Last Updated 8 December 2023

The Republic of Mozambique, which gained independence from Portugal in 1975, continues to suffer from the effects of a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. The country held its first multi-party democratic elections in 1994.1; Situated on the southeast of the African continent, its neighbors are Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Eswatini.

According to the most recent census (2017), an estimated 46% of the population are Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic (accounting for 27.3% of the population as a whole). A further 19% are Muslim, and 16% Jewish. Approximately 14% of the population were non-religious at this time.2 A significant portion of the population adheres to syncretic indigenous religious beliefs, fusing traditional practices with aspects of either Christianity or Islam.3

Conflict in the northern region of Mozambique has led to a humanitarian crisis in the region, and human rights abuses carried out with impunity by – primarily Islamist – insurgents and government security forces alike.4

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Constitutionally defined as a secular state (Article 12), the Constitution5 and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.

The Constitution establishes that the State “shall recognise and esteem the activities of religious denominations in order to promote a climate of understanding, tolerance and peace, the strengthening of national unity, the material and spiritual well being of citizens, and economic and social development.”

Article 54 of the Constitution enshrines the right to “Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Worship,” stipulating that “[a]ll citizens shall have the freedom to practice or not to practice a religion,” and that no one should be discriminated against for their beliefs.

Political parties are prohibited from using names containing expressions that are directly related to any religious denominations or churches, and from using emblems that may be confused with national or religious symbols  (Article 76).

A 2011 concordat ratified in 2012 between the Government and the Holy See in effect privileges the Catholic Church as a legal entity. The concordat gives the Church the right to “regulate ecclesiastical life,” formally recognizes and elevates various titles and procedures of the Church, and waives the need faced by other religious groups to register with the State – in effect giving the Church exemptions from meeting corresponding obligations.6

A campaign by the Socialist government from 1979-1982 saw a systematic suppression of specifically religious freedom,7 including state control of religious institutions.

Although Article 43 stipulates that the rights outlined in the Constitution should be “interpreted and integrated in harmony with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights,“ the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are coming under increasing pressure from the authorities.

Education and children’s rights

According to Article 113 of the Constitution:

“1. The Republic of Mozambique shall promote an educational strategy that aims towards national unity, wiping out illiteracy, mastering science and technology, and providing citizens with moral and civic values.
“3. Public education shall not pertain to any religion.
“5. The State shall not plan education and culture in accordance with any specific philosophical, aesthetic, political, ideological or religious guidelines.”

Religious organizations are permitted to own and operate educational institutions, but religious instruction is not allowed in public schools.8

The Concordat signed between the government and the Vatican permits the Catholic Church to operate schools, and teach in accordance with its values and doctrine. Such schools are permitted to teach the Catholic faith, however, under the Concordat, they are required to respect the principle of “religious freedom.”

With the capacity and growing number of non-governmental (private) universities — which has seen an increase in higher education overall — there has been some criticism that many such institutions are motivated by financial or religious concerns, at the expense of purely academic motivations. There is also concern about creating a brain drain from the state sector.9Higher Education in Mozambique. ISBN 0-85255-430-3. Mario, Mouzinho; Fry, Peter; Leve, Lisbeth (2003)

Child rights

Forced and child marriage remains a serious concern. It’s been reported that some pastors of some religious congregations encourage the use of virgin girls to settle the payment of debts incurred by their parents, a practice criticised by other religious leaders 10

Family, community and society

As an ethnically diverse nation, the Constitution “recognises the different normative and dispute resolution systems that co-exist in Mozambican society, insofar as they are not contrary to the fundamental principles and values of the Constitution.” However, research suggests that the State has limited reach throughout its territory, particularly in remote rural areas, which affects the implementation of the law and access to remedy.11 As a result, local customs and laws that may not be compatible with the principles of the constitution are applied to varying degrees.


A deeply patriarchal society, women and sexual minorities are often greatly disadvantaged across various levels of society.12;

Custom often dictates that a lobolo (or dowry) is paid upon marriage, and thus the bride is considered bound to the family of her husband. As a result, widows are often required to marry their husband’s brother upon his death (a practice known as ‘levirate’).13; The practice results in the perpetuation of social inequalities.

