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Gabon: Domestic violence, including the situation of women victims and state protection available to them and their children, specifically in cases where the father-in-law is the abuser (June 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa
Publication Date 21 June 2005
Citation / Document Symbol GAB100229.FE
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Gabon: Domestic violence, including the situation of women victims and state protection available to them and their children, specifically in cases where the father-in-law is the abuser (June 2005), 21 June 2005, GAB100229.FE, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
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Information on domestic violence in Gabon was limited among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Country Reports 2004 states that "[d]omestic violence against women was believed to be common, especially in rural areas" (28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5). However, according to the same source, "there were few reports of such violence during the year [2004]. Police rarely intervened in such incidents, and women virtually never filed complaints with civil authorities. Only limited medical and legal assistance for rape victims was available" (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5).

A 6 October 2004 report from the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) explains that, in Gabon, it is difficult to obtain information on domestic violence against women, owing mainly to the private and intimate nature of that violence along with social and cultural influences (United Nations 6 Oct. 2004, 6). The same report further explains that although domestic rape and incest occur, talking about them is taboo (ibid., 8). The report also states that Gabonese women often opt not to report domestic violence against them out of fear, shame or submission (ibid.).

Among the main types of violence that occur in Gabon, the CEDAW report listed those that take place within the family, such as bodily injury between spouses or with relatives, rape and incest, arranged and early marriages, infidelity, polygamy and abandoning a wife (ibid., 7-8).

In terms of the law, there is a general structure in Gabon for punishing offences related to physical and psychological abuse (ibid., 8). However, in a report published on 15 February 2005, the CEDAW stated that it was "concerned about" the following:

[CEDAW English version]

the persistence of discriminatory legal provisions, particularly pertaining to marriage and family relations in the Civil and Penal Codes, including in respect of minimum age of marriage, separation and divorce, custody of children, equal-inheritance rights of widows as well as equal choice of residence and profession. The Committee is also concerned that the Civil Code recognizes the option of polygamy.

. . .

The Committee is concerned about the lack of specific legislation to eliminate violence against women, including domestic violence (ibid. 15 Feb. 2005, 4).

Furthermore, the Committee "urges" the government of Gabon to give high priority to putting in place:

[CEDAW English version]

comprehensive measures to address all forms of violence against women and girls, recognizing that such violence is a form of discrimination against women and constitutes a violation of their human rights under the Convention. The Committee calls upon the State party to enact, as soon as possible, legislation on violence against women, including domestic violence, so as to ensure that violence against women constitutes a criminal offence, that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.

. . .

[The Committee] also recommends the introduction of measures to provide medical, psychological and legal assistance to victims of violence (ibid., 5).

A 25 June 2003 CEDAW report provides some examples of Gabonese legal provisions that discriminate against women or that are not actually applied:

[CEDAW English version]

[A]lthough article 270 of the Penal Code penalizes bigamy by the husband and the wife, and article 178, paragraph 2 allows either party to take another spouse during marriage, in practice, only the man may do so. Wives therefore have little option but to accept their husband's decision, if they wish to avoid being abandoned or divorced by them. Another example is article 692 of the Penal Code, which provides that a widow shall be deprived of her right of usufruct if she remarries, without compelling grounds, into a family other than that of her deceased spouse (ibid. 25 June 2003, 5).

The same report further states that:

By marrying, a woman makes a commitment to obey her husband (Article 252 of the Civil Code), who is empowered as the head of the family (article 253). The husband thus decides on the domicile (articles 114 and 254) where the wife is obliged to live and where the husband is obliged to provide for her, for the duration of the marriage. The wife may avoid this arrangement only through court authorization. It should be noted that a married woman who abandons the marital home is penalized under penalties prohibiting adultery (Article 269 of the Penal Code). Thus, no matter how urgent the situation, the wife is forced to engage in a long and costly procedure in order to escape any violent situation to which she may be subject.

. . .

[In theory,] [a]ny separation of husband and wife must be declared by the courts. If the wife is renounced by the family, she is freed from her duties of cohabitation and her duty to obey. Separation of assets becomes effective on the day of the said declaration, in accordance with article 265 of the Civil Code.

In practice, however, the courts do not seem to apply this provision correctly, since it is used to penalize the renounced wife for adultery and for abandoning the marital home (ibid., 28-29).

Regarding services available to women who are victims of violence, the October 2004 CEDAW report states in general that services are provided by certain non-governmental organizations, by social services and by the Ministry for the Family, the Protection of Children and the Advancement of Women (ibid. 6 Oct. 2004, 9). According to that same report, there are no shelters for women who are victims of violence, but some churches provide short-term accommodations (ibid.).

No specific information on the protection available to women who are violently abused by their father-in-law and the protection available to their children could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

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.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. United States Department of State. Washington, D.C. [Accessed 16 June 2004]

United Nations. 15 February 2005. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Observations finales : Gabon. (CEDAW/C/GAB/CC/2-5). [Accessed 15 June 2005]
_____. 6 October 2004. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Responses to the List of Issues and Questions for Consideration of the Combined Second, Third and Fourth periodic report: Gabon. (CEDAW/PSWG/2005/I/CRP.2/Add.2). [Accessed 16 June 2005]
_____. 25 June 2003. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Examen des rapports présentés par les États parties conformément à l'article 18 de la Convention sur l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l'égard des femmes. Deuxième, troisième, quatrième et cinquième rapports périodiques combinés des États parties : Gabon. (CEDAW/C/GAB/2-5). [Accessed 15 June 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Publications: Africa Confidential, Africa Research Bulletin, Resource Centre country file

Internet sites, including: AllAfrica, Amnesty International, Famafrique, Human Rights Watch, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Norwegian Council for Africa, Radio France Internationale, UNIFEM, United States Department of State, US Citizenship and Immigration Services – Resource Information Center, Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

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.

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