Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted rapists. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law does not address spousal rape. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal. Only limited medical and legal assistance for rape victims was available.
Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women virtually never filed complaints, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. An NGO operated a center to assist victims of domestic violence, and the government provided it with some in-kind support. Through the center’s work, police intervened in response to some incidents of domestic violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, and there were no reports that it occurred.
Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it remained a widespread problem. NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the military was pervasive.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Persons often lacked the information and means to do so, however. The UN Population Division estimated that only 21.9 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality ratio to be 291 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2015. The high maternal mortality ratio was attributed to the inadequate skills of health-care providers, lack of access to emergency obstetric care and family planning services, and high rates of adolescent pregnancy, estimated at 115 per 1,000 for girls and women ages 15 to 19. The Ministry of Health suggested the common practice of not seeking prenatal care also played a role.
Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women owned businesses and property, participated in politics, and worked in government and the private sector. Nevertheless, women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is conferred through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs.
Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of understanding of the law.
Education: Although education is compulsory until age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. Students were required to pay for their supplies, including school uniforms. The country had a shortage of classrooms and teachers.
Child Abuse: Child abuse occurred, but most cases were not reported, particularly if the abuse occurred within the family. When reports of abuse surfaced, police generally arrested the accused abusers, but an inefficient judicial system resulted in long delays in adjudication. A 2013 study by Samba Mwanas, a local NGO, reported abuse was common.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is age 15 for girls and 18 for boys. It was rare for girls under age 18 to marry but common for them to be in relationships with men outside of marriage. Teenage pregnancy was widespread.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): As reported in the section on women above, the law prohibits FGM/C, and there were no reports that it occurred.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. If convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense, perpetrators may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Child trafficking is punishable by imprisonment of up to 40 years and fines of up to 10 million to 20 million CFA francs ($17,123-$34.246); these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Some children were exploited in prostitution, but the problem was reportedly not widespread. The country was not known to be a destination for child sex tourism.
The law prohibits lewd pictures and photographs deemed “against the morals of society.” The penalty for possession of pornography includes possible imprisonment from six months to one year and a fine of up to 222,000 CFA francs ($369).
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population was very small, and there were no known 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, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access, hindering access to state services and the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. Specialized schools provided education to some children with significant disabilities. There was access for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.
Societal discrimination occurred, and employment opportunities and treatment facilities for persons with disabilities were limited. Persons with disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because buildings were not accessible. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.
The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. Small numbers lived in large tracts of rainforest in the northeast. Most indigenous populations, however, were relocated to communities along the major roads during the late colonial and early post-independence periods. The law grants them the same civil rights as other citizens, but indigenous populations remained largely outside of formal authority, keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures. They suffered societal discrimination, often lived in extreme poverty, and did not have easy access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Despite their equal status under the law, indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population. No specific government programs or policies assisted them. According to the Movement for the Indigenous Minority known as Pygmies in Gabon, some members of this indigenous group have been able to vote for the first time, even without any targeted government policy to promote their inclusion.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not criminalize sexual orientation or limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, or other criminal justice mechanisms specifically designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community. There were no reports LGBTI persons were targeted for abuse, but underreporting of such incidents was likely, in view of societal stigma. Discrimination was a problem, however, and most LGBTI individuals chose to keep their status secret, except in trusted circles. Discrimination in employment and housing was a problem, particularly for LGBTI persons open regarding their sexual identity. Landlords often turned away such persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.
Promotion of Acts of Discrimination
Some opposition politicians complained about what they contended was the excessive role of foreigners and citizens of non-Gabonese origin in the country’s politics.
Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs amputated occurred and often went unpunished. The practice was driven by the belief that certain body parts have magical powers to enhance certain strengths. Blood was also used in rituals.
The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported 17 victims of ritual killings from January to October. The actual number of victims was probably higher. According to the association, many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing.