Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape without reference to gender. Enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims not reporting cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Sentences for conviction of rape range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties survivors faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors. The primary form of evidence used to prove sexual assault required physician certification. Since physicians were only accessible in large cities, survivors in rural areas were effectively precluded from pursuing charges.
Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.
The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some survivors of abuse. The ministry’s Center for Social Promotion provided mediation services that in some cases resulted in restitution. The ministry also organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women. During the year the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a services-training program for survivors of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence to health clinic and social service first responders. On July 21, the government created the National Institute for the Promotion of Women to address complaints of violations of women’s rights and provide financial assistance to women who are survivors of violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and substantial monetary fines. Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C in 2018.
The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, continued to raise public awareness of the dangers of the practice.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common in the workplace and in schools. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims, however, seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation; furthermore, police, examining magistrates who conduct pretrial investigations, and prosecutors lacked the legal knowledge and capacity to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to address sexual abuses involving minors. Nevertheless, on July 19, the Cotonou Appellate Court convicted a business owner of sexual harassment of a female employee, imposed a substantial fine, and sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
On October 20, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 2003 Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health legalizing elective abortion. The amended law provides for termination before 12 weeks if the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional, or moral distress incompatible with the interest of the woman, the unborn child, or both. As of November 15, the amended law had yet to be signed by the president.
Societal pressures imposed barriers to contraception. Although minors have the legal right to access contraception without parental consent, health-care workers sometimes impeded access by requiring parental consent. Cultural norms also influenced low rates of contraception. In some areas, notably the Plateau Department bordering Nigeria, traditional leaders used voodoo to threaten women to stay indoors during contraceptive campaigns, according to the Beninese Association for Social Marketing. Some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and Celestial Christian Church, strongly discouraged the use of contraceptives. Poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas, poverty, and limited formal education contributed to low usage of contraceptives and high pregnancy rates. Only 13 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception, and 35 percent of women had an unmet need for contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services because of their sexual identity.
According to the government’s 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 391 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to the high mortality rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of girls and women between the ages 15 and 19 were either pregnant or had already had one live birth. These rates varied dramatically with higher adolescent birth rates (24 to 38 percent) in northern departments and lower rates (ranging from 8 to 16 percent) in southern departments. See also the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. There were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on the occupations in which women are allowed to work (see section 7.d.).
The law bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygamy. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution and other laws provide for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities and their institutions from violence and discrimination. The penal code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from physical violence, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The labor code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from employment discrimination.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country to a citizen father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.
Education: Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education is tuition free for all primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.
Child Abuse: Violence against children was common. The law bans a wide range of harmful practices and provides for substantial fines and up to life imprisonment for persons convicted of child abuse. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, fear of police involvement, or a combination of the three.
On September 2, the government reported an increase in child rape cases in the commune of Abomey Calavi in the south of the country. Authorities recorded 26 cases of rape involving children ages 4 to 15 from January 1 to September in the commune.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage at younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the Benin 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 15. Child, early, and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the bridegroom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice. The joint government and UNICEF Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children in their communities continued.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring children for commercial sexual exploitation; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. The NGO Franciscan-Benin reported that communities in the four northern communes of Djougou, Gogounou, Kouande and Kandi continued to practice ritual infanticide. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.
Institutionalized Children: The government and human rights organizations reported poorly managed orphanages were not compliant with the law governing child protection centers. During the year the government inspected and closed several orphanages following reports of child abuse and neglect. In August the government closed one unregistered orphanage in Allada in southern Benin after inspections revealed poor living conditions and insufficient staffing. Authorities sanctioned an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns for using children as beggars to encourage charitable donations.
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.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, mental, and communication disabilities, against all forms of exploitation and violence; however, the government did not fully implement the law.
The Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin reported that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, health care, access to education, and access to justice. Only 2 percent of children with disabilities attended to school. Mobility and access to buildings were problems. Crutches, white canes for the blind, wheelchairs, and prostheses were not provided by the state or affordable for persons with disabilities. Most public buildings were not accessible for persons with disabilities, including bank, school, university, hospital, and court buildings.
On June 21, the head of the Secondary Education Completion Examinations Center in Abomey, Jeannette Vodome, dismissed Eric Tonakpa Agonvonon, an exam monitor with a disability, for physical incapacity although he had cited his disability before being hired. Despite Agonvonon’s reinstatement on June 23, on July 6, the Association of Persons with Disabilities organized a sit-in to protest the broader issues of discrimination against persons with disabilities and filed a complaint against Vodome with the Court of Abomey.
The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Support Fund for National Solidarity.
The Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act provides for a wide range of social benefits to persons with disabilities, including improved access to health care, education, vocational training, transportation, and sports and leisure activities. It includes provisions regarding the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. It requires schools to enroll children with disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. A provision related to public indecency in the penal code, however, may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. The law prohibits all forms of discrimination without specific reference to LGBTQI+ persons.
Nevertheless, discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was common. The LGBTQI+ NGO Les Hirondelles estimated that family rejection resulted in 150 homeless LGBTQI+ youth annually. LGBTQI+ persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services both related (hormone treatment) and unrelated (malaria treatment) to their sexual identity.
Members of the community reported police often tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 1, however, police arrested a male assailant who attacked three transgender women at the Sunset Bar in Cotonou. The transgender women were beaten, stripped of their clothing, and cut with glass bottles. On June 29, the Cotonou Tribunal of First Instance convicted the man of assault and sentenced him to six months in prison and six months’ probation for the attack.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Police generally ignored vigilante attacks. Incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. On September 13, vigilantes beat to death an individual caught breaking into a house in Arafat 2, a neighborhood of Parakou in the north of the country. Media reported that the individual was suspected of stealing chickens and ducks.
Despite government efforts to implement policies to regulate transhumance (the practice of moving livestock seasonally from one grazing area to another), periodic violence between farmers and Fulani herders continued. While several commune-level officials blamed armed Fulani herders from Nigeria for provoking violence by allowing their cattle to eat farmers’ crops, both herders and farmers engaged in violence. There were numerous reported instances of violence similar to the following examples. On July 24 and 25 in the northern town of Malanville bordering Niger, five individuals were killed or injured in clashes between farmers and herders. On August 3, in Kalale a farmer cut off the hand of a herder whose herd had crossed into the farmer’s field.
On June 15, the government established the High Commission for Herder Settlement in the Office of the President. The commission is mandated to address farmer-herder conflict matters, including the permanent settlement of migratory herders.
NGOs focused on protection of persons with albinism reported societal discrimination and abuses, including infanticide of albino children, organ trafficking, and inadequate health services.