Women and Justice: Jurisdiction


Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (2011)

Forced and early marriage, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

This Act criminalizes slavery in all forms and provides protection and support for victims of trafficking. As defined by the Act, "'exploitation' includes, at the minimum, induced prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, forced or bonded services, or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of human organs." The definition of trafficking is comprehensive and defined in Part 2, Section 5(3) of the Act. The Act proscribes further that victims “shall not be liable for crimes committed in connection” to their own trafficking and that “the past sexual behavior of a victim of trafficking is irrelevant and inadmissible for purpose of proving that the victim was engaged in other sexual behavior or to prove sexual predisposition of the victim.” The Act provides an aggravated trafficking designation in cases where the trafficked person dies, becomes disabled physically or mentally, suffers mutilation, contracts a sexually transmitted disease including but not limited to HIV or AIDS, or develops a chronic health condition. The Act also mandates the temporary material support and care for any child victim; provision of accommodation, counseling, and rehabilitation services for victims; and mandates attempted reintegration of adult victims into their families and communities.

National Assembly Election (Amendment) Act (2011)

Gender discrimination

The National Assembly Election (Amendment) Act, 2011 repeals and replaces the National Assembly Elections Act of 1992. Section 47(2)(b) states that political parties shall “arrange the candidates in order of preference from top to bottom, with a female or male candidate immediately followed by a candidate of the opposite sex; and (c) include equal numbers of “women and men.”

Companies Act (2011)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Companies Act of 2011 enshrines in law the right of women to serve as directors of companies. According to the law, women are allowed to establish companies on their own, and the law removes the onus on women of securing spousal consent through Section 5(2), which establishes that “anything contained in the customary or common law” that pre­vents a married person from acting as promoter of a company “without his or her spouse’s con­sent” be disregarded and overridden.

Education Act (2010)

Gender discrimination

The Education Act of 2010 makes primary education free and compulsory for male and female children. Part 2(4)(2)(C) states that “The Minister, Principal Secretary, Teaching Service Commission, proprietors of schools, teachers and school boards shall promote the education of the people of Lesotho” and “ensure that the learner is free from any form of discrimination in accessing education.” While Part 9, Section 41 of the act establishes that at least two of the five members of the proposed Teaching Service Commission must be women.

Penal Code Act (2010)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The Penal Code prohibits abortion, rape, sexual contact with minors, indecent assault, incest, and bigamy outside of customary law. Abortion is an offence pursuant to the Penal Code Act. Only a registered medical practitioner may terminate a pregnancy if it is necessary to prevent significant harm to the woman’s health, the fetus will be severely disabled, or the woman became pregnant through incest or rape. An adult who has sexual intercourse with a child, defined as under 18 years old, commits an offence and the consent of the child is irrelevant. It shall be defence for this crime if the adult can prove that he or she had reasonable grounds to believe, and did so believe, that the child had attained the age of 18 years.

Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act (2006)

Gender discrimination

The Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, 2006 (“LCOMP”) removes the minority status of married women and other incidental matters. LCOMP removed the marital power that a husband has over the person and the property of his wife. In addition, LCOMP removes certain restrictions which the marital power places on the legal capacity of a wife, including entering into a contract, suing or being sued, registering immovable property in her name, acting as an executrix of a deceased’s estate, acting as a director of a company, binding herself as surety, and performing any other act that was restricted by any law as a result of the marital power before the commencement of the Act.

Local Government (Amendment) Act (2004)

Gender discrimination

The Local Government (Amendment) Act of 2004 amends the Local Government Act of 1997. It maintains Lesotho’s quota system and mandates that 30% of the total number of seats in municipal, urban, and community councils be reserved for women. It deletes instances of the words “he,” “his,” and “him” throughout the prior act and replaces them with "he or she," "his or her," and "him or her"; reiterates in Section 3 that “not less than one third of the seats in a council shall be reserved for women”; and section 4(3) calls for the creation of a Tender Board, which must have a third of its members be women.

