Realizing Children’s Rights in Togo
Despite progress in certain areas, children’s rights remain precarious in Togo, in particular as a result of the extreme poverty across the country. Improvements must be made by the Togolese authorities to the areas of education, protection and health. The deep inequalities that exist between boys and girls also represent a major challenge.
Children’s Rights Index: 6,18 / 10
Red level : Difficult situation
Population: 8.6 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 41.3 %
Life expectancy: 60.5 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 70 ‰
Togo at a Glance
Togo (officially, the Togolese Republic) is one of the smallest countries in continental Africa. The country’s neighbours are Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, and it borders the Gulf of Guinea. In 2020, Togo’s population is estimated to be 8.6 million.
The country was a German protectorate (between 1884 and 1914), then was colonised by the French and British, before gaining its independence in 1960. The country’s political situation was then marked by instability, followed by authoritarian rule by several heads of state (Panara, 2020). The results and transparency of Togo’s elections are regularly contested by the international community and the opposition (Amnesty International, 2018).
In 2017, large-scale protests broke out to denounce the lack of change in national leadership and to demand the resignation of the president, Faure Gnassingbé. Many were killed during these protests, including minors (Amnesty International, 2018).
In 2015, 55.1% of the Togolese population lived below the poverty line, which was an improvement on 2006, when the figure was 61.7%. Women are at greater risk than men, as they continue to be under-represented in positions of responsibility and have access to fewer economic opportunities (Banque Mondiale, 2019).
The human capital index is 0.41, compared to a global average of 0.57 (Banque Mondiale, 2018). This index measures the level of capital a child is likely to acquire by the time they turn 18, with an index of 1 corresponding to an optimum situation in terms of health and education. However, the net enrolment rate in primary school was 93.8% in 2018, one of the highest rates in the West African sub-region (Togo First, 2019).
Status of Children’s Rights 
Togo has ratified several international conventions on children’s rights, including ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for admission to work, and the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (UNICEF, 2011).
In 2007, the parliament of Togo adopted the Children’s Code, which sets out the various legal provisions governing the protection of children’s rights. The text includes a number of principles set out by appropriately qualified judicial bodies, such as non-discrimination, the right to life, and the principle of children’s best interests. However, the application of this text remains a major challenge for the country, despite communication and awareness-raising efforts (UNICEF, 2011).
International observers also believe that the current legislation does not provide optimum protection to Togolese children. The legal framework must be reinforced, in particular with regard to forced labour, domestic servitude, and modern slavery (ONU, 2019).
Addressing the Needs of Children
The neonatal mortality rate (the proportion of live-born children who die between the first and twenty-eighth day of life) is tragically high in Togo: 34% in the Plateaux region, and 27% nationally. The reason is that healthcare services are difficult to access, there are many child diseases in circulation, and there are nutritional deficiencies that threaten children’s health (Plan International, 2015).
Since 2010, Togo has made significant progress in its efforts to fight the AIDS virus, in particular by reducing new infections and deaths. The virus’s prevalence rate fell from 4% in 2000 to 2.3% in 2018 as a result (Togo Officiel, 2019). In 2005, the country also passed a law designed to protect people living with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and stigmatisation (OIT, n.d.). However, as a result of a general lack of screening facilities and equipment, mother-to-child infection remains a reality. In 2018, 12,000 children aged between 0 and 14 were already carriers of HIV (UNICEF, 2019). In Togo, these children have free access to antiretroviral treatment (Atakouma, 2007).
Because of the lack of medical facilities and equipment in Togo, many mild illnesses can lead to death in young children, including pneumonia, diarrhoea, and measles. Lack of awareness among populations is also a factor in such situations.
There is a high level of disparity between boys and girls in terms of access to education. 39% of girls of school-attending age are not in education, compared to 15% of boys (UNICEF, n.d.)
The main causes of children not being in education are parents’ aversion to school and economic reasons, particularly for children from very poor families in rural areas. Given the strong correlation between education level and the transition to working life, it is very difficult for these young people to find a stable job that is adequately paid (ILO, 2017). Despite this, the situation has improved recently since school has become free. The massive contribution from NGOs in the form of equipment and assistance is helping to bring about this improvement.
Along with Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, Togo continues to have policies and decrees whose aim is to exclude pregnant girls from the educational system. Although the country has declared to the United Nations that it no longer applies this law, nothing has been put in place to repeal or replace it (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Access to education remains extremely limited, mainly to those from well-off backgrounds. And even in these cases, the information that the children receive is often not age-appropriate (UNICEF, 2011).
Every year worldwide, over 50 million births are not registered, according to UNICEF figures. However, the right to identity is a fundamental right that allows an individual to benefit from all of their rights.
Togo is particularly affected by this problem: 31% of children who live in rural areas do not have a birth certificate. Administrative procedures for registering births are complex and expensive, which can discourage certain parents who are unaware of the importance of the process. Prefectures in some regions sometimes do not even have a registration office (UNICEF Togo, 2019).
Culturally, birth registration has not long been considered a priority. Due to the high rate of infant mortality that the country has experienced in the past, many parents have preferred to wait for their child to be older before registering them with the authorities, thus exceeding the legal limit, which is 45 days in Togo.
