Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law provides for a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 18. The law does not specifically address domestic violence and intimate partner violence or mandate special penalties for these acts. Authorities did not enforce these laws effectively.
Human rights organizations reported family members and community leaders often informally mediated rape accusations without victim input and dissuaded victims from reporting to police to avoid bringing shame or other negative consequences to the family, particularly if the perpetrator was related. Families often accepted payment as compensation. Police reportedly often had a blame-the-victim mentality. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.
Although rape victims were not legally required to have a certified, postrape medical examination to press charges, human rights organizations reported that the certificate and other documentation (such as a victim’s psychological evaluation or a crime scene report) were frequently treated as essential to successful prosecutions. At a cost of 50,000 CFA francs ($91), the certified examination was prohibitively expensive for most rape victims. Police often did not know to refer rape victims to a medical practitioner for an examination, while many medical practitioners were not trained how to examine victims for signs of sexual and gender-based violence or prepare the certificate. Human rights organizations reported that the only government-run victim shelter in the country (located in Abidjan) had limited beds and would not house victims for more than three days.
In April media reported on the alleged assault and rape of a woman in Abidjan. The alleged assailant and the victim initially met and corresponded online. When they met in person, police reported the accused served the victim a drugged drink, raped her, and stole her belongings. The victim was transported to a local hospital the next day where she died shortly thereafter, apparently due to an overdose from the drug the accused allegedly gave her. Authorities arrested the accused a week later and announced he had confessed to drugging and raping the victim. After the victim’s death, the case gained increasing social media attention, and at least 30 women came forward to report the accused had raped them under similar circumstances.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 37 percent, with prevalence varying by region.
In June media reported on the genital cutting of eight adolescent girls in Zouan Hounien, a village in the western part of the country. Authorities arrested the alleged assailant and referred the victims to a government-run social center.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, 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). Human rights organizations stated these cases were rare. The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
As a result of FGM/C, scarring was common. Scarring could lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that was a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability (see the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) subsection for additional information).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation, and conflicting moral and religious beliefs, including providers opposed to providing modern methods of contraception to adolescent girls.
According to the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. Government policy required 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. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.
Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, authorities often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of the clinical management of rape cases.
According to the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the UN Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local NGOs reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality.
Stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to menstruation hygiene caused some girls not to attend school during menstruation. The Ministry of Education authorized pregnant adolescent girls to attend school, but not all schools adhered to this policy. Additionally, pregnant adolescent girls faced stigma that sometimes caused them to stop their studies.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d., Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation). The law establishes the right of widows to inherit property upon the deaths of their husbands equally with any children. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision making.
The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism, including discrimination against persons based on their ethnic origin. The government effectively enforced the law.
The country has more than 60 ethnic groups; human rights organizations reported ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second or third generation residents. Land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.
Media reported on several interethnic (referred to as intercommunal in the country) conflicts during the year. In February clashes erupted between two ethnic groups, the Agnis and Malinke, in Abongoua over the planned relocation of a makeshift Malinke market by local authorities. The clashes resulted in injuries and property damage. The government reported nine interethnic conflicts involving violence in the first quarter of the year.
In May following the publication on social media of a video falsely depicting citizens being mistreated in Niger, violence broke out against Nigerien nationals in several neighborhoods in Abidjan. The government reported that attackers killed one Nigerien, wounded approximately 40 others, and looted approximately 50 businesses. According to the government, authorities arrested 38 persons in connection with the attacks, including a cyberactivist who posted the video on her social media account. Media reported a court convicted the cyberactivist of inciting unrest and calling for murder. The court sentenced her to five years in prison and a substantial fine. President Ouattara denounced the attacks and the minister of defense met with a government delegation from Niger in the aftermath of the attacks.
During the 2020 presidential election period, numerous interethnic clashes occurred, resulting in at least 25 deaths.
Birth Registration: The law confers citizenship at birth if at least one parent was a citizen when the child was born.
The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. The government requires health-care workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF, birth registration services were available in 89 percent of maternity hospitals and 98 percent of vaccination centers.
Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. To enter secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result, children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons). Education was ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. In September the government stopped requiring families to pay fees imposed by school management committees and began to pay those fees directly to schools, although some schools reported they had not received the payments promised by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law on mandatory education were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.
Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ rates because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students when traveling to school and, once at school, by teachers and other staff.
Child Abuse: Consensual sex with a child younger than age 15 is classified as rape. For victims between the age of 15 to 18, consent can be raised as a defense to a charge of rape. A March 2020 government study on violence against children and youth younger than age 18 found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and that 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence.
In May media reported on the alleged rape of an Abidjan girl, age 12, by her teacher. Shortly after media reported the incident, the minister of women, families, and children visited the alleged victim and worked with authorities to document and investigate the case. Authorities arrested the teacher and transferred him to the country’s main prison. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government strengthened the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.
Responsibility for combating child abuse lies with the Ministries of Employment and Social Protection; Justice and Human Rights; Women, Families, and Children; Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and the Fight against Poverty; and National Education. International organizations and civil society groups reported that lack of coordination among the ministries hampered their effectiveness.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage for women and men at 18. The law prohibits marriage for men and women below age 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than age 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, reports of traditional marriages involving at least one minor spouse persisted.
In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. The law does not specifically address grooming children for commercial sex. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law.
The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide were homeless and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth operated several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A Ministry of Justice center provided reintegration training and support for former juvenile offenders.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html .
The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 150 persons, including foreign residents and local converts. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Although the constitution contains protections for them, persons with disabilities cannot easily access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Although the law requires measures to provide persons with disabilities access to transportation and buildings and designated parking spots, human rights organizations reported these provisions were frequently not implemented around the country.
The law requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and workspaces for access and use by persons with disabilities, as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons. These laws were not effectively enforced.
Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. Prisons and detention centers reportedly provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.
The government financially supported some separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, located primarily in Abidjan, but human rights organizations reported these schools functioned primarily as literacy centers and did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. It was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. The government took some steps to integrate children with disabilities into ordinary public schools, but these schools often lacked the resources to accommodate them. In some instances, provisions were financed by private donations. The government made efforts to recruit persons with disabilities for select government positions; however, a human rights organization reported that some governmental officials still discriminated against these persons once hired. Homelessness among persons with mental disabilities was reportedly common.
Political campaigns did not include braille or sign language, undercutting civic participation by persons with vision and hearing disabilities. The CEI did not provide any formal accommodations for persons with disabilities at polling sites for the March national legislative elections, although observers reported CEI staff and fellow voters assisting persons with disabilities during voting, including assisting them climb stairs to access polling sites.
There were no credible reports of official discrimination based on HIV and AIDS status, and the government respected the confidentiality of individuals’ HIV and AIDS status. The government respected patient rights, and a statement of these rights was posted or available at health facilities. The law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes punishment for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV and AIDS status. Social stigma persisted.
The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program within the National AIDS Control Program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV and AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, persons in commercial sex, transgender persons, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Families, and Children oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and other vulnerable children, including those infected or affected by HIV.
Authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Further, LGBTQI+ persons often did not report violence committed or threatened against them, including assault or homicide, because they did not believe authorities would take their complaints seriously.
Homosexuality is not criminalized, but public heterosexual and same-sex intimate activity is subject to conviction as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. Human rights organizations expressed concern this law could be disproportionately applied against LGBTQI+ persons. The law provides for various political, socioeconomic, and safety protections to all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on several specific categories, but not sexual orientation.
LGBTQI+ community members reported being evicted from their homes by landlords or by their own families. Familial rejection of LGBTQI+ youth often caused them to become homeless and drop out of school. Members of the LGBTQI+ community reported discrimination in access to health care. Human rights organizations reported regular discrimination in employment, with employers refusing to hire, firing, or not promoting LGBTQI+ community members once learning of their LGBTQI+ identity.