Human Rights Report

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Document Information:

  • Year:
  • Country: Benin
  • Language: English
  • Document Type: Domestic Law or Regulation
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Benin is a constitutional democracy with a population of 7.9 million. In 2006
President Boni Yayi was elected to a five -year term in multiparty elections. In the
2007 legislative elections, President Yayi’s supporting coalition, Cowry Force for
an Emerging Benin (FCBE), won 35 of 83 seats in the National Assembly and
formed a majority with a group of 13 National Assembly members from minor
political parties (G -13). Eventually President Yayi lost his parliame ntary majority
when the G -13 joined the opposition parliamentary group in reaction to unfulfilled
political promises. International observers viewed both the presidential and
legislative elections as generally free and fair. However, municipal and local
el ections held in April and May 2008 were marred by numerous irregularities,
protests, and credible allegations of fraud. Security forces reported to civilian

Human rights problems in some areas continued. There were reports that police
occasio nally used excessive force. Vigilante violence resulted in deaths and
injuries. Harsh prison conditions and arbitrary arrest and detention with prolonged
pretrial detention continued. Violations of press freedom occurred. Impunity and
corruption were probl ems. Women were victims of violence and societal
discrimination, and female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced. Trafficking
and abuse of children, including infanticide and child labor, occurred.


Section 1 Respect for the Int egrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings.
Elements of security forces occasionally shot and killed armed robbers and claimed
self -defense to justify the shootings . The police generally ignored vigilante attacks,
and incidents of mob violence continued to occur, in part due to the perceived
failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally
involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves
caught stealing. For example, on April 20, residents of Assanlin in the commune of
Za -Kpota in central Benin killed two individuals who were said to be trying to
“steal two school boys .” The head of the arrondissement was interrogating the two
suspects in his office when a crowd broke in, brought out the two suspects , and

burn ed them alive. The police did not investigate the killing or arrest those

On May 8, individuals stab bed to death and burn ed two young men in Dilly, a
village in the Commune of Abomey, central Benin. The two victims were well –
known artists in the area. They were suspected of belonging to a ring that
kidnapped children. The police investigated the murder a nd arrested nine suspects.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, the government did not
always respect these prohibitions. Beatings in custody reportedly were

The Constitutional Court received complaints from citizens who were brutalized
by the police. For example, on March 8, the Constitutional Court ruled th at five
elements of an Anticrime Brigade (BAC) violated provisions of the constitution
prohibiting degrading treatment or punishment and the African Charter on Human
and Peoples ‘ Rights when five policemen severely beat, arrested, and detained a
truck driv er who refused to give them a bribe during a routine road security check
in February 2009 in Adjarra, a suburb of Porto -Novo.

The government completed payments to victims of torture under the previous
military regime; however , a large group of citizens wh o had been detained and
tortured under the previous military regime complained that the payments they
received were discriminatorily insignificant compared with the payments that
former political exiles received from the government .

Prison and Detention C enter Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be extremely harsh. Overcrowding and lack of
proper sanitation and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. A Mediator
of the Republic ‘s (Ombudsman) July 6 report on the condition in the nine civil
prisons indicated that prisons were overcrowded, and malnutrition and disease
were common. Some prisoners suffered from mental illness. There were deaths due

to lack of medical care and neglect . Prisoners at times died from lack of ventilation
in cramped and overcrowded cells. Eight of the nine civil prisons were filled far
beyond their capacity. The ombudsman published statistics in June indicating the
total prison population (including pretria l detainees and remand prisoners ) was
6,908; of that number, p retrial detainees and remand prisoners total ed 5,174 . No
breakdown of the number of juvenile and women prisoners in all nine prisons was
available .

In 2009 the government increased prisoners ‘ diet from one meal a day to two.

Juveniles at times were housed with adults. Pretrial detainees were held with
convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts or those convicted
of crimes subject to the death penalty. According to the om budsman’s report,
pretrial detainees outnumbered convicts three or four to one during the reporting

The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groups continued to visit
priso ns. Organizations that visited prisons during the year included the
International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the local chapter
of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, and Prisoners Without Borders.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The cons titution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, at times
the authorities did not respect these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The police, under the Ministry of Interior, have primary responsibility for
enforcing law and maintaining order in urban areas; the gendarmerie, under the
Ministry of Defense, performs the same function in rural areas. The police were
inadequately equipped, poorly trained, and ineffective in investigating gender –
based crimes and p reventing or responding to mob violence. The government
continued to respond to these problems by recruiting more officers, building more
stations, and modernizing equipment during the year; however, serious problems
remained, including widespread impunity .

