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.
On May 20, a security guard allegedly raped and killed a 23-year-old woman in her bedroom in Tambacounda (East). The guard remained in pretrial detention awaiting trial at year’s end. On October 20, a man in Kolda killed his wife after a domestic dispute. The criminal case against the husband remained pending at year’s end.
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. FGM/C was practiced in the country but was not widespread.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 to $850) 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 their relationships with their husbands.
The Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Family Affairs and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implements programs to combat discrimination.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth on Senegalese territory 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 school-age children ages six to 16 did not attend school, in many cases because of a lack of resources or available facilities; others did not attend for religious reasons. 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. A lack of running water, poor sanitation, early pregnancy, long travel distances, and sexual harassment by school staff all contributed to girls leaving school. 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. 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. Parents sent many of these boys to study in daaras (Quranic schools). At some daaras, Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. According to a Human Rights Watch report, more than 100,000 boys lived in residential daaras across the country, with many forced to beg for money and food on a daily basis by their instructors.
In April police arrested a Quranic teacher in Mbour after he allegedly beat one of his students, who subsequently died.
The National Antitrafficking Task Force and Child Protection Special Unit continued to address these issues throughout the country. Nevertheless, government efforts to address the abuse of Quranic students remained weak.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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 UN Population Fund statistics, 33 percent of women were married before age 18, and 12 percent before age 15. Women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender stated 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 commercial sexual exploitation is punishable by imprisonment for five to 10 years and a fine of 300,000 to four million CFA francs ($500 to $6,800). 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 officials, authorities conducted follow-up investigations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18.
Pornography is prohibited, and pornography involving children younger than 16 is considered pedophilia and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 300,000 CFA francs ($500).
Exploitation of women and girls in prostitution and sex trafficking 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.
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/reported-cases.html.
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. The 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.
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 ($170 and $2,500); 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. The government and cultural attitudes remained heavily biased against LGBTI individuals. In July the country maintained its past position devaluing LGBTI rights by abstaining at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution to renew the mandate of an independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
On February 18, in Thiaroye, a suburb of Dakar, an angry mob killed a man accused of homosexuality in an argument over his mannerisms.
Civil society groups and LGBTI activists indicated the overall situation in the country worsened during the year. A number of gay rights activists had their personal information, including home addresses, spread over social media by private individuals and received threats of violence. As a result, some LGBTI activists have gone into hiding or have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
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-related illnesses 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.