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Ghana

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates that individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion.  Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status.  In March President Nana Akufo-Addo unveiled plans to build a new national interdenominational cathedral on land provided by the government.  Critics, including some religious leaders, questioned the cost and details of the financing, and an opposition political party member filed a lawsuit to block construction on constitutional grounds.  In June the president spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  In August the president met with religious leaders to explore ways to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities, stating the need for government and faith-based organizations to meet periodically on issues of mutual interest.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and reported sustained communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern.

The embassy urged the government to restart dialogue with religious communities regarding concerns over religious accommodations in publicly funded, religiously affiliated schools.  The embassy discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders and community organizations and sponsored several events to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  The embassy provided funding again to the Islamic Peace and Security Council of Ghana, which held a series of lectures on good governance and encouraged Muslim leaders to take a more active role in governance.  The objective was to increase their visibility in the public sphere and promote tolerance of Muslims generally.  In May the U.S. Ambassador hosted a Ramadan event at a local school with religious leaders from various faiths where embassy officials distributed food kits to schoolchildren to enable them to break the fast with their families.  During the program, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of nurturing interfaith understanding and protecting religious freedom as foundations of peace and security.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2010 government census (the most recent available), approximately 71 percent of the population is Christian, 18 percent Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs, and 6 percent belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.  Smaller religious groups include the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism.

Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, African independent churches, the Society of Friends (Quaker), and numerous nondenominational Christian groups.

Muslim communities include Sunnis, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Sufis (Tijaniyah and Qadiriyya orders).

Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  There are syncretic groups that combine elements of Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs.  Zetahil, a belief system unique to the country, combines elements of Christianity and Islam.

There is no significant link between ethnicity and religion, but geography is often associated with religious identity.  Christians reside throughout the country; the majority of Muslims reside in the northern regions and in the urban centers of Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi; and most followers of traditional religious beliefs reside in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

Religious groups must register with the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice to receive formal government recognition and status as a legal entity, but there is no penalty for not registering.  The registration requirement for religious groups is the same as for nongovernmental organizations.  To register, groups must fill out a form and pay a fee. Most indigenous religious groups do not register.

According to law, registered religious groups are exempt from paying taxes on nonprofit religious, charitable, and educational activities.  Religious groups are required to pay progressive taxes, on a pay-as-earned basis, on for-profit business activities.

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Islam and Christianity.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the ministry responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools; however, they must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, such as those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Muslim leaders continued to report that some publicly funded Christian mission schools required female Muslim students to remove their hijabs and Muslim students to participate in Christian worship services, despite a Ministry of Education policy prohibiting these practices.  For example, Muslim leaders reported three examples of schools that required Muslim students to participate in church services, saying they were compulsory school gatherings.  Similarly, there were continued reports that some publicly funded Muslim mission schools required female Christian students to wear the hijab.

Government officials leading meetings, receptions, and state funerals offered Christian and Muslim prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Nana Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.  For example, in June President Akufo-Addo spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  He also cautioned his fellow citizens to be wary of “troublemakers and hate preachers” who might sow disunity.

In March the president unveiled design plans for an interdenominational Christian cathedral, to be built in Accra.  Several groups, including Christian ones, spoke against the proposal, citing reasons such as wasting public lands, the relocation of judges residing on the plot, and undue government involvement in the affairs of religious groups.  The Coalition of Muslim Organizations issued a statement saying it did not object to the construction of a cathedral but government should not play a role.  National Chief Imam spokesperson Sheikh Shaibu Aremeyaw said an interfaith edifice would have been more appropriate.  The president defended the plan as “a priority among priorities,” saying the country needed “a symbol that the Ghanaian nation can rally behind.”  The president’s liaison for the cathedral denied the government was playing favorites, citing the government’s donation of land for the construction of the national mosque, financed by international donors.  An opposition political party member filed a lawsuit in August to block construction of the cathedral on constitutional grounds.

