Stakeholders team up for children’s rights



MASERU – The Citizens Voices Addressing Violence against Children (CVAVAC) project has been launched. It seeks to empower communities to advocate for improvements in the justice sector, particularly in child rights protection and violence against children. The project is funded by the European Union and managed by World Vision Ireland in partnership with World Vision Lesotho. It will run for three years and targets seven of the country’s 10 districts, namely; Maseru, Leribe, Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek, Berea, Mokhotlong and Mafeteng.

It will focus on youth CVA leaders, community leaders, the justice sector staff, director level justice sector authorities as well as 100 000 citizens in the seven targeted districts. In its three years of running, the project has three key goals, including empowering youth and communities to meaningfully participate and lead community sensitisation and engage local authorities on child rights and protection.

Another goal is policy influence which will address the constraints around three specific child protection legislative efforts being; the amendment to the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 which seeks to criminalise child marriage, Domestic Violence Bill of 2021 that aims to abolish some of the existing abusive practices which degrade children and women such as forced child marriages and the Initiation Bill which aims to reduce school dropouts and end child marriages in Lesotho. The last goal is service delivery improvement which will address child appropriate improvements in rehabilitation of children’s courts to meet child friendly courts’ set standards and justice sector staff capacity building to enable them to provide improved services in children’s courts.

The former young parliamentarians and Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) team members had a panel discussion at the launch about the challenges facing children in Lesotho and citizen voices on service delivery in the child protection and justice sectors. During discussions which were led by Thabang Pitso, they noted some challenges in the rural areas of Lesotho, stating that the worst challenge is that people are not empowered enough and that empowerment in those parts of the country is weak. They added that the parents are not informed enough to counsel their children after they have been violated and in that way they do not offer enough support to their children.

They said parents still believe that some topics are taboo and they cannot talk about them, especially with children. Moving on, they said they have identified some major causes of child marriages which are initiation schools and domestic violence. They said young boys believe that initiation school is about being transformed from boyhood to manhood which is why most them marry immediately after initiating because they think they are exercising their manhood.

In addition, a girl or boy child can also engage in marital activities because he or she is violated at home. Such a child tends not to feel safe with her own parents but feels more secure with the spouse. In other words, she will get married to run away from the domestic abuse and go to a safer place not taking into consideration that she is a child and should not engage in activities meant for mature people. In conclusion, they noted that among the shortcomings from the police is the fact that victims of violence have to pay M30 for medical forms which this leads to most of them discarding their cases mostly because they would not be in their right minds at that time and have no money.

So they pleaded for medical forms to be issued freely. Speaking about the role of civil society organisations in improving service delivery in the justice sector, ’Mantšalla Ramakhula, Lesotho Council of NGOs Women and Children’s Commission coordinator said they are mandated to see to it that basic human rights are protected. They promote the rule of law and equality before the law; they want to see justice served on everyone, everywhere regardless of their position and also enforce accountability.

She also pointed out that in some cases where children are witnesses, the courts of law do not take that seriously, they do not want to listen to the voices of the children whereas the voices of the children are innocent and can therefore be very impartial. She explained that unlike elders who sometimes have to weigh options while giving their testimony, children tell the truth as it is. Lastly, the people who were sent to eSwatini on the launch of the same project shared their experiences and the lessons they learnt there.

Senior Inspector Petje Teke from police’s Child and Gender Protection Unit pointed towards establishment of one-stop centres in Lesotho where a victim, especially who has been sexually violated, gets to hospital to be observed while in the same building also giving statements to police officers, with prosecutors to guide them and social workers. According to Teke, this is done to avoid secondary victimization and also speeds up their cases unlike in Lesotho where a sexual offence case will be registered this year only to be presented in court three or more years later. Resident Magistrate at Children’s Courts, Pontšo Janki, said they come across a lot of challenges in the children’s courts including the lack of resources to help them get children to talk and explain themselves.

She gave the example of children aged five years and below where they can take up to five hours with them until they understand what they are saying. She added that a lot of girl children do not understand that child marriage is an offence; they do not understand that a person under 16 years of age cannot engage in sexual activities and be in love with anyone. She explained that they even protect the older men or may even ask for them to be granted bail, which makes it hard for child marriage cases to see the light in the courts.

Magistrate Puseletso McPherson, Children’s Courts said eSwatini takes sexual offenses cases very seriously so much that they have separated them from other main cases and created an independent unit called the Sexual Offenses Unit. She said she liked the unit because the victim gets a different treatment from other victims, unlike in Lesotho. Again, she noted that eSwatini has amalgamated sexual offence and domestic violence, which for her is a very smart move because in Lesotho, parliament has failed to pass the Domestic Violence Bill for no reason.

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