Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal. The law does not address rape of men. Rapists who are single men face penalties of imprisonment, forced labor, and whipping; married rapists are subject to the death penalty, although this penalty was last enforced in 1987. The government increasingly enforced the law and issued prison sentences for convicted rapists, but prosecutions remained unevenly applied. Nevertheless, as in years past, wealthy rape suspects reportedly avoided prosecution or, if prosecuted, avoided prison. It was common for the families of rape survivors to reach an agreement with the perpetrator in the form of monetary compensation.
Rape survivors were discouraged from reporting the crime because they themselves could be jailed for having intercourse outside of marriage. Reliable data on gender-based violence remained sparse, and the situation of children and women who were survivors of abuse was poorly documented. The subject remained taboo due to social mores and traditional norms, which often called for survivors to be rejected by their family and society. In April and May, local media reported two cases of infanticide involving young Haratine domestic workers who became pregnant as a result of rape. Fatimetou Mint Bilal was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of adultery and infanticide after a police officer repeatedly raped her in her employer’s house. Another young woman, ElGhalia Moulaye, was raped by a soldier, gave birth in front of a health center, and the baby died. At year’s end, she was in preventive detention and charged with committing adultery (Zina in Arabic).
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 their domestic disputes. NGOs reported that, in certain cases, they sought police assistance to protect survivors 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 monetary fine. Authorities seldom applied the law due to lack of awareness of the law that bans the practice, and traditional and religious beliefs supporting the practice. According to a 2021 UNICEF study, 50 percent of girls had undergone FGM/C, and the study found that in certain regions the prevalence was higher than 90 percent. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and Family continued to track the more than 2,000 traditional health providers who abandoned the practice of FGM/C to ensure that they would not start the practice again.
Other Forms of Gender-based Violence: 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. Some girls were forced to eat up to 16,000 calories a day for two months or face physical punishments from family members.
Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment. Women’s NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a common problem in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. According to NGOs, doctors continued to perform so-called virginity tests, particularly in cases of rape and sexual violence.
Social and cultural barriers significantly limited access to contraception, including misinformation that contraception causes cancerous diseases, death, or infertility. Contraceptives were not widely available in health centers, and some religious fatwas forbid the use of contraception without the husband’s permission. For unmarried women, stigma impeded access to contraception. According to the 2019-21 Demographic and Health Survey for the country, the contraceptive prevalence rate for women ages 15 to 49, with any method, was 14 percent.
According to the law, women have the right to a childbirth assisted by qualified health personnel, but many women lacked access to those services. Social stigmas and conservative sociocultural factors limited access to information and health services, particularly for adolescents.
The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. A unit in the Maternity and Child Center in Nouakchott treated female victims of sexual violence. This unit also gave women emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after cases of rape. Access to these services was uncommon outside of Nouakchott, and even when services were available, women were often discouraged by their immediate family from seeking assistance after incidents of sexual violence.
According to the government’s 2019 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate for the seven years preceding the 2019-21 survey was 424 deaths per 100,000 births. The high maternal mortality rate was due to a lack of medical equipment, few programs promoting prenatal care for mothers, births without the assistance of health professionals, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and high rates of adolescent pregnancy. FGM/C was a significant problem and contributed to maternal morbidity. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.) In 2020, the UN Population Division estimated the birth rate among adolescents (girls ages 15 to 19) to be 67 per 1,000.
Girls’ access to education was affected by pregnancy and motherhood status, since many girls who became pregnant dropped out of school to care for their child either voluntarily or because of social stigmatization.
Discrimination: Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and the more educated and urbanized women were more likely to enjoy these rights. Nevertheless, women in general had fewer legal rights than men.
Additionally, women faced other forms of legal discrimination. According to sharia as applied in the country, the testimony of two women was required to equal that of one man. The courts granted only one-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. There are legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous and certain industries, including mining and construction.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law provides that all citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity, are equal. Nevertheless, Haratines (the “Black Moors” and the former slave caste) and sub-Saharans often faced discrimination from the country’s Beydane (“White Moors”) community. Police often tolerated discrimination towards the Haratines and sub-Saharans because the security services were largely controlled by Beydane.
Haratine and sub-Saharan ethnic groups faced governmental discrimination, while the Beydane ethnic group received governmental preference. For example, individuals living across the border in Western Sahara (who are of Beydane ethnicity) easily obtained national identity cards required to vote, although they were not citizens. 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 identified culturally and linguistically as Arab – and the sub-Saharan non-Arab minorities. Historically, the Beydane (“White Moors”) enslaved the Haratine population (“Black Moors”); 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. As a group, the Haratines remained politically and economically weaker than the Beydane, although they represented the largest ethnocultural group in the country. The various sub-Saharan ethnic groups, along with the Haratines, remained underrepresented in leadership positions in government, industry, and the military (see section 3). President Ghazouani increased the number of Haratines and sub-Saharans in leadership positions, most notably by appointing a Haratine as prime minister.
The government took steps to mitigate the economic factors that contributed to the problem and to promote social cohesion. For example, a new government agency, the General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, was created in 2019 to intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. Taazour was implementing projects to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution had the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies to maximize their impact. Taazour had an agreement with the CNDH to facilitate efforts by beneficiaries of Taazour projects to seek redress for any abuse of their civil rights.
Birth Registration: By law a person 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. The government requires proof of marriage and biological parents’ citizenship for children to obtain a birth certificate. As a result, children born out of wedlock, including many Haratine and Sub-Saharan ethnic minority children of slave descent, were prevented from being registered at birth. Failure to register could result in denial of some public services, such as education.
Education: The law mandates six years of school attendance for all children, but the law was not effectively enforced. Many children did not attend school for the mandatory six years. According to the UNICEF country office 2021 annual report, one in three children ages seven to 19 did not attend school. The proportion was higher among boys (33.5 percent) than girls (31.7 percent).
Children of lower castes from both Haratine and sub-Saharan families often did not receive any formal education.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, although authorities rarely applied them. Authorities also rarely investigated allegations of child abuse in homes or schools.
Child, 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. The government continued to work with UNICEF to implement a program to combat child marriage through a series of judicial and political reforms.
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 fine. Possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a fine. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. NGOs, such as the Association of Women Heads of Households, asserted the laws were not properly enforced.
Infanticide, Including Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Survivors of rape were sometimes also accused of infanticide (see section 6, Women, Rape and Domestic Violence).
Displaced Children: An October 2021 survey by the International Organization for Migration found 18,864 displaced and migrant children living in Bassikounou, Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, and Sélibaby. Of those children, 61 percent were boys and nearly one in two was a victim of forced begging. Other problems included lack of documentation (36 percent of migrant children), homelessness (16 percent), labor exploitation (12 percent), and abuse and violence (11 percent).
A very small number of foreign residents practiced Judaism. 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: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. The government did not enforce the law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity.
LGBTQI+ persons were sometimes harassed and arbitrarily arrested by security forces. On May 26, police in the town of Teyarett arrested a group of six persons accused of “unnatural acts.” They were released after a few days in police custody. Acts of intimidation against LGBTQI+ persons were recurrent both by authorities and ordinary citizens.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: LGBTQI+ persons were reportedly harassed and subjected to violence from the National Police, the General Group for Road Safety, neighbors, and family members. According to the National Solidarity Association, an LGBTQI+ NGO, conditions for LGBTQI+ persons were better than previous years, including less harassment by public authorities and an increased ability to meet discreetly without difficulties. Members of this community, however, were still forced to keep their sexual orientation private.
Discrimination: No laws protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination from some health-care personnel, such as denial of service, because of their sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ identity was rarely publicly identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and the legal penalties attached to it.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The country does not permit individuals to change their gender identity marker on legal and identifying documents to bring them into alignment with their gender identity.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no reported cases of involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices targeting LGBTQI+ individuals during the year.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: Public demonstration of LGBTQI+ status or identity was taboo according to local custom and law and was restricted by social pressure and law. Freedom of association was restricted, and same-sex marriage is criminalized. While organizations that promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons were not permitted officially, informal organizations were tolerated when operating discreetly. In view of the social stigmatization associated with LGBTQI+ identity, most LGBTQI+ persons hid their identities to avoid problems with family, friends, or government authorities.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities generally did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others, including for deaf and blind persons in accessible formats. 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 effectively. Authorities did not provide information and communication on disability concerns in accessible formats.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, private discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and health case was common. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Like other minority groups, the law protects persons with albinism from discrimination, but authorities did not enforce the law. Persons with albinism were reportedly discriminated against in the workplace, and employers tended not to hire persons with albinism. This practice was particularly prevalent in the service and restaurant industry.
Persons with HIV and AIDS were often isolated due to societal taboos and prejudice associated with the disease but were gradually becoming more accepted within society and by the government.