During the year, the president emphasized the importance he placed on government representatives meeting with religious leaders on matters of mutual interest.  In August he convened a closed-door session with religious leaders to explore ways (such as establishing a regulatory body) to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities.  The Ghana Revenue Authority planned to tax income churches receive from business activities, but not from offerings and donations.  The former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference backed the plan, cautioning, however, against a “blanket” tax on churches.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim and Christian leaders reported continued regular dialogue between their respective governing bodies and the National Peace Council, an independent, statutory institution with religious reconciliation as part of its mandate.  The council did not convene any formal meetings with religious figures.  Faith leaders, however, reported sustained communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern or sensitivity.  While there were some reports of supervisors directing Muslim nursing students to remove their veils in the ward, such moves were not authorized or directed by faith leaders or government figures.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives discussed with officials from the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration the importance of mutual understanding, religious tolerance, and respect for all religious groups.  The embassy urged the government to restart dialogue with religious communities regarding concerns about religious accommodations in publicly funded, religiously affiliated schools.  Embassy officials also discussed these subjects with a broad range of other actors, including Muslim civil society organizations and Christian groups.  Although in previous years the embassy engaged Education Service officials about the importance of facilitating religious accommodation in schools, requests for a meeting with the agency went unanswered.

The embassy provided funding again to the Islamic Peace and Security Council of Ghana, which held a series of lectures on good governance and encouraged Muslim leaders to take a more active role in governance.  The objective was to increase their visibility in the public sphere and promote tolerance of Muslims generally.

In May the Ambassador hosted a Ramadan event with religious leaders from various faiths during which he emphasized the importance of nurturing interfaith understanding and protecting religious freedom as foundations of peace and security.  During the program, embassy officials distributed food kits to several dozen Muslim schoolchildren to enable them to break the fast with their families.  In August the Charge d’Affaires presented the customary gifts of a ram, oil, and rice to the national chief imam as part of embassy outreach for Eid al-Adha.  In his remarks, the Charge recognized the important role of religious institutions in facilitating interfaith dialogue and promoting peace, prosperity, and development in the country.

Kenya

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies prohibit religious discrimination and protect religious freedom, including the freedom to practice any religion or belief through worship, teaching, or observance and to debate religious questions.  The constitution provides for special qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law.  Human rights and Muslim religious organizations stated that certain Muslim communities, especially ethnic Somalis, continued to be the target of government-directed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention.  The government denied directing such actions.  The Registrar of Societies did not register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end.  According to the Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, more than 4,400 religious group applications were pending as of the start of the year.  The High Court in Nairobi overturned a decision to suspend the registration of the Atheists in Kenya Society (AIK), following 2017 court hearings regarding the attorney general’s suspension of the group’s registration.  A 2016 appeal by the Methodist Church opposing the wearing of hijabs as part of school uniforms remained pending as of the end of the year.  In May filings to the Supreme Court, the attorney general and Teachers Service Commission continued to support the right to wear a hijab in school.

The Somalia-based terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabaab) again carried out attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu Counties and said the group had targeted non-Muslims because of their faith.  In September al-Shabaab reportedly stopped a bus in Lamu County and killed two Christian travelers.  In October a group of residents in Bungale, Magarini Sub County, burned and demolished a Good News International Ministries church.  The government reported that local residents took action following claims the pastor was indoctrinating local residents with false Christian teachings promoting extremism among followers.  A police investigation continued at year’s end.  In June the Kenya National Union of Teachers presented a report to the Senate Education Committee detailing religious and gender discrimination against nonlocal teachers in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa Counties.  Muslim minority groups, particularly those of Somali descent, reported continued harassment by non-Muslims.  There were again reports of religiously motivated threats of societal violence and intolerance, such as members of Muslim communities threatening individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.  According to religious leaders, some Muslim youths responded to alleged abuses by non-Muslim members of the police who came from other regions by vandalizing properties of local Christians.

