Last Updated 11 October 2022

A constitutionally secular state, Senegal gained independence from France in 1960. French remains the official language. The population of 16 million is estimated to be 96% Muslim, located mostly in the North of the country. The majority of Muslims are Sunni but belong to different Sufi brotherhoods, some of which include indigenous beliefs.1 Although the Senegalese state is secular, Islam remains an important pillar of the national consciousness and social organization of the country.2 Christians are estimated to account for 3% of the population, and are concentrated in the South-West of Senegal. Christians are generally Catholics, but protestants and other forms of Christian indigenous practices are also represented.3 There is no available data on the number of non-religious individuals in the country.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution4 and other laws and policies protect “religious freedom” (“les libertés religieuses”), freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association (Article 8). The right to freedom of belief is generally respected in practice.

The first article of the Senegalese Constitution affirms the state’s secularism and the principle of equality “without distinction of origin, race, sex [and] religion.” However, the same article highlights the national motto, “One People – One Goal – One Faith.”

The Constitution states religious freedom must be respected and religious discrimination is punishable by law. It prevents political parties from having a religious affiliation (Article 4), and guarantees religious communities the right to practice their religion and organize autonomously (Article 24).

In order to operate, religious or secular associations have to be registered with the government and obtain the authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, Gender and Child Protection. Foreign organizations must also obtain an approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.5 This allows the state to monitor their programs and grant funds. Religious groups can be financially assisted by the government to maintain their place of worship or fund special events, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca or to the Vatican.6

Education and children’s rights

The government subsidizes schools run by religious groups if they meet national education standards, but the majority of the funds are allocated to long-established Christian schools with a reputation for high quality teaching.7

Up to four hours per week of voluntary single-religious instruction (Christian or Islamic) are permitted in both public and private elementary schools. Parents are able to choose between the Christian or Islamic curriculum. Theoretically at least, students may also opt out. The Ministry of Education reported slightly more than a million students participated in religious education through the public elementary school system in

By law, “the profession of religious educator” is guaranteed although “subject to public order.”9

Religious influence on sex education

According to Human Rights Watch, schools do not provide “adequate, comprehensive and scientifically-accurate content on sexuality or reproduction.” In the majority of schools, sexual health is taught through abstinence.10

Child rights

Harmful traditional practices

Female sexual health remains precarious, with high rates of female genital mutilation amongst women aged 0 to 14, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, an estimated 14% of girls under 15 underwent female genital mutilation/cutting and 31.5% of women aged 20 to 24 years old were married by age 18. The 2016 UNICEF gender assessment reported child marriage, early pregnancy and other harmful practices affecting girls. Adolescents, especially girls, have limited access to “life-skills education, reproductive health services, proper menstrual hygiene or information about HIV prevention.” Abortion remains illegal in the country.11

A common practice in Senegal is the “confiage” of children, namely sending children from rural areas to the cities in order for them to send money back to their families. Girls either become maids, living in precarious situations, or are forced to become sex workers from the age of 13.12 Boys are sent to Quranic schools, where child exploitation and abuse have been reported. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 100,000 children in Quranic schools live without adequate food or medical care and are victims of exploitation, violence, sexual abuse, forced to beg in the street.13 The government reportedly works with Muslim religious leaders to fight against child abuse in some Quranic schools.14 Finally, children with disabilities are particularly subject to abuse, sex and forced begging.15

Strict domestic legislation outlawing child abuse and human trafficking has remained ineffective.16

In 2022, the government launched its third national strategy to combat female genital mutilation and sexual violence, whilst taking meaningful steps to promote girls’ education. Although allowing for progress in certain areas, these programs remain underfunded.17

Family, community and society

Religious organizations maintain an important role in the Senegalese social and political life. Muslim and Christian leaders are often influential in politics and play an essential role to appease periods of tensions in the country. For instance, during the Casamance military crisis in 2021, the Catholic Church became the mediator between government forces and the Casamance Independence movement.18

Family law

Muslims may choose either the civil Family Code19 or Islamic law to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes. Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, however religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.20

Patriarchal repression

Senegalese society and institutions remain significantly patriarchal, exposing women to recurrent discrimination, inequality and violence. Despite having signed all international human rights conventions, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDEF-CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (PCADHPDFA) in 2004, Senegalese laws and their application by local and national tribunals maintain an unequal and discriminatory system for women.21

While the legal age of marriage is set at 18 for boys, the Family Code allows girls to be married at 16 and sometimes even younger if they are granted an “age waiver” by the President of the High Court. Moreover, the Criminal Code does not recognize as an offense criminal marriage and sexual relations in the context of marriage with a minor over 13 years of age.22 Article 152 of the Family Code also establishes the husband as the head of the household, allowing him, for instance, to decide the location of the family’s residency. Polygamy is allowed for men and forbidden for women.23

Sexual violence is a great concern in Senegal. In schools, girls, often minors, are victims of high rates of sexual and gender-based violence by teachers and other school personnel who abuse their positions of power. A Humans Right Watch report found that the majority of these incidents are not reported and offenders are rarely held accountable. The report highlighted that a legally mandated national code of conduct that spells out the duties of educators toward pupils is lacking in Senegal.24 According to a BBC investigation, sexual violence against women is also recurrent. In February 2022, many women reported being sexually assaulted during the Africa Cup of Nations’ celebrations.25

The government has taken measures recognized by the UN to promote women’s rights and empowerment. In 2013, it adopted a child protection strategy, reinforced in 2020 by a law criminalizing acts of rape and pedophilia. In 2021, it began implementing an electronic platform to anonymously report sexual violence. Moreover, the “Act on absolute parity between men and women” (2010) in all elective institutions has allowed Senegal to climb to seventh place in the world for the representation of women in Parliament.26 However, NGOs have criticized its only partial implementation some 10 years later.27

LGBTI+ discrimination

In Senegal, homosexuality is punishable with up to 5 years of prison. LGBTI+ people have reported recurrent threats and cases of physical aggression. According to some activists, at least 150 queer people have been threatened, while dozens of assaults have been reported since the beginning of the year.28 One expert also expressed her deep concern at “the proliferation of hate speech and incitement to violence against the LGBTI community in the media” in Senegal.29

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2022 report:30

“hundreds of protesters rallied to protest against LGBT+ rights, demanding that the government increase criminal penalties for same-sex sexual activity. Draft legislation that would lengthen prison sentences for people convicted of same-sex sexual activity and impose criminal penalties on those who finance or publicly support “any activity relating to the LGBT+ agenda” was introduced in December [2021].”

The proposed legislation would also place an effective ban on NGOs working to promote LGBTI+ rights.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution, and Senegal is known for its diverse and lively independent media landscape. However, recent developments, including the enactment of criminal defamation laws, raise concerns that freedom of expression may be being increasingly restricted, especially in cases of dissent.

The Senegalese President stills holds the power to choose the members of council in charge of regulating the audiovisual sector, which has been denounced by civil society organizations as an impediment to the neutrality and freedom of press.

Media freedom

In recent years, several journalists have been targeted for expressing opposition to the government. In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, at least a dozen incidents of security or other government officials harassing, threatening, or physically harming journalists were documented. In an August 2013 libel case, a Dakar criminal court closed the newspaper Le Quotidien for three months and sentenced its editor, Madiambal Diagne, to a month in prison and ordered a payment of damages of 10 million CFA francs (c.US$20,000) for an article criticizing a former foreign minister.31 International and local journalists have also been the victims of increased aggressions, sometimes being robbed or physically attacked. For instance, Reporter Sans Frontière reported that in 2021, journalists from “Futurs Médias” and “Le Soleil” had their material and offices damaged.32

Legal restrictions on expression and assembly

In 2021, two new counterterrorism laws were passed criminalizing terrorist acts including “seriously disturbing public order,” “criminal association,” and “offenses linked to information and communication technologies.” By not defining the concepts utilized, the laws have been criticized by civil society groups as putting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly at risk.33 The new laws also enhance law enforcement powers to surveil terrorism suspects without a judge’s authorization.34

Freedom of assembly

According to ARTICLE19:35

“Between March and May 2020, the Senegalese Government adopted a series of administrative orders and decrees banning all protests in the country and imposing restrictions on freedom of movement to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these orders were adopted before the Government declared a state of emergency and imposed disproportionate restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in violation of international law.”

Disproportionate use of force

During demonstrations against the government in 2022, state security used disproportionate force on protesters, arresting 100 people and firing teargas and live bullets into the crowd.36 Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that at least 10 people died during similar repression of anti-government protests in 2021, with at least 8 of those caused by the excessive use of force by security forces.37; In a 5 March speech, Interior Minister Antoine Félix Abdoulaye Diome said the protests were “acts of terror,” “insurrection,” “vandalism,” and “banditry,” and were illegal due to the state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic.38


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