Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victim unwillingness to report cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Prison sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years. Although the penal code does not distinguish between rapes in general and spousal rape, the 2013 Law on Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for perpetrators who rape their domestic partners. The 2011 law reinforces existing legislation against gender-based violence (GBV). In 2013 the Ministry of Family’s Social Promotion Centers, through its Counseling and Legal Assistance Service to GBV victims, received 31,826 cases and provided assistance to 13,765 victims. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offenses to misdemeanors.
The penal code prohibits domestic violence, and penalties range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Domestic violence against women was common, however. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. The local chapter of the regional NGO Women in Law and Development-Benin (WILDAF-Benin), the Female Jurists Association of Benin, the Female Lawyers Association, and the Action Group for Justice and Social Equality offered social, legal, medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. On July 20, WILDAF-Benin held a session in Ouidah to train judges, medical doctors, and law professors on legislation pertaining to GBV and on measures to protect victims of GBV. With the assistance of an international donor, WILDAF-Benin opened one-stop care centers in Abomey and Cotonou to improve GBV victim support services by providing legal, medical, psychosocial, and economic support to GBV victims. As of June 30, this activity provided 470 persons with GBV services, trained 97 service providers (social workers, nurses, and midwives), and strengthened a service delivery system for GBV victims.
The Office of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Family is responsible for protecting and advancing women’s rights and welfare. In August the Ministry of Family received 20 million CFA francs ($34,662) from an international donor to conduct public awareness campaigns on GBV and training on women’s rights in the southern departments.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): 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 francs ($10,398). Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and 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 francs ($87 to $173). FGM/C was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to age 30, although the majority of cases occurred before age 13, with half occurring before age 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. According to the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF), the percentage of girls and women ages 15 to 49 who underwent FGM/C was 7 percent and the prevalence among girls younger than 14 was 0.3 percent. 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 underwent FGM/C. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited financially 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 dangers 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 the displaying of educational banners. NGOs also addressed the problem in local languages on local radio stations.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Forced marriage and widowhood rites such as forcing the widow to lie beside the dead body of the deceased and to marry the deceased husband’s brother (levirate) occurred in certain regions.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($173 to $1,733). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual harassment and do not report it. Victims seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation, however, and prosecutors and police lacked the legal knowledge and skills to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals’ have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive rights; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
According to the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, and the World Bank, the maternal mortality rate was 340 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. Factors contributing to the high rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions during birth. An estimated 30 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning, and the adolescent birth rate was 98 per 1,000 for girls and women ages 15 to 19 from 1999 to 2012. Factors influencing low contraception and early pregnancy rates included illiteracy and poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas. According to data from the UN Population Fund, only 10 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change. Women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses (see section 7.d.).
The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The nationality law, however, discriminates against women.
In rural areas women traditionally occupied a subordinate role and were responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. The government and NGOs continued to educate 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 continued to grant microcredit to poor persons, especially to women in rural areas, to help them develop income-generating activities. The government extended credit and loans to female entrepreneurs.