Children of Benin

Realizing Children’s Rights in Benin

Benin is a stable democracy in a relatively volatile region where some of its neighbors have been targeted by Boko Haram. Despite its political stability, the country struggles with the consequences of poor performance on crucial issues such as healthcare and education. Moreover, another challenge Benin needs to deal with are the serious human rights violations stemming from superstition.

Children’s Rights Index: 6,05 / 10
Red level : Difficult situation

Population: 11,4 millions
Pop. ages 0-14: 42,4 %

Life expectancy: 61.1 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 93 ‰

Benin at a Glance

Benin, officially the Republic of Benin, is a small, mostly flat country sandwiched between Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Burkina Faso to the northwest, Niger to the north and the Bight of Benin portion of the Atlantic Ocean to the south. It has a humid tropical climate in the south and a semiarid tropical climate in the north.

Present day Benin was the site of the West African kingdom of Dahomey, known – among other things – for its fierce female warriors. Dahomey was also one of the most important African actors of the infamous slave trade, which helped propel it into the status of a regional power. France eventually conquered Dahomey in 1894 and Benin regained its independence only 66 years later in 1960.

One of the remnants of its former colonial power is that the official language of Benin is French. While French is also the language of instruction at schools, Fon and Yoruba constitute the most widely spoken native languages in the country.

Today Benin, with its two de-facto capital cities of Porto-Novo (constitutional capital) and Cotonou (seat of government), is one of the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa. While its political stability and well-established democratic institutions are admirable, Benin still has a lot of work to do in other areas.

Addressing the Needs of Children [1]

Right to Health

Children under the age of 15 constitute 45 % of the population of Benin and the median age of the entire population is 17 years. An average Beninese woman starts having children at the ago of 20 and has 5 children during her lifetime. Unfortunately, Benin has the 15th highest infant mortality rate in the world, 58 out of every 1000 children not surviving beyond the age of 1.

The Government’s health expenditure per child is considered low to average in African terms at around 31 USD, whereas it stands at 280 USD in Equatorial Guinea. As of 2015 only 19% of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities and there is a high to very high risk of major infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and meningococcal meningitis.

As of 2018, 16% of children under the age of 5 are critically underweight, which represents an improvement from the 2014 figure of 33%, but indicates that poverty and deprivation are still a major concern in the country. Benin, as any country, and especially as a country that ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child has important obligations to meet, including eliminating child malnutrition and poverty.

Right to Education

As of 2016, girls are still only expected to complete 11 years of their formal schooling, whereas boys attend school for 14 years on average. This shows in Benin’s literacy rate, which stands at only 31 % for women, and at 54 % for men. The overall literacy rate of 42 % is still a great deal behind the African average of 70 %. As of 2016, Benin is the 106th country in the world when it comes to its overall expenditure on education.

Child-Sensitive Social Protection

Social protection is essential for preventing and reducing poverty for children and their families, for addressing inequalities, and for realizing children’s rights. In addition, it is essential that social protection programmes respond to children’s vulnerabilities by optimizing positive effects for children and minimizing potential adverse consequences.

Children in Benin often face vulnerabilities exacerbated by a range of risk factors which severely impact their well-being and capacity to exercise their human rights. Child-sensitive social protection has the opportunity to address chronic poverty, social exclusion, and external shocks which can irreversibly affect children. Only 8 % of the population of Benin is covered by health insurance in case they were to require medical treatment. This stands in sharp contrast with the prevalence of infectious diseases in the country.

The Government of Benin has tried to address the issue by investing over half a million euros in social protection action plan. Despite this, many children and families continue to face barriers accessing basic social services. As such, it is important that policies, legislation, and regulations effectively consider the viewpoint of children, youth, and their caregivers- so that children’s rights are met.

Risk factors → Country-specific challenges

Cultural Practices

The practice of female genital mutilation still exists in certain regions of Benin.  The precariousness and lack of hygienic conditions under which these circumcisions are performed often result in serious consequences affecting the health of young girls for years to come. Infections, hemorrhaging or other, sometimes life-threatening complications frequently result from this procedure.

In some regions of Benin certain beliefs promote practices that result in cruel and inhuman treatment towards children. Although the country has attempted to halt these practices, they persist in certain areas. According to certain customs, if a child is born with deformities, or if a mother dies in childbirth, or even if a baby is born in the breach position, the child is considered evil.

These children are then considered to be abnormal and given to an executioner. Infanticide is not practiced by all inhabitants of Benin and only concerns certain beliefs that are – fortunately – rather rare. Nevertheless, these practices are extremely serious and constitute extreme violations of children’s right to life.

Child Marriage

Forced marriages are still common in Benin and they have the potential to destroy a child’s future prospects. Girls are often forced into arranged marriages before they reach puberty and would be able to make an informed decision on whether to marry and who to marry. This illegal practice is in sharp contrast to Benin’s official age of consent of 18 years.  

Child Exploitation and LGBT Rights

Unfortunately, over 36 % of children are forced into child labor in Benin. Children in rural areas may be given to some distant family members living in the city and are promised a good education, and in particular, access to schools. Unfortunately, in some cases, these children are exploited and forced to work under unacceptable conditions at cotton plantations or granite mines. Child labor increases the risk of being subjected to different forms of child abuse.

While Benin, unlike its neighbors Togo and Nigeria, does not criminalize consensual homosexual sexual intercourse, adolescent Beninese struggle to establish romantic relationships as their partners might risk 6 months to 3 years in prison as a result of the unequal age of consent for homosexuals at 21 years. Homosexuals in Benin also face social stigma and widespread discrimination.

Written by Matyas Baan

Last updated on 11 April 2020

For More Information:

Solidaridad con Benín – NGO in Asturias, Spain


Advancing Child-Sensitive Social Protection

Le Monde (25 December 2018)

Median Age (2015) – Our World in Data (Benin)

Social Protection Action Plan – Benin

The CIA World Factbook (n.d.)

Wikipedia Benin (n.d.)

[1] This article by no means purports to give a full or representative account of children’s rights in Benin; indeed, one of the many challenges is the scant updated information on Benin children, much of which is unreliable, not representative, outdated or simply non-existent.