First Lady Praises Botswana's ‘Democracy;’ State Cites Its ‘Child Abuse,’ ‘Discrimination’

June 24, 2011 - 5:30 PM

michelle obama

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama is greeted by traditional dancers as she arrives in Gaborone, Botswana, Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

( – Speaking at the Women’s Leadership Luncheon in Gaborone, Botswana on Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama praised the country for being a “thriving democracy” filled with “kind and generous people.” A U.S. Department of State report on Botswana’s human rights record, however, concludes that the country is still struggling with problems such as violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination.

“[I]t is a pleasure to be in this beautiful country that embodies what my husband has called ‘a vision of Africa on the move,’” Obama said at the luncheon in Gaborne where young women were honored for their leadership.

“That is Botswana: a thriving democracy, a vital society, a fast-growing economy, and more importantly, a kind and generous people who have, in this short amount of time, given me and my family such a warm welcome,” Obama said.

While the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Human Rights Report: Botswana acknowledges the country has made strides forward, it also finds that “human rights problems remained.”

“Some human rights problems remained, including abuse of detainees by security forces, poor prison conditions, and lengthy delays in the judicial process,” the report states.

“Societal problems included discrimination and violence against women; child abuse; trafficking in persons; and discrimination against persons with disabilities, gays and lesbians, persons with HIV/AIDS, and persons with albinism,” according to the report.

“There was societal discrimination against the San people, and the government's continued narrow interpretation of a 2006 high court ruling resulted in the majority of San (or Bushmen) who originally relocated from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) being prohibited from returning to or hunting in the CKGR,” reads the report.

In addition, the report says, “The right to strike was restricted, and child labor was a problem.”

The report also found that, in 2010, conditions in Botswana’s 22 prisons and two  detention centers for illegal immigrants “remained poor,” and that  illegal immigrants with HIV/AIDS were not given medication unless their incarceration was “long-term” and non-governmental organizations provided treatment.

Under the section entitled “Women,” the report states that “the law prohibits rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime.” Also, dependent upon on societal standing, some women cannot own property and their economic opportunities can be restricted.

Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters Malia and Sasha meet former South African President Nelson Mandela in Houghton, South Africa, on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. (AP Photo/ Debbie Yazbek, Nelson Mandela Foundation)

“A woman married under traditional law or in ‘common property’” has the status of a legal minor and has to have her husband’s permission to “buy or sell property, apply for credit, or enter into legally binding contracts,” the report states.

The report also states that “no law specifically prohibits child abuse.”

Mrs. Obama credited family support for helping women succeed in the African nations.

“And today, I’m reminded that, here in Botswana, you have a proverb that says: ‘We are people because of other people,’” the first lady said.

“In other words, all of our journeys are shaped, in part, by people in our lives who love us, who believe in us, and who invest in us,” she said. 

The first lady was accompanied on her official visit to South Africa by her two daughters, her mother, and her niece and nephew.