Benin: UN Human Rights Committee requests government to step up efforts towards universal birth registration and punishment of infanticide

On November 5, 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee released its recommendations addressed to Benin after monitoring the civil and political rights situation in the country. As part of the review, a coalition of 24 civil society organisations including Franciscans International (FI) submitted information to assist the Human Rights Committee in carrying out a complete and effective assessment. FI’s contribution focused on two issues:  the situation of Beninese children being accused of witchcraft, which jeopardises their rights to life, health, and development; and the slowness of the government towards achieving full birth registration rates.

During Benin’s review on October 27th – 28th, the Beninese government explained that it has been recently carrying out successful awareness-raising campaigns with Franciscains-Benin, one of FI’s main partners, and that this has resulted in the diminishing of killings and abandonments of children accused of witchcraft. While acknowledging the Government’s collaboration with civil society organisations, FI had warned the Human Rights Committee that such improvement are mainly the results of actions initiated by Beninese civil society. In their final observations, the Human Rights Committee recommended that “the State Party should take rigorous measures to punish infanticide.”

The Human Rights Committee also echoed FI’s concern about birth registration in Benin. In this area again, despite recent efforts by the authorities, too many obstacles still hinder the birth registration of all children. The State should act through legislative measures and awareness-raising, and should allocate additional financial means to local civil registration centres “in order to achieve the registration of all children’s births, both in urban and rural areas”.

FI and its local partner Franciscains-Bénin will use the Human Rights Committee’s recommendations as a basis to continue their advocacy work at international and national level towards better protection of marginalised children in Benin.

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Context: Ritualistic infanticide is a phenomenon still widely practiced in certain areas of Northern Benin.  In these traditional communities, a child born breach, or premature, born with teeth, or a visible handicap, runs the risk of being labelled a “witch,” bringing bad luck to the family, and therefore disposed of.  The practice of ritual infanticide jeopardises the rights to life, health, and development of thousands of children in several African countries. Addressing the issue remains a taboo, impeding significant improvements.  FI and its local partner Franciscains-Bénin have been collaborating for several years to carry out awareness-raising projects on the ground, and to advocate at the UN.