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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (BELOW) | MACAU


Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR’s charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (also known as the Basic Law), specify that the SAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In March the 1,194-member Chief Executive Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive. In September 2016 Hong Kong residents elected the 70 representatives who comprise the SAR’s Legislative Council (LegCo). Voters directly elected 40 representatives, while limited-franchise constituencies that generally supported the government in Beijing elected the remaining 30.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: the central PRC government’s encroachment on the SAR’s autonomy, and government actions that had a chilling effect on political protest and the exercise of free speech (e.g., prosecutions against protesters, lawsuits to disqualify opposition lawmakers, and statements by central and SAR government officials); and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government through free and fair elections. Article 45 of the Basic Law establishes as the “ultimate aim” direct election of the chief executive through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” The residents of Hong Kong, the SAR government, and the PRC central government have vigorously debated the nature, scope, and pace of democratic and electoral reforms.

Voters directly elect 40 of LegCo’s 70 seats by secret ballot. Thirty-five seats are designated as “geographic constituencies” (GCs) and 35 as “functional constituencies” (FCs). All 35 GCs are directly elected, while only five of the FCs are directly elected. The remaining 30 FC seats are selected by a subset of voters from FCs representing various economic and social sectors, most of whom are supportive of the central government. Under this structure a limited number of individuals and institutions were able to control multiple votes for LegCo members. In 2016 the constituencies that elected these 30 FC LegCo seats consisted of 232,498 registered individual and institutional voters, of whom approximately 172,820 voted, according to the SAR’s election affairs office’s statistics. The five FC seats in the district council sector, known as “super seats,” were directly elected by the approximately five million registered voters who were not otherwise represented in another FC and therefore represented larger constituencies than any other seats in LegCo. The government has previously acknowledged the method of selecting FC legislators did not conform to the principle of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs during the year.

Under the Basic Law, LegCo members may not introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy; only the government may introduce these types of bills. The SAR sends 36 deputies to the mainland’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and had approximately 250 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference–bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the LegCo, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Voters directly elected all 431 of the SAR’s district council seats in 2015 following the government’s elimination of appointed district council seats. Previously the chief executive used his authority to appoint 68 of the 534 members of the district councils, the SAR’s most grassroots-level elected bodies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In March the 1,194-member Chief Executive Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive. Lam received 777 of 1,163 valid votes. The central government’s State Council formally appointed her, and on July 1, President Xi Jinping administered Lam’s oath of office.

In December 2016 representatives of various commercial sectors, professions, religious organizations, and social service providers as well as political representatives elected the 1,194 electors who cast ballots in the chief executive election. Residents expressed concern these small-circle elections were open to participation by a very small number (230,000) of the SAR’s 7.5 million residents. Moreover, although the 2016 Election Committee election saw an historically high voter turnout of 46 percent and a record number of contested seats across industrial, professional, grassroots, and political sectors, local political observers noted that 300 members–approximately 25 percent–of the committee were elected without a poll or other transparent election process to represent 12 uncontested subsectors and one sub-subsector.

In September 2016 SAR residents elected representatives to the 70-member LegCo. The election, which saw a record high turnout of 2.2 million voters, was considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. The government acknowledged that election observers and other residents filed approximately 1,200 petitions concerning election misconduct with the Elections Affairs Committee following the conclusion of the LegCo election. Promainland and proestablishment candidates won 40 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 30, an increase over the 27 the opposition camp held from 2012 to 2016.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In July 2016 the government announced for the first time that all LegCo candidates must sign a confirmation form pledging their allegiance to the SAR and their intent to uphold the Basic Law, including three provisions stating that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the PRC. Legal scholars and prodemocracy activists criticized the government’s use of the confirmation form, noting the LegCo had not approved changes to election procedures or the qualifications needed to run for legislative office. In August 2016 the government disqualified proindependence LegCo candidate Edward Leung, of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, from running in the election in the New Territories East District. An elections officer refused Leung’s candidacy even though Leung had signed the confirmation form and said he would drop his proindependence stance. Leung and another candidate filed judicial review applications charging that the use of the confirmation form was not in accordance with the SAR’s laws. Leung also filed an election petition in September 2016 alleging his disqualification from the race was unlawful.

In August the Court of Final Appeal upheld a November 2016 court ruling that disqualified Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, two opposition legislators-elect who used their oath-swearing ceremonies to make proindependence gestures, from serving as LegCo members because they improperly took their oath of office. The November 2016 ruling came after the NPCSC earlier that month issued an unsolicited interpretation of the Basic Law that preempted the ability of the SAR’s independent judiciary to rule on the matter. It marked the first time that the NPCSC issued such an interpretation while a SAR judge was still deliberating the case in question and the second time it had done so in the absence of a request from SAR authorities.

