The Current State of Human Rights in Cabo Verde


CABO VERDE — Cabo Verde, formerly Cape Verde, is a small archipelago off the coast of Africa. Its government is proud to be one of the rare African countries to meet all the Millennium Development Goals. Still, the nation of around 500,000 people has documented human rights violations. The following is a breakdown of where human rights in Cabo Verde can improve.

Violence & Prison 

Cabo Verde’s constitution prohibits torture, but media continue to report instances of police brutality (e.g., excessive force and aggression against suspects). The National Police Council responded to the abuses “in most cases,” according to the U.S. Department of State 2015 human rights report.

An expert from the United Kingdom said police brutality appeared to be socially accepted as a type of extra-judicial punishment for juveniles, street children and gang members. Racial profiling is a concern, as well.

Prison conditions are also inadequate, especially for detainees with mental illnesses or drug addictions. Inmates with mental disabilities sometimes do not have the option of receiving therapy or psychiatric care. Those with physical disabilities can also struggle to access certain prison facilities, like bathrooms.

In addition, all five prisons in the country exceeded their inmate capacity in 2014, which can lead to resource shortages and riots. Former prison director Carlos Graça and four prison guards were charged with torture due to their actions after a riot in 2005. Cabo Verde has not yet released the outcome of their trial, if one existed.

The U.S. State report also mentions insufficient staffing in Cabo Verde’s judicial system, which makes courts inefficient and sometimes leaves arrestees waiting for a hearing longer than the law demands.

Women & Human Trafficking 

Like many countries throughout the world, men are more frequently in positions of power compared with women. Women’s participation within central government was high, but they had less representation in local community associations and city councils.

In Cabo Verde, women generally have a lower economic status because of inequalities, with reports confirming women get lower pay than men for equal work in many industries.

Some experts say deeply rooted patriarchal values within the country discourage men from helping with responsibilities within the family, which means some women stay home to focus on housework. Female heads of households face stigmatization and less access to services, and the country’s culture also widely accepts sexual harassment.

According to a 2013 committee document from the United Nations Officer of the high commissioner for Human Rights, some migrant women suffer from entrenched patriarchal norms, as well. Harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and polygamy, occur in migrant communities.

Another document lists concerns of human trafficking in Cabo Verde. The archipelago is a place for modern slavery just as it was during the African slave trade. The U.N. states the country is often used as a transit point for traffickers and their victims, but there’s unfortunately a lack of investigations and convictions within the area.

Children’s Rights & Sex Tourism

Human rights in Cabo Verde are less than desired in the area of children’s rights, as well. The law does not ban sex trafficking for children ages 16 and 17. Plus, children over 14 can engage in pornography. Fourteen is the minimum age for consensual sex.

Sex tourism, including with children, is also a problem. Some of the participants are migrants, forced to work in the sex industry or other sectors for low wages.

Children can also be subject to sexual and physical abuse in domestic service. Enforcement of child labor laws was neither productive nor consistent, and cultural barriers impede implementation. Some islanders consider it positive when children work to support their families.

Human rights in Cabo Verde are generally maintained, despite setbacks in the criminal justice system, women’s rights, child protections and a few other issues. The islands’ small population had hundreds of years to develop shared cultural beliefs and values, which partly contributes to normalized violations against historically vulnerable populations.

Kristen Reesor
Photo: Flickr


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