Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address the gender of victims. The law also does not address spousal rape. An amendment to the penal code passed in December 2019 increased the penalties for rape, child abuse, and pedophilia. It received widespread grassroots support from women’s and civil society groups outraged by egregious incidents of rape. Offenders that previously received five to 10-year sentences faced 10 to 20 years in prison, with possible life sentences in aggravated situations. Experts noted the government should train more gynecologists and psychologists to assist victims and raise awareness of the law among key actors in society, including police, judges, religious leaders, and media.
The government did not fully enforce existing laws, particularly when violence occurred within families. Although domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years, and life imprisonment for murder, police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) reported a rise in violence against women.
NGOs, including the CLVF, noted the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also noted the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.
The number of incidents of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, were much higher than the number of cases reported. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence, but it did not undertake any programs to address rape and domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or child, early, and forced marriage as well as to street children.
On February 20, a judge placed a Quranic teacher in custody for the alleged rape of minors younger than 13 years, following accusations that he abused a number of young students attending his religious school.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but authorities prosecuted no cases. FGM/C was practiced in the country with an average prevalence of 25 percent, with dramatic variation across regions and ethnic groups, including rates as high as 80 percent in some regions, according to UNICEF and local surveys.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and modest to substantial fines for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides that all couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have access to the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
In 2019 qualified providers attended 75 percent of deliveries. According to government statistics, 53 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
According to 2017 data from the Ministry of Health and Social Action, the maternal mortality ratio was 236 deaths per 100,000 live births. The ministry estimated most maternal deaths in childbirth were preventable, caused by the lack of medical equipment and qualified providers, particularly in rural areas. FGM/C exposed women to increased obstetrical complications during labor and childbirth.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, although there are legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations and tasks but not on working hours. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and discriminatory rules of inheritance were strongest.
The law’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The law considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. Additionally, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women may become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority before authorities or if he is unable to act as head of household.
While women legally have equal access to land, traditional practices made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Many women had access to land only through their husbands, and the security of their rights depended on maintaining their relationships with their husbands. Discriminatory laws and policies also limited women’s access to and control over capital.
The Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Family Affairs, and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implemented programs to combat discrimination.