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.
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.
Female slaves, both women and girls, were routinely subjected to rape by their masters and forced to bear their children. These victims were vulnerable to sharia against extramarital sex that can incur harsh punishments. There were cases in the past where female slaves attempted to prosecute their master. State prosecutors told victims that they could face charges for having children out of wedlock, using children produced from rape as a deterrent to prosecuting slavery.
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.
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.
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 ($338 to $845). Nevertheless, authorities seldom applied the law, since the accompanying implementing law remained provisional.
During the year the government entered the fourth 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, 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 law prohibits government hospitals and licensed medical practitioners from performing FGM/C, and several government agencies worked to prevent others from perpetrating it. According to several women’s rights experts, these efforts appeared to be changing popular attitudes.
For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .
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.
Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment. Women’s NGOs reported that it was a common problem in the workplace.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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.
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.
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 are naturalized citizens are also eligible for citizenship.
The process of registering a child and subsequently receiving a birth certificate was reportedly difficult. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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.
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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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 ($338 to $507) 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 ($450 to $845) 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 ($563 to $5,630). NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and Family worked on the identification and the monitoring of the street children in nine of the country’s 15 regions through youth integration centers and local NGOs. Nevertheless, government assistance to these children was limited.
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 disabilities. 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.
In July 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. Historically, the Beydane enslaved the Haratine population. Hereditary slavery of the Haratines continues to this day. 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, 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.
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.
On May 3, the news website Tawary reported the government would stop authorizing private primary schools in the country. The objective was to have all children attend public schools for their first six years (primary school) to ensure more equality between different ethnic groups.
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 $169). 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/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.