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Eritrea

Executive Summary

Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. A constitution, although drafted in 1997, was never implemented. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since an independence referendum in 1993.

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, reserves, demobilized soldiers, or civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the national security service, a separate agency which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over most security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

The country experienced significant adverse changes in its human rights situation after, according to credible reports, it intervened in the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, that began in November. There are credible reports of Eritrean soldiers engaging in unlawful and arbitrary killings in Tigray. There are also reports of Eritrean soldiers engaging in forced disappearance and forced repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Tigray.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention, all committed by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; widespread restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not generally take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for such abuses was the norm.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.

In August 2019 Human Rights Watch published a report documenting that security forces tortured, including by beating, prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or to relieve themselves. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or other abuse.

Impunity remained a serious problem among security forces. The government did not release any information to indicate it had conducted investigations of alleged abuses, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem among the different branches of the services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

On May 6, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 16 journalists in detention.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency, but access to free Egyptian satellite television was common. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. Most independent journalists were in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation, and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine. It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

Internet Freedom

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants were reported to frequent internet cafes, prior to their closure as an anti-COVID-19 measure. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing opposition sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

In February a media report described the deployment of a 30-member intelligence unit to monitor internet activities. The report also claimed that an unspecified number of technology experts and cyber cafe owners arrested in 2019 on accusations of disseminating material from the diaspora and supporting an opposition group in exile remained in detention.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison if convicted, or up to 16 years in aggravated cases (such as those that inflict serious bodily injury, involve a minor or someone under the perpetrator’s care, or involve a group of perpetrators). The law makes no distinction based on the gender of the assailant or the victim. Rape between spouses is punishable only when the spouses have permanently separated.

While the law does not specifically criminalize domestic violence, assault carries a punishment that varies based on the seriousness of the crime, ranging from nine months to 19 years in prison. Authorities rarely intervened in domestic violence cases.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for both women and girls. Government efforts to reduce FGM/C included public awareness campaigns at the local level targeting religious and community leaders. Government reports stated certain regions and subzones were considered 100 percent free of FGM/C practices. Local UN representatives confirmed that the government took FGM/C seriously as a problem and acted credibly to combat the practice. The UN Population Fund worked with the government and other organizations, including the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, on a variety of education programs to discourage the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically criminalize sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and they may do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The Ministry of Health promoted modern contraceptive means and took steps to inform women throughout the country of these means. Contraception was provided free of charge in many cases; however, in more rural areas, women still lacked access or information. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that from 2010 to 2019 only 21 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.

While the government took steps to ensure the attendance of skilled health personnel at births, according to the WHO, only 34 percent of births from 2010 to 2019 were so attended. Barriers included education and transportation.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception and postexposure prophylaxis for HIV.

According to the WHO, the maternal death rate was an estimated 480 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high maternal death rate was likely due to such factors as limited health-care services, particularly in rural areas. No information was available on the adolescent birth rate. While this has traditionally been a problem in the country and likely contributed to high maternal death rates, the government has made a concerted effort to convince individuals to delay marriage and childbirth.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by government authorities.

Discrimination: Family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws provide men and women the same status and rights. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women, particularly in rural areas, continued to face economic and social discrimination. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from having at least one citizen parent, whether the person is born in the country or abroad. Registration of a birth within the first three months requires only a hospital certificate. If not registered, a child may not be allowed to attend school but may receive medical treatment at hospitals.

Education: Education through grade seven is compulsory and tuition free, although students’ families were responsible for providing uniforms, supplies, and transportation. Access to education was not universal, but the government took steps to encourage attendance, including public awareness campaigns and home visits by school officials. In rural areas parents enrolled fewer daughters than sons in school, but the percentage of girls in school continued to increase.

Child Abuse: The law provides that assault of a person incapable of self-defense or against a person for whom the assailant has an obligation to give special care is an aggravated offense. The law also criminalizes child neglect, with a punishment between one and six months’ imprisonment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18, unless the woman is pregnant or has already had a child, in which case the minimum for both is 16. The minister of justice or someone appointed by the minister may also waive the age requirement. There were no recent statistics on early marriage. Officials spoke publicly on the dangers of early marriage and collaborated with UN agencies to educate the public regarding these dangers, and many neighborhood committees actively discouraged the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes most commercial sexual exploitation and practices related to child pornography. The use of a child for prostitution, however, is not specifically criminally prohibited. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity “or any other indecent act,” which is punishable if convicted by five to seven years’ incarceration. The government actively enforced this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons do not exist.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers dismissed for legally sanctioned union activity. The law allows for the establishment of unions in workplaces with at least 20 employees and requires a minimum of 15 members to form a union. Workers from multiple smaller worksites, however, can band together to create a “general association,” if there are at least 20 members. The law requires prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare to establish a union, but it deems registration granted if the ministry does not respond within one month.

The government did not adequately enforce the law. The Labor Relations Board decided on a case-by-case basis penalties and legal protections against antiunion interference and acts of interference. Penalties were not necessarily commensurate with those for denials of civil rights. Labor laws did not fully cover all workers, including civil servants, domestic workers, and national service conscripts.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. There is one umbrella trade union, the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers. The confederation was not wholly independent, because it was directly linked to the ruling party. The confederation’s members represent hotel workers, service personnel, agricultural professionals, and teachers, among other occupations. The confederation reported that labor boards, made up of representatives from the union, the workers, and the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare address grievances before the likelihood of strikes emerges. The sole independent union in the country was incorporated into the confederation during the year.

In general no NGOs played a significant role in promoting the rights of workers in the country.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and slavery, but forced labor occurred. The government enforced these laws within private industry; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The legal definition of forced labor excludes activities performed under national service or other civic obligations, compulsory labor for convicted prisoners, and “communal services rendered during an emergency.” Labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions do not apply to persons conscripted into national service.

The country’s national service obligation in some cases amounted to a form of forced labor. By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50, with limited exceptions, must perform national service. The national service obligation consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military or civilian national service, for a total of 18 months, or, for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ. During times of emergency, however, the government can suspend the 18-month limit, which it did in 1998 with the outbreak of the war with Ethiopia. The government has not rescinded emergency rule. The result is an indefinite extension of the duration of national service, in some cases for more than 20 years. Pay for conscripts improved in recent years, but remained very low. The law provides for assignment to a job category according to the person’s capacity and profession, but this was not always followed in practice. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.

Forced labor occurred. Despite the 18-month legal limit on national service, the government did not demobilize many conscripts from the military or from civilian national service as scheduled and forced some to serve indefinitely in national service under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service could not resign, generally received no promotions, and could rarely leave the country legally because authorities denied them passports or exit visas. Those conscripted into national service performed standard patrols and border monitoring in addition to labor such as agricultural terracing, planting, road maintenance, hotel work, teaching, construction, and laying power lines, as well as many office jobs in government ministries, agencies, and state-owned enterprises. There were reports that some conscripts were additionally required to perform manual labor on national service projects unrelated to their assignment and for which they received no overtime payment. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Canada in 2014 alleged that, as conscripts in national service, they were required to work 72-hour weeks in a mine for between 11 and 17 years before fleeing the country.