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued
by a duly authorized official and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48
hours, but this was not always observed in practice; under exceptional
circumstances the magistrate may authorize continued detention not to exceed
eight days. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination; this was
generally o bserved in practice. They have the right to prom pt lawyer access after
being brought before a judge , also generally observed. They are allowed to receive
family visits, which were generally observed in practice . After examining a
detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain o r release
the individual. Defendants awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail;
however, the attorney general must agree to the request. Warrants authorizing
pretrial detention were effective for six months and could be renewed every six
mont hs until the suspect was brought to trial. The government provided counsel to
indigents in criminal cases.

There were credible reports that gendarmes and the police exceeded the legal limit
of 48 hours of detention in many cases, sometimes by as much as a week.
Authorities often used the practice of holding a person indefinitely “at the disposal
of” the public prosecutor’s office before presenting the case to a magistrate.
Approximately 75 percent of persons in prison were pretrial detainees. Inadequate
fa cilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration
of justice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government
did not always respect this provision. The judiciary remained inefficient in some
respects .

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses by members of the military
services; they have no jurisdiction over civilians. Civilian courts deal with crimes
involving the military. The country ha s no military tribunal.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial; however, judicial inefficiency
and corruption impeded exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A
defe ndant is presumed innocent. Jury trials are used in criminal cases. A defendant

has the right to be present at trial and to representation by an attorney; the court
provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request. A defendant has the right
to confro nt witnesses a nd to have access to government -held evidence. Defendants
are allowed to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants can
appeal criminal convictions to the court of appeals and the Supreme Court, after
which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public,
but in exceptional circumstances the president of the court may decide to restrict
access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends
the above rights to all citi zens without discrimination.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent, but not always impartial, judiciary in civil matters . If
administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, any citizen may file a
complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

The constitution an d law prohibit such actions, and the government generally
respected these prohibitions. The law requires police to obtain a judicial warrant
before entering a private home, and they generally observed this requirement.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Libertie s, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however,
the government did not always respect these rights. There were radio and television
broadcasts in which citizens openly critic ized the president ‘s policy without
reprisal; however , the government occasionally inhibited freedom of the press.

For example, o n October 13, the staff of the governmental Office of Radio and
Television (ORTB) sent a letter to the executive director of O RTB detailing
numerous instances in which he had restricted broadcast of programs involving the

opposition and/or which were counter to the government ‘s guidelines. ORTB ‘s
executive director denied those allegations.

On August 3 and 4, the government bloc ked the FM signal of the French state –
owned broadcaster Radio France Internationale for 14 hours after it reported that
deputies in the National Assembly attempted to impeach President Yayi for his
alleged involvement in the ICC Ponzi scheme that had defrauded investors of
billions of CFA and announced the broadcast of an interactive program on the
case. The High Authority of Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) denied any
involvement in the interruption .

On August 15, unidentified individuals bought thousands of copies of newspapers
that published a former minister of finance ‘s declaration on a high -profile
corruption case (the CEN -SAD affair), disrupting the supply of those newspapers
in Cotonou. Journalists alleged that the government had ordered t his maneuver.

The law criminalizes libel, and numerous journalists faced pending libel charges.
The law prohibits private citizens and the press from declaring or predicting
election results. Journalists practiced self -censorship.

A 2008 report published by the NGO Human Rights, Peace, and Development
(DHPD -ONG) stated that the government awarded communication contracts to
private media for propaganda purposes, adversely influencing the exercise of
freedom of the press.

The constitution provides for pris on sentences involving compulsory labor for
certain actions related to abuse of the right of free expression; penalties are for
threats to public order or calls to violence, but the law is vaguely worded and
susceptible to abuse. There were no reports that the law was invoked during the

The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without
restriction. Publications criticized the government freely and frequently, but their
effect on public opinion was limited due to restrict ed circulation and widespread
illiteracy. A nongovernmental media ethics commission continued to censure some
journalists during the year for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or
inaccuracies or releasing information that was under embargo by the government.

The government continued to own and operate the most influential media
organizations by controlling broadcast range and infrastructure. The majority of

citizens are illiterate, live in rural areas, and generally receive their news via radio.
The ORTB broadcast in French and local languages. There were an estimated 75
private, community, and commercial radio stations, and one government -owned
and five private television stations. Rural community radio stations received
support from the O RTB and broadcast several hours a day exclusively in local
languages. Radio France International and the BBC broadcast in Cotonou. The
government granted 350 million CFA ($78,000) in financial assistance to the
private media during the year.

The 2007 “Nat ional Report on Press Freedom,” released by DHPD -ONG, stated
that judges were often lax in prosecuting libel cases. A judiciary source indicated
that the court continued to receive libel cases against journalists during the year,
but judges generally refra ined from prosecuting them. Journalists continued to
fight for the decriminalization of press -related offenses.

There were no reports that the government penalized journalists who published
items counter to government guidelines.

The HAAC oversaw media o perations and required broadcasters to submit weekly
lists of planned programs and publishers to submit copies of all publications;
however, the media did not comply with these requirements in practice. The
HAAC claimed that the information was used for ad ministrative purposes;
however, some journalists complained that it was a form of harassment.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the
government monitored e -mail or Internet chat rooms. Individ uals and groups could
engage in the expression of views via the Internet, including by e -mail.

Internet access was widely available in cities, primarily in Internet cafes, but for
many the cost of using the Internet was prohibitive. Due to a lack of infra structure,
Internet access was not available in most rural areas. According to the most recent
International Telecommunication Union statistics, 1.66 percent of residents use d
the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government re strictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government
generally respected these rights.

The government requires permits for use of public places for demonstrations and
generally granted such permits; however, the authorities sometimes cited “public
order” to deny requests for permits from opposition groups, civil society
orga nizations, and labor unions.

On September 30, security forces disrupted a demonstration of teachers at a
training school in Abomey, Central Benin, and beat some of them while they were
complaining about the delay in government payment of their allowances. On
October 5, the Ministry of Secondary Education and Technical and Vocational
Training declared that the government would identify those responsible for the
beatings and punish them , although there were no reports it had done so .

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government
generally respected this right. The government requires associations to register and
routinely granted registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

For a description of religious freedom, please see the Depa rtment of State’s 2010
International Religious Freedom Report at rf/rpt .

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of
Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country,
foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government gen erally
respected these rights; however, the presence of police, gendarmes, and illegal
roadblocks impeded domestic movement. Although ostensibly meant to enforce
vehicle safety and customs regulations, many checkpoints served as a means for
police and gend armes to exact bribes from travelers. The government maintained

previously implemented measures to combat such corruption at roadblocks, but
they were not always effective, and extortion commonly occurred.

The government maintained documentary requirement s for minors traveling
abroad as part of its continuing campaign against trafficking in persons. However,
this was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government’s policy toward the seasonal movement of livestock a llowed
migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from other countries to enter and depart freely;
the government did not enforce designated entry points. Disputes sometimes arose
between herdsmen and local landowners over grazing rights.

The law prohibits forced e xile, and the government did not use it.

Protection of Refugees

The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. At
year’s end the re were approximately 7,300 refugees, with an estimated 6,000
coming from Togo. In practice the government provided protection against the
expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be
threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a
particular social group, or political opinion. The government cooperated with the
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other
humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The
government did not provide temporary protection during the year. If individuals do
no t qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of
Refugees or its protocol, authorities direct them to the Immigration Office to apply
for a residence permit.

The government continued to permit Togolese refugees residing in loca l
communities and refugee camps to participate in most economic activities and to
enroll their children in local schools. In 2007 the UNHCR and the governments of
Benin and Togo signed a tripartite agreement to organize the voluntary repatriation
of Togole se refugees. In 2009 83 Togolese refugees returned to Togo through the
program. There were no reported stateless populations in the country .

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government
peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic, free, and generally
fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

In 2006 President Bo ni Yayi was elected to a five -year term in multiparty
elections. In the 2007 legislative elections, President Yayi’s FCBE won 35 of the
83 seats in the National Assembly. A group of 13 National Assembly deputies
from minor political parties (the G -13) join ed the FCBE to form a majority of 48
seats in the assembly. In 2008 the G -13 dissolved the coalition amid political
tension, and the FCBE was left with its initial 35 seats. The G -13sided with
opposition parties and formed a blocking majority. Opposition g roups declined
President Yayi’s invitation to join his government.

International observers viewed both the presidential and legislative elections as
generally free and fair. However, fraud allegations and irregularities marred the
April and May 2008 local and municipal elections. Voters filed hundreds of
appeals with the Supreme Court, which annulled results in a number of communes
and ordered new elections and recounting of votes in constituencies where results
were disputed.

Individuals and parties coul d freely declare their candidacy and run for election.
There were no government restrictions on the political opposition. No single party
or group has recently dominated politics.

There were nine women out of 83 members in the National Assembly and four
female ministers in the 30 -member cabinet. The Constitutional Court had two
women among its seven justices.

The country has no majority ethnic group. Diverse ethnic groups were well
represented in government agencies, the civil service, and the armed force s. In the
National Assembly, 11 members were from the Nago and Yoruba ethnic groups ;
24 from the Bariba, Somba, and Dendi ethnic groups ; and 34 from the Fon, Goun,
Adja, and other smaller groups. Nine cabinet ministers were from the Bariba,
Somba, and Dend i ethnic groups ; 15 were from the Fon, Goun, and Adja ethnic
groups ; and three were from the Yoruba and Nago ethnic groups .

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

Official corruption remained widespread. President Yayi continued his 2006
anticorruption initiative.

On January 7, the president of the NGO Front for National Anti -Corruption
Organizations (FONAC) listed 32 corruption cases involving civil servants from
2006 to 2009 that remained unresolved. The FONAC invest igation at the Ministry
of Civil Service in September 2009 found that no disciplinary committee had been
established to handle these corruption cases and no sanctions had been applied.

On July 20, President Yayi reported to the president of the National A ssembly,
asking him to submit to parliamentarians for approval a request regarding the
indictment of four former ministers involved in corruption cases. The opposition
majority in the National Assembly rejected President Yayi ‘s request.

In July 2009 the government released a State Audit Office’s report; it detailed
alleged corrupt practices including illegal awarding of public contracts, overbilling,
mismanagement, and misappropriation of public funds for the renovation of two
conference centers in prepar ation for the June 2008 CEN -SAD summit. The
government confirmed the involvement of high -ranking officials, including the
former minister of finance and economy and officials in charge of public
procurement. The government dismissed the officials and reque sted disciplinary
action against them pending legal action.

Police corruption was widespread. Police continued to extort money from travelers
at roadblocks.

The Watchdog to Combat Corruption (OLC), a governmental anticorruption
agency, launched a nationwide effort to publicize the National Strategic Plan to
Combat Corruption and conducted a survey to gauge the magnitude of petty
corruption and bribery in the p ublic administration. To build its capacity to fight
corruption, the OLC held training sessions to familiarize its staff with the new
public procurement law, which went into effect in September 2009 , and to train
them on the observation of voter registration to prevent electoral fraud. On April
12, the OLC released its 2008 White Paper on Corruption to show the prevalence
of corruption in the public administration.

It was commonly believed, and ackno wledged by some judicial personnel, that the
judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

On July 6, President Yayi fired Chief Prosecutor George Constant Amoussou and
placed him in custody because he allegedly blocked a court complaint f iled by the
government against the ICC, a microcredit institution that swindled citizens out of
their deposits.

The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that
corruption continued to be a serious problem.

Public officials wer e not subject to financial disclosure laws.

There are no laws providing for public access to government information, and it
was unclear whether requests for such access were granted.

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernm ental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated
without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on
human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to
their views. The government met with domestic NGO monitors through the
Advisory National Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Justice, Legislation ,
and Human Rights ‘ Department of Human Rights. The Ministry of Justice,
Legislation , and Human Rights coordinated awareness campaigns to educate the
populace on human rights.

