The Ministry of Family is responsible for the protection of children’s rights, primarily in the areas of education and health. The National Commission for Children’s Rights and the Ministry of Family have oversight in the promotion of human rights with regard to child welfare.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country and/or from one’s parents. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either out of ignorance 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. The government, through an Administrative Census for Birth Registration, issued birth certificates to children who did not have one. Several donors operated programs to increase the number of registered children. For example, UNICEF continued to support the government’s campaign to register every birth and provide birth certificates to those who did not have the chance to get one when they were born. The Ministry of Interior, with donors’ assistance, hosted a national forum on July 17 -19 in Cotonou to discuss ways to improve the country’s civil registration system.
Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of age. Education became tuition-free for all children starting with the 2007-08 school year, but parents often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had insufficient funds. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys, and female literacy was approximately 18 percent, compared to 50 percent male literacy. In some parts of the country girls received no formal education. According to UNICEF, the net primary school enrollment rate in 2007 was approximately 93 percent for boys and 83 percent for girls. The enrollment rate for secondary education was much lower for girls.
Child Abuse: Children underwent multiple forms of abuse including rape, sexual harassment, abduction, and debauchery/defilement. The Central Office for Minors Protection in Cotonou cracked down on those abuses by arresting suspects and referring them to court.
Child Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under 18 years of age, but underage marriage (14 to 17 years of age) was permitted with parental consent, the consent of the underage individuals, and authorization of the judge. Child marriage included forced marriage, barter marriage, and marriage by abduction. A 2008 gender-based violence survey conducted in 13 communes indicated that 23 percent of the 594 children interviewed were subjected to forced and precocious marriage. As part of forced marriage, there is a tradition in which a groom 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 that some communities concealed the practice.
Harmful Traditional Practices: FGM/C was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to 30 years of age, although the majority of cases occurred before the age of 13, with half occurring before the age of five. The type of FGM/C most commonly perpetrated was Type II, the total removal of the clitoris with or without the total excision of the labia minora. This practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA ($12,000); however, enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM/C but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA ($100 to $200). Approximately 13 percent of women and girls have been subjected to FGM/C; the figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups. More than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls had undergone FGM/C. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited from it.
NGOs continued to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM/C and to retrain FGM/C practitioners in other activities. The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the danger of the practice. The Ministry of Family continued an education campaign that included conferences in schools and villages, discussions with religious and traditional authorities, and display of educational banners. NGOs also addressed this problem in local languages on local radio stations.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of minors, and procuring and facilitating prostitution, and it increases penalties for cases involving children under 15 years old. The child trafficking law provides penalties for all forms of child trafficking, including child prostitution. Under the penal code, individuals involved in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 CFA ($2,000 to $20,000). The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The de facto minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years.
Child prostitution continued in some areas. Some children, including street children, engaged in prostitution to support themselves without the involvement of an adult. The penal code prohibits child prostitution; however, enforcement was limited, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. A 2009 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43.2 percent of surveyed children (ages 12-17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means “placed child,” (poor, generally rural, children placed in the home of a wealthier family), a child receives living accommodations but often faces long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation. Sometimes the income generated by the child’s activities is split between the child’s parents and the urban family that raises the child. Vidomegon traditionally was intended to provide better educational opportunities and a higher standard of living for children of poor families; however, this practice has made children more vulnerable to exploitative and forced labor and to trafficking. Up to 95 percent of the children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.
Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to criminals convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness about the law and children’s rights, lack of access to the courts, or fear of police involvement.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing deformed babies, breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, and one of two newborn twins (because they were considered sorcerers) continued in the north. On March 29, the ombudsman held a national forum on ritual infanticide in Parakou.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.