The government required those not already in the military to attend civilian militia training and carry firearms, including many who were demobilized, the elderly, and persons otherwise exempted from military service. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involved security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training involved occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although this restriction does not apply to children working outside of formal employment relationships, including self-employed workers. The government prohibits persons younger than 18 from employment between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and for more than seven hours per day. The government has not determined by law or regulation the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was inconsistent and did not extend to the private sector. Inspections were infrequent, and penalties, if imposed, were arbitrary and not necessarily commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Children in rural areas commonly worked on family farms, fetched firewood or water, worked in illegal mines, and herded livestock. In urban areas children worked as street vendors. Children also worked in small-scale garages, bicycle repair shops, metal workshops, and tea and coffee shops. They also transported grain or other goods via donkey cart or bicycle. Child domestic service occurred, as did begging by children.

The government suspended its Summer Work Program due to COVID-19 concerns. Secondary school students participating in the program planted trees and served as crossing guards in urban areas. In past years, the program included school and hospital maintenance. Students worked for four to six hours a day, five days a week, and at least some students were given a small stipend for participating. Reports indicated students who did not participate in the work program in past years were fined.

To graduate from high school and meet national service requirements, students complete their final year of schooling (12th grade) at Sawa military complex. Nearly half the year is devoted to mandatory military training. Some students at Sawa were reportedly as young as 16. In addition, some students are forced to work on government-owned farms.

To enforce this system, the government conducted forcible “round-ups” of students and young persons across the country who did not report to military training. Furthermore, the military occasionally performed identity checks that led to the imprisonment of children alleged to be attempting to evade compulsory national service.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment and occupation discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, social origin, nationality, political orientation, or religion. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, language, or age. It is unclear whether the government effectively enforced antidiscrimination laws; levied penalties were not made public and might not have been commensurate with penalties for breaking other laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination against women was common in the workplace and occurred in an environment of impunity. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment (see section 6, Women).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage for employees of People’s Front-owned enterprises and government employees was below the international poverty line. There was no national minimum wage for private sector workers. The law provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and no more than two hours per day of overtime, but it includes exceptions for when someone is missing or when there is “urgent work.” The law entitles workers, except for those employed in national service, to overtime pay, but this was not always enforced. The legal rest period is one day per week, although most employees received one and one-half days. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

No published occupational health and safety standards existed. Each government enterprise has a separate agreement with the local union defining the work standards, including occupational health and safety regulations, for that enterprise. There were 168 government enterprises in the country, accounting for most large-scale employers.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for worker safety and welfare. The ministry employed 28 inspectors, which was insufficient to the need. The government did not effectively enforce the negotiated standards. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers reported that every enterprise has an inspection at least once per year, which is then reviewed by the enterprise, the union, and the ministry. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and demand changes, but may not initiate sanctions.

Approximately 80 percent of the population was employed in subsistence farming and small-scale retail trading. There were no reliable data on the informal economy and no effective mechanisms for monitoring conditions or protecting workers in the informal economy.

The government did not report information regarding abuses of wage, overtime, safety, or health standards. There was no information on major industrial accidents during the year.

Eswatini

Executive Summary

Eswatini is an executive monarchy. King Mswati III and Queen Mother Ntfombi, the king’s mother, rule as comonarchs and exercise varying levels of authority over the three branches of government. There is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and House of Assembly, each composed of appointed and elected members. The king appoints the prime minister. Political power remains largely vested with the king and his traditional advisors. International observers concluded the 2018 parliamentary elections were procedurally credible, peaceful, and well managed.

The Royal Eswatini Police Service is responsible for maintaining internal security as well as migration and border crossing enforcement, and reports to the prime minister. The Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the royal family. The Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force reports to the principal secretary of defense and the army commander. His Majesty’s Correctional Services is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within corrective institutions. His Majesty’s Correctional Services personnel sometimes work alongside police during demonstrations and other large events, such as national elections, that call for a larger complement of personnel. The king is the commander in chief of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force, holds the position of minister of defense, and is the titular commissioner in chief of the Royal Eswatini Police Service and His Majesty’s Correctional Service. Traditional chiefs supervise volunteer rural “community police,” who have the authority to arrest suspects concerning minor offenses for trial by an inner council within the chiefdom. For serious offenses suspects are transferred to police for further investigation. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press; restrictions on political participation; and serious acts of corruption.

The government was inconsistent in its investigation, prosecution, and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were occasional reports that government officials employed them. The law prohibits police from inflicting, instigating, or tolerating torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. It also establishes a disciplinary offense for officers who use violence or unnecessary force, or who intimidate prisoners or others with whom they have contact in the execution of their duties. In February, Bongani Kunene of Moyeni alleged that during an interrogation police beat him and placed a plastic bag over his head. During the year there were scattered reports of police brutality towards those alleged to have violated COVID lockdowns. In one pending case, a police officer was arrested and charged with attempted murder for shooting a teenager in the arm after having fired his weapon to disperse a group of teens who were contravening COVID regulations by playing soccer during the partial lockdown.

There were isolated reports throughout the country of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by “community police”–untrained, volunteer security personnel who exist outside the country’s formal legal structures and are empowered by rural communities to act as vigilantes, patrolling against rural crimes such as cattle rustling. In November 2019 a group of community police severely beat five suspected thieves on their buttocks and paraded them naked through the street as punishment.

Impunity remained a concern but was not a significant problem in the security forces. The HMCS had strong internal mechanisms to investigate alleged wrongdoing and apply disciplinary measures. The reliability of such internal mechanisms within REPS and the military forces remained less clear, although members of these forces have been investigated, prosecuted, and convicted in recent years. Where impunity existed, it generally was attributable more to inefficiency than politicization or corruption, although the latter remained legitimate concerns. In recent years security forces have added training modules to help promote respect for human rights. In October the national commissioner of police publicly condemned police brutality and called on officers to refrain from cruel or degrading treatment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right, particularly with respect to press freedom and matters concerning the monarchy.

Freedom of Speech: In one case an activist was arrested for criticizing the king in a civil court case (see section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law empowers the government to ban publications it deems “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.”

Daily independent newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family. Independent online media and an independent monthly magazine were more likely to criticize the royal family as well as government. After the new government took office in November 2018, government officials became far more communicative, with official spokespersons appointed to every ministry, the launch of an official government Twitter page, and quarterly, on-the-record press briefings for all editors with the prime minister and other cabinet members.

Broadcast media remained under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. Access to speak on national radio was generally limited to government officials, although the University of Eswatini, religious organizations, and the country’s first community radio station have received radio licenses.

Violence and Harassment: Zweli Martin Dlamini, editor of Swaziland News, fled to South Africa after police harassed and allegedly physically abused him for criticizing the king. On at least one other occasion, editors of the two daily newspapers were pressured and threatened by senior government officials to refrain from printing articles that criticized the royal family for its lavish lifestyle and spending practices. In one instance government officials admonished editors for having failed to defend the king when someone criticized the royal family’s practices while in the editors’ presence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although journalists have become more willing to speak out against the government in recent years, criticism of the king was strongly discouraged by government and traditional leaders. Most journalists and broadcast media felt compelled to avoid criticizing the palace due to fear of reprisals, such as being professionally ostracized or losing paid government advertising. Self-censorship was widespread in relation to the king, but virtually nonexistent in relation to the government. Government officials and security personnel repeatedly made it clear that criticism of the king could result in serious consequences.