The government cooperated with international organizations. In 2009
representatives of the Committ ee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and of the
UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women visited the
country . Following its visit, the CPT made wide -ranging recommendations . In
November 2009 the World Committee Against Torture and the International
Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, in conjunction
with the Ministry of Justice, Legislation, and Human Rights and local NGOs, held
a follow -up seminar to consider the recommendations made by the CPT and to
ma p out strategies for the implementation of these recommendations by the

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability,
language, and s ocial status ; however, societal discrimination against women

continued. Persons with disabilities were disadvantaged. The government did not
take concrete measures to address those abuses.


The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness,
victims’ unwillingness to take cases to the police for fear of social stigma, and
corruption. The penal code does not make a distinction between rape in general
and spousal rape. Sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years’
imprisonment. From January to October, civil society organizations reported 636
gender -based violence cases reported to courts and 1,316 cases to police stations
and brigades in the framework of an international NGO ‘s project to combat gender –
based violence in the country . These statistics, however, did not cover gender
violence in the whole country . Statistics we re not available on prosecutions or
convictions . Because of police lack of training in collecting evidence associated
with sexual assaults and victims’ ignorance of their rights and inability to present
evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offenses to misdemeanors.

Domestic violence against wom en was common. The penal code prohibits
domestic violence, and penalties range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment.
However, NGO observers believed that women remained reluctant to report cases.
Judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic dis putes; society
generally considered such cases to be internal family matters. The local chapter of
a regional NGO, Women in Law and Development -Benin, the Female Jurists
Association of Benin (AFJB), and the Women’s Justice and Empowerment
Initiative throug h Care International’s Empower Project offered social, legal,
medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. The Office
of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Family and
Solidarity is responsible for protecti ng and advancing women’s rights and welfare.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced on girls and women from infancy
up to 30 years of age (although the majority of cases occurred before the age of 13 ,
with half occurring before the age of five), an d generally took the form of excision.
Approximately 13 percent of women and girls have been subjected to FGM; 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 5 3 percent of Yoa –
Lokpa women and girls ha d undergone FGM. Younger women were less likely to
be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure,
usu ally older women, profited from it. The law prohibits FGM and provides for

penalties for performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10
years and fines of up to six million CFA ($13,000); however, the government
generally was unsuccessful in preventing the practice. Individuals who were aware
of an incident of FGM but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from
50,000 to 100,000 CFA ($110 to $220). Enforcement was rare, however, due to the
code of silence associated with this cr ime.

In one example, in September 2009 police arrested a woman on the strength of a
denunciation by a local NGO that accused her of excising seven girls in the area of
Kouande in the N orth. The police referred the case to the court in Natitingou. In
Octo ber 2009 the court sentenced the woman to one -and -one -half year ‘s

NGOs continued to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM and to
retrain FGM practitioners in other activities. A prominent NGO, the local chapter
of the Inter -Afri can Committee, made progress in raising public awareness of the
dangers of the practice, and the government cooperated with these efforts. The
Ministry of Family continued an education campaign that included conferences in
schools and villages, discussions with religious and traditional authorities, and
displaying banners. NGOs also addressed this problem in local languages on local
radio stations.

Prostitution, especially child prostitution, was a problem . There were credible
reports that tourists visiting the Pendjari National Park in the far N orthwest used
the services of prostitutes , many of them minors . There is no specific law
addressing sex tourism. It was not clear whether these tourists operated thro ugh a
local or an international network, or whether they came to the region primarily for
sex tourism. There was no evidence of government involvement or complicity. In
March 2009 the government, in conjunction with the UN Children’s Fund
(UNICEF) and a lo cal bank, launched a seven -day campaign against sex tourism
involving children age s eight to 17 to spread awareness of the dangers of sex

Sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male
teachers. The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims.
Under the law persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two
years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA ($220 to
$2,200). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual
harassment and do not report it. Enforcement of these laws was lax due to law
enforcement agents’ and prosecutors’ lack of legal knowledge and necessary skills

to pursue such cases and victims’ fear of social stigma. Although this specific law
was not enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with
sexual abuses involving minors.

Article 26 of the constitution provides that the government shall protect the family,
particularly the mother and the child. The cou ntry’s May 2006 Declaration on
Population Policy promotes responsible fertility to reduce early and/or late
childbearing and to promote family planning through the distribution of
contraceptives. Act No. 2003 -04 of March 2003 on Sexual and Reproductive
Hea lth guarantees couples and individuals reproductive rights, including access to
health care, freedom to give birth, freedom of marriage, rights to
nondiscrimination, access to contraception, and equal access to health care for
people living with sexually t ransmitted infections including HIV. Article 19 of Act
No. 2003 -04 provides penalties for the commission of all acts prejudicial to the
enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health. The government in general respected
these rights. An estimated 30 percent o f women had an unmet need for family
planning. The 2006 Benin Demographic and Health Survey (EDS) reported the
maternal mortality ratio to be 397 per 100,000 live births . According to the 2006
Benin Demographic and Health Survey, 88 percent of women benefitted from
prenatal care given by health personnel (80 percent by nurses and midwives, 4
percent other, and 4 percent by physicians). The proportion of women who ha d
acces s to prenatal care provided by physicians was higher in Cotonou (18 percent)
and in other cities (5 percent), whereas the rate was lower in rural areas (3 percent) .

Although the constitution provides for equality for women in the political,
economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination
because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change .

Women are no longer subject to customary law ( Coutumier du Dahomey). The
code of persons and the family abrogated customary law and other legislation
unfavorable to women . The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination
against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance .

In response to a complaint filed by a woman being prosecuted for adultery in July
2009 , the Constitutional Court ruled that adultery -related provisions contained in
the penal code are unconstitutional on the grounds that these provisions
discriminate against women.

In rural areas women traditionally occupy a subordinat e role and are responsible
for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. In urban areas women dominated

the informal trading sector in the open air markets. During the year the government
and NGOs continued to educate the public on the 2004 family code, which
provides women with inheritance and property rights and significantly increases
their rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage,
and polygamy.

In practice women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit,
and equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. Women do not face legal
restrictions with respect to the code of persons and the family but may face societal
restrictions and discrimination . During the year the government granted
microcredit to the poor, especially to women in rural areas, to help them develop
income -generating activities. An estimated 675,000 women have benefited from
these microcredit projects since they began in 2007.


The government has stated publicly its commitment to children’s rights and
welfare, but it lacked the resources to carry out that commitment. The Ministry of
Family is responsible for the protection of children’s rights, primarily in the areas
of education and health. The National Commission for Children’s Rights and the
Ministry of Family have oversight roles in the promotion of human rights issues
with regard to child welfare.

Citizenship is derived by birth within the country ‘s territory and /or from one ‘s
parent s. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their
children, either out of ignorance or because they could not afford the fees for birth
certificates. A 2001 survey indicated that a quarter of children under 18 were n ot
registered at birth. This could result in denial of public services such as education
and health care. Several donors have taken action to increase the number of
registered children. Over the last two years, the NGO PLAN International has
supported the free registration of children who need to take the primary school
leaving exam. (Without a birth certificate , children may attend primary school but
cannot take the exam.) UNICEF and the NGOs Catholic Relief Services and World
Education also supported the government’s campaign to register every birth.

Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of
age . It became tuition free for all children starting with the 2007 -08 school year;
however, in some parts of the country girls re ceived no formal education. Parents
often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had
insufficient funds. According to UNICEF the n et primary school enrollment rate in

2007 was approximately 93 percent for boys and 83 percent for g irls . The
enrol lment rate for secondary education was much lower for girls. Girls did not
have the same educational opportunities as boys, and female literacy was
approximately 18 percent, compared to 50 percent male literacy.

FGM was commonly practiced on girls (see section 6, Women.)

Child marriage or precocious marriage existed. The practice included forced
marriage, barter marriage , and marriage by abduction. A 2008 gender -based
violence survey conducted in 13 communes indicated that 23 percent of th e 594
children interviewed were subjected to forced and precocious marriage .

Although the family code prohibits marriage under 18 years of age, the practice
continued in rural areas. Underage (14 to 17 years of age) marriage was permitted
with parental co nsent. As part of forced marriage , there is a tradition in which a
groom abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread
in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information
sessions on the rights of w omen and children. Local NGOs reported that
communities concealed the practice.

Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing deformed
babies, breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, and one of two
newborn twins (b ecause they were considered sorcerers) continued in some rural
areas, and perpetrators acted with impunity.

Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means ” placed
child ,” poor, generally rural, families place a child in the home of a wealthier
family. The child receive s living accommodations but often faces long hours of
work , inadequate food , and sexual exploitation. Sometimes the income generated
by the child ‘s activities is split between the child ‘s parents and the urban family that
raise s the child . Vidomegon traditionally was intended to provide better
educational opportunities and a higher standard of living for children of poor
families; however, this practice has made children more vulnerable to labor
exploitation and to tra fficking. Up to 95 percent of the children in vidomegon were
young girls.

Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to criminals convicted of crimes against
children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness
about the law and children’s rights , lack of access to the courts, or fear of police


Child prostitution was a problem. Some children, including street children,
engaged in prostitution to support themselves without third -party involvement . The
penal code prohi bits child prostitution; however, enforcement was limited, and the
commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem . A 2009 report on the
commercial exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43.2 percent of
surveyed children (age s 12 -17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to
commercial sexual exploitation.

The penal code provides penalties for rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of
minors, procuring , and prostitution , and increase s penalties for cases involving
wome n and children under 15 years old. Under the penal code, individuals
involved in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face
imprisonment of two to five years and fines of 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 CFA
($2,000 to $20,000) . The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The
family code set s the age of marriage at18 years. The de facto minimum age for
consensual sex is 18 years.

Child labor, although illegal, remained a problem.

There were many street children, most of whom did not attend school and lacked
access to basic education and health services.

The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of
International Child Abduction. For information on international child abduction,
please see the Department of State’s annual report on compliance at .

Anti -Semitism

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination against members of
religious groups. There was no known Jewish community, and no reports of anti –
Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

For information on trafficking in persons, please see the Department of State ‘s
annual Traffick ing in Persons Report at .

Persons with Disabilities


Discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities is not
prohibited by law; however, the law provides that the government should care for
persons with disabilities. There were no legal requirements for the construction or
alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. The
government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities, and m any
such individuals were forced to beg to support themselves. The Office for the
Rehabilitation and the Insertion of Persons with D isabilities under the jurisdiction
of the Ministry of Family coordinated assistance to disabled people through the
Aid Fund for the Rehabilitation and Insertion of Persons with D isabilities (Fonds
Ariph) .

The labor code includes provisions to protect the rights of workers with
disabilities, which were enforced with limited effectiveness during the year. The
Office of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of
Family are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual
Orientation and Gender Identity

There w ere no reports of overt societal discrimination or violence based on a
person’s sexual orientation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were no reports of overt discrimination or violence based on HIV/AIDS
status. Since 2006 it has been illegal to discriminate against a person, at any stage
of hiring or employment, based on his or her HIV status.

Section 7 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The labor code allows workers to form and join independent unions of their choice
without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and the government
generally respected these rights. Workers have the right to strike, and they
exercised it during the year. New u nions must register with the Ministry of Interior,
a three -month process, or risk a fine .

The labor force of approximately 3.2 million was engaged primarily in subsistence
agriculture, with only a small percentage working in the formal wage sector.
Although an estimated 75 percent of government workers belonged to labor
unions, a much smaller percentage of workers in the private sector were union

Workers must provide three day ‘s notice before striking; however, authorities can
declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and
can requis ition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government
may prohibit any strike on the grounds that it threatens the economy or the national
interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company
may withhold part of a worker’s pay following a strike. The government enforced
these laws effectively.

The m erchant m arine code grants seafarers the right to organize, but they do not
have the right to strike.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The labor code allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and
the government generally protected t his right. There are no restrictions on
collective bargaining . The labor code provides for collective bargaining, and
workers freely exercised this right with the exception of merchant shipping
employees. The government sets wages in the public sector by law and regulation.

In December 2009 the government created a National Consultation and Collective
Bargaining Commission to facilitate collective b argaining and enhance social
dialogue. The commission held sessions during the year to discuss workers ‘ claims
and propose solutions .