Sexual Offences Act (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The Sexual Offences Act recognises marital rape as a crime. Section 3(3) of the Sexual Offences Act provides that marriage or any other relationship shall not be a defence against a charge under the Act. Section (5)(2) makes criminally liable "a person who induces another to submit to a sexual act through the use of his authority, status, power, privilege, or other undue influence, commits an offence." Other sections provide for compulsory HIV testing of perpetrators of sexual violence and penalize those who commit sexual violence while knowing that they are HIV positive.

Constitution of Lesotho (1993)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

Section 18(1) of the Constitution makes any law with discriminatory provisions or effect presumptively invalid. Discriminatory is defined as “affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly” to their respective descriptions by race, colour, sex, language, and so on. However, Section 18(1) is limited in its scope by the exceptions enumerated in Section 18(4). Section 18(4)(a) exempts any analysis of discrimination for laws pertaining solely to non-citizens of Lesothol; Section 18(4)(b) allows for discriminatory laws related to “adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other like matters which is the personal law of persons of that description”; and Section 18(4)(c) identifies customary law as exempt from evaluation according to Section 18(1). Section 26(1) calls for Lesotho to adopt “policies aimed at promoting a society based on equality and justice for all its citizens regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Section 30 of the Constitution provides for just and favorable conditions of work for women and calls for the creation of particular policies toward the completion of this end, including fair and equal pay, safe working conditions, equal promotion opportunities, and pregnancy and childbirth protections.

Domestic Case Law

Mokhele and Others v. Commander High Court of Lesotho (2018)

Gender discrimination

The applicants were female soldiers who were discharged from the army by the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force on the grounds of pregnancy. The reason listed for the discharge of the applicants was pregnancy and a contravention of the army’s Standing Order No. 2 of 2014, which states that a soldier may not become pregnant during the first five years of service. The High Court stated that case before it was a “challenge to the culture of patriarchy in the military and an assertion of sexual and reproductive rights in military service. What is being contested is the idea that female soldiers are incapable to bear arms and babies at the same time and, on that account, are not fit for military purpose.” The court stated that to allow the dismissal from work on the grounds of pregnancy would amount to discrimination on the basis of sex because pregnancy affects only women. The Standing Order had profound effects on the reproductive rights, freedoms, and careers of female soldiers, and the five-year prohibition period was arbitrary in nature. The court held that the applicants must be reinstated back to their positions and ranks in the Lesotho Defence Force without any loss of benefits.

Makafane v. Zhongxian Investment Pty Ltd. Labour Court of Lesotho (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The applicant was dismissed by her employer, the respondent, because of operational requirements. The applicant was employed by the respondent from 1 November 2007 until her dismissal on 24 October 2012. The applicant claimed that she was dismissed unfairly because she was pregnant. Prior to her dismissal, the applicant delivered a letter from the Qacha’s Nek Hospital stating that she was pregnant and would be required to attend monthly clinics until she delivered her baby. The respondent then dismissed the applicant, claiming that her employment could not continue because of her pregnancy. The Labour Court referred to subsection 3(d) of the Labour Code Order 24 of 1992, which provides that pregnancy, among others, does not constitute a valid reason for terminating employment. The court stated that this type of dismissal carried an element of discrimination, the freedom against which is protected by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Lesotho, the highest law of the land. The court held that the dismissal of the applicant was unfair, that the respondent must reinstate her to her former position, and that the respondent pay for her lost earnings following dismissal.

