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Cote d’Ivoire

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights groups reported torture and other mistreatment of persons arrested and taken into security force custody. There were reports that government officials employed inhuman or degrading treatment.

Prison authorities acknowledged that abuse might happen and go unreported as prisoners fear reprisals. Human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources reported mistreatment of detainees associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) political party.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding continued in many prisons. For example, the prison at Man was estimated to be at 10 times the capacity prior to a transfer of 300 prisoners from Man. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,728. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity. In at least one prison, the inmates slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.

Authorities held men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and usually held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international NGOs. There were generally no appropriate services for mentally ill inmates, and they were held together with the general prison population. A human rights NGO reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.

According to prison authorities, 39 prisoners died during the year, all from natural causes.

Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses, but it was unclear whether prisoners had access to these medical professionals at all times. Prison authorities reported that two doctors spend the night at Abidjan’s main prison and were always available for urgent cases, but human rights groups alleged prisoners had to rely upon guards to allow them to see medical staff at night. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors, and prison authorities claimed they approved medical evacuations of prisoners. Where the prison did not have a vehicle, the prison authorities in some prisons said they cooperated with the local gendarmes or emergency services for transportation to hospitals.

Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always immediately available. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases such as malaria, but not the more expensive medicines for illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. In some cases prison pharmacists would write a prescription, and a family member would fill it. At one prison, authorities said the prison officials themselves would buy the medications at a local pharmacy out of the prison budget. The prison director also said some prison guards had nursing training and he authorized them to wake the doctor in the middle of the night if a prisoner needed urgent medical care. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.

Prison authorities reported difficulty in keeping mattresses free from pests in some prisons, leading authorities to remove the mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages could occur due to disagreements among the prisoners about how to allocate it. When one city experienced water shortages, prison authorities had trucks bring in water.

Approximately 23 percent of the prison population was in preventive detention. According to human rights groups, physical abuse occurred, and conditions were inhuman in police and gendarmerie temporary detention facilities, with detainees in close proximity to extremely unsanitary toilets. The 48-hour limit for detention without charge was often ignored and renewed, with the average time being eight to nine days. Officials sometimes listed the date of detention as several days later than the actual date of arrest while conducting an investigation to conceal the length of time the prisoner was actually in temporary detention.

Wealthier prisoners reportedly could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 400-450 CFA francs ($0.72-$0.81) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budgets generally did not increase with the number of prisoners, although prison authorities said funding followed prisoners who were transferred to alleviate overcrowding. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, bringing food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.

Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities, although there was no process for handling the complaints. Prison authorities had limited capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions, but NGOs reported that they improved hygiene and nutrition. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.

Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.

In late November, five prison guards in Bouake became involved in a violent altercation with local university students. The incident, which involved local armed forces who joined the guards, stemmed from a dispute earlier in the day and ended with five students being shot, although authorities had not determined who fired the shots.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons but not to detention centers run by the DST. Local human rights groups reported having access to prisons when they formally requested such in advance, although Amnesty International reported that its requests to visit prisons had not been approved since 2013, when it produced a critical report.

Improvements: In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build and equip a training center for cooking and hairdressing in the section for prisoners who are minors.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

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 younger than age 15. Most rape cases were tried on the lesser charge of “indecent assault,” which carries a prison term of six months to five years.

The government made some efforts to enforce the law, but local and international human rights groups reported rape remained widespread. There were reports of widespread rape and sexual abuse targeting girls and young women. In one such report, 11 young women came forward with allegations of rape in the western part of the country. In one egregious case, a young girl died following an alleged rape.

Relatives, police, and traditional leaders often discouraged female survivors from pursuing a criminal case, with their families, often the survivor’s husband, accepting payment for compensation. Rape victims were no longer required to obtain a medical certificate, which could cost up to 50,000 CFA francs ($90), 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.

The law does not specifically outlaw domestic violence, which was a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs, 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. Survivors stressed that although sexual and gender-based violence was an “everyday reality,” deeply ingrained taboos discouraged them from speaking out. Survivors were ostracized and advocates for survivors reported being threatened. Fear of challenging male authority figures silenced most victims. In September the first lady offered to pay the medical expense of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped.

