Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

Benin: Domestic violence; protection and resources available to victims of domestic violence

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 10 January 2008
Citation / Document Symbol BEN102632.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Benin: Domestic violence; protection and resources available to victims of domestic violence, 10 January 2008, BEN102632.FE, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The constitution of Benin stipulates that the state has an absolute obligation to respect and protect the human person (Benin 10 Dec. 1990, Art. 8). State protection of the family, particularly of mothers and children, is also a constitutional obligation (ibid., Art. 26). In terms of internal legislation, the Bouvenet Criminal Code of 6 May 1877, the provisions of which [translation] "date back to the colonial period and are not in line with the current standards of criminal law," is the national legal instrument in criminal matters (OMCT 2004, 28). Under this Code, intentional bodily injury is punishable by various penalties that are more severe if the victim is a child under 15 years of age (ibid., 81).

According to the Women in Law and Development in Africa network (WiLDAF), a pan-African non-governmental organization (NGO) that is made up of 500 women's rights organizations (Courants de femmes n.d.), the Criminal Code is somewhat lacking in terms of gender-specific crimes (WiLDAF June 2007, Sec. 1). A review of the texts governing criminal matters has begun in order to modernize the content and thereby take into account the problem of domestic violence (UN 7 July 2005; OMCT 2004, 53). Under today's legislation, domestic violence is punishable by 6 to 36 months' imprisonment (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5). No information on the procedure for criminal proceedings could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

A new law adopted in 2004, the Personal and Family Code (Code des personnes et de la famille) (Freedom House 2006; FIDH July 2004, 6; OMCT 2004, 55-56), governs matters relating to marriage and invalidates the Customary Law of Dahomey (Coutumier du Dahomey), which until 2004, was the legislative reference text in private law under which women were not considered persons under the law (ibid.). Also, a bill to combat sexual harassment and to protect victims was launched in 2006 (WiLDAF June 2007, Sec. 1). Information on the status of the bill or on its application in relation to victims of domestic violence could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In practice, the texts voted on in the National Assembly of Benin are not implemented (OMCT 2004, 53). Although the judicial system is considered independent, it is also inefficient (Freedom House 8 Sept. 2006), congested (FIDH July 2004, 6), and susceptible to corruption (Freedom House 8 Sept. 2006; UK 17 Jan. 2007, 7; US 6 Mar. 2007). These problems have led to the emergence of parallel courts that decide many issues although sometimes to the detriment of human rights (FIDH July 2004, 6). Decisions on human rights cases before these so-called [translation] "traditional law" courts often go against the case law from ordinary law courts (FIDH July 2004, 7). No information allowing for a comparison of the decisions could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Also, in family matters, traditional practices prevail despite being contrary to the legislation in effect, and women's rights are often ignored (Freedom House 8 Sept. 2006). Despite legislative reforms, forced marriages (WiLDAF June 2007, Sec. 3), child marriages, and polygamy persist in Benin (UN 7 July 2005, 11).

Services offered to victims by the state and civil society

According to some NGOs, women victims of domestic violence in Benin are reluctant to file complaints, and judges and police are unwilling to intervene in cases of domestic violence because they consider them to be private family matters (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5; UN Aug. 2007, Sec. "Gender issues"). Therefore, women [translation] "are rarely taken seriously" at police stations and gendarmerie offices (WiLDAF May 2005, 22). Moreover, the complexity of the procedures discourages women from reporting perpetrators of domestic violence (WiLDAF May 2005, 21).

However, several measures have been introduced to better protect women's rights and their access to justice: in particular, legal aid is compulsory without distinction as to gender in cases provided for by law (UN 7 Nov. 2002, 91). In other cases, women must have their own financial means to hire a lawyer or must use the free legal services offered by certain NGOs (UN 7 Nov. 2002, 91).

The Women Lawyers Association of Benin (Association des femmes juristes du Benin) also offers assistance to women and operates several legal aid centres in many of the country's departments (UN 7 Nov. 2002, 12). Another project, funded by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a council of 39 national African-American women's organizations (NCNW n.d.), is under way to open a legal centre for women (Courants de femmes n.d.). With respect to education, information and awareness sessions are offered specifically to judicial police officers, judges, lawyers and religious and traditional leaders (UN 7 July 2005, 5; Courants de femmes n.d.; OMCT 2004, 53). These initiatives also target doctors (UN 7 July 2005, 5; Courants de femmes n.d.; OMCT 2004, 53). A report submitted to the United Nations (UN) in May 2005 highlights the fact that medical professionals sometimes blame female victims of rape and hide the facts (WiLDAF May 2005, 22).

However, judges, who are lacking information on women's rights and on Benin's obligations under international treaties, seem to be increasingly willing to take training and to refer to international texts as a basis for their decisions (Courants de femmes n.d.). Nevertheless, according to a report submitted to the UN, the interventions of NGOs in the justice system appear to be [translation] "more often than not, a simple waste of time" (WiLDAF May 2005, 21).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Benin. 10 December 1990. Constitution de la République du Benin. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

Courants de femmes. N.d. "WILDAF/FeDDAF : un réseau panafrician pour la promotion des droits des femmes." [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH). July 2004. La justice au Bénin : corruption et arbitraire. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

Freedom House. 8 September 2006. "Benin." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 9 Jan. 2008]

Organisation mondiale contre la torture (OMCT). 2004. La violence étatique au Benin. Rapport alternatif présenté au Comité des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

United Kingdom (UK). 17 January 2007. Home Office. Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). "Country of Origin Information Key Documents: Benin." [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

United Nations (UN). August 2007. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Republic of Benin: Humanitarian Country Profile." [Accessed 2 Nov. 2007]
_____. 7 July 2005. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. "Les experts du CEDAW se félicient des efforts du Benin mais constatent d'importants obstacles à la protection des droits de la femme." [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]
_____. 7 November 2002. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Examen des rapports présentés par les États partis en application de l'article 18 de la Convention sur l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l'égard des femmes. (CEDAW/C/BEN/1-3) [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

United States (US). 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Benin." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF). June 2007. "Situation des femmes Bénin." [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]
_____. May 2005. WiLDAF-Benin. Rapport alternatif : Le Benin et la Convention des Nations Unies de novembre 1979 sur l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l'égard des femmes. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), Courants de femmes, the Association des femmes juristes du Benin, the Réseau pour l'intégration des Femmes des Organisations Non Gouvernementales, the Associations africaines and a professor of public law at the Université de Cotonou in Benin did not respond to requests for information within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including:,, Factiva, Government of Benin, Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Organization for African Unity, Oxfam Québec, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld