Rape and Domestic Violence: The penal code criminalizes rape of men or women with a maximum penalty of death. The Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act enacted in 2015 explicitly introduces the concept of spousal rape, but the act does not prescribe specific penalties and applies only to legally separated spouses. Spousal rape may be prosecuted under the rape provisions of the penal code. The government generally enforced the law effectively, and convicted rapists routinely received prison sentences.
Data on the prevalence of rape or spousal rape, prosecutions, and convictions were unavailable; however, press reporting of rape and defilement arrests and convictions were an almost daily occurrence. Although the maximum penalty for conviction of rape is death or life imprisonment, the courts generally imposed fixed prison sentences. For cases of conviction of indecent assault on women and girls, the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare conducted public education campaigns to combat domestic violence and rape.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for conviction of domestic violence and recognizes that both men and women may be perpetrators as well as victims. Domestic violence, especially wife beating, was common, although victims rarely sought legal recourse. Police regularly investigated cases of rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence but did not normally intervene in domestic disputes. Police support units provided limited shelter for some abuse victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. According to press reports from 2011, some cases of FGM/C were prosecuted as unlawful wounding. A 2014 UN Human Rights Committee report expressed concern regarding the existence of FGM/C in some regions of the country. A few small ethnic groups practiced FGM/C. In most cases FGM/C was performed on girls between ages 10 and 15.
For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The Gender Equality Act of 2013 prohibits certain harmful traditional practices, including “widow cleansing” and “widow inheritance.” Nonetheless, in some areas widows were sometimes forced to have sex with male in-laws or a designee as part of a culturally mandated “sexual cleansing” ritual following the death of the husband. In some cases widows were “inherited” by a brother-in-law or other male relative. The government and NGOs continued efforts to abolish such practices by raising awareness concerning the inherent dangers of such behavior, including the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.
“Kupimbira,” a practice that allows a poor family to receive a loan or livestock in exchange for daughters of any age, existed in some areas.
Despite certain legal prohibitions, many abusive practices, including the secret initiation of girls into the socially prescribed roles of womanhood, continued. Such initiations were often aimed at preparing girls for marriage with emphasis on training girls how to engage in sexual acts. In some traditional communities, girls as young as age 10 undergo “kusasa fumbi,” a cleansing ritual consisting of forced sexual relations with an older man. According to one UN-sponsored study, more than 20 percent of girls in secondary school underwent a form of initiation that involved sexual relations with an older man.
In July a five-part series by the French newspaper Le Monde reported that the practice of men having sex with girls as part of initiation rites continued.
Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment was believed to be widespread, there were no data on its prevalence or on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law. The Gender Equality Act makes sexual harassment punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Extreme cases could be prosecuted under certain sections of the penal code, such as indecent assault on a woman or girl, which provides for up to a 14-year prison sentence if convicted, or insulting the modesty of a woman, a misdemeanor punishable by one year’s incarceration if convicted.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: By law women have the same legal status and rights as men and may not be discriminated against based on gender or marital status, including in the workplace. Nevertheless, women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, as well as lower rates of access to resources for farming. Widows often were victims of discriminatory and illegal inheritance practices in which most of an estate was taken by the deceased husband’s family.
The government addressed women’s concerns through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare. The law provides for a minimum level of child support, widows’ rights, and maternity leave; however, only women employed in the formal sector knew their rights, had access to the legal system, and thus benefited from these legal protections.