Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. Rapists who are single men face penalties of forced labor and whipping, and married rapists are subject to the death penalty. The government regularly enforced the law; 39 persons were convicted under the law and received various sentences. Nevertheless, as in years past, wealthy rape suspects reportedly avoided prosecution or, if prosecuted, avoided prison. Families of the victim commonly reached an agreement with the perpetrator for monetary compensation.
Local NGOs noted the incidence of both reported and unreported rape continued to be high, with the reported cases just a small fraction of the true total. National statistics on arrests and prosecutions for rape were unavailable, but the Association of Female Heads of Families (AFCF) reported 165 rapes between January and August, a marked decrease of 13 percent compared with 2015.
Between January and August, NGO Association for Health of Mother and Child reported 122 cases of registered rape in Nouakchott. Of these, 108 victims were minor girls, a net decrease compared with 159 cases reported in 2015.
Human rights activists and lawyers reported that rape victims were stigmatized, persecuted, and even imprisoned. Since rape is often associated with the concept of adultery, judges could, in theory, accuse the victim of fornication under sharia, hold the victim responsible for the rape, and imprison the victim. There were no reports this provision or interpretation of the law was enforced.
Domestic violence was also a serious problem. Spousal abuse and domestic violence are illegal, but there are no specific penalties for domestic violence. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and convictions were rare. Most cases went unreported. No reliable government statistics on prosecutions, convictions, and sentences for domestic violence were available. As of September the AFCF identified 1,225 cases of domestic violence (a 50 percent decrease compared with 2015).
Police and the judiciary occasionally intervened in domestic abuse cases, but women rarely sought legal redress, relying instead on family, NGOs, and community leaders to resolve domestic disputes. Traditional sharia judges handled many domestic violence cases. NGOs reported that, in certain cases, they asked police for help to protect victims of domestic violence, but police declined to investigate. The AFCF and other women’s NGOs provided psychologists and shelter to some victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law states that any act or attempt to damage a girl’s sexual organs is punishable by imprisonment and a fine of 120,000 to 300,000 ouguiyas ($343 to $857). Nevertheless, authorities seldom applied the law, since the accompanying implementing law remained provisional.
FGM/C was practiced by all ethnic groups to varying degrees and performed on young girls, often on the seventh day after birth and almost always before the age of six months. Excision was the most severe form of FGM/C practiced. A 2013 UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report estimated the prevalence among women at 69.4 percent, its prevalence among girls ages five to 18 at 54.8 percent, and its prevalence among girls under five at 46.6 percent.
During the year the government entered the third phase of the five-year FGM/C action plan, which aims to reinforce FGM/C policy and law, offer education and community support, encourage public declarations of FGM/C abandonment, and establish partnerships and public outreach campaigns. The government’s program, which extends to 2017, focused on communities in the regions of Gorgol, Guidimaka, Hodh El Gharbi, Hodh El Chargui, Assaba, and Tagant. The program worked through five local NGOs to create association networks to conduct awareness campaigns against FGM/C.
During the year the government focused its efforts on the creation of the anti-FGM/C regional networks to denounce the practice of FGM/C; eight networks announced the abandonment of the practice.
The government, international organizations, and NGOs continued to coordinate their anti-FGM/C efforts, which focused on eradicating the practice in hospitals, discouraging midwives from performing FGM/C, and educating the population and elected officials on its dangers. The government, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF, the National Imams’ Association, and other members of civil society emphasized the serious health risks of FGM/C and sought to correct the widespread belief the practice was a religious requirement. The law prohibits government hospitals and licensed medical practitioners from performing FGM/C, and several government agencies worked to prevent others from perpetrating it. UNFPA had an agreement with the National School of Health to integrate FGM/C awareness into training curricula for midwives and nurses. According to several women’s rights experts, these efforts appeared to be changing popular attitudes.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continued to decline. One of these is the forced feeding of adolescent girls prior to marriage, practiced by some Beydane families. Increased government, media, and civil society attention to the problem, including the health risks associated with excessive body weight, continued to lessen traditional encouragement of female obesity.
Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment. Women’s NGOs reported that it was a common problem in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information to do so. Contraception was available at private health centers for those who could afford it. The UN Population Division estimated 12.5 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015.
The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 602 per 100,000 live births, and a lifetime risk of maternal mortality of one in 36. The UNFPA estimated 21 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18. The high maternal mortality rate was due to lack of medical equipment, low participation by mothers in programs promoting prenatal care, births without the assistance of health professionals, poor sanitary conditions during birth, maternal malnutrition, and high rates of adolescent pregnancy. According to UNICEF, skilled health personnel attended approximately 64.5 percent of births.
