Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape without reference to gender. Enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and survivors 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 cases of domestic violence.
The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some survivors of abuse. The ministry’s Centers 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 (GBV) for health-clinic and social-service first responders. In July 2021, the government created the National Institute for Women (INF) to address complaints of violations of women’s rights and provide financial assistance to survivors of GBV. From September 2021 to August 31, 2022, INF recorded 156 complaints from the cities of Cotonou, Parakou, Savalou, and Abomey Calavi.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of girls and women 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. Survivors, 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. On June 3, 2022, the prosecutor at CRIET charged three teachers from the National School of Applied Economics and Management with sexual harassment based on a complaint filed by INF.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
In October 2021, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 2003 Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health legalizing elective abortion. The amendments went into effect in December 2021. 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.
The taboo and persisting stigma associated to menstruation, lack of access to information on menstrual hygiene affect girls’ social, economic, and academic well-being.
A 2020 survey of 2,500 female students conducted by an NGO found that 27 percent of them missed classes because of menstruation.
Societal pressures created barriers to contraception. Although girls 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 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. Individuals were informed and had access to safe effective and affordable methods of family planning and contraception of their choice through public outreach campaigns and planning services provided by public hospitals. Not all methods, however, were available to women in rural areas, particularly methods required by a nurse or a doctor to stay in place. The Beninese Association for Family Promotion, a nonprofit association, offered a wide range of family and sexual and reproductive health services to the population. It offered family planning, antenatal, and postabortion services and care and infertility treatment, screening of cancers of the reproductive system, and management of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV and AIDS). In 2021 the association reported it provided 362,552 family planning related services.
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 inadequate sanitation and infection prevention control. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of adolescent girls between 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 of 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 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.
Amnesty International reported members of the Fulani ethnic group were at greater risk of human rights abuses, particularly arbitrary detention by police.
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 required procedures 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.
On November 29, 2022, the National Assembly passed a nationality code drafted in 2017 to replace the 1965 Nationality Code, which the country’s Supreme Court and Constitutional Court found discriminatory against women. Anticipated to be signed into law by President Talon in early 2023, it provides for a child born to a Beninese mother to receive Beninese citizenship regardless of the nationality of the child’s father.
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 girl 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 survivors 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.
In September 2022, the government reported an increase in rape cases in the commune of Abomey Calavi in the south of the country. On March 8, 2022, as part of the celebration of International Women’s Day, human rights activists and supporters held a peaceful march to denounce the rise in the incidence of rape and violence GBV in the commune of Abomey Calavi.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage of persons younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between ages 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 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. The law increases penalties for convictions of abuses involving children younger than age 15.
Infanticide, Including 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) continued to occur in the north including the communes of Djougou, Gogounou, Kouande, and Kandi. 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 not compliant with the law governing child protection centers. In August 2021, authorities inspected and closed several orphanages following reports of child abuse and neglect, including an unregistered orphanage in Allada in the south of the country after inspections revealed poor living conditions and insufficient staffing. Additionally, authorities sanctioned an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns for using children as beggars to encourage charitable donations.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Nevertheless, a provision related to public indecency and debauchery in the penal code may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. Prosecutions did not occur during the year.
Violence against LGBTQI+ persons: The president of an LGBTQI+ NGO reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks and assaults, verbal abuse, and many other forms of intimidation. He stated that hate-motivated violence targeting LGBTQI+ persons was usually perpetrated by nonstate actors, which police often tolerated. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of LGBTQI+ victims of police violence in several cases during the year. Nonetheless, a 2021 complaint filed in Ouidah by an NGO regarding an LGBTQI+ person physically assaulted by police in February 2021 had yet to be tried by year’s end.
Discrimination: The LGBTQI+ community, especially outside major urban areas, faced hostility. In December 2021, the government’s Benin Human Rights Commission, issued a report expressing concern for the rights of vulnerable groups including the LGBTQI+ community, girls and women, persons with disabilities, and persons with albinism.
Although the law prohibits all forms of discrimination, it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination by state or nonstate actors based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. The law does not recognize LGBTQI+ individuals individually or as a group. Discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was common. The LGBTQI+ NGO Les Hirondelles estimated that family rejection resulted in more than 100 homeless LGBTQI+ youth annually. The NGO provided temporary shelters for 70 of them. LGBTQI+ persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services both related (hormone treatment) and unrelated (malaria treatment) to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Legal gender recognition was not available in the country.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no reports of coercive medical or psychological practices targeting LGBTI+ individuals during the year.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no reports authorities restricted LGBTQI+ persons from expressing their views or prevented freedom of association or peaceful assembly. Nevertheless, due to social stigma and intolerance, many LGBTQI+ individuals refrained from openly expressing their views. Members of the community reported that they faced verbal abuse on broadcast media.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities do not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities; however, the government did not fully implement the law. According to the Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin, persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, health care, access to education, and access to justice. Only 2 percent of children with disabilities attended 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.
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. There were no reports of abuse or harassment of persons with disabilities.
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. The government, however, had yet to draft 11 implementing decrees to provide for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons Disabilities Act to be put into effect.
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 individuals caught stealing. On September 20, 2022, vigilantes beat to death and burned two suspected robbers in the village of Agon, in the south of the country. Media reported that the two suspects had robbed, beat, and injured a traveler.
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 June 2, 2022, in the northern village of Tekparou, two farmers were killed in a clash between farmers and Fulani herders. Police subsequently arrested the two herders allegedly responsible for killings. On May 5, 2022, a similar clash occurred in the northern village of Kpaari; four individuals were killed and several wounded.
In June 2021, 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. The commission’s effectiveness had yet to be determined.
NGOs focused on protection of persons with albinism reported societal discrimination and abuses, including infanticide of children with albinism, organ trafficking, and inadequate health services.