Phaila v. Director General National Security Services High Court of Lesotho (2008)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The applicant, a married woman, was a member of the National Security Services stationed at Maseru. On 4 May 2007 she received a letter from the respondent notifying her of her transfer from Maseru to Mafeteng, though the transfer was not implemented. The transfer letter followed a complaint of sexual harassment lodged by the applicant against one of her superiors. The applicant had lodged the complaint in April 2007, and it was duly attended to. A Commission of Enquiry was set up to investigate the matter, but no report was published nor furnished to the applicant despite her numerous requests. The applicant argued that, among other reasons, the transfer was unlawful because it was not bona fide and was intended to serve as a punishment for lodging the complaint of sexual harassment. The applicant stated that she had no problem leaving Maseru but that she had only received two weeks’ notice in which to do so. The respondent did not deny that the complaint of sexual harassment or its failure to furnish the applicant with a report. The High Court found that the transfer was mala fide as the applicant was not afforded a hearing prior to such transfer, the report was unreasonably withheld, and she was not afforded enough time to prepare herself and her family to move to that new station. The court declared the decision to transfer the applicant to Mafeteng null and void.

Masupha v. Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea High Court of Lesotho (Constitutional Division) (2013)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The petitioner, Senate Masupha, is the firstborn, female child of a late principal Chief. Because there were no firstborn males in his immediate family, upon his death, the late Chief’s wife and the petitioner’s mother was appointed as a caretaker Chief in accordance with the Chieftainship Act. Following the death of the late Chief’s wife in 2008, the late Chief’s younger brother instituted a claim for inheritance of the chieftainship before a magistrate’s court, which was challenged by the late Chief’s son from a second wife, as well as that son’s mother. The petitioner, who had not been included in the proceedings before the lower court, subsequently intervened to request a change of venue to the Constitutional Court, so that she could challenge the constitutionality of the provision in the Chieftainship Act under which she was precluded from seeking to succeed to the chieftainship, as she was the first-born child. Masupha argued that the Chieftainship Act does not necessarily preclude her from inheriting the chieftainship and that, even if the Chieftainship Act in fact precludes her from doing so, it should be struck down, because it violates multiple provisions of the Constitution. The High Court highlighted the fact that, in acceding to CEDAW, Lesotho specifically excluded itself from the provisions of that Convention in so far as it concerns the customary practices relating to succession to the throne and to chieftainship. It therefore dismissed Masupha’s petition seeking to declare the Chieftainship Act provision preventing female offspring from inhering chieftainships discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, finding that the Chieftainship Act was not discriminatory, because it allows the senior wife to inherit the title as a caretaker, if there are no living first-born males from any of the deceased’s marriages. The High Court concluded that, when a wife succeeds her husband as a caretaker, the right to inherit reverts back to the male line of the family upon the death of the female chief. The judgment was appealed to the highest court in the country, the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the High Court’s decision and upheld the customary law effectively denying women the ability to succeed to chieftainship.

Rex v. Makebe High Court of Lesotho (2011)

Sexual violence and rape

The complainant alleged that the defendant raped her. The defendant vehemently denied the allegations and testified that the sex was consensual. The High Court treated the defendant’s claim of consent as an affirmative defense ruling that he had the burden of proving consent. The Court found that the defense was unable “through cross examination, to show that the sex was consensual” (p. 4). Consequently, the Court convicted the defendant of rape. This was a landmark case because it essentially shifted the burden of proof in rape cases. Instead of requiring the prosecution to prove a lack of consent, the court made the defendant prove that the victim consented to the sexual encounter.

Rex v. Latsi High Court of Lesotho (2007)

Sexual violence and rape

While considering the appeal of a rape conviction, the High Court condemned the trial court’s failure to punish the defendant in accordance with the severity of his crime. The Court found that where a trial court finds sufficient evidence of rape, the sentence should be more than a mere “slap on the wrist.” The court stated that “rape is always serious even without aggravating circumstances” because the victim’s “virginity has been assaulted and undoubtedly her dignity and reputation have been compromised blighting her prospects for marriage” (p. 1). The Court found that those factors should always be considered before a sentence is imposed. The Court affirmed the conviction and increased the defendant’s prison sentence from five to ten years.

