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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The Immigration Department cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Internal Security Law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. During the year the government banned several Hong Kong politicians and activists from entering the SAR on the grounds they posed a threat to internal security, according to media reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but were not allowed to work until their refugee status was recognized.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, but same-sex couples were not covered by the domestic violence law. The government effectively enforced these laws. The domestic violence law stipulates that a judge may order urgent coercive measures imposed upon the defendant individually or cumulatively, and the application of these measures does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators for criminal responsibilities as stipulated in the criminal code.

The government made referrals for victims to receive medical treatment, and medical social workers counseled victims and informed them of social welfare services. The government funded NGOs to provide victim support services, including medical services, family counseling, and housing, until their complaints were resolved. The government also supported two 24-hour hotlines, one for counseling and the other for reporting domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: In June the Legislative Assembly passed a sex crime bill that amended the Penal Code to make sexual harassment a crime. Under the new law, police may take action against a suspect if the victim files a criminal complaint and a convicted offender may be sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Equal opportunity legislation mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. Penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines. Gender differences in occupation existed, with women concentrated in lower-paid sectors and lower-level jobs. However, per government statistics, between 2011 and 2016, the wage gap between men and women dropped from 2,500 patacas ($312) in 2011 to 1,700 patacas ($212) in 2016.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the Basic Law, children of Chinese national residents of the SAR who were born inside or outside the SAR and children born to non-Chinese national permanent residents inside the SAR are regarded as permanent residents. There is no differentiation between these categories in terms of access to registration of birth. Most births were registered immediately.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 16 years; however, children between 16 and 18 years who wish to marry must obtain approval from their parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law specifically provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procurement involving minors. The criminal code sets 14 years as the age of sexual consent. In June the Legislative Assembly outlawed procurement for prostitution of a person younger than 18 years. The law also prohibits child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was extremely small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings, public facilities, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The government enforced the law effectively and has a plan running through 2025 to improve services and access for persons with disabilities. The Social Welfare Bureau was primarily responsible for coordinating and funding public assistance programs to persons with disabilities. There was a governmental commission to rehabilitate persons with disabilities, with part of the commission’s scope of work addressing employment.

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

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual contact and no prohibition against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons forming organizations or associations. There were no reports of violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Madagascar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address spousal rape. Penalties range from five years to life in prison. Rape of a pregnant woman is punishable by hard labor. Authorities may add an additional two to five years’ imprisonment if the rape involves assault and battery. Authorities rarely enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence, but it remained a widespread problem. Domestic violence is punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of four million ariary ($1,120), depending on the severity of injuries and whether the victim was pregnant. There were few shelters for battered women in the country, and many returned to the home of their parents, who often pressured victims to return to their abusers.

Victims of domestic violence from vulnerable populations could receive assistance from advisory centers, called Centers for Listening and Legal Advice, set up in several regions by the Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Promotion of Women with the support of the UN Population Fund. These centers counseled survivors on where to go for medical care, provided psychological assistance, and helped them start legal procedures to receive alimony from their abusers.

In April a one-stop center for victims of rape and sexual abuse in the public maternity section of Befelatanana hospital in Antananarivo reported that it received an average of 60 cases of sexual abuse per month, including four or five involving boy victims. They reported half of those cases as incestuous, perpetrated by fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, and grandfathers. Family members generally tried to conceal cases of incest and avoided lodging complaints even though legal assistance for victims was available through the center.

Media reported in April that a 12-year-old girl living in Tolagnaro gave birth after being raped by a religious leader in the town. Her parents lodged a complaint; the girl’s father agreed to accept financial compensation from the presumed offender in exchange for withdrawal of the complaint. The clergyman reportedly withdrew from the agreement and instead lodged a complaint against the victim’s parents for defamation. Moreover, he reportedly threatened the parents and said that he had high-level protection. There was no report of any further legal action against the offender.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is against the law, and penalties range from one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of one to four million ariary ($280 to $1,120). The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($560 to $2,800) if criminals forced or pressured the victim into sexual acts or punished the victim for refusing such advances. Authorities did not enforce the law, and sexual harassment was widespread.

On June 6, a 40-year-old woman in Antananarivo was injured by a 50-year-old neighbor who, she alleged, had regularly tried to force her to have sexual intercourse. When she refused, the man beat her, forcing her to run to a public place and defend herself. The woman filed suit against the man for the beating; the man filed a counter-suit. According to the media, the woman continued to be the object of regular reprisals by the man. The woman took no known legal action for the sexual harassment.

BIANCO, in collaboration with the UN Development Program (UNDP), conducted a study on sexual corruption. The results of the study published in August revealed that sexual harassment qualified as gender-based corruption and prevailed not only in all professional sectors, including in universities. Victims of harassment, however, generally did not complain out of fear or shame. At a workshop connected to the study, students testified that dissertation supervisors compelled them to provide sexual services in exchange for validation of their theses.

The collaboration between BIANCO and UNDP led to the development of a strategy to combat sexual harassment, including setting up a prevention committee to receive anonymous complaints, protecting the confidentiality of victims’ identities and conducting public awareness campaigns.

During the year, local NGO Capacity-building for Communities conducted awareness campaigns targeting men in some private universities to combat the culture of impunity for men who sexually harassed women.

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

Discrimination: While women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men in some areas, there were significant differences. Women experienced discrimination in employment and transfer of inheritance. While widows with children inherit half of joint marital property, a husband’s surviving kin have priority over widows without children, leaving the widow eighth in line for inheritance if there is no prior agreement. Families at times gave women a more favored position in the areas of employment and inheritance transfer, but there were no reports of women taking legal action in cases of alleged discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Under the new nationality code, citizenship derives from one’s parents. The new law does not confer Malagasy nationality on children born in Madagascar if both parents are noncitizens. It does provide for a minor’s right to obtain Malagasy citizenship if one of his or her parents, regardless of their marital status, obtains Malagasy citizenship.

The country has no uniformly enforced birth registration system, and unregistered children typically were not eligible to attend school or obtain health-care services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free public education for all citizen children and makes primary education until the age of 16 compulsory. Nevertheless, parents were increasingly required to pay registration and various fees to subsidize teacher salaries and other costs. As a result, education became inaccessible for many children. According to UNICEF, boys and girls generally had equal access to education, although girls were more likely to drop out during adolescence.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including rape, was a problem. The press reported more than 20 cases of child rape, with most victims younger than 12; the youngest was three years old. In June the Ministry of Population, in partnership with UNICEF, published a study on violence against children in the country. The study revealed that violence against children, including physical violence, sexual abuse, and rape, occurred in all environments: family, school, social circles, and working places. According to the study, abuse was rarely reported due to a lack of confidence in the justice system, precarious economic conditions, and a desire to avoid social discord in the community. Only 4 percent of respondents to the survey said they had reported cases of child abuse to the police, while 19 percent had reported sexual abuse to the police or gendarmerie. Victims’ families often agreed to mediated arrangements involving financial compensation by the wrongdoers and occasionally forced marriage of the victim with the rapist.