National Security: Although the country has no formal criminal libel or slander laws and has no laws forbidding criticism of the monarchy, the government prosecuted one individual for criticizing the king, using provisions of antiterrorism and other laws (see section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape, including rape of a spouse or intimate partner. The penalties for conviction of rape are up to 30 years’ imprisonment for first offenders and up to 40 years’ imprisonment for repeat offenders. The penalty for conviction of domestic violence is a substantial fine, up to 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. Several convicted perpetrators received sentences of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, and one man was sentenced in August to a total of 55 years’ imprisonment after repeatedly raping his daughter and niece (30 years for rape and 25 for other offenses). In March prosecutors charged the director of the children’s unit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, Lucky Ndlovu, with rape of a minor. Although men remained the primary perpetrators, women have also been arrested and convicted under the law.

Rape remained common, and domestic violence against women sometimes resulted in death. There were few social workers or other intermediaries to work with victims and witnesses to obtain evidence of rape and domestic violence.

Rural women who pursued prosecution for domestic violence in traditional courts often had no relief if family intervention failed, because traditional courts were less sympathetic to women and less likely than courts using Roman-Dutch-based law to convict men of spousal abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Accusations of witchcraft were employed against women in family or community disputes that could lead to their being physically attacked, driven from their homes, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law establishes broad protections against sexual harassment, with penalties if convicted of a monetary fine, 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.

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

There was wide access to contraception, including in health facilities, retail stores, public restrooms, and workplaces throughout the country, and most persons had access to reproductive health and contraception information free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The UN Population Division estimated 68 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception during the year.

According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality ratio was 437 deaths per 100,000 live births. This high ratio resulted from a host of factors, one of which was the quality of medical care, but others were patient-dependent factors such as not seeking antenatal care, late presentation to facilities, and home deliveries.

The government provided reproductive health services to victims of gender-based violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women occupied a subordinate role in society. The dualistic nature of the legal system complicated the protection of women’s rights. Since unwritten customary law and custom govern traditional marriage and certain matters of family law, women’s rights often were unclear and changed according to where and by whom they were interpreted. Couples often married in both civil and traditional ceremonies, creating problems in determining which set of rules applied to the marriage and to subsequent questions of child custody, property, and inheritance in the event of divorce or death.

In 2019 the High Court ruled common law “marital power” that formerly denied married women the right to act without their husband’s consent in many instances is unconstitutional. The High Court in 2019 also struck down sections of the law that allowed marital power and spousal property rights to be governed by Swazi law and custom.

Women faced employment discrimination and were prevented from working in some industries (see section 7.d.). The constitution provides for equal access to land, and civil law provides for women to register and administer property, execute contracts, and enter into transactions in their own names.

Girls and women in rural areas faced discrimination by community elders and authority figures. Boys received preference in education. Although customary law considers children to belong to the father and his family if the couple divorce, custody of the children of unmarried parents typically remains with the mother, unless the father claims paternity. When the husband dies, tradition dictates the widow must stay at the residence of her husband’s family in observance of a strict mourning period for one month. Media reported widows heading households sometimes became homeless and were forced to seek public assistance when the husband’s family took control of the homestead. Women in mourning attire were generally not allowed to participate in public events and were barred from interacting with royalty or entering royal premises. In some cases the mourning period lasted up to two years. No similar mourning period applied to men.

Children

The law sets the age of majority at 18. It defines child abuse and imposes penalties for abuse; details children’s legal rights and the responsibility of the state, in particular with respect to orphans and other vulnerable children; establishes structures and guidelines for restorative justice; defines child labor and exploitative child labor; and sets minimum wages for various types of child labor.

Birth Registration: Birth on the country’s territory does not convey citizenship. Under the constitution children derive citizenship from the father, unless the birth occurs outside marriage and the father does not claim paternity, in which case the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. If a Swati woman marries a foreign man, even if he is a naturalized Swati citizen, their children carry the father’s birth citizenship.

The law mandates compulsory registration of births. According to the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 50 percent of children younger than five were registered, and 30 percent had birth certificates. Lack of birth registration may result in denial of public services, including access to education.

Education: The law requires that parents provide for their children to complete primary school. Parents who do not send their children to school through completion of primary education were required to pay fines for noncompliance. Education was tuition-free through grade seven. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received an annual budget allocation to subsidize school fees for orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in both primary and secondary school. Seventy percent of children were classified as OVC and so had access to subsidized education through the secondary level.

Child Abuse: The law provides broad protections for children against abduction, sexual contact, and several other forms of abuse. The penalty for conviction of indecent treatment of children is up to 20 or 25 years’ imprisonment, depending upon the age of the victim. Child abuse remained a serious problem, especially in poor and rural households, although authorities have increased prosecutions of such abuse.

Corporal punishment was banned in schools in 2015, and the last reported incident occurred in 2019.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls, but with parental consent and approval from the minister of justice, girls may marry at 16. The government recognizes two types of marriage, civil marriage and marriage under traditional law. In March prosecutors charged director of the children’s unit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office Lucky Ndlovu with rape of a minor whom he attempted to marry when she was age 16. Prosecutors argued that the marriage was invalid since the minor lacked the legal capacity to consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procuring of children for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography; conviction of these acts carries a substantial fine, up to 25 years’ imprisonment, or both. Children were occasional victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The law criminalizes “mistreatment, neglect, abandonment, or exposure of children to abuse” and imposes a statutory minimum of five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Although the law sets the age of sexual consent at 16, a 2018 law provides for a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child,” defined as a relationship that involves more than one sexual act with a person younger than 18. The government enforced the law effectively, charging at least 163 individuals between January and September, prosecuting dozens of individuals, and sentencing multiple perpetrators to jail for more than 50 years in the most egregious cases.

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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

While there are colonial-era common law prohibitions against sodomy, no penalties are specified, and there has never been an arrest or prosecution for consensual same-sex conduct. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons, although gradually lessening, remained a concern, and LGBTI persons often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons who were open regarding their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system. Some traditional, religious, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swati nor Christian. Despite these barriers, LGBTI persons conducted several well publicized public events during the year, including a virtual pride celebration and various organized dialogues, all of which occurred without incident. In contrast to prior years, the government invited outspoken LGBTI rights advocates to participate in government-hosted workshops and dialogues designed to improve public policy, promote inclusion, and develop better economic opportunities for the youth.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although HIV-related stigma and discrimination appeared to be in decline, discriminatory attitudes and prejudice against persons with HIV persisted. Individuals with HIV reported it was difficult or uncomfortable for them to disclose their HIV status and that frequently their status was revealed to others without their permission. The armed forces encouraged testing and did not discriminate against active military members testing positive. Persons who tested HIV-positive, however, were not recruited by the armed forces.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law places restrictions on these rights. The law provides for the registration of unions and federations but grants far-reaching powers to the labor commissioner with respect to determining eligibility for registration.

