Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government rarely enforced the law, and rape was widespread. The law does not address spousal rape. The law allows the common practice of using a woman’s sexual history to defend men accused of rape.
The law criminalizes assaults and provides for punishment of one to five years in prison and a fine. Domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. If an act of domestic violence causes death, the law prescribes life imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government did not enforce the law, particularly when violence occurred within the family. Police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes, and most victims were reluctant to go outside the family for redress. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) reported a rise in violence against women.
NGOs, including the CLVF, criticized the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also criticized the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.
Although current statistics on domestic violence were unavailable, a UN study published in 2015 and based on data collected from relevant national services between 2008 and 2010 in eight regions revealed 507 cases in Dakar, 263 in Thies, 279 in Kaolack, 227 in Diourbel, 201 in Louga, 176 in St Louis, 110 in Fatick, and 67 in Kaffrine. The actual incidence of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, was thought to be much higher than the number of cases reported.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood is responsible for ensuring the rights of women. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or early and forced marriage, and to street children.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but no cases were prosecuted during the year. According to 2014 data from a foreign government institution, 17 percent of girls below age 15 had been subjected to FGM/C, but the practice continued to decline. While not commonly inflicted on adult women, almost all girls in the northern Fouta region were victims of FGM/C, as were 60 to 70 percent of girls in the south and southeast. Sealing, one of the most extreme and dangerous forms of FGM/C, was sometimes practiced by the Toucouleur, Mandinka, Soninke, Peul, and Bambara ethnic groups. According to the NGO German Society for International Cooperation, excision, type II, was the form of FGM/C most frequently practiced.
At the community level, the NGO Tostan implemented a community empowerment program against FGM/C in 176 communities in 10 regions.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 to $850) for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and women’s rights groups claimed victims of sexual harassment found it difficult, if not impossible, to present sufficient proof for conviction.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides that all couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. It also provides for the right to medical services for all women during pregnancy and to a safe delivery. The law considers the right to reproductive health a “fundamental and universal right guaranteed to all individuals without discrimination.”
Poor medical facilities constrained observance of these rights, however, particularly in rural areas and in some urban areas, where lack of funds led to the closing of maternity wards and operating rooms. At times cultural norms impeded women’s access to information regarding sexual health. Skilled personnel attended approximately 59 percent of births and provided at least some prenatal care in 96 percent of cases, according to 2014 data from a foreign government organization; the maternal mortality ratio was 315 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to 2015 data from the World Health Organization. The Ministry of Health and Social Action estimated most maternal deaths in childbirth were preventable if skilled health personnel and emergency obstetrical services were available. Social and cultural pressures to have large families reportedly led some husbands to ask health workers to terminate the use of contraceptives by their spouses. This reportedly led women to be discreet in the use of contraception. The ministry collaborated with a foreign government to raise the contraceptive prevalence rate from 18 percent in 2012 to 21 percent in 2015, with a goal of 45 percent by 2020.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs, including polygyny and discriminatory rules of inheritance, were strongest. The law requires a woman’s approval of a polygynous union, but once in such a union, a woman needed neither to be notified nor to give prior consent if the man took another wife. Approximately 50 percent of marriages were polygynous.
The family code’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The code considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. In addition, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women can become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority before authorities or if he is unable to act as head of household.
While women legally have equal access to land, traditional practices made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Many women had access to land only through their husbands, and the security of their rights depended on maintaining the relationship with their husbands. In addition rural councils–where women often were underrepresented–allocated most land.
Women experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d). Women and girls also experienced discrimination in education since those who become pregnant or married young were often pressured to leave school.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood has a directorate for gender equality that implements programs to combat discrimination.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth or naturalization, but only the father can automatically transmit nationality to legitimate children; the mother can do so only if her husband is stateless. Legitimate children born to Senegalese women with foreign husbands have the option to acquire citizenship between ages 18 and 25. Illegitimate children usually acquire the citizenship of the mother. The law does not make birth declaration mandatory. While birth certificates are required for enrolling children in school and obtaining other civil documents, children generally were allowed to attend elementary school without a birth certificate. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), only 55 percent of births were registered. Registering births required payment of a small fee and travel to a registration center, which was difficult for many residents of rural areas. A program initiated by Swiss NGO Aid and Action allowed village chiefs in some areas to register births by text messaging.
While children generally could attend primary school without a birth certificate, they needed one to take national exams. In a June 3 press conference, the director of the civil registry at the Ministry of Local Governance in Dakar stated 180,000 primary school students in the regions of Kolda, Tambacounda, Ziguinchor, and Diourbel had not been registered at birth and lacked birth certificates required to apply for national exams. Authorities conducted judicial mass hearings in these regions to issue birth certificates, and all 180,000 students received certificates in the ensuing weeks.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free, compulsory education for children between ages six and 16, although many children did not attend school due to lack of resources or available facilities. Students often had to pay for their own books, uniforms, and other school supplies.
Girls encountered greater difficulties in continuing in school beyond the elementary level. When families could not afford tuition for all children, parents tended to remove daughters from school, and dropout rates were higher among girls. Sexual harassment by school staff and early pregnancy also caused the departure of girls from school. Many parents opted to keep their middle- and high-school-aged daughters home to work or to marry rather than sending them to school, where predatory teachers could ruin their reputations and future marriage prospects. The UN Children’s Fund reported schools enrolled 28 percent of boys in secondary education, compared with 22 percent of girls.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was common, particularly among “talibes,” students who were sent by their parents to study in Quranic schools, or “daaras.” At some daaras, Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. A 2014 daara-mapping study found an estimated 54,800 talibes in the Dakar region alone. Of this number an estimated 30,000 were forced to beg up to five hours per day. A similar mapping during the year in Saint Louis found 14,000 talibes, with more than 9,000 forced to beg, according to Human Rights Watch. Most talibes appeared to be ages five to 10, although some reportedly were as young as two. According to Human Rights Watch, which on July 28 published the report Senegal: New Steps to Protect Talibes, Street Children, at least five talibes were killed by their instructors during the first half of the year. Many talibes were chained, regularly beaten, or forced to live in deplorable conditions. Others were ill due to lack of hygiene, nutrition, and medical care. The courts only prosecuted a small number of cases involving death or extreme abuse.
In April police arrested a Quranic instructor after he falsified a death certificate in March to bury a talibe illegally in Dakar’s Thiaroye cemetery. The talibe’s father had reported his suspicions about his son’s death to authorities, and the prosecutor subsequently ordered the body be exhumed and autopsied. Authorities arrested the instructor and the gravedigger, and the case was pending at year’s end.
In June police in Touba arrested Oumar Kante, a Quranic instructor accused of beating to death a 13-year-old student in the Dakar suburb of Parcelles Assaines and then attempting to bury the boy’s body in Touba. Kante remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end.
In its July report, Human Rights Watch included a January case in which a man in Diourbel allegedly lured four talibes to his home and raped them, the February beating death of a nine-year-old talibe in Louga, and the June discovery of a 12-year-old talibe chained to a wall by police in Saint Louis. In several cases, authorities released Quranic instructors and dropped charges. The majority of reported incidents took place in and around Dakar and Saint Louis.
At the end of June, the president announced a campaign to remove children from the streets, including those forced to beg by their Quranic teachers. Human Rights Watch and the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, a coalition of 40 children’s rights organizations, characterized the campaign as “an important step in reforming a deeply entrenched system of exploitation.” The groups urged authorities to sustain the momentum with investigations and prosecutions of teachers and others who committed serious violations against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: By law women have the right to choose when and whom they marry, but traditional practices restricted a woman’s choice. The law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than age 16, but this law generally was not enforced in most communities where marriages were arranged. Under certain conditions a judge may grant a special dispensation for marriage to a person below the age of consent. According to UNFPA, 33 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married before age 18, based on surveys completed between 2000 and 2011.
According to women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood, child marriage was a significant problem, particularly in the more rural areas in the south, east, and northeast. The ministry conducted educational campaigns to address the problem.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under age 18 in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides that convicted sexual abusers of children receive five to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the offender is a family member, the maximum is applied. Any offense against the decency of a child is punishable by imprisonment for two to five years and up to 10 years in certain aggravated cases. Procuring a minor for prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of 300,000 to four million CFA francs ($500 to $6,800). If the crime involves a victim younger than 13, the maximum penalty is applied. The law was not effectively enforced.