In some towns and cities, particularly in Antananarivo, homeless women raise small children in dangerous conditions and environments, and will force children to beg on the streets at ages as young as three years old. Sometimes babies are “rented” to beggars to try to increase sympathy from passersby. Government authorities rarely intervened in these cases of child endangerment.

Government efforts to combat child rape were limited, focusing primarily on child protection networks, which addressed the needs of victims and helped raise public awareness.

With the support of UNICEF, the cities of Antananarivo, Toamasina, Mahajanga, and Nosy Be hosted one-stop victim support centers, called Vonjy Centers, in public hospitals. These centers received child victims of sexual abuse, including rape and sexual exploitation. Apart from the medical care, these centers provided psychological support through social workers assigned by NGOs. Police officials from the minors and child protection brigade recorded their complaints, and volunteer lawyers provided free legal assistance.

In Nosy Be the local office of the Ministry of Population, in collaboration with UNICEF, established a foster family system for child abuse victims who needed placement. Some officials reported that victims of child abuse were returned to the home where the abuse occurred due to a lack of options.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18 for both sexes. Nevertheless, child marriage remained very common, particularly in rural areas and in the south.

The practice of “moletry,” in which girls are married off at a younger age in exchange for oxen received as a dowry, reportedly continued. The parents of a boy (usually around age 15) look for a spouse for their son (girls may be as young as 12), after which the parents of both children organize the wedding. (For additional information, see Appendix C.)

The government announced initial implementation of the National Strategy to Fight against Child Marriage (SNMLE) in May. Implementation by the Ministry of Population, with the support of UNICEF, was planned for 2018 to 2024. The SNMLE aims to reduce child marriage prevalence–defined as “percentage of women age 20-24 who were married or in a union prior to the age of 18”–from 41 percent to 31 percent by 2024. The main elements of the strategy are to build the capacity of authorities and communities to better protect children and strengthen the ability of children to protect themselves against early marriage and early pregnancy.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Antitrafficking legislation provides a penalty of hard labor for recruitment and incitement to prostitution involving a child younger than 18, the sexual exploitation of a child younger than 15, and the commercial exploitation of a child younger than 18. Both the penal code and antitrafficking laws address, specify penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 10 million ariary ($2,800) for perpetrators of child pornography. Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. There is no minimum legal age for consensual sex.

Sexual exploitation of children, sometimes with the involvement of parents, remained a significant problem.

Employers often abused and raped young rural girls working as housekeepers in the capital. If they left their work, employers typically did not pay them, so many remained rather than return empty-handed to their families and villages. UNICEF’s 2018 study on violence against children indicated all reported cases of sexual violence in the workplace took place in the domestic labor sector.

In September 2017 the national gendarmerie officially launched its new morals and minors protection unit with responsibility for protecting children, including rape victims in rural areas not covered by the national police’s morals and minors brigade. The Ministry of Justice, collaborating with UNICEF and telecommunications companies, implemented a website called “Arozaza” (protect the child) that is intended to combat online sexual exploitation of minors and warn potential abusers. The website includes a form to report child endangerment or online pornography.

The Ministry of Population operated approximately 750 programs covering 22 regions throughout the country to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The ministry collaborated with UNICEF to identify child victims and provide access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. In collaboration with the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Population, and UNICEF trained local law enforcement officials and other stakeholders in targeted regions on the rights of children.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reports documented several deaths of newborns abandoned in gutters and dumpsters. A traditional taboo in the southeast against giving birth to twins also contributed to the problem.

Displaced Children: Although child abandonment is against the law, it remained a significant problem. There were few safe shelters for street children, and governmental agencies generally tried first to place abandoned children with parents or other relatives. Authorities placed many children in private and church-affiliated orphanages outside the regulated system.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 360 members; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and defines persons with disabilities as those presenting congenital or acquired deficiency in their physical, mental, or sensory capacities (without mentioning intellectual disability). The law also provides for a national commission and regional subcommissions to promote their rights. By law persons with disabilities are entitled to receive health care, education, facilitated access to public transportation, and have the right to training and employment; the law does not address access to the judicial system, information, and communications. Educational institutions are “encouraged” to make necessary infrastructure adjustments to accommodate students with disabilities. The law also specifies the state “must facilitate, to the extent possible, access to its facilities, public spaces, and public transportation to accommodate persons with disabilities.”

Authorities rarely enforced the rights of persons with disabilities, and the legal framework for promoting accessibility remained perfunctory.

Access to education and health care for persons with disabilities also was limited due to lack of adequate infrastructure, specialized institutions, and personnel.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment. They were also more likely to become victims of various types of abuse, sometimes perpetrated by their own relatives.

The electoral code provides that individuals with disabilities should be assisted in casting their ballots, but it contains no other provisions to accommodate voters with disabilities.

In Antananarivo, persons with disabilities were often seen begging for money, sometimes accompanied by someone who was not disabled to call attention to the disabled person’s condition. Security force members did not intervene, even when disabled persons sat between moving lanes of traffic, making it difficult for those in cars to see them.

In June the NGO Humanity and Inclusion, formerly known as Handicap International, with financial support from the French government, launched two 48-month projects called “Inclusive Education and Vocational Training” and “Mental Health.” The first project aimed to give equal educational and vocational education opportunity to minors with disabilities; the second was a community-based strategy to promote mental health.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

None of the 18 tribes in the country constituted a majority. There were also minorities of Indian, Pakistani, Comorian, and Chinese heritage. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity often were considered in hiring and exploited in politics. A long history of military conquest and political dominance by highland ethnic groups of Asian origin, particularly the Merina, over coastal groups of African ancestry contributed to tension between citizens of highland and coastal descent, particularly in politics.

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

The law provides for a prison sentence of two to five years and a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($560 to $2,800) for acts that are “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex younger than 21,” which is understood to include sexual relations. There is no law prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct for those older than 21. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reportedly were unaware of the risk of arrest for “corruption of a minor,” and arrests occurred for such acts, although there were no official statistics.

There are no specific antidiscrimination provisions that apply to LGBTI persons. There were no reports of discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. No laws prevent transgender persons from identifying with their chosen gender.

There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against LGBTI individuals.

As evidenced by comments in occasional news items involving well-known LGBTI personalities, members of the LGBTI community often continued to face considerable social stigma and discrimination within their own families, particularly in rural areas.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Health care providers subjected persons with HIV/AIDS to stigma and discrimination. HIV/AIDS patients have the right to free health care, and the law specifies sanctions against persons who discriminate against or marginalize persons with HIV/AIDS. Apart from the National Committee for the Fight against AIDS in Madagascar, national institutions–including the Ministries of Health and Justice–did not effectively enforce the law.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence occurred in both urban and rural areas, in large part due to crime and lack of public confidence in police and the judiciary. The local office of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a report on mob violence on September 17, stating that between July 2016 and August 2018 it registered 108 cases of mob violence involving 152 deaths and 62 injuries. Crowds killed, beat, burned, or otherwise injured suspected criminals or accomplices, and the media reported 97 deaths resulting from mob violence between January and September. At least 15 of those incidents occurred in the Sava Region, where villagers caught and killed vanilla thieves caught stealing. Villagers also resorted to mob violence to take revenge on residents of other villages for previous alleged attacks. Authorities sometimes arrested the perpetrators, but fear of creating renewed anger hindered prosecution. Media and observers believed that the law was more likely to be enforced against perpetrators when it was in the interests of authorities or security forces.

In June local consulting firm Afrobarometer Madagascar published survey results on mob violence indicating that 41 percent of respondents considered mob violence acceptable for rape and cattle theft. The same study stated that 80 percent of rural inhabitants and 55 percent of urban residents resorted to dinas when handling cases of cattle theft and other social issues. In a September report, the local office of the OHCHR published a report stating that the dina system was effective in some regions but dangerous in others.

A mayor in the district of Mananjary went on trial on February 17, accused of involvement in the killing of a presumed thief beaten to death by villagers the previous month. Fellow mayors and members of the mayors association of Nosy Varika and Mananjary demonstrated against the detention of their colleague.

In August the Ministry of Justice, with the support of the UNDP, organized a two-day workshop in Sambava, capital of the Sava region, to mobilize local authorities, other public figures, and locally elected parliamentarians to prevent mob violence and popular revenge in the region. The second day was an open house exhibition during which different ministries shared information to promote civic behavior among the local population. The minister of justice and the minister of public security as well as the state secretary for the gendarmerie were present.

On June 4, in Belanana, villagers of Ambatotsihy killed a 54-year-old suspected thief to enforce a local dina ruling. The gendarmes had previously arrested the thief and were holding him in the office of the district chief. A group of villagers estimated at a thousand came to the district office to seize the thief and took him to his home village, Ambatotsihy, where his fellow villagers killed him as required by the dina. Media reported a few days later that gendarmes came to make an assessment but did not make any arrests, supposedly to avoid causing social unrest.

Malawi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The penal code criminalizes rape of women with a maximum penalty of death for conviction. The Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act enacted in 2015 explicitly introduces the concept of spousal rape, but the act does not prescribe specific penalties and applies only to legally separated spouses. Spousal rape may be prosecuted under the rape provisions of the penal code. The government generally enforced the law effectively, and convicted rapists routinely received prison sentences.

Data on the prevalence of rape or spousal rape, prosecutions, and convictions were unavailable; however, press reporting of rape and defilement arrests and convictions were an almost daily occurrence. Although the maximum penalty for conviction of rape is death or life imprisonment, the courts generally imposed fixed prison sentences. For cases of conviction of indecent assault on women and girls, the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare and donor-funded NGOs conducted public education campaigns to combat domestic sexual harassment, violence, and rape.

The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for conviction of domestic violence and recognizes that both men and women may be perpetrators as well as victims. Domestic violence, especially wife beating, was common, although victims rarely sought legal recourse. Police regularly investigated cases of rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence but did not normally intervene in domestic disputes. Police support units provided limited shelter for some abuse victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. A 2017 UN study found no evidence of FMC/C but that of a practice of labia elongation or pulling. It was performed on girls between ages 10 and 15 during sexual initiation camps in rural areas of the Southern Region.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The Gender Equality Act of 2013 prohibits harmful social, cultural, or religious practices, including “widow cleansing” and “widow inheritance.” Nonetheless, in some areas widows were sometimes forced to have sex with male in-laws or a designee as part of a culturally mandated “sexual cleansing” ritual following the death of the husband. In some cases widows were “inherited” by a brother-in-law or other male relative. The government and NGOs sought to abolish such practices by raising awareness concerning the inherent dangers of such behavior, including the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.

“Kupimbira,” a practice that allows a poor family to receive a loan or livestock in exchange for pubescent daughters of any age, existed in some areas.

Despite certain legal prohibitions, many abusive practices, including the secret initiation of girls into the socially prescribed roles of womanhood, continued. Such initiations were often aimed at preparing girls for marriage with emphasis on how to engage in sexual acts. In some traditional communities, girls as young as age 10 undergo “kusasa fumbi,” a cleansing ritual consisting of forced sexual relations with an older man. According to one UN-sponsored study, more than 20 percent of girls in secondary school underwent a form of initiation that involved sexual relations with an older man.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment was believed to be widespread, there were no data on its prevalence or on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law. The Gender Equality Act makes conviction of sexual harassment punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and places an obligation on government to ensure workplaces have policies and procedures aimed at eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Extreme cases could be prosecuted under certain sections of the penal code, such as indecent assault on a woman or girl, under which conviction provides up to a 14-year prison sentence, or conviction of insulting the modesty of a woman, a misdemeanor punishable by one year’s incarceration.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion but there were of involuntary sterilization. In November the Office of the Ombudsman launched a public appeal for information and testimony following media reports of involuntary hysterectomies of caesarian patients at Blantyre’s referral hospital. For estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: By law women have the same legal status and rights as men and may not be discriminated against based on gender or marital status, including in the workplace. Nevertheless, women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, as well as lower rates of access to resources for farming. Widows often were victims of discriminatory and illegal inheritance practices in which most of an estate was taken by the deceased husband’s family.

The government addressed women’s concerns through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare. The law provides for a minimum level of child support, widows’ rights, and maternity leave; however, few knew their rights, had access to the legal system, and thus benefited from these legal protections. In August the government launched its cross-sectoral National Strategy for Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) that aims at improving outcomes in education and health and reducing the incidence of gender-based violence among AGYW.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship may be derived from birth within the country or abroad to at least one Malawian parent “of African race.” There were no reports of discrimination or denial of services due to lack of birth registration. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The government provided tuition-free primary education for all children. Education for children to age 18 is compulsory, although many families could not afford book fees and uniforms, and limited space in secondary schools prevented many students from continuing beyond primary education. Students from poor families had access to a public book fund. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The press regularly reported cases of sexual abuse of children, including arrests for rape, incest, sodomy, and defilement. For additional information, see Appendix C.

The law prohibits subjecting a child to any social or customary practice that is harmful to health or general development. Prohibited practices included child trafficking, forced labor, early and forced marriage or betrothal, and use of children as security for loans or other debts.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare activities to enhance protection and support of child victims included reuniting rescued victims of child labor with their parents and operating shelters for vulnerable children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act sets the minimum age for marriage at 18. In April 2017 the president signed a constitutional amendment removing a provision that allowed marriage at age 15 with parental consent. Civic education on early marriage was carried out mainly by NGOs. Some traditional leaders annulled early marriages and returned the girls involved to school. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law forbids engaging in sexual activity with children under age 16 and stipulates penalties for conviction of 14 to 21 years in prison. The law further prohibits “indecent practice” in the presence of or with a child, with offenders liable to imprisonment of up to 14 years.

The law prohibits child pornography and using a child for public entertainment of an immoral or harmful nature. The maximum penalty for conviction of engaging in child pornography is 14 years in prison, while those found guilty of procuring a child for public entertainment are liable to a fine of 100,000 MWK ($133) and imprisonment for seven years. The law was not effectively enforced.

The widespread belief that children were unlikely to be HIV-positive and that sexual intercourse with virgins could cleanse an individual of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, contributed to the widespread sexual exploitation of minors. The trafficking of children for sexual purposes was a problem, and child prostitution for survival at the behest of parents or without third-party involvement occurred. In urban areas bar and rest house owners recruited girls as young as 12 from rural areas to do household work such as cleaning and cooking but then coerced them to engage in sex work with customers in exchange for room and board. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Displaced Children: According to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, 19 percent of children under age 18 were not living with either biological parent and 17 percent were orphaned or vulnerable due to extended parental illness or death, including an estimated 650,000 orphaned because of AIDS. Extended family members normally cared for such children and other orphans.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Disability Act prohibits discrimination in education, health care, the judicial system, social services, the workplace, housing, political life, and cultural and sporting activities for persons with disabilities, defined as a long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in political and public life and calls for the government to take measures to provide access for them to transportation, information, and communication services. The law provides for the establishment of a disability trust fund to support persons with disabilities, including with regard to access to public facilities, both governmental and private.

Societal stigma related to disability and the lack of accessibility to public buildings and transportation had a negative impact on the ability of persons with disabilities to obtain services and obtain and maintain employment.

Accommodations for persons with disabilities were not among the government’s priorities. Although the Disability Act took effect in 2013, the government had yet to adopt standards and plans for its enforcement and implementation. The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but it was unable to do so.

There were public and privately supported schools and training centers that assisted persons with disabilities. As of September the MHRC reported receiving no complaints related to abuse of disability rights.

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

By law and practice LGBTI persons are denied basic civil, political, social, and economic rights. Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and for which conviction is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, including hard labor. The penal code, a legacy from the British colonial era, outlaws “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices between men.” In 2014, however, Solicitor General Janet Banda told the UN Human Rights Commission the government would not enforce these laws. In 2015 Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu reaffirmed the moratorium on the enforcement of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity.

Same-sex sexual activity may also be prosecuted as “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.” A 2011 amendment to the penal code established penalties for consensual same-sex sexual activity between women, setting a maximum prison term for conviction of five years.

In 2016, the latest year for which data were available, the Center for the Development of People documented 21 instances of abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The nature of the abuses fell into three broad categories: stigma, harassment, and violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, especially in rural areas. Many individuals preferred to keep silent regarding their health conditions rather than seek help and risk being ostracized. Campaigns by the government and NGOs to combat the stigma had some success. The National AIDS Commission maintained that discrimination was a problem in both the public and private sectors.

The 2012 People Living with HIV Stigma Index for Malawi indicated that of 2,272 persons with HIV interviewed, significant percentages reported having been verbally insulted, harassed, and threatened (35.1 percent) and excluded from social gatherings (33.7 percent).

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mobs and local citizens sometimes engaged in vigilante attacks, at times killing persons suspected of crimes such as theft.

There were several attacks on persons with albinism driven by the demand for body parts for witchcraft rituals in neighboring Tanzania. Religious, traditional, civil society, and political leaders, including the president, publicly denounced the attacks. The government launched a public awareness campaign and conducted training of police, prosecutors, and judges in border districts to counter the trend. On March 16, in the southernmost district of Nsanje, police arrested brothers Fatsani Litikhoya and Watson Litikhoya for kidnapping and attempting to kill Masiteni Losi, a person with albinism. As of October the brothers were in custody at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre awaiting trial. Earlier in the year, police in Mulanje District opened an investigation into the exhumation of bones from the grave of Ndiuzayani Mwathunga, a deceased person with albinism; as of October the investigation continued.

Malaysia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. Access to those in detention centers, however, was often significantly limited.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent. In 2017 the government launched the Tracking Refugees Information System to register refugees and collect their biometric data. The program requires refugees to pay an annual fee of RM500 ($125) for an identification card but did not provide any benefits.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,500), or both, and mandatory caning of a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration law violations.

In July the government used what some NGOs called inhuman and degrading methods to carry out a mass operation to arrest undocumented migrant workers.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR and NGOs or illegal casual labor. The government, however, held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding. An NGO with access to the detention centers claimed these conditions and the lack of medical screening and treatment facilitated the spread of disease and contributed to deaths. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national opposition leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained a travel ban on a SUHAKAM commissioner for criticizing the construction of a controversial dam in the state. SUHAKAM stated the travel ban prevented it from holding its October commission meeting as planned.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes. The government also sometimes used its powers to restrict travel by its critics. In addition to preventing overseas travel by some activists, the former government temporarily detained and in some cases denied entry to foreign human rights activists.

In May immigration authorities banned former prime minister Najib Razak, his wife, and several other former government officials from traveling overseas because they were suspected of corruption, although they had not been charged with a crime at the time they attempted to leave the country. Authorities later charged Najib with 38 counts of money laundering, bribery, and criminal breach of trust, and his wife with 19 counts of money laundering and corruption.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government at times did not provide legal protection against the expulsion or forcible return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 2017 authorities detained three Turkish citizens, one a UNHCR-registered refugee, and deported them to Turkey, reportedly at the request of the Turkish government. According to a report released during the year by a Swedish human rights group, a Turkish national deported by Malaysian authorities in 2016 was beaten, tortured, and threatened with death upon his return to Turkey. Malaysian human rights groups said in April that the incident violated international customary law.

In October the government released 11 Uighurs from prison and dropped charges against them of illegal entry. The government also rejected China’s request to forcibly return the group to China and allowed them to relocate to Turkey.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status; government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent, but the government occasionally reported potential refugees to UNHCR.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about conditions in immigration detention centers and the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council has strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty the cost of deportation is generally at the detainee’s expense, which led to prolonged detention for migrants who were unable to pay.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers, but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards reported, nonetheless, limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. During the year the government permitted a pilot program for 30 Rohingya refugees to work in a local bakery, a program refugee advocates said was a success.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to asylum seekers, who did not receive UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated mobile clinics, but their number and access was limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

STATELESS PERSONS

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. UNHCR estimated there were 12,350 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia and 450,000 in Sabah. In May the government established a minority task force to address statelessness among members of the country’s ethnic Indian community.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant/refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem and reported that, in a population of approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees in Sabah State, an estimated 10,000 were children who were technically stateless.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced cost health care, or own property.

In October the federal government approved the citizenship applications of two stateless children after lawyers sued the government. The cases of three other stateless children remained pending.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. The law does not recognize marital rape as a crime.

Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could file reports without going to a police station. Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists.

Although the government and NGOs maintained shelters and offered other assistance to battered spouses, activists asserted that support mechanisms for victims of domestic violence remained inadequate. There is a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assign psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C and it is a common practice, but data on it was very limited. Ministry of Health guidelines allow the practice but only at government health-care facilities. Women’s rights groups said a 2009 fatwa by the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs declaring the practice obligatory made FGM/C more prevalent. According to an investigation published by local media in November, there are no standard procedures for the practice and “in some cases box cutters and stationery store blades are used.” The Ministry of Health has never released guidelines for the procedure. Government officials defended the practice during a UN review in February, with a Ministry of Health official stating that the practice was only performed by medical professionals and compared it to immunization programs for female babies. The UN panel urged the country to abolish the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his or her position to intimidate a subordinate to have sexual relations. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of the difficulty of proving the offense, and a lengthy trial process.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender, and gives men and women equal property rights; however, sharia, which deviates from these principles in some areas, was sometimes applied. For instance, Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. Sharia also generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, but a small and steadily increasing number of women obtained divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslims are not subject to sharia. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Nevertheless, four states–Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang–extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers.

In March a woman reported that Kota Baru Municipal Council officials stopped her from working as a master of ceremonies during a children’s event, claiming that Muslim women cannot speak into microphones because a woman’s voice should not be heard by unrelated men.

The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: A child born in the country obtains citizenship if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth and the parents are married. Parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. According to UNHCR children born to citizen mothers outside the country may only acquire citizenship at the discretion of the federal government through registration at an overseas Malaysian consulate or at the National Registration Department in country. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registered children born to refugees (see section 2.d.).

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years), although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are not open to the children of illegal immigrants or refugees, whether registered with UNHCR or not.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is age 18 for men and age 16 for women. Muslim women younger than age 16 may marry with the approval of a sharia court. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape.

In June a Malaysian man, age 41, married a Thai girl, age 11, in Thailand and returned to the country to live with her. Despite public outrage over the matter, the deputy prime minister stated the government was powerless to act because the marriage was legal under Islamic law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law outlaws pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part as a participant or an observer in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Federal police reported detecting approximately 20,000 internet addresses in the country uploading and downloading child pornography. Under the law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is age 16 for both boys and girls. A conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. In 2017 the government established a special court for sexual crimes against children to speed up trials, many of which took years to conclude. Child prostitution existed and a local NGO estimated in 2015 that 5,000 children were involved in sex work in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding areas. Authorities, however, often treated children engaged in prostitution as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.

The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest. A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence, which posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.

Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah. Estimates of the street children population ranged from a few thousand to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving their children without guardians. Lacking citizenship, access to schooling, ord other government-provided support, these children often resorted to menial labor, criminal activities, and prostitution to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to forced labor, including forced begging.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population was estimated at between 100 and 200 persons. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population. A 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey found 61 percent of citizens held anti-Jewish attitudes. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defended his right to be anti-Semitic in interviews with the Associated Press in August, stating “Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” and the BBC in October repeating his claim from the 1970s that Jews are “hook-nosed” and that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was not six million.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law affords persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access to persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “disabled friendly,” the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for persons with disabilities.

Employment discrimination occurred in relation to persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed, but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution gives ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups, collectively known as “bumiputra,” a “special position” in the country. Government regulations and policies provide extensive preferential programs to boost the economic position of bumiputra, who constitute a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for nonbumiputra (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels. Government procurement and licensing policies favor bumiputra-owned businesses. The government claimed these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous people with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights. Indigenous people, who numbered approximately 200,000, constituted the poorest group in the country.

Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. A constitutional provision provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak,” but does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions.

The courts have ruled that the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution, but NGOs said the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government can seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between indigenous communities and logging companies over land, and uncertainty over their land tenure made indigenous people vulnerable to exploitation.

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

Adult same-sex acts are illegal regardless of age or consent. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” While authorities rarely enforced this provision, it was the basis for the controversial case against then-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (see section 1.e.). Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a.). In August two women in Terengganu State were sentenced by a sharia court to RM3,300 ($825) in fines and six strokes of the cane each after they were accused of same-sex sexual activity. Authorities caned the women before an audience of approximately 100 persons, marking the first public caning recorded in the state.

Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense faced a maximum fine of RM25 ($6.25) and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions may be maximum fines of RM100 ($25) and a maximum three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.

A survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse. In August a group of boys repeatedly beat a transgender woman in Negeri Sembilan State. In November police arrested a man for allegedly killing his transgender girlfriend in Perak State.

State religious authorities reportedly forced lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTI) persons to participate in “treatment” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In August police raided a club in Kuala Lumpur associated with the LGBTI community, detaining 20 men and ordering them to attend counseling for “illicit activities.” Authorities stated the raid was part of an antidrug operation, but a government minister posted on Facebook that he hoped the operation would “mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society.”

LGBTI persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.

In August a federal government minister ordered festival organizers in Penang State to remove portraits of two LGBTI activists from a photography exhibition because the government does “not support the promotion of LGBT culture…” One of the activists whose photograph was removed received multiple death threats in the wake of the controversy. Authorities took no action against those making the threats.

Also in August a government minister stated that authorities would monitor social media and other online content in order “to curb LGBT issues, as well as liberal Islam.”

Maldives

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the year, however, the government confiscated the passports of several members of the political opposition, restricting their foreign travel.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against both men and women, as well as spousal rape and domestic violence including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. The law also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands against medical orders and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The law allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower. Penalties range from four-months’ to 10-years’ imprisonment, depending on factors such as the age of the victim.

NGOs reported MPS officers were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, believing such violence was justified. Reportedly, this made victims reluctant to file criminal cases against abusers. While the MPS received 71 cases of domestic violence as of July, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, which provides psychosocial support for victims of domestic violence, received 204 cases during the same period.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services received reports of rape, sexual offenses, and domestic violence and conducted social inquiry assessments of cases they submitted to the MPS. They also provided psychological support to victims during MPS investigations.

To streamline the process of reporting abuses against women and children, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services established family and children’s service centers on every atoll in 2016. Residential facilities were established in only four of the centers to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no data on the frequency of FGM/C, although religious leaders in 2014 called for the practice to be revived. Local NGOs reported the practice persisted, but societal stigma restricted public discussion of the issue.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: A 2015 amendment to the penal code states only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery. No hadd penalties were enforced. Prior to the amendment, the penal code allowed for the implementation of milder penalties only in limited cases, including flogging for fornication and optional flogging for consuming alcohol and pork, not fasting during Ramadan, and for perjury.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, detention facilities, and any centers that provide public services, but the government did not enforce the law.

The MPS reported 16 cases of sexual harassment filed from January to July under the Sexual Harassment Act, none of which was forwarded for prosecution.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination including in workplaces, educational institutions, and service providers, such as hospitals, but discrimination against women remained a problem. NGOs reported authorities more readily accused women than men of adultery, in part because visible pregnancies made the allegedly adulterous act more obvious, while men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law. Women’s rights activists reported that women who initiated divorce proceedings faced undue delays in court as compared to men who initiated divorce proceedings. According to women’s rights activists, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law.

During the year the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services finalized a Gender Equality Action Plan covering five main areas: leadership and governance, economic development, institutional gender mainstreaming, gender-based violence, and access to justice. The ministry also set up a national steering committee to oversee implementation and provided orientation training for committee members in August.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents. Under the law a child born of a citizen father or mother, regardless of the child’s place of birth, may derive citizenship. Lawyers reported several cases during the year in which the Family Court refused to register children in instances where one of the parents was a foreigner.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through secondary school. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services handled 49 cases of children being deprived of education as of August. The ministry said this included indefinite suspensions of students, schools’ refusal to enroll children, and parental refusal to send the children to school. NGOs and activists noted the effect of religious extremism on child rights was an emerging issue but lacked a baseline study determining its prevalence.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted of sexual offenses against children. If a person is legally married to a minor under Islamic law, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation is considered criminal. The courts have the power to detain perpetrators, although most were released pending sentencing and allowed to return to the communities of their victims. The MPS investigates and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services is in charge of following up on reports of child abuse, including cases of sexual abuse. Half of the total cases received by the Ministry of Gender and Family as of July were cases of child abuse, the majority of them involving sexual abuse. Of the child abuse cases received by the MPS, 45 percent were also sexual abuse cases, with the MPS forwarding only 16 of these cases for prosecution as of July. Human rights activists reported the lack of effective coordination between authorities handling child abuse cases remained a problem. In 2015 the Ministry of Gender and Family first published the online child sex offenders’ registry that, as of September, listed 74 individuals and their photographs, full names, identification card numbers, addresses, dates of conviction, dates of imprisonment, dates of scheduled release, and whereabouts.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to a September 2016 amendment to the Family Regulation, the Family Court must petition the Supreme Court for approval for girls and boys under age 18 to marry. The Ministry of Gender and Family must also submit an assessment of the proposed marriage to the Supreme Court, and the marriage can proceed only after the Supreme Court grants the Family Court approval for the union. The Ministry of Gender had received requests to assess three proposals for 16-year-olds and three proposals for 17-year-olds to get married as of August. The ministry had not concluded their assessments as of September.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act prohibits child prostitution and the use, procurement, or provision of a child (below age 18) for the production of pornography or for pornographic performance. The crime is punishable by imprisonment between 15 and 25 years. The act stipulates that a child between ages 13 and 18 involved in a sexual act is deemed not to have given consent, “unless otherwise proven.” The law also treats the prostitution of children by a third party as a form of human trafficking with exploitation under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act with a 15-year maximum sentence. The law generally requires the acts of exploitation be predicated on movement and does not criminalize it in the absence of coercion. The penal code allows the Prosecutor General’s Office to lodge multiple charges against a perpetrator for a single offense. For sex trafficking, this means the office can file charges for human trafficking under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act and for prostitution under the Child Sexual Abuse Act and aggregate the penalties so perpetrators serve longer sentences for a single offense. The MPS investigated five cases of child pornography, none of which was forwarded for prosecution as of July. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported one case of child prostitution as of August.

Institutionalized Children: Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) released a report in 2016 detailing abuses in government-run “safe homes.” ARC reported children routinely spent many months at these homes, although they were intended to be temporary stopovers for children being taken into state care. According to ARC, the safe homes were inadequately furnished and equipped, lacked basic essentials, and were often understaffed, resulting in inadequate care, protection, and education for institutionalized children.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law provide for the rights and freedom from most types of discrimination for persons with disabilities. Although the constitution provides for freedom from discrimination in access to employment for persons with disabilities, the Disabilities Act does not do so. The Disabilities Act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities as well as financial assistance. Since the establishment of the National Registry of People with Disabilities in 2011, 6,330 persons had been registered, as of September. The act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than MVR 2,000 ($130) to each registered individual. NGOs reported the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA), which handles the National Registry, has strict conditions and a cumbersome screening process that prevent the majority of persons with disabilities from being registered. The NSPA requires an assessment from a medical center in Male City, which can cost up to $2,600 for some families living in the islands who have to travel and stay in Male City for lengthy periods while the assessment is completed. The NSPA has also published the requirements for inclusion in the National Registry and has rejected several applications. NGOs noted inclusion on the registry is a precondition to access several other benefits provided for persons with disabilities, including priority in accessing social housing schemes and special accommodations during voting.