The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence and rape, including counseling at government-operated centers.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): 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 ($650 to $3,610). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. In August authorities made several arrests after discovering that a group of girls had been subjected to the procedure. The government successfully prosecuted some FGM/C cases during the year. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a serious problem.

For more information, see Appendix C.

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 ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

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.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. At least one parent must be a citizen for a child to acquire citizenship at birth. The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth free, except the cost of the stamp. 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. For births registered after the first three months, families pay 5,000 CFA francs ($9.00) or more. For older children authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to 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. The government, with UNICEF and the World Bank, launched a special operation to ensure the civil registration of 1.2 million school-going children in 2017, but due to numerous technical obstacles, many children did not benefit from this program.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Under a law passed in 2015, primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus 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. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to fines up to 500,000 CFA francs ($900) or jail time of two to six months, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school. In principle students do not have to pay for books, uniforms, or fees, but families usually paid because the government did not often cover these expenses. Schools expected parents to contribute to the teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas.

Educational participation of girls was lower than that of boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls enrolled at a higher rate, participation rates for them dropped below that of boys because of the tendency to keep girls at home to do domestic work or care for younger siblings.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape or attempted rape of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, children were victims of physical and sexual violence and abuse. Authorities reported rapes of girls as young as age three during the year. Authorities often reclassified claims of child rape as indecent assault, which ensured a timely trial and conviction, although penalties were less severe. Judges exercised discretion in deciding whether to reclassify a claim from child rape to indecent assault, and they may only do so when there is no clear medical proof or testimony to support rape charges. There were some prosecutions and convictions during the year. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network.

Before April, three children were killed as sacrifices, one in Abidjan, including a four-year-old killed after a traditional witch doctor promised that a child sacrifice would make the killer wealthy. Following the alleged rape and ritual murder of a 14-year-old student, 11 persons were injured in March when students ransacking and torching the gendarmerie barracks clashed with gendarmes.

Although the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs; and Ministry of Education were responsible for combating child abuse, they were ineffective due to lack of coordination between the ministries and inadequate resources.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits the marriage of men younger than age 20 and women younger than 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, traditional marriages were performed with girls as young as 14 years old.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of children for commercial sex or pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and fines of five million to 50 million CFA francs ($9,000 to $90,000). Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800).

In November armed gendarmes abducted a 14-year-old girl from an NGO in Abidjan that shelters trafficked and abandoned children. Security forces had initially demanded that the NGO give up the girl, and when they refused, gendarmes with brandished weapons arrived and forced the girl to get in their vehicle. Reportedly, relatives brought the girl to Abidjan after her father raped her, but she may have been forced to work in the household of the security force officer from which she escaped to the NGO. An investigation by a military tribunal continued at year’s end.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking. During the year the antitrafficking unit of the national police investigated several cases of suspected child sex trafficking.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Displaced Children: Local NGOs reported thousands of children countrywide living on the streets. The government implemented a program with a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem of hundreds of children, including many teenagers, who composed a large percentage of youth offenders and lived on the streets of Abidjan and other cities. Police often stopped to question and sometimes arrest these minors in security operations in Abidjan and other cities. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training, and the government announced a pilot resocialization program to offer civic education to 160 youth as part of efforts to address juvenile delinquency.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, both expatriates and Ivoirians who converted. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

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 work spaces 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, but there were no reports the government enforced these laws. The 2016 constitution contains provisions in favor of persons with disabilities, but these laws were not effectively enforced. Vision- and hearing-impaired persons were also discriminated against in civic participation, since political campaigns did not include materials for them, either in braille or sign language. An NGO reported bringing this to the attention of the CEI, but to no avail.

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. While the government reserved 800 civil service jobs for persons with disabilities, government employers sometimes refused to employ such persons. Prisons and detention centers provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.

The government financially supported separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, but many persons with disabilities begged on urban streets and in commercial zones for lack of other economic opportunities. Because most of these schools were located in Abidjan, vision- and hearing-impaired students in other areas of the country did not have the opportunity to attend them. NGOs reported that these schools functioned more as literacy centers that 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. Although public schools did not bar persons with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate students with disabilities. Persons with mental disabilities often lived on the street.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups, and 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. Despite a 2013 procedural update that allows putative owners of land an additional 10 years to establish title, land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. There were instances in which police abused and harassed non-Ivoirian Africans residing in the country. Harassment by officials reflected the common belief that foreigners were responsible for high crime rates and identity card fraud.

In July residents from the Guere ethnic group clashed with Burkina Faso nationals over an alleged murder in western part of the country.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law’s only mention of same-sex sexual activity is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in public. Antidiscrimination laws do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Law enforcement authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Two members of the transgender community were killed in Abidjan, one in February and the other in May; in one case a person was arrested, then released, and for the other, no one had been arrested by year’s end. Members of the LGBTI community reported that police rarely investigated violence against LGBTI persons. Human rights organizations reported that LGBTI persons who were attacked seldom reported the crime to police, due to fear of revenge and further abuse, as well as discrimination upon revealing their sexual orientation. Paying the authorities was often required for them to conduct investigations.

Societal discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community were problems. Human rights groups continued to report that LGBTI community members were evicted from their homes by landlords or their families. They reported several instances of LGBTI persons being beaten or blackmailed by neighborhood thugs. Security forces sometimes tried to humiliate members of the transgender community by forcing them to undress in public.

Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care, citing instances where doctors refused treatment and pharmacists told them to follow religion and learn to change.

The few LGBTI organizations in the country operated freely but with caution to avoid attracting the attention of persons who might attack or otherwise abuse its members. New NGOs promoting human rights for members of the LGBTI community were founded, including two new transgender groups based in Abidjan and a group in northern part of the country. These groups advocated on behalf of victims and collaborated with local human rights group to prod the police to investigate cases of violence against members of the LGBTI community. They also organized discussions with community and religious leaders to explain how rejecting LGBTI family members could do great harm.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. A 2014 law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes fines for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and vulnerable children, including those infected and affected by HIV.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. In November the British nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in DRC. It had accumulated witness testimony of almost 900 cases of torture from DRC, including 74 cases from 2013 to 2018. The report states, “Torture is used predominantly as a form of punishment for political and human rights activism, and as a deterrent against future involvement.” Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protestors.

As of October 10, the United Nations reported that it had received 15 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military, police, and civilian personnel deployed with MONUSCO during the year. Of these cases, 11 involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; three involved allegations of transactional sex; two involved the alleged rape of a child, and one involved sexual assault. As of October 10, all investigations were pending. The United Nations also reported that Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse while deployed in MONUSCO from 2015 to 2017. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations, and investigations by Bangladeshi government were pending at the end of the year.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from the DRC while he was deployed in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central Africa Republic. The case alleged rape of a minor. Investigations by both the United Nations and the DRC were still pending as of year’s end. Twenty-six allegations reported prior to 2018 remained pending, in many cases awaiting additional information by the DRC. The cases included 17 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country worsened during the year, aggravating the already harsh and life threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without access to family or legal counsel. Some civil society activists arrested in Kinshasa were reportedly held in an underground cell operated by the RG at a military camp.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,500 inmates during the year. In September, Radio Okapi reported there were 7,400 inmates at Makala. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. In July local NGO Rural Action for Development reported that 13 infants suffered from malnutrition and other diseases due to poor conditions while held with their mothers in Munzenze Prison in Goma. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to bring them sustenance. The United Nations reported 223 individuals died in detention during the year, a 10-percent increase compared with the 201 deaths recorded in 2017. These resulted from malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. From January to June, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics aggravated the already overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a 20 percent increase in deaths in detention compared with the same period in 2017. In July, five prisoners died from severe diarrhea and malnutrition due to poor sanitation and inadequate medical services in Tshela Prison in Kongo Central. In January, MONUSCO reported that 57 inmates in Manono Prison in Tanganyika Province suffered from malnutrition and that prisoners had endured 10-14 days without food.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population that contributed to prison escapes. On March 21, media reported that two police officers were sentenced to life in prison by a military court for their involvement in a March 18 prison break in Lubumbashi, Haut Katanga province. The United Nations reported that at least 801 individuals escaped detention centers during the year, a significant decrease from the number of 5,926 escapees in 2017.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. On September 13, police arrested seven members of the local civil society group Les Congolais Debout! (Congolese Awake!) at the University of Kinshasa while they were campaigning against the use of voting machines on grounds that the seven were carrying out political activities in what is supposed to be an apolitical environment. After reportedly being beaten, whipped, and forced to clean toilets with bare hands while in police custody, their attorney said they were transferred to an ANR cell and, as of November 15, remained in detention without charges.

RMGs detained civilians, often for ransom, but little information was available concerning detention conditions (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Some prison directors could only estimate the numbers of detainees in their facilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the ICRC, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Interior but consistently denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and the intelligence services of the military and police.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions.

From January to August, the UNJHRO reported that at least 893 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender based violence. The UNJHRO stated that perpetrators were primarily armed groups followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. The UNJHRO stated that RMGs, including the Raia Mutomboki, also targeted women and girls during the year. On April 15-19, the United Nations reported that at least 66 women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rapes and gang rapes, by members of the Raia Mutomboki in the South Kivu provincial towns of Keba, Wameli, Kamungini, and Bimpanga. Implementation, including promulgation of the text of the amended family code adopted in 2016, had not begun by year’s end. As of November 19, the United Nations reported that the SSF killed 143 adult women and RMGs killed 111 women and girls.

The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented adult victims and 183 child victims, including one boy, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Province, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey(DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On July 26, the High Military Court of Bukavu upheld the December 2017 conviction of Frederic Batumuke, a provincial member of parliament, and 10 other persons for murder and crimes against humanity for the rape of 37 girls ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The same court also convicted and sentenced Colonel Bedi Mobuli (aka Colonel 106) to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including rape, sexual slavery, looting, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence if convicted of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($125); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including mutilation of children and use of children in combat in the Kasais, to harmful traditional and religious practices. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militias often put children, particularly young girls, on the front lines of battle, believing they have powers that could protect them as well as other fighters. For example, it reported Kamuina Nsapu militias often believed young girls could trap bullets fired at them and fling them back at attackers. The Kamuina Nsapu also reportedly slashed children’s stomachs as part of an initiation ritual to see if they would survive and how the wound would heal.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with conviction carrying a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. A 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. It was not, however, compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used other schools as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and RMGs. UNJRO documented 153 attacks on schools, including 118 in Ituri province, the majority that were committed in the context of interethnic conflict.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.

The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Many children suffered abuse from militia groups that recruited children and believed they possessed magic powers. The armed group Bana Mura was reportedly responsible for taking women of childbearing age and enslaving them to give birth to children that would be raised in a different ethnic group. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militants forced children to undergo a “baptism” ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those children who did not die of these wounds were reportedly recruited into the militia and used as combatants, often put on the front lines as “fetish keepers” due to their supposed powers. These practices resulted in the deaths of many children during the Kasai conflict in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($58). The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The 2009 Child Protection Code criminalized child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through July, UNICEF assisted 2,694 children who were victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately half of these children (1,076 girls and 37 boys) were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance. There were also reports that child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, during 2016 (see section 6). While targeted sexual violence against children decreased in the region following arrests and charges against some militia members responsible, many of the survivors continued to face stigmatization from their communities.

Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which remains the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Since 2016 the conflict in the Kasais displaced more than 1.4 million persons, including many children who were kidnapped by militia members or otherwise separated from their families. The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street children.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides specific government protection for them. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported that authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials, who committed abuses against LGBTI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in perpetrating discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The latest available DHS, which dates from 2013-14, captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate of adults and children between 15 and 49 was 0.7 percent, and an estimated 390,000 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2017.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. In the wake of an offensive against Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, the SSF targeted for arrest young men identified by tribal scarring as members of the Bemba community. This harassment by the SSF was given as a reason why several young men subsequently joined the Mai Mai group. Small-scale conflicts in the Rutshuru and Lubero territories of North Kivu conflict exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hutu, on the one hand, and the Kobo, Nyanga, and Nande ethnic communities, on the other hand. In January 2017 the Nande-affiliated Mai Mai Mazembe RMG attacked the town of Kibirizi, decapitating one Hutu, burning one woman to death, and burning 16 homes. In April 2017 intercommunity tensions between Tshokwe and Pende (accused of being affiliated with the Congolese security forces) and Luba and Lulua communities (accused of being Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers) turned violent, particularly in Kamonia territory, Kasai Province. In April 2017 Tshokwe youths armed with rifles and machetes killed at least 38 persons, including eight women and eight children, mainly of Lulua ethnicity, in several parts of the territory.

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