In some regions, particularly the northern provinces, women are reported to have limited access to the formal judicial system for enforcement of rights provided under the civil code and instead rely on customary law to settle disputes. Under customary law, women typically have no rights to inherit an interest in land.14

Although consensual same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Mozambique since 2015, members of the LGBTI+ community continue to face significant social stigma that is reported to particularly affect their ability to access medical services.15 In addition, according to ILGA World, the Ministry of Education removed a textbook called “The Secret of Life” from the schools’ curriculum in 2022. The book reportedly contained information about homosexuality which caused public backlash on social media. The Department of Education indicated that it would issue new textbooks in 2023 that would deal with the topic in a more culturally sensitive manner.16

In addition, numerous health care challenges persist in Mozambique, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive rights.17;

Sexual health and reproductive rights

According to a joint submission made to the UN Human Rights Council, by the Young Feminist Movement of Mozambique, the Coalition of African Lesbians, and the Sexual Rights Initiative:18

“Religious and traditional leaders play a big role in spreading non-scientific false, misleading and stigmatising information about sexual and reproductive health. There is also an absence of comprehensive sexuality education and other rights and evidence based information about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result there is widespread lack of knowledge on the origin of HIV/AIDS, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and family planning; the impact of multiple partners and polygamy on sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; the belief that more children represent increased potential for wealth and income for the family; and early forced marriage. Some religious institutions and teachings are resistant to family planning, and prohibit condom use. Culture, along with lack of accurate information and access, lead to shocking outcomes, such as only about 12 percent of women are estimated to be using modern contraception.”

Superstitious practices

Fear and superstitions about people with albinism, including that their body parts possess magical properties, has led to abductions, mutilations, even killings.19 The same can also be said for the elderly who are often accused of witchcraft.20;

In 2017, five bald men were killed due to a cultural belief that their heads contained gold. Police have blamed witchdoctors of orchestrating these killings in attempts to acquire human body parts for money making; In 2022, it was reported that a man was decapitated by criminals who planned to sell the head to a client from Mali.22;

Conflict – a forgotten war & impunity

Attacks in Cabo Delgado started in October 2017 with killings of civilians by an armed group calling itself Al-Shabaab, which has no known operational relationship with Al-Shabaab in Somalia, but is thought to have connections with ISIS, and is known locally as “Mashababos.”23 Between October 2017 and December 2022, the often indiscriminate attacks displaced more than one million residents and killed nearly 2,000 civilians of all faiths.24; Local and international groups have cautioned against ascribing religious motivations to the attacks, citing ongoing socioeconomic inequalities as one of the drivers of the conflict.25;

Amnesty International has documented atrocities amounting to violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by all sides of the conflict over the resulting years.26

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Although guaranteed under the Constitution, the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have come under increasing pressure over the past few years. Journalists and human rights defenders have faced harassment, threats and arbitrary arrest, particularly when seeking to cover the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado region.27;

Despite calls for the country to repeal criminal defamation laws, Mozambique’s Penal Code continues to criminalize defamation and slander. In addition, defamation and slander against the President, members of the government, parliamentarians, magistrates and other public authorities are also criminalized in the Press Law.28

The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association have been repressed in tandem with legal efforts to shrink civic space. Successive peaceful protests have been broken up by unnecessary use of force by the police.29;;

At the time of reporting, the Mozambique government was considering a draft law on NGOs that, according to Human Rights Watch, would “undermine the work of civil society groups and the right to freedom of association in the country.”30 Purportedly intended to curb funding of terrorist organizations, the bill contains several articles that contravene the Mozambican Constitution and regional and international human rights instruments to which Mozambique is party, including articles permitting the Ministry of Justice – not a court – to close an NGO if it fails to submit evidence of its good functioning and accounts annually.31;;;


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9 Higher Education in Mozambique. ISBN 0-85255-430-3. Mario, Mouzinho; Fry, Peter; Leve, Lisbeth (2003)

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