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; 50 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 gender-based violence and sexual assault were generally seen as part of the broader issue of violence against women.
Women raped were discouraged from reporting the crime because they themselves could be jailed for having sex outside of marriage. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch interviewed five women and girls authorities had prosecuted for zina (sex outside of marriage) after reporting sexual assault, including a 15-year-old girl who had been gang-raped and was sent to prison.
On March 21, following a complaint from his daughters and their mother, the criminal court of the Hodh El Gharbi Region sentenced a man who raped his six daughters to 10 years’ imprisonment. The victims were between 12 and 26 years of age, and officials confirmed that the father had raped the youngest multiple times over several years.
Available data on gender-based violence remained sparse, and the situation of children and women who were victims of abuse was poorly documented. The subject was taboo due to social prejudice.
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. 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 12,000 to 30,000 ouguiyas ($340 to $845). Nevertheless, authorities seldom applied the law, since the accompanying implementing law remained provisional.
On February 11, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and Family confirmed that over the past six months more than 200,000 traditional health providers publicly abandoned the practice of FGM/C in the areas of the Hodh El Chargui, Braknah, Gorgol, and Taghant.
For more information, see Appendix C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continued to decline. One of these was 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 or involuntary sterilization. For more information, see Appendix C.
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. Failure to register could result in denial of some public services, such as education.
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 lower castes from both Haratine and Sub-Saharan 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 younger than 18, with penalties of six months to two years in prison and a 12,000 to 18,000 ouguiyas ($340 to $510) fine. The possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a 16,000 to 30,000 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 20,000 to 200,000 ouguiyas ($565 to $5,650). NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced.
Displaced Children: On May 22, the minister of social affairs, childhood, and family stated that in 2017, there were more than 16,469 children needing protection, such as children without civil documentation, uneducated children, and victims of child labor. The minister announced the creation of 10 regional groups and 30 municipal child protection systems to coordinate efforts at combatting the problem.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.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. 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 December 2017 the Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and the Family launched the use of a disabled person’s card. The card identifies persons with disabilities and determines the type and degree of their disability. It also facilitates their access to public health facilities and private clinics and reduces transportation fares.
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; some hereditary slavery continued, and Haratines continued to suffer from the legacy of centuries of slavery (see section 7.b.). 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 were 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 and some influential persons 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.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (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 500 to 6,000 ouguiyas ($14 to $170). The LGBTI community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and legal penalties attached to such labels.
According to a December 2017 report by the LGBTI Nouakchott group of Solidarity Association, the rights of LGBTI persons are not recognized and therefore not protected. LGBTI persons lived in perpetual fear of being driven out by their families and rejected by society in general. As a result, they did not attend or participate in public activities due to fears of retribution and violence. According to available information, arrests on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity were not reported, but there were cases where LGBTI persons were arrested and detained for other reasons, such as irregular immigration.
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.