Birth Registration: By law one generally derives citizenship from one’s father. One can derive citizenship from one’s mother under the following two conditions: if the mother is a citizen and the father’s nationality is unknown or is stateless, or if the child was born in the country to a citizen mother and repudiates the father’s nationality a year before reaching majority. Children born abroad to citizens can acquire citizenship one year before reaching majority age of 18. Minor children of parents who have become naturalized citizens are also eligible for citizenship.
In most of the country, the government generally registered births immediately, although many from members of ethnic and linguistic minorities in the south reported not having birth certificates or national identity papers. Additionally, most slaves did not have birth certificates. While official data on unregistered births were unavailable, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2012 that only 59 percent of children under age five had their births registered. Failure to register often complicated attempts to prove citizenship, acquire passports, or register to vote.
Education: The law mandates six years of school attendance for all children, but the law was not effectively enforced. Many children, particularly girls, attended school for less than six years. Children of slave-caste families often did not receive any education.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was common, but no data were available on its prevalence. Anecdotal evidence suggested the problem was particularly acute within Halpulaar communities, members of which sometimes placed children with religious teachers who could exploit or abuse them. The government did not undertake efforts to combat child abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18, but authorities rarely enforced the law, and child marriage was widespread. Parents or legal guardians can request local authorities for permission to marry a girl younger than 18 and were frequently granted permission. The government continued to work with UNICEF to implement a program to combat child marriage through judicial and political reforms. It also cooperated with civil society to disseminate the personal status code, which sets the minimum age for marrying at 18 and requires a woman’s consent to seal a union. According to UNICEF, during the year the percentage of children who were married before age 15 dropped from 19 to 15, while the percentage of those married before age 18 fell from 43 to 35.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced by all ethnic groups and performed on young girls, often on the seventh day after birth and almost always before the age of six months. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and the Family estimated that 69 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C. Excision was the most severe form of FGM/C practiced.
Articles 309 and 310 of the child protection penal code state that any act or attempt to damage a girl’s sexual organs is punishable by imprisonment and a fine of 120,000 to 300,000 ouguiya ($393 to $985). Nevertheless, authorities seldom applied this law, as the accompanying “implementing law” remained provisional. In the course of the year, the government entered the third phase of a five-year FGM/C action plan, which aims to reinforce FGM/C policy and law, offer education and community support, encourage public declarations of FGM/C abandonment, and establish partnerships and public outreach campaigns. The government’s implementation efforts focused on communities in the regions of Gorgol, Guidimaka, Hodh El Gharbi, Hodh Ech Chargui, Assaba, and Tagant.
The government, international organizations, and NGOs continued to coordinate their anti-FGM/C efforts, which focused on eradicating the practice in hospitals, discouraging midwives from perpetrating FGM/C, and educating the population on its dangers. The government, the UNFPA, UNICEF, and the National Imams’ Association joined other civil society members to emphasize the serious health risks of FGM/C and correct the widespread belief that the practice was a religious requirement. Government hospitals and licensed medical practitioners were prohibited from performing FGM/C, and several government agencies worked to prevent others from perpetrating it. The UNFPA had an agreement with the National School of Health to integrate FGM/C awareness into training curricula for midwives and nurses. According to several women’s rights experts, these efforts appeared to be changing popular attitudes.
Influential imams issued a regional fatwa against FGM/C following a 2011 roundtable organized by the Forum on Islamic Thought and Dialogue between Cultures, in cooperation with the German Society for International Cooperation. As a follow-up, various religious leaders were actively involved in spreading the news about the fatwa at the local level. The government continued sensitization campaigns against FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continued to decline. One of these is the forced feeding of adolescent girls (gavage) prior to marriage, which is practiced by some white Moor families. Increased government, media, and civil society attention to the problem, including the health risks associated with excessive body weight, continued to reduce its incidence.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits adult sexual relations with a child under 18 years of age (except in cases where the two parties are legally married), with penalties of six months to two years in prison and a fine of 120,000 to180,000 ouguiya ($393 to $590). The possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a fine of 160,000 to 300,000 ouguiya ($525 to $985). Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, and conviction carries penalties of two to five years in prison and a fine of 200,000 to two million ouguiya ($656 to $6,560). NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced. In some instances, men from the Middle East contracted “temporary marriages” as a means to traffic and exploit Mauritanian girls and women in the Middle East.
Displaced Children: Although the Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, and the Family monitored approximately 9,000 street children in nine of the country’s 13 regions through its youth integration centers and local NGOs, government assistance to these children was limited. During the year the local NGO Infancy and Development in Mauritania (IDM) monitored 400 children in Nouadhibou who lived on the streets due to poverty and the urbanization of formerly nomadic families. IDM ceased operations in Nouakchott owing to lack of funds.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.