The constitution and law provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively, subject to various legal restrictions. The law gives employers discretion as to whether to recognize a labor organization as a collective employee representative if less than 50 percent of the employees are members of the organization. If an employer agrees to recognize the organization as the workers’ representative, the law grants the employer the ability to set conditions for such recognition. The law provides for the registration of collective agreements by the Industrial Court. The court is empowered to refuse registration if an agreement conflicts with the law, provides terms and conditions of employment less favorable to employees than those provided by any law, discriminates against any person, or requires membership or nonmembership in an organization as a condition for employment. The Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration Commission (CMAC) presides over resolution of all labor disputes.

Employees not engaged in “essential services” have the right to undertake peaceful protest actions to “promote or defend socioeconomic interests” of workers. The law defines “socioeconomic interest” as including “solutions to economic and social policy questions and problems that are of direct concern to the workers but shall not include matters of a purely political nature.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Extensive provisions allow workers to seek redress for alleged wrongful dismissal, and courts have broad powers to award reinstatement and retroactive compensation.

Although the law permits strikes, the right to strike is strictly regulated, and the administrative requirements to register a legal strike made striking difficult. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited in essential services, and the minister’s power to modify the list of these essential services provides for broad prohibition of strikes in sectors not normally deemed essential, including postal services, telephone, telegraph, radio, and teaching. The procedure for announcing a protest action requires advance notice of at least seven days. The law details the steps to be followed when disputes arise and provides penalties for employers who conduct unauthorized lockouts. When disputes arose with civil servant unions, the government often intervened to reduce the chances of a protest action, which may not be called legally until alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before CMAC are exhausted and a secret ballot of union members conducted. The commissioner of labor has the power to “intervene” in labor disputes before they are reported to the commission if there is reason to believe a dispute could have serious consequences for the employers, workers, or the economy if not resolved promptly.

The government generally enforced the law, although labor inspectors lacked authorization to assess penalties and had insufficient resources to enforce compliance.

In August the government and labor unions resolved a years-long dispute over annual cost-of-living adjustments to public-sector wages, signing a collective agreement to memorialize the settlement. Resolution of the case removed a major irritant in government-labor relations. Most observers agreed the absence of public demonstrations was probably due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

To protect employee welfare and prevent exploitation, the government has legal restrictions on labor brokers who recruit domestically for foreign contracts of employment, but these were inconsistently enforced.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and imposes penalties commensurate with similar crimes. Government did not enforce the law in all sectors. Forced labor occurred almost exclusively in the informal sector, where labor laws applied but were rarely enforced.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, takes place in the sectors of domestic work, agriculture, and market vending.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15, for night work 16, and for hazardous employment 18. The Employment Act, however, does not extend minimum age protections to children working in domestic or agricultural work. The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work in industrial undertakings, including mining, manufacturing, and electrical work, but these prohibitions do not address hazardous work in the agriculture sector. The law limits the number of night hours children may work on school days to six and the overall hours per week to 33.

The Ministry of Labor, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister through the Department of Social Welfare, and REPS are responsible for enforcement of laws relating to child labor. The government did not effectively enforce laws combating child labor. The government did not dedicate sufficient resources to combat child labor, coordinate effectively among different sectors, or provide labor inspectors sufficient authority in the informal sector, where the majority of child labor took place.

Penalties for conviction of child labor violations were commensurate with those for similar laws.

Children were employed in the informal sector, particularly in domestic services and agricultural work such as livestock herding. This work might involve activities that put at risk their health and safety, such as working long hours, carrying heavy loads, being exposed to pesticides, and working alone in remote areas.

Child domestic servitude was also prevalent, disproportionately affecting girls. Such work could involve long hours of work and could expose children to physical and sexual exploitation by their employer. Children’s exploitation in illicit activities was a problem. Children, particularly in rural areas, grew, manufactured, and sold cannabis.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, HIV/AIDS or other communicable disease status, religion, political views, or social status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The government did not enforce the law consistently. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). While women have constitutional rights to equal pay and treatment and may take jobs without the permission of a male relative, there were few effective measures protecting women from discrimination in hiring, particularly in the private sector. The average wage rates for men by skill category consistently exceeded those of women.

Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to work areas. The government did not effectively raise awareness of or enforce disability and employment law provisions. Openly LGBTI persons were subject to discrimination in employment and to social censure.

Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens but sometimes faced discrimination in employment due to societal prejudice against foreigners.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security sets wage scales for each industry. There is a legally mandated sliding scale of minimum wages depending on the type of work performed. Minimum wages are above the poverty line in all sectors.

There is a standard 48-hour workweek for most workers and a 72-hour workweek for security guards spread over a period of six days. The law requires all workers to have at least one day of rest per week and provides for premium pay for overtime. Most workers received paid annual leave and sick leave.

The government set appropriate safety standards for industrial operations and encouraged private companies to develop accident prevention programs. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of labor laws but did not effectively enforce them. The government did not dedicate sufficient resources to enforcement, resulting in constraints such as a lack of motor vehicles and inability to hire additional staff. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law, and while the labor commissioner’s office conducted inspections in the formal sector, it did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.

Labor laws are applicable to the informal sector but were seldom enforced. Most workers were in the informal sector, but credible data on the proportion were not available. Workers in the informal sector, particularly foreign migrant workers, children, and women, risked facing hazardous and exploitative conditions. Minimum wage guidelines do not apply to the informal sector.

Public transportation workers complained that they were required to work 12 hours a day or more without overtime compensation and that they were not entitled to pensions and other benefits.

Credible data on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available.

Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic. In November the Constitutional Court certified President Alpha Conde’s reelection (despite disputed results) with 59.5 percent of the vote, following a controversial March referendum amending the constitution and allowing him to run for a third term. International and domestic observers raised concerns about widespread electoral violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, lack of transparency in vote tabulation, and polling station vote tally discrepancies. Major opposition parties boycotted March legislative elections, resulting in the ruling Rally for the Guinean People winning a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers raised concerns regarding widespread violence and voting irregularities in the legislative elections, including closed and ransacked polling stations. Numerous opposition parties rejected the results of the March legislative and October presidential elections.

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, particularly during the elections and resulting protests.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by or on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults, although not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for government officials remained a problem. The government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers reported that government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity.

Abuse of inmates in government detention centers continued. Security officials designated as “judicial police officers” abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrests or at detention centers. Human rights associations stated that complainants often presented evidence of abuse, and wardens did not investigate these complaints. These NGOs also alleged that guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

According to the OGDH, following killings by security forces, some relatives who came to assist victims were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, and humiliation by individuals wearing security force uniforms.

In January a victim reported security officers beat him and other protesters with batons at a detention center in Conakry following their arrest during a political protest. He reported security forces also demanded 1,100,000 Guinean francs ($115) from the prisoners to avoid transfer to Conakry Central Prison (CCP).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in July of sexual exploitation and abuse by Guinean peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the United Nations was investigating the allegation.