Ts'epe v. Independent Electoral Commission Court of Appeal of Lesotho (2005)

Gender discrimination

The plaintiff was a male citizen who planned to run for office. The electoral commission advised him that the seat he desired was reserved only for female candidates pursuant to the electoral quota instituted by the Local Government Election Act of 1998. The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the electoral commission’s refusal to register his candidacy based on his sex. The High Court acknowledged that the Election Act disadvantaged men by reason of their sex alone. It also noted that, although 51% of the population of Lesotho was female, only 12% of the seats in the National Assembly were held by women. The Court ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the Election Act as a carefully designed measure intended to achieve the important national goal of increasing the number of women in the National Assembly.

Raposholi v. Commissioner of Police High Court of Lesotho (2007)

Custodial violence, Sexual violence and rape

The plaintiff sued the government for false arrest and assault. The plaintiff, who worked for the government as an accounts clerk, claimed she was robbed by two armed men while she was transporting government funds. The next day, the police arrested her. The plaintiff alleged that she was taken to a police post, stripped down to her underwear, placed on her back, beaten, and interrogated, while the officers beat her and poured water over her head. The High Court determined that the plaintiff’s arrest was lawful but the torture was not. A medical certificate entered into evidence showed that plaintiff had injuries when she was released from police custody. Because there was no proof that she had those injuries before she was detained, the Court found that the plaintiff was entitled to relief.

Rex v. Motsoene High Court of Lesotho (2005)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant was charged with violating the Sexual Offence Act of 2003 for the attempted rape of a 71-year-old woman. The trial evidence showed that the victim’s daughter intervened and was able to stop the rape after the defendant threw the victim to the ground but before he could commit the actual rape. As such, the defendant maintained at trial that he was innocent because the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 did not criminalize attempted rape. The High Court disagreed with the defendant’s interpretation of the Sexual Offenses Act. The Court held that, in order to sustain a conviction for attempted rape, the prosecutor simply had to provide evidence of the defendant’s intent to commit rape and any actions taken to commence the actual crime. Here, the defendant struggled with the victim, threw her to the ground, and stated his intention to have sex with her against her will. Consequently, the Court found the defendant guilty of attempted rape.

Rex v. Lenyolosa High Court of Lesotho (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The defendant was convicted for sexual assault and attempted rape of his 16-year-old niece. The appellate court upheld the conviction, but overturned the sentence imposed by the trial court. The appellate court held that the lower court failed to consider aggravating factors, including the close relationship between the parties. Given the prevalence of sexual assault in Lesotho, the court determined that jail sentences needed to serve as a deterrent for both the perpetrator and the general public. According to the court, “a very loud and clear message must be sent to all those who consider themselves with power and right to abuse or rape girls and women, that they will be dealt with the seriousness their unlawful actions demand” (p. 5). The Court sentenced the defendant to two years imprisonment with one year suspended for five years, unless the defendant commits another violent offense.

Rex v. Ntai High Court of Lesotho (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general

The defendant was convicted of culpable homicide. The trial evidence showed that after spending an evening at a bar, the defendant beat his girlfriend to death. The defendant sought leniency at sentencing, arguing that he was drunk when he committed the offense. The High Court found that although intoxication somewhat lessens the blameworthiness of a person, the courts should not consider it a mitigating factor. According to the Court, defendants “should not be allowed to escape appropriate punishment for their actions for reasons of drunkenness, especially where such actions exhibit an attitude of violence against women” (p. 3). The Court sentenced the defendant to seven years imprisonment with half of the sentence suspended for five years if he was not found guilty of another violent offense during the suspension. This decision marked a shift in how intoxication was treated for purposes of sentencing in domestic violence cases in Lesotho.

