Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits domestic abuse of a spouse, with punishment ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law uniformly, and rape and other domestic and sexual violence continued to be serious problems.
On September 22, the government adopted a law that provides for the creation of a special gender-based crimes court, makes gender-based violence crimes unpardonable, and provides stricter punishment for police officers and judges who conceal violent crimes against women and girls. As of year’s end, the special court had not been created and no police or judges had been prosecuted under the new law.
Seruka Center, an organization working in Bujumbura to help victims of sexual violence, received 1,288 reported cases of sexual assault during the year. Victims stated that men in uniform committed 20 of the assaults and armed men committed 58. Seruka Center noted that the number of rapes was likely higher, but distance from Bujumbura, personal and cultural impediments, and a general climate of insecurity prevented many women and girls from seeking medical care.
The Brigade for the Protection of Women and Children in the Burundian National Police is responsible for investigating cases of sexual violence and rape, as well as trafficking of girls and women. The government, with financial support from international NGOs and the United Nations, continued civic awareness training throughout the country on domestic and gender-based violence and on the role of police assistance. Those trained included police, local administrators, and grassroots community organizers. The government-operated Humura Center in Gitega provided a full range of services, including legal, medical, and psychosocial services, to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. During the year the center received 160 cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
The IOM and UNHCR reported that, in two camps in Tanzania that were home to more than 100,000 refugees, seven women reported surviving SGBV in Burundi, while 19 reported attacks during their flight from the country.
Credible observers stated many women were reluctant to report rape, in part due to fear of reprisal. Husbands often abandoned wives who had been raped, and survivors experienced ostracism by their families and communities. In some cases police and magistrates reportedly required rape victims to provide food for and pay the costs of pretrial incarceration of those they accused of rape.
CSOs worked to overcome the cultural stigma of rape to help victims reintegrate into families that rejected them. The organizations also encouraged rape victims to press charges and seek medical care. Seruka Center and Nturengaho Center provided shelter and counseling to victims of rape and domestic violence. Several international NGOs provided free medical care, mostly in urban areas.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including the use of threats of physical violence or psychological pressure to obtain sexual favors. Punishment for sexual harassment may range from a fine to a prison sentence of one month to two years. The sentence for sexual harassment doubles if the victim is younger than 18. The government did not actively enforce the law. There were reports of sexual harassment but no data on its frequency or extent.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Husbands often made the final decisions about family planning. Health clinics and local health NGOs disseminated information on family planning freely under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health. The government provided free childbirth services and most women used nurses or midwives during childbirth and for prenatal and postnatal care, unless the mother or child suffered serious health complications. According to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, skilled attendants were present at 60 percent of births, but lack of access to the limited number of doctors, especially outside the capital, remained a problem. According to the World Bank, the 2015 maternal mortality rate was 712 per 100,000 live births. The main factors influencing maternal mortality were inadequate medical care and low use of family planning services.
There were no restrictions on access to contraceptives, and the Ministry of Public Health and the Fight against AIDS reported the contraceptive prevalence rate was 37 percent, part of a steady increase in the rate since 2006. According to a 2014 survey by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, many sexually active young people did not use contraceptives for a variety of reasons, including wanting more children, worries about side effects, religious beliefs, disapproval of a partner, a lack of knowledge about contraceptives, or unavailability of contraceptives. Men and women had equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Discrimination: The law provides for equal status for women and men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While 30 percent of elected positions are reserved for women under the constitution, women faced barriers to effective participation, including the low number of women in party leadership positions, financial and time constraints, and lower average levels of education. Women continued to face legal, economic, and societal discrimination, including with regard to inheritance and marital property laws. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights, and Gender is responsible for combating discrimination against women.
By law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but they did not (see section 7.d.). Some employers suspended the salaries of women on maternity leave, and others refused medical coverage to married female employees. Women were less likely to hold mid- or high-level positions in the workforce, although some owned businesses, particularly in Bujumbura.
Birth Registration: The constitution states that citizenship derives from the parents. The government registers, without charge, the births of all children if registered within a few days of birth. The government fines parents who do not register a birth within the time limit. An unregistered child may not have access to some public services, such as free public schooling and medical care for children under the age of five.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level, but students are responsible for paying for books and uniforms. Throughout the country, provincial officials charged parents fees for schooling.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against or abuse of children, with punishment ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment, but child abuse was a widespread problem. The penalty for rape of a minor is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. The UN Development Fund for Women reported that in many instances rapists wrongly believed the rape of minors would prevent or cure sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The traditional practice of removing a newborn child’s uvula (the flesh that hangs down at the rear of the mouth) continued to cause numerous infections and deaths of infants.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. No statistics were available on the rate of early marriage. Forced marriages are illegal and were rare, although they reportedly occurred in southern, more heavily Muslim, areas. The Ministry of Interior continued an effort to convince imams not to officiate over illegal marriages.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children is five to 10 years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and 50,000 francs ($12 and $30). The law punishes child pornography by fines and three to five years in prison. There were no prosecutions during the year.
While there does not appear to be large-scale child prostitution, older women reportedly offered vulnerable girls room and board in their homes under the guise of benevolence and in some cases forced them into prostitution to pay for living expenses. Brothels were located in poorer areas of Bujumbura, along the lake, and on trucking routes. Extended family members sometimes also financially profited from the prostitution of young relatives residing with them. Businesses recruited local girls for prostitution in Bujumbura and nearby countries.
Women and girls were trafficked to countries in the Middle East, sometimes using falsified documents, putting them at high risk of exploitation. Following international media reports, the government investigated, and seven persons were arrested in June. Media reports accused approximately one dozen companies in Middle Eastern countries, Kenya, and Burundi of being involved in the trafficking scheme.
Displaced Children: Thousands of children lived on the streets throughout the country, some of them HIV/AIDS orphans. The government provided street children with minimal educational support and relied on NGOs for basic services, such as medical care and economic support. Family poverty and parents’ inability to provide for them was a major factor causing children to leave home. The number of children living on the streets in Bujumbura reportedly increased as a result of increasing poverty, but no study has been conducted to verify this claim. UNICEF reported that children living on the streets faced brutality and theft by police and judged that police were more violent toward them during the 2015 political unrest than previously. Starting in June a government campaign to “clean the streets” resulted in the detention of hundreds of persons living or working on the streets, including more than 130 children. According to UNICEF, after being arrested the children were detained in adult prisons before being released.
UNHCR and the IOM reported that as many as 6,000 Burundian children arrived in refugee camps in neighboring countries without their parents between March and October. Some children arrived in camps in Rwanda, and their parents went to camps in Tanzania, and vice versa.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
No estimate was available on the size of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual disabilities. The government, nevertheless, did not promote or protect the rights of persons with disabilities with regard to employment, education, or access to health care (see section 7.d.). Although persons with disabilities are eligible for free health care through social programs targeting vulnerable groups, authorities did not widely publicize or provide benefits. Employers often required job applicants to present a health certificate from the Ministry of Public Health stating they did not have a contagious disease and were fit to work, a practice that sometimes resulted in discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights, and Gender coordinates assistance and protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government has not enacted legislation or otherwise mandated access to buildings, information, or government services for persons with disabilities. The government supported a center for physical therapy in Gitega and a center for social and professional inclusion in Ngozi for persons with physical disabilities.
The Twa, the original hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the country, numbered approximately 80,000, or approximately 1 percent of the population, according to the OHCHR. They generally remained economically, politically, and socially marginalized. Lack of education, employment, and access to land were among their major problems. By law local administrations must provide free schoolbooks and health care for all Twa children. Local administrations largely fulfilled these requirements. The constitution provides for three appointed seats for Twa in each of the houses of parliament, and Twa parliamentarians (including one woman) took their seats in August 2015.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of three months to two years. According to Burundi Africa Generation News, on November 2, the High Court of Cibitoke Province sentenced a 15-year-old boy who admitted to the rape of a seven-year-old boy to one year in prison. The adolescent was charged with rape of a minor and homosexuality. There were no other reports of prosecution for homosexuality during the year.
The Remuruka Center in Bujumbura offered urgent services to the LGBTI community. The government neither supported nor hindered the activities of local LGBTI organizations or the center.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Criminals sometimes murdered persons with albinism, particularly children, for their body parts, used for ritual purposes. Most perpetrators were reportedly citizens of other countries who came to kill and then departed the country with the body parts, impeding government efforts to arrest them. According to the Albino Women’s Hope Association chairperson, society did not accept persons with albinism and they were often unemployed and isolated. Women with albinism often were “chased out by their families because they are considered as evil beings.”