According to a December 15 Amnesty International report, authorities arrested an elderly person on October 24 for “criminal participation in a gathering with violence” following an attack on a freight train that killed four security officials and a civilian. The person died on November 17 while in custody. Immediately following his death, the government announced that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and departed the detention center, then added later that the individual had complained about diabetes complications and died at a hospital. Multiple persons who viewed his body, including medical staff, reported seeing burns, cuts, and other marks on his body, indicating he had been abused while in custody.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the gendarmes, police, and military forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, lack of training, politicization of forces, and a lack of transparency in investigations. Offices tasked with investigating abuses included civil and military courts and government inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were multiple reports of government efforts to intimidate the press and restrict press freedom.

In July the National Assembly passed legislation revising the composition and organization of the High Authority of Communication (HAC). Under the old law, the HAC president was elected by a group of peer commissioners, while under the new law the HAC president is appointed by presidential decree. Media criticized the new law and feared the HAC would be subservient to the office of the president.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the government or ruling party could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by government officials.

On March 6, police arrested and assaulted French journalist Thomas Dietrich while he filmed a police crackdown on an opposition demonstration in Conakry. Police took him immediately to the airport and deported him. The HAC accused him of interfering in domestic political activities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the office of the director of judicial police (DPJ) where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was earlier sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the water supply company Societe des Eaux de Guinee (Guinea Water Company–SEG). Kamara had criticized the appointments of SEG executives, which included the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

On June 29, the DPJ summoned the chairmen of three private radio stations and directed them to stop broadcasting a radio advertisement supporting the FNDC’s opposition to the proposed new constitution and a third term for President Alpha Conde. The DPJ also directed the chairmen to provide information concerning who within FNDC approved the advertisement. The chairmen complied with the decision of the HAC and halted broadcast of the advertisement. According to media sources, a decision by the HAC to ban the advertisements allegedly originated from the Inter-Ministerial Council and the National Assembly president, who claimed that the advertisement would disturb public order.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government. In October 2019 authorities detained for several hours two al-Jazeera journalists, Nicolas Haque, al-Jazeera chief of bureau in Dakar, Senegal, and cameraman Hugo Bogaeert, accusing them of spying, endangering state security, and producing ethnocentric reports. Upon their release police forced them to leave the country.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It did not censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government did, however, monitor social media platforms and exploited the law to punish journalists for posting or sharing information critical of the government. In March widespread internet disruptions occurred starting the day before the polls opened for the legislative election and constitutional referendum until the day after the polls closed. The director of internet service provider GUILAB SA, who is appointed by the minister of posts, telecommunications and digital economy, announced the disruption was due to maintenance. The government owned 52.55 percent of GUILAB.

On October 23, authorities suspended all cell phone data and international calling, and blocked various social media platforms. The government stated it suspended these services in response to postelectoral violence. Cell phone data and international calling services were restored several days later. Full social media access was restored in December.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, but both occurred frequently, and authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of victims. Rape is punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Victims often declined to report crimes to police due to custom, fear of stigmatization, reprisal, and a lack of cooperation from investigating police or gendarmes. Studies indicated citizens also were reluctant to report crimes because they feared police would ask the victim to pay for the investigation.

In domestic violence cases, authorities may file charges under general assault, which carries sentences of two to five years in prison and fines. Violence against a woman that causes an injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. If the injury causes mutilation, amputation, or other loss of body parts, it is punishable by 20 years of imprisonment; if the victim dies, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault constitutes grounds for divorce under civil law, but police rarely intervened in domestic disputes, and courts rarely punished perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law and new constitution prohibit FGM/C, the country had an extremely high prevalence rate. According to a 2018 UNICEF survey, 94.5 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure, which was practiced throughout the country and among all religious and ethnic groups. The rate of FGM/C for girls between the ages of six and 14 dropped 6 percent since 2015.

The law specifies imprisonment of five to 20 years and a fine if the victim is severely injured or dies; if the victim dies within 40 days of the procedure the penalty is up to life in prison or death. The law provides for imprisonment of three months to two years and fines for perpetrators who do not inflict severe injury or death.

The government continued to cooperate with NGOs and youth organizations in their efforts to eradicate FGM/C and educate health workers, government employees, and communities on the dangers of the practice.

A total of 232 communities organized public declaration ceremonies of the abandonment of FGM/C practices and child marriage in 2019. Since January an additional 66 villages declared they abandoned FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, in February the president launched the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM Activities.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits all forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The constitution prohibits harassment based on sex, race, ethnicity, political opinions, and other grounds. The Ministry of Labor did not document any case of sexual harassment, despite its frequency. The law penalizes sexual harassment. Sentences range from three months to two years in prison and the payment of a fine, depending on the gravity of the harassment. Authorities rarely enforced the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked access to the information and the means to enjoy these rights.

No law adversely affected access to conception, but low accessibility and poor quality of family planning services as well as limited contraception choices hindered access. Cultural barriers included a lack of male partner engagement or support for a woman’s decision to use family planning services; lack of decision-making power for women, as women in many cases needed approval from their husbands before using health services, including family planning; and expectations for newlywed couples to have children. Religious beliefs also hindered access. According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women aged 15-49 who were married or in a relationship was 11 percent.

According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 55 percent of women gave birth with a skilled healthcare professional present. Lack of quality health care and sociocultural barriers, such as preferring a female health attendant during pregnancy and childbirth, also affected women’s access to skilled health attendants when no midwives were available.

According to the 2016 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births. Lack of accessible, quality health services, discrimination, gender inequalities, early marriage, and adolescent pregnancy all contributed to the maternal death rate. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the adolescent birth rate was 120 per 1,000 girls age 15-19 years.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Multisectoral committees at the national, regional, and local levels addressed gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Committee participants included health professionals, police, and administrative authorities. Health professionals provided health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, to survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

The prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15-49 was 95 percent, according to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in inheritance, property, employment, credit, and divorce. The law prohibits gender discrimination in hiring; the government did not effectively enforce this provision. There were no known limitations on women’s working hours, but there are legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks deemed hazardous and in industries such as mining and construction. Traditional practices historically discriminate against women and sometimes took precedence over the law, particularly in rural areas.

Government officials acknowledged that polygyny was common. Divorce laws generally favor men in awarding custody and dividing communal assets. Legal testimony given by women carries less weight than testimony by men, in accordance with Islamic precepts and customary law.

In May 2019 the National Assembly amended the law to make monogamy the standard for marriage, except in the case of an “explicit agreement” with the first wife.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. Authorities did not permit children without birth certificates to attend school or access health care. Authorities adjudicated birth registration in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Education: Government policy provides for tuition-free, compulsory primary education for all children up to age 16. While girls and boys had equal access to all levels of primary and secondary education, approximately 56 percent of girls attended primary school, compared with 66 percent of boys. Government figures indicated 11 percent of girls obtained a secondary education, compared with 21 percent of boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and authorities and NGOs continued to document cases. Child abuse occurred openly on the street, although families ignored most cases or addressed them at the community level.