The AFCF stressed that these deficiencies applied in particular to poor women or to those from traditionally lower castes, such as slaves and former slaves, who often lacked access to contraception, obstetric and postpartum care, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The Mauritanian Association for the Health of Mothers and Children, which operated a center in Nouakchott for rape victims, provided emergency contraception to victims.
Discrimination: Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and the more educated and urbanized members of the population recognized these rights. Nevertheless, women had fewer legal rights than men. Divorced women, for example, could lose child custody if they remarried. According to common tradition, a woman’s first marriage requires parental consent. The personal status code permits men to have up to four wives at the same time, but they are required to treat them equally. Government awareness programs encouraged women to obtain a contractual agreement at the time of marriage stipulating the marriage will end if the husband marries a second wife. This practice was common in Moor (Arab) society. Women who did not establish a solid contract remained unprotected. Moreover, government authorities did not always respect either the validity of such prenuptial agreements or the right to establish them. Polygyny continued to be relatively unusual among Moors, although its popularity has grown. The practice was more common among sub-Saharan ethnic groups. Arranged marriages were increasingly rare, particularly among the Moor population. Cultural resistance to intercaste marriage persisted. NGOs continued to report that powerful individuals used the judicial system to intimidate and persecute members of their families who married below their social rank.
Women faced other legal discrimination. According to sharia as applied in the country, the testimony of two women was necessary to equal that of one man. The courts granted only half as large an indemnity to the family of a female victim as that accorded to the family of a male victim. The personal status code provides a framework for the consistent application of secular law and sharia based family law, but judicial officials did not always respect it. Formulas for property distribution therefore varied widely from case to case. Human rights lawyers also reported judges treated differently cases concerning Beydane/Arab women, female slaves or low caste women, non-Arab citizen women, and foreign women.
Birth Registration: By law a person generally derives citizenship from one’s father. One can derive citizenship from one’s mother under either of the following conditions: if the mother is a citizen and the father’s nationality is unknown or he is stateless, or if the child was born in the country to a citizen mother and the child repudiates the father’s nationality a year before reaching majority. Children born abroad to citizen mothers and foreign men can acquire citizenship one year before reaching the majority age of 18. Minor children of parents who have become naturalized citizens are also eligible for citizenship.
The process of registering a child and subsequently receiving a birth certificate is reportedly difficult. A lack of documentation, a situation common among the country’s sub-Saharan ethnic minorities and the Haratines, may block a child’s ability to enroll in school, travel, and have access to health care and other benefits of citizenship.
Education: The law mandates six years of school attendance for all children, but the law was not effectively enforced. Many children, particularly girls, did not attend school for six years. Children of slave caste Haratine families often did not receive any education.
Child Abuse: Child abuse occurred, but no data was available on its prevalence. As of September the AFCF identified 1,225 minor victims of domestic violence (a 50 percent decrease compared with 2015) and provided legal assistance to all of them.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18, but authorities rarely enforced the law, and child marriage was widespread. Since consensual sex outside of marriage is illegal, a legal guardian can ask local authorities to permit a girl younger than 18 to marry. Local authorities frequently granted permission. Nevertheless, the government continued to work with UNICEF to implement a program to combat child marriage through judicial and political reforms. It also cooperated with civil society to disseminate the personal status code, which sets the minimum age for marrying at 18 and requires a woman’s consent to seal a union. These efforts appeared to show encouraging results. According to UNICEF in 2011 (the most recent data available), the percentage of children who were married before age 15 dropped from 19 to 15 percent, while the percentage of those married before age 18 fell from 43 to 35 percent.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual relations with a child under 18 years of age, with penalties of six months to two years in prison and a 120,000 to 180,000 ouguiyas ($343 to $514) fine. The possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a 160,000 to 300,000 ouguiyas ($457 to $857) fine. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, and conviction carries penalties of two to five years in prison and a fine of 200,000 to two million ouguiyas ($571 to $5,714). NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and Family identified 27,825 street children, but only monitored approximately 17,000, in nine of the country’s 15 regions through youth integration centers and local NGOs. The centers focus on four major themes for the integration and promotion of children: enrollment in the civil register, social reintegration, fighting against child labor, and countering violence against children via psychosocial support. Despite this program, government assistance to these children was limited. A local NGO, Infancy and Development in Mauritania, monitored 227 children in Nouadhibou who lived on the streets largely as the result of poverty and the urbanization of formerly nomadic families.
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.
