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Afghanistan

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance, although its implementation remained limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Many authorities lacked the political will to implement the law and failed to enforce it fully.

The AIHRC reported 2,621 cases of violence against women from January through August, including nine killings, 79 cases of sexual violence, 34 sexual harassment cases, 733 beatings, and 44 forced engagements or marriages. Because of the security situation in the country, large numbers of violent crimes committed against women were unreported. In addition to AIHRC’s report, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also reported 1,465 cases of violence against women within the first six months of the year, with Ghor, Baghlan, Badakshan, Nargarhar, Takhar, and Balkh Provinces showing the highest numbers.

The AGO operated 33 EVAW prosecution units in 33 provinces. In March the AGO held its second national meeting of EVAW prosecutors to facilitate communication between different provincial EVAW units and identify common issues. According to a January report by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security, a domestic NGO, and the Chr. Michelsen Institute, of 2,958 cases registered with EVAW units in eight provinces studied, 792 or 27 percent resulted in indictments, and of these, 59 percent led to convictions. Among indicted cases, the conviction rate was highest for rape, with 73 percent of indictments leading to a conviction (41 percent of all registered rape cases resulted in convictions).

From March 2014 to March 2015, the government reported 4,541 registered cases of violence against women, with 3,038 registered under the EVAW law. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and AGO also registered 1,179 cases of divorce, separation, annulment of engagements, alimony, and child custody, which may or may not have stemmed from domestic violence, bringing the total number of registered cases to 5,720.

Pajhwork News released a report on the role of mediation outside the formal justice system in cases of violence against women. Because mediation takes place at the community level, the male-driven process restricted the reporting of violence against women cases. The same report showed a compilation of data of more than 21,000 of cases of violence against women over the last six years alone. Nearly 70 percent of the cases were registered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the police, but only an estimated 5 percent made it to the courts.

Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to zina charges against the victim, or perpetrators made false claims of marriage to the victim.

Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned for sexual conduct outside of marriage, or became victims of extrajudicial killing.

According to the 2016 Asia Foundation’s Annual Survey of the Afghan People, only 23.8 percent of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Forced virginity testing remains legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ordered virginity tests in cases where women or girls were accused of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. According to a September 2015 AIHRC report on forced gynecological exams, 48 of 53 female prisoners interviewed had been subjected to virginity tests, and of these, 20 said they had been tested more than once. The AIHRC publicly condemned virginity testing, citing that the practice had no scientific basis and that performing medical tests without the patient’s consent is a violation of the right to freedom and human dignity. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

In February media reported a group of armed kidnappers in Kapisa Province took a 10-year-old from her family’s home and married her to one of the group leaders’ son, a 30-year-old man. In July media reported that family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province killed her and a 17-year-old male after accusing them of committing zina. In April a group of armed men gang-raped an 18-year-old in her home in Balkh Province.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as the beating provision in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. Some police and judicial officials were unaware or unconvinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted that one-third of cases on rape and honor killings were addressed in accordance with the law. In its study the AIHRC found that 35 percent of rape and honors killings were not appropriately prosecuted. The AIHRC and NGOs contended that due to societal acceptance of the practice, most cases were unreported and never reached prosecutors.

According to the AIHRC, more than 2,579 cases of violence against women were reported between March and September 2015. The AIHRC noted that the majority of reports concerned verbal and psychological violence and noted an increase in the number of reported cases from the same period the previous year. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that up to 600 cases of violence against women were registered in the first three months of the year, the majority of which involved physical violence. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women, however, were difficult to obtain. The most recent research done on the prevalence of violence against women (as opposed to reported cases) was conducted by Global Rights and published in 2008. According to that report, 87 percent of women had experienced some form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and 62 percent had experienced more than one type of violence.

Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. Women continued to turn to NGO-run women’s protection centers (women’s shelters) and associated family guidance centers for assistance, and according to UNAMA’s April 2015 report on women’s access to justice, victims particularly valued the physical protection afforded by these centers, which often represented the only safe refuge for women. According to NGOs that ran women’s protection centers countrywide, police continued to make up the most significant source of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Women who could not be reunited with their families or who were unmarried were generally compelled to remain in protection centers indefinitely, because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in protection centers was compounded by societal attitudes toward the shelters as centers of prostitution, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.

Women in need of protection who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of a protection center in their province or district, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and AGO issued directives to this effect, but women and girls continued to be detained for running away from home or “attempted zina.” As of November 30, approximately 51 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Police units charged with addressing violence against women, children, and families, included female officers. Although trained to help victims of domestic violence, the officers were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to take the initiative and reach out to them.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced, underage, and “baad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family to settle a dispute) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). Some local media reported an increase in child marriages during the year, although it was unclear whether this reflected an actual increase in the practice or rather an increase in reports. A 2014 AIHRC survey found more than 7 percent of respondents reported their daughters were married before the age of 16. Very few marriages were legally registered with the state, leaving forced marriages outside of legal control.

Violence against women is also often a driving factor in cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. Honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In July a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Ghor Province died in a local hospital after being burned alive in an honor killing by her husband and his family. When the girl’s father reported the harassment and violence his daughter had suffered to the police, local authorities dismissed him and suggested he should settle the differences with the girl’s in-laws. There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements that resulted in extrajudicial executions. In June a woman in Ghor Province was abducted and shot after cancelling her engagement, and in July the Taliban publicly executed a 19-year-old woman in Sar-e-Pul Province for running away from home after a domestic dispute. UNAMA reported that the Taliban lashed a woman in the Sha Joy district of Zabul Province, citing adultery.

Sexual Harassment: The EVAW law criminalizes harassment and persecution of women but does not define these terms. A Regulation on Prohibition of Women’s Sexual Harassment entered into effect in October 2015, when it was published in the official gazette. The regulation, which was adopted pursuant to the EVAW law, defines harassment against women and establishes and identifies mechanisms for complaint and redress. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or they were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence, including killings, against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports that female ANP members and their families experienced intimidation and discrimination within their communities. In May a group of female social activists launched a website to help women register and report incidents of violence and seek advice on how to resolve their issues.

Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, the timing, and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education. Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge limited their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. The UN Population Fund estimated that 23 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. Between January and August, the AIHRC registered eight cases of forced abortion from women and girls.

According to the World Health Organization’s, UN’s, and World Bank’s Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. This represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995. Early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner, and only 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected their access to and participation in the justice system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In August 2015 a man beheaded his wife in Baghlan Province after she sought a divorce from a local court.

In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases that the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings.

Cultural prohibitions limiting women’s movement prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In December the head of the council of religious scholars (Ulema Council) in Takhar Province declared women were the “most shameful” persons. He was fired immediately after his statement.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The EVAW law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks in the workplace, regardless of qualification. There were 2,834 female police officers as of September 2015, including those in training, constituting less than 2 percent of the total police force. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be subjected to threats and violence.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs promoted women’s rights and freedoms. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service did not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The women’s ministry, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units at lower ranks, however, lacked major influence, and men typically dominated their leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates suffered from a lack of capacity and resources.

Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. As with men, women’s life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women suffered disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.

Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone is not sufficient. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. Many children, however, did not attend school.

According to UNICEF’s April report on health care and education, 369 schools closed in 2015, and 139,000 children were out of school. Military operations and increased levels of violence impeded children’s access to education. Use of school buildings by both ANDSF and militants also affected children’s ability to attend school, especially for young girls. On June 4 and July 4, the Ministry of Education issued two directives asking security forces to stop using schools for military purposes.

In most regions boys and girls attended primary classes together but were separated for intermediate and secondary education. According to a statement by the Ministry of Education on December 18, of the country’s nine million registered schoolchildren, 24 percent did not attend school. The ministry estimated 3.5 million schoolchildren, or 39 percent, were girls. Many students were not enrolled full-time or dropped out early.

According to the Education for All 2015 National Review Report: Afghanistan, in 2013 the gross enrollment rate for girls as a percentage of total enrollment was approximately 41 percent at the primary level, 36 percent at the lower secondary level, and 35 percent at the upper secondary level. According to the same report, the literacy rate for girls and women 15 to 24 years of age was 32 percent as of 2012.

The status of girls and women in education was a matter of grave concern. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and the long distance to school. Former president Karzai’s 2012 Decree on Governance and Corruption addressed the lack of female teachers, particularly in conservative rural areas, by charging the Education Ministry with recruiting an additional 11,000 teachers and increasing the number of district-level teacher training support centers to provide training opportunities for female teachers. According to the ministry, there were 202,336 teachers in public schools, and 33 percent of them were women as of November. There were 20,337 teachers in private schools, and 52 percent were women.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education. Violence impeded access to education in various sections of the country, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. Between January and June, UNAMA documented 25 incidents of threat and intimidation targeting schools, students, or schools staff. According to reports submitted to UNAMA, on January 7, 15 masked men entered a girls’ high school in Jowzjan Province and warned that female students over 12 must wear burqas. Following the threat, the school’s principal imposed a requirement for all girls over 12 to wear burqas. On April 13, in an attack by Taliban forces in Laghman Province, Taliban insurgents attacked Besram high school near the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam City, leaving two students dead and three students injured when stray bullets hit the school. On April 20, a headmaster in Khwaja Bahauddin district of Takhar Province was killed by a stray bullet in front of his students.

Insecurity, conservative attitudes, and poverty denied education to millions of school-age children, mainly in the southern and southeastern provinces. A representative from the Ministry of Education estimated in November that 140,000 schoolchildren in insecure areas did not have access to education. There were also reports of abduction and molestation. The lack of community-based, nearby schools was another factor inhibiting school attendance.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported increased numbers of child abuse victims during the year, and the problem remained endemic throughout the country. Such abuse included general neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and confined forced labor to pay off family debts. Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children; for instance, Agence France-Presse reported a case of a 13-year-old boy kidnapped by a police commander in southern Helmand. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

Sexual abuse of children was pervasive. NGOs noted girls were more frequently abused by extended family members, while boys were more frequently abused by men outside their families. In November a five-year-old girl in Baghlan Province was allegedly raped by relatives of her older sister’s fiance after her sister ran off with another man. There were reports religious figures sexually abused both boys and girls. NGOs noted families often were complicit, allowing local strongmen to abuse their children in exchange for status or money. The Ministry of Interior tracked cases of rape, but most NGOs and observers estimated the official numbers significantly underreported the phenomenon. Many perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not arrested, and there were reports security officials and those connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. The practice continued of bacha baazi (dancing boys), which involved powerful or wealthy local figures and businessmen sexually abusing young boys trained to dance in female clothes. Reports of the practice increased since 2001.

There were multiple reports and press articles on the rape of young boys who were forcibly kept as bachas. After a June 15 article the Agence France-Presse published on Taliban forces using bacha baazi to infiltrate and carry out attacks against Afghan security forces, President Ghani ordered an investigation of sexual abuse cases in the security forces. The President’s Office stated that anyone, regardless of rank, found guilty of engaging in bacha baazi would be prosecuted. The government did not release a report on the investigation. At year’s end no known prosecutions of perpetrators in the security forces had taken place.

A September 2015 article in the New York Times documented the practice of bacha baazi by progovernment forces in Kunduz Province. Following the report, the Ministries of Interior and Defense and the President’s Office issued statements condemning the practice. The president also ordered the creation of a working committee, including the AIHRC, Interior Ministry, and AGO, to investigate and monitor cases of abuse and create a mechanism to prevent and prosecute perpetrators. There were no reports on the progress of the committee.

The government took few other steps to discourage the abuse of boys or to prosecute or punish those involved. On December 12, President Ghani signed a new trafficking-in-persons law, which includes legal provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. In 2014 the AIHRC released its national inquiry on bacha baazi. The report asserted bacha baazi was a form of trafficking already criminalized and called on the government to enforce the law actively. It attributed the root causes of the practice to lack of rule of law, corruption, gaps in the law, poverty, insecurity, and the existence of armed insurgent groups. The report noted the serious psychological and physical harm victims faced and called on the government to provide protective services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian and the court) for girls and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early marriage. A 2014 survey by the Ministry of Public Health showed 53 percent of all women ages 25-49 married by age 18 and 21 percent by age 15. According to the Central Statistics Organization of Afghanistan, 17 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 were married. During the EVAW law debate, conservative politicians publicly stated it was un-Islamic to ban the marriage of girls younger than 16. Under the EVAW law, those who arrange forced or underage marriages may be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. The Law on Marriage states marriage of a minor may be conducted with a guardian’s consent.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates. Following custom, some poor families pledged their daughters to marry in exchange for “bride money,” although the practice is illegal. According to local NGOs, some girls as young as six or seven were promised in marriage, with the understanding the actual marriage would be delayed until the child reached puberty. Reports indicated, however, that this delay was rarely observed and that young girls were sexually violated by the groom or by older men in the family, particularly if the groom was also a child. Media reports also noted the “opium bride” phenomenon, in which farming families married off their daughters to settle debts to opium traffickers.

There were multiple media reports of girls given in baad or sold. In July an elderly mullah was arrested in Ghor Province for marrying a six-year-old girl. The girl’s father was also arrested after the mullah claimed that he was given the girl as a religious offering in exchange for prayers and a few goods. In August an 18-year-old woman in Badghis Province was beheaded by her husband’s family after asking for a divorce. The victim was only three years old when her father arranged her engagement to a local boy.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Girls under age 18 continued to be at risk for honor killings for perceived sexual relations outside of marriage, running away, not accepting a forced marriage, or being a victim of sexual assault. In July 2015 media reported family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province shot and killed her and a 17-year-old boy after the two returned home following an elopement.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specifically identified under the law. Exploiting a child for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha baazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.

Child Soldiers: In February the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias used children for specific purposes in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children under 16 years of age. These children participated in military operations against the Taliban in the Baharak district of Badakhshan. UNAMA documented 15 incidents of recruitment and use of children by pro- and antigovernment groups. Taliban trained at least three boys, including a nine-year-old boy with mental disability, for suicide attacks in Kandahar and Nangarhar.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled and the AIHRC continued to estimate the number of street children in the country at six million, but the National Census Directorate had not conducted a recent survey. Street children had little or no access to government services, although several NGOs provided access to basic needs, such as shelter and food.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. The social affairs ministry oversaw 84 Child Protection Action Network centers and 78 residential orphanages, which were designed to provide vocational training to children from destitute families. Of these, 30 were privately funded orphanages and 48 were government-funded centers operated by NGOs by agreement with the ministry. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were subjected to trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled continued to implement a five-year national action plan through a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Education to implement public awareness programs on the rights of persons with disabilities through national media and to provide scholarships for students with disabilities. There were reports the information ministry was not cooperative regarding implementation of the memorandum of understanding.

During the year there were approximately 80,000 persons with disabilities registered with the ministry who received financial support from the government. Persons with 30 to 60 percent disability received an annual payment of 26,100 Afghanis ($450), and persons with more than 60 percent disability received a total of 52,200 Afghanis ($900) annually.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion. NGOs reported persons with disabilities faced difficulties accessing the majority of public buildings, including government ministries, health clinics, and hospitals. Society and even their own families mistreated persons with disabilities, since there was a common perception persons had disabilities because they or their parents had “offended God.”

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings.

Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country.

Multiple kidnappings of Hazara were reported in several provinces, including Ghazni, Zabul, and Baghlan. The abductors reportedly shot, beheaded, ransomed, or released the kidnapping victims. In February 2015 unidentified gunmen abducted 31 Hazara men from a bus in Zabul Province. The abductors released 19 of the men in May and eight others in November. Four of the hostages remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports that harassment, violence, and detentions by police continued. NGOs reported police arrested, detained, robbed, and raped gay men. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not be legally registered. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Albania

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years; for rape of an adolescent between the ages of 14 and 18, the sentence is five to 15 years; and for rape of a child under 14, seven to 15 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment and makes the criminalization of spousal rape explicit. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Victims rarely reported spousal abuse, and officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities and the public often did not consider it a crime.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases.

Through August a government shelter for domestic violence survivors in Tirana assisted 24 women and 40 children, but it could not accept individuals without a court order. The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and NGOs operated four others. In addition, three NGO shelters provided protection and shelter to victims of trafficking as well as victims of abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. NGOs and the commissioner for protection against discrimination believed sexual harassment was seriously underreported. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment. The commissioner may impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($640) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($4,800) against enterprises.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The quality of and access to government-provided health care, including obstetric and postpartum care, was not satisfactory, especially in remote rural areas.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were not excluded from any occupation in either law or practice, but in many fields, they were underrepresented at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms depicting women as subordinate to men. There were reports of discrimination in employment.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the government’s statistical agency, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2014 was 109 to 100, which indicated that gender-biased sex selection was possibly occurring. The government did not take any steps to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from a citizen parent. Parents were encouraged to register the birth of a child in a timely manner, and the law provides for a monetary reward for parents who register their children within 60 days of birth. Often, however, authorities did not disburse the reward. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children or to access government services dependent on registration.

According to the domestic branch of the NGO Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), children born to internal migrants or those returning from abroad, especially from Greece, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services. This was particularly a problem for Romani families, in which couples often married young and failed to register the births of their children.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school. Although the government had a program to reimburse low-income families for the cost of textbooks, many families and NGOs reported they were unable to receive reimbursement after purchasing the books. NGOs noted that occasionally teachers discriminated against Romani children because of their perceived poor hygiene.

Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was widespread, although victims rarely reported it. In 2013 the Children’s Human Rights Center reported that 58 percent of children were victims of physical abuse, 11 percent were victims of sexual harassment, and almost 5 percent said they had been victims of sexual abuse. Almost 70 percent of children reported psychological abuse from family members, according to the center.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to the 2015 Early Marriages in Albaniastudy of the Observatory of Children, approximately 3 percent of children between the ages of 15 and 18 were married. The study also noted that 9 percent of Romani children between the ages of 13 and 18 were married. ARSIS claimed that, in certain Romani communities, girls as young as seven and boys as young as nine were considered married. Some NGOs reported that early and forced marriages occurred in rural communities as part of human trafficking schemes, with parents consenting to their underage daughters marrying older foreign men, who subsequently moved them to other countries.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is illegal. The law explicitly includes minors in provisions that cover sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation for prostitution, benefiting from services offered by trafficked persons, facilitating trafficking, and domestic violence.

Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that laws prohibiting child pornography were rarely enforced. Some children under the age of 18 were exploited for prostitution.

Displaced Children: There continued to be numerous displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work; some migrated to neighboring countries, particularly during the summer. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children under 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes. There were few prosecutions of child trafficking cases.

A 2014 study by the UN Children’s Fund and Save the Children found that more than 2,500 children, nearly 75 percent of them from Romani or Balkan-Egyptian communities, begged or worked informally on the streets. Most children claimed earning money for their family was the principal reason for their begging or work, and nearly one-third of them said their parents forced them to work. According to the report, many of these children ran the risk of being trafficked.

The government subsequently implemented a pilot program in Tirana to remove children from the street and provide them with social care. Another pilot program provided financial incentives to parents to send their children to school and have them vaccinated. The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that authorities assisted 345 out of 808 identified street children between July 2015 and June 2016. ARSIS reported that children continued to work in cannabis plantations around the country.

Institutionalized Children: Media reported on cases of child abuse occurring in the orphanages of Shkoder, Durres, and Saranda. In April the ombudsman investigated the Shkoder orphanage and recommended criminal charges against several members of the staff for physical and psychological abuse as well as exploitation of child labor. The investigation continued at year’s end.

The migrant detention facility in Karrec was considered unsuitable for children, although a small number of migrant children resided there for periods lasting a few days to several weeks.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly only a few hundred Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law. According to the 2011 census, 24 percent of persons with disabilities had never attended school. Widespread poverty, unregulated working conditions, and poor medical care posed significant problems for many persons with disabilities.

In June the government approved the 2016-20 National Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities, supported by a state budget of 1.5 billion leks ($12 million). The government also funded the Albanian Disability Rights Foundation with five million leks ($40,000) for the production of wheelchairs. The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.

The ombudsman regularly inspected mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to lack of sufficient financial resources to provide adequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other forms of disability.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were allegations of significant discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many mixed schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.

Romani rights NGOs criticized the lack of legal safeguards against eviction and demolition of Romani camps included in the law on property legalization. Evictions and demolitions continued during the year and affected many Romani families. The government operated alternative housing programs for evicted families including Roma, but these programs were generally unsustainable without significant NGO and external donor support.

The law provides official minority status for both national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, and Montenegrins as national groups; Greeks constituted the largest of these. The law defined Aromanians (Vlachs) and Roma as ethnolinguistic minority groups.

The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek towns outside communist-era “minority zones” or to use Greek in official documents and on public signs in ethnic Greek areas. Public education was not available in the Romani, Serbo-Croatian, or Vlach languages.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Through August the government’s commissioner for the protection against discrimination received five complaints from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and organizations. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. In May the Council Of Ministers adopted the National Plan of Action for the LGBTI 2016-20, and in August an order of the prime minister established the National Group of Implementation and Coordination to implement the action plan. The action plan seeks to improve the legal and institutional framework for protecting LGBTI persons; eliminate all forms of discrimination; and improve access to employment, education, health, and housing services.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate-crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for LGBTI rights, homophobic attitudes persisted in private and public life. Public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. NGOs reported that families evicted LGBTI persons from their homes during the year. Through August the country’s first shelter for evicted LGBTI persons, opened in 2014, accommodated 12 individuals.

On May 14, activists participated in the fourth Tirana Gay (P)Ride against Homophobia, a short bicycle ride on Tirana’s main boulevard, and Albanians witnessed the first television spot on family equality rights. As part of a “diversity festival,” activists organized other activities, such as the public recognition of 30 persons who supported the LGBTI cause. Police ensured activists’ safety during the events. In May the job placement company Headhunters Albania released an LGBTI employment equality index rating the compliance of private companies with recruitment laws that protect sexual orientation. The index of 71 companies indicated that 62 percent had inclusive human resource policies but only 3 percent specifically addressed nondiscrimination of LGBTI job candidates.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In the most recent demographic and health survey (2008-09), however, 71 percent of women and 69 percent of HIV-positive men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV. Such persons experienced general social stigma, although there were no reports of violence against such individuals during the year.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Incidents of societal killings, including both “blood feud” and revenge killings, occurred during the year. Media portrayed some gang-related killings as blood feud killings, and criminals at times used the term to justify their crimes. There were no cases of minors or women falling victim to blood feud killings. The ombudsman reported that authorities’ efforts to protect families or prevent blood feud deaths were insufficient, although the government increased efforts to prosecute such crimes.

Algeria

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, both spousal and nonspousal, occurred. The law criminalizes nonspousal rape but does not address spousal rape. Prison sentences for nonspousal rape range from five to 10 years, and authorities generally enforced the law. Many women did not report incidents of rape because of societal and family pressures. The CNCPPDH’s 2015 report called on the government to repeal the provision of the penal code that allows someone accused of raping a minor to avoid prosecution if he subsequently marries his victim.

Domestic violence was widespread. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine that the victim suffered from injuries that “incapacitated” the person for 15 days. The law also requires that the physician provide the victim with a “certificate of incapacity” attesting to the injuries, which the victim presents to authorities as the basis of the criminal complaint. The government, working with the UN Population Fund, undertook a public awareness campaign to inform women of their rights under the law, encourage reporting of domestic violence, and engage men in conversations on violence against women.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice, between the beginning of 2015 and June 2016, there were 14,366 cases of domestic abuse, of which 12,804 involved male perpetrators. As of October, 10,536 of the cases had resulted in convictions. The government said that most of those convicted received prison time as well as a fine. According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women died each year from domestic violence.

The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces and reported that each center received 300-400 calls during the year from female victims of violence seeking assistance.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months’ to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses. While supporting the law when it was drafted, AI and domestic women’s rights groups criticized its “forgiveness” clause that permits the annulment of charges if the abused spouse pardons her husband.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($458 to $916); the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups reported that official statistics on harassment were not available but that the majority of reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace. Women also reported harassment by men when walking in public. The government acknowledged that street harassment continued to be a problem despite advances in the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, with limited societal discrimination and coercion. Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although there were reports of pharmacists who refused to sell contraception to unmarried women. A study by a prominent women’s group in 2015 found that approximately 68 to 70 percent of women used contraception, the majority of whom took birth control pills. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.

Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, many aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition, religious extremists advocated practices that led to restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. In some rural regions, women faced extreme social pressure to veil as a precondition for freedom of movement and employment. In September a security guard at a high school in Algiers reportedly prevented unveiled students from entering the school on the first day of classes. The law contains traditional elements of Islamic law. It prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision. Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. A woman may marry a foreigner and transmit citizenship and nationality to both her children and spouse.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. Women were more likely to retain the family’s home if they had custody of the children. In January 2015 the government created a subsidy for divorced women whose ex-husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the first wife and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. A joint Ministry of Health and UN study from 2013 estimated that 3 percent of marriages were polygamous. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases.

Amendments to the law supersede the religiously based requirement that a male sponsor consent to the marriage of a woman. The sponsor represents the woman during the religious or civil ceremony. Although the law formally retains the requirement of a sponsor to contract the marriage, the woman may choose any man that she wishes to be her sponsor. Some families subjected women to virginity tests before marriage.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned. Women may take out business loans and use their own financial resources. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Women faced discrimination in employment. Leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions. In urban areas there was social encouragement for women to pursue higher education or a career. Girls graduated from high school and attended university more frequently than boys.

According to a study released by CIDDEF, women represented 19.5 percent of the active workforce, with 61 percent of these women working in the public sector. As of September 2015, female unemployment was higher than that of men, with 16.6 percent of women unemployed compared to 9.9 percent of men, according to a National Office of Statistics report. While the presence of women in the workforce grew, access to management positions remained limited. Women served at all levels in the judicial system. The government employed an increasing number of female police, including approximately 6 percent of DGSN police officers. Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law did not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level to age 16. UNICEF reported that the attendance of girls was higher in secondary school due to instances of boys leaving school after the primary level. The United Nations estimated primary school enrollment at more than 97 percent. The government estimated that during the 2014-15 school year, children under the age of six were enrolled in school at a rate of 98.49 percent, with those between the ages of six and 16 enrolled at a rate of 95 percent.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but was a serious problem to which the government devoted increasing resources and attention. In June the government appointed a national ombudsperson responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the country’s Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights (NADA). Experts assumed that many cases went unreported because of family reticence. The head of NADA reported that the NGO’s free helpline received more than 23,000 calls requesting assistance as of August. The DGSN reported 1,663 cases of child sexual abuse in 2014, and the National Gendarmerie reported 380 cases.

Kidnapping for any reason is a crime. Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently. In 2014 legislation increased the punishment for convicted kidnappers to include the death penalty. The DGSN commissioner for the National Office of Child Protection reported the kidnapping of 28 children for the period of January through August, compared with 84 in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor under age 18. By law the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor. The law does not call for prosecuting a man accused of raping a female minor if he legally marries the victim, and there were no available reports of this practice during the year. The law prohibits pornography and establishes prison sentences from two months to two years as well as fines up to DZD 2,000 ($18).

A 2015 law created a national council to address children’s issues, improved social services and protection for children, gave judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allowed sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Some religious leaders estimated that the country’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons. Local Jewish community leaders estimated the number to be in the low hundreds. The media did not publish any known derogatory political cartoons or articles directed at the Jewish community, but observers found anti-Semitic postings on social media sites.

Jewish leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

In May a member of parliament affiliated with the Islamist Green Alliance criticized the government for granting a visa to an Israeli journalist accompanying the French prime minister on an April visit to Algeria. An Arabic-language newspaper wrote that the journalist had a “strong Jewish-sounding name” and stated that, in the member of parliament’s view, the government was normalizing relations with “Zionists who make France a door to infiltrate” Algeria. An online news outlet referred to the journalist as an “Israeli Jew” and stated that the visa allowed him to “strut in the streets of Algiers to meet whoever he wants.”

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, although the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social discrimination. Few government buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. Few businesses abided by the law that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. Business that did not meet the 1 percent quota received a DZD 140,000 ($1,282) fine. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The ministry also provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered with the government. Social security provided payments for orthopedic equipment.

The Ministry of Solidarity reported that it ran 222 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities. The ministry stated that it worked in concert with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools. Numerous private schools existed but, according to advocacy organizations, staff often acted more as caretakers than teachers due to a lack of training.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges in voting due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes public and consensual same-sex sexual relations by men or women with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of DZD 1,000 to DZD 10,000 ($9 to $92). The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines of DZD 500 to DZD 2,000 ($5 to $18) for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 10,000 ($92).

LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws identifying “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted during the year in multiple arrests for same-sex sexual relations but no known prosecutions.

LGBTI persons faced strong societal and religious discrimination. While some lived openly, the vast majority did not, and most feared reprisal from their families or harassment from authorities. One activist reported that of the 100 LGBTI persons he knew, only three had “come out.” During a May 2015 radio interview, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa said that combatting individuals who promote the deviation of morality and the dismantling of the family (a reference to the behavior of LGBTI individuals) was more important than the fight against Da’esh.

Activists said that the government did not actively punish LGBTI behavior, but it was complicit in the hate speech propagated by conservative, cultural, and religion-based organizations, some of which associated LGBTI individuals with pedophiles and encouraged excluding them from family and society. Trans Homos DZ, a local organization that advocated for the rights of LGBTI persons, published a report on anti-LGBTI hate speech in the media, detailing several incidents from recent years including programs broadcast by Arabic-language media outlets, such as Ennahar TV and Echourouk TV, that demonized LGBTI persons. The report also detailed social media and other online hate speech directed at the LGBTI community between 2013 and 2015. The organization reported in April that two men who used homophobic slurs physically attacked an activist who supported LGBTI rights in Algiers. In another incident a video posted on YouTube in November 2015 showed what appeared to be a group of men surrounding a transgender woman on the street. Several of the men were shown kicking and punching her while others looked on without intervening. The government did not announce investigations into the perpetrators of either alleged attack.

Another report released by Trans Homos DZ in November included allegations by an anonymous former prisoner alleging that prisoners at El Harrach Prison suffered physical and sexual abuse based on their sexual orientation. The former prisoner’s report said prisoners who were perceived as gay or transgender were placed in a specific cellblock near other prisoners who had committed serious crimes. The report said gay and transgender prisoners were frequently victims of sexual assaults, including one incident in which prison guards mocked and initially refused medical treatment to a prisoner who was the victim of a gang rape.

Due to the hacking of one LGBTI organization’s website in 2015 and increased offensive and derogatory media coverage specifically denouncing LGBTI practices, activists reported the need to focus their advocacy on personal safety and minimized their activities during the year. Activists reported that members of the LGBTI community declined to report abuse and thus lessened their capacity to report cases of homophobic abuse and rape due to fear of reprisal by authorities. Reporting that access to health services could be difficult because medical personnel often treated LGBTI patients unprofessionally, activists noted that some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities.

Employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Activists also reported cases of individuals denied drivers licenses due to their perceived sexual orientation. Community members said that obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination. Members of the LGBTI community reported that forced marriage was a problem, particularly for lesbians.

Alouen, an Oran-based LGBTI advocacy group, continued cyberactivism on behalf of the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was widely considered a shameful disease. There were more reported cases in men than women, with the exception of women between ages 15 and 24. The government continued to offer free antiretroviral treatment to all persons, including migrants. Authorities virtually eliminated new HIV infections among children. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported the existence of more than 2,000 centers offering free testing and counseling services, 1,500 of which the government managed. Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. A 2014 study found a 5 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among commercial sex workers in Oran, the country’s second largest city. Another NGO reported the prevalence rate of the same community at nearly 10 percent.

A Ministry of Health report found that there were 740 new cases of HIV/AIDS in 2015, contributing to an official estimate of 9,843 persons with HIV/AIDS. The government provided treatment to 7,915 individuals in 2015. UNAIDS estimated that 8,800 persons had HIV/AIDS in 2015, 300 of whom were under age 15.

Led by the Ministry of Health, the government established the National AIDS Committee, which met twice during the first eight months of the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Green Tea Association, an NGO working in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, continued to operate an information and orientation center in Tamanrasset, a province known for its large and diverse population of migrants.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Clashes between Algerian citizens and sub-Saharan migrants in March injured dozens of persons in Ouargla and Bechar and prompted the government to relocate more than 1,000 migrants to other locations in the country (see section 2). In Ouargla press reported that Algerians attacked Malian and Nigerien migrants on March 2 after learning that a sub-Saharan migrant had broken into a house and fatally stabbed an Algerian man. On March 25, dozens of reportedly masked men in Bechar threw stones and other objects at migrants in response to allegations that a migrant was involved in an attempted rape of a child.

Andorra

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, both of which are punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. It penalizes domestic physical or psychological violence with a prison sentence of up to three years. Authorities enforced the law effectively. To implement the law on the Elimination of Gender-Based and Domestic Violence that entered into effect in February 2015, the government in March established a national commission for the prevention of domestic and gender-based violence with the participation of members of the Ministries of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior; Health; and Education and Higher Instruction, as well as the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office.

As of June 30, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated 67 criminal proceedings related to gender violence and 19 related to domestic violence. The Prosecutor’s Office concluded 33 cases of gender violence and four cases of domestic violence. Almost all the cases involved elements of psychological abuse and mistreatment. Some cases also involved injuries, sexual aggression, and threats.

The government’s Interdisciplinary Team on Gender Violence (EAID) provided medical and psychological services (including a hotline) as well as legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. In addition the government placed abused women and their children in a shelter, in a hotel, or with foster families who agreed to provide shelter. As of August, EAID had assisted 127 cases of domestic violence against women of which 42 were new. These cases involved psychological, physical, and sexual violence, as well as social and economic mistreatment. Caritas, a religious nongovernmental organization (NGO), worked closely with the government and other NGOs in providing support to the victims in their integration into society.

Victims of domestic violence could also request help from the NGO Andorran Women’s Association (ADA), which works for women’s rights. According to the ADA, victims were reluctant to file a complaint with police due to fear of reprisal.

The government established a department on equality policies in the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior to promote and develop programs to prevent and fight against gender and domestic violence as well as any other forms of inequality.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment under the provisions for other sexual aggressions, punishable by three months’ to three years’ imprisonment. As of June 30, four cases of sexual harassment were reported.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination against women privately or professionally with fines up to 24,000 euros ($26,400). As of June 30, two cases were processed.

In a press statement at the conclusion of his visit to the country on May 10-11, Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, called upon the government to adopt a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, providing effective protection against discrimination, including gender. He also called to engage the authorities with the private sector, in particular the banking sector, to find ways of remedying reported inequalities and discrimination facing many women employed in this sector.

In February the government organized a training session on nondiscrimination, for journalists and another course for labor inspectors. The courses provided indicators and highlighted strategies on how to identify hidden or invisible discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the law, citizenship is acquired at birth in the following circumstances: a child is born in the country to an Andorran parent or born abroad to an Andorran parent born in the country; a child is born in the country if either parent was born in the country and is living there at the time of birth, or if both parents are stateless or of unknown identity. A child of foreign parents may acquire Andorran nationality by birth in the country if at the time of birth one of the parents has completed 10 years’ permanent residence in the country. Otherwise, the child may become a citizen before attaining the age of majority or a year after reaching the age of majority if his/her parents have been permanently resident in the country for 10 years or if the person can prove that he/she has lived in the country permanently and uninterruptedly for the last five years. In the meantime the child has a provisional passport.

Children are registered at birth.

Child Abuse: Through the end of June, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated 52 criminal proceedings related to child abuse, of which nine related to domestic violence against children and 43 related to violence against children. As of the end of June, the Prosecutor’s Office concluded one case of violence against children.

The government’s Specialized Child Protection Team consisted of two social workers, two social educators, and two psychologists. The team, which intervened in situations where children and young persons were at risk or lacked protection, collected data on cases of child abuse. As of June 30, authorities assisted 185 minors at risk, of which 58 were new cases. As of the end of July, 23 minors lived in a shelter designated for them.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 16 years for both girls and boys and as early as 14 years with judicial authority.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law against rape also covers statutory rape. Child pornography is illegal and carries a prison sentence of up to four years. The minimum age of sexual consent is 14 years. The penalty for statutory rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, the same as for rape in general.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Unofficial estimates placed the size of the Jewish community at approximately 100 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Andorra was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other government services.

The law mandates access to public buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior, schools continued to implement the law requiring them to adapt their infrastructure to the needs of children with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities attended regular schools. Additionally one separate school for children with disabilities existed in the country.

The Andorran Federation of Associations for Persons with Disabilities represented most of the organizations in the country that worked with persons with disabilities. The federation’s priorities are accessibility for persons with disabilities and their entry into the workforce, two areas in which the country was not fully compliant with international standards. The lack of sufficient adapted public transportation remained a concern.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government effectively enforced the provisions of the constitution and the law against discrimination for the most part, in its latest report in 2015, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that the country’s laws do not apply the principle of the sharing of the burden of proof. The law relating to hearing complaints on the grounds of race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or language in civil and administrative courts does not provide that, when persons establish before the court facts of alleged direct or indirect discrimination, the respondent should prove that there has been no discrimination, racism, or intolerance.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

According to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexual associations, the number of bullying cases at school has increased. As of June, 10 cases were registered, one of which was in court. Many of these cases were due to sexual orientation.

Angola

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The government continued a public media campaign highlighting violence against women. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

On July 26, the newspaper O Pais reported, citing statistics from a Luanda hospital, there were 574 reported cases of sexual violence during the first six months of the year at that hospital alone, as compared with 419 cases reported by the Ministries of Family and Protection of Women, Interior, and Social Assistance and Reintegration in 2015. The ministry reported 25,414 incidents of domestic violence in 2015, an increase of 57 percent from 2014.

The Zero Tolerance for Gender and Sexual Based Violence campaign continued. The campaign increased awareness of sexual violence and encouraged women to file police reports.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences and fines depending on the severity of their crime. In 2015 the government reported it had 27 domestic violence counseling centers, seven other shelters, and various treatment centers throughout the country. It called for more studies into the causes of domestic violence as well as more shelters to help victims. The ministry maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse. Statistics on prosecutions for violence against women were not available.

The Organization of Angolan Women (OMA), a political association affiliated with the ruling MPLA, held a series of seminars across the country to increase awareness of the dangers of domestic violence.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: During the year sporadic news reports of children being accused of witchcraft were published. The National Institute for Religious Affairs acknowledged that belief in, and accusations of, witchcraft continued, particularly in Zaire and Uige provinces, but stated that cases of abusive practices diminished significantly due to campaigns and government directives aimed at reducing indigenous religious practices such as shamanism, animal sacrifices, and witchcraft. There were anecdotal reports of women and children being abused by their communities because of accusations they practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. Such cases may be prosecuted under assault and battery and defamation statutes, but no prosecutions were reported during the year.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to the UN Population Division, 12 percent of married women used a modern method of contraception. In 2015 the government issued its first-ever national family planning strategy. According to the UN Population Fund’s “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990–2015”, the maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 477 deaths per 100,000 live births. High maternal mortality was likely due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy.

According to UN sources, 55 percent of women were 18 or younger when they gave birth to their first child. There were no legal barriers that limit access to reproductive health services, but some cultural views, such as the responsibility of women to have children, and religious objections to using contraception, limited access. Comprehensive information on government provisions for reproductive health services or diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, improved with the assistance of international partners.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men, but societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas (see section 7.d.). There were no effective mechanisms to enforce child support laws, and women generally bore the major responsibility for raising children. There were no known cases of official or private sector discrimination in employment or occupation, credit, pay, owning and/or managing a business, or housing. Gender discrimination was more prevalent in terms of household responsibilities than in access to goods or services.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.), although women generally held low-level positions.

In an interministerial effort led by the Ministry of Family and Protection of Women, the government undertook multiple information campaigns on women’s rights and domestic abuse and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately, and activists reported many urban and rural children remained undocumented. According to the UN Children’s Fund, as of mid-2013, as many as 69 percent of children under age five did not have birth certificates. The government permitted undocumented children to attend school but only through the fourth grade. Pursuant to a 2013 plan, the government waived birth registration fees for all persons, including adults, through the end of 2016. In previous years parents could register their children under five for no fee, but parents with older children found the registration costs prohibitive.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the sixth grade, but students often faced significant additional expenses such as books or fees paid to education officials. These fees sometimes were payments to help with school operation and maintenance costs that were not covered by the national budget. At other times, however, the fees were bribes paid by families to ensure their child got a place in a classroom. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school.

Children of any age in an urban area were more likely to attend school than children in a rural area. Children in rural areas generally lacked access to secondary education and often primary level also. Children of refugees and asylum seekers reportedly experienced difficulty enrolling in school due to an inability to procure identification documents. Even in provincial capitals, there were not enough classroom spaces for all children. There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse. Particularly vulnerable children, such as orphans or those without access to health care or education, were more likely to be abused by their caretakers. A 2012 law significantly improved the legal framework protecting children, but problems remained in its implementation and enforcement.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 years. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage in lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. In September the Ministry of Family and Protection of Women reported that four in 10 children in the country between the ages of 12 and 17 entered annually into legal or common-law marriages, citing rural areas within the provinces of Lunda Sul, Moxico, Huambo, Bie, and Malange as places where early marriage was most prevalent. Data on the rate of marriage for boys and girls under age 18 was not available Common-law marriage was widely practiced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern over child prostitution, especially in Luanda, Benguela, and Cunene provinces. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children are defined in a 2014 antitrafficking law that includes protections against child pornography, prostitution, and sexual and labor abuse. The law does not prohibit the use, procurement, offering, and financial benefit of a child for the production of pornography and pornographic performances. The law does not criminally prohibit the distribution and possession of child pornography.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child under the age of 12 are considered rape and carry a potential legal penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 is considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were no known prosecutions during the year. The legal age for consensual sex is 18 years.

A 2012 law codified the “11 Commitments to Children” campaign. The law defines priorities and coordinates the government’s policies to combat all forms of abuse against children, including unlawful child labor, trafficking, and sexual exploitation.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 persons, primarily expatriate Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, in employment (see also section 7.d.), education, and access to health care and the judicial system or other state services, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society about disability; and encourage special learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities. It does not specifically mention the rights of persons with disabilities with regard to transportation, including air travel.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 victims of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities is responsible for verifying that all such persons are protected from discrimination and have access to the same rights and privileges as citizens without disabilities. Persons with disabilities, nevertheless, found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system (see also section 7.d.). Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The antitrafficking law specifically punishes sexual abuse of vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Assistance and Social Reintegration sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents. During the 2012 election, the government provided voting assistance to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities were allowed to select someone of their own choosing to accompany them into the voting booth to fill out the ballot and were allowed to move ahead of others waiting in line to vote.

Indigenous People

An estimated 14,000 San persons lived in small dispersed communities in Huila, Cunene, and Cuando Cubango provinces. The San are traditional hunter-gatherers who are linguistically and ethnically distinct from the majority of the population. The constitution does not make specific reference to the rights of indigenous persons, and the San lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards, according to a credible NGO. The government reportedly permitted businesses and well-connected elites to take traditional land from the San. During the year NGO sources reported that security guards killed several San individuals who were allegedly hunting on lands that the San had traditionally occupied, but were now occupied by the government or businesses. Many San reportedly turned to begging because other options were not available.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the law does not criminalize sexual relations between persons of the same sex. Sections of the 1886 penal code could be viewed as criminalizing homosexual activity, but they are no longer used by the judicial system. The constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, however. Local and international NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced discrimination and harassment, but reports of violence against the LGBTI community based on sexual orientation were rare. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. For example, the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS worked with local NGOs and LGBTI activists to promote antidiscriminatory practices by health practitioners and communities across the country.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals often went unreported. LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. In 2014 a group of LGBTI individuals formed the first openly gay association in civil society. The association was created to help LGBTI youth facing harassment or social alienation. During the year the association partnered with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with the condition or disease. There were no news reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients. Local NGOs worked with the government to combat stigmatization and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries maximum sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. The government was unable to provide the number of persons prosecuted for unlawful sexual intercourse, but anecdotal evidence suggested it was a pervasive problem. An investigation commences once the crime is reported, and legislation enacted in August identifies certain government employees as mandatory reporters. Police immediately refer reported rapes to the Serious Crime Unit, and a female police officer and often a caseworker from the Directorate of Gender Affairs accompany the victim for questioning, medical examinations, treatment, and court appearances, if necessary. In situations where the victim did not know her assailant, the case could take years to come to trial. The Directorate of Gender Affairs, part of the Ministry of Education, Gender, Sports, and Youth Affairs, publicized a crisis hotline for victims and witnesses to sexual assault and managed a sexual assault center that coordinates responses to sexual assault. The Directorate of Gender Affairs reported the number of rape survivors coming forward increased as a result of the crisis hotline and the directorate’s awareness campaign.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The law prohibits and provides penalties for domestic violence, but some women were reluctant to testify against their abusers due to fear of stigma, retribution, or further violence. The Domestic Violence Bill of 2015, which repealed the Domestic Violence Act of 1999, took effect on September 1. The new legislation targets perpetrators of domestic violence and sets forth the process required for victims to obtain an order of protection. The Directorate of Gender Affairs operated several domestic violence programs that provided training for law enforcement officers, health-care professionals, counselors, social workers, immigration officers, and army officers. The directorate also worked with NGOs, individuals, and businesses to provide safe havens for abused women and children. Services for victims of domestic violence included counseling and an advocacy caseworker who accompanied the victim to the hospital, police station, and court, if necessary.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not specifically defined in law. The country is, however, party to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (the Convention of Belem do Para), which recognizes sexual harassment as a form of violence against women. According to the Ministry of Labor, there was a high incidence of sexual harassment in the private and public sectors, but no cases were formally reported during the year, and the lack of reporting was believed to result from concerns about retaliation. The labor court requires a safe working environment for all persons; thus, the court could address harassment cases, although no such cases were filed during the year.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The rate of maternal mortality was not available.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Legislation requires equal pay for equal work. The labor code provides that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of his or her gender. Women continued to work mainly as homeworkers and domestics, but there was a trend for more women to work in the private and public sectors.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, and the government registers all children at birth. Children born to citizen parents abroad can be registered by either of their parents.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. Neglect was the most common form of child abuse, followed by physical abuse, although according to the press, rape and sexual abuse of children also occurred. Adult men having sexual relations with girls as young as eight years of age was also a problem. In extreme cases of abuse, the government removes the children from their home and puts them in foster care or into a government or private children’s home.

The government held public outreach events about detection and prevention of child abuse and also offered training for foster parents regarding how to detect child abuse and how to work with abused children. The government’s welfare office also provided counseling services for children and parents and often referred parents to the National Parent Counseling Center. A family court handled child abuse cases, providing faster prosecution and more general handling of family and welfare cases. The Child Care and Adoption Bill institutes procedures for international adoptions and governs the investigation and assessment of child abuse cases. It also includes provisions on orders of care and child-care services.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. Children between 15 and 18 could marry with parental consent; however, underage marriage was rare, and the government did not keep statistics on it.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. Authorities brought charges against few offenders. The Citizens Welfare Division reported that the process of prosecuting offenders was lengthy. Child pornography is illegal and subject to fines of up to $250,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) ($92,600) and 10 years in prison.

International Child Abductions: The government is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, although the government is party to the Inter-American Convention for the International Return of Children. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains antidiscrimination provisions, but no specific laws prohibit discrimination against or mandate accessibility for persons with disabilities. There were anecdotal cases of children with disabilities who were unable to take themselves to the restroom and thus were denied entry to school, or who could not attend school as a result of inadequate transportation and classroom facilities. Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggested support for persons with mental disabilities was lacking. It was alleged that those affected were often left homeless, as there were few alternatives to the one overcrowded and poorly maintained outpatient mental health facility. In other cases persons with disabilities lived in bad conditions because their families could not provide for their needs. Public areas, including government buildings, often lacked wheelchair accessibility.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity for males is illegal under indecency statutes; however, the law was not strictly enforced. The law also prohibits anal intercourse. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men carries a maximum penalty of 15 years. No antidiscrimination laws exist that specifically protect LGBTI persons.

Societal attitudes somewhat impeded operation and free association of LGBTI organizations, but there were a few organized groups. There were limited reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a variety of settings. There were no reports of violence committed against LGBTI persons due to their real or perceived sexual orientation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Some persons claimed that fear, stigma, and discrimination impaired the willingness of HIV-positive persons to obtain treatment, and HIV-positive persons reported several incidents of discrimination from health-care professionals and police. Anecdotal evidence also suggested employers dismissed and discriminated against employees with HIV/AIDS.

The Ministry of Health supported local NGO efforts to register human rights complaints and seek assistance related to cases of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The ministry also trained a number of health-care professionals and police officers in antidiscriminatory practices. The Ministry of Labor encouraged employers to be more sensitive to employees with HIV/AIDS, and the ministry conducted sensitivity training for employers who requested it. The ministry reported that stigmatization of HIV-positive persons, while still a significant problem, had decreased, especially among police forces.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Rastafarians complained of discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools, but the government took no specific action to address such complaints.

Argentina

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, but evidentiary requirements, either in the form of clear physical injury or in the testimony of a witness, often presented difficulties in prosecuting such crimes. The penalties for rape range from six months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of police or judicial reluctance to act on rape cases; women’s rights advocates, however, claimed that the attitudes of police, hospitals, and courts toward survivors of sexual violence sometimes revictimized them. They noted a lack of interest in or training for law enforcement officials in protecting survivors or enforcing measures against aggressors, a lack of gender training for legal aid lawyers, and judicial responses that were insufficient to stop domestic violence.

An April report by the Secretariat of Criminal Policy, Ministry of Security, reported that during 2015, there were 3,484 prosecutions for rape, representing an incidence of 8.7 victims per 100,000 inhabitants. Many rapes went unreported due to fear of further violence, retribution, and social stigma.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, which is broadly defined by a 2009 federal statute to include physical, psychological, and economic violence. Survivors of domestic violence may secure protective measures through the civil courts. Family court judges have the right to bar a perpetrator from a victim’s home or workplace. The law requires the state to open a criminal investigation, potentially resulting in life imprisonment, in cases where violence results in death. The law imposes stricter penalties on those who kill their spouses, partners, or children as a consequence of their gender. According to local NGOs, lack of police and judicial vigilance often led to a lack of protection for victims.

On July 29, a Buenos Aires City Court of Appeals ordered a person accused of committing domestic violence and his alleged victim to wear geolocation devices in order for authorities to monitor compliance with a restraining order issued in the case.

The National Register of Femicides, maintained by the Supreme Court Women’s Office, recorded that 235 women died as a result of domestic or gender-based violence during 2015. In 20 percent of the cases, the victim had applied for a restraining order or had previously filed a complaint against the male perpetrator. More than 70 percent of the killings involved a husband, boyfriend, or former boyfriend.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence provided around-the-clock protection and resources to victims of domestic violence. The office received approximately 805 cases of domestic violence in the city of Buenos Aires during the first nine months of the year, approximately 62 percent of which involved violence against women. The office also carried out risk assessments necessary to obtain a restraining order.

Public and private institutions offered prevention programs and provided support and treatment for abused women. The Buenos Aires Municipal Government operated a small shelter for battered women.

On July 26, the government published the first national action plan to reduce violence against women, which was scheduled to go into effect in 2017. The plan increases spending on women’s rights initiatives, public awareness campaigns to combat sexual and gender-based violence, and innovative technologies to help victims receive treatment and protection.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the public sector and imposes disciplinary or corrective measures. In some jurisdictions, such as the city of Buenos Aires, sexual harassment might lead to the abuser’s dismissal, whereas in others, such as Santa Fe Province, the maximum penalty is five days in prison.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Civil society groups asserted that a 2012 Supreme Court ruling reaffirming a woman’s right to terminate pregnancy in all circumstances permitted by law, including as a result of rape, irrespective of the woman’s intellectual or psychosocial capacity, was not uniformly applied.

On August 18, authorities provisionally released “Belen,” the pseudonym for a 27-year-old woman from the province of Tucuman, from prison. On April 16, a provincial court sentenced Belen to eight years in prison for aggravated homicide; Tucuman authorities had claimed her 2014 miscarriage was an induced abortion. The provincial court freed her after national and international human rights groups protested her imprisonment and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights filed a motion of concern over irregularities in her case. At year’s end Belen remained free on appeal of her conviction.

Discrimination: Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination and held a disproportionately high number of lower-paying jobs. Women also held significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal payment for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 27 percent less than men earned for similar or equal work.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Women trained judges, secretaries, and clerks to handle court cases related to women’s issues and ensure equal access for women to positions in the court system. The office also trained judges, prosecutors, judicial staff, and law enforcement agents to increase awareness of gender-related crimes and develop techniques to address gender-related cases and victims.

Children

Birth Registration: The government provides universal birth registration, and citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Parents have 40 days to register births, and the state has an additional 20 days to do so. The Ministry of Interior and Transportation may issue birth certificates to children under the age of 12 whose births were not previously registered.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common; the Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence reported that 30 percent of the complaints it received involved children. On November 19, in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund, the government started the first national campaign against child abuse. In addition to a publicity campaign on television and radio to raise awareness for the incidence of child sexual abuse and mistreatment of children, the government launched a 24/7 hotline staffed by professional child psychologists for free consultations and advice.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for men and women is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, including in prostitution, was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 13, but there are heightened protections for persons ages 13 to 16. There is a statutory rape law with penalties ranging from six months to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and other factors. In addition, if a judge finds evidence of deception, violence, threats, abuse of authority, or any other form of intimidation or coercion resulting in sexual intercourse, the minimum sentence increases to six years, regardless of age.

Several prominent cases of child sexual abuse were reported during the year. In September a local journalism forum reported widespread trafficking of disadvantaged Bolivian children. According to the report, international criminal networks lured children across the Argentina-Bolivia border with the promise of well-paying jobs. These networks then sold most of the children for 4,620 pesos ($300) to prostitution rings, exploitative industries, or workshops.

The law prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography, with penalties ranging from six months to four years in prison. While the law does not prohibit the possession of child pornography by individuals for personal use, it provides penalties ranging from four months to two years in prison for possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute it. The law also provides penalties ranging from one month to three years in prison for facilitating access to pornographic shows or materials for minors under the age of 14.

During the year prosecutors from the nationwide “Point of Contact Network against Child Pornography on the Internet” aggressively pursued cases of internet child pornography. From January through September, the Network received 617 reports in Buenos Aires Province and initiated 424 preliminary criminal investigations, 73 of which were unsubstantiated. The remaining cases were under investigation at year’s end. The conviction rate was reportedly low due to the difficulty in proving distribution and production. While lengthy judicial processing and bureaucratic inefficiencies occurred, the Network reported national level improvements in the ability to punish offenders.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consists of approximately 250,000 persons. Sporadic acts of anti-Semitic discrimination and vandalism continued. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations received complaints of anti-Semitism during the year.

The most commonly reported anti-Semitic incidents were slurs posted on various websites, graffiti, verbal slurs, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

On July 5, unidentified individuals threw a plastic bottle filled with cement through the window of the Maccabi Jewish community center in Santa Fe Province. A note attached to the bottle read, “This is a warning, the next one will explode.” The note contained the logo of the Islamic State and the Arabic expression “Allahu Akbar (God is great).”

On August 25, students from the Lanus Oeste German School of Buenos Aires engaged in a fistfight with Jewish students from the ORT School of Buenos Aires while both groups were at a nightclub in the resort city of Bariloche. Some of the students from the German school, who deliberately provoked the brawl, wore Hitler mustaches and leather jackets with swastikas painted on them. The director of the German school apologized for the incident, disciplined the school’s students, and compelled them to visit the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum together with the Jewish students.

The investigation continued into the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 persons. Interpol maintained Red Notices on five Iranians, one Lebanese, and one Colombian suspected in the bombing.

The investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, continued without conclusion as to the motive for his death. In January 2015 Nisman was found dead in his apartment from a gunshot wound to the head. Nisman was scheduled to testify the next day before a congressional committee concerning his allegations that then president Kirchner and associates conspired to convey impunity to the Iranians suspected of planning and executing the AMIA bombing.

Hearings in the AMIA bombing cover-up trial, which accuses government and law enforcement officials and a leader of the country’s Jewish community of complicity and false testimony to cover up the 1994 AMIA bombing, continued during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. A specific law also mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities. According to media reports, the ombudsman of the city of Buenos Aires reported that only 33 percent of the metropolitan subway stations had elevators or escalators, and only 29 percent of the stations were equipped with bathrooms for persons with disabilities.

While the federal government has protective laws, many provinces had not adopted such laws and had no mechanisms to ensure enforcement. An employment quota law reserves 4 percent of federal government jobs for persons with disabilities, but NGOs and advocacy groups claimed the level of disability employment achieved during the year was less than 1 per cent.

A pattern of inadequate facilities and poor conditions continued in some mental institutions.

The National Advisory Committee for the Integration of People with Disabilities under the National Council for Coordination of Social Policies has formal responsibility for actions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The constitution recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of indigenous people and states that congress shall protect their right to bilingual education, recognize their communities and the communal ownership of their ancestral lands, and allow for their participation in the management of their natural resources. Although there is no formal process to recognize indigenous tribes or determine who is an indigenous person, indigenous communities can register with the provincial or federal government as civic associations.

Indigenous people did not fully participate in the management of their lands or natural resources, in part because responsibility for implementing the law is delegated to the 24 provinces, only 11 of which have constitutions recognizing indigenous rights. The NGO International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs reported that implementation of land awards was slow and unpredictable and that bureaucracy, insufficient funding, and opposition by landowners or businesses delayed the process. In 2006 the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs, which awards land rights to indigenous communities and offers indigenous persons constitutional protection and full citizenship rights, began conducting the Territorial Survey Program for Indigenous Communities as part of the land titling process. While the institute initially had four years to conclude the surveying and demarcation, a 2010 law extended the process to 2017.

According to a May 23 press statement of the UN special rapporteur on racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, indigenous people generally lived in extreme poverty, isolation from others, and without access to basic services such as drinkable water, adequate housing, quality health care, employment opportunities, or appropriate and quality education.

Indigenous persons seeking access to justice faced additional unique challenges, including linguistic, cultural, and economic barriers. Most lived in far-flung reaches of the country and must travel considerable distances to access courts. Many provincial courts were unaware of national and international law concerning indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources.

Indigenous peoples had lower levels of economic and social development and higher rates of illiteracy than nonindigenous sectors. Poverty rates were higher than average in areas with large indigenous populations. Indigenous people had greater than average rates of illiteracy, chronic disease, and unemployment. Indigenous women faced further discrimination based on gender and reduced economic status. The lack of trained teachers hampered government efforts to offer bilingual education opportunities to indigenous people.

Indigenous peoples continued to lack adequate participation in decisions affecting their ancestral lands. Projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which they depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered the health and welfare of indigenous communities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally enjoyed the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual persons. No laws criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults. LGBTI persons could serve openly in the military.

The law gives transgender persons the right legally to change their gender and name on identity documents without prior approval from a doctor or judge. It also requires public and private health-care plans to cover some parts of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, although the Ministry of Health did not effectively enforce this requirement. In September, Congress enacted legislation prohibiting exclusion of blood donors based upon sexual orientation.

National antidiscrimination laws do not specifically include the terms “sexual orientation or gender identity” as protected grounds, only “sex.” There was no official discrimination, however, based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Overt societal discrimination generally was uncommon, but media and NGOs reported cases of discrimination, violence, and police brutality toward the LGBTI community, especially transgender persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no known reports of societal violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with the disease. According to a private study and survey of stigma and discrimination encountered by persons with HIV/AIDS, 18 percent of those surveyed perceived they had suffered discrimination as a result of their medical condition, primarily from medical providers.

Armenia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; in the absence of a specific domestic violence law, general rape statutes applied to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was similarly prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence.

Spousal abuse and violence against women appeared widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s July 2015 Armenia Gender Assessment, gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, was one of the most critical problems faced by women in the country. Surveys by the government and women’s organizations confirmed the assessment that domestic violence was widespread, affecting between 25 to 66 percent of women (depending how broad the definition of domestic violence). Authorities did not effectively prosecute domestic violence.

Rape, spousal abuse, and domestic violence was underreported due to social stigma, the absence of female police officers and investigators, and at times police reluctance to act. According to local observers, most domestic violence was not reported because survivors were afraid of physical harm, apprehensive that police would return them to their husbands, or ashamed to disclose their family problems. There were also reports that police, especially outside of Yerevan, were reluctant to act in such cases and discouraged women from filing complaints. A majority of domestic violence cases were considered under the law as offenses of low or medium seriousness. In such instances a survivor might decline to press charges or perpetrators pressured them to withdraw charges or recant previous testimony.

Two local NGOs, the Women’s Support Center and the Women’s Rights Center, maintained domestic violence hotlines and three shelters and provided various services to the victim. The shelters were insufficient to meet the needs of all victims in the country. While international funding sustained the shelters, there were few realistic alternatives for sustainable, local funding.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women recorded the killing of 30 women by an existing or former partner or a family member. According to a coalition study published in May, many of these women had sought help from family or state institutions before being killed. Local organizations maintained that police inaction and lenient sentences for partners convicted of abuse contributed to such deaths. During the year there were several instances in which courts reportedly issued minimal fines to husbands who had abused their wives for years.

On July 8, Vladik Martirosyan attacked his former wife, Taguhi Mansuryan, and her parents with an axe. Mansuryan’s mother died immediately, while Mansuryan and her father were hospitalized in serious condition. Martirosyan was previously convicted of domestic abuse but received a six-month suspended sentence.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. While recent public data on the extent of the problem was unavailable, observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace was widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s Armenia Gender Assessment, sexual harassment in the workplace was a factor limiting women’s job choices and opportunities for advancement.

Reproductive Rights: The law gives couples and individuals the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means necessary to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The husband and his parents often made decisions the spacing and timing of a couple’s children. Skilled attendance during childbirth was more accessible in large towns and other population centers where birthing facilities were located. There were reports that women, especially in rural or remote areas, had insufficient access to general and reproductive health care services. In its 2014 report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern regarding the limited availability of contraception.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status in the judicial system, but discrimination based on gender was a continuing problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation and employment (see section 7.d.). Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches and at all levels of government (see section 3).

CESCR’s report expressed concern regarding deeply rooted patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes regarding the role of women and men in the family and in society. According to gender experts, the education system at all levels reinforced these attitudes. A 2015 World Bank study examined teaching materials and textbooks of high school classes and found the books gave strong preference to men in all forms of representation, including texts and illustrations, while women were less visible or portrayed in stereotypical way.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Statistical Service, the boy to girl sex-at-birth ratio decreased from 114 to 100 in 2014 and from 112 to 100 for the first half of the year. In May 2015 the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs approved a mid-term program to prevent sex selective abortions, establishing a working group to coordinate governmental efforts in this regard. According to the UN Population Fund, joint programs by the government and international and local NGOs to increase awareness of this problem accounted for the slightly positive improvement in the first half of the year.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Birth registration is the responsibility of parents, who must present the birth certificate to the hospital before checking out. Absence of a birth certificate could result in denial of public services.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade nine, in practice it was not universal. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children with disabilities and from socially vulnerable families faced systematic disadvantages in their access to schools and to the use of educational services (see Persons with Disabilities, below). Children from disadvantaged families and communities lacked access to early learning programs, despite government efforts to raise preschool enrollment. Enrollment and attendance rates for children from ethnic minority groups, in particular Yezidis, Kurds, and Molokans, were significantly lower than average, and dropout rates after the eighth grade were higher. UNICEF expressed concern about the integration into the local community of an increasing number of refugee children from Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. Poor school infrastructure, particularly for preschools, including inadequate heating, water, and sanitation, remained a problem, with vast majority of school buildings not complying with basic safety standards.

Child Abuse: Although comprehensive statistics on violence against children were unavailable, such violence appeared to be a problem, especially for those living in institutions and in socially vulnerable families. Irregular exchanges of fire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces put children living in border areas at risk of injury or death. According to UNICEF, the lack of official, unified data on violence against children limited the government’s ability to design adequate national responses and preventive measures. There were no official referral procedures for children who became victims of violence, including sexual violence, and referrals were not mandatory for professionals working with children, excluding doctors.

The Women’s Resource Center noted an increase in sexual assault against minors and that the victims assisted were younger than in the previous years. The center also reported instances in which young victims were stigmatized, mocked in their communities, and expelled from school.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF, 7 percent of children (both boys and girls) married by age 18, the legal minimum age. Early marriage of girls was reportedly more frequent within the Yezidi communities, but the government took no measures to document the scale or address the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Antitrafficking statutes prohibit the sexual exploitation of children and carry sentences of seven to 15 years in prison, depending on whether aggravating circumstances are present. Child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: The government maintained 36 residential facilities housing approximately 3,800 children, the majority of whom had at least one living parent. Experts believed corruption and poverty were the primary impediments to deinstitutionalization, since the government based its funding for institutions on the number of residents, and many families were unable to financially support their children’s needs. On average the government spent more than 5.46 billion drams ($13 million) annually to maintain such institutions. According to UNICEF and other observers, institutionalized children were at risk of physical and psychological violence by peers and by staff. UNICEF notified state officials regarding numerous violations of food and health standards, but authorities made few improvements. The government worked with UNICEF and NGOs, using foreign funds, to reduce the number of children in institutions and to establish community and family-based alternatives as well as inclusive schools for children with special needs.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be between 500 and 1,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with any disability in employment, education, and access to health care and other state services, but discrimination remained a problem. The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those under renovation, including schools, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Very few buildings or other facilities were accessible, even if newly constructed or renovated. Many public buildings including schools and kindergartens were inaccessible which also deterred persons with disabilities from voting, since these buildings often served as polling stations during elections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but failed to carry out this mandate effectively.

According to a 2012 UNICEF survey, one in five children with disabilities did not attend school. This was due to both discrimination and the lack of facilities to accommodate their needs. In 2014 CESCR reported that, in spite of state efforts to expand the network of inclusive schools, officials did not fully implement the policy. The law requires all public schools to become inclusive by 2025.

Persons with all types of disabilities experienced discrimination in every sphere, including access to health care, social and psychological rehabilitation, education, transportation, communication, employment, social protection, cultural events, and use of the internet. Lack of access to information and communications was a particularly significant problem for persons with sensory disabilities.

Women with disabilities faced further discrimination, including in social acceptance and access to health and reproductive care, employment, and education, due to their gender.

Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

According to official data, more than 90 percent of persons with disabilities who were able to work were unemployed. In July 2015 the government introduced mandatory quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities for both public and private firms employing more than 100 persons.

Media reports alleged corruption and arbitrary rulings on the part of the Medical-social Expertise Commission, a governmental body under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that determines a person’s disability status. Disability status, in turn, determines eligibility for various social benefits.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Societal attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained highly negative, with society generally viewing homosexuality as a medical affliction. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

According to an assessment during the year by the NGO New Generation, transgender individuals desiring to undergo sex change procedures faced obstacles that included negative attitudes, lack of information, and absence of legal regulations. This led to numerous medical and other problems tied to the administration of hormones without medical supervision, underground surgeries, and problems obtaining passports and documenting a change in gender identity.

In May the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) published its annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI persons for 2015. According to the review, leading political party representatives and media affiliated with authorities employed “hate speech” toward members of the LGBTI community. Antigay rhetoric intensified during public discussions prior to the December 2015 referendum on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. According to the review, LGBTI persons experienced physical violence and threats of violence, blackmail, and harassment. Police were unresponsive to reports of such abuses and at times themselves mistreated LGBTI individuals, following and harassing them. According to the review, authorities did not prosecute a single hate crime complaint filed with police in 2015. LGBTI persons were also reluctant to report violations to relevant bodies due to fears of exposure and additional discriminatory treatment because of their complaint.

According to media reports, during a November 6 parliamentary discussion, three members of parliament (MP) from the ruling RPA, including the deputy speaker of the parliament, engaged in anti-LGBTI rhetoric, with one MP making a joke encouraging physical violence against LGBTI individuals.

According to PINK Armenia, in May a Karin folk dance group instructor, Harut Baghdasaryan, expelled Armenian-American dancer Kyle Khanidkyan after finding out that he was gay. According to media reports, the instructor told Khanidkyan that he did not belong to the “nation,” that he was “not Armenian,” and had no right to dance Armenian dances because he was gay.

Elements of media disseminated anti-LGBTI propaganda. LGBTI activists as well as human rights defenders working in the field received threats via social media and to be targets of hate speech.

Openly gay men were exempt from military service, purportedly because of concern that fellow soldiers would abuse them. An exemption, however, required a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual had a mental disorder; this information appeared in the individual’s personal identification documents and was an obstacle to employment and to obtaining a driver’s license. Gay men who served in the army reportedly faced physical and psychological abuse as well as blackmail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In the most recent demographic and health survey (conducted in 2010), approximately 86 percent of women and 84 percent of men reported having discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS.

According to human rights groups, persons regarded as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, such as sex workers (including transgender sex workers) and drug users, faced discrimination and violence from society as well as mistreatment by police.

The NGO Real World Real Life registered cases of men infected with HIV/AIDS during migrant work abroad who hid their condition from their wives. Having infected their wives, these men reportedly forbade them from seeking help and medication, although the men themselves underwent treatment. The NGO maintained that this was a manifestation of both domestic abuse and the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. A January 24 story on the Medialab.am website discussed the plight of an HIV/AIDS-infected pregnant woman who experienced significant discrimination from medical personnel throughout her pregnancy, including segregation from other patients and the unwillingness of medical personnel to provide her medical assistance while she was giving birth.

Australia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities.

According to the government, approximately one in three women experienced physical violence, and nearly one in five experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years. In July the ABS reported that in 2015 police recorded 21,380 cases of sexual assault, of which 82 percent of the victims were women. Two-thirds of sexual assaults occurred in a residential location.

In 2015, there were 158 homicides linked to family and domestic violence; 103 of the victims were female. In September 2015, in its first major policy initiative, the government under Prime Minister Turnbull announced a policy package of A$100 million ($75 million) to address the threat of domestic violence, particularly against women. Federal and state governments funded programs to combat domestic violence and provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal act in all states and territories of the country, and these laws apply extraterritoriality to protect citizens or residents from being subjected to FGM/C overseas. In June a court sentenced a Muslim leader to at least 11 months in jail for covering up FGM/C offenses against two sisters in Wollongong and Sydney between 2009 and 2012. The court sentenced the girls’ mother, and the woman who carried out the procedure, to 11 months home detention. It was the country’s first FGM/C trial. In 2013 the government held a national summit on FGM/C and subsequently announced a National Compact on Female Genital Mutilation. In 2013 the government announced it would provide A$1 million ($750,000) for 15 new projects aimed at ending FGM/C among citizens whether they lived domestically or abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The HRC received 212 complaints of sexual harassment during 2014-15; however, separate statistics on resolution of harassment complaints were not available.

An independent review of the Victoria Police Department released in December 2015 found workplace sexual harassment to be an endemic problem despite more than 30 years of legislation prohibiting sex based discrimination. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found evidence that of more than 5,000 participants surveyed, 40 percent of women and 7 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment. The review found evidence of chronic underreporting with victims afraid of negative professional and personal consequences resulting from making a complaint.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population.

Discrimination: The law provided for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning and/or managing businesses, education, and housing. Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.). The HRC received 453 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act from 2014-15, including 358 from women.

There were well-organized and effective public and private women’s rights organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. The federal sex discrimination commissioner of the HRC undertakes research, formulates policy, and conducts educational work designed to eliminate gender discrimination. The Office for Women, under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, focuses on reducing violence against women, promoting women’s economic security, and enhancing the status of women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth; however, being physically born within the country does not confer citizenship on a child. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs. The federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released an interim report in 2014, which included the personal stories of 150 abused persons. In August 2015 the commission released recommendations on background checks for persons working with children and, in September 2015 released recommendations on redress and civil litigation. It continued to conduct hearings during the year.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a national agency that maintains health statistics and information, there were 42,457 children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases during 2014-15. The rate remained unchanged between 2012-13 and 2014-15 at approximately eight per 1,000 children. The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders was approximately seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. A person between 16 and 18 years may apply to a judge or magistrate in a state or territory for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years, but the marriage of the minor still requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than 18 years may not marry each other. Although no statistics were available, reports of marriages involving a person younger than 18 years were rare. There were reports forced marriage sometimes occurred.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children. There were documented cases of children younger than 18 years subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than 16 years and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16 years in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia and 17 years in Tasmania and South Australia. In Queensland the age of consent for anal sex is 18 years, while the age of consent for all other sexual acts is 16 years. Maximum penalties for violations vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. In New South Wales; however, the law prohibiting child abuse material, including child pornography applies only to children younger than 16 years, and in South Australia the law prohibiting child exploitation material, including child pornography, only applies to children younger than 17 years. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($206,000), or both. Under federal law suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed. The AFP worked with its international partners to identify and charge persons involved in online exploitation of children.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures initiated in 2007 to combat child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than 16 years in the Northern Territory. In 2012 parliament extended most of these interventions through 2022.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some Aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 97,300 persons. During the 12-month period ending in September 2015, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 190 anti-Semitic incidents logged by the council, Jewish community umbrella groups in each state, and the Australian Capital Territory, and community security groups. These incidents included vandalism, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. In early April vandals spray-painted several swastikas on Marouba Synagogue in Sydney and on nearby bus stop signs. The synagogue’s Rabbi Friedman described the incident as “an assault against Jewish people and directed towards those in my community.”

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment; education; access to premises; access to air travel and other forms of transport; provision of goods, services (including health services), and facilities; accommodation; purchase of land; activities of clubs and associations; sport; the judicial system; and the administration of federal laws and programs. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The commissioner also promotes implementation and enforcement of state laws that require equal access to buildings and otherwise protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including providing equal access to communications and information. The law also provides for mediation by the HRC of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Schools are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, and children with disabilities generally attended school. The federal government’s Better Start for Children with Disability initiative provided up to A$12,000 ($9,000) per person for early intervention services and treatment for eligible children with disabilities. The government also cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities. The 2015 budget increased federal funding for students with disabilities to a record A$1.3 billion ($974 million) for 2015-16 and more than A$5 billion ($3.75 billion) over 2014-17. The government announced a National Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability so that all students with disability receive funding on the same basis.

The HRC’s annual report stated that 740 complaints, citing 846 alleged grounds of discrimination, were filed under the Disability Discrimination Act during 2014-15. Of these, 34 percent related to employment, and 37 percent involved the provision of goods and services (see section 7.d.). The HRC resolved 772 complaints during the period, including 376 through conciliation.

In 2013 the government launched the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a national disability insurance program and allocated a budget of A$14.3 billion ($10.7 billion) to the program. On June 30, the NDIS began across the country following a trial involving 30,000 people.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to its annual report, the HRC received 561 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act during 2014-15, citing 1,070 alleged grounds of discrimination. Of these, 18 percent involved employment, 15 percent involved provision of goods and services, and 18 percent alleged “racial hatred.” The HRC reported resolution of 405 complaints, including 202 through conciliation (see section 7.d.).

Indigenous People

According to the 2011 census, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constituted 2.5 percent of the total population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country. Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title Acts at the federal and state levels enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Under a 2002 High Court ruling, native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources and, in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights are in conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

The Indigenous Land Corporation, established in 1995, provides a continuing source of funds for indigenous persons to acquire or manage land for the benefit of indigenous persons. It has acquired 250 properties and added more than 5.8 million hectares to the indigenous estate. It receives a minimum annual payment of A$45 million ($34 million) from the Land Account, which had a balance of A$2.014 billion ($1.5 billion) at the end of June 2015. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet administer the Land Account. It is separate from the National Native Title Tribunal and is not for payment of compensation to indigenous persons for loss of land or to titleholders for return of land to indigenous persons.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), in 2007 the government took control of 64 indigenous communities through five-year land leases. The federal government’s Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory plan begun in 2012 repealed the emergency response and provided for negotiation of voluntary long-term leases. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which began in 2014, allocated indigenous-specific federal funding of A$4.9 billion ($3.7 billion) for a period of four years. Additionally, authorities allocated A$3.7 billion ($2.8 billion) through National Partnership Agreements, Special Accounts, and Special Appropriations. Funding was also available through indigenous-specific and mainstream programs delivered by other agencies.

In 2013 parliament unanimously passed an act of recognition intended to build momentum for a future referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous people. The new government supported constitutional recognition of indigenous people and was working toward a referendum to achieve this aim. The portfolio of indigenous affairs had cabinet-level status, and indigenous policy coordination shifted to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Since 2008 the prime minister has reported annually to parliament on the government’s progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities. In February the prime minister reported mixed results in the eight years since the government set Closing the Gap targets, with advancements in education and child mortality, but slower progress in employment and life expectancy.

According to the ABS, as of March the rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals was 11.4 times higher than the national imprisonment rate, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 27 percent of the full-time adult prisoner population. The Ministry for Indigenous Affairs reported in October indigenous children and teenagers were 24 times more likely to be imprisoned than the nonindigenous population, while indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses.

The ABS reported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals experienced disproportionately high levels of domestic violence, with hospitalization for family-related assault 28 times more likely for indigenous men and 34 times more likely for indigenous women than the rest of the country’s population. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, life expectancy for indigenous men was an estimated 69.1 years, compared to 79.7 years for nonindigenous men; life expectancy for indigenous women was an estimated 73.7 years, compared to 83.1 years for nonindigenous women; and the indigenous unemployment rate was 17 percent, compared to approximately 5 percent for the nonindigenous population.

The Productivity Commission’s 2012 Indigenous Expenditure Reportestimated that total direct indigenous expenditure in 2010-11 was A$25.4 billion ($19 billion). This resulted in expenditures of A$44,128 ($33,100) per indigenous citizen, compared to A$19,589 ($14,700) for other citizens. The report found the difference was due to “greater intensity of service use” and “additional costs of providing services.”

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, established in 2012, is the national representative body for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Government funding for it ceased in 2014. The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including in employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.

The HRC received 34 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation during 2014-15.

In 2014 Victoria and New South Wales passed laws to expunge convictions related to consensual sex between men. In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologized to citizens convicted of homosexual acts. Following the federal election, the opposition Australian Labor Party announced its first federal “shadow minister” for equality.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In June media reported vandals set a car on fire and sprayed anti-Muslim graffiti on a wall outside a Perth mosque. Earlier that month, someone left a pig’s head near the entrance of another mosque in Perth and parts of a pig in a nearby Islamic school.

Austria

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law. Law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was effective. Women’s NGOs estimated charges were filed in 10 percent of rape cases and only 13 percent of those led to convictions, due to lack of credible evidence.

Domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. There were reports of violence against women, including spousal abuse. Police can issue a two-week order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. The order can be extended to four weeks, and a court may further extend the order.

Under the law the government provided psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse.

The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse. The centers provided for victims’ safety, assessed the threat posed by perpetrators, helped victims develop plans to stop the abuse, and provided legal counseling and other social services. NGOs reported these centers were generally effective in providing shelter for victims of abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment based on the Federal Equality Commission’s finding in a case. The law entitles a victim to a minimum of 1,000 euros ($1,100) in compensation.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years if the victim dies because of negligence. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse.

The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. The Ministry for Economics, Family, and Youth estimated close family members or family friends committed 90 percent of child abuse. Officials noted a growing readiness to report cases of such abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage if they obtain a special permit for this purpose. NGOs estimated there were approximately 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides up to 10 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14, the minimum age for consensual sex. If the victim becomes pregnant, the sentence may be extended to 15 years.

It is a crime to possess, trade, or privately view child pornography. Exchanging pornographic videos of children is illegal. Possession of child pornography is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, while trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (AJC), there are between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in Austria, of whom an estimated 8,000 persons are members of the AJC.

The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 465 anti-Semitic incidents during 2015. These included two physical assaults in addition to name calling, graffiti and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic writings, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of these, 205 cases of anti-Semitic internet postings were reported, more than double the previous year’s number. The government provided protection to the AJC’s offices and other Jewish community institutions in the country, such as schools and museums. The AJC noted rising fears that increasing anti-Islamic activities by the extreme right would increase anti-Semitism, with the extreme right targeting both groups as religious minorities. They also reported increasing fears of anti-Semitic activity from Muslim refugees.

In March the Vienna prosecutor’s office investigated an individual who had posted anti-Semitic messages at the Vienna Jewish Museum and other Jewish institutions. There were several cases of neo-Nazi-related vandalism and hate speech, including death threats and hate speech on the internet.

School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Education Ministry offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in housing, employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and other government services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred.

While federal law mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities, NGOs complained many public buildings lacked such access due to insufficient enforcement of the law and low penalties for noncompliance. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into regular classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Interior Ministry statistics released in March cited 523 neo-Nazi, right-wing extremist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic incidents in 2015. The government continued to express concern over the activities of extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups, many with links to organizations in other countries.

An NGO operating a hotline for victims of racist incidents reported receiving 927 complaints in 2015. It reported that racist internet postings had nearly doubled from 2014 and had, in particular, been directed against migrants and asylum seekers, refugee shelters, and NGOs assisting them.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center for reporting Islamophobic incidents noted that such incidents increased markedly from only a few cases in April and May to 20 in June and July, following terrorist incidents in Western Europe.

Federal law recognizes Croats, Czechs, Hungarians, Roma, Slovaks, and Slovenes as national minorities. Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. The Austrian Romani Cultural Association estimated the Romani community consisted of more than 6,200 indigenous and between 15,000 and 20,000 nonindigenous individuals. The head of the association reported the situation of Roma continued to improve. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes.

NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public. In some cases citizens stigmatized black Africans for perceived involvement in the drug trade or other illegal activities.

The government continued training programs to combat racism and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Interior Ministry renewed an annual agreement with a Jewish group to teach police officers cultural sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities.

Poor German-language skills were a major factor preventing members of minorities, particularly refugees, from entering the workforce. The Labor and Integration Ministries continued efforts to improve the situation by providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Compulsory preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for nonnative German speakers.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTI persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Hate crime laws prohibit incitement, including incitement based on sexual orientation. LGBTI organizations generally operated freely. Civil society groups, however, criticized the lack of a mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTI individuals.

A 2015 Constitutional Court ruling provided for the possibility for adoption by same-sex couples as of January.

Azerbaijan

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 31 cases of rape and 62 cases of violence of a sexual nature. The ministry stated that 54 persons had been brought to trial for these offenses.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Female members of the Milli Mejlis and the head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA) continued their activities against domestic violence. The committee conducted public awareness campaigns and worked to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors.

Women had limited recourse against assaults by their husbands or others, particularly in rural areas.

The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment. The SCFWCA worked extensively on women’s problems, including organizing and hosting several conferences that raised awareness of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available, but demographic surveys showed low levels of use. Patriarchal norms based on cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors in some cases limited women’s reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, societal discrimination was a problem. Traditional social norms and lagging economic development in rural regions restricted women’s roles in the economy, and there were reports women had difficulty exercising their legal rights due to gender discrimination. There was discrimination against women in employment (see section 7.d.). The SCFWCA conducted public-media campaigns to raise awareness of women’s rights.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the UN Population Fund. Local experts reported that gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home (for example, to Romani or impoverished families) were not registered, and statelessness for those children was a problem. The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice registered undocumented children after identifying them as a population vulnerable to trafficking.

Education: While education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls in the home to work. Some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school. Although the country scored well in adult literacy and achieving gender parity indexes in the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, it fell either “very far from target” or “far from target” in preprimary, primary, and lower secondary education enrollment projections for the year.

Child Abuse: During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 179 cases of violence against minors, including six cases of rape involving underage victims, 47 cases of minors subjected to sexual acts, and two cases of forced prostitution. According to the ministry, 139 persons were brought to trial in connection with these cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states that a boy may marry at the age of 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the marriage age, but the fatwa failed to have much effect on religious marriage contracts (kabin or kabin-nama).

The criminal code establishes fines of 3,000 to 4,000 manat ($1,670 to $2,220) or imprisonment of up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with underage children. According to the UN special rapporteur, in 2014 forced marriages of underage girls remained a problem and continued to endanger their lives. A 2014 UN Population Fund report stated that 12 percent of girls were married by the age of 18.

NGOs reported that the number of early marriages continued to increase. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these were not subject to government oversight and do not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce. The Social Union of Solidarity among Women reported numerous instances in which men moved to Russia for work, leaving their underage wives in the country.

The SCFWCA conducted activities in IDP and refugee communities to prevent early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits pornography; its production, distribution, or advertisement is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. Statutory rape is defined as “the sexual relations or other actions of a sexual nature, committed by a person who has reached 18, with a person who has not reached 16” and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Recruitment of minors for prostitution (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by three to five years in prison, although the presence of aggravating factors, such as violence, could increase the potential sentence to five to eight years.

A Baku group working with street children reported that boys and girls at times engaged in prostitution and street begging.

Displaced Children: A large number of refugee and internally displaced children lived in substandard conditions. In some cases, these children were unable to attend school.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. . See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. Employment discrimination remained a problem (see section 7.d.).

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized, but specific educational facilities were available to children with some disabilities, for example, those with vision disabilities. Children with certain disabilities, including autism, received no education benefits or allowances. A local NGO reported there were approximately 60,000 children with disabilities in the country, of whom 6,000 to 10,000 had access to specialized educational facilities, while the rest were educated at home or not at all. The ability of children with disabilities to attend school was based on several factors, such as an evaluation by a medical committee, the type of disability, and the resources and physical structure of the family and the desired school. No laws mandate access to public or other buildings, information, or communications for persons with disabilities, and most buildings were not accessible.

Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

The Ministries of Health and of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens of Armenian descent reported discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Some groups reported sporadic incidents of discrimination, restrictions on their ability to teach in their native languages, and harassment by local authorities. These groups included Talysh in the south, Lezghi in the north, and Meskhetians and Kurds.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Societal intolerance, violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem. A local NGO reported that there were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible. There were also reports of family-based violence against LGBTI individuals and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts. A local organization reported that in the first eight months of the year, one gay and two transgender persons were killed and one transvestite committed suicide. In October media reported an attack on a group of LGBTI persons in the Baku City metro.

LGBTI individuals refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. An NGO reported police indifference to investigating crimes committed against the LGBTI community.

There was societal prejudice and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.) against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In the country’s most recent demographic and health survey (2006), 80 percent of women and 92 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV. The World Health Organization’s Review of the HIV Program in Azerbaijan (2014) noted that discriminatory attitudes and overall lack of information about HIV/AIDS remained high. The issue was addressed in the Azerbaijan National Strategic Plan for HIV 2016-2020.

Bahrain

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment and execution in cases where the victim is a minor younger than 16 years old or in cases where the rape leads to the victim’s death. From January through August, the PPO referred 73 cases of sexual harassment, which can include rape, to courts. The Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) temporarily sheltered approximately 150 women, most of whom were domestic workers, including at least one woman who reported rape. The MWPS estimated hundreds of cases went unreported because domestic workers had difficulty leaving their places of work, or might not possess their passports or other identification needed to open a case.

No government policies or laws explicitly address domestic violence. Human rights organizations alleged spousal abuse of women was widespread. According to the BCHR, 30 percent of women had experienced some form of domestic abuse. Women rarely sought legal redress for violence due to fear of social reprisal or stigma. Authorities devoted little public attention to the problem. The government maintained the Dar al-Aman Shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. The shelter had 16 apartments with accommodations for two women in each apartment. The shelter accommodated citizens and noncitizens and provided transportation for children to attend schools. Authorities stationed a policewoman at the shelter, which authorities did not identify on its exterior, to provide security. Victims of domestic violence had difficulty knowing who to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint. Procedures required interviews of both the victim and the accused at the same police station; there were no provisions in place to prevent accused family members from having access to their victims.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: “Honor” killings are punishable under the law, but the penal code provides a lenient sentence for the killing of a spouse caught in the act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no reports of honor killings during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of prison and fines. The government reported that from January through August, there were 268 cases of reported sexual harassment, and the PPO transferred 73 to court. Of those cases 25 resulted in convictions; the remaining cases were pending at year’s end. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreigners employed as domestic workers and in other low-level service jobs.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health centers required women to obtain spousal consent to undergo sterilization; this consent requirement did not apply for provision of other family planning services.

Discrimination: Women faced discrimination under the law. A woman cannot transmit nationality to her spouse or children (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings, but both Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request, although the refusal rate was significantly higher in Shia courts than in Sunni courts, with Shia courts often refusing to grant the divorce due to differences in legal codes. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted mothers custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven. Custody usually reverted to the father once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until a child reaches the age of 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.”

The basis for family law is sharia as interpreted by Sunnis and Shia. Only Sunni family law is codified, while Shia maintain separate judicial bodies composed of religious jurisprudents charged with interpreting sharia. It was not always clear which courts have jurisdiction in Sunni-Shia marriages.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, as governed by sharia, and the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased divide the balance. Better-educated families used wills and other legal tools to mitigate the discriminatory effects of these rules.

Labor laws prohibit discrimination against women, but discrimination against women was systemic, especially in the workplace (see section 7.d.). The law prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. Although women held positions of authority in the government and private sector, they did not have proportional representation. Cultural barriers and religious tradition sometimes hampered women’s rights.

On April 5, parliament passed a royal decree lifting all reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from one’s father or by decree from the king. Women cannot transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers but noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. Upon reaching three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. The birth certificate does not include the child’s religion. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

The wife of imprisoned Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman was unable to get a passport and other civil documents for their young child while her husband was in prison. She reported that various authorities told her Salman would have to come into each of their offices in person to sign the applications. The Ministry of Interior did not facilitate transportation of prisoners to government offices to address administrative or financial matters, nor did it make these types of services available in detention facilities.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although the schools educated girls and boys with the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students; however, there is little provision for parents to request alternate religious instruction, including for the large population of Shia enrolled in public schools.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported an increase in child abuse cases in recent years, but they were unsure whether it reflected increases in abuse or greater willingness to report it. Sharia courts, not civil courts, address crimes involving child abuse, including violence against children. NGOs expressed concern over the lack of consistently written guidelines for prosecuting and punishing offenders and the leniency of penalties in child abuse cases. As of August the PPO reported 67 sexual harassment cases registered where the victim was a child. In August the Ministry of Social Development reported it had helped 335 children since the beginning of the year, and its child abuse hotline had received 1,200 calls.

There were reports police approached children outside of schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 15 years old for girls and 18 years old for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages below these ages with approval from a sharia court. The government made concerted efforts to draw attention to the dangers of early marriage for girls and the adverse effect on children’s health.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including prostitution. Penalties include imprisonment of no less than three months if the accused used exploitation and force to commit the crime and up to six years if the accused exploited more than one child, as well as penalties of at least 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for individuals and at least 10,000 dinars ($27,000) for organizations. Penalties vary depending on the specific law involved. The law also prohibits child pornography. There is no minimum age for consensual sex, as the law assumes there is no consensual sex outside of marriage.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. Some anti-Jewish political commentary and editorial cartoons occasionally appeared in print and electronic media, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without government response.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and violations of the law are punishable with fines. It was unclear whether the government enforced these laws. According to the government, it re-established in 2012 a committee originally formed in 2011 to care for persons with disabilities and included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee is responsible for monitoring violations against persons with disabilities; it was unclear whether the committee acted on any incidents during the year.

Authorities mandated a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions to support and protect persons with disabilities. New public buildings in the central municipality must include facilities for persons with disabilities. The law, however, does not outline specific criteria for what authorities required for facilities to be accessible for persons with disabilities. The law does not mandate access to other nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities. There was no information available regarding a law providing access for persons with disabilities to information and communication.

There was no information available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities or on actions taken by government agencies to improve respect for their rights. According to anecdotal evidence, however, such persons routinely lacked access to education and employment. The one government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and Down syndrome, but the government did not fund private programs for children who could not find appropriate programs in public schools.

Eligible voters can vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. The local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes offered problems to those with mobility disabilities; however, the general polling stations are in public spaces such as malls, which allow for assistance devices. One candidate with disabilities in the 2014 parliamentary election complained that access restrictions separated him from the other candidates at a function, as there was no ramp for him to access the stage as a wheelchair user. There were also complaints there were no provisions made for those who were restricted to their house or a hospital to vote, as there was no absentee ballot system.

The law requires the government to provide vocational training for persons with disabilities who wish to work. The law also requires employers of more than 100 persons to hire at least 2 percent of its employees from the government’s list of workers with disabilities. The government did not monitor compliance. The government placed persons with disabilities in some public-sector jobs.

In 2013 the minister of social development and chairperson for the High Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Fatima Mohammed al-Balooshi, announced the launch of a National Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in cooperation with the UN Development Program. At year’s end the Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN agency on support activities connected to the strategy.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law grants citizenship to Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There was a lack of transparency in the naturalization process, and there were numerous reports authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. There were allegations the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country for fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship. There were also reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided more than 25 years. There were reports of general discrimination, especially in employment practices, against Shia citizens of Persian ethnicity (Ajam).

Although the government asserted the labor code for the private sector applies to all workers, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and international NGOs noted foreign workers faced discrimination in the workplace (see section 7).

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between consenting persons who are at least 21 years of age. Society did not accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activities, such as same-sex relationships and same-sex sexual activity, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred. There were no open manifestations of LGBTI activity in the country, such as gay pride parades. On rare occasions courts approved the issuance of new legal documents for those who have undergone gender reassignment surgeries. In September, Bahrain TV aired a program discussing the legal rights and procedures of transgender individuals who wish to transition.

In April, two female students were arrested and sentenced to one-month in jail for kissing in a car. In September police raided a private party in Sanad and arrested 54 men for engaging in “obscene acts.” In November the court acquitted 26 and sentenced 26 to one-month and two to three-months in jail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The media reported few cases of HIV/AIDS. There were no known reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged publicly that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. At times in the past, the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV/AIDS positive, but the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Ministry of Social Development continued to implement its national social and economic reconciliation plan Wi’da Wa’da. The ministry funded 20 local NGOs to promote reconciliation and solidarity and organized periodic workshops related to national unity and communication between all parties. The ministry established a High Committee for Advising Youth and Resolving Criminal Cases for youth involved in violent activity. The committee sought to limit children’s participation in violent protests. Its strategy included organizing family consultations, assuring that students attend school, and holding parents responsible for their children’s behavior.

The government’s 2013 BICI follow-up report noted the Ministry of Education continued to work with UNESCO experts on incorporating human rights principles in textbooks. The report also indicated the ministry had signed cooperation agreements with the International Bureau of Education in Geneva.

Bangladesh

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

The law specifically prohibits certain forms of discrimination against women, provides special procedures for prosecuting persons accused of violence against women and children, calls for harsh penalties for these offenses, provides compensation to victims, and requires action against investigating officers for negligence or willful failure of duty. Enforcement was weak. Laws regarding marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance differed according to an individual’s religion and were often discriminatory toward women and girls.

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse, but it does not criminalize marital rape. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty. Gender-based violence remained a serious challenge. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 released in October found that 80.2 percent of women were abused by a husband or male partner at least once in their lifetime, a finding lower than the 2011 survey in which 87.1 percent of women reported abuse. While the government operated a confidential helpline for reporting abuse, nationally only 2.4 percent of women and girls knew about it and only 2.6 percent took legal action according to the survey. Human rights organization Ain O Shalish Kendro (ASK) documented 101 killings of women by their husbands between January and June. Of the 442 rape cases recorded from January to August, 107 victims were between the ages of seven and 12 years of age. Twenty-three victims were killed after being raped, and six rape victims committed suicide. Admissions to treatment centers for victims of GBV indicated a 10 percent increase in rape and other violence against women in the third quarter of the year.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, or fear of further harassment and the legal requirement to furnish witnesses. As a result, the prosecution of rapists was weak and inconsistent. Media reported that between 2001 and 2015, 22,386 women and children received treatment for rape and other violence at the government-run One Stop Crisis Centers located at 10 government hospitals. Of these, 5,003 cases were filed, resulting in 820 verdicts, and punishment for only 101 perpetrators.

A 2013 UN multiagency study on violence against women surveyed almost 2,400 men between the ages of 18 and 49 in one urban and one rural area of the country. According to the study, 55 percent of urban male respondents and 57 percent of rural respondents reported they themselves had perpetrated physical and/or sexual violence against women. The study concluded that the low prosecution rate of rapists supported a culture of impunity and encouraged further criminal acts by respondents who admitted to perpetrating rape. In total, 88 percent of rural respondents and 95 percent of urban respondents reported they faced no legal consequences for rape charges.

In October, 23-year-old Khadiza Begum Nargis, a student at Sylhet Government Women’s College, was hacked repeatedly on her head with a machete by Badrul Alam, a fourth-year student at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and the senior assistant secretary of SUST’s Bangladesh Chatra League unit. The attack was carried out on the campus of Murari Chand College where the victim had gone to take an exam. The attack was partially videotaped by a bystander with a mobile phone, and the clip went viral on social media, prompting outrage. While it appears that no one intervened during the attack, according to media reports, some bystanders chased Badrul when he tried to flee following the assault. Badrul confessed to hacking Khadiza with the intent to kill her after she refused his advances. Murari Chand College students formed a human-chain to protest the killing, while others took to Facebook and other social media platforms to vent their anger at the brutality of the attack and demand justice for Khadiza. The SUST administration expelled Badrul and formed a three-member committee to probe the incident. Badrul is in police custody and his trial was ongoing in December. Nargis survived the attack after emerging from a coma and continued to receive medical treatment at the end of the year.

The government operated a confidential hotline and 68 hospital-based crisis centers for survivors of domestic violence at the divisional, district, and sub-district levels where domestic violence survivors receive health care, police assistance, legal advice, and psychosocial counseling. There were some support groups for survivors of domestic violence. The number and capacity of legal aid services and shelter homes were inadequate compared to the need and were unsustainable given their reliance on project funding, according to the September Citizens’ Initiatives on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–Bangladesh (CIC-BD) Alternative Report.

In August, following advocacy by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and other human rights groups, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court directed forensics experts to submit their opinions on the so-called “two-finger” rape test. During the test, a doctor assesses whether a woman has had sexual intercourse by inserting two fingers into her vagina to determine her “vaginal laxity” by checking for presence of the hymen. Human rights organizations and the broader medical community contend that the test is unscientific, has no forensic value, and retraumatizes survivors. Human rights organizations viewed the directive as a sign of progress toward ending the practice. Despite recent development of The National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (2013-2025), human rights monitors, including CIC-BD, noted concern about the plan’s limited focus on prevention and resource allocation. In consultation with NGOs, the government established a committee to implement the plan.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries. In a current year report, the organization Bangladesh Mahila Parishad documented 302 women who were tortured due to dowry issues in the first nine months of 2015 and another 161 who were killed. In July, media reported that a husband beat his wife because he received a dowry of 80,000 taka ($1,016) and not the 100,000 taka ($1,270) that he had demanded. Police later arrested the man, and there was no further information about the outcome of the arrest at year’s end.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates that only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions. In August, following advocacy from BLAST, the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development, and Cooperatives ordered district commissioners to mandate local councils to prevent extrajudicial punishments in their areas.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence. In August, media reported that a local council member in Rangpur named Aktar Hossain directed that a local woman and man be punished for an “extramarital affair” that occurred when the man broke into the woman’s house while her husband was gone. Without hearing testimony from the woman, the council member determined that she be caned 101 times by her husband before 400 assembled villagers while the council member caned the man 20 times.

Acid attacks, although less common than in the past, remained a serious problem. Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims–usually women–leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were often related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or in connection with land disputes. A prominent local NGO reported 36 acid attacks harming 42 victims from January through September. In January, a court in Sylhet sentenced Muhammed Laike Ahmed to 14 years in prison for throwing acid on a teenage girl in 2012 after she spurned his numerous proposals.

The law seeks to control the availability of acid and reduce acid-related violence directed toward women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its effect. The Commerce Ministry restricted acid sales to buyers registered with relevant trade organizations; however, the government did not enforce the restrictions universally. To facilitate speedier prosecution of acid-throwing cases, the law provides special tribunals and generally does not allow bail. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, the special tribunals were not effective, and conviction rates remained low.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in public and private, including in educational institutions and workplaces, is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline. The Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association noted in June that harassment remained a problem and monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines were poor, which sometimes prevented girls from attending school or work. The formation of complaints committees and the installation of complaints boxes at educational institutions and workplaces required by the Court’s directive were rarely enforced, according to the CIC-BD Alternative Report. Between January and June, ASK documented 148 cases of sexual harassment against women with three victims committing suicide. According to NGOs and media reports, cyber sexual harassment is also a growing problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Civil society organizations, however, reported that victims of child marriage often lacked the means to access services. According to the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), the total fertility rate for women aged 15 to 49 was 2.3 children per woman, and 62.4 percent of married women used any method of contraception (54.1 percent used any modern method); 12.1 percent of women had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in hard-to-reach and hard-to-staff areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services around the country. A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Pharmacies and social marketing kiosks carried a wide range of family planning options and sold 41 percent of the family planning supplies distributed in the country, according to the 2014 BDHS. Most low-income families relied on public family planning services offered free of cost. The survey indicated that low levels of income and education, some religious beliefs, and traditional family roles sometimes served as barriers to access.

According to a 2015 estimate by the World Bank, during the preceding twenty-five years, maternal mortality ratio declined from 569 to 176 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” Nevertheless, women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Women faced sexual harassment at work, as well as difficulties in being promoted in factory jobs, obtaining access to credit, and other economic opportunities. The government’s National Women’s Development Policy included commitments to provide opportunities for women in employment and business.

Children

Birth Registration: The law does not grant citizenship automatically by birth within the country. Individuals become citizens if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that are now part of the country. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory through fifth grade, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. While teacher fees and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but educational attainment was low for both boys and girls. The completion rates fell in secondary school with more girls than boys at the secondary level. The 2010 Education Policy extended compulsory primary education to the eighth grade; however, in the absence of legal amendments to reflect the policy, it remained unenforceable. Government incentives to families who sent children to school contributed significantly to increased primary school enrollments in recent years, but hidden school fees at the local level created barriers to access for the poorest families, particularly for girls. Many families kept children out of school to become wage earners or to help with household chores, and primary school coverage was insufficient in hard-to-reach and disaster-prone areas. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school.

Child Abuse: Despite strong children’s rights legislation, there was a general lack of enforcement due to limited resources and capacity to implement and monitor these laws. Governance remained weak with responsibility for children held by one of the least-resourced ministries, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs. Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread problems. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. In October, the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation.

According to the ASK, 683 children were victims of violence from January to August, with 51 victims aged six or younger and 234 victims aged seven to 12 years old. One hundred seventy-three children were raped, 33 were sexually harassed by stalkers, 14 were tortured by law enforcement agencies, 277 were tortured by teachers, and 87 experienced other types of physical torture. This followed a year in which such cases increased 161 percent between 2014 and 2015. The Prime Minister expressed concern about the surge in child murders in her speech at the Parliament in February.

Girls were especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. Findings from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 indicated that 34.2 percent of girls aged 10-14 years have been raped at least once. The rate is 39.7 percent for those aged 15-19 years. In August, Suraiya Akter Risha, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka, was attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding assailant as she was leaving the school premises. Her death three days later sparked protests by students, teachers, and parents.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces (see section 7.c.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, but the law is poorly enforced, and early and forced marriage remained a serious problem. According to 2016 UNICEF data, 52 percent of girls were married by age 18, and 18 percent were married by age 15. The median age of first marriage and first sexual intercourse, according to the 2014 BDHS, was 15.8 and 15.9 years old, respectively.

The Bangladesh Government drafted a new Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2015, which was the subject of intense national debate. The Act increases penalties for those arranging underage marriages but drafts included a clause that will allow marriage of children below the age of 18 under special circumstances. Despite assurances from the Government of Bangladesh not to reduce the legal age of marriage under any circumstance in the wake of intense advocacy on the part of human rights advocates and development donors protesting the clause, the cabinet approved the draft law, which was pending with parliament at year’s end. The Prime Minister publicly defended the draft act despite criticism from domestic sources and the international community. In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The average age of marriage for females was less than 18, and as such children were among the victims of dowry and other marital violence.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. The 2013 Children’s Act defines a child as anyone under age 18. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited. The Pornography Control Act sets the maximum penalty at 10 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 taka ($6,250). In 2009, the most recent year for such data, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and BBS completed a baseline survey on commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the survey, of 18,902 child victims of sexual exploitation, 83 percent were girls, nine percent were transgender children, and eight percent were boys. The survey reported that 40 percent of the girls and 53 percent of the boys were under age 16, the age of consent when the survey was conducted. The age of consent is 18 for women and 21 for men.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country, but politicians and imams reportedly used anti-Semitic statements to gain support from their constituencies. In one high profile case, ruling party politicians leveraged anti-Semitic sentiment for political gain by accusing an opposition leader of colluding with Israeli intelligence services.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013 provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities; however, persons with disabilities faced social and economic discrimination. The law focuses on prevention of disability, treatment, education, rehabilitation, social protection, employment, transport accessibility, and advocacy.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. It allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states that no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines up to 500,000 taka ($6,250) or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law is uneven. Support programs tended to push people living with disabilities toward vocational training instead of formal education. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law.

According to the Ministry of Public Administration, 1 percent of civil service first- and second-class jobs–gazette officers with more power and responsibilities than other classes–are reserved for persons with disabilities. According to the Center for Disability in Development, 148 union parishads (local government councils) have disability inclusion initiatives.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, 90 percent of children with disabilities did not attend public school. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law contains extensive accessibility requirements for new buildings. Nevertheless, authorities approved construction plans for new buildings that did not meet these requirements.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. The law contains provisions for information and communications technology to be accessible to persons with disabilities through video subtitling, sign language, screen readers, or text-to-speech systems in public and private media outlets. The state television channel used sign language, but general practice by the media did not meet the requirements of the law.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Department of Social Services, and National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Due to problems of accessibility and to discrimination, persons with disabilities were sometimes excluded from mainstream government health, education, and social protective services. The government reduced taxes on several hundred items, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, Braille machines, orthotics, and prostheses, designed to assist persons with disabilities.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government established service centers for persons with disabilities in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violent attacks against religious minority communities continued, apparently motivated by transnational violent extremism as well as economic and political reasons. Attackers purporting to be affiliated with Da’esh and AQIS claimed to kill eight Hindus, two Christians, two Buddhists, as well as one Sufi and one Shi’a adherent. Four Hindus and two Buddhists were seriously injured in other attacks by religious extremists.

On October 30, 150-200 people vandalized 200 homes and at least five temples in the eastern Bangladesh subdistrict of Nasirnagar, reportedly injuring 150 people and setting fire to eight shops. The attack followed a Facebook post by a local resident showing a doctored photo with a Hindu deity pasted over the Kaaba in Mecca. A National Human Rights Commission fact-finding mission to the district reported on November 2 that the attacks were deliberate and aimed at driving out Hindus so as to grab their land. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) asserted that the local administration and the local Member of Parliament were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks. A police investigation found that a feud between ruling party members precipitated the attacks. Government officials, students, Hindu organizations, and others condemned the attacks, although there was disagreement on the cause. Police detained approximately 100 people, including the owner of the internet café where the photo was uploaded; many had tenuous links to the incident.

Religious minority advocacy groups, including the BHBCUC, criticized the government for not adequately protecting the country’s religious minorities. In June, Hindu leaders decried attacks that disproportionately targeted Hindus, imploring Indian authorities to intervene.

Some members of religious minorities reported private discrimination in employment and housing. Urdu-speaking minority communities reported systemic discrimination, including lack of access to employment and land. Discrimination against minorities in land tenure, combined with the lack of witness protection, at times made it difficult to stem land grabbing and to prosecute detained suspects.

Minority communities reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had recently increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6.). In August, the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous people living in the CHT (see section 2.d).

NGOs reported that national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

Indigenous People

The indigenous community experienced widespread discrimination and abuse, despite government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education, as well as provisions for local governance as called for in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding the structure and policies of the land commission. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, a political party formed to represent the people and indigenous tribes of the CHT, alleged that the ruling party, with support from local administration and security forces, used violence, intimidation, and vote-rigging to establish control over the CHT during the local council elections in June. Strict security measures prevented some indigenous individuals and activists from combating discrimination.

Indigenous persons also suffered from societal violence, including rape and murder. This violence was sometimes associated with land grabbing. According to a current year report from the Kapaeeng Foundation, an indigenous rights NGO, in 2015 134 indigenous people, including 101 from the CHT, were physically assaulted by Bengali nonstate actors, complicit with law enforcement agencies. Kapaeeng reported that 85 indigenous women and girls were sexually or physically assaulted in 2015, including 26 cases of rape, and 13 indigenous people were killed. In 2015, 84 houses belonging to indigenous people were vandalized and 35 were burned to the ground.

The government recognized indigenous people living in the CHT as having special status, and the constitution allows for affirmative action in favor of indigenous people, but indigenous groups reported that effective affirmative action did not occur. Some NGOs reported discrimination against indigenous people in government hiring and promotions. According to the CHT Commission, fewer than half of indigenous children ages six through 10 were enrolled in school in part due to a lack of indigenous-language instruction. Indigenous people at times lacked access to adequate housing and health care.

Indigenous groups and NGOs reported monitoring by civilian and military intelligence agencies, especially in the CHT, which had a pronounced military presence.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes as of October. Bengalis and indigenous persons questioned the structure and impartiality of the commission. An August amendment to the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act was designed to address this issue, but it has been challenged by Bengali settlers to the area who feel it does not represent their interests (see section 2.d). Some indigenous people reporting losing land as a result of implementation of the recent Land Border Agreement with India.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported continued land encroachment by Rohingya settlers from Burma. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.

On November 6, members of the Santal community, a mostly Christian indigenous group which numbers approximately 500,000 in Bangladesh, clashed over land ownership with the workers of a sugar mill and police in the northern district of Gaibandha. According to media reports, three people were killed and 25 were injured in the clash during which Santal protesters fired bows and arrows at police who returned fire with teargas and rubber bullets. Police and ruling party activists evicted approximately 2,500 Santal families and looted and set fire to their houses during the incident. The conflict emerged when a hundred Santal protesters tried to reoccupy land the government had acquired in a 1952 agreement with their ancestors to grow sugarcane. Santal protesters claimed local authorities breached the agreement by leasing out part of the land for cultivation of crops other than sugarcane. On November 7, police filed criminal charges against 42 named and some 400 unnamed people for alleged involvement in the attack on the police. In December, video footage posted online of police seeing fire to Santal houses during the November 6 event sparked public outrage. Police stated that they were reviewing the evidence at the year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but the law was not enforced. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to bully LGBTI individuals, including those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The Hijra population has long been a marginalized, but recognized, part of society, but faced elevated levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities. The government acknowledged the existence of the LGB population in its April 2013 Universal Periodic Review, contrary to its stance in the 2009 review, during which the foreign minister stated there were no LGB individuals in the country.

Members of LGBTI communities regularly received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by the police. During the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) celebration, police prevented members of the LGBTI community from participating in a parade, ostensibly to protect them from rumored attacks, by detaining and reportedly humiliating them–including by divulging their LGBTI status to their family members. Following the parade, members of the community reported both online and in person harassment. On April 25, assailants allegedly linked to AQIS killed human rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy in Mannan’s home using machetes. The two killings generated a chilling effect within the LGBTI activist community, according to contacts. Following the event and continued harassment, many members of LGBTI communities, including the leadership of key support organizations, reduced their activities and sought refuge both inside and outside of the country. This resulted in severely weakened advocacy and support networks for LGBTI persons. Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Gender norms sometimes prevented women from accessing HIV information and services. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index, HIV-positive persons at times faced social ostracism, detention, and denial of inheritance rights. The overall HIV infection rate was less than 0.1 percent. Funding for HIV projects declined leading to closure of some service centers.

There were limited reports of violence against HIV/AIDS patients. NGOs said this was partly a function of fear if victims identified themselves and an absence of research due to the relatively low rate of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante killings occurred. Local human rights organizations acknowledged the number of reported cases probably represented only a fraction of the actual incidents. Illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred. In April, villagers in Khulna district assaulted two Hindu teachers for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammed and locked them in a school. The teachers were sentenced to six months in prison for “hurting religious sentiments.”

Barbados

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. There are legal protections against spousal rape for women holding a court-issued divorce decree, separation order, or nonmolestation order. Rape was underreported due to fear of further violence, retribution, and societal stigma. In addition, sources reported survivors were at times reluctant to report crimes to police because of perceived ineffectiveness of the police and delays in investigating complaints.

Violence and abuse against women continued to be significant social problems. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides protection to all members of the family, including men and children. The law applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships. Amendments to the law provide for easier issuance of protective orders and mandatory investigation into any claims. The new amendments empower police to make an arrest after receiving a complaint, visiting the premises, and having some assurance that a crime was committed.

Penalties depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) up to the death penalty for cases resulting in death of a victim. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts may sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. The police have a Victim Support Unit, consisting of civilian volunteers, that offers assistance primarily to female victims of violent crimes, but reports indicated the services provided were inadequate. There is also a Family Conflict Unit. Victims reporting a sexual assault were subject to lengthy waits at the police station and for examinations at the hospital, staffed primarily by male doctors.

There were public and private counseling services for victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse. The Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment, and Community Development maintained a Partnership for Peace program, a psychosocial rehabilitation program for perpetrators of domestic abuse. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPW) operated a crisis center staffed by trained counselors and provided advocacy, crisis and police intervention, and referral services to community resources including legal, medical, addiction, and substance abuse. The BPW also operated a walk-in crisis center to provide psychological, social, and legal services, and to serve as a conduit for other responders to gender-based violence. The government provided funding for a shelter, also operated by the BPW, for women who had faced violence. The shelter offered the services of trained psychological counselors to survivors of domestic violence and other crisis intervention services. The shelter also served victims of human trafficking and others forms of gender-based violence.

The Bureau of Gender Affairs cited a lack of specific information and inadequate mechanisms for collecting and evaluating data on incidents of domestic violence as major impediments to dealing with gender-based violence. Human rights activists noted a decrease in the number of reported cases of rape in those cases where the victim did not know the perpetrator. They also praised the bureau’s programs, including the victim shelter and the public awareness campaign, and noted a marked improvement in societal attitudes and efforts to improve reporting.

Sexual Harassment: No law contains penalties specifically for sexual harassment. Common law, however, may be used to provide remedies to persons who are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace by reliance on the relevant law of torts. Human rights activists reported that sexual harassment continued to be of serious concern.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors, although some discrimination persisted. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated that women earned significantly less than men for comparable work. Under nationality laws Barbadian women not born in Barbados do not transfer citizenship to their children.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained by birth in the country, from a citizen father or from a citizen mother if she was born in Barbados. There was universal birth registration.

Child Abuse: Violence and abuse against children remained serious problems and appeared to be on the rise. As reasons for the increase, NGOs cited a heightened social awareness of child abuse and encouragement to report cases, rather than a rise in the incidence of abuse.

The Child Care Board has a mandate for the care and protection of children, which involved investigating daycare centers and allegations of child abuse or child labor, as well as providing counseling services, residential placement, and foster care. The Welfare Department also offered counseling on a broad range of family-related issues. The Child Care Board advocated stricter regulations to protect children; however, a grave shortfall of staffing and finances impeded the board’s efforts to respond appropriately to each report.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The government does not have a policy framework to combat the sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports, and Youth acknowledged child prostitution occurred; however, there were no official statistics to document the problem. Newspaper reports suggested the number of young teenage girls engaged in transactional sex was increasing. Pornography, including child pornography, is illegal.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Other than constitutional provisions asserting equality for all, no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or the provision of other state services. Legislation to implement obligations arising from 2013 ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had yet to be enacted.

Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination. Although the Ministry of Social Care operated a National Disabilities Unit to address these concerns, the Barbados Council for the Disabled stated that without legislation the impact of the unit was limited. The government and the council offered free bus services for children with disabilities; nonetheless, transportation difficulties at public schools continued to be a serious concern. The Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Human Resource Development conducted workshops to address discrimination in hiring. Although persons with disabilities continued to face social stigma, attitudes continued to evolve with positive developments noted in hiring practices and general awareness. Individual government agencies were reportedly working on regulations to include persons with disabilities.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled, the Barbados National Organization for the Disabled, and other NGOs indicated that transportation remained the primary challenge facing persons with disabilities. Although many public areas lacked the necessary ramps, railings, parking, and bathroom adjustments to accommodate persons with disabilities, the council implemented the Fully Accessible Barbados initiative, which had some success in improving accessibility. Affordable, reliable transportation remained elusive; private transportation providers addressed some transportation concerns.

While no legislation mandates provision of accessibility to public thoroughfares or public or private buildings, the Town and Country Planning Department set provisions for all public buildings to include accessibility for persons with disabilities. As a result most new buildings had ramps, reserved parking, and accessible bathrooms for persons with disabilities. The council and other NGOs conducted sensitization and accessibility programs designed to improve inclusion and services for persons with disabilities.

The disabilities unit and NGOs continued numerous programs for persons with disabilities, including Call-a-Ride and Dial-a-Ride public transportation programs, sensitization workshops for public transportation operators, inspections of public transportation vehicles, sign language education programs, integrated summer camps, and accessibility programs.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, with penalties up to life imprisonment, but there were no reports of the law being enforced during the year. The law does not prohibit discrimination against a person based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care. Activists reported that stigma against LGBTI persons persisted.

Activists reported few violent incidents based on sexual orientation or gender identity but suggested that social stigma and fear of retribution or reprisal led LGBTI persons to underreport the problem. Anecdotal evidence suggested that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. Activists claimed that while many individuals lived open LGBTI lifestyles, disapprobation by police officers and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred. Anecdotal evidence indicated that LGBTI persons were vulnerable to crime, specifically destruction of property, and that LGBTI persons received threats.

Activists reported that many LGBTI persons were homeless, as families often were not accepting of LGBTI children, some of whom became involved in the commercial sex trade.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government continued a countrywide media campaign to discourage discrimination against HIV/AIDS-infected persons and others living with them, and it reported that the campaign had decreased social stigma against HIV/AIDS. While there was no systematic discrimination, HIV/AIDS-infected persons did not commonly disclose the condition due to lack of social acceptance.

Belarus

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem, but most victims did not report it due to shame or fear that police would blame the victim. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 145 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2015.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year, although it yet again postponed adoption of a comprehensive law on domestic violence.

The government directed efforts to combat gender-based violence mainly by preventing such crimes and not by protecting or assisting victims, although crisis rooms provided limited psychological and medical assistance to victims.

As of January the state operated 109 shelter-type crisis rooms for victims, including domestic violence victims; NGOs operated at least three more shelters for victims of domestic violence. Authorities reported that in 2015 crisis rooms assisted 237 individuals, including 178 domestic violence victims; however, observers noted a lack of adequate staff training, short-term sheltering, limited working hours, and unsafe locations.

A 2014 law on preventing crimes establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders. Such orders, ranging from three to 30 days’ duration, are issued to abusers who have been charged with two counts of violence within one year. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protection orders expire. In addition to the newly adopted law, the code on administrative offenses, amended in 2013, prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member. The criminal code does not contain a separate article dealing specifically with domestic violence.

Police reported that, from January to October 2015, they identified 1,984 victims of domestic violence; of those 1,509 were female, 475 were male, and 120 were older than age 70. Ninety-six victims of domestic violence died, and 169 suffered severe bodily injuries in 2015. In the majority of these cases, women said they had been previously threatened with violence. Additionally, police investigated more than 42,000 allegations of domestic violence from January to October 2015. The police official reported that women were the aggressors in at least 10 percent of all domestic violence cases and were responsible for approximately 35 percent of all murders and incidents of severe bodily harm connected to domestic violence.

According to a 2014 UN Population Fund study, three out of four women and men between the ages of 18 and 60 claimed they had been subject to some form of domestic violence. Of this number, 76 percent of women and 76 percent of men had been subject to psychological violence, and 37 percent of women and 28 percent of men had been subject to economic pressures. More than 31 percent of women and 24 percent of men suffered from physical violence, and 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported their partners sexually abused them. Women remained reluctant to report domestic violence due to fear of escalating the violence, reprisal, social stigma, and a lack of confidence they would receive appropriate and timely assistance. Moreover, they feared that if the aggressor were fined, the financial burden would fall on the family. Male victims of domestic violence did not report their cases due to their own feelings of guilt, feeling pity for their abuser, and fear of family disruptions. According to the study, 12 percent of male and 29 percent of female victims of domestic violence sought professional assistance.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available. The UN Population Division estimated 55 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.

Women’s groups voiced concerns about the increasing percentage of women in poverty, particularly among women with more than two children, female-headed households, women taking care of family members with disabilities or older family members, rural women, and older women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one of the parents is not a citizen. In general, births were registered immediately.

Child Abuse: The government continued to implement a 2012-16 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures. With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. Cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors were generally heard by more experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.

As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. Centers could provide short-term shelter, food, clothing, personal hygiene products, and medical and psychological aid to victims. No data on the number of assisted child abuse victims at these centers was available. General healthcare institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not be kept with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate.

Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years in jail.

From January to October 2015, authorities registered 193 pedophilia crimes, including 18 cases of rape, 74 cases of coercive actions of a sexual nature, 87 cases of sexual intercourse with a minor, and 14 cases of sexual abuse. Police identified 135 victims of pedophilia, including 58 children under 14, mostly female, in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 years old, although girls as young as 14 can be married legally with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem. From January to October 2015, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 506 crimes involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including 25 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and six cases in which minors became victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 persons identified themselves as Jews. Most were not active religiously.

Anti-Semitic incidents continued but were on the decline; authorities sporadically investigated reports of such acts. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern over the concept of a “greater Slavic union” that was popular among nationalist organizations, including the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity, which remained active despite its official dissolution in 2000. Neo-Nazis were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and Russian ultranationalist newspapers, literature, DVDs, and videotapes imported from Russia were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.

On May 25, authorities in Valozhyn opened a criminal case to investigate vandalism of a memorial in honor of 800 local Jews killed in 1942 near the town of Ivianets. Part of the plaque was broken and a swastika was painted on the fence of the memorial. There were no reported developments in the case.

On July 9, local Jewish community members reported that they saw yellow paint on sculptures at the Holocaust memorial called “Yama” (the Pit) dedicated to the Minsk ghetto victims. Authorities opened an investigation after appeals from the National Union of Jewish Communities and Organizations, but no developments were reported.

On September 21, the government signed a cultural heritage agreement that encourages efforts to “ preserve and protect certain cultural properties of all ethnic groups, including the victims of the Nazi genocide.”

In November the country hosted the Conference of European Rabbis. The conference participants discussed cooperation on erecting monuments and other issues with senior officials, including the speaker of the upper chamber of the parliament and the plenipotentiary representative for religious and nationalities affairs.

Local journalists and Jewish activists reported on November 19 that unidentified vandals sprayed black paint on a monument commemorating thousands of Jews who were killed by Nazis in the local ghetto during the Holocaust in Mahilyou. Police reportedly opened a criminal case and on November 22 detained four individuals, who reportedly expressed ultra-right Nazi ideas and belonged to a local skinhead group. Leaders of the local Jewish community cleaned the monument on November 20. The monument had also been defaced in 2012. The police did not convict anyone in 2012, claiming that someone spilled paint by accident.

On November 30, local police in the city of Pinsk opened an investigation into vandalism of a memorial honoring Jewish and Roma victims of the Holocaust as well as commemorating killings of prisoners, partisans and underground fighters by the Nazis in 1941-44. Unidentified vandals painted a swastika on the plaque of the memorial, which was installed on the site of the former Jewish ghetto in central Pinsk.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and other government services; discrimination was common.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is the main government agency responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not built to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 10,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. According to government statistics, 5 percent of the country’s public transportation network was accessible.

Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).

Advocates also noted that persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, lacked the ability to address violations of their rights easily and completely since courts often failed to provide access and sign language interpretation. Separately, women with disabilities often faced discrimination with respect to their reproductive rights, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that the parents would not be able to provide appropriate care of their children. In addition, women with disabilities, as well as women, whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. There were also expressions of societal hostility toward proponents of the local national culture, which the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by President Lukashenka as “the fifth column.”

Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 Roma (according to Romani community estimates). The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Generally, Roma hold Belarusian citizenship, but many lacked official government identity documents and refused to obtain them.

An independent survey, conducted by Romani communities and experts of the state-run Center for National Cultures in 2014, estimated that no more than 2 percent of the Roma had university education and that only 17 percent enrolled in vocational training after junior high school. Twelve percent of Roma older than age10 remained illiterate. Only 9 percent of Roma were officially employed. There continued to be isolated reports that non-Romani children and teachers harassed Romani children, which forced Romani families to withdraw their children from schools. The majority of Romani youth did not finish secondary school and failed to enroll in university programs, although the situation continued to improve as more Romani children from mixed families enrolled and obtained bachelor degrees, including in areas outside of Minsk. There were no special school programs for Roma, although there were such programs for Jews, ethnic Lithuanians, and Poles.

In April 2015 the website of the regional newspaper Avangard in Buda-Kashaliova published an article that associated Roma with criminal activities and contained a police warning to residents to report “suspicious activity.” Local activists Maryia Klimovich and Ales Yauseyenka raised concerns about the article through media outlets. In February Klimovich and Yauseyenka appealed to the Ministry of the Interior to stop publication of police accusations that Romani representatives were behind criminal activity. In its March response to the activists, the ministry’s press office dismissed the claims and stated, “the public mention of ethnicity of any criminals did not incite any hatred.” The ministry added, “the negative reaction to such publications could be taken as lobbying interests of the Roma to avoid liability for their criminal activity.”

According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, maltreatment in detention, and ethnic insults. In March 2015 the Belarusian Helsinki Committee sent an inquiry to the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office, raising their concerns about human rights violations against the Roma and seeking a stop to police discrimination. The agencies reportedly studied cases of maltreatment, and Romani leaders stated the situation continued to improve during the year as authorities took measures to prevent discrimination and worked closely with Romani “mediators” to integrate marginalized community members.

While the Russian and Belarusian languages have equal legal status, Russian was the primary language of government. According to independent polling, the overwhelming majority of the population spoke Russian as their mother tongue. Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass and intimidate academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language, although the situation improved before year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred.

Due to egregious official harassment of the LGBTI community, groups opted for holding private activities and events. LGBTI groups did not seek permission from authorities to hold any public events. Mikhail Pishcheuski, a gay man who was harassed and severely beaten as he left a club in Minsk in 2014, died from his injuries in October 2015. The main perpetrator of the assault, Dzmitry Lukashevich, was convicted of hooliganism and inflicting severe bodily harm in 2014 and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Although Lukashevich was released as part of the government’s amnesty program in September 2015, ultimately serving only 11 months in prison, prosecutors reopened a criminal case against him after Pishcheuski’s death on the charges of negligent homicide and hooliganism. A Minsk district court sentenced him to three years in prison on July 28. Pishcheuski’s mother, sister, and brother, also sued Lukashevich for damages totaling 210,000 rubles ($100,000), but the judge reduced the damages to 21,000 rubles ($10,000) total, noting that Lukashevich would not be capable of paying such a large sum.

On June 10, a regional court in Homyel convicted 11 young men of beating and abusing a gay man in May 2015. Ten of them were charged with hooliganism and received suspended sentences, and one of the abusers, who had a previous criminal record, was jailed for four years and two months. The 11 men,, calling themselves “anti-pedophile” activists, lured the 27-year-old victim into an apartment, beat him, undressed him, painted a swastika and explicit language on his body, and forced him to walk outside naked.

In a conviction on February 10, a Minsk district court sentenced a man to two years of restricted freedom (similar to partial house arrest) and ordered him to compensate his victim 500 rubles ($230) in damages for assaulting an LGBTI person because of his sexual orientation. The court based its conviction on an article of criminal code that covers crimes based on hatred “toward a certain social group.” This was the first time this provision of the criminal code had been used to prosecute crimes against LGBTI victims. According to the LGBTI human rights NGO Identity, the defendant contacted the victim on an LGBTI-focused social network website and later met the victim in November 2015. The defendant questioned the victim to confirm the latter was gay and then hit him several times, stole his cell phone and some cash, and threatened to post a video of the beating unless the victim changed his sexual orientation. The defendant admitted to authorities that he had been “hunting” for LGBTI individuals online, with the goal of forcing them to change their sexual identities. Independent human rights groups welcomed the verdict.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. The police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against LGBTI persons. A number of individuals filed complaints, but police refused to open investigations during the year.

The government does not provide transgender persons with new national identification numbers, which include a digit that signifies gender. Transgender persons reportedly have been refused jobs when potential employers note the “discrepancy” between the identification number and the stated gender of the applicant. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS reported there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews.

There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware. Authorities also reported that a few HIV-positive orphans remained institutionalized due to families’ reluctance to adopt or foster children with HIV/AIDS.

The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.

Belgium

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on factors such as the age of the victim, the difference in age between the offender and the victim, their relationship, and the use or absence of violence during the crime.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison, depending on the means and consequences of the violence. In case of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled. The law lists several aggravating circumstances, such as violence against the partner and the weakness of the partner (due to age, pregnancy, illness, or handicap.) A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse. In addition to providing lodging, many shelters assisted in legal matters, job placement, and psychological counseling to both partners.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Since 2014 two hospitals, in Ghent and Brussels, were reference hospitals for FGM/C victims. There were no new cases reported in 2015, but a recent study estimated that, as of the end of 2012, there were 48,092 women or girls in Belgium who had arrived from a country where FGM/C was practiced. The study estimated that 13,112 individuals were likely excised, while 4,084 were deemed “at risk” of the practice.

The number of requests for asylum in the country based on FGM/C risk declined slightly, from 701 in 2014 to 609 in 2015. Parents often filed requests on behalf of their children. When asylum was granted, authorities followed up to ensure that FGM/C did not take place by having a parent sign a declaration and by requesting a medical certificate each year. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; fines for violations range from 50 to 1,000 euros ($55 to $1,100). Reliable statistics on sexual harassment were not easily available, since formal complaints may be filed with various entities. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Although there was not a national campaign to fight sexual harassment, politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.

Reproductive Rights: The constitution includes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to the UN Population Division, 67 percent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were estimated to have used a modern method of contraception in 2015.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including rights under family, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as sexual intimidation in labor relations and in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care.

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) Belgian citizenship.

Child Abuse: In 2015 the federal police registered 1,477 complaints of child abandonment, 310 of neglect, 132 of food deprivation, and 3,997 involving physical, sexual, psychological, or other child abuse within the family. The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and to punish those convicted. The NGO Child Focus reported handling 1,840 missing child and child abuse cases in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years old to marry.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 years of age in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment and from one month to one year in prison for possessing such material. The law permits the prosecution of residents who commit such crimes while abroad. The law also provides that criminals convicted of child sexual abuse must receive specialized treatment before they can be paroled and must continue counseling and treatment after their release from prison.

According to official figures, the federal police investigated 769 child pornography cases in 2015. Belgian girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years. If the victim is under 10 years of age, imprisonment increases to 20 to 30 years.

Displaced Children: According to the Belgian Office of Foreigners, 901 unaccompanied minors filed asylum claims as minors between January and June. Authorities provided them adequate housing and services.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons. There were 570 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2015. Anti-Semitic acts included some physical attacks but consisted mainly of verbal harassment of Jews and vandalism of Jewish property. Online hate speech continued to be a problem. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools, especially but not exclusively related to the government of Israel and the Holocaust. In one example, the mother of a 12-year-old boy filed a police complaint in June alleging anti-Semitic bullying at a school in the Brussels suburbs, including subjecting him to taunts referencing the Holocaust.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (see section 2.a.). The government also provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

The Liege court was examining a Holocaust denial case in a francophone school. According to several students, a teacher reportedly mocked Hitler and denied the existence of concentration camps, claiming that the war was not Hitler’s but the Jews’ fault. He reportedly also said that the number of Jews who died during the war was not as high as the number of persons killed by Americans in Vietnam. A Verviers court sentenced the teacher in December 2015 to one month in prison (suspended sentence) and a 900 euro ($990) fine. The teacher appealed the ruling.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. The government generally enforced the provisions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (Unia) received 750 complaints in 2015 (which resulted in 384 effective cases), most related to employment and concerned access to private and public buildings and services, including public transport and access to banks, bars, restaurants, and amusement parks.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to such persons, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were approximately 1,000 inmates with disabilities in prisons in spite of the law. The city of Brussels continued construction of accessibility measures on public transportation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment.

Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination. Laws and traditions permitting companies and individuals to discriminate on the basis of outward displays of religious belief disproportionately affected women of Moroccan and Turkish ethnic origin.

In 2015 approximately 15 percent of the allegations of discrimination received by Unia were based on physical disabilities. Discriminatory acts primarily took place over the internet, at work, or when individuals attempted to gain access to various public and private services, such as banking and restaurants.

Observers noted that racial discrimination often took the form of religious discrimination or occurred under the guise of practices that ostensibly limited the influence of religion in public life, but that effectively restricted the access of Muslims to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Discrimination against women who wore a headscarf was common in the labor market. Companies commonly cited policies of “neutrality” with regard to religious belief in justifying such discrimination, although this defense was challenged in courts. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places; the provision affected very few women, compared to employment discrimination experienced by women wearing a headscarf. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($151) and a jail sentence of up to seven days.

There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. For example, a 2015 socioeconomic monitoring report from Unia and the Ministry of Employment noted substantial differences in the employment rates for European Belgians (74.2 percent), Belgo-Moroccans (42.9 percent), and Belgo-Turks (43.3 percent).

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The country has a well-developed legal structure for the protection of LGBTI rights, which are included in the country’s antidiscrimination laws. Despite some progress, the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities. The government supported NGOs working to overcome the problem.

The law provides adequate protections for transgender persons but not for the larger transgender community. It requires a lengthy procedure, including psychiatric diagnosis and physical adaptation of the new gender (including surgery and hormones), before allowing persons to change their gender legally.

During the year the government, in cooperation with the regional entities, implemented an antihomophobia action plan. The plan imposes requirements on government entities involved in family matters, housing, and asylum and migration and calls for awareness campaigns to combat homophobic stereotypes in schools, youth movements, places of work, and the sports community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the March bombing attacks in Brussels, there was an upsurge in anti-Islamic incidents across the country, including demonstrations and attempted demonstrations against Islam in Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp that were attended by hundreds of protesters. There were reports of individual cases of violence directed against Muslims.

In July a petition was circulated in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht calling on residents to urge Muslims to “go back home” and urging Catholics to set a mosque to a fire. An investigation into the petition was ongoing.

Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular. In August a school in the Uccle municipality of Brussels forbade two veiled students from taking an examination but relented and allowed them to do so later the same day. The school had earlier changed its regulations to prohibit headscarves as of September 1. The Francophone minister for adult education expressed disappointment over the case and called on the school to provide a solid justification for the ban (schools are free to adopt such a ban, but the ban is required to be justified).

Unia received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Each of these categories accounted for approximately 3 percent of the total number of complaints filed. In 2015 the center received no notifications involving possible discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS but opened three HIV/AIDS-related cases.

Belize

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of rape or marital rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although sentences were sometimes much lighter. Challenges to the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape offenses. A number of cases resulted in acquittals or discontinuance because the accusing party dropped the charges or refused to testify at trial. In many instances the failure to proceed with a case was due to the victim’s fear for personal safety. Perceived inefficiencies in the police and judicial systems as well as fear of further violence, retribution, and social stigma contributed to the underreporting of rapes.

Domestic violence was frequently prosecuted with charges such as “harm,” “wounding,” “grievous harm,” rape, and marital rape but were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations; the level of fine or length of sentence depends on the severity of the crime. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders. Persons who may apply for protection orders against domestic violence include de facto spouses or persons in “visiting relations,” defined as couples in a relationship but not living together. Protection orders may remain in place for up to three years and may include a requirement for child support where applicable.

There were 15 cases of gender-based murder against women. In March the mother of seven children was stabbed to death by her common-law husband. In July another woman, a mother of three, was killed while socializing with a group of men. In September a pregnant mother of two was shot and killed inside her house in front of her children.

The Women’s Department under the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation and the first lady and special envoy for women and children continued their campaign against gender-based and domestic violence. The Women’s Department received referrals from both the criminal and civil courts. The BPD operated a toll-free domestic violence hotline, and most of the major police stations in the country had designated domestic abuse offices administered by a female police officer where victims could make their complaints. A lack of resources and coordination among the response agencies inhibited the provision of viable alternatives for victims.

Three women’s shelters in the country offered short-term housing but lacked the resources and staff to provide other basic services to victims of domestic violence. By mid-year resource shortages led to the closing of one of the shelters. There were no transitional or medium-term shelters to assist victims to move toward independent living.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Women’s Department recognizes sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence.

Many cases of sexual harassment allegedly went unreported. There were several anecdotal reports that female officers in the police and defense force were victims of sexual abuse. In October, two female police officers attached to the Gang Suppression Unit reported to the Office of the Ombudsman sexually assaults by their male colleagues. The matter was under investigation both internally and by the ombudsman.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also mandates equal pay for equal work and was generally respected. The law provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the work place, pregnancy, or HIV status.

The BDF and Belize Coast Guard maintain a 5 percent and 10 percent cap respectively for female service members.

Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although participating in all spheres of national life and outnumbering men in university classrooms and in high school graduation rates, women held relatively few top managerial positions. The labor commissioner verified that men traditionally earned more–on average BZ$90 ($45) more per month than women–because they held higher managerial positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the nationality of the parents. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country. The standard provision is for births to be registered no later than a week after birth; registration after a month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. The Vital Statistical Office and the Ministry of Health have an agreement to offer bedside registration in hospitals shortly after birth.

Education: Primary education is free, and education is compulsory between the ages of six and 14; however, primary schools may incorporate other fees, and parents may be required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and meals.

Through monthly payments the government assisted families of needy children at the primary school level and, to a limited extent, the secondary school level. The Ministry of Education continued to assist secondary school students in the two southern districts with a grant of BZ$300 ($150) for two years of high school. Students in other parts of the country had to apply to qualify for the subsidy.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred, and as of the end of October, 1,217 cases were reported to authorities.

Sexual intercourse with a girl under age 14 is an offense punishable by 12 years to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl ages 14-16 is an offense punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

In September, David Taylor was convicted of committing extreme acts of pornographic exploitation of three boys in 2012. After three years in trial, Taylor pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault.

In July the commander of the Gang Suppression Unit, Mark Flowers, was placed on interdiction after a minor reported that Flowers had unlawful sexual intercourse with her on two occasions. The minor, who was 14 years old, was five months pregnant when she made the report. The matter awaited trial at year’s end.

The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until the age of 18. There were publicized cases of underage girls’ being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in the home of a relative.

The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation is the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s problems. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote children’s welfare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF 26 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or cohabitating before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child prostitution, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone under age 18. The law stipulates that the offense of child prostitution does not apply to persons exploiting 16- and 17-year-old children in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits. NGOs expressed concern that this specific clause in the law could render children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, due to the common practice of parents’ pushing their children to provide sexual favors to older men in exchange for remuneration. The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under 18.

There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited in child prostitution, including the “sugar daddy” syndrome whereby older men provided money to young women and/or their families for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increasing exploitation of minors, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist-populated areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” under age 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender is liable to eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.

The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air or other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. The constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not provide for accessibility to persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses, such as banks and government departments (social security offices), had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring of persons with disabilities in the private or public sectors.

Mental health provisions and protections generally were poor. Informal government-organized committees for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. Private companies and NGOs provided services to persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Education maintained an educational unit offering limited special education programs within the regular school system. There were two schools and four special education centers for children with disabilities.

In June a schizophrenic man attacked three adults and three minors with a machete, fatally injuring one of the minors. Police detained the attacker and held him in the Belize Central Prison. He was charged with aggravated assault and murder and scheduled to undergo an evaluation to determine his fitness to stand trial. A psychiatrist from the public health system said the man was placed at the prison because there was no other suitable place for him. Residents from his community petitioned police to have him moved from the prison for security reasons but the petition has not yet been heard.

The Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow, spouse of the prime minister, continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for persons with disabilities.

Indigenous People

No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous persons, since the government maintains that it treats all citizens the same. Employers, public and private, generally treated indigenous persons equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA), composed of the Toledo Maya Council, Q’eche Council of Belize, Toledo Alcaldes Association, the Julian Cho Society, and the Tumul K’in Center of Learning, monitored development in the Toledo District with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. While the government noted the need to respect and consult the Mayan communities when issuing oil exploration licenses in the south, the alliance believed it was not consulted properly before decisions were taken. The government, without consulting the Mayan community, renewed a one-year extension contract for petroleum exploration for U.S. Capital Energy over which the Supreme Court had given the Mayan community some jurisdiction in a 2010 decision.

In January the government established the Maya Land Rights Commission to honor a Caribbean Court of Justice court order for the government to legitimize communal land rights for traditional Mayan villages. As of October, however, no progress was made, and the MLA claimed the government was deliberately stalling and not acting in good faith.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In July the Belize Supreme Court interpreted Section 53 of the criminal code that criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature” to clarify that Section 53 does not apply to sexual acts between consenting adults in private.

In September the government partially appealed the ruling, conceding the decriminalization of homosexuality but questioning a section of the decision that made “sexual orientation” a protected class. The Roman Catholic Church and the National Evangelical Association of Belize submitted an appeal of the entire ruling.

The Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to lack of official reporting. According to the NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM), 34 killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity had occurred since 1997. At the end of October, UniBAM had registered six cases of violence as a result of sexual orientation and gender identity, including cases involving homicide, violent attacks, (political) hate speech, medical service discrimination during pregnancy, denial of education due to sexual orientation and gender identity, and family-based violence.

As of October police made no arrests regarding the January 2015 killing of an openly gay man. The LGBTI community classified the killing as a hate crime, but the police did not declare it as such.

Local LGBTI rights advocates noted that, while LGBTI persons still feared police and were harassed or intimidated while reporting crimes, police relations slightly improved. UniBAM reported that continuing harassment and insults by the public affected its activities and that its members were reluctant to file complaints.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development. NGOs such as the Pan American Social Marketing Organization also actively countered discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The law provides for protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status.

Benin

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims’ unwillingness to report cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Prison sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years. Although the penal code does not distinguish between rapes in general and spousal rape, the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. A 2011 law reinforces existing legislation against gender-based violence (GBV). In 2014 the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs’ Social Promotion Centers, through the Counseling and Legal Assistance Service to GBV victims, received 12,896 cases; 83 percent of victims were girls and women and 17 percent boys. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Domestic violence against women was common, however. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. The local chapter of the regional NGO Women in Law and Development-Benin (WILDAF-Benin), the Female Jurists Association of Benin, the Female Lawyers Association, and the Action Group for Justice and Social Equality offered social, legal, medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. On April 7 and April 8, WILDAF–Benin held a session for midwives, nurses, and social workers from the northern departments on the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women. With the assistance of an international donor, WILDAF-Benin operated one-stop care centers in Abomey and Cotonou to improve GBV victim-support services by providing legal, medical, psychosocial, and economic support to GBV victims. As of June 2015 this activity provided 470 persons with GBV services, trained 97 service providers (social workers, nurses, and midwives), and strengthened a service delivery system for GBV victims. On July 4, WILDAF-Benin launched a GBV website.

The Office of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting and advancing women’s rights and welfare.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA francs ($10,215). Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM/C but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170). FGM/C was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to age 30, although the majority of cases occurred before age 13, with half occurring before age five. The type of FGM/C most commonly perpetrated was Type II, the total removal of the clitoris with or without the total excision of the labia minora. This practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C, and the prevalence among girls younger than 14 was 0.3 percent. The figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups. More than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls underwent FGM/C. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited financially from it.

NGOs educated rural communities on the dangers of FGM/C and retrained FGM/C practitioners in other activities. The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Forced marriage and widowhood rites, such as forcing the widow to lie beside the dead body of the deceased and to marry the deceased husband’s brother (levirate), occurred in certain regions.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,702). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual harassment and do not report it. Victims seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation, however, and prosecutors and police lacked the legal knowledge and skills to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so.

According to the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, and the World Bank, the maternal mortality rate was 405 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions during birth. According to 2015 UN Population Fund data, only 17 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception. It reported that as of 2010, 23 percent of women ages 20 to 24 had given birth before age 18. Factors influencing low contraception and early pregnancy rates included illiteracy and poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change. Women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses (see section 7.d.).

The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The nationality law, however, discriminates against women.

In rural areas women traditionally occupied a subordinate role and were responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny.

The government granted microcredit to help poor persons, especially women in rural areas, develop income-generating activities. The government extended credit and loans to female entrepreneurs.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country and from the father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

Several donors operated programs to increase the number of registered children. For example, UNICEF supported the government’s campaign to register all births and to provide birth certificates to those who did not obtain one at birth. On January 28, the Ministry of Interior organized a workshop in the city of Porto-Novo to share best practices on increasing birth registration. The workshop covered methods for increasing civil registration of births, reducing backlogs at registration centers located in major cities, and establishing offices of vital records in smaller towns and neighborhoods.

Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of age. Public school education was tuition-free for primary school students and for female students in grade nine in secondary schools, but parents often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had insufficient funds. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys, and the literacy rate for women was approximately 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education. According to UNICEF, the net primary school enrollment rate in 2011-12 was approximately 79 percent for boys and 73 percent for girls. The enrollment rate for secondary education was 53 percent for boys and 42 percent for girls.

Child Abuse: Children suffered multiple forms of abuse, including rape, sexual harassment, and abduction. The Child Code bans a wide range of harmful practices such as forced marriage, sexual abuse, FGM/C, trafficking, labor exploitation, infanticide, illegal and prolonged detention, early pregnancy, and begging. The code also sets rules for national and international adoptions, children’s health care, and juvenile apprenticeships. The code provides for heavy fines and penalties with up to life imprisonment for convicted violators. The Central Office for Minors Protection in Cotonou arrested suspects and referred them to judicial authorities. In 2015 it provided temporary shelter to 820 identified victims of abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. A 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey sponsored by UNICEF and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis indicated that 8.8 percent of girls and women and 1.4 percent of boys and men ages 15 to 49 were married or were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 15. The proportion of women ages 20 to 49 who were married or who were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 18 was 31.7 percent, and the proportion of men in the same age range was 6.1 percent. Early and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction. As part of forced marriage, the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice.

In 2014 the government approved a UNICEF-sponsored National Policy of Child Protection that outlines principal prevention strategies to address and respond to various forms of child violence and exploitation, including early and forced marriage. On June 24, WILDAF-Benin conducted a public campaign in the village of Sebiohoue in the commune of Djakotomey to raise awareness of early and forced marriage. Local officials and judges participated in the event by addressing the legal implications of early and forced marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of minors, and procuring and facilitating prostitution, and it increases penalties for cases involving children under age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child prostitution, prescribing penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The act, however, focuses on prohibiting and punishing the movement of children rather than their ultimate exploitation. Individuals convicted of involvement in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of one million to 10 million CFA francs ($1,702 to $17,024). The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The de facto minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

Children were exploited in prostitution in some areas and subjected to sex trafficking in Cotonou. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. A 2009 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43 percent of surveyed children (ages 12 to 17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means “placed child,” poor, generally rural, children are placed in the home of a wealthier family for educational or vocational opportunities and a higher standard of living; abuse, however, including long hours of forced labor, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, occurred (see section 7.c.).

Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, or fear of police involvement.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one of each set of newborn twins (because they were considered sorcerers) continued in the north.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in education, access to health care, or provision of other state services; the law, however, provides that the government care for persons with disabilities. There were no legal requirements for the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. Legislation that addresses equality, equity, and nondiscrimination among all citizens is general in nature. Several laws, however, including the labor code, the social security code, the persons and family code, and the 2011 law establishing general rules for elections, contain specific references to persons with disabilities. The country also has a National Policy for the Protection and Integration of Persons with Disabilities. Children with mental, visual, and physical disabilities, however, suffered social exclusion and had no access to the conventional educational system.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Office for the Rehabilitation and the Insertion of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Aid Fund for the Rehabilitation and Insertion of Persons with Disabilities (Fonds Ariph). An international donor-funded program was conducted by local NGOs to increase awareness of accessibility needs of voters with disabilities in the March presidential election. The program also included the construction of temporary ramps and other adaptations to provide access to polling sites for voters with disabilities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws explicitly criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity but such activity could be prosecuted under the public indecency provisions of the penal code. There were no reports of criminal or civil cases involving consensual same-sex sexual conduct or reports of societal discrimination or violence based on a person’s sexual orientation. Although homosexual behavior was socially discouraged, it was not prosecuted. A growing number of citizens were open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity, but the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community remained largely disorganized and hidden. With the support of a regional LGBTI organization, 30 members from Beninese and Togolese LGBTI communities held a conclave in April 2015 in Cotonou to discuss problems pertaining to LGBTI conditions and rights.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks, and incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. On June 18, a mob of Klouekanme residents in the southwestern commune of Couffo burned to death three individuals arrested by gendarmes as part of an investigation to dismantle a criminal ring operating in the area. The mob intercepted the gendarme vehicle transporting the three suspects and dragged them out. From June 24 to June 26, three other similar incidents occurred in the cities of Cotonou, Abomey Calavi, and Djougou. On June 29, the Council of Ministers urged the minister of justice to increase measures to investigate, arrest, and prosecute individuals involved in lynching incidents throughout the country.

Bhutan

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines criminal sexual assault and specifies penalties. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences range from five to 15 years in prison. In extreme cases a person convicted of rape may be imprisoned for life. According to NGOs, cultural taboos and a lack of rights awareness among survivors resulted in underreporting of rapes. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The government criminalized the traditional practice of “night hunting” (bomena), practiced mainly in the eastern parts of country, in which a man climbs into a single woman’s window to have sex with her. According to the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), through the efforts of the Royal Police of Bhutan, and the NGO Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women ( RENEW), the prevalence of night hunting incidents declined significantly. There were no reported incidents of the practice during the reporting period.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence range from a prison sentence of one month to three years. Offenders are also fined the daily national minimum wage for 90 days. Police stated that they encouraged women to reconcile with their allegedly abusive husbands and couples to pursue mediation before they file criminal charges for domestic violence. Three police stations across the country housed women and child protection units to address crimes involving women and children and eight police stations housed desks with officers specifically devoted to women and children’s issues. The government passed rules and regulations clarifying the Domestic Violence Act, trained police on gender issues, and allowed civil society groups to undertake further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern about reports of violence against women by their spouses or other family members and at work. According to the 2010 Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS), 68 percent of women believed certain behavior justified domestic violence. RENEW operated a domestic violence center in the capital. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act authorized the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) to develop and implement programs to prevent domestic violence, rehabilitate survivors, and conduct studies.

Sexual Harassment: The Labor Employment Act has specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported that these provisions were generally enforced.

Reproductive Rights: The country has no legal restrictions regarding the number, spacing, or timing of children, and there were no reports of coercion regarding reproduction. Modern contraception was available and legal. The UN Population Division estimated that 66 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2015. Women’s rights NGOs noted that there were generally no prohibitions against women accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare. The World Bank reported that access and equity to medical care for pregnant women was a challenge because of difficult terrain, leading to disparities in access to skilled birth attendants linked to geography and wealth. According to the World Bank, World Health Organization, and other UN agencies, the maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 148 and increased from 120 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 75 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal inheritance for sons and daughters. Traditional inheritance laws stipulate that inheritance is matrilineal and that daughters inherit family land and daughters do not assume their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage. According to NGO and government sources, within the household, men and women enjoyed relatively equal status.

The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home, and the government generally enforced the law. CEDAW expressed concern that the constitution does not include prohibitions on both “direct and indirect” forms of discrimination. CEDAW also noted that the government failed to adopt implementing legislation for its international treaty obligations related to women’s rights. The government said that provisions had been made in already existing legislation.

The NGO National Women’s Association worked to improve women’s living standards and socioeconomic status. RENEW, another NGO, also promoted and advocated for women’s rights and political participation. The NCWC actively defended the rights of women and children during the year, working closely with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, the judiciary, and the police.

Children

Birth Registration: Under the constitution, only children whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan acquire Bhutanese citizenship at birth. The birth must be registered before the child turns one year old. According to the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group, existing citizenship laws caused certain children to be categorized as “non-nationals” (see section 2.d.). Births in remote areas were less likely to be registered. Children who do not acquire citizenship before turning one year old are able to petition the king for citizenship. The government provides health and education services for children without citizenship. However, children in this situation are not able to acquire nonobjection certifications, citizenship identification cards, and passports.

Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children although education is not compulsory. While gender parity at the primary level has been achieved, distances to the country’s secondary and tertiary schools, lack of adequate sanitation, and transportation difficulties contributed to girls’ unequal access to secondary and higher education. The law requires proof of birth registration for children to attend school. Children of non-Bhutanese residents may enroll with a copy of a parent’s work permit, employer letter, and documentation from the Department of Immigration.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for perpetrators. Corporal punishment is banned in schools, and there were no reported incidents in monasteries. Reports of child abuse were rare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18. Statistics from the 2010 BMIS (the latest available) indicated that 31 percent of marriages occurred before age of 18 and 7 percent before age of 15. In 2010, 15 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were either married or in a civil union. The National Health Survey of 2012 found that 24 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 were married or in a civil union, of which 3.7 percent were adolescents (age 10-19). The average age for a first pregnancy was reported between the ages of 20 and 22. While child marriage has become less common in urban areas, in remote villages there were reports of secret marriage ceremonies involving girls younger than 15. Child marriage took place in all regions, but the incidence was higher in the western and central areas of the country.

The government initiative Youth Friendly Health Services sought to prevent child marriage. It conducted community outreach and awareness campaigns to alert communities to the dangers of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child prostitution, the sale of children, and child trafficking. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at www.travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have a Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution specifically protects the rights of citizens with disabilities. Legislation directs the government to attend to the security of all citizens in the “event of sickness and disability.” The law stipulates that new buildings be constructed to allow access for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce this legislation consistently. There were reports that hospitals were generally accessible to persons with disabilities, but residential and office buildings were not.

Under the Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, the government seeks to provide medical and vocational rehabilitation for persons with all types of disabilities, promote integration of children with disabilities in schools, and foster community awareness and social integration. There was no government agency specifically responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

There were special-education institutes for students with disabilities, including the National Institute for the Disabled in Khaling, which educates children with vision disabilities, and an education resource unit in Paro for persons with hearing disabilities. Children with disabilities often attended mainstream schools although the resources needed to accommodate them varied among school districts. There also were special education facilities in Thimphu designed to meet the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. Although there were no government-sponsored social welfare services available for persons with disabilities, the National Pension and Provident Fund granted benefits to such persons. Three NGOs, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan, Ability Bhutan Society, and Drakstsho Vocational Center for Special Children and Youth, seek to change the public perception of disability and assisting persons with disabilities and their families.

According to the Bhutan Observer, in rural areas there was widespread discrimination against persons with disabilities, and some parents did not send children with disabilities to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Organizations in Nepal claimed that employers discriminated against Nepali-speaking Bhutanese seeking employment (see section 7.d.). The government claimed Nepali speakers were proportionally represented in civil service and government jobs.

English was the medium of instruction in all government schools. Dzongkha, the national language, was taught as an additional subject. Sharchopkha, Bumpthapkha, Khenkha, Nepali, and Tibetan were also spoken in the country. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the ability of minority children, specifically the Nepali-speaking minority, to maintain their cultural practices, observe their religion, or use their language.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct. In response to recommendations to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct during the country’s Universal Periodic Review, the government stated the law “has never been evoked since its enactment for same-sex acts between two consenting adults. These provisions can be reviewed when there is a felt need for it by the general population.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) population has historically remained out of public view without an organized advocacy community. In 2014 several LGBTI groups established a public presence via social media. There were no NGOs in the country explicitly associated with LGBTI issues. There were no reports of violence directed against members of the LGBTI community although social bias occurred. In May, 13 LGBTI community members observed the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and discussed their issues. An LGBTI community coordinator noted LGBTI Bhutanese continued to face stigmatization and discrimination. However, RENEW observed there had been a reduction in social stigma over the years.

A small transgender community existed, and transgender individuals faced social stigma although the community is gradually increasing its public visibility. The law does not provide any distinct legal status to transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While NGOs claimed that there was no widespread HIV/AIDS-related stigma, observers noted that persons with HIV/AIDS did suffer from self-stigmatization and feared being open about their condition. One NGO, Lhak-Sam, was formed in 2010 and provides a network for persons with HIV/AIDS while working to reduce social stigma. Youth Development Fund, RENEW, and Chithuen Phendey Association work on this issue in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Persons with HIV/AIDS received free medical and counseling services, and the government maintained programs meant to prevent discrimination.

Bolivia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence remained serious and underreported problems. The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult. Domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, conviction rates were low.

On April 11, a young couple was arrested in Cochabamba and taken to the police station. While they were in police custody at the Trafficking and Victims unit, an officer allegedly raped the 16-year-old girl. On April 13, police detained the alleged perpetrator, and the Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the case. According to the 2016 UN Human Development Report, eight of every 10 women reported having no confidence in the police in Cochabamba.

The Special Force for the Fight Against Violence (FELCV), a unit within the national police, reported receiving 21,405 cases of domestic abuse, gender-based violence, and rape as of September. Of those cases, 630 were rape cases, and 18,805 cases were of domestic or familial violence. The FELCV’s national director, Norma Hurtado, reported 589 acts of sexual abuse in the first semester of the year. Authorities stated that 61 femicides occurred between January and August. The city of Cochabamba registered the largest number of cases (20), with Santa Cruz and La Paz reporting 18 and 16 cases, respectively. Of those killed, 32 percent were raped beforehand, according to police data. Hurtado stated that the principal causes behind these were disagreements between couples, economic factors, and the excessive consumption of alcohol. According to the State Prosecutor, of the 192 cases of femicide since 2015, only 38 percent resulted in the maximum 30-year conviction.

Women’s rights organizations reported that police units assigned to the FELCV did not have sufficient resources and that frontline officers lacked proper training about their investigatory responsibilities under the law. Women’s organizations also reported the law’s stringent penalties discouraged some women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses, including because of economic dependence. The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. As of December the municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. The La Paz shelter also had coroner’s services and a help hotline. The city of El Alto had a women’s shelter capable of housing 25 women. While the city of Cochabamba did not own its own shelter, it signed an agreement with Care Center Women to house women in a facility administered by missionaries. A UN Population Fund study released in November 2015 revealed that in rural areas cases of rape and sexual assault frequently did not enter into a formal judicial process for resolution, and courts instead handled them by fining the perpetrator 500 bolivianos ($73) or by subjecting the perpetrator to 20 lashes.

Rape and sexual violence continued to be serious and widespread problems. A 2015 study by the NGO Women’s Coordinator found that of the total cases of sexual violence reported through the legal system, 58 percent involved the rape of an adult and 10 percent the rape of a minor. The Center for Sexual Education and Research reported rapists accounted for the second-largest number of 1,700 inmates surveyed, although most rapists never received a sentence and likely remained in pretrial detention. Some cases of sexual violence resulted in deaths. The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in jail. Activists said that corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.

Domestic violence remained a serious problem. A study by Women’s Coordinator found that 91 percent of those affected by such violence were women and girls. According to Women’s Center for Information and Development, 70 percent of women suffered physical, sexual, or psychological abuse during their lifetime.

Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no definitive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio was 206 per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality rates were higher among the indigenous population living in rural areas, which were difficult to access and lacked quality health service facilities. The major causes of maternal mortality were linked to obstetrical complications–hemorrhages, infections, complications related to childbirth–and to abortion. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the “Juana Azurduy” bonus, a 2009 government incentive that awards mothers 1,820 bolivianos ($266) for attending pre- and postnatal checkups, diminished the infant mortality rate.

Amnesty International reported that barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services included a lack of information and access to modern contraception. The UN Population Fund estimated that only 41 percent of women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraceptives, and 18 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. Traditional prejudices and social conditions remained obstacles to advancement. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. In 2013 the National Statistics Institute reported that the average salary for women was approximately half the average salary for men and that the wage disparity was greater in urban areas than in rural communities. Women reported employers were sometimes reluctant to hire them due to the additional costs, such as expenses related to maternity leave, in a woman’s benefits package. The gender gap in hiring appeared widest for positions requiring higher education. Most women in urban areas worked in the informal economy and the services and trade sectors, including domestic service and microbusinesses, while in rural areas the majority of economically active women worked in agriculture. Some young girls left school early to work at home or in the informal economy. The 2012 census showed that the overall literacy gap between men and women fell to 4.9 percent from 12.4 percent in 2001 and was virtually nonexistent among individuals between the ages of 15 and 25.

The rate of female participation in government was high, but there were reports that female policymakers faced discrimination, violence, and harassment.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2015 civil registry reported that 56 percent of Bolivians were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by the age of 12.

Child Abuse: Domestic violence against children and school bullying continued at high rates. The NGO Foundation Paz y Esperanza reported 70 percent of children suffered physical or psychological mistreatment in their homes, schools, or places of work. The ombudsman of children and adolescents reported that 89.5 percent of mistreated children experienced abuse in familial settings. Education Minister Roberto Aguilar estimated 10 percent of children were victims of sexual aggression.

The law proscribes penalties of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for rape of a child under the age of 14. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The city of La Paz registered 44 cases of sexual abuse of children between January and April. Sepamos and La Foundation Arco Iris, two organizations that work on sexual violence against children problems, reported that between 2015 and August 2016, there were 159 cases of sexual abuse of children nationwide. According to these same reports, 90 percent of these cases were never legally prosecuted and only 1 percent ended in a sentence for the perpetrator. Of the 159 cases, 73 percent involved abuse by a family member.

Government authorities took action to reduce violence and harassment in public schools, but abuse remained a significant problem. A Ministry of Education resolution mandates that school administrators implement policies to prevent violence and discrimination in public schools. World Vision Bolivia reported 40 percent of children in schools were victims of bullying and 60 percent of students were victims of violence and mistreatment at the hands of teachers.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. According to media reports, from January to June 2015, police investigated 229 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with 10- to 15-year sentences.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them. According to official statistics, approximately 4,000 of these abandoned children lived on the streets of major cities, 2,000 of them in La Paz.

Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported that many government-run shelters housed both child-abuse victims and juvenile delinquents. There were reports of abuse and negligence in some shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that, of the region’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and school students, only 30 had received government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.

International Child Abductions: On January 21, the government signed and ratified the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. Jewish leaders reported the public often conflated Jews with Israelis.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The constitution and law also require communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and Braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation and budgetary support. In addition, the law is more than 50 years old, and many of its protections and requirements are outdated. Activists expressed concerns about the inadequacy of services and opportunities for persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, education, transportation, health care, justice, and recreation. They called for greater investment in the area of medical prevention. In addition societal discrimination kept many persons with disabilities at home from an early age, limiting their integration into society and restricting their right to participate in civic affairs. Civil society contacts reported patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities. The National Committee for Persons with Disabilities, directed by the Ministry of Health, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

The law prescribes an annual payment of 1,000 bolivianos ($146) to persons with disabilities, but activists reported this payment insufficient under cost-of-living standards. Furthermore, most persons with disabilities were not able to access these funds. An individual must be deemed “less than 50 percent functional” to be eligible for the payment and must complete a burdensome and costly administrative process prohibitive for most applicants. Activists reported a minority of persons with disabilities benefited from the payment. In May a group of disability activists initiated protests in the city of Cochabamba to demand a monthly bonus of 500 bolivianos ($73). The protests continued in the city of La Paz through October.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discriminations as indigenous persons who lived in these areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported that employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly the police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.

Indigenous People

In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population over the age of 15 identified themselves as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities. The government facilitated major advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governmental posts and in society writ large. The government also carried out programs to increase access to potable water and sanitation in rural areas where indigenous persons predominated, although large corruption scandals in the government-run Indigenous Fund inhibited these programs.

Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas. On several occasions government-affiliated actors promoted divisions within indigenous organizations to ensure the organizations remained allied with government interests.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the “ayllu” system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In May the government enacted Law 807, the Gender Identity Law, after congress adopted it by a more than two-thirds majority. The law allows members of the transgender community to exercise their right to change their name, sexual identification, and picture on all legal identity cards and birth certificates. Since the law was put into effect on August 1, 50 of the 80 applicants completed the procedure for obtaining new birth certificates reflecting name and sex changes. Further, David Tezanos, the new human rights ombudsman, appointed as one of his deputies the first transgender woman to work in the government. Prominent gay rights activists insisted the government needed to take further actions to guarantee equal family, education, work and health rights for LGBTI persons and also expressed a need for more comprehensive legislation addressing hate crimes and prostitution.

Despite advances, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was common, even in the highest levels of government. The LGBTI movement was subject to frequent violence and sexual exploitation. In March, three transgender women were killed. LGBTI activists led marches in Santa Cruz on March 25 and April 3 to mobilize the community against such hate crimes.

LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. The transgender community remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination. Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to seek employment in the commercial sex sector because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the behalf of employers to accept their credentials. Due to the low wages of most sex workers, the cost of officially changing an individual’s identification on government documents (500 bolivianos, or $73) under the new Gender Identity Law is still prohibitive for many in the transgender community.

Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services, and there were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The National Coordinator for the HIV/AIDS program under the Ministry of Health reported 16,022 individuals infected with HIV/AIDS. The majority of these cases were concentrated in the city of Santa Cruz, where more than 50 percent of infected individuals lived. The director of the NGO Igualdad reported that approximately 30 percent of transgender individuals in Santa Cruz had HIV. The Ministry of Health registered 32 new cases nationwide of children infected with HIV during the year, and a total of 155 children with HIV/AIDS in the country. On September 14, the La Paz Health Department issued a warning in the Department of La Paz due to an alarming growth rate of HIV cases. From January to August, 347 new cases of HIV infections were reported in La Paz, nine more than during the same period in 2015.

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported that discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was least successful in diagnosing cases.

The National Network of Persons Living with HIV in Bolivia stated in their 2015 report on the human rights situation for HIV-infected persons that, while social stigmas and discrimination against this population remained prevalent in the country, the situation had worsened for individuals who disclosed their statuses to employers. At least two individuals reported receiving pressure to resign from their positions and reported being victims of other types of discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

In 2012, the most recent year data was available, the Ministry of Health reported 32 percent of the persons with HIV/AIDS surveyed suffered insults or verbal abuse, 20 percent were threatened, and 22 percent were victims of violent aggression. The study also noted that 20 percent of those surveyed reported discrimination in provision of government services at hospitals and schools and that many persons with HIV/AIDS did not report acts of discrimination due to fear. Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante justice remained a serious and growing problem, especially in rural communities and in El Alto. While no mob violence resulted in deaths during the year, mobs attempted on multiple occasions to hang their victims, set them on fire, or bury them alive.

Mob violence seriously injured several persons during the year. In many cases mobs attacked the victims for alleged crimes, and in some instances police refused to intervene due to lack of capacity and fear of becoming victims themselves. In March a woman welcomed disability activists into her home when they arrived in La Paz (see section 2.b.). Members of the “Campesinos” Federation beat the woman for her actions towards the protesters and threatened to “destroy her land.” As of December there had been no official response to the incident.

Most participants in acts of vigilante justice cited the broken nature of the justice system as the principal motivator to pursue justice by other means.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The maximum penalty for rape, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. A sense of shame among rape victims and the failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Rape, particularly spousal rape, was often unreported by victims and underreported by authorities. According to Federation Gender Center statistics, 53 percent of women above the age of 15 had experienced some form of violence or abuse. A separate study sampling 3,300 households in the country indicated that one in every four women was a survivor of violence and that, for one in every 10 women, the violence had occurred within the previous year. The most frequent victims were women between the ages of 18 and 24. The study also revealed that only 5.5 percent of women experiencing violence sought help.

Violence against women, including sexual assault and domestic violence, remained widespread and underreported. While laws in both entities empower authorities to remove the perpetrator from the home, officials rarely, if ever, made use of these provisions. Law enforcement officials were frequently under the mistaken impression that they needed to concern themselves with where the perpetrator would live. As a result, women in danger were compelled to go to safe houses. NGOs reported that authorities, especially in the RS, where domestic violence is a misdemeanor, often returned offenders to their family homes less than 24 hours after a violent event. In the Federation, authorities had discretion to prosecute domestic violence as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Experts estimated that only 10 percent of domestic violence victims reported the crime.

The country undertook several initiatives to combat rape and domestic violence. In July 2015 the government adopted an official strategy for 2015-19 to combat domestic violence and violence against women. In August the BiH Gender Equality Agency signed a memorandum of understanding with the country’s nine safe houses run by NGOs, which could collectively accommodate up to 200 victims at a time. Financing the safe houses, some of which doubled as shelters for trafficking victims, remained problematic. NGO representatives asserted there was a need for at least double the existing capacity.

Despite government efforts, women did not fully use available legal remedies because they either lacked knowledge of the laws or were concerned about the possible consequences of revealing such violence. In addition, although police received specialized training in handling cases of domestic violence, NGOs reported widespread reluctance among police officers in both entities to break up families by arresting offenders.

Social service agencies experienced inadequate funding, staff, and training in helping victims effectively. A multitude of NGOs dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence sought to fill this void. Nine of them formed a strong cooperative arrangement called Safe Network. The network developed two hotlines–one for each entity–that women could call when they needed services but were reluctant to contact police. The hotlines had received an estimated 2,500 calls by the end of July.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but it was a serious problem. NGOs reported that those who experienced sexual harassment almost never filed complaints because they did not know the treatment they experienced was illegal or that they had a right to legal protection against it.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and authorities generally treated women equally. The law does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work, but it forbids gender discrimination. Women and men generally received equal pay for equal work at government-owned enterprises but not at all private businesses. A special report published by the human rights ombudsmen in 2015 regarding protections for mothers revealed widespread discrimination against women in the workplace, including the regular unwarranted dismissal of women because they were pregnant or new mothers. Many job announcements openly advertised discriminatory criteria, such as age and physical appearance, for employment of female applicants. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies.

Children

Birth registration: By law a child born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen regardless of the child’s place of birth. A child born on the territory of the country to parents who are unknown or stateless is entitled to BiH citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. One Romani NGO, Be My Friend, reported discovering between 10 and 15 unregistered Romani children annually.

The NGO Vasa Prava estimated there were slightly fewer than 80 unregistered children in the country. UNHCR, with the legal assistance of a domestic NGO, registered the births of children, mainly Roma, whose parents failed to register them. Unregistered children experienced significant obstacles in accessing government social, educational, and health benefits.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level but compulsory only from age six through 15.

Child Abuse: Family violence against children was a problem. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced domestic violence. Municipal centers for social work are responsible for protecting children’s rights but lacked resources and the ability to provide housing for children who fled abuse or who required removal from abusive homes.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but may be as young as 16 with parental consent. In certain Romani communities, girls married between the ages of 12 and 14. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were reluctant to investigate and prosecute arranged marriages involving Romani minors on the grounds that such marriages were “their way.” The government did not have any programs specifically designed to reduce the incidence of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 10 years but may rise to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. On June 16, the Federation adopted long-anticipated amendments to its criminal code criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. Prior to June, police in the Federation often categorized minors 14 and older as “juvenile prostitutes” rather than victims of rape or trafficking in persons. Women’s and children’s rights NGOs complained that the law previously allowed police to subject children between the ages of 14 and 17 to interrogation and criminal proceedings. Under entity criminal codes, the abuse of a child or juvenile for pornography is a crime that carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. Authorities generally enforced these laws. The law prohibits sexual acts with a child and defines a child as a person younger than 18.

Girls were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and there were reports that Romani girls as young as 12 endured early and forced marriage and domestic servitude. Children were used in the production of pornography.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence against members of the Jewish community, which authorities estimated to number fewer than 1,000 persons.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law in both entities and at the state level prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. In July the BiH parliament adopted revised amendments to the BiH Antidiscrimination Law that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on disability. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued.

The laws of both entities require increased accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, but authorities rarely enforced the requirement. Human rights NGOs complained that the construction of public buildings without access for persons with disabilities continued.

The law enables children with disabilities to attend regular classes when feasible. Due to lack of financial and physical resources, schools often reported that they were unable to accommodate them. Children with disabilities either attended classes using regular curricula in regular schools or attended special schools. Parents of children with disabilities, especially of those with extensive disabilities, faced many obstacles, and authorities generally left them on their own to provide education for their children, although a growing number of programs for children with disabilities were available in schools and through NGOs. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, despite the fact that many of them were unemployed because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.

NGOs also complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to help persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minorities experienced discrimination in employment and education in both the government and private sectors. While the law prohibits discrimination, human rights activists frequently complained that authorities did not adequately enforce the law.

Harassment and discrimination against minorities continued throughout the country. Examples included desecration of graves, graffiti, arson, and vandalism of houses of worship and other religious sites, verbal harassment, dismissal from work, threats, and physical assaults. In some cases, incidents were related to property disputes.

Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities often focused on symbols and buildings of that minority’s predominant religion. For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

For the fourth year in a row, parents of more than 500 Bosniak children in returnee communities throughout the RS continued to boycott public schools in favor of sending their children to alternative schooling financed and organized by the Federation Ministry of Education, with support from the Sarajevo Canton municipal government and the Islamic community. The grounds for the boycott remained the refusal by the RS Ministry of Education to approve a group of national subjects and its insistence on formally calling the language children learn in their respective public schools the “language of Bosniak people” instead of the “Bosnian language,” as described in the country’s national constitution. Parents accused RS authorities of denying them their constitutional right to study their language, provided for under their country’s international obligations, while RS authorities continued to insist they were abiding by the RS constitution.

Human rights activists noted that many textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups and others missed opportunities to dispel stereotypes by excluding any mention of some ethnic groups, particularly Jews and Roma. State and entity officials generally did not act to prevent such discrimination. Human Rights Watch asserted that ethnic quotas used by the Federation and the RS to allocate civil service jobs disproportionately excluded Roma and other minorities. The quotas were based on the 1991 census, which undercounted these minorities.

On June 30, the BiH Statistics Agency released long-overdue 2013 census results but failed to distinguish the size of the Romani population. Estimates of the Romani population in the country ranged from 25,000, as recorded by the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, to 60-80,000, as reported by several Roma advocacy NGOs. Roma experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities. Romani leaders reported that discrimination in access to social benefits and employment led to a significant increase in the number of Roma who emigrated and sought asylum broad. While there were no official statistics available, it was estimated that at least 1,500 Romani families had left the country during the previous two years seeking asylum in either Germany or Sweden. Many were thought to have been seeking improved access to health care for chronically ill family members.

Roma continued to experience more discrimination than any other segment of the population. Almost 97 percent of them remained unemployed. A significant percentage were homeless or without water or electricity in their homes. Many dwellings were overcrowded, and residents lacked proof of property ownership. Approximately three-fourths lived in openly segregated neighborhoods. Roma had significantly less access to health insurance than other groups, and infant mortality among Roma was four times greater than among the rest of the population. Authorities frequent discriminated against Roma, which contributed to their exclusion by society.

Many human rights NGOs criticized law enforcement and government authorities for widespread indifference toward Romani victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, even though the majority of registered trafficking victims in recent years were members of the Romani community.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. In April the Federation parliament amended the criminal code to include laws criminalizing hate crimes. As a result, both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed on the basis of the race, skin color, religious belief, national or ethnic origin, language, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victim. According to the criminal codes, the commission of a hate crime may also be considered a motive or aggravating circumstance and therefore require harsher punishment for qualified criminal acts.

Despite improved legislation, LGBTI persons faced frequent harassment and discrimination, including termination of employment. In some cases, dismissal letters explicitly stated that sexual orientation was the cause of termination, making it extremely difficult for those dismissed to find another job. In the face of such risks, LGBTI persons rarely reported discrimination to police. During the year both entity governments for the first time adopted public policies intended to address LGBTI issues by creating official gender action plans.

The prosecution of cases for crimes including assault committed against members of the LGBTI community remained delayed and generally inadequate. Two years following an attack that injured several organizers and participants in the Merlinka LGBTI Film Festival in Sarajevo, criminal proceedings continued. In March, four individuals assaulted patrons and staff of a known LGBTI-friendly establishment while shouting homophobic epithets. Police detained, interviewed, and promptly released the perpetrators in what was officially classified a misdemeanor offense.

In 2015 the Sarajevo Open Center documented 103 cases of hate speech and incitement to violence as well as 20 criminal offenses motivated by prejudices based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Significant social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers, due largely to a lack of public understanding of the nature of the infection. A Sarajevo-based NGO that provides support to individuals with HIV/AIDS reported that infected persons experienced the greatest stigma and discrimination when seeking dental treatment.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including on religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes interreligious dialogue among the four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property decreased in the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 2015.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in relation to the 1992-95 war. During the year the RS president and senior officials in his political party as well as other officials and leaders in the RS repeatedly denied that Serb forces committed genocide at Srebrenica in 1995, despite the opposite findings of multiple local and international courts.

Botswana

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges; however, police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators, and the extent of the problem was likely underreported. In some cases of domestic nonspousal rape, victims were afraid of losing financial support if perpetrators were found guilty and imprisoned. By law the minimum sentence for rape is 10 years in prison, increasing to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIV-positive and unaware, and 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIV-positive and aware. By law formal courts try all rape cases. A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing. The BPS did not have a specific unit dedicated to rape investigation, but trained crime scene investigators and a forensics unit to respond to cases of rape and domestic violence. NGOs continued efforts to improve awareness of rape.

The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but it remained a serious problem. Greater public awareness resulted in increased reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault.

According to a 2012 study of gender-based violence funded by the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs’ Department of Women’s Affairs, 67 percent of women had experienced gender-based violence (GBV) at least once in their life, while 29 percent experienced it in the previous year. Approximately 44 percent of men admitted perpetrating violence against women. A 2016 report by an international donor agency stated that most GBV cases went unreported due to fear of further violence or loss of economic support from the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors. Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits; suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months; reduction in rank or pay; deferment or stoppage of a pay raise; or reprimand. Nonetheless, sexual harassment continued to be a widespread problem, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers and supervisors.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The UN Population Division reported 53 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2013. According to World Bank data, the maternal mortality ratio was 129 deaths per 100,000 live births, although skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births in the country as a whole, with lower rates in rural areas. The leading causes of maternal mortality included postpartum hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and HIV/AIDS-related infections. The major factors hindering greater contraceptive prevalence rates included a shortage of supplies, provider biases, inadequately skilled health-care workers, HIV status, culture, religion, and popularly accepted myths and misconceptions.

Discrimination: By law women have the same civil rights and legal status under the constitution as men, but societal discrimination persisted. The country has a dual legal system consisting of formal law derived from the constitution and customary law based on tribal practice. A number of traditional laws enforced by tribal structures and customary courts restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Marriages may occur under one of three systems, each with its own implications for women’s property rights. A woman married under traditional law or in “common property” is held to be a legal minor and required to have her husband’s consent to buy or sell property, apply for credit, and enter into legally binding contracts. Under an intermediate system referred to as “in community of property,” married women may own real estate and other property in their own names, and the law stipulates neither spouse may dispose of joint property without the written consent of the other. Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults. Polygyny is legal under traditional law with the consent of the first wife but was not common.

Skilled urban women had increasing access to entry- and mid-level white-collar jobs. Women occupied many senior-level positions in government, including speaker of the National Assembly, governor of the Bank of Botswana, attorney general, minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, minister of education, and minister of health.

The Gender Affairs Department in the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs has responsibility for promoting and protecting women’s rights and welfare. The department provided grants to NGOs working on women’s issues. A Southern Africa Development Community study in 2012 found women owned and operated the majority of informal-sector businesses, but the proportion of women in salaried formal employment was lower than that of men. There is no legal requirement that women receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: In general citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory. The government generally registered births promptly; however, there were some delays in remote locations. Unregistered children may be denied some government services.

Education: Primary education was tuition-free for the first 10 years of school but not compulsory. Parents must cover school fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books. These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level. All school-age children have a right to the first 10 years of schooling. Thereafter, to access further education, they must pass the Junior Certificate Examination to get into senior secondary school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse occurred and often was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child. Police referred the children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, as well as to local NGOs. Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. Local human rights groups raised concerns about the use and administration of corporal punishment by traditional courts and in schools, which many believed to be excessive.

Early and Forced Marriage: Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes. The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is under the minimum legal age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution and sexual abuse of children. Sex with a child younger than age 16 constitutes defilement and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration. There were defilement investigations and convictions during the year. There were reports teachers sexually abused students. Other school officials and members of victims’ extended family with whom they resided also reportedly sexually abused children.

By law child prostitution is an act of defilement punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Media and NGO reports claimed most incidents of child trafficking occurred in villages, where children were used for forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Displaced Children: In 2013 the UN Children’s Fund, which defines an orphan as a child with one or both parents deceased, estimated there were 130,000 orphans in the country, of whom approximately 96,000 had lost one or both parents due to HIV/AIDS. The government, which defines an orphan as a child both of whose parents are dead, registered 38,596 children as orphans and 32,068 as vulnerable in 2013. Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket worth between 216 pula ($21) and 600 pula ($57), depending upon location, and counseling as needed.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in education, employment, access to health care and the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The law does not prohibit discrimination by private persons or entities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. The government has a policy that provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of government policymaking. The government mandates access to public buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities, but civil society sources reported access for persons with disabilities was limited. The law does not specifically include air travel with other modes of transportation, but in general persons with disabilities were provided access to air transportation. Although new government buildings were being constructed in such a way as to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible. Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended school; there was no information available regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities. The government did not restrict persons with disabilities from voting or otherwise participating in civil affairs and made some accommodations during elections to allow for persons with disabilities to vote.

There was a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities. The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination. Individuals may also bring cases directly to the Industrial Court. The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The government does not recognize any particular group or tribe as indigenous. The eight tribes of the Tswana group, which speak a mutually intelligible dialect of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence and officially recognized by law, granting them permanent membership in the House of Chiefs. Former president Festus Mogae established a commission of inquiry in 2000 in response to complaints from minority tribes that the constitution was discriminatory. The resulting constitutional amendments enabled the recognition of tribes other than the eight Tswana tribes; however, the United Nations expressed concern the changes merely put in place new discriminatory rules and the constitution continues to accord preferred status to the Tswana tribes.

On May 26, the government formally recognized as a tribe the Wayeyi, which had first applied for recognition in 2008.

English and Setswana are the only officially recognized languages, a policy human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized particularly with regard to education, where some children were forced to learn in their nonnative language. In a January report from a 2014 visit, the UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights noted that this policy disadvantaged children in remote areas with limited exposure to Setswana.

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San. The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents. The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa with respect to employment, housing, health services, and cultural practices; however, the Basarwa remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land. The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, lacked adequate political representation, and some members were not fully aware of their civil rights. NGOs have previously reported forced labor of Basarwa–including adults and children–on private farms and cattle posts.

While the government respected the 2006 High Court ruling on a suit filed by 189 Basarwa regarding their forced relocation, it continued to interpret the ruling narrowly, allowing only the 189 actual applicants and their spouses and minor children to return to the CKGR. Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling. Negotiations between Basarwa representatives and the government regarding residency and hunting rights stalled after a separate court ruling provided the right to access water through boreholes.

Government officials maintained the resettlement program was voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife. In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous people. In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives.

A British citizen affiliated with NGO Survival International, who serves as an attorney for some Basarwa groups, was on a list of individuals from visa waiver countries who must apply for a visa to enter the country, impeding the group’s ability to respond to legal and advocacy matters involving the Basarwa.

There were no government programs directly addressing discrimination against the Basarwa. With the exception of the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.

A number of NGOs made efforts to promote the rights of the Basarwa or to help provide economic opportunities, but such programs had limited impact. Survival International, along with other independent organizations, continued to criticize the government decision to allow mining exploration in the CKGR; mining operations in the area expanded during the year. The NGOs argued diamond exploration in the CKGR would have a significant negative impact on the lives and environment of the Basarwa.

The government previously charged Basarwa with unlawful possession of hunted carcasses. In 2014 five Basarwa filed a lawsuit against the minister of environment, natural resource conservation, and tourism over the hunting ban in the CKGR; the case was pending at year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, but it includes language criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity. What the law describes as “unnatural acts” are criminalized with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment, and there was widespread belief this was directed toward LGBTI persons. On August 31, the Gaborone Magistrate Court sentenced a man to three and one-half years’ imprisonment, two of them suspended, for committing “unnatural acts.” The man was among 580 prisoners pardoned by President Khama as part of the 50th Independence Day celebrations in September. There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity. LGBTI-rights organizations claimed there were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt intimidation.

Public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI issues occurred without disruption or interference. In March the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to formally register LeGaBiBo (Lesbian, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana), a group that advocates for LGBTI rights. LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem, including in the workplace. The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs. The Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS continued to advocate for an HIV employment law to curb discrimination in the workplace. A 2016 report by an international donor noted that HIV-related stigma and discrimination had increased according to statistical surveys completed between 2008 and 2013, with women particularly susceptible to stigmatization.

Brazil

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. Intimate partner violence remained both widespread and underreported to authorities, due to fear of retribution, further violence, and social stigma. Persons convicted of killing a woman or girl in cases of domestic violence may be sentenced to 12 to 30 years in prison. Longer sentences may be set for conviction of killing a pregnant woman, girls under age 14, or women with disabilities or who are over age 60. According to the Rio de Janeiro Court of Justice’s Observatory of Violence Against Women, from January to June 58,000 new cases of violence against women were brought to trial in the state. In May a high-profile case of an adolescent girl’s gang rape by 33 individuals ignited a debate regarding the prevalence of gender-based violence. According to UN Women and the Secretariat of Women’s Policies, in 2013 an average of 13 women were killed per day in the country due to this type of violence.

The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence (Dial 180). The hotline has the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and to follow up regarding the status of the case.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women, which remained a significant problem. The specialized stations provided psychological counseling, temporary shelter, and hospital treatment for survivors of intimate partner violence, including rape, as well as criminal prosecution assistance by investigating incidents and forwarding evidence to courts. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) reported 8 percent of municipalities had a dedicated space for the protection and care of victims of gender-based violence.

The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison if convicted. The law prohibits sexual advances in the workplace or educational institutions and between service providers or clients. In the workplace it applies only in hierarchical situations where the harasser is of higher rank or position than the victim. NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a serious concern, particularly because 70 percent of victims were minors.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. According to the Institute of Applied Economic Research, in 2014 women received 70 percent of what men received for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from a parent. The National Council of Justice, in partnership with the Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), acted to reduce the number of children without birth certificates by registering children born in maternity wards. The National Documentation of Rural Workers initiative offered assistance in obtaining birth certificates and other documents for children born in rural areas. In December 2015 the federal government announced the percentage of children without a birth certificate declined to 1 percent.

Child Abuse: Abuse and neglect of children and adolescents were problems. Children and adolescents were victims of rape and molestation, including girls impregnated by family members. The SDH oversaw a program that established nationwide strategies for combating child sexual abuse and best practices for treating victims. The government maintained a protection program for children and adolescents. Sixty percent of the children in the program had received death threats due to involvement in drug trafficking, and most entered the program accompanied by one or more family members. The program offered psychological counseling and technical courses to reinsert these youth into stable community situations.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (age 16 with parental or legal representative consent). According to data from the UN Children’s Fund, 11 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 15, and 36 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison if convicted. The law defines sexual exploitation as prostitution of children, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for conviction of statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. Several major coastal cities in the Northeast were tourist destinations for the trafficking of children and adolescents for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Additionally, reports indicated sexual exploitation of children and adolescents increased around major construction projects.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The penalty for conviction of possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine.

The Ministry of Tourism promoted its code of conduct to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the tourism industry. The Federal Highway Police and the International Labor Organization disseminated awareness materials in places such as gas stations, bars, restaurants, motels, and nightclubs along highways considered areas for sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 50,000 were in the state of Sao Paulo and 25,000 in Rio de Janeiro State. It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell books that promote anti-Semitism or racism. The law enables courts to fine or imprison anyone who displays, distributes, or broadcasts anti-Semitic materials and for those convicted mandates a two- to five-year prison term.

Several leaders of the Jewish and interfaith communities stated overt anti-Semitism remained limited. According to local reports, Casa Mafalda, an autonomous space for culture and politics in the city of Sao Paulo, was targeted by a neo-Nazi group who painted a swastika on the entrance gate of the institution and wrote references to Hitler. Neo-Nazi groups operated in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Parana.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, air travel and other transportation, education, the judicial system, and access to health care, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively.

The Brazilian Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the Statute of Cities, harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability, and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to the SDH, specific problems included the short supply of affordable and up-to-date orthotics and prosthetics, scarcity of affordable housing with special adaptations, and a need for greater accessibility to public transport. Children with disabilities attended primary and secondary schools and higher educational institutions, but there was a shortage of schools with adequate support. The lack of accessible infrastructure and schools significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce.

Civil society organizations acknowledged that monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak, and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities. The government improved access for persons with disabilities in its infrastructure development and in retrofitting public sports venues to prepare for sporting events such as the 2016 Paralympic Games.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing, to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

The 2010 census reported that for the first time white persons constituted less than half the population; approximately 52 percent of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, frequently encountered discrimination.

Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper classes. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime; according to one congressional investigative report, black men were 3.7 times more likely to be homicide victims than their white counterparts.

The 2010 Racial Equality Statute continued to be controversial, due to its provision for nonquota affirmative action policies in education and employment. In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial quota systems at universities. A quotas law went into effect that gave the 59 federal universities four years to provide for half of the students of incoming classes to be from public schools, which generally enrolled a higher percentage of Afro-Brazilian students than did private schools. The 2010 law requires 20 percent of federal public administration positions be filled by Afro-Brazilians. The states of Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Parana, and Mato Grosso do Sul have similar laws for local public administration positions. In August the Ministry of Planning established a requirement for government ministries to set up internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, essentially assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policy and related laws.

Indigenous People

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 896,900 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups and speaking 274 distinct languages. The law grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony, exclusive use of their traditional lands, and exclusive beneficial use of their territory. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. The law grants indigenous tribes rights to a portion of the profit resulting from mining. According to the constitution, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric-power potential belong to the government. FUNAI has a mandated role for an indigenous consultation process, but human rights groups expressed concerns that most of the requirements for indigenous consultation remained unmet and that the body’s budget was significantly cut during the year.

Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment from large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law.

According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation following the occupation in good faith of indigenous areas, as in the cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Various indigenous peoples protested the slow pace of land demarcations.

The latest report (2015) of the Indigenous Missionary Council cited data from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health showing 137 indigenous persons were killed across the country. The council’s own research separately found 54 killings of indigenous persons throughout the country. In June public health worker Clodiodi Aquileu Rodrigues de Souza was shot and killed and six indigenous persons were injured in the municipality of Carapo in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, on land claimed by the Guarani Kaiowa indigenous group. Paramilitary forces acting on instructions of wealthy land owners allegedly carried out the attack as a reprisal against the indigenous community for seeking recognition of their land rights.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. Social discrimination remained a problem, especially against the transgender population. Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals was a serious concern, with local NGOs reporting that as of June, 139 LGBTI persons were victims of hate killings.

The criminal code states offenses subject to criminal prosecution fall under federal statutes, leaving hate crimes subject to administrative, not criminal penalties. Sao Paulo is the only state to codify punishments for hate-motivated violence and speech against LGBTI individuals. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the law penalizes commercial establishments that discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. Sanctions vary from warnings and fines to the temporary suspension or termination of a business license. Fines may reach 15,600 reais ($4,460).

On July 2, Diego Vieira Machado, a student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, was found dead at the Fundao campus, located in the northern region of Rio de Janeiro. His body was partially naked and showed signs of abuse. Friends alleged that the fact he was gay, black, poor, and born in the north of the country clearly played a role. They also said Machado had received several threats prior to the attack.

The National LGBT Council, composed of civil society and government agencies, combated discrimination and promoted the rights of LGBTI persons. Meetings were open to the public and broadcast over the internet.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is punishable if convicted by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. According to the UN Program on HIV/AIDS in Brazil, discrimination against certain groups, particularly gay men, made individuals hesitate to seek HIV testing and treatment.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to the Catholic NGO Pastoral Land Commission, rural violence, death threats, and killings of environmentalists continued to take place. A commission press release cited 47 such killings of environmentalists through September. Global Witness reported 50 killings of environmental activists in 2015 (with 90 percent occurring in the states of Maranhao, Para, and Rondonia).

In October Luiz Araujo, the environmental and tourism secretary of the city of Altamira in the state of Para, was shot and killed in his driveway. Media outlets reported it appeared to be a targeted killing, and an associate of Araujo said he was under pressure because of his efforts against illegal deforestation.

The Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders also reported that in the first four months of the year, 24 human rights defenders were killed, 21 of whom were from organizations that defended land rights.

Brunei

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates imprisonment of up to 30 years and caning with no fewer than 12 strokes for rape. The law does not criminalize spousal rape and explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape, as long as she is not under age 14 or, if ethnic Chinese, 15, (see section 6, Children). Islamic family law provides protections against spousal abuse and for the granting of protection orders, and it has been interpreted to cover sexual assault. The penalty for breaching a protection order is a fine not exceeding BND 2,000 ($1,460), imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. The government reported rape cases, but the crime did not appear prevalent. There were no reports of rape or sexual abuse during an arrest or detention.

There is no specific domestic violence law, but authorities arrested individuals in domestic violence cases under the Women and Girls Protection Act. The police investigated domestic violence only in response to a report by a victim, but were otherwise responsive in such cases. The government reported domestic abuse cases, but the crime did not appear prevalent. The criminal penalty for a minor domestic assault is one to two weeks in jail and a fine. An assault resulting in serious injury is punishable by caning and a longer prison sentence.

A special police unit staffed by female officers investigated domestic abuse and child abuse complaints. A hotline was available for persons to report domestic violence. The Department of Community Development in the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided counseling for women and their spouses. Based on individual circumstances, some female and minor victims were placed in protective custody at a government-sponsored shelter while waiting for their cases to be brought to court. No such facility was available for men, but there were no reported victims in need of such a facility.

Islamic courts staffed by male and female officials offered counseling to married couples in domestic violence cases. Officials did not encourage wives to reconcile with flagrantly abusive spouses, and Islamic courts recognized assault as grounds for divorce.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law criminalizes or mandates FGM/C, although severe cases could be charged under laws against endangering the life or safety of others. There were no reports of FGM/C on women over age 18.

There were no statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but the government reported that in general it is done within 40 days of birth on the basis of religious belief, health, and custom. The Ministry of Religious Affairs declared circumcision for Muslim women (sunat) a religious rite obligatory under Islam and described it as the removal of the hood of the clitoris (Type I per World Health Organization (WHO) classification). The government does not consider this practice to be FGM/C and expressed support for WHO’s call for the elimination of FGM and the call for member countries to enact and enforce legislation to protect girls and women from all forms of violence, including FGM. The government claimed that the practice rarely resembles the type I description and had not caused medical complications or complaints.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates that whoever assaults or uses criminal force, intending thereby to outrage or knowing the act is likely to outrage the modesty of a person, shall be punished by caning and imprisonment for up to five years. Sexual harassment cases were reported, but the crime did not appear prevalent. A survey on sexual harassment in the workplace conducted by a local professional association found more than half of respondents had experienced harassment in the workplace; nearly 60 percent believed “the higher authorities are unfair” in handling complaints of harassment; and less than 10 percent made reports to the police.

Reproductive Rights: Couples have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Social, cultural, and religious pressures may have affected some women’s access to contraception or health care for sexually transmitted infections. Unmarried Muslim women had difficulty obtaining contraception from government clinics and instead turned to private clinics or sought reproductive services abroad. Women seeking medical assistance for complications arising from illegal abortions were reported to police after being given care.

Discrimination: In accordance with the government’s interpretation of the Quran’s precepts, Muslim women and men are accorded different rights. For example, Islamic family law considers women the “most entitled person” to custody of children in the case of divorce as long as she is Muslim, and it requires that men receive twice the inheritance of women.

Secular civil law permits female citizens to own property and other assets, including business properties. Noncitizen husbands of citizens may not apply for permanent resident status until they reside in the country for at least seven years, while noncitizen wives may do so after two years of marriage. While citizenship is automatically inherited from citizen fathers, citizen mothers may pass their nationality to their children only through an application process in which children are first issued a COI (and considered stateless).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s father, or, following an application process, mother. Birth registration is universal and equal for girls and boys, except among indigenous Dusun and Iban people in rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People). Stateless parents must apply for a special pass for a child born in the country. Failure to register a birth is against the law, and also makes it difficult to enroll the child in school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse occurred and was prosecuted, but the crime did not appear prevalent. The Royal Brunei Police Force hosts a specialized Woman and Child Abuse Crime Investigation Unit, and the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided shelter and care to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 14 with parental and participant consent, unless otherwise stipulated by religion or custom under the law, which generally set a higher minimum age. The Islamic Family Act sets the minimum marriageable age at 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim men and makes it an offense to use force, threat, or deception to compel a person to marry against his or her will. Ethnic Chinese must be age 15 or older to marry, according to the Chinese Marriage Act, which also stipulates sexual intercourse with an ethnic Chinese girl under age 15 is considered rape even if it is with her spouse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information in “Women” above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual intercourse with a girl under age 14 constitutes rape and is punishable by imprisonment for at least eight and not more than 30 years and not fewer than 12 strokes of the cane. The law provides for protection of women, girls, and boys from exploitation through prostitution and “other immoral purposes,” including pornography. The government applied the law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” to prosecute rape of male children. Child prostitution was not common, and the country was not a destination for sex tourism.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community in the country. Comments disparaging Jewish persons collectively were posted online and on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities or mandate accessibility or other assistance for them. The government provided “inclusive” educational services for children with disabilities in both government and religious schools. All persons regardless of disability received the same rights and access to health care. There was no information available on abuse in educational and mental health facilities. The Department for Community Development conducted several programs targeted at promoting awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities.

Nine registered NGOs represented persons with disabilities in the country. They worked to supplement services provided by the three government agencies that support persons with disabilities. The NGOs received some funding from the government through the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports; the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation; and through charitable events by local businesses. Public officials, including the sultan, called for persons with disabilities to be included in everyday activities. Access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities was inconsistent.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The government favors ethnic Malays in society through the national Malay Islamic Monarchy philosophy, which is enshrined in the constitution. Under the constitution, ministers and most top officials must be Malay Muslims, although the sultan has the discretion to make exceptions. Members of the military must be indigenous Malay, a member of a specified indigenous group, or non-indigenous Malay Muslim. The government pressured both public and private sector employers to increase hiring of Malay citizens. Land Code amendments published in June would ban noncitizens from holding land via the power of attorney, trust deeds, or long-term leases and retroactively declare all such contracts null and void with no specified recourse or restitution. The amendments, which primarily affect ethnic Chinese and some indigenous minorities, had not been implemented as of year’s end.

Indigenous People

Some indigenous persons were stateless. In rural areas some indigenous persons did not register births, creating difficulties in school enrollment, access to health care, and employment. Indigenous lands were not specifically demarcated, and there were no specially designated representatives for indigenous groups in the LegCo or other government entities. Indigenous persons generally had minimal participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions and in the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on and under indigenous lands.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Secular law, based on British common law, criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and, upon conviction, imposes punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or commensurate fines. The law was primarily applied in cases of rape or child abuse when both attacker and victim are male, as existing law covers only assault of a woman by a man. The SPC bans “liwat” (anal intercourse) between men or between a man and a woman not his wife and, if this phase is implemented, would impose death by stoning. The SPC also prohibits men from dressing as women or women dressing as men “without reasonable excuse” or “for immoral purposes.” During the year there were no convictions for cross-dressing.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported unofficial and societal discrimination in public and private employment, housing, recreation, and in obtaining services including education from state entities. Some LGBTI job applicants were asked directly about their sexual identity and reported their answers affected hiring decisions. LGBTI individuals reported intimidation by the police, including threats to make public their sexuality; to hamper their ability to obtain a government job; or to bar graduation from government academic institutions. In some cases LGBTI individuals were threatened by police with religious penalties such as stoning to death, although the officers were not from religious enforcement and the phase of the SPC that includes the death penalty had not been implemented. Members of the LGBTI community reported that the government monitored their activities and communications. There were no NGOs working explicitly on LGBTI rights. Events on LGBTI topics were subject to restrictions on assembly and expression, and were held in private with the understanding that no permits would have been issued by the government for such events.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination occurred, as the disease continued to be associated with LGBTI behavior and drug use. By law foreigners infected with HIV are not permitted to enter or stay in the country, although no medical testing is required for short-term tourists. One NGO operated in the country specifically on AIDS issues and was generally supported by the government.

Bulgaria

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape range from two to eight years in prison or from three to 10 years if the victim is under 18 years of age or a lineal descendant. When rape results in serious injury or attempted suicide, sentences range between three and 15 years’ imprisonment and, when the victim is a minor, between 10 and 20 years.

While authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, they rarely did so. According to the Alliance for Protection against Gender-based Violence, the law does not criminalize all forms of violence against women and the government does not implement consistent policies with adequate funding for prevention and protection of women against violence. Data from the National Statistics Institute showed that statutory rape convictions in 2015 dropped by 31 percent compared to 2014 and by 80 percent compared to 2011. On March 13, the fourth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event took place in Sofia to raise awareness about domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexism.

The law defines domestic violence as any act, or attempted act, of sexual violence or physical, psychological, emotional, or economic pressure against members of one’s family or between cohabiting persons. It empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, or require special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of 5,000 levs ($2,800). According to a September survey jointly conducted by three NGOs (the Partners Bulgaria Foundation, the Center for the Study of Democracy, and Human Rights Academy), 40 percent of police officers, and 30 percent of social workers believed that the rate of domestic violence had increased over the previous several years. A June analysis by the Gender Alternatives Foundation found that 99 percent of the prosecutions for noncompliance with restraining orders ended with convictions, but the courts imposed minimal punishments, mostly due to plea bargaining, which was perceived as downgrading the seriousness of domestic violence as an offense as well as the importance of restraining orders.

According to the Center for the Study of Democracy, 70 to 80 percent of domestic violence cases remain unreported. According to an April report by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, the rate was as high as 90 percent among Romani women due to fear and lack of family and institutional support.

The Animus Association Foundation operated a free hotline for women in crisis, funded through a two-year government grant. As of September, the hotline had worked with 1,166 clients, including 790 survivors of domestic violence and 13 survivors of sexual violence. The hotline operator expressed concern that its future was uncertain, as funding was only available through grants and was only sufficient to operate 12 hours per day rather than around the clock. The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to victims in 20 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country.

Police and social workers referred victims of domestic violence to NGO-run shelters, but NGOs complained that local authorities rarely provided financial assistance for their operating costs. The government provided standard annual funding for crisis centers at a level of 8,251 levs ($4,600) per client and for social support centers at 2,865 levs ($1,600) per client. Women’s rights organizations continued to insist the government lacked strong gender equality and domestic violence policies, despite having an annual action plan in both areas.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Harassment remained an underreported problem. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported seven complaints of sexual harassment as of October, an increase from the one complaint it received for the same period in 2015. In May a female police officer took Deputy Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov to court for pressuring her due to her investigative actions, using vulgar and sexist language, and threatening her with undue punishment in front of other prosecutors and police officers. The officer subsequently withdrew her claim “in the spirit of good will and understanding,” stating that Sarafov had apologized for his insults. The Supreme Judicial Council and the Judicial Inspectorate stated they were not in a position to take disciplinary action on the case.

Reproductive Rights: The government generally respected the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women in poor rural areas and marginalized communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of education. Skilled attendance at childbirth was sometimes less available due to lack of health insurance.

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, including to equal pay for equal work, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment (see section 7.d.).

In April the National Assembly passed a gender equality law that establishes equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life, equal access to all public resources, equal treatment and exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence, balanced representation of men and women in all decision-making authorities, and overcoming of gender-based stereotypes. The law establishes a National Council on Equality between Women and Men, headed by the minister of labor and social policy, as a consultative and coordination body between the central and local governments and civil society. Half of the ministers in the cabinet were women, but women represented only 9 percent of municipal mayors. Some Romani communities followed patriarchal traditions that restricted women’s participation in public, economic, and social life.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law requires the registration of all births within seven days without discriminating between boys and girls. Authorities did not register children born to asylum seekers, however, until the mother received either refugee or humanitarian status.

Education: While public education is universal and compulsory until the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements. According to the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and NGOs, 23.2 percent of Romani children did not attend school.

Child Abuse: Violence against children continued to be a problem. In April the ombudsman reported that the number of reported cases of violence against children in schools had increased more than 100 percent in less than one year. The SACP registered the same rate of reports of child abuse in 2015 as the year before. The government has an interagency coordination mechanism for children who are either survivors or at risk of violence. The interagency mechanism is tasked with cooperating in crisis interventions but the multidisciplinary teams implementing it complained of a lack of access to social services and a lack of qualified experts in many municipalities. According to the Animus Association Foundation, discussion of sexual violence against children remained a social taboo.

In January the Supreme Administrative Prosecution Service acted upon an ombudsman’s report and ordered inspections of all correctional boarding schools, uncovering cases of physical and psychological violence and of degrading treatment of children by staff. Similar inspections in 2014 revealed similar violations, and the prosecution service concluded that the measures taken by authorities have not been effective.

NGOs continued to advocate closing all juvenile detention centers and reforming the juvenile justice system, which dated back to 1958.

The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that children could call for counseling, information, and support as well as to report abuse. Due to a rising number of calls, the government increased the number of helpline consultants from three to four, which made it possible to answer every second call instead of every third. During the first eight months of the year, helpline counselors received nearly 60,000 calls and carried out 6,684 consultations, 76 percent of which were with children and the rest with parents. More than 8 percent of the calls concerned cases of violence, with most of the callers in violence cases being adults reaching out on behalf of children. Helpline consultants referred 360 cases of children at risk to the child protection administration. Approximately one third of those cases involved children from rural areas where access to community services and programs was a problem due to isolation and insufficient funding. NGOs expressed concern that, in many cases, social workers, guided by conflicting laws, preferred to send a child out of an abusive home into an institution rather than to remove the abusive parent.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, the number of children registered with juvenile delinquency offices in 2015 increased 15 percent to 2,849. The most common reasons for registration were running away from home, drug abuse, vagrancy, and begging.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person can enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2015 there were 481 marriages of girls under 18, or 1.7 percent of total marriages, which continued an increasing trend since 2009, when the figure was 0.6 percent. In addition, there were 2,767 children born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 as well as 294 to mothers under 15. As of July, courts had sentenced 68 persons over a five-year period for cohabitating with a person less than 14 years of age, which is punishable by law with two to five years in prison; 63 of the sentences were suspended, however.

NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages and resulting early parenthood as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem, but acknowledged that child marriage was a pervasive problem in Romani communities and resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty. In February, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report which noted that the number of child marriages and early births in Romani communities has decreased in the previous 10 years, but the number of Romani girls who gave birth to a second or third child, while slightly lower, remained high. The law provides for in-kind allowance payments for underage mothers in order to avert child neglect. If a minor parent continues to attend school, however, his or her family is entitled to the full amount of the allowance as a lump sum.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, for which it provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 levs ($2,800 to $8,400), and child sex trafficking, for which it provides for three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 levs ($5,600 to $11,100). The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine of up to 8,000 levs ($4,500) for violations.

Displaced Children: As of September 28, the State Agency for Refugees had received asylum applications for 1,857 unaccompanied minors and had issued refugee status to six and humanitarian status to another six. There were approximately 150 unaccompanied minors at any given time in refugee reception centers. The ombudsman reported that authorities registered unaccompanied minors as relatives of other asylum-seeking families in order to evade the legal prohibition on detaining minors alone. As a result, instead of receiving specialized assistance and protection, minors ended up in detention centers for adults. The ombudsman’s report further stated that refugee centers did not meet the minimum requirements for accommodating unaccompanied minors.

Institutionalized Children: As of February, the government had closed all residential care institutions for children with disabilities. Through August the government closed six institutions for parentless children and one for medical and social care as part of a plan to close all institutions by 2025 and replace them with community-based care. NGOs criticized the system of financing new centers by paying them per child staying per day, as it motivated them to fill the center to capacity without regard to the individual needs of the child. NGOs further criticized the deinstitutionalization process, noting that the new centers recreated the atmosphere of the larger institutions, serving as “final destinations” for children rather than developing their self-reliance and social inclusion skills. A November 2015 survey showed a high rate of societal tolerance to housing children in institutions rather than integrating them in larger society as well as to stigmatizing children with intellectual disabilities. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee was concerned that, despite its deinstitutionalization policy, the government continued to place children in institutions.

Most children in government institutions were not orphans; courts institutionalized children when they determined their families were unable to provide them adequate care. The government continued to inspect both the institutions and the new centers, uncovering malpractice and mistreatment of the children placed there. For example, in February the Minister of Education and Sciences fired the director of the correctional boarding school in Podem, following up on a State Agency for Child Protection recommendation that was based on the ombudsman’s report of violence and harassment at the school. A follow-up surprise inspection by the ombudsman in September found that, despite the change in leadership, the staff continued to impose unsanctioned punishments and that there was violence among students.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The 2011 census indicated there were 1,130 Jews living in the country. Local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number at 5,000.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. Jewish organizations indicated that during the year there were no extreme acts of anti-Semitism but remained concerned over government inaction and political leaders’ passivity in addressing minor and symbolic acts. They complained that the relevant authorities stopped paying attention to fan groups’ displaying of Nazi symbols during soccer games or treated them as sports hooliganism instead of hate crimes. According to B’nai B’rith Bulgaria, there was pressure at high political levels to revise Holocaust history. Jewish organizations demanded an apology from Sega daily, which in September printed a page of Jewish humor that included offensive epithets and caricatures. Taking advantage of antirefugee attitudes, certain nationalist online outlets and paramilitary “migrant hunting” organizations spread allegations that the Jews were causing the refugee crisis.

In February the mayor of Sofia declined to approve a rally in honor of a World War II general, Hristo Lukov, known for his anti-Semitic views and pro-Nazi activities. While the decision did not stop the event, it did limit its attendance and scope.

On October 4, Dyanko Markov brought a lawsuit against journalist Yuliana Metodieva of the online human rights platform Marginaliaafter she described him as a “prominent anti-Semite” in her article, “Careful with Anti-Semites, They Can Sue You.” In February the Sofia City Court terminated a defamation suit filed in 2015 by Markov against the editorial staff and oversight council members of MarginaliaMarginalia had posted a declaration reacting to an invitation by “anti-Semitic Markov” to a European Parliament event showcasing him as “an unbreakable spirit” that opposed communism. According to the journalists, Markov was a member of the anti-Semitic organization Union of Bulgarian National Legions that supported the deportation of Jews during World War II.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, health care, the judicial system, and provision of other government services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The government focused most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care but lacked sufficient funds to modify infrastructure and implement active policies to improve public awareness. Specialized medical commissions (TELK) assessed a person’s health status and degree of reduced working ability in order to determine whether that person had a disability.

NGOs criticized the government for lack of access for persons with disabilities to information and communications, noting that only one newscast was available with sign language interpretation and that authorities made no information available in Braille. According to the ombudsman, the government did not make enough effort to integrate persons with disabilities into society to allow them to lead independent lives. Societal discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving an increased number of complaints of accessibility and employment discrimination.

While the law requires improved access to buildings for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects as well as in existing, unrenovated buildings. NGOs asserted that the public transport infrastructure was not adequately accessible, even some newly-built or renovated facilities, noting that underground passages that provide access to public transit platforms did not have elevators and that ramps were too steep. In June the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed a lower court’s decision that the National Assembly discriminated against persons with disabilities by not providing adequate access.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities, providing employers with subsidies covering 30 to 50 percent of the cost of insurance and the full cost of adjusting and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. According to a government report released in June, in 2015 the Agency for Social Assistance found jobs for 44 percent of those registered with permanent disabilities. NGOs criticized the TELK model and advocated for its replacement with an individual assessment of each person with disabilities’ capacity to be a contributing member of society. They asserted that the system labeled persons with disabilities as “unfit for work” and ultimately subjected them to poverty. Over the past five years, the number of persons with disability pensions has tripled and the number of children with disabilities increased, according to the National Statistics Institute. NGOs alleged that the increase in both indicators did not result from deteriorating public health but rather from corruption in how the TELK system awards disability status, which is a prerequisite for individuals to receive benefits. There were reports of discrimination in labor and employment against persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

The country’s infrastructure did not provide persons with disabilities adequate access to education, health care, and community-level social services. Individuals with mental and physical disabilities often were housed in institutions located in remote areas, which separated them from the rest of society, made the hiring of qualified staff difficult, and limited access to medical assistance. According to the National Statistics Institute, approximately 18 percent of students with special education needs were enrolled in 64 “special schools” while the rest attended mainstream schools. Those studying in the special schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying them for further education. The education system also provided students with disabilities with “mixed” education combining mainstream courses with specifically designed courses based on the needs of individual students. According to Eurostat data, 45 percent of children with disabilities with specific education needs dropped out of school; NGOs blamed the high dropout rate on the school system not providing for their specific education needs. According to NGOs and the State Agency for Child Protection, the prevailing practice of considering childhood disability a medical issue, the lack of an inclusive social environment, and insufficient support infrastructure encouraged institutionalization.

Despite some incremental improvements, conditions in the country’s 79 institutions for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities remained poor. NGOs criticized the government for not moving toward an inclusive, community-oriented model of education, socialization, and health care for persons with disabilities. They also criticized the deinstitutionalization process, which moved large numbers of children and adults with disabilities from large residential institutions to small group homes but preserved the institutional approach to care.

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes. NGOs noted that most buildings used as polling stations, including schools and kindergartens, continued to be inaccessible, which made those specific measures pointless. The Central Electoral Commission admitted that gaps in the law and bad planning prevented mobile ballot boxes from responding to all requests during the November 6 presidential election and referendum.

The Interagency Council for Integration of Persons with Disabilities was responsible for developing policies to support persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, through its executive agency for persons with disabilities, was responsible for protecting the rights of such persons and worked with government-supported national representative organizations to that end. Some NGOs criticized the model, suggesting that, instead of meeting formalistic criteria such as territorial representation and membership size, the government should announce competitive and transparent tenders for which NGOs could bid. They also insisted that funding for providing services should be separate from funding for advocacy and capacity building. They remained concerned that incentives prioritize obtaining national representation over effective advocacy and that the lack of transparency regarding financial and other support to the national representative organizations affected those organizations’ independence.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2011 census, there were 325,345 Roma in the country, or less than 5 percent of the population, and 588,318 ethnic Turks, or approximately 9 percent of the population. Observers asserted these figures were inaccurate, since more than 600,000 persons did not answer the census question about their ethnic origin, and officials did not conduct a proper count in most Romani communities but rather made assumptions or failed to include figures for Roma altogether.

Societal discrimination and popular prejudice against Roma and other minority groups remained a problem. According to NGOs, despite Roma integration policies included in numerous official documents, such as the National Roma Integration Strategy of 2011, the government had no will, capacity, or resources to implement those policies. NGOs claimed that there were successful inclusion practices at the local level, but the government failed to adopt them at the national level. The media described Roma and other minority groups with discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language. Nationalist parties such as Ataka and the Patriotic Front based their political campaigns on strong anti-Roma, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric.

NGOs accused the government of being unwilling to address anti-Roma attitudes and hate speech. According to an Open Society Institute survey presented in July, Roma were most frequently the target of hate speech, comprising 92 percent of cases. In July the Commission for Protection against Discrimination imposed a 1,000 lev ($560) fine on the Ataka newspaper’s chief editor and the author of two articles for using offensive language when writing about Roma committing crimes. NGOs criticized the decision for failing to recognize that the deliberate portrayal of Roma as criminals equated to ethnic stereotyping of criminality. Politicians and prominent opinion makers continued publically to espouse racist and xenophobic opinions. In June member of parliament, leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and coleader of the Patriotic Front Krasimir Karakachanov stated that whole regions of the country suffer from the aggression of the “gypsies [who are] marauding, beating, robbing, and raping old people on a daily basis.” In March mathematics professor and frequent participant in television talk shows Mihail Konstantinov said that migrants from Syria and Iraq were not refugees but criminal offenders who “require different treatment” because they are a “different biological species” “brought up in a completely different way, with different values, if you could call them values.”

The lack of prosecutions for hate crimes remained a problem, as did short and suspended sentences. On November 5, 30 year-old Ivan Nikolov killed an elderly Romani couple in their home in Pazardjik. After his arrest, Nikolov told authorities he had been inspired by a video of a patriotic song posted on social media and decided that the video was calling on him to “go out and kill gypsies.” As of December, the investigation was in progress and Nikolov remained in custody.

On July 11, the Pazardjik Regional Court approved a plea bargain giving 24-year-old Angel Kaleev a suspended 11-month sentence for ethnically motivated assault. On April 18, Kaleev beat a 17 year-old Rom, Mitko Yonkov, after Yonkov told him that they were equal, despite their different ethnicities. Kaleev filmed the attack himself and posted it online.

Many Roma continued to live in appalling conditions. According to a 2013 government-commissioned survey, the average Romani home was only 28 square meters (330 square feet), yet 55 percent had more than five occupants and only 4 percent had legally documented ownership. The survey further found that 28 percent had no electricity, 34 percent had no water supply, and 62 percent had no sewer connection. Several municipalities, including Stara Zagora, continued to initiate proceedings to demolish illegally built houses occupied by Roma without providing adequate alternative shelter to the occupants. In July the Stara Zagora municipal government proceeded with the eviction of approximately 150 persons and the demolition of their 26 dwellings built illegally on both municipal and private land. The mayor asserted the persons evicted were not local residents and had recently settled from other places and therefore the municipality had no commitment to them.

In May a fight between three ethnic Bulgarians and four Roma in Radnevo resulted in the ethnic Bulgarians’ being hospitalized in serious condition and the Roma arrested and charged with attempted manslaughter. The fight sparked anti-Roma protests that demanded the demolition of all illegal dwellings in the city. The protesters, joined by football fans, clashed with police who had arrived to guard the Romani neighborhood, and most of the women and children residents left out of fear. Many human rights organizations condemned the demolitions, accusing authorities of only focusing on Romani dwellings despite the great number of other illegal buildings throughout the country. According to the Equal Opportunities Initiative Association, authorities did not apply an equal standard to demolitions, evicting Roma from their sole residences and demolishing the home, but razing mostly secondary, nonresidential structures such as fences or garages when owned by ethnic Bulgarians. The organization also criticized the government for failing to ensure adequate protections or to provide alternatives for those left homeless and alleged that the forced evictions were intended to harass the Romani population.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens, but allows segregation of whole schools. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. According to NGOs, 75 percent of Roma students studied in a segregated environment. There were cases of ethnic Bulgarian students departing desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. The law requires that schools develop integration programs targeting students from vulnerable groups to prevent early dropouts and introduces standards for intercultural education.

NGO projects aimed at lowering the dropout rate among Romani students resulted in rates that in most places were less than 1 percent for elementary school students (first to fourth grade). Retaining Romani students beyond the age of 12 remained a problem for the government, which also lacked effective programs for reintegrating students who had dropped out. In July the Minister of Education and Sciences reported to the National Assembly that only 1 percent of Romani children enrolled in first grade completed 12th grade and that only 12 percent completed fifth grade. A UNICEF report in February listed early marriage as one of the main factors for dropping out of school, noting that 54 percent of married underage Romani girls have only elementary or lower-level education. Many students were demotivated and dropped out of school early due to a hostile or indifferent school environment. According to a 2015 Roma Education Fund assessment, 25 percent of teachers believed that Romani students should study in segregated schools and 20 percent were convinced that children from different ethnic backgrounds had different abilities.

Roma were subject to discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.d.).

Access to health services continued to be a problem for Roma. A 2013 government survey estimated that 30 percent of Roma had not signed up with a general practitioner (i.e., lacked health insurance) and 79 percent had no access to a dentist. In addition, the quality of medical care given to Roma was very low. The survey further found that two-thirds of Roma did not qualify for social security, which would affect their future retirement and access to health and social services. The National Network of Health Mediators continued to operate as a successful model of partnership with the national and local governments for addressing lack of Romani access to health services. As of September, local authorities employed more than 130 health mediators appointed to full-time positions in 72 municipalities to work with high-risk and vulnerable groups.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition.

While reports of violence against LGBTI persons were rare, societal discrimination, particularly in employment, remained a problem. Most LGBTI persons did not reveal their sexual preferences to their families for fear of losing relationships with their loved ones. NGOs stated that it was common for persons suspected of being gay to be fired, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as belonging to the LGBTI community.

On June 18, the ninth annual LGBTI pride parade took place in downtown Sofia. As in previous years, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church issued a statement “resolutely opposing the attempts to present and establish such a sinful tendency as the norm in our society, as a reason for pride and a role model.” The municipal councilors from Ataka and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization called upon the mayor of Sofia to ban the parade as it was a “political rally with political goals that violates traditional Bulgarian values, morality, and decency and is a provocation to family values.” The parade attracted approximately 2,000 participants, but the municipality allowed an antipride counterevent of approximately 100 participants to proceed at the same time, with a route overlapping the pride parade at a few spots. In one incident, two men snuck into the pride parade and tried to rip one participant’s rainbow flag out of his hands. Three antipride protesters intimidated a couple leaving the party held after the march, one of whom used pepper spray for self-protection. Four persons, including the couple, were detained briefly by police at the police station, and pride organizers claimed police did nothing to protect the couple as they left, despite taunts and threats by a group of antipride demonstrators who had gathered outside.

HIV and AIDS Societal Stigma

According to the national program for HIV prevention and control, “despite the enormous medical progress in HIV treatment little has been achieved in terms of overcoming the stigma and discrimination [associated with HIV]. Negative societal attitudes have a strong impact on persons with HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination are the main challenges for the social reintegration of persons with HIV and place a significant barrier to receiving the necessary treatment, care, and support.”

There were reports that patients with HIV/AIDS faced inadequate conditions in medical facilities and discrimination from doctors, who refused to provide treatment out of fear of contracting the disease. Patients typically did not contest these incidents in court because of the social stigma attached to having HIV/AIDS. Nearly one-fifth of HIV-positive patients reported hiding their condition in order to receive emergency medical care or avoid transfer to a specialized unit where they might receive inadequate help.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In the morning of October 27, two men assaulted the president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Krasimir Kanev in downtown Sofia. Kanev suffered minor injuries. Many human rights organizations and individuals stated the incident was the consequence of an atmosphere that permitted widespread hate speech and was conducive to violent acts and called on authorities to identify and punish the perpetrators as soon as possible. As of November, an investigation was underway.

A series of antimigrant protests took place in October and November throughout the country. On October 7, more than 300 persons participated in a protest march in Sofia against “illegal migrants.” The protestors shouted “Die, refugees,” “Bulgaria, wake up,” and “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and demanded that the government resign. Some of the participants told the media that asylum seekers loitering around the reception centers would throw stones at passing cars, were a threat to Bulgarian women and children, and that they feared that Sofia could turn into a “Baghdad in the Balkans.” On October 9, reacting to rumors that the government intended to build a refugee camp in Samokov, local residents protested on the central square expressing “concern for their security and their living.”

Burkina Faso

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In September 2015 the government passed the Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence Against Women and Girls and Support for Victims. Conviction of rape is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the new law includes fines of 100,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($172 to $859). Police generally investigated reports of rape, but victims often did not file reports due to cultural barriers and fear of reprisal. According to human rights NGOs, rape occurred frequently. Although authorities prosecuted rape cases during the year, no statistics were available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted. Several organizations–including Roman Catholic and Protestant missions, the Association of Women Jurists in Burkina Faso, the Association of Women, and Promo-Femmes (a regional network that worked to combat violence against women)–counseled rape victims.

Domestic violence against women occurred frequently, primarily in rural areas. For example, on April 13, a man killed his wife in the rural community of Dapelgo after accusing her of adultery. An outraged mob later killed the husband. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 33.9 percent of women had experienced physical violence, committed in 68 percent of cases by their husbands. Victims seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. There were no government-run shelters in the country for victims of domestic violence, but there were counseling centers in each of the 13 regional “Maison de la Femme” centers. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. The ministry organized a number of workshops and several sensitization campaigns to inform women of their rights. According to the ministry, more than 5,800 persons received instruction on women’s and family rights and combatting domestic violence, including 60 radio journalists and 60 judiciary police who also received instruction on caring for victims of domestic violence and documenting their cases.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in jail. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of the foregoing abuses may also carry fines of 500,000 to one million CFA francs ($859 to $1,718).

The law requires police to provide for protection of the victim and her minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist female victims of violence–or those threatened by violence–and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for female victims of violence and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive victims on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer the victims to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but it was practiced widely, particularly in rural areas, and usually performed at an early age. According to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics from 2013, the incidence of FGM/C fell 27.5 percent in the 12 years preceding the report. Seventy-six percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 and 13 percent of girls under age 15 reported being subjected to FGM/C, however. Perpetrators, if convicted, are subject to a fine of 150,000 to 900,000 CFA francs ($258 to $1,546) and imprisonment of six months to three years–or up to 10 years if the victim dies. Despite the high incidence of FGM/C, according to UNICEF, authorities received only 72 reports of FGM/C in 2015 and 13 reported cases through September of the year.

Security forces and social workers from the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family arrested several FGM/C perpetrators and their accomplices, some of whom were serving prison sentences at year’s end. According to the ministry, all victims were minors ages 18 months to eight years. The ministry collaborated with security forces on a multidimensional approach. This included financial support to the security forces for the investigation and arrest of FGM/C perpetrators and training in educative and dissuasive enforcement techniques.

For example, in July police in Ouagadougou arrested a woman and man for FGM/C of a girl age six. A religious leader who allegedly encouraged the parents to perform FGM/C and an accomplice involved in the crime remained at large at year’s end.

Through the National Committee for the Fight against Excision, the government conducted awareness campaigns, training, and programs to identify and support FGM/C victims. It operated a toll-free number to report FGM/C cases. Through regional committees to combat excision, it worked with local populations to end FGM/C. These committees included representatives of government ministries, police, the gendarmerie, and local and religious leaders. The government also integrated FGM/C prevention in prenatal, neonatal, and immunization services at 35 percent of public health facilities. Government measures taken during the year to combat FGM/C included: the establishment of mobile courts in Tuy Province to try persons accused of FGM/C; creation of a public education Facebook page; distribution to public and private health centers of 322 treatment kits; training 164 Ministry of Education and Literacy officials on ending FGM/C; establishing five high school social networks to address FGM/C in Houet, Kadiogo, and Sanmatenga Provinces; and holding an international day of “zero tolerance for FGM/C.”

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison and/or a fine of 300,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($515 to $2,577). Elderly women without support, living primarily in rural areas and often widowed, sometimes were accused of witchcraft by their neighbors and banned from their villages. Villagers accused such women of “eating” the soul of a relative or a child. Victims seldom took legal action due to fear of repercussions to their families and sought refuge at centers run by governmental or charitable organizations in urban centers. For example, on May 16, in the village of Pilimpikou (Passore Province), three elderly persons were accused of witchcraft involving the death of a young man. Seventy elderly persons fled the village for safety. Although some of the victims sought assistance from authorities, many that fled remained unable to return at year’s end. An estimated 600 elderly persons accused of witchcraft were lodged in 13 solidarity centers nationwide. Actions taken by the government to protect elderly persons accused of witchcraft included financial support of 111 million CFA francs ($191,000) and the organization of a national campaign against the social exclusion of persons accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($515 to $859) for conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative, in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law, in large part because many considered sexual harassment culturally acceptable. There were no statistics available on the number of cases reported, prosecutions, or convictions.

Reproductive Rights: The law entitles couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but persons often lacked the information and means to exercise these rights. Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, 95 percent of women received prenatal care from skilled personnel, and skilled personnel attended 67 percent of births. The UN Population Division estimated that 17.8 percent of girls and women ages 15 through 49 used a modern method of contraception. Cultural norms that left decisions regarding birth control to husbands contributed to the limited use of contraceptives. The World Health Organization attributed the maternal mortality ratio of 371 per 100,000 live births in 2015 to lack of access to health care in rural areas. Amnesty International reported maternal deaths also resulted from inadequate training of health-care workers. Emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion, were generally available in urban areas but often not in rural areas.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Women occupied a subordinate position in society and often experienced discrimination in education, jobs, property ownership, access to credit, management or ownership of a business, and family rights. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. The law permits polygyny, but a woman must agree to it prior to marriage. A wife may oppose further marriages by her husband if she provides evidence he abandoned her and their children. Each spouse may petition for divorce, and the law provides for granting custody of a child to either parent, based on the child’s best interest. Mothers generally retained custody of their children until age seven, at which time custody reverted to the father or his family.

Women represented approximately 45 percent of the labor force in the formal sector and were primarily concentrated in low-paid, low-status positions. Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. This condition was exacerbated by the fact that the law defined 75 percent of marriages as common-law unions (with only a religious or traditional ceremony) and not legally binding. For example, in rural areas land owned by a woman becomes the property of the family of her husband after marriage. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family is responsible for increasing women’s awareness of their rights and worked to facilitate their access to land ownership. The government sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights. For example, the ministry organized an information and education session on combatting gender inequalities and disparities in the education system for approximately 160 teachers in public and private schools in the Center North, Center South, Center West, and Sahel regions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either by birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register many births immediately, particularly in rural areas, where registration facilities were few, and parents were often unaware of the requirement to register. Lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Child Abuse: Authorities tolerated light corporal punishment, and parents widely practiced it. The government conducted seminars and education campaigns against child abuse. The penal code mandates a one- to three-year prison sentence and fines ranging from 300,000 to 900,000 CFA francs ($515 to $1,546) for conviction of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. For example, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family had a toll-free number to enable persons to report cases of violence against children anonymously. At year’s end, 6,652 calls were received. None of these calls led to an arrest or prosecution.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 17 for girls and 20 for boys, but early and forced marriage was a problem. According to UNICEF, 10 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or in a union before age 15, and 52 percent were married before age 18; 55 percent of girls ages 12 to 14 were victims of early marriage in the Sahel region, and 67 percent of girls married before age 18 as compared with 17 percent of boys. The law prohibits forced marriage and prescribes penalties of six months to two years in prison for violators, and a three-year prison term if the victim is under age 13. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year. A government toll-free number allowed citizens to report forced marriages.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family initiated a cooperative program to prevent early marriage during the year involving state services, financial and technical partners, NGOs, and other civil society associations. As part of the ministry’s national strategy to promote the elimination of early marriage and the three-year action plan, 300 traditional, religious, and community leaders from 10 provinces of the East, Boucle du Mouhoun, and Sahel regions received training on fighting early marriage, and 300 scholarships were provided to victims or children at risk of early marriage in these regions.

According to media reports, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a virgin minor girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. For example, in May a girl age 14 was reportedly kidnapped and raped by her father’s cousin in the village of Potiamanga in the East region. At year’s end police had yet to locate her or her abductor. The victims of this practice seldom report their cases due to fear of persecution by the perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See section 6, Women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of child prostitution or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 1.5 to three million CFA francs ($2,577 to $5,155), or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. In 2014 the National Assembly enacted a law criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. There were no government statistics on child prostitution, but government services and human rights associations believed it was a problem. According to a 2014 study conducted by the international NGO End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, there were at least 243 children exploited in commercial sex, among whom 63 percent were Burkinabe. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. According to the study, the average age for girls in prostitution was 16–most of the victims worked in bars where they were subjected to prostitution as part of their duties.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. No statistics were available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted during the year. Newspapers, however, reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies. For example, on April 14, a woman reportedly left her newborn infant on a street in Kilwin (a district of Ouagadougou) where it was dead when discovered. National police investigated the incident but made no arrest.

Displaced Children: There were numerous street children, primarily in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Many children ended up on the streets after their parents sent them to the city to study with an unregistered Quranic teacher or to live with relatives and go to school. According to the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family, 6,427 children lived on the streets during the year. Ministry action to contain the increase in children living on the streets and to achieve their social reintegration included implementation of an education and protection action strategy. According to the ministry, it removed 300 children living on the streets and reintegrated them through its reinforcement and social protection project.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. Authorities did not implement all of these measures effectively.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service. Exacerbating these problems was the common societal perception that persons with disabilities should be under the care of their families and not in the labor force.

The Multisectorial National Council for the Promotion and Protection of Persons with Disabilities is composed of 76 members from different ministries, NGOs, and civil society organizations. During the year the council organized workshops on the rights of persons with disabilities in two regions of the country. It also organized a workshop to review the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and to amend it to address more fully the rights of persons with disabilities. Government-owned television provided newscasts in sign language for persons with hearing disabilities.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs. High commissioners, teachers, and NGOs worked together to inform citizens about the rights of persons with disabilities, specifically the rights of children with disabilities. A number of NGOs provided vocational training and equipment to persons with disabilities.

The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in Braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family provided 90 million CFA francs ($154,639) to 600 persons with disabilities in financial support and donated wheelchairs and other mobility devices valued at 75 million CFA francs ($128,866) to 586 persons with disabilities. The ministry also assisted in the registration and financial support of 100 young persons with disabilities in professional training schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Longstanding conflicts between Fulani herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Herders commonly triggered incidents by allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. The number of such incidents averaged 700 yearly between 2005 and 2011 but dropped significantly after 2012, according to the Ministry of Animal and Hydraulic Resources. According to the ministry, government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to the decrease. Conflict between ethnic groups also occurred because of disputes regarding the designation of local traditional chiefs. For example, on June 20, violence erupted between the residents of Kougri and Dawaka in the Central region following the enthronement of a traditional chief. According to media reports, one person was killed, more than 10 were injured, and property was destroyed during the violence.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was a problem and was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the LGBTI community.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security did not approve repeated requests by LGBTI organizations to register, and it provided no explanation for the refusals. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations, although incidents were not always reported due to stigma or intimidation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was a problem, and persons who tested positive were sometimes shunned by their families. Families sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante groups across the country operated detention facilities. Media reported cases of torture and killing that took place in these facilities. For example, on May 10, a suspected thief named Moussa Boly and three of his comrades were detained by a local vigilante group in the village of Benwourgou. Boly’s remains were found the following day, and police stated there were signs he had been tortured. Authorities had not arrested or charged anyone for the killing by year’s end.

Burma

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is under 14 years of age. The government did not release statistics concerning the number of rape prosecutions and convictions. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports that police investigations were not sensitive to victims. One prominent women’s group reported that police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape and that women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator, especially in Karen and Mon States.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain statistics. According to media reports, there were 700 cases of rape reported annually; however, statistics to verify this estimate were not available. There are laws that prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse, including spousal rape of women above 13 years of age. Punishment for violating the law includes prison terms ranging from one year to life, in addition to possible fines.

There were reports of rape by military and security officials in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. The military rejected all allegations that rape was an institutionalized practice in the military but admitted in 2014 that its soldiers had committed 40 known rapes of civilian women since 2011. While there was no reliable estimate for rape cases nationwide, civil society groups observed an increase in the number of cases reported during the year.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no reports of FGM/C practiced in the country.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes fines or up to one year’s imprisonment for verbal harassment and up to two years’ imprisonment for physical contact. Civil society organizations reported that efforts to address sexual harassment revealed that most men and women were unaware of laws that prohibit sexual harassment, nor could they provide examples of enforcement. Additionally, there was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported that police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. In May 2015 the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if put into effect, could undermine protections for reproductive and women’s rights, including imposing birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government had not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment. In September a lower-house lawmaker requested that the government implement the Population Control and Health Care Law to restrict the birth rates for Muslim communities in two northern Rakhine State townships (Maungdaw and Buthidaung). The Union health minister rejected the request.

A two-child local order issued by the state government of Rakhine pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not enforced (see section 1.f.). The government was expanding the availability of different types of contraceptives in both government and private-sector clinics. Nonetheless, only 50 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 were using a modern method of contraceptives, and 16 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning, according to current UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates. Access to family planning was limited in rural areas, and local organizations noted that the unmet need for family planning was particularly high in Rakhine. A lack of commodities and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also affected access to family planning.

According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio nationwide was 178 deaths per 100,000 live births. There were 1,700 maternal deaths in 2015, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 260. According to the 2014 national census, the maternal mortality rate in Rakhine State was 314 deaths per 100,000 live births, the fifth highest among states/regions. NGOs reported that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among the Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to higher maternal mortality rates in Rakhine, compared with the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortion were also a leading cause of maternal deaths. The law prohibits abortion except to save a woman’s life. Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; a high number of home births; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants, midwives, auxiliary midwives, basic health staff, and other trained community health workers. UNFPA estimated that skilled health personnel attended only 71 percent of births.

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear if the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear if the formal sector respected this requirement. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male occupations (mining, forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and remained effectively barred from certain professions. Poverty affected women disproportionately. Within the antidiscrimination provision in the constitution regarding appointing civil service personnel, the law qualifies its nondiscrimination based on sex by stating that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what “suitable for men only” constitutes. The military continued to accept women into its Defense Services Academy.

Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.

Children

Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any form of citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races” according to the Citizenship Law. Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group and consider them stateless. While some of the Rohingya participating in the citizenship verification process (see section 2.d.) may obtain a form of naturalized citizenship, the government did not make explicit which citizenship rights Rohingya would have through the program. It remained unclear if a member of an unrecognized ethnic group granted a form of citizenship through the program would be able to transmit a form of citizenship to their children.

A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (for example, Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent.

A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). While the practice of “blacklisting” some Rohingya children ceased following the dissolution of the NaSaKa border guard force in 2013(an inter-agency force established in 1992 and comprised of approximately 1,200 immigration, police, intelligence and customs officials that operated near the Bangladesh border), human rights organizations reported that early in the year, an additional 15 children were blacklisted in Rathedaung, meaning the children were not included in the household and family registration list (see section 2.d.).

Education: By law education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (approximately age 10). The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees. Many child rights activists in Rangoon noted that such fees were decreasing and were less often mandatory. There was little reported difference between girls and boys in attendance rates.

Local and international observers considered the 2015 National Education Law an improvement over past legislation, but local and international civil society continued to point out that it does not legalize student unions and lacks mandated national funding for the education sector.

Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment being widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 10,000 kyats ($7.50). There was anecdotal evidence from the field of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The Ministry of Social Welfare, with the support of UNICEF and international NGOs, expanded its social work case management child protection pilot programs in 10 new townships, bringing the total to 27, to provide more caseworkers and support services for child victims of sexual and physical violence. Since the work started, the Department of Social Welfare received more than 1,200 cases of violence, abuse, and neglect of children and responded with social work visits and services. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, which in turn exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar effect on children in those areas.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates the minimum age requirement for marriage is 15 years old, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, 13.2 percent of females reported to have been married between the ages of 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. A review conducted by a UN organization in February found that child marriage remained an important and underaddressed problem in rural areas. The census data showed that Shan, Kayah, and Chin States had the highest rates of child marriage in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Information is provided in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no verifiable data on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, either inside or outside the country. Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child sex tourism, but the 1949 Suppression of Prostitution Act and the Prostitution Act prohibit pimping and prostitution, respectively, and the penal code prohibits having sex with a minor under the age of 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child under age 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The Child Law prohibits pornography, the penalty for which is two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($7.50). The law prohibits statutory rape; if a victim is under 14 years of age, the law considers the sexual act rape with or without consent. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between ages 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is under 12.

Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d., Internally Displaced Persons).

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The government passed a disability law in June 2015 to prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but it directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government was still in the process of drafting implementation guidelines for the disability law and did not effectively enforce these provisions.

The Ministry of Health is responsible for medical rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement is responsible for vocational training, education, and social protection strategies. During the year the government recognized the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities (formerly known as the Myanmar Council of Persons with Disabilities) to serve as an umbrella group for disabled persons organizations. The National Committee on Disability is the ministerial committee charged with promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. It did not convene during the year.

According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country, with the Ministry of Home Affairs, in collaboration with ICRC, opening a new center in October in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.

Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for up to one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities constitute an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the population, and the seven ethnic-minority states make up approximately 60 percent of the national territory. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted that large wage variations based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.

While ethnic-minority groups generally used their own languages at home, Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. A February report from the Asia Foundation noted that schools run by ethnic armed groups often operated in the local ethnic language but that even students in well-established local language curricula, such as one operated by the Karen National Union, had limited future options without gaining academic credentials through the national curriculum. In schools controlled by ethnic armed groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.

Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with ceasefire agreements, remained high, and the army stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).

Muslims, including the Rohingya in Rakhine State, faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and their religion. Interethnic conflict in Rakhine State negatively affected the broader Muslim community, including the primarily Muslim ethnic Kaman. Most Rohingya faced severe restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). The Rohingya population constituted the majority of those displaced by outbreaks of violence across Rakhine State in 2012. Most remained in semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Several prominent groups led the charge in promoting support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Political reforms made it easier for the LGBTI community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Despite this progress, consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains provisions against “sexually abnormal” behavior and entails punishments up to life imprisonment. Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women. These laws were rarely enforced, but LGBTI persons reported that police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, the LGBTI community, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under paragraph (c) and (d) of the Yangon Police Act 30 (1899)/Police Act 35 (1945), otherwise known as the “shadow and disguise” laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” The LGBTI community also reported broad societal and familial discrimination. According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical care providers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy. There were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.

There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. While laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services, advocacy created the most progress in changing attitudes of lawmakers and law enforcement officials. For example, parliament hosted the first-ever HIV/AIDS advocacy session with civil society organizations on World AIDS Day, December 1. Persons with HIV/AIDS could submit a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission if violations to their fundamental rights to life or privacy occurred. Nonetheless, the commission’s resources and power to resolve individual complaints was limited, and the commission drew significant public criticism for its handling of a child abuse case (see section 5).

Law enforcement practices contributed to high levels of stigma and discrimination against female sex workers that in turn hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were a few reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Bamar-Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of the Buddhist Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha), continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Other Muslim complaints included unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions to education opportunities. In some locations in Rakhine, for example, the local population expressed little distinction between the Kaman and the Rohingya, despite the fact that the Kaman are one of the country’s recognized 135 ethnic groups defined by the 1982 constitution. Muslim leaders in West Bago indicated a continuing source of frustration was that most Muslims’ ethnic designation on their identity cards is “Indian Bamar,” despite no affiliation with India.

In July large crowds destroyed two Muslim places of worship in Lone Khin Village, Kachin State, and Thaye Thamain Village, Waw Township, Bago Division. In both cases contacts alleged that MaBaTha monks led crowds in the attacks, provoked by allegations that the new construction in both cases was illegal. Police arrested a small number of individuals involved in the violence and then released them after five days. The government did not investigate either incident or file charges against any perpetrators by year’s end.

Multiple sources noted that restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.

Burundi

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits domestic abuse of a spouse, with punishment ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law uniformly, and rape and other domestic and sexual violence continued to be serious problems.

On September 22, the government adopted a law that provides for the creation of a special gender-based crimes court, makes gender-based violence crimes unpardonable, and provides stricter punishment for police officers and judges who conceal violent crimes against women and girls. As of year’s end, the special court had not been created and no police or judges had been prosecuted under the new law.

Seruka Center, an organization working in Bujumbura to help victims of sexual violence, received 1,288 reported cases of sexual assault during the year. Victims stated that men in uniform committed 20 of the assaults and armed men committed 58. Seruka Center noted that the number of rapes was likely higher, but distance from Bujumbura, personal and cultural impediments, and a general climate of insecurity prevented many women and girls from seeking medical care.

The Brigade for the Protection of Women and Children in the Burundian National Police is responsible for investigating cases of sexual violence and rape, as well as trafficking of girls and women. The government, with financial support from international NGOs and the United Nations, continued civic awareness training throughout the country on domestic and gender-based violence and on the role of police assistance. Those trained included police, local administrators, and grassroots community organizers. The government-operated Humura Center in Gitega provided a full range of services, including legal, medical, and psychosocial services, to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. During the year the center received 160 cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

The IOM and UNHCR reported that, in two camps in Tanzania that were home to more than 100,000 refugees, seven women reported surviving SGBV in Burundi, while 19 reported attacks during their flight from the country.

Credible observers stated many women were reluctant to report rape, in part due to fear of reprisal. Husbands often abandoned wives who had been raped, and survivors experienced ostracism by their families and communities. In some cases police and magistrates reportedly required rape victims to provide food for and pay the costs of pretrial incarceration of those they accused of rape.

CSOs worked to overcome the cultural stigma of rape to help victims reintegrate into families that rejected them. The organizations also encouraged rape victims to press charges and seek medical care. Seruka Center and Nturengaho Center provided shelter and counseling to victims of rape and domestic violence. Several international NGOs provided free medical care, mostly in urban areas.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including the use of threats of physical violence or psychological pressure to obtain sexual favors. Punishment for sexual harassment may range from a fine to a prison sentence of one month to two years. The sentence for sexual harassment doubles if the victim is younger than 18. The government did not actively enforce the law. There were reports of sexual harassment but no data on its frequency or extent.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Husbands often made the final decisions about family planning. Health clinics and local health NGOs disseminated information on family planning freely under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health. The government provided free childbirth services and most women used nurses or midwives during childbirth and for prenatal and postnatal care, unless the mother or child suffered serious health complications. According to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, skilled attendants were present at 60 percent of births, but lack of access to the limited number of doctors, especially outside the capital, remained a problem. According to the World Bank, the 2015 maternal mortality rate was 712 per 100,000 live births. The main factors influencing maternal mortality were inadequate medical care and low use of family planning services.

There were no restrictions on access to contraceptives, and the Ministry of Public Health and the Fight against AIDS reported the contraceptive prevalence rate was 37 percent, part of a steady increase in the rate since 2006. According to a 2014 survey by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, many sexually active young people did not use contraceptives for a variety of reasons, including wanting more children, worries about side effects, religious beliefs, disapproval of a partner, a lack of knowledge about contraceptives, or unavailability of contraceptives. Men and women had equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal status for women and men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While 30 percent of elected positions are reserved for women under the constitution, women faced barriers to effective participation, including the low number of women in party leadership positions, financial and time constraints, and lower average levels of education. Women continued to face legal, economic, and societal discrimination, including with regard to inheritance and marital property laws. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights, and Gender is responsible for combating discrimination against women.

By law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but they did not (see section 7.d.). Some employers suspended the salaries of women on maternity leave, and others refused medical coverage to married female employees. Women were less likely to hold mid- or high-level positions in the workforce, although some owned businesses, particularly in Bujumbura.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that citizenship derives from the parents. The government registers, without charge, the births of all children if registered within a few days of birth. The government fines parents who do not register a birth within the time limit. An unregistered child may not have access to some public services, such as free public schooling and medical care for children under the age of five.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level, but students are responsible for paying for books and uniforms. Throughout the country, provincial officials charged parents fees for schooling.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against or abuse of children, with punishment ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment, but child abuse was a widespread problem. The penalty for rape of a minor is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. The UN Development Fund for Women reported that in many instances rapists wrongly believed the rape of minors would prevent or cure sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

The traditional practice of removing a newborn child’s uvula (the flesh that hangs down at the rear of the mouth) continued to cause numerous infections and deaths of infants.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. No statistics were available on the rate of early marriage. Forced marriages are illegal and were rare, although they reportedly occurred in southern, more heavily Muslim, areas. The Ministry of Interior continued an effort to convince imams not to officiate over illegal marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children is five to 10 years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and 50,000 francs ($12 and $30). The law punishes child pornography by fines and three to five years in prison. There were no prosecutions during the year.

While there does not appear to be large-scale child prostitution, older women reportedly offered vulnerable girls room and board in their homes under the guise of benevolence and in some cases forced them into prostitution to pay for living expenses. Brothels were located in poorer areas of Bujumbura, along the lake, and on trucking routes. Extended family members sometimes also financially profited from the prostitution of young relatives residing with them. Businesses recruited local girls for prostitution in Bujumbura and nearby countries.

Women and girls were trafficked to countries in the Middle East, sometimes using falsified documents, putting them at high risk of exploitation. Following international media reports, the government investigated, and seven persons were arrested in June. Media reports accused approximately one dozen companies in Middle Eastern countries, Kenya, and Burundi of being involved in the trafficking scheme.

Displaced Children: Thousands of children lived on the streets throughout the country, some of them HIV/AIDS orphans. The government provided street children with minimal educational support and relied on NGOs for basic services, such as medical care and economic support. Family poverty and parents’ inability to provide for them was a major factor causing children to leave home. The number of children living on the streets in Bujumbura reportedly increased as a result of increasing poverty, but no study has been conducted to verify this claim. UNICEF reported that children living on the streets faced brutality and theft by police and judged that police were more violent toward them during the 2015 political unrest than previously. Starting in June a government campaign to “clean the streets” resulted in the detention of hundreds of persons living or working on the streets, including more than 130 children. According to UNICEF, after being arrested the children were detained in adult prisons before being released.

UNHCR and the IOM reported that as many as 6,000 Burundian children arrived in refugee camps in neighboring countries without their parents between March and October. Some children arrived in camps in Rwanda, and their parents went to camps in Tanzania, and vice versa.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

No estimate was available on the size of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual disabilities. The government, nevertheless, did not promote or protect the rights of persons with disabilities with regard to employment, education, or access to health care (see section 7.d.). Although persons with disabilities are eligible for free health care through social programs targeting vulnerable groups, authorities did not widely publicize or provide benefits. Employers often required job applicants to present a health certificate from the Ministry of Public Health stating they did not have a contagious disease and were fit to work, a practice that sometimes resulted in discrimination against persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights, and Gender coordinates assistance and protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government has not enacted legislation or otherwise mandated access to buildings, information, or government services for persons with disabilities. The government supported a center for physical therapy in Gitega and a center for social and professional inclusion in Ngozi for persons with physical disabilities.

Indigenous People

The Twa, the original hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the country, numbered approximately 80,000, or approximately 1 percent of the population, according to the OHCHR. They generally remained economically, politically, and socially marginalized. Lack of education, employment, and access to land were among their major problems. By law local administrations must provide free schoolbooks and health care for all Twa children. Local administrations largely fulfilled these requirements. The constitution provides for three appointed seats for Twa in each of the houses of parliament, and Twa parliamentarians (including one woman) took their seats in August 2015.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of three months to two years. According to Burundi Africa Generation News, on November 2, the High Court of Cibitoke Province sentenced a 15-year-old boy who admitted to the rape of a seven-year-old boy to one year in prison. The adolescent was charged with rape of a minor and homosexuality. There were no other reports of prosecution for homosexuality during the year.

The Remuruka Center in Bujumbura offered urgent services to the LGBTI community. The government neither supported nor hindered the activities of local LGBTI organizations or the center.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Criminals sometimes murdered persons with albinism, particularly children, for their body parts, used for ritual purposes. Most perpetrators were reportedly citizens of other countries who came to kill and then departed the country with the body parts, impeding government efforts to arrest them. According to the Albino Women’s Hope Association chairperson, society did not accept persons with albinism and they were often unemployed and isolated. Women with albinism often were “chased out by their families because they are considered as evil beings.”

Cabo Verde

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by eight to 16 years in prison, and domestic violence is punishable by one to five years in prison. Spousal rape is implicitly covered by the gender-based violence law; penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment. This 2001 law focuses on increasing protection of victims, strengthening penalties for offenders, and raising awareness about gender-based violence. The law calls for establishing several care centers, with financial and management autonomy, but implementation lagged due to inadequate staffing and financial resources. Violence and discrimination against women remained significant problems.

Rede Sol (a network that connects civil society organizations, the National Police, health centers, hospitals, and community law centers) covered 56 percent of the national territory and had representation on seven islands and in 12 of the 22 municipalities. The Ministry of Justice created “casas do direito” (civil rights houses), which serve as public spaces that provide citizens with access to justice and promote civic participation. In 2015 they received reports of 241 cases of gender-based violence nationwide. As of July, 61 cases were reported to the casas do direito.

The government enforced the law against rape and domestic violence effectively.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code and the law criminalize sexual harassment. Penalties include up to one year in prison and a fine equal to up to two years of the perpetrator’s salary. Although authorities generally enforced the law, statistics on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for sexual harassment were not available. There was no data on the number of cases of sexual harassment during the year. Sexual harassment was common and widely accepted in the culture.

Reproductive Rights: The civil code grants all citizens the freedom to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. All citizens had access to contraception. Family planning centers throughout the country distributed some contraceptives freely to the public. These centers provided skilled assistance and counseling, both before and after childbirth and in cases of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Postnatal services included family planning and free oral/injectable contraceptives. No government policies adversely affect emergency health care, including complications arising from abortion.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Cultural norms and traditions, however, imposed gender roles that hindered the eradication of gender-based discrimination. Women had less representation in local politics, community associations, and in parliament. In the private sector, women held fewer management and leadership positions and often received lower salaries than men for equal work.

Indicators showed women faring better than men in terms of educational achievement, life expectancy, and access to sexual and reproductive health services. The government enforced the law in providing for the same legal status and rights for women as for men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship can be derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government has a network of services, such as notary and civil identification records offices in all municipalities, and the Birth Registration Project located in hospitals and health centers. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services. The government attributed the nonregistration of births to uncertainty as to the identity of fathers, parental neglect, and a lack of information on registration in the poorest communities.

Education: The government provided tuition-free and universal education for all children between the ages of six and 12. Education is compulsory until the age of 15. Secondary education was free only to children whose families had an annual income below 147,000 escudos ($1,482).

Child Abuse: Violence against children remained a problem. The government tried to combat it through a national network that included the Cabo Verdean Institute of Childhood and Adolescence (ICCA), various police forces, the Attorney General’s Office, hospitals, and health centers. The government attempted to reduce sexual abuse and violence against children through several programs such as Dial a Complaint, the Children’s Emergency Program, Project Our House, Welcome Centers for Street Children, Project Safe Space, Project Substitute Family, and the creation during 2014 of five ICCA offices.

Data from the Children’s Emergency Program and the Local Social Service programs indicated that during the first six months of the year, there were 126 reported cases of violence and aggression and 72 reported cases of sexual abuse of children. Actual prevalence was higher; not every case was reported because perpetrators were often relatives of the child.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law punishes those that foment, promote, or facilitate prostitution or sexual exploitation of children age 16 and under with a penalty of four to 10 years in prison. If the victim is age 17 to 18, the penalty is two to six years in prison, which is inconsistent with international law on trafficking in persons. The law punishes those that induce, transport, or provide housing or create the conditions for sexual exploitation and prostitution of children age 16 and under in a foreign country with a penalty of five to 12 years in prison. If the victim is age 17 to 18, the penalty is two to eight years in prison. The law prohibits the use of children under 18 in pornography, with penalties of up to three years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The law also prohibits pedophilia. During the year there were no reported cases of child pornography, but there were cases of children in prostitution. Sex tourism, at times involving children in prostitution, was a problem, particularly on the tourism-focused islands of Sal and Boa Vista. Sexual abuse was more common in the poorest neighborhoods. Children were exploited in sex trafficking in Santa Maria, Praia, and Mindelo.

New amendments to the penal code, published in November 2015, increase penalties for those who engage in the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors or promote the prostitution of minors. These amendments also strengthen penalties for sexual assault, with imprisonment of two to eight years; sexual abuse of children, with penalties from two to eight years; and sexual abuse of minors between 14 and 16 years old, with penalties from two to eight years. Prison sentences increased for the crimes of pimping and the exploitation of minors for pornographic purposes. The new amendments also focus on crimes related to trafficking in persons, penalizing those who offer, deliver, accept, carry, or accommodate a child or other person for the purpose of sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, or extraction of organs. The amendments mandate several penalties, ranging from one to 12 years in prison for such crimes. Despite the amendments, there were no confirmed cases, prosecutions, or arrests related to trafficking in persons during the year.

The government also continued efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through the creation of a national coordinating committee and the development of a code of ethics for the tourism industry.

Institutionalized Children: During the year there were reports of physical abuse of children in a foster care facility managed by the Reformed Congregation of Seventh-day Adventists in Praia. Eight children who spent time at this orphanage were transferred to ICCA’s Children Emergency Center in Praia. The eight minors, six male and two female, were between ages seven and 17. All children were expected to remain at the ICCA center until an investigation was completed.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. The law does not prohibit discrimination in air travel or other transportation services. The government generally enforced these provisions, with problems remaining in a number of areas. For example, persons with disabilities faced daily obstacles that hindered their integration. Physical accessibility, communication means, and public transport appropriate for persons with disabilities often were lacking. The government worked with civil society organizations to implement programs to provide access for wheelchair users, including building ramps to enhance access to transportation and buildings.

According to the Ministry of Education, Family, Equality, and Inclusion, the ministry had enrolled an estimated 1,200 children and youth with special educational needs in primary, secondary, and higher education through the years. There was no information available regarding abuse of persons with intellectual or mental disabilities in prisons or psychiatric hospitals. Persons with physical disabilities had difficulties in accessing facilities in prisons such as bathrooms and other services. Inmates with mental disabilities did not have access to psychiatric care or specific therapy. The government did not legally restrict the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote or otherwise participate in civic affairs and public life, unless the person was deemed not to have the mental capacity to exercise that right. Persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, as determined by the Ministry of Health, are not allowed to vote, according to the National Commission for Elections. According to the electoral code, blind persons or those with other physical disabilities that are not otherwise accommodated can be escorted by a citizen of their choice to cast their vote.

The government has a quota system for granting scholarships and tax benefits to companies that employ individuals with disabilities. NGOs recognized these measures as partially effective in better integrating these citizens into society but also noted nonenforcement and inadequate regulations continued to be obstacles.

Several NGOs worked to protect the interests of persons with disabilities. A Law on Mobility sets technical standards for accessibility for persons with disabilities for a variety of public facilities and services.

The Ministry of Education, Family, Equality, and Inclusion is the government organization responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The National Council on the Status of Disabled Persons works in partnership with the ministry as a consultative body responsible for proposing, coordinating, and monitoring the implementation of a national policy.

Public television station TCV, through a partnership with the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship, Handicap International, and the Cabo Verdean Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities, included in its nightly news a sign-language interpreter for deaf persons able to sign.

The law stipulates a quota of 5 percent of educational scholarships be allocated to persons with disabilities, but this percentage had not been reached.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws exist, and state employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation. There was no information available on official or private discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care.

There were no reported incidents of violence against LGBTI persons during the year.

In June the Arco Iris Association, in partnership with the Fundacion Triangulo of Spain, organized the country’s fourth consecutive Cabo Verdean Gay Week (“Mindelo Pride”). The event again occurred in the city of Mindelo, on Sao Vicente Island, to promote equality and respect for sexual diversity. In June a smaller pride week event also took place in Praia, the first time an organized pride event had been held in the capital.

In December 2015 the United Nations launched in Cabo Verde the “Free and Equal” campaign to promote educational programs to shape public attitudes about LGBTI equality and increase awareness about homophobic violence and discrimination.

Cambodia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and assault. Local and international NGOs reported that violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, was common. Rape is punishable by a prison sentence of five to 30 years. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the penal code, but the underlying conduct can be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for spousal rape under the penal code and the domestic violence law were rare. The domestic violence law criminalizes domestic violence but does not set out specific penalties. The penal code can be used to punish domestic violence offenses, with penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment. According to a report by Amnesty International, there was only one public hospital in each province and several larger hospitals in Phnom Penh that had adequate facilities to examine rape victims and issue certificates that were admissible as evidence in court.

As of October 2015, ADHOC received 183 reports of rape, three resulting in the death of the victim. Of these the courts tried 33 cases, local authorities mediated one case, and the remainder awaited trial. As of August ADHOC received 114 reports of domestic violence that resulted in serious injury. Reported cases of rape and domestic violence increased compared with the same period in 2014 but were likely underreported due to women’s fear of reprisal by perpetrators. In January the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs released the National Survey on Women’s Health and Life Experiences. It revealed that one in five women in the country experienced sexual and/or domestic violence. Cases of rape, according to the Ministry of Interior, increased by 12 percent in 2015 compared with 2014, despite an overall drop in crime. In a 2013 UN report, nearly 20 percent of 1,863 men interviewed admitted to raping a woman.

In July the Ministry of Women’s Affairs met with representatives from the government and civil society to discuss implementation of the Second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women that treats the problem of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. The ministry announced a new reporting system within the government to increase accountability and transparency in cases where the government responds to violence against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also coordinated with several NGOs and local media outlets to produce radio and television programming on topics related to women. The government also financially supported NGOs that provided training for poor women vulnerable to spousal abuse, prostitution, and trafficking in persons.

As of August ADHOC investigated 52 cases of domestic violence and 67 cases of rape, while the human rights organization Licadho investigated 62 separate instances of domestic violence and 33 instances of rape. NGOs reported that authorities did not aggressively enforce domestic law and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000 to 500,000 riels ($25 to $125). A 2013 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that one in five female garment workers had been sexually harassed. In May authorities demoted a senior official from the Ministry of Education after he sexually assaulted a South Korean interpreter assigned to him during an official visit to South Korea. Officials dropped charges after he paid fines equaling $12,300. Many activists claimed the punishment was too lenient; however, the ministry stated it based its decision to demote the individual on laws governing civil servants. There was limited information available on cases of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women had access to contraception and prenatal care as well as skilled attendance at delivery and postpartum care, but it was often limited due to income and geographic barriers. According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 161 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 170 deaths per 100,000 live births during 2014. Major factors influencing high maternal mortality rates included a shortage of adequate health facilities, medications, and skilled birth attendants. According to the 2014 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among married women between 15 and 49 years was approximately 39 percent, and 12 percent of women between ages 15 to 19 years had given birth or were pregnant with their first child.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, and equal status in marriage. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal status to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education and some jobs; however, cultural traditions and child rearing responsibilities limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business or even participate in the workforce. Men comprised a significant majority of the military, police, and civil service.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and were living legally in the country or if either parent had acquired citizenship through other legal means. Indigenous Khmer are considered citizens. The Ministry of Interior administered a revamped birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to parental delay. Moreover, children born from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s often were not registered due to the civil war, Khmer Rouge atrocities, and subsequent Vietnamese occupation. Many of these unregistered persons, who later had families of their own, did not perceive a need for registration. It was common not to register young persons until a need arose.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. A 2007 study commissioned by UNHCR on statelessness in the country found that the birth registration process often excluded children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons. NGOs providing services to disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied books and access to education and health care for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons often were unable to access employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture, worked in other activities, began school at a late age, or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while post-primary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas. Schools in many areas were remote, and transportation was a problem. This especially affected girls because of safety concerns in traveling between home and school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. A 2014 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that 61 percent of female respondents and 58 percent of male respondents between 13 and 17 years faced domestic violence. Child rape continued to be a serious problem. ADHOC received reports of 99 cases of rape and attempted rape committed against persons younger than 18 years. Licadho investigated 116 rape cases, including four cases of gang rape.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18 years; however, children as young as 16 years may legally marry with parental permission. Culturally child marriage was not considered a problem. The government and a local NGO took steps to raise awareness of the legal minimum-age requirement.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 years is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring in “indirect” sex establishments such as beer gardens, massage parlors, salons, karaoke bars, and noncommercial sites. Police continued to investigate cases of child sex trafficking that occurred in brothels or cases where victims brought complaints directly but did not typically pursue more-complicated cases. The government did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigation techniques in trafficking investigations, and the lack of explicit authority continued to impede officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers fully accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. An NGO report released in 2015 examined the prevalence of children among persons in commercial sex establishments in three key cities and found that children comprised 2.2 percent of this population, compared with 8.2 percent in 2013. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for exploiting children in prostitution. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 15 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

According to a local human rights organization, perpetrators with ties to the government were not held accountable under the law, and local experts reported concern about the government’s failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding child sex traffickers accountable, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a rehabilitation center. A local NGO estimated the number of displaced children remained similar to 2014, with 1,200 to 1,500 street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship with their families, and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings. In addition 200 to 400 children lived with their families on the streets in Phnom Penh.

A 2014 government inspection found that 70 percent of 12,000 orphans living in state and private centers had parents or other relatives. The number of orphanages in the country increased from 155 in 2005 to 225 in 2014, of which the government operated 23. NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans in order to lure donations from foreigners.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with disabilities. It includes persons with mental and intellectual disabilities in the definition of persons with disabilities and requires that public buildings and government services, including education, be accessible to persons with disabilities. The law does not address accessibility with respect to air travel or other transportation. The Ministry of Social Affairs has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the ministries of health, education, public works and transport, and national defense. The government requested all television channels to adopt sign-language interpretation for all programming. As of September only one major television station had sign-language interpretation. The Council of Ministers approved four subdecrees to support the law.

Programs administered by various NGOs resulted in substantial improvements in the treatment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, but they faced significant societal discrimination, especially in obtaining skilled employment.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. Children with more significant disabilities attended segregated schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh. According to an NGO, education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh.

There are no legal limitations on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, but the government did not make any concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The rights of minorities under the nationality law are not explicit; constitutional protections extend only to “Khmer people.” Citizens of Chinese and Vietnamese ethnicity constituted the largest ethnic minorities. Ethnic Chinese citizens were accepted in society, but societal animosity continued toward ethnic Vietnamese, who were widely deemed a threat to the country and culture. Some groups, including opposition political parties, made strong anti-Vietnamese statements and complained of political control of the CPP by the Vietnamese government, border encroachment, and other problems for which they held ethnic Vietnamese at least partially responsible.

Indigenous People

In support of efforts by indigenous communities to protect their ancestral lands and natural resources, the Ministry of Land issued communal land titles to 11 indigenous communities comprising 752 families living on 22,378 acres of land. NGOs criticized the slow implementation of communal titling and continued to call for a moratorium on land sales and land concessions affecting indigenous communities. International and local NGOs were active in educating the indigenous communities about the land registration process and providing legal representation in disputes.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There were no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, although some societal discrimination and stereotyping persisted, particularly in rural areas.

There were no reports of government discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Consensual same-sex relationships, however, were typically treated with fear and suspicion by the general population, and there were few support groups to which cases involving discrimination could be reported. Unofficial discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. According to a 2015 report on LGBTI discrimination in schools published by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 62.7 percent of LGBTI respondents reported being bullied, 93.6 percent of whom claimed it was in response to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nearly 17 percent of those surveyed reported their teachers had bullied them.

A local LGBTI rights organization reported more than 100 incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTI individuals, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation, the number of persons in the country with HIV in 2015 was approximately 82,970, a 6.6 percent increase from 2014. A 2010 Demographic and Health Survey noted that 21 percent of women and 18 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV/AIDS. Following a 2014 incident in which an unlicensed medical practitioner unwittingly infected approximately 290 villagers with HIV, the victims reported widespread social stigma from fellow community members, some of whom refused to interact with the victims altogether.

Cameroon

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report their cases. The law does not address spousal rape.

In the National Gender Policy Document for the period 2011-20 adopted in 2014 and released in 2015, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family asserted 52 percent of women experienced domestic violence at least once and that 53 percent experienced violence by the age of 15. The ministries further indicated, based on a 2008 study on rape and incest, 5.2 percent of women were victims of sexual violence. Of those, 33 percent became pregnant and 16 percent contracted sexually transmitted infections. The report indicated more than one million girls and women were reported to have suffered an attempted rape and that rape was becoming widespread in all regions of the country. Included in this figure was incest, which applied to 18 percent of raped women.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, in conjunction with local NGOs, continued their campaign to raise awareness of rape and educate citizens on penal provisions against rape, including through educative talks and sociolegal clinics. Activities were mostly centered on women commemorative days, such as the International Women’s Day, African Women’s Day, Rural Women’s Day, and other fora involving mass mobilization of women. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family reportedly trained 150 police officers on how to address violence against women. During the year the Littoral branch of the NCHRF, in collaboration with Douala-based LFM Radio, implemented a program against gender-based violence. The interactive program broadcast every Saturday offered women the opportunity to share their concerns with, and seek advice from, a lawyer.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects physical and bodily integrity of persons, and the penal code enacted on July 12 has specific provisions on genital mutilation/cutting. The law prohibits genital mutilation of all persons. Whoever mutilates the genitals of a person, by any means whatsoever, on conviction is subject to imprisonment from 10 to 20 years, and imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice, does so for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. Children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions, in the Choa and Ejagham tribes, although the practice was reported to be decreasing. In 2015 The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family estimated the prevalence of FGM/C at 1.4 percent nationwide and 20 percent in the most affected communities. According to UNICEF’s Global Databases 2016, FGM/C among girls and women ages 15 to 49 was 1 percent in urban centers and 2 percent in rural areas. In 2011 the government adopted a national action plan, and The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family established local FGM/C committees in areas where FGM/C was most prevalent, particularly in the Far North Region. The committees networked with former excision practitioners and traditional and religious leaders to reduce the practice. During the year the ministries and some civil society organizations conducted education programs against gender-based violence, including FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of widow rites remained a problem in some areas, especially in the south. The practices varied from area to area but generally entailed new widows having to remove all hair using a razor blade, spend the night sleeping on the floor, and forgo bathing and other hygiene practices for extended periods. Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of the deceased husband’s relatives as a condition for them to secure continued enjoyment of the property left by the deceased, including the marital home. In an attempt to better protect women, including widows, the government included in the new penal code provisions addressing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the spouse of the victim.

As in 2015, there were no credible reports of breast ironing, a procedure to flatten a girl’s growing breasts with hot stones, cast-iron pans, or bricks. The procedure was considered a way to delay a girl’s physical development, thus limiting the risk of sexual assault and teenage pregnancy. The procedure has harmful physical and psychological consequences, which include pain, cysts, abscesses, and physical and psychological scarring. During the year the government further discouraged the practice by including a relevant provision in the new penal code. Although the code does not specifically refer to breast ironing, it provides that whoever, in any manner whatsoever, interferes with an organ in order to inhibit its normal growth shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years, fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700), or both. As formulated, the provision adequately covers breast ironing.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. The new penal code provides punishment with imprisonment from six months to one year and with fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700) for whoever takes advantage of the authority conferred on them by their position to harass another using orders, threats, constraints, or pressure in order to obtain sexual favors. The penalty is imprisonment for one to three years if the victim is a minor and from three to five years if the offender is in charge of the education of the victim. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread. Anecdotal reports suggest immigrant or refugee widows coming from the CAR were very susceptible to sexual harassment in the domestic work sector.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many often lacked the information and means to do so, however, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing all sex-related issues, particularly in northern rural areas. Women’s dependence on their husbands’ consent was also a barrier to contraceptive decisions.

The UN 2014 Multiple Index Cluster Survey (MICS) indicated 82.8 percent of pregnant women had at least one antenatal care visit by a qualified health worker, 64.7 percent delivered with assistance from qualified birth attendants, and 61.3 percent of the deliveries occurred in a health facility. Prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, emergency obstetric, neonatal, and postpartum care remained inadequate, particularly in rural areas.

Maternal mortality remained high. According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 estimates, maternal mortality stood at 690 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rate was attributed to lack of access to medical care; lack of trained medical personnel; the high cost of prenatal care, hospital delivery, and postpartum care; and negligence by hospital staff.

For example, on March 12, the bloody and naked corpse of Monique Koumate and her twin babies were found on the ground at the Douala Laquintinie hospital yard; a relative had used a razor blade to open her womb in an attempt to rescue the unborn twins. Authorities claimed Koumate died hours before arrival at the hospital and blamed the sister who cut open her womb. The sister insisted she performed the surgery hoping to save the babies, who were still alive, because the nurses on duty refused to help.

The UN Population Division estimated only 20.2 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The low rate of contraception use was largely due to the lack of skilled personnel and lack of adequate infrastructure and contraceptives. The Ministry of Public Health provided counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. The Ministry of Social Affairs also had an educational program on responsible parenthood, which was broadcast twice weekly. Couples were encouraged to get HIV/AIDS testing prior to conception, and efforts continued to increase HIV/AIDS testing for pregnant women at health clinics.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in terms of family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance. Despite constitutional and legal provisions recognizing women’s rights, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. For example, the law allows a husband to deny his wife the ability to work outside the home, and a husband may also forbid his wife to engage in commercial activity by notifying the clerk of the commerce tribunal. Also, while polygamy is authorized, polyandry is illegal. Customary law imposes further strictures on women, since in many regions a woman is regarded as the property of her husband. Because of custom and tradition, civil laws protecting women often were not respected. For example, in some ethnic groups women were precluded from inheriting from their husbands. Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of depriving women of land ownership, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.

The provision on adultery in the new penal code was revised to apply evenly to men and women. Under the previous law, a married man could be punished only if he had sexual intercourse in the marital home or habitually had sexual intercourse elsewhere with a woman other than his wife or wives. Under the new law, a husband who has sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife or wives may be subject to punishment.

During the year the prime minister launched the UN Women initiative to involve men and boys in the advocacy against gender discrimination. The UN HeForShe campaign began on August 11 and aimed to engage men and boys as advocates and agents for change to achieve gender equality and women’s rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents, and it is the parents’ responsibility to register births. Parents must obtain a birth declaration from the hospital or health facility in which the child was born and complete the application. The mayor’s office issues the birth certificate once the file is completed and approved. Because many children were not born in formal health facilities and many parents were unable to reach local government offices, many births were unregistered. According to the 2014 MICS, birth registration rate for children below the age of five was 66.1 percent. Social workers attributed the low level to negligence, poverty, and poor education. Parents often registered children only when the children were about to enroll for the first school leading to a certificate. A 2011 law brought innovations in the national civil status system, including creation in 2013 of a national civil status office that became operational with the appointment of its management staff in September 2015, but more especially the extension of deadlines for birth registration from 30 to 90 days, thus increasing the probability for parents to register new births.

Education: The law provides that primary education is compulsory but does not set an age limit. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12, or at ages 13-14 if they had to repeat classes. In July the government criminalized interference with the right to education or training. Under the new penal code, any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his child to school is subject to a fine of from 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85-$850), and imprisonment from one to two years if the offense is repeated. Public primary school was tuition-free, but children had to pay for uniforms, books, and sometimes extra fees. Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered education unaffordable for many children. According to estimates from the 2014 MICS, the primary school attendance rate was 85.4 percent, with a primary school completion rate of 81 percent. According to a 2015 report from UNICEF, the Ministry of Health, and the National Institute of Statistics, 87 percent of boys attended primary school, compared with 84 percent of girls; and 55 percent of boys attended secondary school, compared with 50 percent of girls. According to the same report, 83 percent of boys completed primary school, compared with 78 percent of girls.

During the year Boko Haram destroyed hundreds of classrooms, and the government reportedly shut down entire schools due to security concerns. This aggravated lack of access to education in the Far North Region; the 2016-17 academic year was largely lost for many children.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and in the school environment. According to a 2011 survey, 76 percent of children reported being hit frequently at home, and 10 percent of those between the ages of six and 15 reported sexual abuse. Newspaper reports often cited cases of children abandoned, thrown in the trash, or being victims of kidnapping and mutilation. Also, Boko Haram abducted children and, in some instances, used them as suicide bombers.

For example, on February 16, in Buea, 14-year-old Nkeih Lizette reported her father Nkeih Ernest had been sexually abusing her since she was 10 years old. Nkeih claimed she had been pregnant four times and aborted three times using medications she bought on the streets. At the time she was suffering from severe hemorrhage, allegedly because of a failed abortion. The judicial police in Buea arrested the offender. There were no reported developments on the case as of September 30.

These allegations were consistent with findings of the International Center for the Promotion of Creation (CIPCRE), an international NGO. CIPCRE recorded 475 cases of sexual abuse of children from January 2015 to June 2016, including 36 children under age seven and 100 under 14. One hundred and nine children had contracted pregnancies, six died, 144 had severe injuries, and 49 were infected, all because of sexual abuse. In most cases CIPCRE stated the perpetrator was a relative.

On March 11, in Bamenda, Northwest Region, a four-year-old nursery pupil was discovered with serious scars on her face and body. NGO officials concluded the scars were a result of mistreatment the child received from her mother and a domestic helper.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for men, although some families reportedly tried to marry their girls earlier. According to the 2014 MICS, 11.4 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 were married or in union by age 15, 36 percent of women and girls ages 20 to 49 were married or in union by age 18, and 22.3 percent of youths ages 15 to 19 were currently married or in union. Early marriage was prevalent in the Adamawa, North, and particularly Far North Regions. The government conducted education campaigns to combat early marriages and provided medical support and reintegration services to victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under 18 in the Women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A conviction, however, requires there to have been the use of threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion. Penalties include imprisonment of 10 to 20 years and a fine of 100,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($170-$17,000). Penalties are increased to 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment if the victim is 15 or younger, if a weapon is used, or if the victim sustains serious injuries as a result of trafficking. The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits the use of children for the production of pornography and provides for prison terms from five to 10 years and fines of five million to 10 million CFA francs ($8,500-$17,000) for perpetrators who use any electronic system to forward child pornography or any document that could harm the dignity of a child. Children under the age of 18 were exploited in prostitution, especially by promoters of restaurants and bars, although no statistics were available.

Child Soldiers: The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but Boko Haram utilized child soldiers, including girls, in their attacks on civilian and military targets.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Unlike in 2015, there were no credible reports of infanticide nor of mothers abandoning their newborns in streets, latrines, or garbage cans. The law criminalizes infanticide and provides penalties ranging from five years’ imprisonment to capital punishment.

Displaced Children: The country hosted a large population of refugees and IDPs, most of whom were children. According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix for August, there were 125,038 internally displaced children. This number excluded refugees. As in previous years, many children lived on the streets of major urban centers, although their number apparently declined as a result of stringent security measures against Boko Haram and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy. The Project to Fight the Phenomenon of Street Children, a governmental project established in partnership with NGOs, continued to gather information on street children and offer health care, education, and psychological care but was hardly active.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically address discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The constitution, however, explicitly forbids all forms of discrimination, providing that “everyone has equal rights and obligations.” In 2010 the government enacted a law on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, but the president had not issued its instrument of implementation. In addition the country had not ratified international instruments such as the UN Convention on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities. The law requires new government and private buildings be designed to facilitate access by persons with disabilities and that existing buildings be modified to do so. Secondary public education is tuition free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities, and initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”

The majority of children with disabilities attended schools. Some of these children attended mainstream schools, others attended specialized schools, including for children with vision, hearing, or physical disabilities. The Ministry of Basic Education started the 2016/17 school year by selecting 68 primary schools as pilot sites to implement inclusive education.

A private training institution, Shilo Special Education and Inclusive Bilingual Teacher Training Institute, which opened in 2014, continued training activities. As in 2015, the school accepted students with vision and other disabilities. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs has successfully partnered with NGOs, including Nicky’s Foundation, a Baptist organization that works with persons with hearing disabilities and provides sign language training to teachers. The ministry also partnered with Sightsavers, an international organization, which worked in the Far North, South, and Southwest Regions.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population consists of an estimated 286 ethnic groups, among which there were frequent and credible allegations of discrimination. Ethnic groups commonly gave preferential treatment to fellow ethnic group members in business and social practices. Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the south held key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, security forces, and the CPDM.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East. No legal discrimination existed, but other groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. There were credible reports the Mbororos, itinerant pastoralists mostly present in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities, and were involved in conflicts over ownership of land and access to water.

The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group, but it implemented initiatives to promote the rights of the Baka, including the National Plan for the Empowerment of the Baka, and the Mbororo. Programs included training Baka and Mbororo in agricultural and animal husbandry techniques, including follow-on support for projects initiated after training, and recruiting Baka and Mbororo to attend teacher-training colleges. Baka and Mbororo communities complained about being marginalized, forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, and denied access to water.

The government continued efforts begun in 2005 to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.

To improve access for Baka children to education, UNICEF and the Ministry of Basic Education introduced an education model that takes into account the sociocultural specifics of minorities. They selected 12 schools to experiment with intercultural and multilingual education, in which the language of instruction is the mother tongue up to a certain level and then changes to the normal curriculum. The project was planned to run until 2017.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Homosexuality remained a crime. Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34-$340).

Although reports of arrests dropped dramatically, homophobia remained a major concern. Members of the LGBTI community continued to receive anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and e-mail, as well as social stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination, including threats of corrective rape, although they were increasingly reluctant to speak out. Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.

For example, on June 1, human rights organizations reported management of the Real Estate Company of Cameroon ordered Franz Mananga, the executive director of Alternatives Cameroon, to vacate his apartment rented from the real estate company because his neighbors had brought a complaint against him for homosexuality.

Members of the LGBTI community allegedly suffered discriminatory treatment during a workshop held in Ambam, South Region, on September 1-4. The workshop was intended to train representatives of grassroots grantee organizations on the new funding model under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. During the happy hour on the second day, hotel staff members discovered that gay men were involved. Thereafter, hotel staff members stopped replacing towels in all hotel rooms and reduced the quality of meals.

Despite the cultural environment, human rights and health organizations continued to advocate for the LGBTI community by defending LGBTI individuals being prosecuted, promoting HIV/AIDS initiatives, and working to change laws prohibiting consensual same-sex activity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education about the disease. In the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey, 88 percent of women and 81.3 percent of men reported having discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV. Between October 2010 and February 2011, Reseau Camerounais des Associations de Personnes Vivant avec le VIH (ReCAP+), a network of persons with HIV, conducted a survey of 1,284 persons with HIV. The survey indicated that in the 12 months preceding the study, 68.7 percent of respondents experienced at least one form of stigma and discrimination; 25.9 percent had been forced to change residence or were unable to secure rental accommodation; 22.6 percent of respondents who were employed lost their job or other income source; 6.7 percent were refused employment because of their HIV status; and 9.8 percent reported changes in their job responsibilities or being refused a career promotion due to their HIV-positive status. Two percent of respondents reported being denied health services, including dental care; 3.3 percent reported having been refused family planning services; and 5 percent reported being refused sexual and reproductive health services. During the preceding 12 months, 2.3 percent of respondents had been dismissed, suspended, or prevented from attending an educational institution because of their HIV status.

During the year there were a few reports of discrimination in employment. For instance, according to a credible NGO, the director of Societe de Production des Legumes (PROLEG), an agribusiness entity based in Bandjoun, West Region, terminated one of his employees because of his HIV status. Every year the director of PROLEG requires staff members to produce their HIV-status report. He allegedly terminated the worker after 27 years of service when the worker tested positive.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were a few reports of security forces failing to prevent or to respond immediately to societal violence. Several cases of vigilante action were recorded. For example, on May 4, according to newspaper reports, a bicycle rider and his colleagues entered Njo Njo cemetery in Bonapriso, Douala, where three suspects attempted to steal his bicycle. They caught one of the suspects and beat him to death. In another case, on May 7, in Bamenda, Northwest Region, residents discovered a burned body. Beside it they found a stone that was used to stun the victim and ash and debris from a tire the assailants used to burn him. According to reports, the incident occurred on the night of May 6-7, when the unidentified victim was caught attempting to steal a motorcycle.

On July 1, in Kumbo, Northwest Region, persons burned the feet of Ndzenyuy Ziawou and Nfor Arunna, two 13-year-old pupils of Islamic primary school Taakov, for allegedly stealing a woman’s cell phone battery. Asana, the owner of the battery, allegedly called her husband and friends to discipline the children. They put the children on chairs with hands tied behind their backs and their feet tied to sticks fastened by the fireside. Using grass and firewood, they roasted the children’s feet and abandoned them by a vacant building, where the children spent the night unattended. Hours after the severe abuse, Asana found the battery in her bedroom. The Justice and Peace Commission in Kumbo filed a complaint with the gendarmerie, which arrested five suspects and referred the matter to the Bui high court in Kumbo. The investigating magistrate opened preliminary proceedings on September 15, and the court delivered its verdict early December, sentencing two of the accused to one-year prison terms each. The other three suspects were expected in court on January 9, 2017.

Canada

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. According to the government’s statistical agency, in 2015 police received approximately 21,500 reports of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, and aggravated sexual assault (up from 20,735 in 2014). Most victims were women. Government studies indicated victims of sexual assault reported approximately one in 20 incidents to police. The federal government does not publish statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, and punished.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Although the criminal code does not define specific domestic violence offenses, an abuser can be charged with an applicable offense, such as assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government enforced the law effectively. Studies indicated that victims of domestic violence and spousal abuse underreported incidents, likely due to social stigma or fear of further violence or retribution.

According to the government’s statistical agency, indigenous women were three times more likely than nonindigenous women to experience violent abuse and, according to the RCMP, were four times more likely to be victims of homicide. In June 2015 the RCMP reported indigenous women were disproportionately represented as victims of homicide and in missing persons cases. The report found there were 204 unresolved cases involving the disappearance or homicide of indigenous women, a decrease from 225 in 2014. A 2014 RCMP report concluded 1,017 indigenous women had been killed between 1980 and 2012 and that another 164 were missing. Civil society representatives and government officials said the number of cases may be much higher and alleged there were irregularities in investigations of the disappearances and killings of indigenous women. Civil society groups also claimed the government failed to allocate adequate resources to address these cases.

In August the federal government launched a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Five independent commissioners were directed to investigate and produce a public report of their findings by the end of 2018. The government conducted preinquiry consultations with indigenous stakeholders throughout the country and defined the inquiry’s terms of reference. The government provided C$53.8 million ($41.3 million) to fund the inquiry.

In November the Quebec provincial government, citing insufficient evidence, announced it would not lay charges against nine provincial police officers related to allegations in 2015 by indigenous women in the northwestern Quebec community of Val d’Or that the officers sexually assaulted them, gave them money and drugs for sexual services, physically abused them, or drove them out of town in the winter and forced them to walk home in the cold. An independent observer appointed by the government concluded the investigation was fair and impartial but called for consultations between indigenous communities and the province.

The government’s statistical agency reported there were 627 shelters and transition homes providing services to abused women. Shelters provided emergency care, transition housing, counseling, and referrals to legal and social service agencies. Some shelters were located on reserves and served an exclusively indigenous population. Shelters in rural and remote areas generally offered a narrower range of services than urban facilities, and a greater proportion focused on short-stay crisis intervention. Reports indicated shortages of shelter spaces, trained staff, counseling, and access to affordable second-stage housing. These shortages impeded women from leaving abusive relationships.

Police received training in treating domestic violence victims, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse. The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and advance women’s human rights. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society, including funding public education programs and services, hotlines, and shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls and prosecutes the offense as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons committing or aiding another person to commit the offense may be charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm (maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment) or criminal negligence causing death (maximum penalty of life imprisonment). Persons convicted of removing or assisting the removal of a child who is ordinarily a resident in Canada for the purpose of having FGM/C performed on the child face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Refugee status may be granted on the grounds of threatened FGM/C that may be considered gender-related persecution. Provincial child protection authorities may intervene to remove children from their homes if they are suspected to be at risk of FGM/C.

Although reliable statistics were not available, anecdotal evidence suggested some families from immigrant communities in which FGM/C is culturally accepted send their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The criminal code does not specifically refer to “honor” killings, but it prosecutes such cases as murder. Murder convictions in the first or second degree carry minimum penalties of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole. The law limits the defense of “provocation” to prevent its application to cases of “honor” killing and cases of spousal homicide. The government enforced the law effectively. The government’s citizenship guide for new immigrants explicitly states “honor” killings and gender-based violence carry severe legal penalties. The government trains law enforcement officials on issues of “honor”-based violence and maintains an interdepartmental working group focusing on forced marriage and “honor”-based violence.

In February, British Columbia’s Supreme Court rejected the government’s request to extradite a man and woman wanted in India on charges they allegedly ordered the “honor” killing of the woman’s daughter there in 2000. The court found the relatives’ human rights could be abused in India and urged the government to consider trying the couple in Canada. In August the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear an appeal of the case.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not contain a specific offense of “sexual harassment” but criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. The government generally enforced these prohibitions. Federal and provincial labor standards laws provide some protection against harassment, and federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions have internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provide public education and advice.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men, and the government enforced the rights effectively. Women were well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. Credible sources reported women experienced some economic discrimination in terms of employment, credit, or pay equity for substantially similar work, or in owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. Labor groups reported women were underrepresented in executive positions in the private sector. A 2014 study by the Peterson Institute found women accounted for 7 percent of corporate board members, 14 percent of executives, 3 percent of chief executive officers, and 2 percent of board chairpersons at 2,074 Canadian companies surveyed. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed over the past two decades.

Indigenous women living on reserves (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs. Although these laws provide some legal protection, civil society organizations argued First Nations communities needed more resources for policing, shelters, family support, training, and capacity building to implement the laws effectively and enable better access to the justice system.

Indigenous women and men living on reserves are subject to the Indian Act, which defines status for the purposes of determining entitlement to a range of legislated rights and eligibility for federal programs and services. Indigenous women do not enjoy equal rights with indigenous men to transmit officially recognized status to their descendants.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately, and there were no reports of the government denying public services, such as education or health care, to those who failed to register.

Child Abuse: In 2014 (the latest available figures), the government’s statistical agency recorded that 53,600 children and youth were victims of police-reported violent crime. The law criminalizes violence and abuse against children, including assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography, abandonment, emotional maltreatment, and neglect. Provincial and territorial child welfare services investigate cases of suspected child abuse and may provide counseling and other support services to families, or place children in child welfare care, where warranted. The federal Family Violence Initiative promotes awareness of family violence; works with research and community organizations to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice, housing, and health systems to respond to family violence; and supports data collection and research. Provincial and territorial governments also provide public education and prevention services, often in partnership with civil society.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage. Data on the rate of marriage for individuals younger than 18 were unavailable, but early marriages were not known to be a major problem. The law criminalizes the removal of a child from the country for the purpose of early and forced marriage and provides for court-ordered peace bonds, which may include surrendering of a passport, to disrupt an attempt to remove a child for that purpose.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See Women above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and offering or procuring a child for child prostitution. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living off the proceeds of prostitution of a child younger than 18 face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to a child younger than 18 engaging in prostitution face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than 18 face between six months’ and five years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage females, were exploited in sex trafficking.

The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish.

The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 1,277 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2015, down 22 percent from 2014. More than half of the reports (914) came from the province of Ontario. Reports in 2015 included harassment (1,123 incidents, a decrease); vandalism, including graffiti; attacks on synagogues, private homes, community centers and property and desecration of cemeteries (136 incidents, a decrease); and violence against persons (10 incidents, a decrease). Some university students reported anti-Semitic attacks on campus. For example, in March unknown vandals painted graffiti in a bathroom at York University’s Keele Campus.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. The federal minister of families, children, and social development, supported by the minister of persons with disabilities, provides federal leadership on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and provincial governments also have ministerial-level representation. Federal and provincial governments effectively implemented laws and programs mandating access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities, but regulation varies by jurisdiction, and there is no comprehensive federal legislation that protects the rights of persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, and the majority attended classes with nondisabled peers or a combination of nondisabled and special education classes with parental consent. Disparities in educational access for students with disabilities existed between provinces and among school boards within provinces. Policy differences included types of services, criteria to determine eligibility, allocation of resources, access to inclusive versus segregated classes or facilities, and the number of teachers, teacher’s aides, and therapists.

Disability rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of job retention, and higher rates of poverty and economic marginalization than the broader population.

Federal and provincial human rights commissions protected and promoted respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. The government provided services and monetary benefits, but disability groups noted a lack of coordination among services. Facilities existed to provide support for persons with mental health disabilities, but mental disability advocates asserted that the prison system was not sufficiently equipped or staffed to provide the care necessary for those in the criminal justice system, resulting in cases of segregation and self-harm.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the government statistical agency, 1,295 incidents of hate crimes were reported to police in 2014, of which 611 were motivated by race or ethnic bias. Blacks constituted the most commonly targeted racial group, accounting for 238 incidents, and Jews 213. A detailed breakdown of victims of hate crime incidents by ethnic origin (except black and Jewish) was not available. The proportion of hate crimes involving violence, including assault and uttering threats, totaled 304 incidents.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions investigate complaints and raise public awareness. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations.

Throughout the year activists led protests and sit-ins to denounce what they claimed was systemic racism by police forces. The protests followed police shootings of civilians and other events, including the July death in custody of a Somali Canadian in Ottawa. Police opened an investigation into the fatality.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people constituted approximately 4 percent of the national population and higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 52 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous people remained underrepresented in the workforce; overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations; and more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, and sexual violence. According to the government statistical agency, the overall violent victimization rate (which includes sexual assault, assault, and robbery) for indigenous persons in 2014 was 163 incidents per 1,000 people, more than double the rate of 74 incidents per 1,000 among nonindigenous persons. The rates of sexual assault and of spousal violence were almost three times higher than those of nonindigenous persons, and 51 percent of indigenous victims of spousal violence reported more severe forms of violence, compared with 23 percent of nonindigenous victims of spousal violence.

The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and membership in a recognized First Nation as Status Indians, which confers eligibility to a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or non-Status indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition or who may have lost status through marriage to a nonindigenous person or other disenfranchisement. According to the government statistical agency, indigenous children accounted for almost 50 percent of the approximately 30,000 children younger than 14 in foster care in 2011.

The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result, the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges. As of 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available, approximately 385 unresolved specific claims or grievances filed by indigenous people regarding the implementation of treaties remained under assessment or in negotiation (not including claims in litigation or before the Specific Claims Tribunal, which is a judicial panel), according to government reports. As of 2014 the government reported that negotiations for 100 self-government and comprehensive land claims were active. Indigenous groups who cannot settle specific claims through negotiation within three years may refer the claim to the Specific Claims Tribunal or the courts for a decision.

The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples in the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights.

The Supreme Court has affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only on the basis of a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.

In 2015 the federally commissioned TRC on Indian Residential Schools released its full report and recommendations regarding allegations of abuse of indigenous children in residential schools. In May the federal government implemented one of the TRC’s recommendations and settled a lawsuit for C$50 million ($38.4 million) with students the government placed at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In January the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government discriminated against indigenous children when it failed to fund welfare services for children living on reserves at the same level of services for off-reserve populations. In September the tribunal issued its second of two subsequent rulings ordering the government to comply and to provide information on how it was implementing the ruling.

In April the Supreme Court ruled unanimously the Metis (descendants of historical unions between indigenous and European persons) and non-Status Indians are Indians under the Constitution Act and fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Nearly 600,000 Canadians identify as Metis. Lack of clarity in law as to whether federal or provincial governments had jurisdiction with regard to Metis persons had inhibited negotiations, but the ruling clears the way for Metis and non-Status Indians to negotiate with the federal government on issues that could include land claims, government services, and hunting and trapping rights.

In July the government committed C$9 million ($6.9 million) to support implementation of the country’s first national Inuit suicide-prevention strategy. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national advocacy organization, drafted the plan.

In August an Ontario judge heard plaintiffs’ arguments on a suit filed in 2009 by indigenous children involved in the “Sixties Scoop.” The Scoop involved an estimated 20,000 indigenous children, 16,000 of them in Ontario, whom child welfare services removed from their parents’ custody and placed with nonindigenous foster families in Canada and the United States. A separate group of plaintiffs filed a suit in Saskatchewan during the year on the same issue. Plaintiffs demanded compensation for emotional trauma and loss of culture. The government argued it acted in the best interests of the children and within social norms of the time. The trial on the Ontario suit was set to resume in December.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the criminal code provides penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and British Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. New Brunswick, Quebec, and the Nunavut and Yukon territories prohibit such discrimination implicitly on the basis of “sex” or “gender.”

Birth certificates issued by provinces and territories provide the basis of identification for legal documents, and procedures vary for changing legal gender markers to match an individual’s outward appearance or chosen gender expression.

Provinces and territories have different requirements for persons to change their legal gender marker in documents such as birth certificates and identifications. Some provinces require one or more physicians to certify the applicant has completed gender reassignment surgery before an applicant may change the legal gender marker. The provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta allow residents to change their gender marker with a personal and/or physician’s declaration indicating the individual’s gender identity.

There were occasions of violence and abuse against individuals based on sexual orientation, but in general the government effectively implemented the law criminalizing such behavior. NGOs reported that stigma or intimidation was a known or likely factor in the underreporting of incidents of abuse. Some police forces employed liaison officers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex communities. In 2014, the last year for which data was available, the government’s statistical agency reported that 155 of 1,295 police-reported hate crime incidents nationally were motivated by sexual orientation.

In May an arsonist attempted to burn down Montreal’s Metropolitan Surgery Center, the only clinic in the country that offers surgery to create male or female genitals for transgendered patients. Montreal police were investigating the arson as a hate crime.

In June the government of Ontario announced it would no longer include gender designation on provincial health cards. The government also announced that in 2017 driver’s license holders would be allowed the option of displaying an “X” on their card if they do not exclusively identify as male or female.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of societal violence and discrimination against members of other minority, racial, and religious groups, but the government generally implemented the law criminalizing such behavior effectively.

In January an assailant attacked a group of Syrian refugees who had attended an event organized by an Islamic group in Vancouver. The assailant pepper-sprayed a group of migrants who were standing outside the venue. Police were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Central African Republic

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Between January and October 2015, the UN Population Fund reported the GBV Information Management System, established in 2014, recorded 60,208 GBV survivors, who received medical or psychosocial care or both. Among those were 29,801 cases of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual aggression. In 2014 the International Rescue Committee reported more than two-thirds of 125 women surveyed in Bangui had been gang raped, primarily by members of armed groups (see section 1.g.).

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported receiving approximately 10 cases a week. The law considers spousal abuse a civil matter unless the injury is severe. According to the AFJC, victims of domestic abuse seldom reported incidents to authorities.

The government took no known action to punish perpetrators or otherwise combat rape and domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,700), depending on the severity of the case. Approximately 24 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been cut, according to multiple indicator cluster surveys reported by UNICEF in 2010; of that number 52 percent had undergone the procedure between ages 10 and 14. The government broadcast public awareness announcements concerning FGM/C on public radio.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Women, especially the very old and those without family, were in many cases accused of witchcraft (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care. According to estimates from the UN Population Fund, the maternal mortality rate remained extremely high: 500 to 999 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2015. With only 0.08 physicians per thousand residents, most births were unattended by qualified medical professionals, resulting in poor outcomes. UN sources estimated that in 2015 a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 27.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained about lack of access to these payments for women. Women’s access to educational opportunities and jobs, particularly at higher levels in their professions or in government service, remained limited. Some women reported economic discrimination in access to credit due to lack of collateral, but there were no reports of discrimination in pay equity or owning or managing a business.

The government did not take any steps during the year to combat discrimination against women. The AFJC advised women of their legal rights and how best to defend them. The AFJC filed an increased number of complaints during the year.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the low levels of birth registration, which led to violations of the right to a nationality for children whose births were not registered.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies, and for transportation. In 2015, according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. Some local and international NGOs made efforts, with little success, to increase Ba’aka enrollment in schools; there was no significant government assistance for these efforts.

According to an NGO nationwide survey in 2015, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children under age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. Nonetheless, an estimated 68 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married before age 18 and 29 percent before age 15, according to UNICEF data collected between 2005 and 2013. UNICEF reported forced marriages were on the rise among young girls in rural areas where the government lacked authority. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka members.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

In the first half of the year, NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves (see section 1.c.).

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

There were reports of sexual exploitation of children and the inappropriate use of force by international and MINUSCA peacekeeping forces during the year (see section 1.c.).

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. Prior to the Seleka takeover in 2013, there were more than 6,000 street children between ages five and 18, including an estimated 3,000 in Bangui, according to data collected by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs. Observers believed that HIV/AIDS and societal belief in sorcery, particularly in rural areas, contributed to the large number of street children. An estimated 300,000 children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, and children accused of sorcery (often reportedly in connection with HIV/AIDS-related deaths in their neighborhoods) frequently were expelled from their households and were sometimes subjected to societal violence.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, 3,000 children were released from armed groups, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. No information was available on whether any children with disabilities attended school during the year. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

When persons with disabilities reached IDP camps, they faced difficulties accessing sanitation, food, and medical assistance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the North. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the resulting altercations resulted in deaths.

Indigenous People

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($255 and $1,022). When one of the participants is a child, the adult may be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($170 and $1,362); however, there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted gays and lesbians. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization and social pressure to conform to a heterosexual lifestyle. Many citizens attributed the existence of homosexual activity to undue Western influence. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam worked with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings related to cattle theft occurred.

According to the UN independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft have been detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.” Accusations of witchcraft were usually brought against members of the most vulnerable population groups, including women, the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, and persons with albinism. According to the independent expert, “Persons suspected of witchcraft also were victims of mob justice, often carried out by anti-Balaka militias with the complicity of local authorities.”

According to an international NGO, between January and August, at least 110 persons were accused of witchcraft or quackery. These persons were subject to arbitrary arrests, executions by members of armed groups, killing by a mob, or expulsion from their communities.

For example, in Bossangoa, between August 6 and 15, three women accused of witchcraft were victims of vigilante violence. One of the three was seriously injured and transported to the local district hospital; the other two were kidnapped and released following the intervention of international forces.

Chad

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape–including rape of female refugees–was a problem (see section 2.d.). No reliable data on the extent of rape were available. The law does not specifically address spousal rape. Police often detained alleged perpetrators, but rape cases usually were not tried. Authorities fined and released most suspects. Communities sometimes compelled rape victims to marry their attackers.

Although the law prohibits violence against women, domestic violence was widespread. Police rarely intervened, and women had limited legal recourse, although they could report cases of violence and abuse to local human rights organizations. The government did not provide psychosocial services for victims; family or traditional authorities often did.

According to the 2014-15 Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the Chadian National Statistical Institute, 15 percent of women suffered physical violence in the last 12 months. Women in the Hadjer-Lamis Region reported the fewest incidents (3 percent), while women in the Tandjile Region reported the highest (31 percent). Six percent of women had been victimized by sexual violence during the past 12 months.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FCM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women, but the practice remained widespread, particularly in rural areas. According to 2015 UNICEF statistics, 44 percent of girls and women had undergone excision, with rates as high as 90 to 100 percent in some regions. According to the 2014-15 Demographic and Health Survey, 38 percent of women in the country had been cut. FGM/C varied by region, with 1 percent of women excised in the regions of Kanem and Lac and 96 percent in the region of Salamat. Forty-seven percent of women had undergone the procedure between ages five and nine and 37 percent between ages 10 and 14. Practitioners performed all three types of FGM/C–clitoridectomy, excision, and infibulation. Infibulation–the least common but most severe and dangerous type–was confined largely to the Eastern Region bordering Sudan.

By law FGM/C may be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges may be brought against the parents of victims, medical practitioners, or others involved. Nevertheless, the lack of specific penalties hindered prosecution, and authorities prosecuted no cases during the year.

The Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity is responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM/C. The government, with assistance from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), conducted public awareness campaigns to discourage FGM/C and highlight its dangers. The campaign encouraged the public to speak out against FGM/C and other abuses of women and girls.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which occurred.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides for the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many persons, however, lacked access to reproductive information or care, particularly in rural areas. The UNFPA estimated only 3 percent of women used any form of contraception; according to 2014 statistics from the National Institute of Statistics, 5 percent of married women used modern contraceptive methods.

According to the 2014-15 Demographic and Health Survey, skilled and trained personnel attended 24 percent of births nationwide; 73 percent of births in N’Djamena were attended. The maternal mortality rate was 860 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to maternal mortality included adolescent pregnancies, multiple closely spaced births, and lack of access to medical care. The country had a severe shortage of health-care providers (fewer than 400 physicians) and a significant shortage of nurses, midwives, hospital staff, and specialists, such as obstetricians. Prenatal care remained limited, particularly in rural areas. Low immunization rates and poor postnatal education were problems.

Discrimination: Although property and inheritance laws provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, family law discriminates against women, and discrimination against and exploitation of women were widespread. Local leaders settled most inheritance disputes in favor of men, according to traditional practice. Women did not have equal opportunities for education and training, making it difficult for them to compete for formal sector jobs. Women suffered discrimination in access to employment, housing, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work and in owning or managing businesses. The law does not address polygyny; men may opt at any time to marry additional wives under Islamic law. In such cases the first wife has the right to request her marriage be dissolved but must repay her bride price.

In February 2015 the government staffed the House of the Chadian Woman, established in 2014 for women to have a venue to discuss women’s rights issues and participate in the national decision-making process. In August 2015 the Ministry of Women, Social Action, and National Solidarity was renamed the Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity. The ministry established a Directorate of Gender Issues to oversee the House of the Chadian Woman; the directorate also provided public outreach on gender issues. During the year the budget for the House of the Chadian Woman reportedly was severely cut.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government did not register all births immediately, but children without birth certificates were allowed to enroll in schools.

The government began to implement the 2013 National Registry Code, which requires all children, including refugees, to have a birth certificate issued in their place of birth (see section 2.d.). Prior to passage of the law, children born to refugees from the CAR were not considered citizens, although they were provided birth certificates. Children born to refugees from elsewhere were not considered citizens and generally were not provided birth certificates.

Education: Although primary education is tuition-free, universal, and compulsory between ages six and 16, parent-teacher associations often hired and paid community teachers, and parents also were required to pay for textbooks, except in some rural areas. Parents often were required to pay tuition for public secondary education. According to the most recent World Bank Development Indicators database, six girls attended primary school for every 10 boys. Most children did not attend secondary school.

Human rights organizations cited the problem of the “mouhadjirin,” migrant children who attended certain Islamic schools and whose teachers forced them to beg for food and money. There was no reliable estimate of the number of mouhadjirin.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem, but no data were available on its extent. The Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity is responsible for the protection of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: In June 2015 the National Assembly ratified a law that sets the minimum age for marriage at 18. The law precludes invoking the consent of the minor spouse to justify child marriage and prescribes sentences of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 to 5,000,000 CFA francs ($851 to $8,517) for persons convicted of perpetrating child marriage. According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity in the regions of Mandou, Ouaddai, and Tandjile, 68 percent of girls were married before age 18; 29 percent were married before age 15.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Information is provided in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution of children, with punishments of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines up to one million CFA francs ($1,700) for conviction. Police patrolled areas suspected to be centers of child prostitution, but no cases were prosecuted during the year. The law prohibits sexual relations with girls under age 14, even if married, but authorities rarely enforced the ban. The law criminalizes the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography. It was unclear whether authorities enforced the law, since no cases of child pornography were reported during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not specify the type of disability or whether the prohibition against discrimination extends to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no laws that provide for access to public buildings for persons with disabilities. The government operated education, employment, and therapy programs for persons with disabilities.

Children with physical disabilities may attend primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. The government supported schools for children with vision or mental disabilities.

In conjunction with NGOs, such as the Support Group for the Disabled in Chad, the government annually sponsored a day of activities to raise awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were approximately 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 120 languages and dialects. Most ethnic groups were affiliated with one of two regional and cultural traditions: Arabs and Muslims in the north, center, and east; and Christian or traditional religious groups in the south. Internal migration resulted in the integration of these groups in some areas.

Conflict between pastoralists (herders) and farmers continued, particularly in the southern part of the country, and resulted in deaths and injuries. In January, five persons were killed during a conflict between pastoralists and farmers in Bedaya, Mandoul Region.

Most ethnic groups practiced societal discrimination, which was evident in patterns of employment.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits but does not define “unnatural acts.” On December 12, the National Assembly approved a revision to the penal code making same-sex relations a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than 15 days and a fine of 5,000 to 20,000 CFA francs ($8 to $32). The president had not signed the proposed revision into law by year’s end.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of violence toward the LGBTI community.

There were no LGBTI organizations in the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides individuals with HIV/AIDS the same rights as other persons and requires the government to provide information, education, and access to tests and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination, and government officials did not always provide information on their rights and treatment options. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, women sometimes were accused of passing HIV to their husbands and were threatened by family members with judicial action or banishment. The first lady spoke openly on the issue of HIV/AIDS and criticized discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Chile

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, and the government generally enforced the law when violations were reported. There was no indication of police or judicial reluctance to act. The law criminalizes both physical and psychological domestic violence and protects the privacy and safety of the victim making the charge of rape or domestic violence. Nonetheless, experts believed that many rape and domestic violence cases went unreported due to fear of further violence, retribution, and social stigma. According to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, one in three women had suffered some kind of domestic violence.

Family courts handle cases of domestic violence and penalize offenders with fines up to 556,680 pesos ($821). Additional sanctions include eviction of the offender from the residence shared with the survivor, restraining orders, confiscation of firearms, and court-ordered counseling. Cases of habitual psychological abuse and physical abuse cases in which there are physical injuries are prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Penalties are based on the gravity of injuries and range from 61 to 540 days’ imprisonment.

The government continued to campaign against domestic violence, focusing its outreach efforts particularly through social media, and launching a video campaign called “Chile sin Femicidios” (Chile without Femicides), targeted at a male audience and featuring men talking about domestic violence. The Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, through the National Women’s Service (SERNAM), operated women’s centers, which provided legal and mental health support, and women’s shelters. The Ministry of Justice and PDI also operated several offices specifically dedicated to providing counseling and assistance in rape cases. SERNAM maintained partnerships with NGOs to provide training sessions for police officers and judicial and municipal authorities on the legal and psychological aspects of domestic violence. The organization also continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for survivors of violence, including domestic abuse and rape.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a criminal offense but is classified as a misdemeanor, with penalties outlined exclusively in the labor code. By law sexual harassment is cause for immediate dismissal from employment. The law requires employers to define internal procedures, or a company policy, for investigating sexual harassment, and employers may face fines and additional financial compensation to victims if it is shown that the company policy on sexual harassment was not followed. The law provides protection to those affected by sexual harassment by employers and coworkers. It also provides severance pay to individuals who resign due to sexual harassment if they have completed at least one year with the employer.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to sexual and reproductive health services and information was limited in remote regions, which especially affected poor women. Emergency contraception is available at pharmacies without a prescription.

Discrimination: Although women possess most of the same legal rights as men, discrimination in employment, pay, owning and managing businesses, and education persisted. The default and most common marital arrangement is “conjugal society,” which provides that a husband has the right to administer joint property, including his wife’s property, without consultation or written permission from his spouse, but a wife must demonstrate that her husband has granted his permission before she is permitted to make financial arrangements. Women married under the conjugal society arrangement were usually required to obtain permission from their husbands to apply for housing subsidies and take out loans or mortgages, while men had unrestricted access to these and other services. Legislation remained pending years after a 2007 agreement with the IACHR to modify the conjugal society law to give women and men equal rights and responsibilities in marriage. The commercial code provides that, unless a woman is married under the separate estate regime or a joint estate regime, she may not enter into a commercial partnership agreement without permission from her husband, while a man may enter into such an agreement without permission from his wife. According to statistics from the civil registry, in 2012 (the most recent year available), 55 percent of couples married in Chile chose to enter into a conjugal society, 42.5 percent of couples chose a separate estate regime, and 2.5 percent chose a joint estate regime.

Despite a law providing for equal pay for equal work, the average woman’s annual income was 32 percent less than that of men, according to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. The ministry is in charge of protecting women’s legal rights and is specifically tasked with combatting discrimination against women. Women’s centers throughout the country helped establish equal rights for women by offering services including training, counseling, and legal advice.

A June 3 ceremony launched the new cabinet-level Ministry of Women and Gender Equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents or grandparents. Births are registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Intrafamily violence, including violence against children, remained a persistent problem. Regional offices of the National Children’s Service (SENAME) organized campaigns throughout the country to combat child abuse and the worst forms of child labor (also see section 7.c.).

The law renders persons convicted of child sexual abuse permanently ineligible for any position, job, career, or profession in educational settings requiring direct and habitual contact with children under age 18. The law also includes a public registry of these sex offenders.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental consent).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents was a problem, and children were exploited in prostitution with and without third-party involvement. Law 20507 prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, but internal child sexual exploitation cases were often prosecuted under a different law, Article 367 of the penal code, which provides lesser penalties. Many convicted traffickers were released on parole or given suspended sentences, as permitted under sentencing guidelines for convictions with penalties of less than five years’ imprisonment. The range increases from five years and a day to 20 years and a fine of 31 to 35 UTM ($2,108 to $2,380) in cases where exploitation is habitual, or if there was deceit or abuse of authority or trust. (The monthly tax unit, or UTM, is a legally defined currency unit, indexed to inflation, equivalent to $68.)

