Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government rarely enforced the law, and rape was widespread. The law does not address spousal rape. The law allows the common practice of using a woman’s sexual history to defend men accused of rape.
The law criminalizes assaults and provides for punishment of one to five years in prison and a fine. Domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. If an act of domestic violence causes death, the law prescribes life imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government did not enforce the law, particularly when violence occurred within the family. Police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) reported a rise in violence against women.
NGOs, including the CLVF, criticized the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also criticized the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.
The number of incidents of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, were much higher than the number of cases reported. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence, but it did not make public any programs to address rape and domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or early and forced marriage as well as to street children.
In August a court in Diourbel sentenced a man who physically attacked his wife to three months in jail, along with a 21-month suspended sentence. The court also sentenced him to pay his wife one million CFA francs (approximately $1,800) in damages.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but no cases were prosecuted during the year.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($90 to $900) for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and discriminatory rules of inheritance were strongest.
The family code’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The code considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. Additionally, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women can become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority before authorities or if he is unable to act as head of household.
While women legally have equal access to land, traditional practices made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Many women had access to land only through their husbands, and the security of their rights depended on maintaining the relationship with their husbands.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implements programs to combat discrimination.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth or naturalization. The law provides for equal rights for mothers and fathers automatically to transmit citizenship to their children. The law does not make birth declaration mandatory. Registering births required payment of a small fee and travel to a registration center, which was difficult for many residents of rural areas.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education for children between the ages of six and 16, although many children did not attend school. While children generally could attend primary school without a birth certificate, they needed one to take national exams.
Approximately one-third of primary school-age children were not in school, in many cases because of a lack of resources or available facilities. Students often had to pay for their own books, uniforms, and other school supplies.
Girls encountered greater difficulties in continuing in school beyond the elementary level. Sexual harassment by school staff and early pregnancy also caused the departure of girls from school. An October 18 report by Human Rights Watch documented incidents of school-related sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse in Dakar and the Casamance. Girls interviewed for the report said some teachers sexually harassed them, asking for favors or phone numbers and punishing them with bad grades if they did not comply. Teachers engaged in sexual relations with girls younger than 18. Where school directors were aware of sexual harassment or exploitation, they generally tried to resolve the situation on their own without reporting it to higher authorities or police and often stigmatized and faulted the behavior of the girls rather than the teacher in the process. Girls were generally unsure of what constitutes consent and harassment and did not know where to report exploitation. If girls became pregnant, they dropped out of school and were often shunned by their families.
Many parents opted to keep their middle- and high-school-aged daughters home to work or to marry rather than sending them to school. In recent years, however, gender disparity at the middle- and high-school level has significantly lessened.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common, particularly of boys sent to Dakar and other cities to beg under threat of punishment. Many of these boys were sent by their parents to study in Quranic schools or daaras. At some daaras Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. Approximately 70 percent of trafficked child beggars on the streets of Dakar were forced to beg by a Quranic instructor or someone pretending to be one, while the rest begged of their own volition due to poverty. A 2018 daara-mapping study found an estimated 28,000 Quranic students in the Dakar region (15 percent of the total) were forced to beg up to five hours per day. Most children exploited in forced begging appeared to be ages five to 10; some reportedly were as young as two.
The National Task Force Commission Against Trafficking, as well as the recently created Ministry of Good Governance and Child Protection, have committed to continue to address these issues throughout the country.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
A talibe is a boy in Senegal and other West African countries who studies the Quran at a daara. In March 2017, a Quranic teacher in Pikine was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the rape of three talibes, all approximately 12 years old. The teacher had repeatedly raped all three boys over an extended period of time. He had fractured the skull of one of the boys for protesting the rape. In November five individuals were arrested in Dakar for abusing talibes. Overall, government efforts to address the abuse of talibes remained weak.
Early and Forced Marriage: By law women have the right to choose when and whom they marry, but traditional practices often restricted a woman’s choice. The law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than 16, but this law generally was not enforced in most communities where marriages were arranged. Under certain conditions a judge may grant a special dispensation to a man to marry a girl below the age of consent.
According to women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender, child marriage was a significant problem, particularly in the more rural areas in the south, east, and northeast. The ministry conducted educational campaigns to address the problem.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides that convicted sexual abusers of children receive five to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the offender is a family member, the maximum is applied. Procuring a minor for prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of 300,000 to four million CFA francs (approximately $550 to $7,200). If the crime involves a victim younger than 13, the maximum penalty is applied. The law was not effectively enforced, but when cases were referred to law enforcement, authorities conducted follow-up investigations. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.
Pornography is prohibited, and pornography involving children under age 16 is considered pedophilia and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 300,000 CFA francs (approximately $550).
Exploitation of women and girls in prostitution was a problem, particularly in the southeast gold-mining region of Kedougou. Although there were no reports of child sex tourism during the year, the country was considered a destination for child sex tourism for tourists from France, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide, usually due to poverty or embarrassment, continued to be a problem. In some cases women’s families shamed them into killing their babies. Domestic workers and rural women working in cities sometimes killed their newborns if they could not care for them. Others, married to men working outside the country, killed their infants out of shame. According to the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, infanticide also occurred when a woman became pregnant with the child of a man from a prohibited occupational caste. If police discovered the identity of the mother, she faced arrest and prosecution for infanticide. A 2015 UN report indicated approximately 16 percent of females in detention in 2013 were imprisoned for infanticide, and that infanticide was the grounds for imprisonment for 64 percent of girls and young women ages 13 to 18.
Displaced Children: Many children displaced by the Casamance conflict lived with extended family members, neighbors, in children’s homes, or on the streets. According to NGOs in the Casamance, displaced children suffered from the psychological effects of conflict, malnutrition, and poor health.
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.
There were approximately 100 Jewish residents in the country; 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, but the government did not enforce these provisions adequately. The law also mandates accessibility for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
The government provided grants, managed vocational training in regional centers, and offered funding for persons with disabilities to establish businesses. Due to a lack of special education training for teachers and facilities accessible to children with disabilities, authorities enrolled only 40 percent of such children in primary school. Support for persons with mental disabilities was not generally available, and incidents of abuse of persons with mental disabilities were common.
Persons with disabilities experienced difficulty registering to vote as well as accessing voting sites, due to physical barriers such as stairs as well as the lack of provisions such as Braille ballots or sign-language interpreters for persons who are visually or hearing-impaired, or unable to speak. A 2012 law reserves 15 percent of new civil service positions for persons with disabilities, but this quota has never been enforced. In regions outside Dakar, in particular, persons with disabilities were still effectively excluded from access to these positions.
The Ministry for Health and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully. In the Casamance incidents of conflict between the Diola, the region’s largest ethnic group, and the mostly Wolof Senegalese in the north continued to decline.
Discrimination against individuals of lower castes continued, and intellectuals or businesspersons from lower castes often tried to conceal their caste identity.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, referred to in law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense, and penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and 1.5 million CFA francs ($180 and approximately $2,700); however, the law was rarely enforced. No laws prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are there hate crime laws that could be used to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against LGBTI persons.
LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination, social intolerance, and acts of violence. LGBTI individuals were subject to frequent threats, mob attacks, robberies, expulsions, blackmail, and rape. LGBTI activists also complained of discrimination in access to social services.
In what appeared to be an isolated incident, on June 8, police raided a home in Keur Massar without a warrant after being alerted the inhabitants were LGBTI persons. Eleven individuals were present at the time of the raid, of whom two–both asylum seekers from The Gambia–were arrested. Eyewitnesses alleged the two were subjected to torture while in police custody, including beatings and electric shocks. The two were allegedly denied food, water, legal counsel, and medical assistance. On June 9, four other individuals who had been present in the house–two Senegalese and two Gambian asylum-seekers–visited police station to inquire about their detained friends. The four were arrested upon arrival at the station. Three of the four were released after 24 hours. The fourth, in addition to the two individuals arrested on June 8, was brought to court on June 12. All three were acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence.
Aside from this one outlying case, LGBTI activists indicated the overall situation in the country remained calm with respect to the LGBTI community for a second consecutive year.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government and NGOs conducted HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to increase social acceptance of persons with HIV or AIDS and increase HIV testing and counseling nationwide. Nevertheless, human rights activists reported HIV-positive individuals and those with AIDS suffered from social stigma due to the widespread belief that such status indicated homosexuality. HIV-positive men sometimes refrained from taking antiretroviral drugs due to fear their families would discover their sexual orientation.