Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country and/or from the father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a Beninese citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care. On August 19, the Ministry of Interior held a two-day seminar to discuss ways to establish additional civil registration centers (offices of vital records) closer to villages to reduce the backlog at main registration centers located in cities. The government, through an Administrative Census for Birth Registration, issued birth certificates to children who did not have one. Several donors operated programs to increase the number of registered children. For example, UNICEF continued to support the government’s campaign to register every birth and provide birth certificates to those who did not obtain one when they were born.
Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of age. Education was tuition-free for all public primary school students and for female students in grade nine in secondary schools (classe de troisieme), but parents often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had insufficient funds. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys, and female literacy was approximately 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for males. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education. According to UNICEF the net primary school enrollment rate in 2007 was approximately 93 percent for boys and 83 percent for girls. The enrollment rate for secondary education was much lower for girls.
Child Abuse: Children suffered multiple forms of abuse including rape, sexual harassment, abduction, and debauchery/defilement. For 2013 the Ministry of Family’s Social Promotion Centers recorded 1,855 cases of gender-based violence involving girls, 501 involving boys, 354 cases of child abduction, and 670 cases of child trafficking. The Central Office for Minors Protection in Cotonou arrested suspects and referred them to judicial authorities.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under age 18 but allows underage marriage (14 to 17) with parental consent, the consent of the underage individuals, and authorization of a judge. The most recent (2012) UNFPA update reported that 34.4 percent of women ages 20-24 married before age 18. Child marriage included forced marriage, barter marriage, and marriage by abduction. For 2013 the Ministry of Family’s Social Promotion Center recorded 575 cases of forced child marriage. A 2008 gender-based violence survey conducted in 13 communes indicated 23 percent of the 594 children interviewed were subjected to early and forced marriage. As part of forced marriage, the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA francs ($11,363). Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM/C but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($95 to $190). Nevertheless, approximately 13 percent of women and girls were subjected to the practice. NGOs continued to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM/C and to retrain FGM/C practitioners in other activities. The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice. The Ministry of Family continued an education campaign that included conferences in schools and villages, discussions with religious and traditional authorities, and display of educational banners. NGOs also addressed the problem in local languages on local radio stations. In 2013 the country’s traditional rulers issued a public statement expressing commitment to reducing traditional practices harmful to boys’ and girls’ health.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In June 2013 the ombudsman, in conjunction with international donors, held a one-day seminar to discuss harmful traditional practices targeted at children. Killing to obtain human body parts for ritual purposes occurred. Both children and adults were victims.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of minors, and procuring and facilitating prostitution, and it increases penalties for cases involving children under 15 years old. The child trafficking law provides penalties for all forms of child trafficking, including child prostitution. Individuals involved in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of one million to 10 million CFA francs ($1,890 to $18,900). The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The de facto minimum age for consensual sex is 18.
Child prostitution continued in some areas. Some children, including street children, engaged in prostitution to support themselves without the involvement of an adult. The penal code prohibits child prostitution; however, enforcement was limited, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. Cases of child sex tourism, involving both boys and girls, were reported in the Department of Mono and coastal areas of Benin. A 2009 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43.2 percent of surveyed children (ages 12-17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means “placed child,” poor, generally rural, children are placed in the home of a wealthier family for educational or vocational opportunities and a higher standard of living; however, abuse including long hours of forced labor, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation also occurred (see section 7.c.).
Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness about the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, or fear of police involvement.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing deformed babies, breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, and one of two newborn twins (because they were considered sorcerers) continued in the north.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.