Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In February 2019 voters re-elected Macky Sall as president for a second term of five years in elections local and international observers considered generally free and fair.
Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. Senegal was under a state of emergency from March 23 to June 30. The National Police are part of the Ministry of the Interior and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities. The army also reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by or on behalf of the government; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including criminal libel and slander laws; serious acts of corruption in the judiciary, police, and the executive branch; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses existed.
In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a low-level insurgency between security forces and armed separatists continued. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance involving individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance. There were several skirmishes between those separatists and military and police forces. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982. There were several incidents related to illegal harvesting of timber by Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance separatists as the government’s security forces increased efforts to end illicit commerce. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted these incidents.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address the gender of victims. The law also does not address spousal rape. An amendment to the penal code passed in December 2019 increased the penalties for rape, child abuse, and pedophilia. It received widespread grassroots support from women’s and civil society groups outraged by egregious incidents of rape. Offenders that previously received five to 10-year sentences faced 10 to 20 years in prison, with possible life sentences in aggravated situations. Experts noted the government should train more gynecologists and psychologists to assist victims and raise awareness of the law among key actors in society, including police, judges, religious leaders, and media.
The government did not fully enforce existing laws, particularly when violence occurred within families. Although domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years, and life imprisonment for murder, police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes. 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, noted 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 noted the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.
The number of incidents of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, were much higher than the number of cases reported. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence, but it did not undertake any programs to address rape and domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or child, early, and forced marriage as well as to street children.
On February 20, a judge placed a Quranic teacher in custody for the alleged rape of minors younger than 13 years, following accusations that he abused a number of young students attending his religious school.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but authorities prosecuted no cases. FGM/C was practiced in the country with an average prevalence of 25 percent, with dramatic variation across regions and ethnic groups, including rates as high as 80 percent in some regions, according to UNICEF and local surveys.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and modest to substantial fines for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides that all couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have access to the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
In 2019 qualified providers attended 75 percent of deliveries. According to government statistics, 53 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
According to 2017 data from the Ministry of Health and Social Action, the maternal mortality ratio was 236 deaths per 100,000 live births. The ministry estimated most maternal deaths in childbirth were preventable, caused by the lack of medical equipment and qualified providers, particularly in rural areas. FGM/C exposed women to increased obstetrical complications during labor and childbirth.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, although there are legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations and tasks but not on working hours. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and discriminatory rules of inheritance were strongest.
The law’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The law considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. Additionally, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women may 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 their relationships with their husbands. Discriminatory laws and policies also limited women’s access to and control over capital.
The Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Family Affairs, and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implemented programs to combat discrimination.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth on national territory or naturalization. The law provides for equal rights for mothers and fathers automatically to transmit citizenship to their children. The law does not make birth declaration mandatory. Registering births required payment of a small fee and travel to a registration center, which was difficult for many residents of rural areas.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education for children between ages six and 16, although approximately one-third of these children did not attend school. Some did not attend for religious reasons. While children generally could attend primary school without a birth certificate, they needed one to take national exams. 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. A lack of running water, poor sanitation, early pregnancy, long travel distances, and sexual harassment by school staff contributed to girls leaving school. Where school directors were aware of sexual harassment or exploitation, they generally tried to resolve the situation on their own without reporting it to higher authorities or police and often stigmatized and faulted the behavior of the girls rather than the teacher. Girls were generally unsure of what constituted consent and harassment and did not know where to report exploitation. If girls became pregnant, they dropped out of school and were often shunned by their families.
Many parents opted to keep their middle- and high-school-aged daughters home to work or to marry rather than sending them to school. In recent years, however, gender disparity at the middle- and high-school level significantly lessened.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common, particularly of boys sent to Dakar and other cities to beg under threat of punishment. Parents sent many of these boys to study in daaras (Quranic religious schools). At some daaras, Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. According to Human Rights Watch in 2019, more than 100,000 students lived in daaras across the country.
On February 18, an age 13 Quranic school student in Louga died after being severely beaten by his Quranic teacher. Authorities neither investigated nor brought charges against the teacher.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law women have the right to choose when and whom they marry, but traditional practices often restricted a woman’s choice. The law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than 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 to a man to marry a girl below the age of consent.
According to women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender, child, early, and forced 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. According to UN Population Fund statistics, 33 percent of women were married before age 18, and 12 percent before age 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring of children for prostitution and practices related to pornography. Sexual abusers convicted of trafficking of children receive five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. If the offender is a family member, the maximum is applied. Procuring a minor for prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for two to five years and modest to substantial fines. If the crime involves a victim younger than 13, the maximum penalty is applied. The law was not effectively enforced, but when cases were referred to authorities, they conducted follow-up investigations. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.
Pornography involving children younger than age 16 is considered pedophilia and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Exploitation of women and girls in prostitution and sex trafficking was a problem, particularly in the southeast gold-mining region of Kedougou. Although there were no reports of child sex tourism, the country was considered a destination for child sex tourism for tourists from France, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide continued to be a problem, usually due to poverty or embarrassment. In some cases women’s families shamed them into killing their babies. Domestic workers and rural women working in cities sometimes killed their newborns if they could not care for them. 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. If police discovered the identity of the mother, she faced arrest and prosecution for infanticide.
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. In May the Ministry of Women, Family, Gender, Children, and Social Protection launched a third phase of its “Zero Enfants Dans La Rue” (No Children in the Street) project. It sought to remove 10,000 street children in Dakar by returning them to their families. The one billion CFA francs ($1.8 million) program also sought to remove an additional 10,000 from other regions.
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.
There were approximately 100 Jewish residents in the country; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but 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. Support for persons with mental disabilities was not generally available, and incidents of abuse of persons with mental disabilities were common.
Persons with disabilities experienced difficulty registering to vote as well as accessing voting sites, due to physical barriers such as stairs as well as the lack of provisions such as Braille ballots or sign language interpreters for persons who were visually or hearing impaired, or unable to speak. The law reserves 15 percent of new civil service positions for persons with disabilities, but this quota has never been enforced. In regions outside Dakar, in particular, persons with disabilities were still effectively excluded from access to these positions.
The Ministry for Health and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully.
Discrimination against individuals of lower castes continued, and intellectuals or businesspersons from lower castes often tried to conceal their caste identity.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, referred to in law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense, and penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment and fines; however, the law was rarely enforced. No laws 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; authorities sometimes condoned or tolerated these abuses. LGBTI activists also complained of discrimination in access to social services. The government and cultural attitudes remained heavily biased against LGBTI individuals.
In October 2019 cemetery authorities in Touba refused to authorize the burial of a man in the Bakhia cemetery based on a report of the deceased’s LGBTI status.
In November 2019 a prominent anti-LGBTI organization published a list of LGBTI associations and their leadership who had received nongovernmental organization status from the government. Publication of the list created widespread public backlash against those organizations, resulting in authorities closing them.
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 and increase HIV testing and counseling nationwide. Nevertheless, human rights activists reported HIV-positive individuals and those with AIDS-related illnesses suffered from social stigma due to the widespread belief that such status indicated homosexuality. HIV-positive men sometimes refrained from taking antiretroviral drugs due to fear their families would discover their sexual orientation.