In December 2016 then chief executive Leung and then secretary for justice Yuen filed a legal challenge to the legitimacy of four other opposition legislators–veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, former Occupy protest student leader Nathan Law, university lecturer Lau Siu-lai, and university professor Edward Yiu–over the manner in which they took their oaths. In July the court granted the government’s request to disqualify the four legislators. Two of them filed appeals against their disqualification.

Asymmetric systemic obstacles make it harder for pandemocratic parties to secure a majority of seats in the LegCo or have one of their members become chief executive. Of the LegCo’s 70 members, 30 were elected by functional constituencies, most of which were supportive of the central government; representatives from 12 of these constituencies ran unopposed. Moreover, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government’s political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions. According to local press reports, several political groups expressed concern that the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO) interfered with legislative campaigns, lobbying for pro-Beijing candidates and threatening or harassing others. In August 2016 Liberal Party candidate Ken Chow suspended his campaign for a LegCo seat, alleging CGLO affiliates had harassed him and threatened the safety of his family. The Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Liberal Party, and the SAR government undertook investigations into Chow’s allegations.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. In March, Carrie Lam was elected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against ethnic minorities running for electoral office, serving as electoral monitors, or participating in the civil service. Most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo, and members of ethnic minorities reported they considered themselves unrepresented. The government made efforts to increase the hiring of ethnic minorities by reducing the level of Chinese-language ability needed to qualify for some jobs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. Activists expressed concerns that rape was underreported, especially within the ethnic minority community, and that conviction rates were low, according to a South China Morning Post report.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges, depending on what acts constituted the domestic violence. The government effectively enforced the law regarding domestic crimes and prosecuted violators.

The law covers abuse between married couples, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs that provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence victims and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced the law effectively, though the EOC reported it saw signs that sexual harassment was underreported in the social services sector.

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: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. While the government generally enforced these laws, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the mainland, or abroad to parents, of whom at least one is a PRC national and Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing the right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent-education programs through its maternal and child health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units, and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, ran a child witness support program.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16; parents’ written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports girls younger than 18 from some countries in Asia were subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.

The legal age of consensual sex is 16. Under the law, a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a victim younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.

The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child younger than 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered 5,000 to 6,000 persons. 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 government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.

The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups reported that the SAR’s disability law was too limited and its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. Activists said that ethnic minority students with disabilities had a particularly high dropout rate. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in educational, correctional, and mental health facilities.

The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently, offered places for preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.

The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate. Access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although ethnic Chinese made up 94 percent of the population, the SAR is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities.

The government has a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into SAR schools. Nonetheless, the EOC reported it continued to receive complaints from ethnic minority parents who found it difficult to enroll their children in kindergarten because school information and admissions interviews at some schools were provided only in Cantonese. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, according to government and NGO reports.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

In April a court ruled that a gay civil servant’s husband, whom he had married in a foreign country, was entitled to the same benefits as a heterosexual spouse. In May the government appealed that decision, and the appeal was pending.

LGBTI professionals are permitted to bring foreign partners to the SAR only on a “prolonged visitor visa.” Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the lack of collective bargaining rights allows employers simply to refuse to bargain. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

Trade unions must register with the government’s Registry of Trade Unions and must have a minimum membership of seven persons for registration. Workers were not prevented from unionizing; however, the law restricts members and officers of unions to those who are “ordinarily resident” in the SAR and have been employed or engaged with an industry or occupation related to the union.

The law provides for the right to strike, although there are some restrictions on this right for civil servants. The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that would punish a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings in the interest of national security or public safety. According to the law, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations of antiunion laws included fines as well as legal damages paid to workers, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. An employee who is unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed (including on the grounds of the employee exercising trade union rights) is entitled to reinstatement or re-engagement, subject to mutual consent of the employer and the employee, or monetary compensation for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons younger than 18. Children 13-14 years of age may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection of their safety, health, and welfare.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for violations of child labor laws include fines and legal damages and were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports that girls from some countries in Asia were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status and/or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on these grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, the SAR’s courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those who violated these laws and regulations.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages. Academics assessed that a lack of Chinese language skills was the greatest barrier to employment. Minority group leaders and activists reported that government Chinese-language requirements for many job applicants excluded nonnative Chinese speakers from civil service and law enforcement positions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On May 1, the statutory minimum hourly wage was readjusted to HK$34.50 ($4.41). In September the SAR increased domestic workers’ minimum monthly wage from HK$4,310 ($552) to HK$4,410 ($564) and increased their minimum monthly food allowance from HK$1,037 ($133) to HK$1,053 ($135). The government requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker’s compensation insurance, and a travel allowance. In its explanation of why live-in domestic workers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained “the distinctive working pattern–round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers–made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid.”

The official poverty line was half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers, based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,800 ($486), for a two-person household HK$8,800 ($1,126), for a three-person household HK$14,000 ($1,791), and so on.

There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. In the absence of such legislation, labor rights groups previously reported most SAR residents worked approximately 56 hours per week. An online survey of foreign domestic workers showed that 76 percent worked more than 12 hours per day and 17 percent worked more than 16 hours per day.

Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. The Labor Department issued a “code of practice” on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Many businesses closed during extreme weather. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The government generally enforced the law, and the Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. Penalties for violations of minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations include fines, payments of damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.

In December 2016 a High Court judge ruled the government failed to protect adequately the human rights and safety of a Pakistani man trafficked to the SAR and forced into unpaid labor for several years. The government’s appeal of the case was pending at year’s end.

In 2016 the Labor Department recorded 35,768 occupational injuries and 203 workplace fatalities. In March the chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims claimed the Highways Department had disregarded worker safety on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge construction project. According to the organization, as of March, 10 workers had died and more than 600 were injured while working on the bridge since 2010.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (ABOVE) | MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (BELOW)


Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and has a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, under the SAR’s constitution (the Basic Law). In September residents directly elected 14 of the 33 representatives who comprise the SAR’s Legislative Assembly. In accordance with the Basic Law, limited franchise functional constituencies elected 12 representatives, and the chief executive nominated the remaining seven. A 400-member Election Committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On to a five-year term in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues reported during the year included: constraints on press and academic freedom; limits on citizens’ ability to change their government; and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections, and citizens did not have universal suffrage. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the chief executive, who was chosen in 2014 by a 400-member Election Committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from and by the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 a 400-member selection committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On. Chui ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the vote. The most recent general election for the 14 directly elected seats in the 33-member Legislative Assembly occurred in September. A total of 186 candidates on 24 electoral lists competed for the seats. The election for these seats was generally free and fair, although strict campaign laws limited the ability of political newcomers to compete in the election.

There are limits on the types of bills legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SAR has no laws on political parties. Politically active groups registered as societies or limited liability companies were active in promoting their political agendas. Those critical of the government generally did not face restrictions, but persons seeking elected office were required to swear to uphold the Basic Law. The Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the chief executive’s decision to donate 123 million patacas ($15.4 million) to a mainland university on whose board the chief executive sits. Sou is a member of the New Macau Association, a political group generally critical of the government, and critics claimed his prosecution and suspension were politically motivated.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

 

The Basic Law provides workers the right to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly had not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers may join labor associations of their choice, but PRC authorities wield considerable influence over some of the most powerful associations. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and, while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

Workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, are forbidden to form unions, take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.

In order to register as an association, the government requires an organization to provide the names and personal information of its leadership structure.

The government generally enforced the relevant legislation. The law imposes financial penalties for antiunion discrimination. Observers have previously noted this may not be sufficient to deter discriminatory activity.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the CAC, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

A law prohibits minors younger than 16 years of age from working, although minors between 14 and 16 years of age may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they obtain a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” Under the law, “exceptional circumstances” are defined as: the minor (younger than 16 years old) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between 14 and 16 years of age may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. Local laws do not establish specific regulations governing the number of hours children younger than 16 years old can work. The law governing the number of working hours (eight hours a day, 40 hours a week) was equally applicable to adults and legal working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors who are 16 years old can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.

The law prohibits minors younger than 16 years of age from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations are intended to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Regulations stipulate LAB inspectors shall be trained to look for child labor in order to carry out their responsibilities. Employers are obligated to provide professional training and working conditions appropriate to a minor’s age to prevent situations that undermine his/her education and could endanger health, safety, and physical and mental development.

From July 2016 to June, LAB inspectors found two violations of child labor laws resulting in fines of 40,000 patacas ($5,000).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. Local law requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender.

There were no reports the government failed to enforce the relevant laws but some discrimination occurred. According to official statistics, at the end of July, nonresident workers accounted for approximately 28 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in the workplace in hiring and wages, and some classes of migrants were not provided equal employment benefits. Most worked in the restaurant and hotel industry, but others were employed as domestic servants, or in construction and retail trade.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. There was no mandatory minimum wage, except for a minimum wage for security guards and cleaners, which was set at was 30 patacas ($3.75) per hour. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line, and its median monthly income is 15,000 patacas ($1,875). The law provides for a 48-hour workweek (many businesses operated on a 40-hour workweek), an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. The law does not define “temporary contract” or “short-term contract.” It states only that a labor contract may be either for a defined term or of indefinite duration. All workers employed in the SAR, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave.

The law includes a requirement that employers provide a safe working environment, and the LAB sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (up to eight hours, and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his/her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” they must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractices are referred to the LAB.

The LAB enforced occupational safety and health regulations, and failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors in the country was adequate to enforce compliance. Health Bureau guidelines protect pregnant workers and those with heart and lung diseases from exposure to secondhand smoke by exempting them from work in smoking areas, such as casinos. In August and September, hundreds of Galaxy Entertainment employees complained to the LAB of working conditions at the time Typhoon Hato struck the SAR, with staff complaining of unpaid overtime and insufficient rest time, according to media reports.

