Last Updated 5 November 2021

Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony in West Africa which has a multi-party presidential republic.1 The population is estimated to be 1.9 million as of 2020.2

The country has been experiencing political instability in the last decade,3; but civil liberties have gradually improved since the military coup in 2012.4 International institutions and observers regarded the 2019 parliamentary elections as free and fair.5;

Reliable demographic data is not available, however it is estimated that 45% of the population is Muslim, 31% follow indigenous beliefs, 22% Christian and the final 2% is composed of different minorities.6

The country ranked amongst the worst in the UNDP Human Development Index. Most of the Guinean population is in a situation of multidimensional poverty.7

Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

Freedom of religion or belief is protected in Article 52 of the Constitution “Freedom of conscience and of religion is inviolable.”8

Article 6 of the Constitution states “In the Republic of Guinea-Bissau there shall be separation between the state and religious institutions.”9

Article 24 explicitly calls for non-discrimination and includes secular worldviews: “All persons are equal before the law, enjoy the same rights and are subjected to the same duties, without distinction as to race, social status, intellectual or cultural level, religious belief or philosophical conviction.”10

Article 4 of the constitution regulates political parties, including:

“4. The formation of parties of regional or local nature, parties that sponsor racism or tribalism, and of parties that advocate the use of violent means to achieve its ends is forbidden.
5. The party’s name may not identify itself with any part of the national territory, nor display the name of a person, church, religion, confession or religious doctrine.”11

Government institutions

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) noted the weak nature of state institutions and a low level of public trust in them. The population lacks awareness of human rights.12 para 12 The judicial system is damaged by the political situation and weakness of governmental institutions. Citizens lack faith in the justice system because of corruption and lack of resources.13 para 20

Reports show that the judicial system suffers from corruption and political pressure. The court system lacks resources and capacity to function effectively. The police force is also plagued by corruption. Most of the population lack access to justice.14

The remote location of courts relative to much of the population limits access to judicial services and contributes to the widespread sense of impunity.15 para 21 The limited formal justice increases the negative impact of customary law and traditional justice in solving societal problems.16 para 23 The formal justice system was poorly understood, expensive, and seldom used.17

Drug traffickers used threats and bribes to infiltrate state structures. Criminal networks operate with impunity and recruit the youth in their criminal activities.18 para 19

Education and children’s rights

In accordance with the Constitution, public schools do not provide religious instruction. Article 49(4) “Public schools will not be religiously oriented.”19;

However, some schools are operated by religious groups.

The average number of years at school is very low in the population. Limited access to education especially affects girls resulting in a literacy rate of 72% in girls as of 2014.20 para 49-51

Child labour and child trafficking

Child labour though illegal is common in Guinea-Bissau. A study showed that 40% of the country’s children are active in the labour market. Half of the country’s children are affected by poverty, increasing child labour.21 para 62

Reports show that child trafficking is common in Guinea-Bissau. Children are exploited in the country and trafficked to neighbouring states to engage in begging, forced labour and prostitution.22 para 60

Some religious teachers offer Muslim families Quranic education for their boys but then put them to work or begging, locally or in neighbouring countries. The boys get beaten and mistreated.23 para 35 The government cooperated with Senegal to return 158 mistreated children that were sent to Islamic schools in Senegal back to Guinea-Bissau.24

Family, community and society


Despite some legal protections, women face discrimination in society due to traditional views. Women do not have equal access to education, employment, and equal pay.25 para 38 Women, particularly from certain ethnic groups in rural areas, are restricted from owning or inheriting property.26

There is no effective legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity.27

Same sex marriage is not recognized, however same sex relationships are not made illegal by law. The situation for gay men appears to be better than otherwise in the region. The country rewrote its Penal Code in 1993 and did not include a provision against homosexuality.28;;

Early Marriages and child prostitution

Early and forced marriages are widespread,29 and occurred within all ethnic groups.30 The minimum age of marriage is 16 years, parents seek marriage for their underage daughters in the hope of benefiting financially.31 para 63 The civil marriage legislation is in most cases replaced by customary marriage law. 37% of girls and 3.7% of boys are married before the age of 18.32 para 63

NGOs submitted a legislative initiative to the parliament in 2018 to combat early marriages and criminalize forced marriages but the initiative was removed without any justification.33 para 64

Reports indicate that prostitution, also of minors, is common in Guinea-Bissau and linked with drug trafficking.34 para 60 Women and girls are forced into prostitution because of poverty and the lack of jobs or financial support.35 para 60 Reports show that girls are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation and sex tourism, including in bars and hotels.36

Female Genital Mutilation and Gender-based Violence

Despite being illegal,37 almost half of all women are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).38 Gender-based violence is reportedly widespread, though victims of rape and domestic abuse rarely report the crimes to authorities.39 The justice system does not properly address cases of gender-based violence. Judicial responses are late and ineffective which contributes to the persistence of harmful practices and a widespread sense of impunity.40 para 29, 59

Due to cultural reasons and a poorly maintained justice system, most conflicts related to gender-based violence are handled by traditional institutions or authorities, including families, community or religious leaders.41 para 57 The country lacks state institutions to respond to cases of gender-based violence.42 para 57 Sexual harassment is not explicitly made illegal by law, and as a result is widespread.43

Foreign religious movements

Since at least 2017 foreign-led Salafist groups have increased their presence and recruitment efforts in Guinea-Bissau.44 Mosques are established with unvetted imams with foreign funding.45; Online recruitment targets young men to religious radicalism. Some of the local Muslim population, which have traditionally subscribed to a different school of Islam have expressed their concern for the developments and how they may impact longstanding religious tolerance.46;

Freedom of expression and humanist values

Freedom of press and the media

The Constitution protects the freedom of the press in Article 56.47

Reports show increasing arbitrary arrests by security forces with no adherence to due process, where arbitrary arrests are also an instrument of political violence.48

Political instability since the coup in 2012 has affected journalism in the country, political and governmental figures intimidate and harass journalists and media outlets. This has led to a regression in freedoms and independence.49

The government has increasingly meddled in the journalistic direction of the state-owned media, replacing the directors who were unfavourable to the President.50

There have been two incidents where military forces were used on journalists.

In late February 2020, soldiers occupied and shut down the facilities of the state radio and television broadcasters for several days on behalf of President Embaló.51;

In July, security forces vandalized the headquarters and temporarily took off the air a private radio station known for its opposition to the President.52;

Reporters without borders rates the country 95/180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index:

“On the whole, media and journalists continue to be extremely vulnerable to political and economic pressure. The country has only one TV channel, which is controlled by the state, the right of access to information is not guaranteed and journalists still usually censor themselves when covering governmental shortcomings, organised crime and the military’s continuing influence. Some journalists have fled abroad to escape threats and intimidation.”53


1, 2, 17, 24, 30, 36, 37, 43, 44, 48
3, 5;
4, 14, 26, 27, 29, 38, 39, 49
8, 9, 10, 11, 47
12 para 12
13 para 20
15 para 21
16 para 23
18 para 19
20 para 49-51
21 para 62
22, 34, 35 para 60
23 para 35
25 para 38
31, 32 para 63
33 para 64
40 para 29, 59
41, 42 para 57
45, 46;
50, 53
51, 52;

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