Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape. A life sentence can be imposed in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is under 15 years of age. Most rape cases were tried on the lesser charge of “indecent assault,” which carries a prison term of six months to five years. Of the 20 rape cases tried between October 2015 and June in four Assize Court sessions, 14 resulted in convictions with prison terms of between three and 10 years.
The government made some efforts to enforce the law, but local and international human rights groups reported rape remained widespread. UNOCI reported dozens of rape cases through September, including a number of gang rapes and rape by members of FACI (see section 1.c.). For these crimes civilian perpetrators either were convicted for crimes of lesser offense or were still in pretrial detention. Convicted perpetrators received between one month and 10 years’ imprisonment.
Relatives, police, and traditional leaders often pressured female victims to seek an amicable resolution with the rapist rather than pursue a criminal case. In July the Ministry of Justice issued a circular advising that rape cases tried on a lesser charge violated the law and that amicable resolution of a case with the rapist should not stop investigation or the legal process.
Psychosocial services for rape victims were available with support from NGOs in some areas. Rape victims were no longer required to obtain a medical certificate, which could cost up to 50,000 CFA francs ($85) to move a legal complaint forward. As a practical matter, however, cases rarely proceeded without one since it often served as the primary form of evidence. In an August interministerial circular, the government announced gendarmes and police could no longer ask victims for a medical certificate and that a victim’s complaint--whether written or verbal--was sufficient to initiate an investigation. Nevertheless, police lacked the training and equipment to investigate rape cases, so medical certificates often were the only evidence available.
The law does not specifically outlaw domestic violence, which was a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Family, and Child Protection, more than 36 percent of women reported being victims of physical or psychological abuse at some time. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to cultural barriers and because police often ignored women who reported rape or domestic violence. Many victims’ families reportedly urged victims to withdraw complaints and remain with an abusive partner due to fear of social stigmatization.
In July the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Family, and Child Protection approved the creation of a national program against gender-based violence, in coordination with the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. Key goals included preventing gender-based violence, coordinating a multisectoral response, and eliminating impunity.
The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Family, and Child Protection assisted victims of domestic violence and rape, including counseling at government-operated centers. The National Committee to Fight Violence against Women and Children monitored abusive situations and made weekly radio announcements about hotlines for victims.
In June the government created the National Committee to Fight against Sexual Violence Related to Conflict under the authority of the president; in November the committee met in Grand Bassam. The chief of staff of the army, the minister of defense, and key sectoral ministries were charged with working together with the committee.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was a serious problem. The predominant form of FGM/C was Type II--removal of clitoris and labia--although infibulation also occurred. The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to two million CFA francs ($610 to $3,400). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. FGM/C was most common among rural populations in the northern regions, where approximately 70 percent of women and girls had been subjected to the practice, followed by the center-north part of the country (50 percent) and the Abidjan region (36 percent). The procedure was generally performed before a girl reached age five. Local NGOs continued public awareness programs and worked to persuade practitioners to stop. The government successfully prosecuted some FGM/C cases during the year.
During a February event to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Euphrasie Kouassi Yao, the minister for the Promotion of Women, Family, and Child Protection, said the government was starting to pursue persons who ordered and assisted FGM/C through more effective implementation of the existing law. No further details were available.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband).
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of between one and three years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($610 to $1,700). Nevertheless, the government rarely enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated. In 2015 Anne-Desiree Ouloto, the then minister for the Promotion of Women, Family, and Child Protection, stated 38 percent of students experienced sexual harassment in school, and teachers sexually harassed 14 percent of students.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Government policy requires emergency health care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive. Family planning indicators remained low, and the government’s ability to deliver high quality maternal and reproductive health service was weak.
Only 14 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. Unmet need for family planning was at 27 percent nationally and above 30 percent for the poorest women and girls. Thirty percent of adolescent girls had been or were pregnant when surveyed, a percentage that rose to 46 percent in rural areas. Threats or perceived threats of violence from husbands or other family members inhibited some women from seeking family planning or health services. In urban areas access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth were available to women who could afford them. According to the 2011-12 Demographic Health Survey, approximately 57.4 percent of pregnant women gave birth in a health facility. For women who were poor or lived in rural areas, transportation and the cost of services posed significant barriers to accessing health centers and hospitals.
According to the UN Population Fund, in 2015 the maternal mortality rate was 645 deaths per 100,000 live births; in 2010 the rate was 717 per 100,000. In addition to lack of access to adequate maternal health care services, factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate included repeated pregnancies spaced too close together, each of which carried the risk of obstetric complications; incomplete abortions; the prevalence of HIV/AIDS; and FGM/C scarification, which often resulted in obstructed labor.
The penal code, which penalizes abortion in all cases unless the pregnancy puts the mother’s life in danger, contributed to a high number of undesired pregnancies. Approximately two in five women had their first child before age 18, and approximately half of these births ended in poor outcomes as a result of unsuccessful attempts to seek illegal abortions performed by traditional healers or to abort by using medicinal plants, pills, broken bottles, or other sharp objects. Although women and girls who resorted to illicit abortions theoretically could access emergency health care, most were reluctant to do so since abortion was illegal.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in labor law but not under religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. In 2012 parliament passed a series of laws to reduce gender inequality in marriage, including laws to allow married women to benefit from an income tax deduction and to be involved in family decisions. Many religious and traditional authorities rejected these laws, however, and there was no evidence the government enforced them.
Some women had trouble obtaining loans because they could not meet lending criteria, including requirements for posting expensive household assets as collateral, which may not have a woman listed on the title. Women also experienced economic discrimination in owning or managing businesses.
Women’s organizations continued to campaign for tax reform to enable single mothers to receive deductions for their children. Inheritance law also discriminates against women.
Women’s advocacy organizations continued to sponsor campaigns against forced marriage, patterns of inheritance that excluded women, and other practices considered harmful to women and girls. They also campaigned against legal provisions that discriminated against women and continued their efforts to promote greater women’s participation in national and local politics.