Heterosexual sexual conduct with youths between ages 14 and 18 may be considered statutory rape depending on the circumstances; sex with a child under age 14 is considered rape, regardless of consent or the victim’s gender. Penalties for statutory rape range from five to 20 years in prison. Child pornography is a crime. Penalties for producing child pornography range from 541 days to five years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: On September 13, the judicial branch published a report highlighting deficiencies, including overcrowding and chronic shortages of trained personnel, in institutions controlled by the country’s child services organization, SENAME.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 20,500. Jewish community leaders reported concern over the tone of social media postings which they perceived as threatening, although the commentary primarily referenced frustration with policies of the State of Israel and did not specifically mention either the Jewish people or Chilean Jews.

On August 18, the Palestinian Federation of Chile (FPDC) published on its Facebook site a cartoon depicting a figure smoking a missile cigar and sitting on a Star of David, the bottom point of which is sticking into the back of a dead Palestinian baby, as part of an article protesting the policies of the State of Israel. Following the September 28 death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, the FPDC labeled him a “war criminal” on its official Twitter account.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services, and the government mostly enforced these provisions. Nevertheless, persons with disabilities suffered forms of de facto discrimination (also see section 7.d.). The law provides for universal and equal access to buildings, information, and communications. Most public buildings did not comply with legal accessibility mandates. The public transportation system, particularly outside Santiago, did not adequately provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. In recent years, however, TranSantiago, the main system of public transportation within Santiago, instituted changes to improve compliance with the law, including new ramp systems and elevators at certain metro stations as well as improved access to some buses. Nevertheless, many metro stations and most buses remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

The National Service for the Disabled (SENADIS) reported that children with disabilities attended school (primary and secondary) but noted difficulties in ensuring equal access to schooling at private institutions. SENADIS also reported that persons with disabilities had fewer opportunities to continue their education beyond secondary school.

SENADIS, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Planning, has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and advocates and promotes integration and protection policies throughout all government agencies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Equal treatment and nondiscrimination are explicitly protected in the constitution, and the labor code specifically prohibits discrimination. According to the Third National Survey of Human Rights, published by the INDH in 2015, 61 percent of the surveyed population believed that people were discriminated against due to the color of their skin.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions, including the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on indigenous lands. The Citizen’s Observatory reported, however, that indigenous people encountered serious obstacles to exercising these civil and political rights. Indigenous people experienced societal discrimination, including in employment (also see section 7.d.), and there were reports of incidents in which they were attacked and harassed. Indigenous women faced discrimination based on their gender, indigenous background, and reduced economic status, and they were especially vulnerable to violence, poverty, and illness. Statistics as to whether or not indigenous people faced rates of violence different from the general population were not available. The constitution does not specifically protect indigenous groups.

Protests by indigenous groups over land rights continued throughout the year, particularly in the Araucania region, one of the poorest regions and where one-third of the population self-identifies as belonging to the Mapuche indigenous group. (Of the indigenous population, 80 percent belong to the Mapuche people.) Protests over land rights sometimes included violent acts, such as the destruction of trucks and farm equipment and arson attacks on homes and farm structures. Between January and June, the press reported that 18 rural churches in primarily Mapuche indigenous communities had been burned down by arsonists; some of the incidents were attributed to other Mapuche groups calling for land restitution.

There were numerous reports of police abuse against Mapuche individuals and communities, including against children. The INDH brought petitions to protect the constitutional rights of Mapuche individuals, including children and adolescents, in cases of excessive use of force by security forces. In addition the NGO Citizens’ Observatory reported police searched Mapuche homes without warrants, arrested and released Mapuche individuals without detention control hearings (where individuals go before a judge to hear the charges against them to ensure their rights were protected and to decide if they should be held longer or released), and used intimidation and discriminatory statements against Mapuche individuals, including minors.

On March 13 the Supreme Court confirmed a Temuco Appellate Court ruling accepting an INDH petition to protect seven children, ages six months to nine years old, from the community of Rankilko who were subject to violence in November 2015 when they and their parents were forcibly removed by law enforcement from land that they had trespassed on and claimed as their own through squatter’s rights, or adverse possession through occupation. The ruling ordered the police to act within constitutional norms and respect the fundamental rights of the children; it also ordered them to open an internal investigation into the case.

In June the international NGO Center for Justice and International Law together with the local NGOs the Anide Foundation and the Mapuche Territorial Alliance published a report on the impact on children and adolescents of the repeated excessive use of force by security forces in two Mapuche communities in the Araucania region. The report concluded that, despite protective actions and judicial rulings limiting police use of force, excessive use of force by security forces continued to affect children negatively.

The exploitation of energy, minerals, and timber occurred near indigenous communities, including mining projects in the north–where Aymara, Atacameno, Quechua, Colla, and Diaguita indigenous populations live–and timber exploitation in the south, where the Mapuche live. Indigenous lands are demarcated, but some indigenous Mapuche communities demanded restitution of privately and publicly owned traditional lands. Indigenous communities took legal action against mining projects in the north due to their potential contamination of the water supply and environment as well as the impact of demands for water in desert environments on subsistence agriculture. Indigenous populations also expressed concern that timber plantations in the south could negatively affect the water table due to the introduction of nonnative species and the potential contamination of coastal areas from pulp production.

The Law on Indigenous Peoples’ Protection and Development recognizes nine indigenous groups present in the country and creates an administrative structure to provide specialized programs and services to promote economic, social, and cultural development of these peoples.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law sets the age of consent at 18 for homosexual sexual activity; heterosexual activity is permitted, under some circumstances, at age 14. Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In February the NGO Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) released its annual report, and noted that it tracked 258 cases of discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity during 2015.

Violence against LGBTI individuals continued. According to MOVILH, in 2015 three persons were killed and 45 were physically assaulted in homophobic attacks.

Law enforcement authorities appeared reluctant to use the full recourse of a 2012 antidiscrimination law, including charging assailants of LGBTI victims with a hate crime, which would elevate criminal penalties as permitted under the law.

Laws prevent transgender persons from changing gender markers on government-issued identity documents, including national identity cards and university diplomas, to match their outward appearance or chosen expression.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons based on their HIV status and provides that neither public nor private health institutions may deny access to health-care services on the basis of a person’s serological status. As the majority of citizens with HIV and AIDS are men, NGOs reported that government-sponsored outreach campaigns were oriented to a male audience, particularly men who have sex with men. NGO reports noted that women faced obstacles to preventing HIV infection due to a lack of awareness surrounding transmission, understanding of access to public health services, and a limited ability to use protective measures such as condoms with their partners. Some NGOs indicated that the rate of virus transmission may have increased among women and in indigenous communities, and they actively encouraged members of these groups to overcome social stigma and get tested. During the year President Bachelet committed the government to ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV, in part by ensuring access to antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The penalties for rape range from three years in prison to death. The law does not address spousal rape.

Cases of rape were unreported, and most cases were closed through private settlement. From 2013 to 2015, courts adjudicated 66,736 rape cases in which 62,551 defendants were given criminal convictions. Scholars pointed out that performance indicators for public security officers and prosecutors disincentivized prosecution of rape cases, as private settlement of cases minimized the risk that the records of prosecutors and public security officials would be tarnished by mishandled cases. The government, however, acknowledged the need to include the reporting of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other gender-related cases in annual judicial statistics.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem, but the government took a significant step to protect women from domestic abuse through the passage of the Family Violence Law, which took effect March 1. The law defines domestic violence as physical and mental violence between family members. NGOs reported that, as a result of the law, more women were willing to report domestic violence incidents to police. Nevertheless, implementation of the law remained inconsistent during its first year, largely due to authorities’ lack of awareness of the law’s implementing measures. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter also contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home.

According to reports, at least one-quarter of families suffered from domestic violence and more than 85 percent of the victims were women. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to victims, including through restraining orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to victims of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations. During the year several domestic violence service-oriented organizations were unable to register formally as nonprofit organizations, as authorities rejected their applications.

While domestic violence tended to be more prevalent in rural areas, it also occurred among the highly educated urban population. Women in rural areas, however, often lacked access to protection due to the perception that domestic violence was a lesser crime. In one case in Henan Province, a man was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve–instead of immediate execution–after murdering his wife. In its written judgement, the court cited the fact that the murder was a “domestic case” in its reasoning for a reduced penalty.

During the year the government began to open dedicated shelters for domestic violence survivors, a change from previous years when survivors could only go to homeless shelters providing domestic violence-related services. Such shelters opened in Chengdu, Dazhou, Nanjing, and Zhengzhou municipalities, offering psychological counseling for victims of domestic abuse, including women and children. The shelters reported they were underutilized due to the public shame associated with domestic violence.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a lack of evidence–including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony–which hindered their prosecution. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense. In 2015 the SPC issued guidelines for dealing with cases of domestic violence to improve the unified application of laws, according to the Information Office of the State Council.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment. Offenders are subject to a penalty of up to 15 days in detention, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Nonetheless, because laws lacked a clear definition of sexual harassment, it remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases.

Many women remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing that the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment went viral on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests empowers victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer and/or with authorities. If employers failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment, they could be fined.

Sexual harassment was not limited to the workplace. According to a 2014 survey by the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), 57 percent of female students at 15 universities reported having been sexually harassed. Some of them experienced such harassment repeatedly. Many students said they were unaware of formal procedures to report incidents of harassments. At Beijing Normal University, one student documented 60 instances of sexual harassment over the past decade, prompting online debate and the university to start an antiharassment awareness campaign.

The ACWF and universities worked to improve awareness on sexual harassment by offering seminars and classes; however, NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment came under increasing scrutiny. Some women’s NGOs reported harassment by public security and faced challenges executing their programs. In September women’s rights activist Shan Lihua was found guilty by the Gangzha District People’s Court in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” The indictment specifically cited Shan’s activism on a rape case in Hainan Province as evidence, according to media reports.

Reproductive Rights: On January 1, the government raised the birth limit imposed on its citizens from one to two children per married couple, thereby ending the “one-child policy” first enacted in 1979. The revised law permits married couples to have two children and allows couples to apply for permission to have a third child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations. The revised law did not, however, eliminate state-imposed birth limitations or the penalties that citizens face for violating the law. The government considers intrauterine devices (IUDs) and sterilization to be the most reliable form of birth control and compelled women to accept the insertion of IUDs by officials. The National Health and Family Planning Commission reported that all provinces eliminated an earlier requirement to seek approval for a birth before a first child was conceived, but provinces could still require parents to “register pregnancies” prior to giving birth, which could be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces.

Under the law and in practice, there continued to be financial and administrative penalties for births that exceed birth limits or otherwise violate regulations. The National Health and Family Planning Commission announced it would continue to impose fines, called “social compensation fees,” for policy violations. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or pay the social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. The exact level of the fee varied widely from province to province. Those with financial means often paid the fee so that their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to services. Some parents avoided the fee by hiding a child born in violation of the law with friends or relatives.

The revised law maintains previous language indicating that “citizens have an obligation to practice birth planning in accordance with the law” and also states that “couples of child-bearing age voluntarily choose birth planning contraceptive and birth control measures to prevent and reduce unwanted pregnancies.” Regulations pertaining to single women and unmarried couples remain unchanged. Children born to single mothers or unmarried couples are considered “outside of the policy” and subject to the social compensation fee and the denial of legal documents, such as birth documents and the “hukou” residence permit. Single women can avoid those penalties by marrying within 60 days of the baby’s birth. In localities with large populations of migrant workers, officials specifically targeted migrant women to ensure that they did not exceed birth limitations.

Government statistics on the percentage of abortions during the year that were nonelective were not available. State media claimed the number of coerced abortions had declined in recent years in the wake of looser regulations, including the implementation of the two-child policy.

As in prior years, population control policy continued to rely on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations and coercive abortions and sterilizations. Those found to have a pregnancy in violation of the law or those who helped another to evade state controls could face punitive measures, such as onerous fines, job loss, demotion, and loss of promotion opportunity (for those in the public sector or state-owned enterprises), expulsion from the CCP (membership is an unofficial requirement for many jobs), and other administrative punishments. In July the state-funded news outlet Sixth Tone reported that officials in Guangdong Province threatened a remarried couple with termination of their employment unless the wife had an abortion. Both individuals were government employees and each had a child from a prior marriage. Regulations in Guangdong Province do not permit such couples to have a child.

Regulations requiring women who violate the family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist and were enforced in some provinces, such as Hubei, Hunan, and Liaoning. For example, Hunan provincial regulations that were revised in March stipulate: “Pregnancies that do not conform to the conditions established by the law should promptly be terminated. For those who have not promptly terminated the pregnancy, the township people’s government or subdistrict office shall order that the pregnancy be terminated by a deadline.” Other provinces, such as Jilin, removed previous requirements to terminate pregnancies that violate the policy but retained provisions that require local officials to “promptly report” to higher authorities when such pregnancies are discovered without specifying what measures will be taken thereafter. Other provinces, such as Guizhou, Jiangxi, Qinghai, and Yunnan, maintained provisions that require “remedial measures,” an official euphemism for abortion, to deal with pregnancies that violate the policy. Some provinces, such as Guangdong, removed provisions from provincial-level regulations requiring “remedial measures” but inserted them instead into the revised regulations of major municipalities, such as Shenzhen. In the provinces where provincial regulations do not explicitly require termination of pregnancy or remedial measures, some local officials still coerced abortions to avoid surpassing population growth quotas.

The law mandates that family planning bureaus administer pregnancy tests to married women of childbearing age and provide them with unspecified “follow-up” services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo these periodic state-mandated pregnancy tests. Officials at all levels could receive rewards or penalties based on whether or not they met the population targets set by their administrative region. Promotions for local officials depended in part on meeting population targets.

Although the population and birth planning law states that officials should not violate citizens’ “lawful rights” in the enforcement of birth limitation policy, these rights are not clearly defined nor are the penalties for violating them. The law lists seven activities that authorities are prohibited from undertaking when enforcing birth control regulations, which include beating individuals and their families, destroying property or crops, confiscating property to cover the amount of the fee, detaining relatives, and conducting pregnancy tests on unmarried women. Forced abortion is not listed. By law citizens may sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy, but few protections exist for citizens against retaliation from local officials.

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Despite this, many activists and observers expressed concern that discrimination remained a problem. Women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average, women earned 35 percent less than men doing similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women also continued to be underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force. In 2015 women constituted 17 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted that the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination during maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, and sexual harassment.

In April a Guangzhou court sided with a female plaintiff, Gao Xiao, who had sued a restaurant for refusing to hire her as a cook after she was told the job was only open to men. The court ordered that Gao be paid 2,000 yuan ($290) in compensation. This was reportedly Guangzhou’s first gender-discrimination lawsuit.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate that women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted that this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the sex ratio at birth was 113 males to 100 females in 2016, a decline from 2013, when the ratio was 116 males for every 100 females. Sex identification and sex-selective abortion are prohibited, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education. No data was available on the number of unregistered births. In 2010 the official census estimated there were 13 million individuals without official documentation, many of whom likely were “ghost” children whose births were concealed from local officials because they violated the population control policy. Some local officials denied such children household registration and identification documents, particularly if their families could not pay the social compensation fees.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children did not attend school for the required period in economically disadvantaged rural areas, and some never attended. Although public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school.

Denied access to state-run schools, most children of migrant workers who attended school did so at unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is ground for criminal prosecution. Kidnapping, buying, and selling children for adoption existed, particularly in poor rural areas, but there were no reliable estimates of the number of children kidnapped. Government authorities regularly estimated that fewer than 10,000 children were abducted per year, but media reports and experts sources noted that as many as 70,000 may be kidnapped every year. Most children kidnapped internally were sold to couples unable to have children. Those convicted of buying an abducted child could be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. In the past most children abducted were boys, but increased demand for children reportedly drove kidnappers to focus on girls as well. In an effort to reunite families, the Ministry of Public Security maintained a DNA database of parents of missing children and of children recovered in law enforcement operations. During the year the government adopted a telephone system similar to the Amber Alert system in the United States.

Between 2013 and 2015, courts adjudicated 7,610 child molestation cases, sentencing 6,620 individuals. The number of convictions in child molestation cases consistently increased between 2013 and 2015. In a report during the year, the SPC acknowledged there had been a high number of cases involving the sexual abuse of minors. The People’s Public Security University of China estimated that, for every reported case of sexual abuse, as many as seven cases went unreported.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Persons who forced girls under the age of 14 into prostitution could be sentenced to seven years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who visited girls forced into prostitution under age 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

Persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors under the age of 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, but there was evidence that the practice continued. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, at least one doctor was charged with infanticide. No other statistics on the practice were available. Female infanticide, gender-biased abortions, and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were declining but continued to be a problem in some circumstances due to the traditional preference for sons and the birth-limitation policy.

Displaced Children: There were approximately 1.5 million street children, according to the UN Development Program. There were between 150,000 and one million urban street children, according to state media. This number could be even higher if the children of migrant workers who spent the day on the streets were included. In 2013 the ACWF estimated that more than 61 million children under the age of 17 were left behind by their migrant-worker parents in rural areas.

Institutionalized Children: The law forbids the mistreatment or abandonment of children. The vast majority of children in orphanages were girls, many of whom were abandoned. Boys in orphanages usually had disabilities or were in poor health. Medical professionals sometimes advised parents of children with disabilities to put the children into orphanages.

The government denied that children in orphanages were mistreated or refused medical care but acknowledged that the system often was unable to provide adequately for some children, particularly those with serious medical problems. Adopted children were counted under the birth-limitation regulations in most locations. As a result, couples who adopted abandoned infant girls were sometimes barred from having additional children. The law was changed during the year to allow children who are rescued to be made available for adoption within one year if their family is not identified.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. According to information from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population was 2,500 in 2014. In September the New York Times reported that members of the Kaifeng Jewish community in Henan Province came under pressure from authorities. Approximately 1,000 Kaifeng citizens claimed Jewish ancestry. Media reports stated that authorities forced the only Jewish learning center in the community to shut down.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements and failed to provide persons with disabilities access to programs intended to assist them. The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF), a government-organized civil association, are the main entities responsible for persons with disabilities.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

Publicly available statistics showed conflicting information about the education rate for children with disabilities. The Ministry of Education reported that there were more than 2,000 special education schools for children with disabilities and that 83,000 children remained outside the state education system, mostly in rural areas. In August the CDPF reported that more than 140,000 school-age children with disabilities were in need of suitable education. NGOs reported that only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. The law permits universities to exclude candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. In 2015, of the country’s 7.4 million college freshman, only 8,508 had disabilities. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Nearly 100,000 organizations existed, mostly in urban areas, to serve those with disabilities and protect their legal rights. The government, at times in conjunction with NGOs, sponsored programs to integrate persons with disabilities into society.

Misdiagnosis, inadequate medical care, stigmatization, and abandonment remained common problems. Parents who chose to keep children with disabilities at home generally faced difficulty finding adequate medical care, day care, and education for their children. Government statistics reported that four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security reported that, of the country’s 85 million reported persons with disabilities, 4.3 million were employed in urban areas and 16.7 million were employed in rural areas. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce. In some parts of the country, billboard advertisements informed companies that they needed to pay a disability “tax” rather than encouraging them to hire persons with disabilities. In some cases otherwise qualified candidates were denied jobs because of physical disabilities. In August the government reported that at least four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Standards adopted for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities are subject to the Law on the Handicapped, which calls for their “gradual” implementation. Compliance with the law was limited.

The law forbids the marriage of persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors found that a couple was at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple could marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates that local governments must employ such practices to raise the percentage of births of children without disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most minority groups resided in areas they had traditionally inhabited. Government policy called for members of recognized minorities to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread.

Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs often disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. Some job advertisements in the XUAR made clear that Uighur applicants would not be considered for employment. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, which remained the source of deep resentment in the XUAR, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.

Ethnic minorities represented approximately 13.7 percent of delegates to the NPC and more than 15 percent of NPC Standing Committee members, according to an official report issued in 2014. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly the XUAR.

The government’s policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in the XUAR. In recent decades, the Chinese-Uighur ratio in the capital of Urumqi reversed from 20/80 to approximately 80/20 and continued to be a source of Uighur resentment. Discriminatory hiring practices gave preference to Han Chinese and reduced job prospects for ethnic minorities. Arable land in the XUAR’s Hotan Prefecture was appropriated from Uighur residents and distributed to Han Chinese migrants, Radio Free Asia reported in April.

According to a November 2015 government census, 9.5 million, or 40 percent, of the XUAR’s official residents were Han Chinese. Uighur, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.1 million XUAR residents, or 60 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han Chinese population because they did not count the more than 2.7 million Han residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term “temporary workers,” an increase of 1.2 percent over the previous year, according to a 2015 government of Xinjiang report. As the government continued to promote Han migration into the XUAR and filled local jobs with domestic migrant labor, local officials coerced young Uighur men and women to participate in a government-sponsored labor transfer program to cities outside the XUAR, according to overseas human rights organizations. In April, Radio Free Asia reported that local authorities in Hotan Prefecture ordered Uighur men and women to take part in a labor program to prevent their involvement in “illegal activities” and promote stability in the area.

The law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, and high school students in the XUAR had limited access to Uighur-language instruction and textbooks. There were reports that private Uighur-language schools were shut by authorities without any transparent investigation under the pretense that they promoted radical ideologies. Uighur students were often provided insufficient Uighur-language resources and instruction to maintain the integrity of their culture and traditions.

Officials in the XUAR continued to implement a pledge to crack down on the government-designated “three evil forces” of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, and they outlined efforts to launch a concentrated re-education campaign to combat what it deems to be separatism. The government in December 2015 adopted a counterterrorism law defining terrorism broadly in a way that could include religious, political, and ethnic expression. In August the XUAR government adopted a provincial-level interpretation of the national legislation, expanding the definition of terrorism to include the use of cell phones to spread terrorist ideology and “twisting” the concept of halal to apply to nonfood aspects of life. Some security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments, ostensibly directed at individuals or organizations suspected of promoting the “three evil forces,” appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners.

Uighurs continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and in some cases executed without due process on charges of separatism and endangering state security. Economist Ilham Tohti remained in prison, where he was serving a life sentence, after being convicted on separatist-related charges in 2014. Many governments continued to call for his release, and Tohti was awarded the Martin Ennals Foundation’s human rights award.

In January, Xinjiang-based activist Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “probing and supplying intelligence abroad.” Haitao, who is Han Chinese, had been publicly critical of the government’s policies toward Uighurs. In November a Xinjiang court upheld the sentence.

Authorities detained Uighur social activists and the web administrators of popular Uighur language websites, including the website Misranim, in the weeks leading up to Ramadan, Radio Free Asia reported in June. Ababekri Muhtar, the founder of Misranim and a disabled social activist, was also detained between April and June.

Authorities employed show trials, mass arrests, and sentencing to convict large numbers of Uighurs for state security and other suspected crimes. Seventeen Uighurs, including four women, were reportedly arrested in connection with a September incident that resulted in the death of a public security chief in Hotan prefecture, but there was no information on their alleged crimes or place of custody, according to NGOs.

Eleven Uighurs convicted of endangering state security and terrorism saw their sentences reduced or commuted by the Xinjiang High People’s Court in February following lobbying efforts by the Dui Hua Foundation.

The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uighurs who had left the country, and repatriated Uighurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. There were accusations that government pressure led to India’s cancellation of exiled Uighur leader Dolkun Isa’s visa to attend a conference there, according to Reuters. Some Uighurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arrival. The international community was still unable independently to confirm the welfare of the 109 Uighurs forcibly repatriated from Thailand in July 2015. Uighurs residing in Canada indicated that Xinjiang authorities detained and interrogated them during visits to the region, pressuring them to spy on other Uighurs living abroad for Chinese authorities.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited during the year in the XUAR. For information about abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Authorities did not permit possession of publications or audiovisual materials discussing independence, autonomy, or other politically sensitive subjects. Uighur Abduhelil Zunun remained in prison for his peaceful expression of ideas the government found objectionable.

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability” and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems or to strengthen existing ones and report violations of the law. Authorities reportedly searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uighur households, and those in possession of alleged terrorist material, including digital pictures of the East Turkistan flag, could be arrested and charged with crimes. When their use was detected, authorities forced individuals to delete messaging software and software used to circumvent internet filters. In some areas authorities restricted the use of cell phones and internet access. In February authorities in Chaghraq Township in Aksu Prefecture sentenced a resident to seven years in prison for allegedly watching a film on Muslim migration, according to a Radio Free Asia report.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex activities between adults. Due to societal discrimination and pressure to conform to family expectations, most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons refrained from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTI issues continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by other organizations that accept funding from overseas.

Despite reports of domestic violence among LGBTI couples, the regulations on domestic violence and the Family Violence Law do not include same-sex partnerships, giving LGBTI victims of domestic violence less legal recourse than heterosexual victims.

Although homosexual activity is no longer officially pathologized, some mental health practitioners offered “corrective treatment” to LGBTI persons at “conversion therapy” centers or hospital psychiatric wards, sometimes at the behest of family members.

NGOs reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them in light of the Foreign NGO Management Law, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTI rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public health authorities reported there were more than 600,000 persons diagnosed with HIV in the country. New HIV diagnoses reported in 2015 numbered 115,465, up 11.5 percent from the 2014 total. During the year the government put significant efforts toward raising awareness of the risks of HIV/AIDS transmission, particularly among the college-age population, and Peng Liyuan made this problem a cornerstone of her platform as the country’s “first lady.”

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, educational, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. The law allows employers and schools to bar persons with infectious diseases and did not afford specific protections based on HIV status. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV/AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status.

A 2013 study by the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS conducted across seven provinces found that 53 percent of HIV-infected respondents who had recently been to a doctor were denied immediate treatment, often either being referred to an infectious disease hospital less equipped to handle ordinary medical problems or given alternate treatments. Some respondents said they chose to forgo medical treatment altogether rather than navigate obstacles imposed by the health-care system.

Inadequate protection for health-care workers exposed to HIV in the workplace was cited as a reason persons with HIV/AIDS faced challenges in the health-care system. In 2015 the National Health and Family Planning Commission sought to address the problem by issuing a regulation recognizing HIV exposure as an occupational hazard in certain professions, including medicine and public security. State media characterized the regulation in part as an effort to protect the rights of health workers better while curbing AIDS-related discrimination.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination against persons carrying infectious diseases and allows such persons to work as civil servants. The law does not address some common types of discrimination in employment, including discrimination based on height, physical appearance, or ethnic identity.

Despite provisions in the law, discrimination against hepatitis B carriers (including 20 million chronic carriers) remained widespread in many areas, and local governments sometimes tried to suppress their activities.

Despite a 2010 nationwide rule banning mandatory hepatitis B virus tests in job and school admissions applications, many companies continued to use hepatitis B testing as part of their pre-employment screening.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and police enforced the law effectively. Activists voiced concerns that rape was underreported, especially within the ethnic minority community, but acknowledged the police responded appropriately in reported cases.

The government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. The law allows victims to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. Although the law does not criminalize domestic violence directly, abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted violators, but sentences typically consisted only of injunctions or restraining orders.

The law covers molestation between married couples, homosexual and heterosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims under age 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against molestation by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an authorization of arrest to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and authorizations for arrest to two years.

The government maintained programs that provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence victims and batterers. The government continued its public information campaign to strengthen families and to prevent violence.

Activists reported domestic violence was more prevalent against ethnic minority women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex or pregnancy status, and the government generally enforced this antidiscrimination law.

According to gender-rights activists and public policy analysts, while the law treats men and women equally in terms of property rights in divorce settlements and inheritance matters, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

The law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity between men and women. A Women’s Commission served as an advisory body for policies related to women, and a number of NGOs were active in raising problems of societal attitudes and discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the PRC mainland, or abroad to parents of whom at least one is a PRC-national Hong Kong permanent resident acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing the right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent-education programs through its maternal and child health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units, and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department ran a child witness support program. A law on child-care centers helped prevent unsuitable persons from providing childcare services.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16, and parents’ written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21. There was no evidence of early or forced marriage in the SAR.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports of girls under the age of 18 from some countries in Asia being subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.

The legal age of consent is 16. Under the law a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a victim under 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim under 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.

The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child under the age of 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered 5,000 to 6,000 persons and reported few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious rhetoric heard from the otherwise moderate Muslim community.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and the provision of other state services, including access to the judicial system and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government generally implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.

The Disability Discrimination Ordinance states that children with special education needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. It is against the law for a school to discriminate against a student with a disability. According to the government, students with significant or multiple disabilities are, with parental consent, placed in special segregated schools, while students with less significant disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in education and mental health facilities; the most recent court case involving such abuses was in 2011.

The SAR implemented a range of legislative, administrative, and other measures to enhance the rights of persons with disabilities. Some human rights groups reported that the SAR’s Disability Discrimination Ordinance was too limited and did not oblige the government to promote equal opportunities.

The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently and offered places for preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.

Persons with disabilities filed legal cases indicating instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment, education, and the provision of some public services. The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate. Access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities.

Some persons with disabilities protested that the government discriminated against them with respect to social security assistance.

According to the EOC, the SAR lagged in providing equal opportunities for students with disabilities, despite having operated an integrated education policy since 1997.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although 94 percent ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. The EOC’s code of practice (along with selected other EOC materials) was available in Hindi, Thai, Urdu, Nepali, Indonesian, and Tagalog, in addition to Chinese and English.

The government has a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into the SAR’s schools and provided a special grant for some schools to develop their own programs, share best practices with other schools, develop supplementary curriculum materials, and set up Chinese-language support centers to provide after-school programs. Activists and scholars noted that programs encouraging predominantly Chinese schools to welcome minority students backfired, turning certain schools into “segregated institutions.” These schools reportedly did not teach Chinese to the non-ethnic Chinese students. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, according to government and NGO reports.

Activists continued to express concern that there was no formal government-sponsored course to prepare students for the General Certificate for Secondary Education examination in Chinese, a passing grade from which is required for most civil service employment. The government provided funds to subsidize the cost of these examinations. The government began accepting alternate credentials for Hong Kong students to enter the SAR’s universities, though scholars assessed ethnic minority students faced a tough choice between either preparing for the General Certificate examination, which would enable entry into many civil service jobs, or preparing for alternate tests, which might enable entry into the SAR’s universities.

Activists and the government disputed whether new immigrants from the mainland should be considered as a population of concern under antidiscrimination laws. While concerns were raised that new immigrants do not qualify to receive social welfare benefits until they have resided in the SAR for seven years, the courts upheld this legal standard. Such immigrants could apply on a case-specific basis for assistance.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; there are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

The government claimed public education and existing civil and criminal laws were sufficient to protect the rights of the LGBTI community and that legislation was not necessary. A small community of religious organizations continued to lobby the government and campaign actively to prevent the SAR’s recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBTI professionals are permitted to bring foreign partners to the SAR only on a “prolonged visitor visa.” Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency.

LGBTI persons were able to arrange large scale activities, including pride marches and other community events.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government effectively enforced the law. From July 2015-June, police received 25 complaints of rape and made 17 arrests.

In May, Macau’s Legislative Assembly adopted the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, but same-sex couples are not under its purview. Under the new law, a victim can decide whether to pursue charges if the consequences of the violence are “mild.” The new law provides avenues for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous environments as soon as possible and provides them with social services. Under the new law, the Social Welfare Bureau (SWB) is responsible for coordinating the application of protective and assistance measures to victims, such as temporary shelters, access to legal aid, financial assistance, health care, individual and family counseling, and assistance in access to education or employment. The law stipulates that a judge may order urgent coercive measures imposed upon the defendant individually or cumulatively, which can include: removing the offender from the victim’s family residence; forbidding the offender to contact, harass, or pursue the victim; barring the offender from owning weapons, objects, or tools that can be used for perpetrating acts of domestic violence; or other measures aimed at preventing the reoccurrence of domestic violence. According to the government, the application of these measures does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators for criminal responsibilities as stipulated in the criminal code. From June 2015- July, police received 322 reports of domestic violence. Various NGOs and government officials considered domestic violence against women to be a growing problem.

The government made referrals for victims to receive medical treatment, and medical social workers counseled victims and informed them of social welfare services. During the first half of the year, the SWB handled 90 domestic violence cases. The government funded NGOs to provide victim support services, including medical services, family counseling, and housing, until their complaints were resolved. The government also supported two 24-hour hotlines, one for counseling and the other for reporting domestic violence cases.

NGOs and religious groups sponsored programs for victims of domestic violence, and the government supported and helped fund these organizations and programs. The Bureau for Family Action, a government organization subordinate to the Department of Family and Community of the SWB, helped female victims of domestic violence by providing a safe place for them and their children and by providing advice regarding legal actions against perpetrators. A range of counseling services was available to persons who requested them at social service centers. Two government-supported religious programs also offered rehabilitation programs for female victims of violence.

Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically addressing sexual harassment, unless it involves the use of a position of authority to coerce the performance of physical acts. Harassment in general is prohibited under laws governing equal opportunity, employment and labor rights, and labor relations. From July 2015- June, authorities received 13 complaints of sexual coercion and made 13 arrests.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and the right to both fertility and contraceptive treatment, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on family planning, contraception, and prenatal care was widely available, as was skilled attendance at delivery and postpartum care.

Discrimination: Equal opportunity legislation mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. Discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability is prohibited by law, and penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines. The law allows for civil suits, but few women took cases to the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or other entities. Gender differences in occupation existed, with women concentrated in lower-paid sectors and lower-level jobs. Observers estimated there was a significant difference in salaries between men and women, particularly in unskilled jobs. The CAC received no complaints of gender discrimination during the first six months of the year.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the Basic Law, children of Chinese national residents of Macau who were born in or outside the SAR and children born to non-Chinese national permanent residents inside the SAR are regarded as permanent residents. There is no differentiation between these categories in terms of access to registration of birth. Most births were registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Four cases of child abuse were reported to the authorities from June 2015-July. The SAR’s Health Bureau handled 15 suspected child abuse cases during the year, all of which were transferred to appropriate governmental or nongovernmental institutions for follow up after hospitalization. In addition to providing measures to combat abuse, neglect, and violence against children by criminal law, the law establishes relief measures for children at risk. In this regard the SWB reported it handled 27 cases of abuse or neglect during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 16 years old. Children between ages 16 and 18 years old who wish to marry must get approval from their parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law specifically provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procurement involving minors. The criminal code sets 14 years as the age of sexual consent and 16 years old as the age for participation in the legal sex trade. The law prohibits child pornography. From July 2015-June, there were nine reported cases of child sexual abuse and five reported cases of rape of a minor. Police arrested seven suspects in reported cases of child sexual abuse and three suspects in cases of rape of a minor. Police received eight complaints and arrested seven in cases of sex with a minor during the same period.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was extremely small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings, public facilities, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The government enforced the law effectively. The government provides a variety of services to persons with disabilities, including discounted fares on wheelchair-accessible public transportation. The SWB was primarily responsible for coordinating and funding public assistance programs to persons with disabilities. There was a governmental commission to rehabilitate persons with disabilities, with part of the commission’s scope of work addressing employment. There were no reports of children with disabilities encountering obstacles to attending school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government has made efforts to address the complaints of individuals of Portuguese descent and the Macanese (Macau’s Eurasian minority), members of these two groups continued to claim that they were not treated equally by the Chinese majority.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual contact and no prohibition against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons forming organizations or associations. There were no reports of violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI groups openly held several public events, and one registered LGBTI group openly lobbied the government and international organizations for an extension of protections to same-sex couples in a draft law on domestic violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and limits the number of required disclosures of an individual’s HIV status. Employees outside medical fields are not required to declare their status to employers. There were no reported incidents of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Colombia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years and denies probation or bail to offenders who disobey restraining orders. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, without the possibility of suspensions or reductions, and longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide. Femicide is defined as the killing of a woman either for being a woman, because of her gender identity, or as a part of a cycle of sexual, physical, or psychological violence.

There was no comprehensive or consolidated database on the incidence of sexual violence, but NGO groups claimed that rape continued to be underreported. The Attorney General’s Office indicated that many cases went unreported. Members of illegal groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.

Prosecution rates for rape continued to be low. Women’s groups, such as Sisma Mujer, assessed the extent of rape and domestic violence to be widespread and the law enforcement response to be generally ineffective. The Attorney General’s Office had teams in each of its 35 regional directorates that specialize in providing technical assistance and other support in cases of sexual violence, including sexual violence within the context of the internal armed conflict. The government continued to employ the GEDES interagency unit in Bogota, which is dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. The unit uses a multidisciplinary task force approach that includes prosecutors, investigators, and forensic specialists from the CNP and the Attorney General’s Office, working together under a common investigative and prosecutorial model. Through the end of August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 21,848 investigations for sexual abuses. The Attorney General’s Office reported that between January and the end of July, there were 56 new convictions obtained for sexual abuse, including sexual assault, with 12,841 more cases in the trial stage. In addition, during the year through July, the Inspector General’s Office reported no open disciplinary investigations into members of the security forces for sex crimes.

Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported 62,186 new investigations had been opened for cases of domestic violence. Of the victims, 53,596 of the victims were women, and 2,607 of the cases involved minors.

The law allows authorities to prosecute domestic violence offenders when the victim does not testify, if there is another witness. Judicial authorities may remove an abuser from a household and require the abuser to undergo therapy. The law provides for both fines and prison time if an abuser causes grave harm or the abuse is recurrent, but authorities reportedly did not impose fines.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. The ICBF provided safe houses and counseling for some women and children who were victims of domestic violence, but its services could not meet total demand. In addition to fulfilling traditional family counseling functions, the ICBF family ombudsmen handled domestic violence cases.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military.

The law augments both jail time and fines if the crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, in which an attacker throws acid onto the victim’s face. A law passed on January 6 defines acid attacks as a specific crime, punishing the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of dangerous substances with prison sentences of 12.5 to 40 years and a wage-based fine. The law also stipulates that the National Institute of Legal Medicine must provide hospitals with training on care for acid-attack victims. In Bogota on August 9, Maria Helena Pena, a 50-year-old female acid-attack victim, had only 5 percent of her face damaged because of the quick action of informed neighbors and hospital workers. In 2014, also in Bogota, Natalia Ponce de Leon was the victim of an acid attack that caused serious burns to her face and body. In August the courts upheld her attacker’s conviction and sentence of 20-25 years in prison and rejected the attacker’s insanity defense.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities. No accurate statistics existed regarding the practice, which generally includes types I and IV, according to the World Health Organization’s classification system.

Government efforts to prevent FGM/C included achieving in 2011 a continuing commitment from the sizable Embera-Chami indigenous group to renounce the practice. The tribe’s commitment continued, but on March 3, according to media reports, two indigenous children, each under one month old, of the Embera-Chami community of Antioquia died after an ablation surgery.

The UN Population Fund continued to support a consulting project on FGM/C with indigenous peoples. The project’s goal is to eradicate practices harmful to the life and health of indigenous girls and women nationwide, with an emphasis on the departments of Risaralda and Choco.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination. Nonetheless, NGOs reported that sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem. No information was available as to whether the government implemented the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

During the year there were reports of forced abortions. Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 20 investigations related to cases of forced abortion, 18 of which had occurred during the year.

Discrimination: Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted (see section 7.d.).

The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity. The policy includes directives for affording women access to economic autonomy, decision-making positions, health and reproductive rights, and a life free of violence, as well as incorporating a gender focus into education.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported 6,024 cases of child abuse and 5,643 cases of sexual abuse against children during the year through July 31. Through July 30, ICBF reported it provided assistance, including legal and psychological support, to 5,885 minors who were victims of sexual violence, including cases of sexual exploitation. The Attorney General’s Office reported that 91 percent of the investigations it opened during the year involving sexual abuse of minors involved children under age 14 (the minimum age of consent).

A two-year investigation carried out by the Attorney General’s Office and concluded during the year documented 214 cases of girls who were subjected to rape, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and other forms of sexual violence by the FARC. According to then acting attorney general Perdomo, the results revealed the FARC instituted a policy of sexual violence against women at least since 1997.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than 14 and girls more than 12 may marry with the consent of their parents.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law defines demand for the sexual exploitation of a minor as “directly or through a third party requesting or demanding performance of carnal or sexual acts with a person under 18 years of age, through payment or promise of payment in cash, kind, or compensation of any nature.” Sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor carries a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children under age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child under 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. According to the ICBF, during the year through July 31, there were 206 reported cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Since 2009 the NGO Renacer Foundation certified 278 tourism-related businesses as committed to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. In cooperation with the government, Renacer trained 18,426 employees of these businesses in how to identify and fight sexual exploitation.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d., IDPs).

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, which had an estimated 4,200 members, reported instances of anti-Israel rhetoric that emerged around events in the Middle East and were accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues and demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but not sensory or intellectual disabilities in employment, education, access to public buildings, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services. There is no law mandating access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities. A 2015 law strengthened penalties for discrimination against persons with disabilities, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political or philosophical ideology, sex or sexual orientation, and other grounds. It punishes those who arbitrarily prevent, obstruct, or restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Somos Defensores and other NGOs claimed these laws were seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Advocates also noted that children with disabilities were more vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse and that citizens with disabilities were hampered in their ability to vote and participate in civic affairs due to lack of adequate transportation or adequate access to voting facilities in numerous locations throughout the country. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population (see section 7.d.).

Forced surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases is legal.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” No information was available on how many public offices and facilities complied with the order and undertook accessibility reconstruction projects during the year.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the most recent (2005) national census, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line. NGO Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network reported 32 percent of Choco’s residents lived in extreme poverty. Choco continued to experience the lowest per capita level of social investment; ranked last among departments in terms of infrastructure, education, and health; and experienced the highest rate of income inequality in the country.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The government’s National Development Plan 2014-18 stipulates that the budgetary resources allocated to Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations be no less than what was assigned in the 2010-14 period. The government’s Observatory against Racism and Discrimination continued to monitor the use of specialized approaches in public policies for ethnic minorities, to conduct studies on racism and discrimination, and to make recommendations to other public entities regarding the promotion of equal opportunities. The Ministry of Interior continued to provide technical advice and funding for productive and self-sustaining projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities. The government also continued a working committee on problems of Afro-descendants with other members of the Andean Community of Nations and maintained a binational ethnic affairs committee with Ecuador.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, continued to meet with government representatives on problems that affected their communities. Some Afro-Colombian communities, however, complained that those elected to the National Autonomous Congress did not represent their interests.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 722 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory, with officials selected according to indigenous traditions. Many indigenous communities, however, had no legal title to the lands they claimed, and illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert that they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. Indigenous leaders complained of the occasional presence of government security forces on indigenous reservations and asked that the government consult with indigenous authorities prior to taking military action against illegal armed groups operating in or around such areas and before building roads or other public works on or near their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.

The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities. The law permits the presence of government security forces on indigenous lands, but defense ministry directives instruct security forces to respect the integrity of indigenous communities, particularly during military and police operations.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates. Indigenous women faced triple discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and lower economic status. As of the end of July, the Attorney General’s Office reported there were 75 active investigations of 232 military members and 26 members of the CNP accused of violating the rights, culture, or customs of indigenous groups.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. Four indigenous persons were killed in Narino and Cauca Departments during the weekend of August 26-29. During the year through September 1, the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia reported that 11 indigenous persons were killed.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There was no official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. An August 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. In 2015 the Constitutional Court granted gay couples the right to adopt children and in April 2016 the court granted gay couples the legal right to marry. But in September 2016, the First Committee of the Senate, which hears matters related to constitutional reform, statutory laws, and other topics, approved on first reading a bill proposed by Senator Vivian Morales that seeks to clarify who may and may not adopt children. Senator Morales’s proposal would convoke a national referendum on amending Article 44 of the Constitution to specify that only heterosexual couples who are married or have a civil union may adopt a child.

Members of the transgender community cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept government-issued identification with transgender individuals’ names and photographs. Some transgender individuals complained that it was difficult for them to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof that they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed that discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity remained a problem. In addition there were instances where authorities denied medical services to transgender individuals.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of LGBTI persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed that transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in August that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms. Specifically, the court recommended prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in educational environments and increasing training on these issues for the educational community. The court also decreed that the autonomy of schools has constitutional limitations and the National Service of Learning (SENA) must adapt its activities to respect and promote gender identity and sexual orientation.

As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least 346 alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals that occurred since January 1. Colombia Diversa, an NGO focused on addressing violence and discrimination due to sexual orientation, claimed at least 21 killings during the year through September 2 due to prejudice regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Police arrested two individuals in connection with the killings.

Colombia Diversa also reported 10 cases, involving 15 victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals. According to NGOs working on LGBTI problems, these attacks occurred frequently, but victims did not pursue cases due to fear of retaliation. NGOs also reported several cases of threats against human rights defenders working on LGBTI issues, including the killing of a transgender activist in June in Riohacha, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Such organizations partially attributed impuni