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UNICEF Report Calls for Measures to Safeguard Mental Well-being of Lesotho’s Herd-Boys

29 January 2024 by Monyane Khau

 Est Read Time: 1 min(s) 44 sec(s)

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His Majesty King Letsie III gives a speech at the opening ceremony of the new Sentebale Mateanong Herd Boy School in 2013 in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. Credit: Getty Images/Chris Jackson.

A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report reveals that Covid-19 lockdowns isolated adolescent herd-boys from their families and peers, triggering mental distress within this demographic.

“For herd boys, spending long periods of time alone seems to be a source of mental distress,” reads the report.

Furthermore, the study highlights that the solitude experienced in the mountains during lockdowns caused herd boys to feel detached from their families, peers, and society at large.

In response to these challenges, UNICEF strongly advocates for prioritising this demographic in child protection programs, emphasising the need for inclusion within the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour.

The report suggests that Lesotho authorities should actively listen to herd boys and regulate their work to ensure the protection of their rights.

Compounding the mental distress faced during lockdowns, herd-boys encountered difficulties upon returning to school. The UNICEF report outlines these challenges include struggles to catch up with learning programs and difficulties in acclimating to the school environment.

One 15-year-old participant expressed, “I ended up looking after animals during COVID, from when it started and when schools were closed, I was going to the veld. So my mind was filled with issues from the veld, and when I got back to school, I did not feel anything about school subjects. It felt as though I was starting at Grade 1, and that it was my first time.”

Traditionally, some adolescent boys in Lesotho support their families by working as herd-boys at cattle posts. The study reveals an ongoing tension for herd boys in balancing the need to work with the desire for education. To address this, the report proposes that school administrations pay close attention to the unique needs of herd boys.

“School administrations should also work with herd boys to prepare ad hoc educational plans they can do while at the cattle post. School administrations should also envisage the possibility for these boys to share their unique experiences and what they learn while at the cattle posts in the school environment,” states the report.

Titled ‘It was a strange life,’ the UNICEF report collected and analysed the experiences and opinions of children and adolescents aged 10-17 in Maseru, Leribe, and Thaba-Tseka. The report sheds light on the specific impact of Covid-19 on herd boys, children with disabilities, orphans, and children left behind by migrating parents or guardians.

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