The labor code prohibits antiunion discrimination. Employers may not take union
membership or activity into account in hi ring, work distribution, professional or
vocational training, or dismissal; however, the government did not always enforce
these provisions, and there were reports that employers threatened individuals with
dismissal for union activity.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children;
however, such practices occurred in the agricultural, fishing, commercial, and
construction sectors, and tr afficking in persons was a problem.

The law provides for imprisonment with compulsory labor, and during the year
judges sentenced convicts to forced labor for various crimes .

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code pr ohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children under 14
years of age in any enterprise; however, children between 12 and 14 years may
perform domestic work and temporary or seasonal light work if it does not
interfere with their compulsory schooling. Child labor remained a problem due in
part to limited government enforcement of the law. To help support their families,
children of both sexes –including those as young as seven –continued to work on
family farms, in small businesses, on construction sit es in urban areas, in public
markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of
vidomegon. A majority of children working as apprentices were under the legal
age for apprenticeship of 14. Children work ed as laborers with adults in quarr ies in
many areas . Forced child labor and prostitution by street children were problems.
Children under 14 work ed in either the formal or informal sectors in the following
activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works,
trade/vending and food/beverage, transportation, and communication and other
services, including employment as household staff.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or
domestic workers, often on the understandin g that the children’s wages would be
sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring
countries for labor. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with
relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an
education. Host families did not always honor their part of the bargain, and abuse
of child domestic servants was a problem . The government drafted a list of
hazardous occupations forbidden for employment of minors according to ILO
Convention 182 , but by year’s end the government ha d not approved it . An
interministerial decree of 2000 provides that children under 18 are not allowed to
work in the following fields: public and private slaughtering facilities , except for
apprentices in their last year of apprenticeship; processing, handling , and
transportation of toxic substances ; processing and handling of engines or explosive
devices ; and work related to maintenance and surveillance of wild or venomous
animals. The decr ee also prohibit s employ ment of workers under 16 for the control

and use of unprotected machinery powered by pedals, for digging wells, gas pipe
works , and sewage -related works.

For information on child trafficking, please see the Department of State ‘s an nual
Trafficking in Persons Report at .

The Labor Office under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service enforced the labor
code ineffectively and only in the formal sector due to the lack of inspectors. The
government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and to prevent
compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional
workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems . These initiatives
were part of the Labor Office ‘s traditional sensitization program. The government
also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population
about child labor and child trafficking. The government beg an drafting a National
Plan to Eliminate Child lab or . A workshop was held in Porto -Novo from August
10 to 13 to discuss preparations. The government undertook a nationwide
awareness campaign as a key activity for the 2010 World Day of Action against
Child Labor.

In November 2009 the government issued the International Labor Organization’s
International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor -sponsored National
Survey on Child Labor. The survey provided comprehensive data and was
expected to help the government complete its National Policy for the Elimin ation
of Child Labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set minimum wage scales for a number of occupations. The
minimum wage was 30,000 CFA ($66) per month; however, the minimum wage
did not provide a decent standard of living for a worke r and family. Many workers
had to supplement their wages by subsistence farming or informal sector trade.
Most workers in the wage sector earned more than the minimum wage; many
domestics and other laborers in the informal sector earned less. The Office of
Labor enforced the minimum wage; however, its efforts were impeded by the small
number of labor inspectors. Significant parts of the work force and foreign workers
were not covered by minimum wage scales.

The labor code establishes a workweek of between 40 and 46 hours, depending on
the type of work, and provides for at least one 24 -hour rest period per week.
Domestic and agricultural workers frequently worked 70 hours or more per week,

above the maximum provided for under the labor code of 12 hours per d ay or 60
hours per week. The labor code also mandates premium pay for overtime and
prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The authorities generally enforced legal
limits on workweeks in the formal sector.

The code establishes health and safety standards, but the Ministry of Labor and
Civil Service did not enforce them effectively. The law does not provide workers
with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without
jeopardy to continue d employment. The ministry has the authority to require
employers to remedy dangerous work conditions but did not effectively do so. The
government did not effectively monitor or control foreign or migrant workers ‘
condition s of work.