The government made uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and the human trafficking law remained inconsistent with the international definition. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the law 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 law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment or a fine of 1 million maloti ($81,200) under section 5(1) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of 2 million maloti ($162,390) under section 5(2) for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act criminalized child sex trafficking offenses without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion, but prescribed penalties of a fine not to exceed 30,000 maloti ($2,440) or 30 months imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.
During the reporting period, the government investigated one case of sex and labor trafficking involving 10 victims and initiated 10 prosecutions, which included four sex trafficking cases, two of which were tried under the anti-trafficking act, and six labor trafficking cases, which were all tried under the anti-trafficking act. This was compared with five investigations and six prosecutions (two sex trafficking and four labor trafficking) during the previous reporting period. For the second consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers or address the significant backlog of cases, some of which have been pending for more than five years. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses; however, official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Many law enforcement officials reportedly had limited understanding of trafficking and how to protect victims from potential intimidation. For the third consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable: The magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes. The government appointed a new magistrate responsible for hearing trafficking cases at the high court as the previous magistrate was moved to another district; however, it did not provide adequate training to magistrates on the anti-trafficking law.