A very small number of foreigners practiced Judaism. 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 healthcare, judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The law provides for access to information and communication, and to existing public buildings through retrofitting and future buildings through amendments to the building code. Authorities did not enforce the law, and persons with disabilities generally did not have access to buildings, information, and communications. The law provides for access to air transport and other transportation at reduced rates for persons with disabilities, although such access was often not available.
During the year the government maintained its annual disability assistance allocation of 85 million ouguiyas ($242,857) to 60 national associations and NGOs working on disabilities issues. As in the past, it also contributed 30 million ouguiyas ($86,000) in technical assistance. Unlike the previous year, the government mandated preference in government hiring to 100 persons with disabilities. The government hired nine full time employees with disabilities as of July, and 72 more persons with disabilities were in training and scheduled to begin work after completing training in December. Another 19 were in training to become labor inspectors in a training cycle that will end in 2017. The government also provided education and public accessibility for persons with disabilities, and some rehabilitation and other assistance through small income generating projects for such persons. One inspector from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and Family was responsible for monitoring the projects’ implementation and oversaw social reintegration programs for persons with disabilities. The ministry developed training programs and validated the certificates issued by the institutions created by professional associations of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities may file complaints with the ministry and seek additional recourse through the Court of Justice. During the year the ministry received no complaints, compared with only one the previous year.
On August 29, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law that mandates minimum architectural and technical conditions of access to public buildings for persons with disabilities. It also defines the technical and architectural requirements for access to communications, information, and public transport.
Some ethnic groups faced governmental discrimination while the Beydane (Arab) ethnic group received governmental preference. Western Saharan citizens of Beydane (Arab) ethnicity often obtained national identity cards required for voting although they were not legally qualified to do so. Meanwhile, Haratine (Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan (non-Arab) citizens often had great difficulty obtaining national identity documents.
Racial and cultural tension and discrimination also arose from the geographic, linguistic, and cultural divides between “Moors” (Beydane and Haratine) who, while historically representing a mix of Berber, Arab and sub-Saharan Africans, today largely identify culturally and linguistically as Arab, and the sub-Saharan non-Arab minorities. The Moors encompass numerous tribal and clan groups and are further distinguished as either Beydane (White Moors) or Haratines (Black Moors, former slave caste). Beydane tribes and clans dominated positions in government and business far beyond their proportion of the population. The Haratines remained, as a group, politically and economically weaker than the Beydane, although they are the largest ethnocultural group in the country. The sub-Saharan ethnic groups, which included the Halpulaar (the largest non-Moor group), Soninke, and Wolof, were concentrated in the Senegal River Valley and urban areas. They, along with the Haratines, remained grossly underrepresented in leadership positions in government, industry, and the military (see section 3).
The constitution designates Arabic the official language and Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof as the country’s national languages. The government continued to encourage French and Arabic bilingualism in the school system. Arabic is the armed forces’ language of internal communication. Neither the sub-Saharan national languages nor the local Hassaniya Arabic dialect was used as a language of instruction.
Ethnic friction frequently underlay protests and incidents of labor unrest. On occasion, Haratine laborers invoked the legacy of slavery to explain their conflict with Beydane freight executives, port officials, retail store owners, and public safety officers.
Ethnic rivalry also contributed to political divisions and tensions. Some political parties tended to have readily identifiable ethnic bases, although political coalitions among parties were increasingly important. Haratines and persons of sub-Saharan origin remained underrepresented in mid- to high-level public and private sector jobs.
Reports of land disputes among Haratines, sub-Saharans, and Beydane were common. According to human rights activists and press reports, local authorities continued to allow Beydane to appropriate land occupied by Haratines and sub-Saharans, to occupy property unlawfully taken from sub-Saharans by former governments, and to obstruct access to water and pasturage. For example, in May, national political figures joined local human rights NGOs in accusing security forces of arresting and mistreating 14 sub-Saharan African women and three men in the village of Thiambene near Rosso following a land dispute related to a mango plantation.
As in years past, human rights NGOs reported numerous cases of inheritance disputes between slaves or former slaves and their masters. Traditionally, slave masters inherited their slaves’ possessions.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws protect LGBTI persons from discrimination. Under sharia as applied in the country, consensual same-sex sexual activity between men is punishable by death if witnessed by four individuals, and such activity between women is punishable by three months to two years in prison and a fine of 5,000 to 60,000 ouguiyas ($14 to $171). The LGBTI community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and legal penalties attached to such labels. No cases of abuses based on sexual orientation were reported during the year.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons infected with HIV/AIDS were often isolated due to societal taboos and prejudice associated with the disease, but were gradually being accepted by society and the government. They were involved in the implementation of state programs to combat infectious diseases, HIV/AID, malaria, and tuberculosis.