U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, especially underscoring the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and countering violent extremism.  Embassy representatives regularly discussed issues of religious freedom, including the importance of tolerance and inclusion, with local and national civic and religious leaders.  The embassy urged religious leaders to engage in interfaith efforts to promote religious freedom and respect religious diversity.  The embassy supported interfaith and civic efforts to defuse political and ethnic tensions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 48.4 million (July 2018 estimate), of which approximately 83 percent is Christian and 11 percent Muslim.  Groups constituting less than 2 percent of the population include Hindus, Sikhs, and Baha’is.  Much of the remaining 4-5 percent of the population adheres to various traditional religious beliefs.  Non-evangelical Protestants account for 48 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 23 percent, and other Christian denominations, including evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals, 12 percent.  Most of the Muslim population lives in the northeast and coastal regions, where religion and ethnicity (e.g., Somali and Mijikenda ethnic groups) are often linked.  The Dadaab refugee camps are home to approximately 209,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom are ethnic Somali Muslims.  The Kakuma refugee camp is home to approximately 186,000 refugees, including Somalis, South Sudanese, and Ethiopians, who practice a variety of religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance.  The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion.  These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”

The constitution requires parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion.  The constitution also specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.”  The country’s secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil or criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.

Although there is no penal law referring to blasphemy, a section of the penal code states that destroying, damaging, or defiling any place of worship or object held sacred with the intention of insulting the religion of any class of persons is a misdemeanor.  This offense carries a penalty of a fine or up to two years in prison but is reportedly rarely prosecuted using this law.  Crimes against church property are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property, which is also a misdemeanor.

According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which reports to the Attorney General’s Office.  Indigenous and traditional religious groups are not required to register, and many do not.  To register, applicants must have valid national identification documents, pay a fee, and undergo security screening.  Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from duty on imported goods.  The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.

All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers.  The national curriculum mandates religious classes, and students may not opt out.  Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but are not required to offer both.

The law establishes fees for multiple steps in the marriage process, which apply to all marriages, religious or secular.  All officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered.

The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders and religious organizations stated the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately impacted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the Somalia border.  The government’s actions reportedly included extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship.

Prosecution was pending at year’s end of Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Ministries and his wife Joyce Mwikamba, whom, in October 2017 in the coastal city of Malindi in Kilifi County, authorities charged with radicalizing children by teaching them to reject medical care, enticing them to drop out of school, and teaching them formal education is evil.  According to multiple press reports, police raided Makenzi’s church and rescued children who had abandoned their homes and schools to follow Makenzi’s ministry.

The Registrar of Societies continued not to register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end.  According to the Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, more than 4,400 religious group applications were pending as of the start of the year.  In 2016 the government withdrew proposed Religious Societies Rules in response to religious leaders’ objections after a meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and religious leaders.  Religious leaders reported the attorney general proposed the rules to make leaders of religious organizations more accountable for financial dealings and radical or violent teachings.  The government agreed to consult religious leaders and the public and allow them to provide input on a new draft.

In January the High Court in Nairobi overturned the registration suspension of the AIK imposed after court hearings in 2017.  The attorney general suspended AIK’s registration due to questions surrounding the issue of the group’s constitutional rights.  Opponents of AIK’s registration argued AIK’s beliefs were not consistent with the constitution, stating the constitution “recognizes Kenya as a country that believes in God.”

In July the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) reinstated three priests who had been dismissed in 2015 on suspicion of homosexual acts.  Shortly after their dismissal, an Employment and Labor Relations judge ordered the Church to reinstate the priests, citing a lack of any evidentiary findings against them.  The ACK reinstated the priests after a court ordered the Church provide back pay and held the presiding bishop in contempt for having failed to adhere to the 2015 ruling.  Protesters, however, prevented the priests from returning to work at their parishes.

An appeal by the Methodist Church was still pending at year’s end regarding a 2016 ruling by the Court of Appeal that Muslim female students be allowed to wear a hijab as part of their school uniforms.  The ruling overturned a 2015 High Court verdict that declared hijabs were discriminatory because they created disparity among students.  In filings to the Supreme Court in September, the attorney general and Teachers Service Commission continued to support the right to wear the hijab in schools.  Religious leaders reported public schools complied with the Court of Appeals’ ruling, while some private schools – particularly religious ones – continued to insist students remove the hijab.  Schools applied the ruling to members of the Akorino religious group, which combines Christian and African styles of worship and requires adherents to cover their heads with turbans for men (referred to as headgear) and veils for women.

Muslim leaders continued to state that police often linked the whole Muslim community to al-Shabaab.  The Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian government body that investigates police misconduct, reported numerous complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police.  Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.

Religious leaders reported the government sought to circumvent a legal prohibition on taxing religious organizations by applying certain regulations to both religious and secular institutions, such as requiring licensing fees for marriage officiants and venues for large social meetings.  Religious leaders stated the fee regulations were unevenly enforced, although not in a discriminatory manner.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Authorities received more than 150 reports of terrorist attacks in the northeast of the country bordering Somalia by al-Shabaab and its sympathizers that targeted non-Muslims.  In one such attack in September, al-Shabaab reportedly ordered travelers to disembark a bus in Lamu County, then identified and killed the two Christians before letting the other travelers proceed.

On February 23, al-Shabaab killed three Christian teachers near Wajir Town.  Reports indicated that, following the attack, more than 60 teachers fled Wajir and neighboring Mandera.  In June the Kenya National Union of Teachers presented a report to the Senate Education Committee detailing the plight of nonlocal teachers in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa Counties.  According to the report, female teachers “suffered discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, and language,” including being forced to wear deeras (long dresses) and hijabs.

On January 24, media reported al-Shabaab militants raided a village in the Lamu region where they forced villagers to listen to “radical” preaching and hoisted a black flag at the deserted police station.  The militants called upon all civilians to enroll their children in Arabic and Islamic education classes, causing many to flee the scene due to fear of violence.  Many villagers fled the area, and a number of schools remained closed because of security concerns.

Al-Shabaab remained the focus of government antiterror and police efforts throughout the northeast and coastal region.

In October a group of residents in Bungale, Magarini Sub County of Kilifi County, reportedly burned down a house belonging to a pastor associated with the Malindi televangelist, Paul Makenzi.  The group also demolished a Good News International Ministries church and residence belonging to Pastor Titus Katana, also linked to Makenzi.  The group threatened to kill Katana and demanded he leave the area.  Local government officials reported that residents took action following claims Makenzi was promoting extremism and indoctrinating followers with what they characterized as false Christian teachings that included opposition to formal education for children and rejection of modern medicine.  A police investigation continued at year’s end.

Authorities continued to receive reports of threats of violence towards individuals based on religious attire and expressions of intolerance toward members of other faiths.  Since religion and ethnicity are closely linked, authorities could not categorize many incidents as being based exclusively on religious identity.

According to NGO sources, some Muslim community leaders and their families were threatened with violence or death, especially some individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity, particularly those of Somali ethnic origin.

Interreligious NGOs and political leaders said tensions remained high between Muslim and Christian communities because of terrorist attacks in recent years.  Non-Muslims reportedly harassed or treated with suspicion persons of Somali origin, who were predominantly Muslim.  Police officers often did not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim majority areas were largely non-Muslim.  Religious leaders suggested, anecdotally, that some Muslim youths responded to reported police abuses by largely non-Muslim police forces by vandalizing properties of local Christians.

A two-year survey conducted by DevTech systems on indicators of violent extremism found that fundamental religious beliefs alone do not lead to violent extremism, but that violent extremists often manipulate or invoke religion and ethnic tensions to frame grievances, divide communities, and justify violence.  When asked about the perceptions of ethnic and religious social cohesion, acceptance of identity-based grievances, and the use of violence to defend religious beliefs, 83 percent of respondents believed they could practice their religion freely.  Reports of discrimination were highest in Nairobi at 24 percent.  Nationally, 84 percent of respondents said diversity made the country a better place to live, and 25 percent said violence was always justified in defending one’s religion or culture.

Religious leaders representing interfaith groups, including the Anglican, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu communities, engaged with political parties and the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission in the national reconciliation process following violent 2017 presidential elections.  Representatives of a number of religious organizations participated in an October National Dialogue Reference Group conference to promote national healing and identify social cohesion challenges.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, including senior police officials and local governments in the coastal region, especially emphasizing the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and countering religiously based violent extremism.

The Ambassador and embassy staff met frequently with religious leaders and groups, including the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics, Interfaith Council of Kenya, Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Hindu Council of Kenya, National Muslim Leaders Forum, Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, and National Council of Churches of Kenya.  Topics of discussion included the importance of religious groups in countering religiously based extremism, seeking guidance from religious leaders on human rights issues, and working together to resolve the country’s electoral issues.

U.S. embassy officials supported interfaith efforts to defuse political and ethnic tensions, including efforts to resolve disputes related to the preparations, conduct, and outcome of the national elections.

The Ambassador met periodically throughout the year with Muslim leaders in Nairobi and the coastal region.  He hosted iftars during Ramadan with Muslim, Christian, and Hindu leaders in Nairobi, and a senior embassy official hosted an all-women’s iftar that included representatives of all faiths.  The embassy also assisted efforts to promote intrafaith dialogue on freedom and tolerance within the Muslim community.

Embassy officials met individually with religious and civic leaders to urge them to continue to work across sectarian lines to reaffirm the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.  The embassy encouraged faith communities and other societal figures to see religious diversity as a national strength rather than a source of strife and division.

Senegal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government restarted a lapsed campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic religious schools.  The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.

Local and international NGOs continued their efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known locally as daaras); the organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students at daaras as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to government statistics from the 2014 census, 96.1 percent of the population is Muslim.  Most Muslims are Sunni and belong to one of several Sufi brotherhoods, each of which incorporates unique practices.  There are approximately 5,000 Shia Muslims, according to an unofficial 2011 estimate.  Approximately 3.8 percent of the population is Christian.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs.  The remaining 0.1 percent exclusively adheres to indigenous religions or professes no religion.

The Christian minority is located in towns in the west and south.  Members of indigenous religious groups live mainly in the east and south.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference.  The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion.  It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.

Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes.  Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.

By law, all faith-based organizations, including religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association.  To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association.  Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, activities, or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding.  They must also pass a background check.  Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions.  There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

The law requires associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate.  This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement.  Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By law, religious education may be offered in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.  The government permits up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools.  The government allows parents to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum.  Parents have the opportunity to allow their children to opt out of the curriculum.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of students at some daaras, where young children sometimes resided.  Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg.  Local media and NGOs continued to document cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by certain marabouts, or Quranic schoolteachers.  Human Rights Watch reported tens of thousands of children suffered from abuse in 2017.  Civil society and children’s rights advocates reprised their appeals to the government to implement more effective regulation of daaras and to prosecute Quranic teachers who committed serious violations against children.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with federal and local government officials in Dakar and with local authorities in Saint Louis to discuss conditions faced by daara students as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with civil society representatives and religious leaders in the central regions of Thies, Diourbel, Louga, and Fatick to discuss these issues.  As part of their continuing engagement with religious figures, including leadership of the main Islamic brotherhoods, as well as with civil society, embassy officers emphasized the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  In particular, the Ambassador discussed efforts to combat forced child begging and emphasized religious tolerance with the heads of the country’s two largest Islamic brotherhoods, the Mouride Brotherhood (based in the city of Touba) and the Tidiane Brotherhood (based in the city of Tivaouane).

During Ramadan, the embassy hosted a series of iftars in Dakar and Fatick, geared to different audiences, which focused on diversity as well as religious tolerance and inclusion.  Attendees at the different events included local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society.

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