In December 2019 the National Assembly revised the children’s code to clearly prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of children, including FGM. The revised code entered into force in March. Authorities rarely prosecuted offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law criminalizes early and forced marriage. The legal age for marriage is 18. Ambiguity remains, however, because the law refers to customary marriages for minors who receive consent from both their parents or their legal guardian. According to women’s rights NGOs, the prevalence rate remained high.

In 2017, according to UNICEF, 19 percent of all girls were married by age 15 and 51 percent were married by age 18.

The Ministry of Social Action for the Promotion of Women and Children, with assistance from UNICEF, developed and began to implement a national strategy for the 2020-24 period to promote the abandonment of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for all forms of child trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits child pornography. The law does not explicitly address the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. Having sex with someone younger than 15 is punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine. These laws were not regularly enforced, and sexual assault of children, including rape, was a serious problem. Girls between ages 11 and 15 were most vulnerable and represented more than half of all rape victims.

Displaced Children: Although official statistics were unavailable, a large population of children lived on the streets, particularly in urban areas. Children frequently begged in mosques, on the street, and in markets.

Institutionalized Children: The country had numerous registered and unregistered orphanages. While reports of abuse at orphanages sometimes appeared in the press, reliable statistics were not available. Authorities institutionalized some children after family members died from the Ebola virus.

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 https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions. The Office for the Protection of Women, Children, and Morals (OPROGEM), a part of the Ministry of Security, includes a unit for investigating morals offenses, including same-sex sexual conduct. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Deep religious and cultural taboos existed against consensual same-sex sexual conduct. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented victims from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no publicly active LGBTI organizations, although some organizations worked to raise awareness concerning HIV and AIDS and prevent human rights abuses among vulnerable communities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Laws exist to protect persons with HIV from stigmatization, but the government relied on donor efforts to combat discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. Government efforts were limited to paying salaries for health-service providers. Most victims of stigmatization were women whose families abandoned them after their husbands died of AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In March the Forested Guinea Region and the town of N’Zerekore saw violence between largely Christian and animist Kpelle people, who supported the opposition and opposed the constitutional referendum, and the Muslim Koniake people who supported the government and the referendum (see section 1.a.). There were no investigations.

Discrimination against persons with albinism occurred, particularly in the Forested Guinea Region, where historically persons with albinism were sought for ritual sacrifice and other harmful practices related to witchcraft. Albino rights NGOs continued to raise awareness of discrimination and violence against persons with albinism. Authorities investigated incidents of violence. For example, in July, OPROGEM arrested six women accused of forcing seven albino children to beg in the street. As of September the women were in custody and awaiting trial. In November police investigated an alleged discovery of two albino bodies in a family compound in Coyah.

Due to a lack of trust and capacity in the local judicial system, mob violence remained a widespread problem nationwide. In November 2019 a man accused of stealing motorcycles was beaten to death by an angry mob in Kankan. In April a man in Boke accused of stealing was tied to a tree by a group of men and beaten to death. Authorities opened investigations into these incidents but the outcomes were unknown.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides most workers the right to organize, bargain collectively, join a union, and engage in strikes. The law also places restrictions on the free exercise of these rights. The law requires unions to obtain the support of 20 percent of the workers in a company, region, or trade in order to strike. The law mandates that unions provide a 10-day notice to the Ministry of Labor before striking, although it allows work slowdowns without notice. Strikes are permitted only for work-related topics; such permission does not extend to government workers, members of the armed forces, or temporary government workers, as these categories do not have the legal right to strike. Despite lacking the right to strike, public school teachers and port workers nevertheless went on strike.

The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits employers from taking union membership into consideration when considering decisions about an employee’s hiring, firing, and conduct. It also allows workers 30 days to appeal any labor decisions and provides for reinstatement of any employee fired for union activity.

During the January public school teachers’ strike, a communications representative for a local teacher’s union was removed from his position as director of studies and transferred to a new assignment in a different town by local Ministry of Education representatives. After refusing to leave his post and with the intervention of a more prominent union leader, the teacher was reinstated to his position and his blocked salary returned.

The Office of the Inspector General of Labor within the Ministry of Labor manages consensus arbitration, as required by law. Employers often imposed binding arbitration, particularly in “essential services.”

Penalties for various labor violations ranged from fines to imprisonment. The law also defines labor crimes to include workers and employers who subvert national interests or steal trade secrets. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Inspections were not adequate to achieve compliance, and penalties were not enforced.

Worker organizations generally operated independently of government or political party interference. Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In January authorities arrested two leaders representing the Union of Teachers and Researchers of Guinea after they failed to suspend their call for national strikes in negotiations with the government. After 10 days authorities dropped the charges of inciting violence and released the two leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and debt bondage. Prison labor, however, is legal, including for crimes related to political and religious expression. The law prescribes penalties of three to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for forced labor offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for those involving a child victim. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce this law or prosecute any cases for adult forced labor.

Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor in agriculture. Traffickers exploited boys in forced labor in begging, mining, fishing, and on coffee, cashew, and cocoa plantations. Some government entities and NGOs alleged forced labor was most prevalent in the mining sector. Women and children were the most vulnerable to trafficking (see section 7.c.). Migrant laborers represented a small proportion of forced labor victims.

In July, 268 workers in a Chinese-owned mosquito-netting factory near the town of Maferenya were held against their will for three months. According to media sources, the manager stated that the workers were detained in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent possible work stoppages. As of October authorities took no action on the case.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor in the formal sector and sets forth penalties of imprisonment and confiscation of resulting profits. The law does not protect children in the informal sector and authorities are hesitant to pursue cases due to longstanding sociocultural norms. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law allows minors to work below the minimum age for employment, which is 16. Exceptions allow children to work at age 12 as apprentices for light work in the domestic service and agriculture sectors, and at age 14 for other work. The law does not prescribe the number of work hours per week for children, nor does it specify the conditions under which light work may be undertaken. The law does not permit workers and apprentices younger than age 18 to work more than 10 consecutive hours at night or on Sundays; however, these rules were often not respected.

The Ministry of Labor maintained an outdated list of hazardous occupations or activities that may not employ children, but enforcement was limited to large firms in the formal sector. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including agriculture. The law increases penalties for forced labor if minors are involved, but penalties did not meet international standards, and enforcement was not sufficient to deter child labor violations. Although the law provides that treaty obligations be regarded by the justice system as lawfully binding, ambiguity concerning this provision’s validity continued due to the government’s failure to pass implementing legislation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and it conducted occasional inspections. OPROGEM is responsible for investigating child trafficking and child labor violations. After making an arrest, police transfer all information to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Security has a unit specifically focused on child trafficking and child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and inspections were not adequate. Boys frequently worked in the informal sectors of subsistence farming, small-scale commerce, street vending, shining shoes, and mining. Girls were subjected to domestic servitude domestically and abroad. Forced child labor occurred primarily in the cashew, cocoa, coffee, gold, and diamond sectors of the economy. Many children between ages five and 16 worked 10 to 15 hours a day in the diamond and gold mines for minimal compensation and little food. Child laborers extracted, transported, and cleaned the minerals. They operated in extreme conditions, lacked protective gear, did not have access to water or electricity, and faced a constant threat of disease. Many children did not attend school and could not contact their parents, which may indicate forced labor.

Many parents sent their children to live with relatives or Quranic teachers while the children attended school. Host families often required such children to perform domestic or agricultural labor, or to sell water or shine shoes on the streets. Some children were subjected to forced begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not address discrimination based on race, color, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government took no steps to prevent discrimination in employment and occupation. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Discrimination in employment occurred. Although the law requires equal pay for equal work, women received lower pay for similar work, and there were legal restrictions on women’s employment in some occupations (see section 6). Few persons with disabilities had access to work in the formal sector, although some worked in small family businesses; many survived by begging on the streets.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set the Guaranteed Minimum Interprofessional Wage at a rate below the poverty level determined by the World Bank. The minimum wage covers all sectors, but was not applied in the large informal sector.

The law mandates that regular work should not exceed 10-hour days or 48-hour weeks, and it mandates a period of at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, usually on Sunday. Every salaried worker has the legal right to an annual paid vacation, accumulated at the rate of at least two days per month of work. There also are provisions in the law for overtime and night wages, which are a fixed percentage of the regular wage. The law stipulates a maximum of 100 hours of compulsory overtime a year.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor standards, and its inspectors are empowered to suspend work immediately in situations deemed hazardous to workers’ health. The law contains general provisions regarding occupational safety and health, but the government did not establish a set of appropriate workplace health and safety standards. Moreover, it did not issue any orders laying out the appropriate safety requirements for certain occupations or for certain methods of work as called for in the law. All workers, foreign and migrant included, have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions without penalty.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Inspection and enforcement efforts were insufficient to deter violations. According to the International Labor Organization, inspectors received inadequate training. The reported number of employed labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance with the law, although labor inspector vacancies went unfilled. Inspectors lacked computers and transportation to carry out their duties. Penalties for violation of the law were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Authorities rarely monitored work practices or enforced workweek standards or overtime rules. Teachers’ wages were extremely low. Salary arrears were not paid, and some teachers lived in poverty. The informal sector included 60 to 70 percent of all workers. The law applies to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common across sectors. There were, for example, artisanal (small-scale) gold mining communities in the northern section of the country where inspectors found occupational health and environmental hazards.

Despite legal protection against working in unsafe conditions, many workers feared retaliation and did not exercise their right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Data was not available on workplace fatalities and accidents, but accidents in unsafe working conditions were common, mostly in construction and artisanal mining. The government banned wildcat gold prospecting and other mining activities during the rainy season to prevent deaths from mudslides. The practices, however, continued near the border with Mali, resulting in recurring accidents.

Guinea-Bissau

Executive Summary

Guinea-Bissau is a multiparty republic. The country has endured prolonged political gridlock punctuated by periods of turmoil. In March 2019 the country held legislative elections, which included all 102 seats in the National Assembly. Presidential elections held in November 2019 resulted in two finalists: Domingos Simoes Pereira and Umaro Sissoco Embalo. The National Elections Commission declared Sissoco the winner of the December 2019 presidential runoff election. Sissoco assumed the presidency on February 27 after an unofficial inauguration and transfer of power from outgoing president Jose Mario Vaz, the first president to serve out a full term. President Sissoco appointed Nuno Gomes Nabiam as prime minister, and on March 3, Nabiam submitted a list of his preferred ministers to the president, who appointed them. Although international observers considered elections in the 2019 cycle to be free and fair, the Sissoco government used intimidation and arbitrary arrest to consolidate its power.

National police forces maintain internal security. The Judicial Police, under the Ministry of Justice, has primary responsibility for investigating drug trafficking, terrorism, and other transnational crimes. The Public Order Police, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for maintenance of law and order. Other police forces include the State Information Service (intelligence), Border Police (migration and border enforcement), Rapid Intervention Police, and Maritime Police. The army is responsible for external security but also has some internal security responsibilities. The armed forces may be called upon to assist police in emergencies. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces, which committed some abuses in the aftermath of the 2020 elections.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; significant acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for crimes of violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

Members of the security forces committed some abuses. The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a serious problem. The government launched investigations into cases of alleged arbitrary detention, but no action was taken against perpetrators during the year.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the number of instances of cruel or degrading treatment increased during the year.

On May 22, unknown assailants abducted a member of parliament, Marciano Indi, outside his residence. Indi is the deputy of the Assembly of the People United–Democratic Party (APU). His APU colleagues publicized the incident on social media and contacted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UN representatives in Bissau. He was detained for several hours before being found at a police station in Bissau with a head wound and other bruises. Indi had criticized President Sissoco and Prime Minister Nabiam in a televised interview the day before the assault.

In October members of the Public Order Police beat two members of the political party MADEM-G15, detained them in the prison facilities of the Ministry of Interior in Bissau, and released them soon thereafter. As of November the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office reported that the case was under investigation. Political parties criticized the incident, and the local nongovernmental organization Human Rights League accused the Ministry of Interior of “state terrorism.”

On July 20, the parliament approved the creation of a Parliamentary Investigation Committee to investigate incidents involving three Guinean citizens. Among the cases were the abduction of Marciano Indi and the 2019 death of the Party for Social Renewal’s leader, Demba Balde. The committee was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Cape Verde (PAIGC) and consists of a total of nine members of parliament.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since Sissoco’s self-inauguration in late February, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.

Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. Journalists working for state-owned media, however, did not operate freely, and internal censorship was common.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Intimidation and harassment of journalist and media outlets increased during the year. For example, after the Guinea-Bissau Television (TGB) did not broadcast Sissoco’s unofficial inauguration in February, soldiers occupied both TGB and Nacional Broadcast Radio and prevented them from operating until new directors were appointed in March. In July armed men in uniform attacked the private radio station Radio Capital and destroyed equipment. The government and some international organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union criticized the act, but the government took no steps to find those responsible, which contributed to a de facto restriction on freedom of speech.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority. President Sissoco announced on July 7 that intelligence services would use equipment acquired from abroad to begin monitoring citizen communications and “call to justice” anyone who insulted or defamed another resident of the country. As of December there was no evidence that government had begun monitoring citizen communications.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides penalties for conviction of two to 12 years in prison; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law permits prosecution of rape only when reported by the victim, which observers noted was rare due to victims’ fear of social stigma and retribution.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, such abuse was widespread. The government did not undertake specific measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women.

Cases of domestic violence and child abuse were commonly resolved within the household. Limited access to institutions of justice also contributed to the preference for customary law as a way of solving societal problems. Recourse to the formal justice system was poorly understood, expensive, and seldom used.

In September the Judiciary Police arrested a 37-year-old man in Bafata on suspicion of sexual abuse of children younger than age 12. According to police, the suspect also allegedly impregnated one victim. The suspect was detained and presented to the Public Ministry for investigation.

