Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, victims’ unwillingness to take cases to the police for fear of social stigma, and corruption. The penal code does not make a distinction between rape in general and spousal rape. Prison sentences for rape convictions ranged from one to five years. From January to October 2010, civil society organizations reported 636 gender-based violence cases reported to courts and 1,316 cases to police stations and brigades in the framework of an international NGO’s project to combat gender-based violence in the country. These statistics, however, did not cover gender violence in the whole country. Statistics were not available on prosecutions or convictions. Because of police lack of training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults and victims’ ignorance of their rights and inability to present evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offenses to misdemeanors.
The penal code prohibits domestic violence, and penalties range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. However, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases. Judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes; society generally considered such cases to be internal family matters. The local chapter of a regional NGO, Women in Law and Development-Benin; the Female Jurists Association of Benin (AFJB); and the Women’s Justice and Empowerment Initiative through Care International’s Empower Project offered social, legal, medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. The Office of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Family and Solidarity is responsible for protecting and advancing women’s rights and welfare.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): The law prohibits FGM and provides for penalties for performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA ($13,000); however, the government generally was unsuccessful in preventing the practice. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA ($110 to $220). Enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. FGM was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to 30 years of age (although the majority of cases occurred before the age of 13, with half occurring before the age of five), and generally took the form of excision. Approximately 13 percent of women and girls have been subjected to FGM; the figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups; more than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls had undergone FGM. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited from it.
NGOs continued to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM and to retrain FGM practitioners in other activities. A prominent NGO, the local chapter of the Inter-African Committee, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice, and the government cooperated with these efforts. The Ministry of Family continued an education campaign that included conferences in schools and villages, discussions with religious and traditional authorities, and the display of banners. NGOs also addressed this problem in local languages on local radio stations.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims. Under the law persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA ($220 to $2,200). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual harassment and do not report it. Enforcement of these laws was lax due to law enforcement agents’ and prosecutors’ lack of legal knowledge and necessary skills to pursue such cases and victims’ fear of social stigma. Although this specific law was not enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors. Sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers.
Sex Tourism: There is no specific law addressing sex tourism. It was not clear whether tourists who used the services of prostitutes came to the region specifically for sex tourism. There was no evidence of government involvement or complicity.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution provides that the government should protect the family, particularly the mother and the child. The law promotes responsible fertility to reduce early and/or late childbearing and promote family planning through the distribution of contraceptives. The law guarantees couples’ and individuals’ reproductive rights, including access to health care, freedom to give birth, freedom of marriage, rights to nondiscrimination, access to contraception, and equal access to health care for people living with sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The law provides penalties for the commission of all acts prejudicial to the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health. The government generally respected these rights. An estimated 30 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning. According to the Benin Demographic and Health Survey , 88 percent of women benefitted from prenatal care given by health personnel (80 percent by nurses and midwives, 4 percent by physicians, and 4 percent by others). The proportion of women who had access to prenatal care provided by physicians was higher in Cotonou (18 percent) and other cities (5 percent) than in rural areas (3 percent). The maternal mortality rate was 397 deaths per 100,000 live births; factors contributing to the high rate were delivering without adequate medical assistance and unhygienic conditions during birth.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in the political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change.
Women are no longer subject to customary law (Coutumier du Dahomey). The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance.
In response to a complaint filed by a woman being prosecuted for adultery in 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that adultery-related provisions contained in the penal code are unconstitutional on the grounds that these provisions discriminate against women.
In rural areas women traditionally occupy a subordinate role and are responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. In urban areas women dominated the informal trading sector in the open-air markets. During the year the government and NGOs continued to educate the public on the sections of law that provide women with inheritance and property rights and significantly increase their rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygamy.
In practice women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. Women do not face legal restrictions but may face societal restrictions and discrimination. During the year the government granted microcredit to poor persons, especially to women in rural areas, to help them develop income-generating activities. An estimated 816,936 women benefited from these microcredit projects since they began in 2007.