Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2020 the country held presidential and legislative elections. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party – the People’s Movement for Progress – won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” with credible results, while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.
The Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. In January 2020 the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. By year’s end the government registered approximately 2,700 Volunteers. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but there were credible reports members of state-sponsored militias committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces and state-sponsored militias and extremist groups; forced disappearance by security forces and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by extremist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including widespread civilian harm, abductions, torture, and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by extremist groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.
The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses and corruption remained a problem.
The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated numerous attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces and state-sponsored militias. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks; targeted killings; kidnappings; attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines); burning of schools, medical centers, and homes; and theft of cattle, vehicles, and food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than 1.5 million persons. The government detained several hundred suspected violent extremists, including several children. Some detainees had been awaiting trial for several years. In August the Specialized Antiterrorism Court held the first criminal trials of terrorist suspects.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a substantial monetary fine when committed against an adult or minor age 13 years or older. The penalty is 11 to 30 years in prison and even higher monetary fines when the survivor is younger than 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions.
Two women were killed by their spouses on May 2 and May 9 in the Nord Region. Following these deaths hundreds of women marched on the local headquarters of the gendarmerie, where the men had taken refuge. Carrying tree branches and threatening to whip any man in their path, the protesters demanded justice for the two women, both of whom had been pregnant. The minister of women joined the demonstrations to show solidarity with the women but urged the crowd to allow the cases to work their way through the justice system.
On August 31, a man was sentenced to 48 months in prison plus a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($177) for forcing a European woman, in May in a park in Ouagadougou, to perform oral sex on him under threat of stabbing her.
Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. On International Women’s Day, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs launched a toll-free number for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the head of the center, more than 425 calls were received in the hotline’s first two months of operation and 30 survivors received care. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the ministry assisted survivors of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.
The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Ouest Regions.
The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of these crimes may also carry substantial monetary fines.
The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. According to the minister of women, in 2020 the High Court of Ouagadougou heard more than 120 rape cases, 43 cases of assault, and 18 abduction cases of young girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The practice of FGM/C is prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a substantial monetary fine. If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and an even higher monetary fine. Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. While comprehensive statistics were not available, as of 2019 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs had registered 185 FGM/C cases in the Sud-Ouest Region. Some arrests were reported.
Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, on May 4, five girls ages between one and three years were excised in the village of Masbore, Nord Region. On June 29, the Ouahigouya Court held a criminal hearing on the case and sentenced four defendants to 24 months’ imprisonment with a suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs ($177). In July, 10 girls ages seven to 11 were excised in the village of Sideratougou in Banfora, but no arrests were reported.
The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice. The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision. The council strengthened the skills of regional coordinators of women’s associations in the campaign against excision through training. The government also provided training to hundreds of health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications. On July 14, President Kabore spoke with representatives of youth from the 13 regions of the country engaged in the campaign.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Centre-Est and Nord Regions, primarily in rural areas, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced others as “witches” whom they held responsible for their misfortune. Those accused, often elderly women, and less frequently men, were sometimes tied up, humiliated, beaten, brutalized, banned from their villages, or killed. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine for conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the survivor is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, survivors rarely reported sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Family planning services were free in all public health facilities. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.
According to a March survey, modern contraceptive prevalence among women in union increased from 28 percent in February 2020 to 32 percent in March. The survey revealed an increase in unavailability for certain methods such as the implant, the pill, and the male condom in health facilities in the first quarter of the year compared with 2020. The survey revealed unmet reproductive needs dropped from 32 percent to 17 percent between December 2014 and March.
Geographical distance, illiteracy, insufficient capacity of providers, lack of medical supplies, and religious and social beliefs regarding the negative effects of contraceptive methods were the main barriers to access to contraception. Women’s limited decision-making power and men’s lack of support for and understanding of family planning were also barriers to access to contraception.
The government worked with international and local aid organizations to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for IDPs.
The country’s volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs because 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est Regions closed due to insecurity.
In 2016, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography, the maternal mortality rate was 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the UN Population Fund, between 2014 and 2019, 80 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Among the leading causes of maternal deaths were hemorrhage (30 percent) and infection (23 percent).
The government’s official midwifery curriculum included components on the prevention of FGM/C and care for women and girls affected by it.
Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws, discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers, male and female, should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment under certain working conditions and in the same occupations and industries as men.
Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.
The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored several community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.
Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.
Allegations continued of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by state-sponsored militias, particularly against the Fulani community (see section 1.g.). While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address the growing case load of such allegations.
Many observers, including the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while most men allegedly killed by state-sponsored militias were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.
There were reports the state-sponsored militias did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the militias. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored several media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities” on several occasions.
Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. Local populations near mining sites in the Est and Centre-Nord Regions expressed their grievances to mining companies. In August youth in Fada N’Gourma denounced the nonrecruitment of local populations by Endeavour Mining. In Centre-Nord Region, populations forced the suspensions of Bissa Gold’s operations, alleging the company was noncompliant with its commitments, including construction of a village church, middle school, and housing for teachers. They called on the mining companies to respect local laws.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately, particularly in the rural areas; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.
Education: The law provides for compulsory schooling of children until age 16. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Targeted attacks on schools and insecurity forced thousands of schools to close (see section 1.g.). Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.
Many children attended Quranic schools. Educators forced some children, sent to Quranic schools by their parents, to engage in begging (see section 7.c.).
Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a substantial monetary fine for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. In 2019 the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the survivor is younger than age 13. According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.
According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 percent of women were married before age 15 and 52 percent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region, and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. The law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial exploitation, including child sex trafficking, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.
Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 83 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).
International Child Abductions: The country is 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 .
There was no known Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs.
The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests. According to the Ministry of Education, children with disabilities attended school at lower rates than others, although the government provided for limited special education programs in Ouagadougou.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS continued to be a problem and prohibited some individuals from receiving medical services due to fear of harassment. Families sometimes shunned persons who tested positive and sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV or AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. NGOs reported police occasionally arrested gay men and transgender individuals and humiliated them in detention before releasing them.
Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was a problem, and it was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. Medical facilities often refused to provide care to members of the transgender community, and LGBTQI+ individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTQI+ organizations. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.
LGBTQI+ organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially with no reported harassment. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations.