Last Updated 16 November 2021

Benin, despite being underdeveloped has been a stable democracy until democratic institutions were weakened in 2016, the country ranks 158 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index scale for 2021.1 Political freedom and judicial independence have faced major setbacks after Patrice Talon came to power in 2016.2 Opposition parties were excluded from the 2019 parliamentary elections3 and again in the 2021 elections when Talon won his second term.4

The population is estimated to be about 12.9 million. According to the 2013 census, the most recent census conducted, 8.5% of the population is Christian, 27.7% is Muslim, 11.6% practice Voodoo, 2.6% are members of indigenous religious groups, 2.6% are members of other religious groups, and 5.8% declared no religious affiliation.5

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Article 2 of the Constitution6 states that Benin is secular, with no official state religions. Article 23 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and is quite inclusive, however, no concrete evidence could be found to support or undermine freedom of religion or belief.

“Every person has the right to freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion, of creed, of opinion and of expression with respect for the public order established by law and regulations. The exercise of a creed and the expression of beliefs shall take place with respect for the secularity of the State.

The institutions and the religious or philosophical communities shall have the right to develop without hindrances. They shall not be subject to the guardianship of the State. They shall regulate and administer their affairs in an autonomous manner.”

Article 26 confirms the principle of equality and non-discrimination. Freedom of religion, thought and expression is restricted to respect the secularity of the Beninese state. Nevertheless, before taking office, the president of Benin has to swear an oath before God and the Manes (spirits).

Elections in Benin

The April 2019 legislative elections excluded the opposition. Only parties aligned with the president could compete, rendering the elections undemocratic.7 Turnout was equal to approximately a quarter of eligible voters. The internet was shut down and security forces used violence against protests on election day.8

The undemocratically elected National Assembly adopted a new electoral law that required presidential candidates to be ‘sponsored’ by at least 10% of parliament members and/ or mayors, effectively restricting the opposition from participating in the 2021 presidential elections.9 The opposition was arrested, exiled, or were disqualified from the elections.10 The 2021 presidential elections were carried out despite protests and violence.11

According to CIVICUS Monitor, the country has seen setbacks in civic freedoms. Activists and journalists have been facing persecution. It claimed that “Harassment through arbitrary arrest, detention, targeted use of legal and regulatory measures and restrictions on finances has become a common experience for many human rights activists and opposition members in Benin.”12

In April 2020, the government of Benin informed the African Union that the country will be withdrawing the rights of individuals and NGOs to submit complaints to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.13

President Talon appointed judges by decree in 2018, in a breach of the independence of the judiciary, the appointments included the personal lawyer of the President who was named Constitutional Court president in 2018.14

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has brought new challenges, which have also affected the situation for freedom of religion or belief in the country.15 On 21 March 2021, the government met with leaders of religious groups to close places of worship to limit the spread of the virus.16 Many religious groups stated that they did not consider these measures as discriminatory.17 In the fight against COVID–19, the government also relied on religious groups to gather and share information about the pandemic.18 The government relied on these groups to combat misinformation, and it relied on them to distribute masks and hand sanitizer.19

Education and children’s rights

The public education sector suffers from a lack of infrastructure, equipment, and poor quality,20 especially affecting rural areas.21 Para. 55 Children from poor families lack access to education.22 Para. 54

Children may end up on the street because of poverty, facing various types of risks, including child labor or prostitution.23 Para. 4 The World Bank reports that only around 60% of children in the relevant age group were enrolled in and completed primary school as of 2020, while 7% dropped out before graduation.24; In accordance with Article 2 of the Constitution, public schools cannot provide religious instruction, though religious groups may establish private schools with authorization from the state and may benefit from state subsidies.25 Article 14 states that religious institutions and communities have equal cooperation in the education of youth. Private secular and parochial schools can be opened with authorization and control of the State.

Family, community, and society

Despite the laws being in place to criminalize ritual infanticide, there is a lack of accountability and justice in cases related to crimes done against individuals accused of witchcraft.26 So-called child sorcerers are killed in an atmosphere characterized by impunity, especially in the north of the country.27 Para. 15 Social services are not equipped to better protect potential victims.28 Para. 15

People with disabilities suffer social exclusion from many spheres in society.29 Para. 50 They suffer a stigma not only in rural but also in urban areas.30 Para. 50 Furthermore, they lack access to appropriate health services and care.31 Para. 50 Children with disabilities lack inclusion in regular schools, these children also do not have the same access to social grants.32 Para. 50

Reports show discrimination and lack of rights for persons with albinism in connection to witchcraft. In the third periodic report of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in March 2020, the observers expressed their concern about the everyday prevalence of discrimination and attacks against people with albinism.33 Para. 15 Furthermore, the report mentioned a certain “unawareness” of the issue by the State itself.34 Para. 15

Early and forced marriages

Child marriage and forced marriage are common, especially in rural areas. Child marriage is motivated partially by dowry payments.35 Para. 10 According to UNICEF 11% of children are married by the age of 15 and 32% by the age of 18, with girls disproportionately affected.36 Most of the victims of prostitution were girls who had fled early or forced marriages.37 Para. 58 The harmful tradition of abduction and rape by the spouse of his future minor wife is common in certain communes.38 Para. 10

According to a joint Universal Periodic Review (UPR) document submitted by INGOs in 2017,39

“Early marriages are associated with domestic and sexual violence, abandonment, widowhood and divorce, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty and gender-based violence. In fact, child marriage, based on offering a young bride in exchange for dowry money or in-kind payments, should be regarded as a form of CSE as well as a risk to other manifestations of CSE. The child is removed from her home, school and, sometimes, community, and starts living under the absolute control of her husband and in-laws. Paradoxically, some girls end up in prostitution when trying to escape their marriage. Early marriages are widespread in rural areas despite the efforts of government and NGOs to stop them through awareness raising sessions on women’s and children’s rights.”

Women’s rights

Despite legislation made in 2003 to prohibit female genital mutilation, the practice persists.40
Sex workers were abused by law enforcement officers, sometimes also faced sexual assaults or physical violence.41 Para. 18

LGBTQ+ Community

There is no legal protection from discrimination for the LGBTI+ community in Benin. The age of consent is set to 21 years old for same sex sexual relations, higher than that for heterosexual partners (which is 18 years old).42 Sexual Rights Database, ENG-CovArtboard 1 (

There is no legal protection from discrimination for the LGBTI+ community in Benin. As a result, members of the face social stigma and widespread discrimination.43 Transgender people are often subject to harsh treatment, threats and violence: by both the public and police. In April 2020, a trans woman was beaten unconscious, and later in a police station beaten, mocked and threatened.44 In July 2020, a trans woman was beaten by a mob and later unlawfully detained by the police.45 On the first of May 2021 a video went viral on social media of three transgender women getting beaten and harassed in Benin’s economic capital, Cotonou.46 Violence and abuse against trans people has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many being blamed to have caused the pandemic.47

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of the Media

Benin dropped from rank 84 in 2015, to 114 in the 2021 Reporters without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.48 In a violation of international free speech standards, the authorities decided that news websites need to undergo an authorization process that includes a “morality investigation.”49; Reports show that the government sends guidelines on coverage to media outlets.50

Many of the media outlets refrain from openly criticizing the government. The press and media are closely regulated by the government. There are numerous reports from 2018 – 2021 of arrests of journalists and editors who oppose the current government and who expressed criticism against it.51

In the time period 2018 – 2021, the High Authority of Audio – Visuals and Communications (HAAC), a quasi governmental commission tasked with ensuring press freedom in Benin, has in several cases ordered media outlets to close.52 In a number of these cases this order was reversed by the judiciary.53

The HAAC also showed signs of censorship or content restrictions. For example, it has previously warned the media against publishing information related to undecided criminal cases because it could be interpreted as an attempt to taint court rulings.54 This has resulted in large scale self–censorship by journalists.55

In 2018, the authorities suspended an opposition newspaper indefinitely. A TV channel owned by President Talon’s leading political opponent is still forced off-air despite a court ruling in May 2017 allowing it to reopen.56

There have been reports of journalists facing legal action and intimidation after covering economics and corruption.57 In April 2019, Casimir Kpédjo was arrested because of two articles on Benin’s debt. The journalist was accused of distributing false information on the economic performance of Benin on the Facebook page of the newspaper.58 Another journalist was persecuted for “publishing false news on the internet” under the widely criticized 2017 Digital Code59 law. He published two articles discussing the Panama shell company owned by one of the businessmen in the country.60

Freedom of assembly and association

Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. However, since 2018 authorities have used “public order” to prevent opposing political demonstrations and demonstrations by civil society organizations.61 Moreover, during the 2019 legislative elections, mayors were ordered to ban protests indefinitely.62

During the COVID–19 pandemic opposing political meetings and rallies were prohibited, while the same activities by regime – supporters were not.63


2, 3, 8, 14, 40
7, 9, 10, 11, 12
15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 25
20, 26
21 Para. 55
22 Para. 54
23 Para. 4
27, 28 Para. 15
29, 30, 31, 32 Para. 50
33, 34 Para. 15
35, 38 Para. 10
37 Para. 58
41 Para. 18
42 Sexual Rights Database, ENG-CovArtboard 1 (
44, 45, 51, 63
46, 47
48, 50, 56
52, 53
54, 55, 61, 62
57, 58, 60

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