The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Due to social pressures and fear of embarrassment, incest remained taboo and often went unreported and unpunished.
Pornography is prohibited, and pornography involving children under age 16 is considered pedophilia and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 300,000 CFA francs ($500).
Exploitation of women and girls in prostitution was a problem, particularly in the southeast gold-mining region of Kedougou. Although there were no reports of child sex tourism during the year, the country was considered a destination for child sex tourism.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide, usually due to poverty or embarrassment, continued to be a problem. Domestic workers and rural women working in cities sometimes killed their newborns if they could not care for them. Others, married to men working outside the country, killed their infants out of shame. According to the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, infanticide also occurred when a woman became pregnant with the child of a man from a prohibited occupational caste. In some cases the families of the women shamed them into killing their babies. If police discovered the identity of the mother, she faced arrest and prosecution.
Displaced Children: Many children displaced by the Casamance conflict lived with extended family members, neighbors, in children’s homes, or on the streets. According to NGOs in the Casamance, displaced children suffered from the psychological effects of conflict, malnutrition, and poor health.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There were approximately 100 Jews resident in the country; 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 prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel, and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. The government did not enforce these provisions adequately. The law also mandates accessibility for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
The government provided grants, managed vocational training in regional centers, and offered funding for persons with disabilities to establish businesses. Due to a lack of special education training for teachers and facilities accessible to children with disabilities, authorities enrolled only 40 percent of such children in primary school. Anecdotal evidence indicated children with disabilities who did not attend school generally stayed at home and, in some cases, begged on the streets. Support for persons with mental disabilities was not generally available, and incidents of abuse of persons with mental disabilities were common.
Persons with disabilities struggled to access voting sites. A 2012 law reserves 15 percent of new civil service positions for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry for Health and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully. In the Casamance incidents of conflict continued to decline between the Diola, the region’s largest ethnic group, and the mostly Wolof Senegalese in the north.
Discrimination against individuals of lower castes continued, and intellectuals or businesspersons from lower castes often tried to conceal their caste identity.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, referred to in the law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense, and penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and 1.5 million CFA francs ($170 and $2,500); however, the law was rarely enforced. There are no laws to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are there hate crime laws that could be used to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against LGBTI persons.
LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination, social intolerance, and acts of violence. LGBTI individuals were subject to frequent threats, mob attacks, robberies, expulsions, blackmail, and rape. LGBTI activists also complained of discrimination in access to social services.
In March a student at the University of Dakar accused another student of being gay and making an advance in the shower. A student mob subsequently chased the accused student, who ran to a bank and then a campus security office for safety. Police intervened to protect the student from the mob, which later ransacked and burned the bank and security office.
Many victims were too frightened to report abuse, and those who did were sometimes subject to police abuse, including beatings and humiliating treatment. Police in a few cases arbitrarily arrested LGBTI persons, abused them in detention, and did not follow proper investigative procedures. For example, although the law provides for the arrest of persons caught committing an “unnatural act,” police sometimes arrested individuals suspected of being gay and detained them for prolonged periods.
In January an appeals judge overturned the convictions of seven men in Guediawaye who had been jailed for “unnatural acts.” Police had arrested the individuals without warrant in July 2015, and in August 2015 a trial judge had sentenced the men to six months in prison. According to sources who spoke to Human Rights Watch, no police officers or other witnesses testified against the men at the trial, and the police document provided none of the basic elements for proving a crime, such as details about the alleged sexual acts.
Local NGOs worked actively on LGBTI rights issues, but because of social stigma and laws against homosexuality, they maintained an exceedingly low profile.
Media rarely reported acts of hatred or violence against LGBTI persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government and NGOs conducted HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to increase social acceptance of persons with HIV or AIDS. Nevertheless, human rights activists reported HIV-positive individuals and those with AIDS suffered from social stigma due to the widespread belief such status indicated homosexuality. HIV-positive men sometimes refrained from taking antiretroviral drugs due to fear their families would discover their sexual orientation.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In the village of Keur Ibra Niane, Thies region, a mob in July beat to death a man suspected of stealing haystacks. Police subsequently arrested five suspects and referred them to a judge, who remanded them into custody pending further investigation. The case was still pending at year’s end.