Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law prescribes five to 10 years in prison for violators. According to a local women’s group, however, penalties actually imposed for rape ranged from as few as several months’ imprisonment to rarely more than three years. NGOs and women’s advocacy groups reported rape, especially spousal rape, was common. A local NGO noted 332 rapes reported in the first nine months of the year, adding that this figure likely represented only a small fraction of rapes actually committed. The cost to obtain a police report verifying rape was 30,000 CFA francs ($50). Authorities prosecuted fewer than 25 percent of reported rapes, according to local and international NGOs. According to the Association for Progressive Communications, a regional NGO, medical rape kits were available only in Brazzaville. In Pointe-Noire, only HIV tests were free for rape victims; all other laboratory tests were at the expense of the patient.
Domestic violence against women, including rape and beatings, was widespread but rarely reported. There were no specific provisions in the law outlawing spousal battery other than general statutes prohibiting assault. The extended family or village traditionally dealt with domestic violence matters, and victims reported only more extreme incidents to police because of victims’ fears of social stigma and retaliation and a lack of confidence in the courts. Local NGOs sponsored domestic violence awareness campaigns and workshops.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Generally, the penalty is two to five years in prison. In particularly egregious cases, the penalty may equal the 10-year prison sentence maximum for rape. The government did not effectively enforce these laws. No official statistics were available, but according to local NGOs, sexual harassment was very common but rarely reported. Sexual harassment discouraged women’s participation in political, economic, and social activities.
According to women’s rights activists and students at Marien Ngouabi University, professors systematically sexually harassed female students, demanding sexual favors in return for good grades and recommendations.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but often lacked the information and means to do so. Emergency health care normally was not provided for abortion, since most of the population believed it to be illegal, and abortion is not allowed in public hospitals (there are no private hospitals). There are no restrictions on the right to access contraceptives. NGOs and individuals reported that a previously funded government program to make available male and female contraceptives free of charge as part of anti-HIV and AIDS efforts had received no funding and was discontinued. The UN Population Division estimated 20.7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 45 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. In 2015 a joint assessment by the World Bank and several UN organizations, including the World Health Organization, estimated there were 442 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (up from 410 per 100,000 in 2013).
During the year NGOs reported local health clinics and public hospitals were generally in poor condition and lacked experienced health-care staff. For example, in the rural villages outside Sibiti, there were five medical clinics serving five villages, none of which had a doctor on staff. Women desiring to give birth at a hospital with skilled attendants had to travel three hours to the closest hospital located in Sibiti. According to a local government official, women sometimes died in labor on the way to the hospital. Women from both the indigenous and other rural communities suffered disproportionate rates of fistula due to unattended childbirth and rape. Despite the law mandating free emergency obstetric care and Caesarian sections, women had to provide their own medical equipment for doctors to use during the operations, which cost 100,000 CFA francs ($170).
Discrimination: Both customary marriage and family laws and civil laws enacted by the government govern the rights of women, children, and extended families. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law the husband can receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife can receive a prison sentence. A man committing adultery with a married woman can receive the same prison sentence as the adulterous woman in addition to a fine. For marriages celebrated under local custom, the penalties do not apply except in cases where customary polygyny is specifically renounced or by a subsequent civil marriage. Polygyny is legal, while polyandry is not. The family code divides a husband’s estate among a surviving spouse, children, and extended family.
Women experienced discrimination in divorce settlements, especially in regard to retaining property and financial assets. According to a local NGO, widows often were not accorded their legal rights of land and property inheritance. The law limits bride wealth to a symbolic amount of 50,000 CFA francs ($85), although families negotiated much higher amounts.
By law men are considered the head of the household, unless the father becomes incapacitated or abandons the family. The law dictates that in the absence of an agreement between spouses, men shall choose the residence of the family.
Women experienced economic discrimination with respect to employment, credit, equal pay, and owning or managing businesses. Access to education and wage employment continued to improve slowly for women, particularly in urban areas. A few local and international NGOs had microcredit programs for women, and government ministries, including those of social affairs and agriculture, helped women create small income-producing businesses.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents. Birth within the territory of the country does not automatically confer citizenship, although exceptions exist for children born of missing or stateless parents, or children born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the Congo. The government does not require registration of births; it is up to parents to request birth registration for a child. A birth certificate is necessary, however, for school enrollment and other services. Indigenous people, particularly those living in remote villages, had difficulty registering, since registration offices were located only in district and provincial capitals.
Education: Education is compulsory, tuition-free, and universal until age 16, but families are required to pay for books, uniforms, and health insurance fees. School enrollment was generally higher in urban areas. Specific data were lacking, but most indigenous children could not attend school because they did not have birth certificates or could not afford the 1,200 CFA francs ($2) per month insurance fee. School facilities were overcrowded and poorly maintained, especially in rural areas. Girls and boys attended primary school in approximately equal numbers; however, boys were five times more likely than girls to go to high school and four times more likely than girls in high school to go to a university.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was not commonly reported to authorities, but NGOs reported it was prevalent.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits child marriage, and the legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men. Underage marriage is possible with a judge’s permission and with the permission of both sets of parents; the law does not specify a minimum age in such a case. In practice many couples engaged in an informal common-law marriage not legally recognized, while grooms saved for a legally recognized traditional, court, or church wedding. According to the UN Population Fund, 33 percent of women 20 to 24 years old were married by the age of 18 in 2009, although the government expressed skepticism that the percentage was so high.
