision of care beyond a 60-day reflection period was dependent on their cooperation with law enforcement; authorities repatriated victims who did not cooperate with law enforcement after the reflection period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responsible for coordinating with the victim’s home country for the issuance of travel documents within 60 days of victim identification if the victim no longer had their travel documents in their possession. In practice, and during the reporting period, the government did not facilitate or fund the repatriation of its nationals exploited in trafficking abroad.


The government increased anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The multi-sectoral committee (MSC), led by the Ministry of Home Affairs and charged with leading anti-trafficking legal and policy efforts, met four times during the year. This was an increase from sporadic meetings in previous years. Despite more frequent meetings, MSC still had systemic deficiencies that impeded its efficacy. For example, it lacked formal processes, including administrative procedures, to determine action items and track progress against national anti-trafficking goals; coordination among members; and consistent participation from some high-level officials. In past years, senior government officials did not support the MSC and some even appeared to impede its activities. Despite the creation of the cabinet-level sub-committee on human trafficking, it was not clear that the issues surrounding the functioning of the MSC had been resolved. Moreover, the MSC did not invite NGOs to participate in its meetings, which reduced the transparency and efficacy of its efforts. MSC made progress in some of these areas during the reporting period.

To address the lack of high-level participation in anti-trafficking efforts, the Prime Minister created a cabinet-level sub-committee for trafficking composed of six ministers. Together, the MSC and cabinet sub-committee drafted new anti-trafficking legislation, established the trafficking and smuggling unit within the LMPS, and drafted and enacted a new national action plan, which had been pending since 2018. The 2021-2026 national action plan, which incorporated feedback from NGOs and international organizations, provided a roadmap for anti-trafficking efforts that delineated responsibilities among ministries. However, the government did not allocate any funding to MSC or for implementation of the plan. A foreign government began funding an international organization to update MSC’s standard operating procedures for increased efficiency.

As in past years, the government reported participating in some radio public awareness events led by NGOs. With support from an international organization, the government contributed information to a centralized anti-trafficking database that collected national data on criminal cases and victims identified and shared it with countries in the region. Labor inspectors conducted 70 inspections in 2020, primarily in textile factories; the inspectors did not identify any cases of forced labor. An NGO conducted, and the government provided material support for, a trafficking victim identification training for 35 labor inspectors, seven journalists, and NGO partners. In addition, the government reportedly began an assessment of child labor and child trafficking and allocated 2 million LSL ($136,300) to continue it; it did not share any results from the initial assessment. The cabinet approved a new labor migration policy focused on recruitment malpractice. The government made efforts to implement it during the reporting period by adding trafficking indicators to migrant labor inspectors’ screening questions, including among migrants departing for South Africa. The government had an agreement with the Government of South Africa that aimed to increase protections for Basotho employed in South Africa, including in domestic work. The agreement authorized the issuance of long-term work permits, required signed employment contracts, and allowed Basotho to register for unemployment insurance in South Africa; despite this agreement, Basotho remained vulnerable to trafficking. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Lesotho, and traffickers exploit victims from Lesotho abroad. Traffickers increasingly used social media to find and lure victims into forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers entice victims from rural areas, including the large orphan population, into urban areas or South Africa with false promises of legitimate employment. In Lesotho, traffickers exploit Basotho children in domestic servitude and animal herding; traffickers also exploit children, especially orphans who migrate to urban areas, in sex trafficking. Young girls, especially orphans, regularly engaged in domestic work in exchange for room and board; such informal, imbalanced, and private arrangements render these children vulnerable to forced labor and abuse from employers. There were anecdotal reports that “workshop masters” force children to produce and sell arts and crafts in market vending. There were reports of rampant sexual harassment in Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, and South Asian-owned textile factories in Lesotho, including widespread reports that managers and supervisors coerced female workers into sexual relationships in exchange for maintaining employment, achieving better working conditions, and avoiding further sexual harassment. There were also reports that women employed on construction sites were sexually harassed by their local and South African employers.

Basotho women and girls seeking work voluntarily migrate to South Africa, where traffickers detain some in prison-like conditions and exploit others in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, although illegally and often without identity documents, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining in forced labor; many work for weeks or months before their employers turn them over to South African authorities for deportation on immigration violations to avoid paying them. Traffickers connected to organized crime syndicates operating in South Africa are alleged to exploit and sometimes kill Basotho men in derelict mines. Traffickers also compel Basotho into committing crimes in South Africa, including theft, drug trafficking, and smuggling under threat of violence or through forced drug use. Due to pandemic-related border closures, many Basotho crossed illegally into South Africa in search of employment, including a higher percentage of females; migrants lacking formal legal status are more vulnerable to traffickers. Foreign nationals, including Chinese and Nigerians, subject their compatriots to sex trafficking in Lesotho. The Chinese and Cuban governments may have forced their respective citizens to work in Lesotho, including medical teams from each country sent to combat the pandemic.