Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report their cases. The law does not address spousal rape.
In the National Gender Policy Document for the period 2011-20 adopted in 2014 and released in 2015, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family asserted 52 percent of women experienced domestic violence at least once and that 53 percent experienced violence by the age of 15. The ministries further indicated, based on a 2008 study on rape and incest, 5.2 percent of women were victims of sexual violence. Of those, 33 percent became pregnant and 16 percent contracted sexually transmitted infections. The report indicated more than one million girls and women were reported to have suffered an attempted rape and that rape was becoming widespread in all regions of the country. Included in this figure was incest, which applied to 18 percent of raped women.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, in conjunction with local NGOs, continued their campaign to raise awareness of rape and educate citizens on penal provisions against rape, including through educative talks and sociolegal clinics. Activities were mostly centered on women commemorative days, such as the International Women’s Day, African Women’s Day, Rural Women’s Day, and other fora involving mass mobilization of women. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family reportedly trained 150 police officers on how to address violence against women. During the year the Littoral branch of the NCHRF, in collaboration with Douala-based LFM Radio, implemented a program against gender-based violence. The interactive program broadcast every Saturday offered women the opportunity to share their concerns with, and seek advice from, a lawyer.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects physical and bodily integrity of persons, and the penal code enacted on July 12 has specific provisions on genital mutilation/cutting. The law prohibits genital mutilation of all persons. Whoever mutilates the genitals of a person, by any means whatsoever, on conviction is subject to imprisonment from 10 to 20 years, and imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice, does so for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. Children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions, in the Choa and Ejagham tribes, although the practice was reported to be decreasing. In 2015 The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family estimated the prevalence of FGM/C at 1.4 percent nationwide and 20 percent in the most affected communities. According to UNICEF’s Global Databases 2016, FGM/C among girls and women ages 15 to 49 was 1 percent in urban centers and 2 percent in rural areas. In 2011 the government adopted a national action plan, and The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family established local FGM/C committees in areas where FGM/C was most prevalent, particularly in the Far North Region. The committees networked with former excision practitioners and traditional and religious leaders to reduce the practice. During the year the ministries and some civil society organizations conducted education programs against gender-based violence, including FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of widow rites remained a problem in some areas, especially in the south. The practices varied from area to area but generally entailed new widows having to remove all hair using a razor blade, spend the night sleeping on the floor, and forgo bathing and other hygiene practices for extended periods. Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of the deceased husband’s relatives as a condition for them to secure continued enjoyment of the property left by the deceased, including the marital home. In an attempt to better protect women, including widows, the government included in the new penal code provisions addressing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the spouse of the victim.
As in 2015, there were no credible reports of breast ironing, a procedure to flatten a girl’s growing breasts with hot stones, cast-iron pans, or bricks. The procedure was considered a way to delay a girl’s physical development, thus limiting the risk of sexual assault and teenage pregnancy. The procedure has harmful physical and psychological consequences, which include pain, cysts, abscesses, and physical and psychological scarring. During the year the government further discouraged the practice by including a relevant provision in the new penal code. Although the code does not specifically refer to breast ironing, it provides that whoever, in any manner whatsoever, interferes with an organ in order to inhibit its normal growth shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years, fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700), or both. As formulated, the provision adequately covers breast ironing.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. The new penal code provides punishment with imprisonment from six months to one year and with fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700) for whoever takes advantage of the authority conferred on them by their position to harass another using orders, threats, constraints, or pressure in order to obtain sexual favors. The penalty is imprisonment for one to three years if the victim is a minor and from three to five years if the offender is in charge of the education of the victim. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread. Anecdotal reports suggest immigrant or refugee widows coming from the CAR were very susceptible to sexual harassment in the domestic work sector.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many often lacked the information and means to do so, however, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing all sex-related issues, particularly in northern rural areas. Women’s dependence on their husbands’ consent was also a barrier to contraceptive decisions.
The UN 2014 Multiple Index Cluster Survey (MICS) indicated 82.8 percent of pregnant women had at least one antenatal care visit by a qualified health worker, 64.7 percent delivered with assistance from qualified birth attendants, and 61.3 percent of the deliveries occurred in a health facility. Prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, emergency obstetric, neonatal, and postpartum care remained inadequate, particularly in rural areas.
Maternal mortality remained high. According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 estimates, maternal mortality stood at 690 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rate was attributed to lack of access to medical care; lack of trained medical personnel; the high cost of prenatal care, hospital delivery, and postpartum care; and negligence by hospital staff.
For example, on March 12, the bloody and naked corpse of Monique Koumate and her twin babies were found on the ground at the Douala Laquintinie hospital yard; a relative had used a razor blade to open her womb in an attempt to rescue the unborn twins. Authorities claimed Koumate died hours before arrival at the hospital and blamed the sister who cut open her womb. The sister insisted she performed the surgery hoping to save the babies, who were still alive, because the nurses on duty refused to help.
The UN Population Division estimated only 20.2 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The low rate of contraception use was largely due to the lack of skilled personnel and lack of adequate infrastructure and contraceptives. The Ministry of Public Health provided counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. The Ministry of Social Affairs also had an educational program on responsible parenthood, which was broadcast twice weekly. Couples were encouraged to get HIV/AIDS testing prior to conception, and efforts continued to increase HIV/AIDS testing for pregnant women at health clinics.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in terms of family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance. Despite constitutional and legal provisions recognizing women’s rights, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. For example, the law allows a husband to deny his wife the ability to work outside the home, and a husband may also forbid his wife to engage in commercial activity by notifying the clerk of the commerce tribunal. Also, while polygamy is authorized, polyandry is illegal. Customary law imposes further strictures on women, since in many regions a woman is regarded as the property of her husband. Because of custom and tradition, civil laws protecting women often were not respected. For example, in some ethnic groups women were precluded from inheriting from their husbands. Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of depriving women of land ownership, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.
The provision on adultery in the new penal code was revised to apply evenly to men and women. Under the previous law, a married man could be punished only if he had sexual intercourse in the marital home or habitually had sexual intercourse elsewhere with a woman other than his wife or wives. Under the new law, a husband who has sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife or wives may be subject to punishment.
During the year the prime minister launched the UN Women initiative to involve men and boys in the advocacy against gender discrimination. The UN HeForShe campaign began on August 11 and aimed to engage men and boys as advocates and agents for change to achieve gender equality and women’s rights.