There was no government program focused on preventing early or forced marriage. The penalty for forced marriage between an adult and child is a prison sentence of three months to two years and a fine of 150,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($255 to $2,555).
Sexual Exploitation of Children: A child protection code provides penalties for crimes against children such as trafficking, pornography, neglect, and abuse. Penalties for these crimes range from forced labor to fines of up to 10 million CFA francs ($17,123) and prison sentences of several years. The penalty for child pornography includes a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine up to 500,000 CFA francs ($856). The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The maximum penalty for sex with a minor is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($17,035). The government appointed special judges to hear cases pertaining to children at the Court of Appeals, but the court heard no cases during the year. A lack of specificity in the child protection code was an obstacle to successful prosecution.
There were cases of children, particularly those who lived on the streets in the larger cities, subjected to sexual exploitation. Authorities increasingly enforced laws that prohibit the exploitation of children, including sexual exploitation. A 2013 study by the International Organization for Migration indicated the majority of children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation originated in the DRC. The extent of sex trafficking and exploitation of children in rural areas remained unclear.
Displaced Children: During April there were large numbers of internally displaced children in Brazzaville as well as the southern Pool region due to insecurity from attacks and security operations (see section 1 g.). International organizations assisted with programs to feed and shelter street children, the majority of whom lived in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire and were believed to be from the DRC. Many begged, while others sold cheap or stolen goods to support themselves.
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 a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services, including the justice system. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action is the lead ministry responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. In 2009 the ministry introduced a national plan to provide access for persons with disabilities, and the ministry’s 2013-16 Social Plan of Action includes an eight-point plan for improving the lives of such persons. There are no laws, however, mandating access for persons with disabilities. The government did not take action during the year to provide equal access for persons with disabilities to public spaces or transportation. The government provides special schools for students with hearing disabilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The government mainstreamed children with vision disabilities and children with physical disabilities into regular public schools. In 2014 the government started a school to train social workers, teachers for children with disabilities, and sign language instructors.
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. Regional ethnic discrimination existed, but it was not as prevalent as in the years following the civil war that ended in 2003, which divided the country largely along regional and ethnic lines. Discrimination was not evident in private-sector hiring and buying patterns or in the provision of government services such as education, health, or housing. There were no episodes of regional or ethnic violence reported during the year. The perception of regional and ethnic bias was most acute in the upper echelons of government. Although the relationships among ethnic, regional, and political equities could be difficult to discern due to substantial intermarriage and increased geographic mobility over recent generations, a large portion of the general officer corps consisted of individuals from the northern departments.
According to UN Children’s Fund and local NGOs, indigenous people throughout the country, in both remote and urban areas, were severely marginalized with regard to employment, health services, housing, and education, in part due to their geographic isolation and different cultural norms. Many indigenous people in remote areas were not aware of the concept of voting and had minimal ability to influence government decisions affecting their interests, despite government claims of high voter registration and participation in the presidential election. Other indigenous communities living in more-urban areas understood the concept of political participation but feared harassment by members of the Bantu population for participation and lacked access to travel to voting booths.
Indigenous communities living among the majority Bantu populations lived in substandard housing on the perimeters of villages. A community activist reported that beatings and killings of indigenous people by Bantus were common in rural areas. Bantus often forced indigenous people to work in their fields for little to no pay and refused to purchase food from indigenous vendors. A government official reported that indigenous women and girls suffered from gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancy among indigenous girls was common. Bantu men often impregnated indigenous girls and later denied paternity, offering no child support. Indigenous women suffered from a disproportionate rate of fistulas resulting from unattended childbirth and rape.
A local authority reported that logging activity had displaced both forest dwelling communities and wildlife on which they depended.
A 2011 law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, Article 16 of the 2015 constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. The government did not implement these laws.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penal code prescribes imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine for those who commit a “public outrage against decency.” The law prescribes a punishment of six months to three years and a fine for anyone who “commits a shameless act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21.” Authorities did not invoke the law to arrest or prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. On occasion, however, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual activity to elicit a small bribe. There are no laws that limit freedom of speech or assembly specifically for LGBTI persons.
The Association in Support of Vulnerable Groups, a gay rights NGO, sits on the National HIV/AIDS Committee, whose meetings the president or the minister of health chairs. A second organization, Arc de Ciel, represents the interests of gay homeless youth in Brazzaville. There was no known advocacy group to represent the interests of LGBTI individuals in the country.
There were no known cases of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year. Although at the official level authorities did not discriminate against LGBTI persons, gay men, particularly the young and the poor, reportedly were vulnerable.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Public opinion polls conducted by the World Bank in 2012 showed significant societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS. The law provides penalties for unlawful divulgence of medical records by practitioners, negligence in treatment by health-care professionals, family abandonment, and unwarranted termination of employment. Civil society organizations advocating for the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS were fairly well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
After the government launched security operations in the Pool region in April, there were more than 20 incidents of highway robbery and carjacking in the region, largely populated by Lari people. Many of these incidents involved violence, and there were confirmed cases of rape, shooting, beating, and stabbing.