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The forgotten boys



……Lesotho steps up education of herdboys on sexual rights……….

Nairobi A 51-year-old Mafeteng man is behind bars waiting to stand trial for allegedly sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl from his village, with a spike in such cases forcing some members of Lesotho’s royal family to intervene. Lehlohonolo Kelepa, a cattle herder for much of his life, appeared before the Mafeteng magistrate’s court last month.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the girl, who had the habit of disappearing from home for days, had asked to cohabit with Kelepa.
The girl’s parents found her at Kelepa’s home when they went looking for her, Superintendent Mopeli said. Kelepa will appear again in the Mafeteng magistrate’s court tomorrow.
Kelepa’s case is not isolated.

For many herd boys, talk of condoms is strange language. Even stranger is the language of the entire discourse of sexual and reproductive health. The result: many cases of sexual abuse involving herd boys.
Spending most of their time taking care of animals in the pastures and isolated from much of society, herd boys have become a special interest group for sexual health rights campaigners.
Six years ago, the High Court sentenced Kutloano Shai, a herd boy, to eight years in prison for raping a girl.

Three years earlier, yet another herd boy had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for raping and assaulting a 15-year-old.
The High Court described the behavior of Tanki Pita, who was 24 years old when he committed the crime, as like that of “a vicious dog on the prowl”.
“He had abandoned his humanity,” the court observed.

It is incidents like these that have moved Queen ’Masenate Mohato Seeiso to lead a countrywide campaign against gender-based violence and child marriages.
Also, Princess Senate is at the forefront in the fight against child marriages.

Speaking at the United Nations’ International Conference on Population and Development (IDPD)’s 25th anniversary in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, the Queen said Lesotho is implementing an innovative programme on gender-based violence targeted at raising awareness among herd boys.
She said the programme imparts comprehensive sexual education to empower herd boys with knowledge and skills on HIV/AIDS prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, healthy relationships and human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls.

She gave her remarks on the last day during a session titled ‘Men and Boy’s Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health’.
The Queen gave a presentation on herd boys and noted that despite being a significant population, they are still neglected in health rights coverage and access.
She said herd boys leave school at a very young age to care for animals in vast mountain pastures.

The programme was initiated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Help Lesotho in 2014 and has reached over 600 herd boys and young men so far.
She said the rural lifestyle has segregated the herd boys from other youths and community leaving them with little socialisation, education, support or guidance.
“Many of them grow up without any sense of connection or responsibility to others,” the Queen said.

She said the programme employs carefully constructed strategies that have been specifically developed for herd boys.
The programme also promotes trust-building, peer support, sexual and reproductive health service provision and information dissemination.
“The programme also provides a safe network for herd boys to share their feelings and experiences with peers with long-term support in their communities that instills a sense of belonging,” she said.
She talked about a herd boy who confessed that he had never used a condom and he would force himself violently on girls and young women.
The 22-year-old young man, the Queen said, now respects the rights of women and girls and he knows how to use a condom and where to access them.
The man was part of the programme in 2018.

The Queen said parents already attest to the change they see in the herd boy’s life affirming the change in behaviour, and good positive life skills.
The programme has proved vital in the promotion of social safety and wellness of girls, women and other families.
“Many herd boys report that they engaged in dangerous, risky and illegal behaviour simply because no one cared enough to tell them not to,” she said.
She added that herd boys who are part of the programme have learnt to advocate for others, to take an initiative within their communities to stop violence against women and girls.
They have established a herd boy movement against child marriages.

She said the government of Lesotho recognised the impact and change that the programme is bringing to the lives of herd boys and therefore wishes for sustainable partnerships with civil society, local communities and UN agencies particularly the UNFPA in order to scale up the programme from a medium to long term period.
The programme is one of many that need support to ensure that Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) is not a “women’s business” but a collective effort in achieving SRHS for everyone.
According to Promundo, a global leader in engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality and preventing violence, research is needed to address blind spots and build the evidence on men’s relevance to SRHR.

Gender Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse, during the Validation of the Beijing +25 Lesotho report in May, said over 90 percent of male prison inmates have been convicted of rape.
In an interview with thepost in a story titled, “why herd-boys” are in jail, the LCS spokesman, Superintendent Neo Mopeli, confirmed that most of the inmates who committed sexual offences are from initiation schools.

All of them had been herd boys. Ignorant of the law, most of the inmates were not even aware that their actions were illegal when they committed the offences, said Principal Rehabilitation Officer Limpho Mochochoko. “They do not know the Sexual Offences Act of 2003,” she said.

According to the Bureau of Statistics’ Crime Statistics Report of 2016, sexual offence is number three on the chart, with house-breaking and stock theft being number one and two respectively.
According to a United Nations study conducted in 2015 Lesotho has the highest rape rate in the world, with 61 percent of women reporting having experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.
The country had a rate of 88.6 rape cases per 100 000 inhabitants in 2011, according to the UN report.

Mochochoko said most herd boys who are in jail are illiterate, especially herd boys who spend most of their time in the veld looking after animals.
Another Principal Rehabilitation Officer, Noma Fobo, said some inmates are men who have abducted women.
She said gang rapes occur in most cases of abduction.

“This is one of the cultural practices so people are not aware that it is a sexual offence,” she said, adding that authorities are recording new rape cases every week.
Fobo said some people rape due to sad childhood experiences. She said those kind of people get their joy through hurting others by targeting women and raping them.
Fobo said most of the LCS inmates who have committed this offence are aged between 18 and 35, although fewer cases of older men engaged in such practices were also recorded.

Rose Moremoholo –

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