Petlane v. Petlane High Court of Lesotho (1999)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Mrs. Petlane, the plaintiff, sued her husband, alleging that he abused her regularly and caused her to leave their marital home. The plaintiff sought relief from the physical abuse, custody of the parties’ minor child, spousal support, and child support. The defendant did not allege an inability to provide for his wife and child, but insisted that they live together if he was going to provide that support. First, the High Court found that it had jurisdiction because the parties had a civil marriage rather than a customary marriage, as the defendant claimed. Then the Court held that Mr. Petlane could not compel his wife to return home, which would risk more physical abuse, by refusing to support her financially. Because his abusive behavior drove her out of the marital home, the court ordered Mr. Petlane to make regular spousal and child support payments to Mrs. Petlane.

Ts’epe v. Independent Electoral Commission and Others Court of Appeal of Lesotho (2005)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

In 2004 an amendment was introduced to the Local Government Elections Act 1998 (the “Amendment”) that reserved one third of all seats in every local council for women, the remainder was open to both men and women alike. The constitutionality of the electoral quota was challenged by a man whose candidacy for local government was rejected on the single ground that the electoral division at issue was reserved for women. The appellant argued that these measures are unconstitutional since women’s participation in local governments could have been achieved without debarring men from the same. The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the court a quo, dismissed the appeal and held that the Amendment was not unconstitutional, among others, since the impugned measures were carefully designed to achieve its objective, they were rationally connected to the objective and impaired the appellant’s rights in question as little as possible.

Nkabane v. Nkabane High Court of Lesotho (1987)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, Gender violence in conflict, Gender-based violence in general, Property and inheritance rights

The plaintiff wife sought a decree of divorce on the grounds of the defendant's desertion on the grounds that the defendant abused her and drove her out of the matrimonial home to live with another woman. The Court found that the defendant was previously married through Lesotho customary law to the other woman at the time of the marriage to the plaintiff; thus, the defendant's marriage to the plaintiff was null and void. However, the Court declared that the relationship was a "putative marriage" for the purposes of dividing the plaintiff and defendant's joint property.

Rex v. Rankhebe High Court of Lesotho (1987)

Gender-based violence in general, International law, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The accused was convicted of raping an 11 year-old girl. In considering sentencing, the High Court upheld the conviction and, citing South African and English law, noted the presumption that girls under the age of 12 are considered too young to give their consent to intercourse, but in cases involving girls between the ages of 12 and 16 the prosecution must demonstrate that there was non-consent for the accused to be convicted of rape. If a girl of 12 to 16 years old does consent to sexual intercourse with a man, then the man should be found guilty of defilement or statutory rape under the Women and Girls Protection Proclamation No. 14 of 1949. [Note: The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child/minor as any person under 18 years of age in the absence of domestic laws. Generally, minors do not have the capacity to give consent.]

Rex v. Tauhali and Mashea High Court of Lesotho (1999)

Sexual violence and rape

Both of the accused were convicted of raping a 25-year-old woman when each took turns helping the other to rape the complainant. Two women who were with her tried to drive off the accused, but they threw rocks at the women and chased them off. The Court noted that the punishment for rape carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment when there are no mitigating or aggravating factors. Aggravating factors include (1) violence in addition to the violence of the rape, (2) use of a weapon to intimidate or physically harm, and (3) repeated rape. The Court upheld the conviction and overturned the previous sentence of five years each to eight years, finding that gang rape calls for a higher sentence. In its discussion of the elements of rape, the Court noted that if one perpetrator held a woman down while another raped her, then the first would also be guilty of rape. In addition, in contradiction of international standards, the Court stated that women lack the necessary anatomy to commit rape and therefore can only be guilty of rape by assisting a male perpetrator.

Theko v. Theko High Court of Lesotho (1982)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The plaintiff-wife sought the dissolution of her marriage to the defendant on the grounds of his previous marriage under the Sotho custom. The Court declared the marriage to be null and void on the grounds that the plaintiff agreed to the marriage through fraud, believing that the defendant was unmarried at the time and would not have agreed to the marriage if she had known the truth.