Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims’ unwillingness to report cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Prison sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years. Although the penal code does not distinguish between rapes in general and spousal rape, the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. A 2011 law reinforces existing legislation against gender-based violence (GBV). In 2014 the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs’ Social Promotion Centers, through the Counseling and Legal Assistance Service to GBV victims, received 12,896 cases; 83 percent of victims were girls and women and 17 percent boys. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors.
Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Domestic violence against women was common, however. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. The local chapter of the regional NGO Women in Law and Development-Benin (WILDAF-Benin), the Female Jurists Association of Benin, the Female Lawyers Association, and the Action Group for Justice and Social Equality offered social, legal, medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. On April 7 and April 8, WILDAF–Benin held a session for midwives, nurses, and social workers from the northern departments on the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women. With the assistance of an international donor, WILDAF-Benin operated one-stop care centers in Abomey and Cotonou to improve GBV victim-support services by providing legal, medical, psychosocial, and economic support to GBV victims. As of June 2015 this activity provided 470 persons with GBV services, trained 97 service providers (social workers, nurses, and midwives), and strengthened a service delivery system for GBV victims. On July 4, WILDAF-Benin launched a GBV website.
The Office of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting and advancing women’s rights and welfare.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA francs ($10,215). Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM/C but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170). FGM/C was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to age 30, although the majority of cases occurred before age 13, with half occurring before age five. The type of FGM/C most commonly perpetrated was Type II, the total removal of the clitoris with or without the total excision of the labia minora. This practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C, and the prevalence among girls younger than 14 was 0.3 percent. The figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups. More than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls underwent FGM/C. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited financially from it.
NGOs educated rural communities on the dangers of FGM/C and retrained FGM/C practitioners in other activities. The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Forced marriage and widowhood rites, such as forcing the widow to lie beside the dead body of the deceased and to marry the deceased husband’s brother (levirate), occurred in certain regions.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,702). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual harassment and do not report it. Victims seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation, however, and prosecutors and police lacked the legal knowledge and skills to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so.
According to the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, and the World Bank, the maternal mortality rate was 405 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions during birth. According to 2015 UN Population Fund data, only 17 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception. It reported that as of 2010, 23 percent of women ages 20 to 24 had given birth before age 18. Factors influencing low contraception and early pregnancy rates included illiteracy and poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change. Women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses (see section 7.d.).
The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The nationality law, however, discriminates against women.
In rural areas women traditionally occupied a subordinate role and were responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny.
The government granted microcredit to help poor persons, especially women in rural areas, develop income-generating activities. The government extended credit and loans to female entrepreneurs.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country and from the father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.
Several donors operated programs to increase the number of registered children. For example, UNICEF supported the government’s campaign to register all births and to provide birth certificates to those who did not obtain one at birth. On January 28, the Ministry of Interior organized a workshop in the city of Porto-Novo to share best practices on increasing birth registration. The workshop covered methods for increasing civil registration of births, reducing backlogs at registration centers located in major cities, and establishing offices of vital records in smaller towns and neighborhoods.
Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of age. Public school education was tuition-free for primary school students and for female students in grade nine in secondary schools, but parents often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had insufficient funds. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys, and the literacy rate for women was approximately 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education. According to UNICEF, the net primary school enrollment rate in 2011-12 was approximately 79 percent for boys and 73 percent for girls. The enrollment rate for secondary education was 53 percent for boys and 42 percent for girls.
Child Abuse: Children suffered multiple forms of abuse, including rape, sexual harassment, and abduction. The Child Code bans a wide range of harmful practices such as forced marriage, sexual abuse, FGM/C, trafficking, labor exploitation, infanticide, illegal and prolonged detention, early pregnancy, and begging. The code also sets rules for national and international adoptions, children’s health care, and juvenile apprenticeships. The code provides for heavy fines and penalties with up to life imprisonment for convicted violators. The Central Office for Minors Protection in Cotonou arrested suspects and referred them to judicial authorities. In 2015 it provided temporary shelter to 820 identified victims of abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. A 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey sponsored by UNICEF and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis indicated that 8.8 percent of girls and women and 1.4 percent of boys and men ages 15 to 49 were married or were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 15. The proportion of women ages 20 to 49 who were married or who were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 18 was 31.7 percent, and the proportion of men in the same age range was 6.1 percent. Early and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction. As part of forced marriage, the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice.
In 2014 the government approved a UNICEF-sponsored National Policy of Child Protection that outlines principal prevention strategies to address and respond to various forms of child violence and exploitation, including early and forced marriage. On June 24, WILDAF-Benin conducted a public campaign in the village of Sebiohoue in the commune of Djakotomey to raise awareness of early and forced marriage. Local officials and judges participated in the event by addressing the legal implications of early and forced marriage.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of minors, and procuring and facilitating prostitution, and it increases penalties for cases involving children under age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child prostitution, prescribing penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The act, however, focuses on prohibiting and punishing the movement of children rather than their ultimate exploitation. Individuals convicted of involvement in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of one million to 10 million CFA francs ($1,702 to $17,024). The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The de facto minimum age for consensual sex is 18.
Children were exploited in prostitution in some areas and subjected to sex trafficking in Cotonou. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. A 2009 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43 percent of surveyed children (ages 12 to 17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means “placed child,” poor, generally rural, children are placed in the home of a wealthier family for educational or vocational opportunities and a higher standard of living; abuse, however, including long hours of forced labor, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, occurred (see section 7.c.).
Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, or fear of police involvement.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one of each set of newborn twins (because they were considered sorcerers) continued in the north.
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 was no known Jewish community, 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 law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in education, access to health care, or provision of other state services; the law, however, provides that the government care for persons with disabilities. There were no legal requirements for the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. Legislation that addresses equality, equity, and nondiscrimination among all citizens is general in nature. Several laws, however, including the labor code, the social security code, the persons and family code, and the 2011 law establishing general rules for elections, contain specific references to persons with disabilities. The country also has a National Policy for the Protection and Integration of Persons with Disabilities. Children with mental, visual, and physical disabilities, however, suffered social exclusion and had no access to the conventional educational system.
The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Office for the Rehabilitation and the Insertion of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Aid Fund for the Rehabilitation and Insertion of Persons with Disabilities (Fonds Ariph). An international donor-funded program was conducted by local NGOs to increase awareness of accessibility needs of voters with disabilities in the March presidential election. The program also included the construction of temporary ramps and other adaptations to provide access to polling sites for voters with disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There are no laws explicitly criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity but such activity could be prosecuted under the public indecency provisions of the penal code. There were no reports of criminal or civil cases involving consensual same-sex sexual conduct or reports of societal discrimination or violence based on a person’s sexual orientation. Although homosexual behavior was socially discouraged, it was not prosecuted. A growing number of citizens were open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity, but the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community remained largely disorganized and hidden. With the support of a regional LGBTI organization, 30 members from Beninese and Togolese LGBTI communities held a conclave in April 2015 in Cotonou to discuss problems pertaining to LGBTI conditions and rights.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Police generally ignored vigilante attacks, and incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. On June 18, a mob of Klouekanme residents in the southwestern commune of Couffo burned to death three individuals arrested by gendarmes as part of an investigation to dismantle a criminal ring operating in the area. The mob intercepted the gendarme vehicle transporting the three suspects and dragged them out. From June 24 to June 26, three other similar incidents occurred in the cities of Cotonou, Abomey Calavi, and Djougou. On June 29, the Council of Ministers urged the minister of justice to increase measures to investigate, arrest, and prosecute individuals involved in lynching incidents throughout the country.