Children who are not registered with the authorities do not have an official identity or a nationality. They are invisible in the eyes of the law and of society, and as a result cannot access a wide range of services. A large number of children, particularly girls, cannot attend school or take their end-of-primary exams (UNICEF Togo, 2019).
Risk factors → Country-specific challenges
Togo is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2015, over half (55.1%) of inhabitants lived below the poverty line. The country is not equally affected across its regions: the national poverty rate is 69% in rural areas. There is also inequality between households: those led by a woman are generally poorer than those led by a man (57.5% compared to 55%) (Banque Mondiale, 2019).
Togo’s gross domestic product (GDP) is also extremely low – $5.36 billion in 2018. The average monthly income per inhabitant is $45 in Togo, compared to an average of $156 for Africa as a continent and $858 worldwide. Extreme poverty has serious consequences on children’s lives. Their health is significantly impacted by malnutrition, dietary deficiencies and child labour (UNICEF, 2017). Due to a lack of resources, many children are effectively forced to work instead of going to school.
In 2000, Togo ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose aim is to “promote, protect and ensure” the dignity, human rights, fundamental freedoms and equality before the law of children with disabilities. Certain traditional practices involving killing children born with birth defects are severely punished by law (ONU, 2016).
In Togo, it is estimated that nearly 620,000 people live with a disability. Some parents choose to keep their children away from others because of negative perceptions of disabilities. This results in disabled children being excluded from social activities and education, which in turn can lead to them being marginalised as adults (Handicap International, n.d.).
The practice of female genital mutilation was officially banned in Togo in 1998, and since that date has been considered assault (ONU, 2016). In 2017, 95% of women said that the practice should be ended. In that year, 1% of girls aged 15 to 19 had previously been victims of genital mutilation – however, this figure rose to 5% among women between 45 and 49 (UNICEF, 2020).
While a number of indicators show constant improvement, the practice continues to exist in certain regions and is frequently accompanied by medical problems (bleeding, infections, etc.). The psychological consequences of these acts are also extremely painful (UNICEF, 2020).
According to Togo’s laws, violence against a child aged under 15 is considered an aggravating factor against the culprit. However, no legal provisions cover violence against children within the family or at school. Incest, for example, is not punished by law (ONU, 2016).
Corporal punishment in schools has been banned since 2000. However, cases of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) remain widespread, although there is no data on figures, and few cases are reported. Cases of sexual abuse, blackmail and rape within schools sometimes affect girls younger than 12. Sexual relationships between students and teachers are also widespread and are used as a means of pressure for good grades or payment of school fees (Plan International, 2018). These practices, which are sometimes accepted by parents, nonetheless have serious consequences for children: they may lose their desire to work, and can also develop profound psychological trauma (Abou Ez, 2018).
The UN special rapporteur on modern forms of slavery expressed her concerns regarding the fate of Togolese children who are subject to forced labour or are victims of domestic servitude or other forms of modern slavery. Her recommendations focused in particular on Togo’s legislative framework, which should be strengthened so that these practices are considered offences. Preventative measures should also be put in place to give children the best possible protection (Amnesty International, 2020).
In 2017, a quarter of Togolese girls were married before the age of 18. However, the legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and 20 for men, and forced marriages are forbidden by law. The prevalence of early marriage varies by region: in rural areas, the practice is much more common than in urban environments, although it is difficult to determine the precise figure as a result of low registration rates. Early marriage is also closely linked to low levels of parental general education and to household poverty (Ofpra, 2016).
Early marriages also result in early sexual activity among girls, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmissible diseases, and sexual violence. Early marriage also leads to girls becoming economically dependent, as they very often leave school and as such are deprived of an income of their own (Ofpra, 2016).
In Togo, another practice involves marrying a widow to one of her late husband’s brothers. If the woman refuses, she can be forced out of her home, have her children taken from her, and lose all succession rights to her late husband’s property. This form of forced marriage, known as ‘levirate marriage’, often takes place following an early marriage. Girls who married at a very young age often do not know anyone aside from their family and their husband, and as such have few alternatives in the event they are widowed. However, the practice of levirate marriage is gradually disappearing. (Ofpra, 2016)
Women who are victims of forced marriage very rarely report it, in particular due to the effective absence of access to justice for children, a lack of legal knowledge, and poverty (Ofpra, 2016).
Written by Laureen Garcin
Translated by Garen Gent-Randall
Last updated on 26 June 2020
Amnesty International. (2018, Décembre 13). Togo. Escalade de la violence et adoption de la loi sur la cybersécurité à l’approche d’élections législatives contestées . Récupéré sur Amnesty International.
UNICEF. (2017). UNICEF Annual Report 2017. UNICEF.
UNICEF. (2019). La Situation des enfants dans le monde 2019. Enfants, nourriture et nutrition : Bien grandir dans un monde en mutation. New-York: UNICEF.
 This article by no means purports to give a full or representative account of children’s rights in Togo; indeed, one of the many challenges is the scant updated information on Togolese children, much of which is unreliable, not representative, outdated or simply non-existent.