In July parliament and the Guinean Human Right’s League denounced an increase of reported cases of violence against women and children in the eastern and southern parts of the country, including the Bafata, Gabu, and Quinara Regions.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, without reference to age of the victims. FGM/C was practiced on girls younger than age five. Conviction for its practice is punishable by a fine of up to five million Central African (CFA) francs ($8,680) and five years in prison. Muslim preachers and scholars called for the eradication of FGM/C. The Joint Program on FGM/C of the UN Population Fund and UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Justice to strengthen the dissemination and application of the law by building the capacities of officials responsible for program implementation.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it was widespread. The government undertook no initiatives to combat the problem.

Reproductive Rights: Although couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, they often lacked the information and means to do so. The UN Population Fund reported that 114 health centers offered family planning services but that the availability of birth control services they offered varied from center to center. The 2018-2019 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey reported that 20.2 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. The Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups discouraged use of modern contraception.

The World Heath Statistics 2020 report estimated that skilled health personnel attended 45 percent of births and that 55.7 percent of women of reproductive age had access to modern methods of family planning. The health system’s obstetric care capacity was insufficient, and emergency care was available only in Bissau. The adolescent birth rate was 103 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19. There was no information on government assistance to victims of sexual assault.

According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality rate was 667 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 160. Major factors causing high maternal mortality were poor health infrastructure and service delivery as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy.

UNICEF statistics for 2020 reported that 52 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C causing maternal morbidity, including genital infections, urinary incontinence, increased infertility, and a high risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution grants men and women equal rights. Gender discrimination, however, prevailed due to society’s norms based on traditional customs and rules of ethnic groups and religious communities that perpetuated inequalities. The land-tenure law recognizes equal rights for men and women to access the land, yet it also recognizes the customary law that favors men as a way of acquiring tenure rights. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in the same occupations and industries as men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from citizen parents. Birth registration does not occur automatically at hospitals; parents must register births with a notary. Lack of registration resulted in denial of public services, including education.

Education: Most school-age children frequently remained at home because schools opened only intermittently due to teacher strikes. From March to October, children remained at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public schools did not offer remote classes.

Child Abuse: There are no laws regarding child abuse specifically. Violence against children was thought to be widespread but seldom reported to authorities.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both genders. Child, early, and forced marriage occurred among all ethnic groups. Girls who fled arranged marriages often were trafficked into commercial sex. The buying and selling of child brides also occurred. There were no government efforts to mitigate the problems. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of all girls were married by age 15 and 24 percent by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both boys and girls. A statutory rape law prohibits sex with a person younger than age 16. The rape law carries a penalty for conviction of two to 12 years in prison. The law also prohibits child pornography. The law criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and prescribes penalties of three to 15 years’ imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. When pedophilia and sexual harassment were reported, police at times blamed victims.

There were reports that girls were victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including in sex tourism, in the isolated Bijagos Islands, and on mainland Guinea-Bissau in bars and hotels.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Displaced Children: The national nongovernmental organization Association of the Friends of Children estimated up to 500 children, mostly from neighboring Guinea, lived on the streets of urban centers including Bissau, Bafata, and Gabu. The government provided no services to street children during the year. The government worked with Senegal to return 158 children sent to Quranic schools in Senegal back to Guinea-Bissau. These children usually ended up begging and being mistreated.

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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals. In July a man was attacked because of his sexual orientation, but he reportedly did not press charges due to fear of retaliation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the freedom to form and join independent unions without prior authorization. The law excludes the military and police and does not fully cover all other public-sector officials as well as agricultural workers, dock workers and workers in the informal economy.

The law does not provide for the right to bargain collectively; however, the tripartite National Council for Social Consultation conducted collective consultations on salary issues. Workers and employers established most wages in bilateral negotiations.

The law provides for the right to strike, but workers must give 72-hour prior notice. The law also prohibits retaliation against strikers and does not exclude any group of workers from relevant legal protections. Many sectors of the economy were on strike at some time during the year, typically because of low salaries. Workers in the education, media, health, and public sectors went on strike during the year. Public-sector workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage carried out weekly strikes during the year.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Laws on unions provide protection only for trade union delegates, while the constitution provides for workers’ rights to free speech and assembly. The law prohibits employer discrimination against official trade union representatives. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity. The law does not apply to domestic workers.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Authorities generally respected freedom of association in the formal sector. Worker organizations were not independent of government and political parties, employers, or employer associations, which sometimes sought to influence union decisions and actions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the laws. Prescribed penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, but the government did not use these or other relevant laws to prosecute cases of forced labor. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age is 14 years for general factory labor and 18 years for heavy or dangerous labor, including labor in mines, but these prohibitions do not apply to work without a contract. Minors are prohibited from working overtime. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from conducting heavy labor, work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, work at night, and underground work; however, the government has not established a list of hazardous work.

The Ministries of Justice and of Civil Service and Labor and the Institute of Women and Children did not effectively enforce these requirements, particularly in informal work settings. Resources, inspections, and remedies were inadequate. Penalties usually took the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted to reflect the 1997 adoption of the CFA franc and were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government provided no services of any kind, besides inspections, and did not arrest or prosecute any violators.

Child labor occurred in farming, fishing, domestic work, and street work. Forced child labor occurred in domestic service; begging; agriculture and mining; shoe shining; and selling food on urban streets. Some religious teachers, known as marabouts, deceived boys and their families by promising a Quranic education but then put the boys to work or took them to neighboring countries for exploitation as forced beggars. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6). The small formal sector generally adhered to minimum age requirements, although there were reports minors worked overtime despite the prohibition.

Children in rural communities performed domestic labor and fieldwork without pay to help support their families. Minors in these situations as well as those who received some pay were frequently subjected to violence and sexual assault. According to a nongovernmental organization survey, nine in 10 domestic workers were physically abused by their employers.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality for all, but the law does not prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social origin.

Women faced considerable pay gaps and were less likely to be hired than men. There were legal restrictions to women’s working hours and employment in occupations and tasks deemed dangerous, jobs in the mining industry, and other work considered detrimental to a woman’s “genetic function.” LGBTI persons faced discrimination in hiring, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. Documented discrimination in the other foregoing categories with respect to employment and occupation was not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for different categories of work but continues to rely on a wage establishment mechanism that the International Labor Organization considers outdated. Although the minimum wage of public-sector workers was above the World Bank’s international poverty line, the lowest minimum wage for private-sector employees was substantially below the poverty line. This minimum wage was not observed in the informal sector, which includes approximately 80 percent of workers. The law provides for a maximum 45-hour workweek and provisions for overtime pay.

In cooperation with unions, the Ministries of Justice and Labor establish legal health and safety standards for workers, which the National Assembly had not adopted into law by year’s end. The standards were current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without jeopardizing their employment.

The Labor Ministry inspector general is responsible for enforcing the Labor Law but did not do so effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to detect and deter violations, and they lacked authority to carry out unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Wage and occupational safety and health regulations were not enforced in the informal sector, which included the vast majority of workers. Penalties, which usually take the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted for inflation, were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Many persons worked under conditions that endangered their health and safety.

There is no official count of workplace accidents in the country, but numerous unofficial reports indicated the occurrence of workplace accidents. For example, in January, an employee lost his fingers while doing maintenance work. This case was reported to the inspector general of labor and was investigated.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future