We write in advance of the 85th pre-session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its adoption of a list of issues prior to reporting regarding Benin’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This submission addresses article 10 of the Convention and includes information on teenage pregnancy and access to education.
Teenage Pregnancy and Access to Education (article 10)
In Benin from 2004 to 2020, the adolescent birth rate was 108 per 1,000 adolescent girls and women aged 15-19, slightly higher than the subregional rate in West and Central Africa of 104, and 2.7 times the world rate of 40. However, also during this period, the adolescent birth rate in Benin has been steadily decreasing: In 2004, the adolescent birth rate was 113 per 1,000 girls, and in 2020, the rate was 80 per 1,000 girls. In 2019, the Guttmacher Institute reported that there were 423,000 births among girls and women aged 15 to 49; 12 percent, or approximately 50,760 births, occurred among girls and women aged 15 to 19.
In many countries in Africa, Covid-19 pandemic-related school closures have resulted in concerning reports of teenage pregnancies. While up-to-date national data on pandemic-specific increases in teenage pregnancies is not yet available, media reports point to regional increases. In the Borgou department of Benin, for example, there were 547 pregnant students in the 2019-2020 school year, an increase from 431 in the previous school year, possibly linked to pandemic-related school closures. Overall, the number of births has been increasing in recent years. UNFPA reported that the number of births in 2021 was higher compared to the same period in 2020.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 68 percent of the 140,000 girls and women aged 15 to 19 who want to avoid a pregnancy have an unmet need for contraception. Of all pregnancies that occurred in Benin, 39 percent were unintended, higher than the Western African subregional average of 33 percent. Of all unintended pregnancies, 37 percent ended in abortion, lower than the subregional average of 42 percent. While these statistics show that Benin may be lacking behind its subregional neighbors, there are also signs of progress. Since 1990, for example, the unintended pregnancy rate declined by 17 percent, and the number of unintended pregnancies resulting in abortion have increased by 22 percent.
Benin’s progress in sexual and reproductive health and rights is also reflected in the legalization of abortion. In October 2021, Benin’s Parliament voted to expand the circumstances under which abortion is legal, up to 12 weeks, and “when the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress.” This law modified a previous abortion law passed in 2003. According to the nongovernmental organization Ipas, Benin now has “one of the most liberal abortion laws in Africa.” Still, girls require parental consent to access an abortion.
Benin has measures in place to protect the right to access education for students who are pregnant or are adolescent mothers, as identified in a recent Human Rights Watch analysis of all countries in the African Union. Benin’s 2015 national Child Code grants pregnant girls the right to carry on going to school or to come back to school after giving birth.
Despite the existence of this law to protect the right to education for pregnant adolescent students and mothers, many Beninese girls still face barriers to return to school once they become parents. Many young mothers drop out of school during pregnancy and do not return. They may face stigma, are left with no support system, or have to prioritize working rather than going back to school.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Benin:
- What measures are in place to protect the right to education of girls who are pregnant, married or are adolescent mothers?
- What steps is the government taking to ensure pregnant girls and adolescent mothers at risk of dropping out are socially and financially supported to stay in school?
- What steps is the government taking to tackle barriers that impede the retention of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in school, including school fees, indirect costs, and stigma and discrimination?
- What special accommodations are provided for young mothers at school, such as time for breast-feeding, flexibility when babies are ill, or flexibility in class schedules?
- What programs are in place to ensure access to nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools?
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Benin to:
- Address social, financial, and systemic barriers that inhibit adolescent mothers from continuing their education.
- Guarantee that students who are pregnant, mothers and/or married students can continue their education after giving birth, and ensure schools are free from stigma and discrimination.
- Ensure that adolescents have confidential access to modern forms of contraceptives, abortion services, and information on sexual and reproductive health rights, including through comprehensive sexuality education.
 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Seeing the Unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy,” 2022, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN_SWP22%20report_0.pdf (accessed September 23, 2022).
 World Bank, “Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19) – Benin,” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.ADO.TFRT?locations=BJ (accessed September 23, 2022).
 Guttmacher Institute, Adding It Up: Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health 2019—Methodology Report, July 2020, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/adding-it-up-investing-in-sexual-reproductive-health-2019-methodology (accessed September 23, 2022).
 “Africa: COVID lockdowns blamed for increase in teenage pregnancies,” DW, September 13, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/africa-covid-lockdowns-teenage-pregnancy-increase/a-59166242 (accessed September 23, 2022); “How COVID-19 has increased fertility, adolescent pregnancy and maternal deaths in East and Southern African countries,” UNFPA news release, July 11, 2021, https://esaro.unfpa.org/en/news/how-covid-19-has-increased-fertility-adolescent-pregnancy-and-maternal-deaths-east-and-southern (accessed September 23, 2022); “L’Afrique face au Covid-19: les pics de grossesses précoces mettent en peril l’avenir des jeunes filles,” Le Monde Afrique, February 1, 2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2022/01/31/l-afrique-face-au-covid-19-les-pics-de-grossesses-precoces-mettent-en-peril-l-avenir-des-jeunes-filles_6111747_3212.html (accessed September 29, 2022).
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 UNFPA, “How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect births? Technical Brief,” December 21, 2021, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/How%20will%20the%20COVID-19%20pandemic%20affect%20births.pdf (accessed September 23, 2022).
 Guttmacher Institute, “Country Profile: Benin: Unmet needs for essential sexual and reproductive health services,” https://www.guttmacher.org/regions/africa/benin (accessed September 23, 2022).
 Guttmacher Institute, “Country Profile: Benin: Unintended pregnancy and abortion,” https://www.guttmacher.org/regions/africa/benin (accessed September 23, 2022).
 “Encadrement de l’avortement au Bénin : Le Parlement a adopté la loi modificative,” October 21, 2021, https://www.gouv.bj/actualite/1518/encadrement-avortement-benin-parlement-adopte-modificative/ (accessed September 23, 2022); Republic of Benin, “Loi No. 2021 – 12 du 20 December 2021: modifiont et complétont la loi no. 2003-04 du 03 mars 2003 relative à la santé sexuelle et à la reproduction,” December 2021, https://sgg.gouv.bj/doc/loi-2021-12/ (accessed September 23, 2022); “Au Bénin, l'Assemblée nationale vote la légalisation de l'avortement,” France 24, October 21, 2021, https://www.france24.com/fr/afrique/20211021-au-b%C3%A9nin-l-assembl%C3%A9e-nationale-vote-la-l%C3%A9galisation-de-l-avortement (accessed September 23, 2022).
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 World Health Organization and Human Reproduction Programme, Global Abortion Policies Database, “Country Profile: Benin,” May 2022, https://abortion-policies.srhr.org/country/benin/ (accessed September 29, 2022).
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 Republic of Benin, “Loi no. 2015-08 portant code de l’enfant en République du Benin,” January 23, 2015, https://features.hrw.org/features/african-union/files/Benin%20-%20Loi%2018%20-%202015%20Code%20de%20l'Enfant.pdf (accessed September 23, 2022).
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