Although no official studies have been concluded, NGOs which operate throughout the country estimated as much as 10 percent of the total population of persons with disabilities have been subjected to various forms of abuse and 40 to 60 percent of girls or women with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, are subject to sexual abuse. The families of these victims often do not report these cases to authorities, because the police investigation and judicial process is inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Government services for persons with disabilities included special educational programs for those with sensory disabilities. Inadequate facilities and logistical challenges related to transporting persons with disabilities between islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school. In 2017 a special, one-time government initiative provided jobs for 200 persons with disabilities. NGOs reported most of these employees had since been dismissed due to the offices being unable to provide for their special needs. They also reported two cases in which such employees were subject to sexual abuse from their superiors. The vast majority of public streets and buildings are not accessible for wheelchair users.

The government integrated students with disabilities into mainstream educational programs at primary and secondary level. Most large government schools also held special units catering to persons with disabilities who cannot be accommodated in the mainstream classes. Each school also has a disability ambassador, and all teachers receive special training. Nonetheless, children with disabilities had virtually no access to transition support to higher secondary education.

In July the EC announced the chief electoral official at voting stations would have to approve any individuals entering the voting booth for the purposes of assisting persons with disabilities who require assistance to vote in presidential elections.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Maldives Immigration reported 145,000 legal foreign workers as of August, with an additional estimated 15,000-20,000 undocumented foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. NGOs reported government agencies implemented discriminatory policies towards expatriate laborers. One island council reportedly restricted foreign migrant workers from accessing certain neighborhoods on the island at night. In June former minister of home affairs Umar Naseer, who had considered contesting in the September presidential elections, pledged to deport all undocumented migrant workers, labelling them threats to national security and to those citizens seeking employment. Human rights activists said Naseer’s statements reflected the views of a large number of citizens and alleged some local citizens had prevented migrant workers from attending mosque during Ramadan.

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

The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the penal code, the punishment includes imprisonment of up to eight years, as well as a provision for a supplementary punishment of 100 lashes imposed under Maldives Islamic law. None of the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. No organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) problems in the country. There were no reports of officials complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons, although societal stigma likely discouraged individuals from reporting such problems. Local citizens who expressed support for LGBTI rights on social media reportedly were targeted for online harassment as “apostates” or irreligious. NGOs reported several members of the LGBTI community sought refuge in Sri Lanka after societal shaming related to their sexual orientation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The trial of six men arrested in 2017 and charged in connection with the murder of Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and social media activist who disappeared in April 2017, continued during the year. Police initially stated a group of young men, unaffiliated with any organization, had killed Rasheed because they believed he mocked Islam and that they were investigating unspecified persons of interest who may have encouraged the suspects in committing the crime. Rasheed had received multiple death threats before his disappearance, which were reported to police, but according to Rasheed’s social media accounts, his friends, and family, police had not responded or investigated. In a public speech on April 2017, President Yameen condemned Rasheed’s actions as “mocking” Islam, which activists viewed as Yameen’s justifying Rasheed’s killing. Police had not arrested additional suspects as of October 23.

Mali

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and fear of retaliation. No law specifically prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated criminal laws against rape apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but stopped if parties reached an agreement prior to trial.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. Most cases went unreported. On December 28, Fanta Sekou Fofana was beaten and killed by her fiance. By year’s end, investigations were ongoing in the case, and the fiance remained in custody. Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($919) or, if premeditated, up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police were reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands because they feared husbands would interpret such allegations as grounds for divorce, were unable to support themselves financially, sought to avoid social stigma, or feared retaliation or further ostracism. The governmental Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between the ages of six months and nine years. The most recent comprehensive FGM/C survey, conducted by UNICEF in 2010, indicated 89 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 were excised, and 74 percent of girls and women in the same age group had at least one daughter who was excised. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it. In June a group of three to five aggressors harassed and raped a girl in the Cercle (county equivalent) of Kati. The case was under investigation by year’s end. Some of the assailants remained in custody, while others fled and were not yet recaptured.

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. The government effectively enforced the law.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

Women experienced economic discrimination due to social norms that favored men, and their access to education and employment was limited.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, the Family, and Children is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country, and the law requires registration within 30 days of birth. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. According to UNICEF, the government registered 81 percent of births in 2014. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of new birth certificates assigned was unknown. Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners during the year to register children at birth and to educate parents about the benefits of registration. In 2015 the government approved the issuance of birth certificates for 7,807 children born in the country to Afro-Mauritanian refugees as part of the government’s commitment to facilitate their local integration.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling from ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, cultural preference to educate boys, early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

The conflict resulted in the closure of schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou, and many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. Jihadist groups threatened teachers and communities causing, as of March, the closure of 657 schools during the 2017-18 school year, up from 507 schools in the same period in 2016-17, according to UN independent observer Alioune Tine.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Citizens typically did not report child abuse, according to UNICEF. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. A 16-year-old girl may marry with parental consent if a civil judge approves. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and underage marriage was a problem throughout the country. According to 2017 data from the UN Population Fund, 52 percent of women were married by age 18 and 17 percent before 15.

In some regions of the country, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as 10. It was common practice for a 14-year-old girl to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, judicial officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months to three years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and one million CFA francs ($37 and $1,838). Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred. The Division for Protection of Children and Morals of the National Police conducted sweeps of brothels to assure that individuals in prostitution were of legal age and arrested brothel owners found to be holding underage girls.

Child Soldiers: From April 2017 to October 2018, the National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and the Family registered 53 children associated with armed groups. In 2017, 29 were identified and 24 during the year. They were all assisted by the government and national and international NGOs. As of October, three children remained at the shelter centers in Bamako and Gao while all others were reunited with their families. Six of the children identified during the year were associated with jihadist groups operating in the Mopti Region. Two were identified in Kidal and four in Timbuktu.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge about contraception. Authorities prosecuted at least two infanticide cases during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and few resources were available. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on the recommendation of the doctor, who sometimes lacked training in psychology, the court then either sent the suspect to a mental institution in Bamako or proceeded with a trial.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination continued against black Tuaregs, often referred to as “Bellah.” Some Tuareg groups deprived black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to traditional slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves, who had no legal recourse. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops throughout the country to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. The government took no action to establish punishment for practicing slavery.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani ethnic group and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities. Self-defense groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in attacks.

For example, on September 7, in Koro, Mopti Region, attacks by Donzo hunters against Fulani village, Koumboko, resulted in 12 deaths. In early September clashes between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders in Djenne resulted in at least 22 deaths.

According to MINUSMA, intercommunal conflict in Koro, Bandiagara, and Bankass Circles resulted in the forced displacement of at least 22,572 individuals as of July.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” There are no laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence remains a problem. For example, in June a mob destroyed the town of Fana’s gendarmerie headquarters during a protest against the lack of security and the killing of a nine-year-old girl with albinism by a member of the community.

Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. In June a nine-year-old girl with albinism was kidnapped and beheaded in the town of Fana. As of November the assailant was in custody. The rights of persons with albinism organization run by prominent Malian singer Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition contributed to such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer.

Malta

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In May the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted pervasive offensive content aimed against migrants on the internet and in social media in the country, reflecting negative attitudes toward immigration.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries.

Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.

In some cases immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.

Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.

Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.

Durable Solutions: Between January and September, 100 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. As of September, 16 migrants had sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts moved slowly, as migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low skilled sectors. Migrants also expressed concerns about access to higher education.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to August, the country granted subsidiary protection to 334 persons.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense, and the government effectively prosecuted such crimes. A law passed during the year broadened the definition of rape and increased the sentence to 12 years with added penalties in aggravated circumstances. Through September, seven persons faced rape charges in the courts.

The law treats domestic violence as an aggravating circumstance of other crimes such as bodily harm, rape, and harassment, and the government generally enforced the laws prohibiting it. Penalties ranged from three months to 20 years in prison. Through August police had brought no new cases related to domestic violence. Several previous cases were pending.

In April parliament enacted a Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Act to integrate fully the provisions of the Istanbul Convention into national law.

Authorities provided training on domestic violence awareness to police and social workers. The police and Agenzija Appogg, the social welfare agency, signed an interagency protocol on Adult Victims of Domestic Violence for closer collaboration.

In September, NGOs and activists organized protests after a mother of six was allegedly killed by her partner. The victim was the fourth woman killed in a case involving domestic violence in four months.

A special police unit and several voluntary organizations supported victims of domestic violence and all forms of gender-based violence. A hotline assisted victims of abuse through counseling and shelter referrals. The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity was responsible for a government-supported shelter for women and children. The government also provided financial support to other shelters, including those operated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is unlawful and punishable by a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,500), up to two years imprisonment, or both. As of September the Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) received one allegation of sexual harassment during the year. In 2017 government women’s rights experts stated that workplace sexual harassment at the workplace was “rampant” but rarely reported due to cultural reasons.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in matters related to family, property, nationality, and inheritance. Redress in the courts is available for gender discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth where either parent is a citizen, irrespective of the place of birth. The law allows transmission of citizenship by a grandparent or other relative in certain circumstances. The government registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: In 2017 child abuse referrals to Appogg fell compared with 2016. Between January and August, police vice squad received eight reports of child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although persons between the ages of 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or courts.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. The production of child pornography is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment of between five and 12 years. Possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of three to four years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. Rape of an underage person is punishable by sentences of six to 20 years. As of the end of August, five persons were charged for sexual abuse of minors.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 120 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits both the public and private sectors from discriminating against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced these provisions. Authorities took official action to investigate cases of violence or abuse against persons with disabilities. The law requires accessibility to buildings, information, and communication. While the government made efforts to ensure accessibility, many historical buildings remained inaccessible due to limited structural adaptability.

From January to September, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability opened 161 cases of alleged discrimination related to employment, education, housing, access, provision of goods and services, health, and other areas.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population included more than 43,000 registered foreign workers. Of these, 12,407 were nationals of non-EU countries mainly of Arab, African, Asian, and East European origin. The law prohibits discrimination based on race as well as racial hatred. The law is enforced when charges are filed.

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, including discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, including health care. The government enforced the laws.

Marshall Islands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

U.S. nuclear testing from 1947 to 1958 displaced an estimated 14,000 individuals (original evacuees and their descendants). Some relocated to the United States, but most remained as IDPs residing in several locations across the country, including Kili Island and Ejit Islet in Majuro Atoll. IDPs did not suffer societal discrimination and received substantial government support.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including by a spouse, is a crime with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize it; to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators; and to provide support for survivors. The law also requires certain professionals to report suspected domestic violence.

The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence is intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limits the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. During the year two men in different incidents on remote outer atolls were charged criminally by the Attorney General’s office for beating girlfriends or ex-wives, while two other women successfully got court protection orders requiring violent perpetrators to stay away from victims. Prosecutions for domestic violence were sporadic, and awareness of the law was low outside the capital. A general lack of capacity and resources hindered the prosecution of rape and domestic violence cases. Court rules protect women during testimony in rape cases, primarily by shielding the victim as witness from the accused.

Various studies have suggested that sexual violence of all types is common, but frequently unreported. A May Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs gender equality report estimated that 51 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The same study found that 54 percent of domestic violence victims did not report the incident because of fear of retribution or a belief that the abuse was justified. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed that violence against women was justified in many situations. The fact that, during the year, 50 percent of women who sought protective orders against abusive partners in court eventually withdrew the requests underscored these studies’ conclusions.

The government’s health office provided limited counseling services when spouse or child abuse was reported, but there were no government shelters for domestic violence victims. NGOs continued efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. WUTMI, formed to advance women’s rights, conducted numerous programs to change public attitudes, such as its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which included a march. It also organized training as part of its annual conference. Through its Weto In Mour: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service, cofounded with government and donor partners, WUTMI provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as a petty misdemeanor.

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

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the female landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country.

Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. Many women were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. There is no law on equal pay; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through one’s parents. Children born within the country to foreign parents do not acquire citizenship at birth but may apply for citizenship upon turning 18. Failure to register births generally did not result in the denial of public services such as education or medical care.

Education: Although primary education is legally compulsory, the government did not strictly enforce the law. To enter public high school, students must take an admission exam, but due to space constraints, not all who passed the exam could attend public high schools.

Child Abuse: Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses, but public awareness of children’s rights remained low. Convictions for violations are punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison, depending on the degree of the offense. The law requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability as a consequence of making such a report. Child abuse and neglect remained common.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26.3 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18. There were no known government measures to prevent or mitigate early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, remained largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The law stipulates that authorities may not punish child victims of sexual exploitation and that these victims should have access to support services.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were few Jewish residents in the country. Even after many months, local officials took no action to erase anti-Semitic graffiti visible in several locations in Majuro.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials, but it does not include disability in its listing of specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Relevant law is designed to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services.

There were no specific psychiatric facilities in the country or community-based supports for persons with mental disabilities, although the Ministry of Health provided short-term care at the Majuro Hospital or facilities off-island.

The NGO Marshall Islands Disabled Persons Organization worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ disability officer to promote and protect the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Health addresses the health needs of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities and continued to incorporate awareness programs for students with disabilities, in particular those with hearing disabilities.

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

Neither the constitution nor law provides specific protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reports of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. The law prohibits same-sex couples or individuals involved in a same-sex relationship from adopting Marshallese children.

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