The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment.

From July 2016 to June, authorities recorded 24 workplace fatalities, and workplace injuries permanently incapacitated 31 persons.

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Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

As part of the peace accord, the FARC registered a political party composed of former FARC members in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym. The FARC political party participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC political party representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 17 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Centro Democratico (Democratic Center) party, Ivan Duque, beat the candidate of Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) Gustavo Petro. The then minister of defense Carlos Luis Villegas described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed 3,524 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of July 31, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 353 mayors, 17 governors, and 181 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The share of female officials in President Duque’s cabinet was more than 50 percent.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”

The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government services.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

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 punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.

The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.

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

There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.

As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.

NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees legally have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Workers faced some obstacles to exercising those rights, and the government faced numerous challenges effectively enforcing applicable laws governing those two rights.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.07 million), which is sufficient to deter violations if levied consistently. The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through the first nine months of the year, the government reported finalizing 55 fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 8.24 billion ($2.6 million).

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met three times during the year, in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. In the first nine months of the year, there appeared to be no fines collected for illegal labor intermediation in any of the five priority sectors, and only one new fine was imposed for this violation in each of the cut flower and mining sectors. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued a virtual training program to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that existing systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems do not result in action.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 377 trade union leaders or members (others protected included 168 journalists, 780 human rights advocates, and 330 land restitution claimants). Approximately 8.6 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and July, the NPU processed 306 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 100 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that during the year the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 65 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 341 threat cases against teachers and found 74 to be of extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 765 sentences against 626 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through September 19, 10 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.

The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of 18 trade unionists during the year. There was progress in the investigation of several of these cases, with one case already receiving a sentence and four cases in the prosecution phase. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 28 trade unionists were killed. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported 136 death threats, six nonlethal attacks, two cases of forced displacement, four cases of harassment, and one illegal raid.

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. Formalization agreements in firms with illegal subcontracting increased during the year. In the first nine months of the year, the government reported 2,606 workers benefited from 29 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, education, and transport. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations if they occurred. Labor confederations and NGOs reported these enforcement actions did not address the scope of abusive subcontracting and illegal labor intermediation in the country.

According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, previously fined for employing more than 1,200 workers through illegal cooperatives, formalized 592 workers in October through a formalization agreement reached with the Ministry of Labor.

Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than age 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. During the year the government updated its hazardous work regulations in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations to include an extensive list of 36 kinds of activities that are prohibited to children, including in agriculture, hunting and forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, health services, and defense.

The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage for labor law violations, including child-labor violations, which would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor issues. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker, adopted in 2017. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.

The government continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices were charged with leading efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers; it included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.

The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor, in which the ministry operates alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. Although the government does not publish data on child labor, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collects and publishes information on the economic activities of children ages five to 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s 2017 survey, 7 percent of children were working, with 44 percent engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 30 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, emeralds, gold, coca, and pornography. Children were also engaged in child labor in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were also reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market, as well as selling inexpensive Venezuelan gasoline. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in mines, quarries, and private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized-crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or coca pickers (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. Sisma Mujer reported on average women were paid 28 percent less than men. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Afro-Colombian labor unions reported discrimination in the port sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum monthly wage is roughly twice the amount of the poverty line; however, almost half of the total workforce earned less than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.

The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the main formal industries. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The government reported that as of April, the ministry employed 868 inspectors countrywide, although not all conducted worksite inspections; 778 of them were in provisional appointments. In April the Civil Service Commission held a national exam that produced a list of eligible candidates for permanent appointment as labor inspectors and other civil servant positions. The exam was challenged, potentially delaying appointments. Individual labor violations can bring fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, but infractions for occupational safety and health can trigger fines of only up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health issues.

While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not conduct any action to do so in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of the third quarter of the year, DANE reported that 8.6 million, or 39 percent, of the 22 million workers employed nationwide pay into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in cities and metropolitan areas was 48 percent, according to DANE. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they criticized abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.

Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized-crime groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Cauca, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Tolima.

According to the National Mining Agency, through August 23, a total of 61 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to cave-ins.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands–Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali)–and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), that France administers. In 2015 successful legislative elections were held. In April 2016 voters elected Azali Assoumani as president of the union, as well as governors for each of the three islands. Despite a third round of voting on Anjouan–because of ballot-box thefts–Arab League, African Union, and EU observer missions considered the elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

On July 30, Comorians passed a referendum on a new constitution, which modified the rotating presidency, abolished the islands’ vice presidents, and significantly reduced the size and authority of the islands’ governorates. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared the referendum free and fair, although the opposition, which had called for a boycott of the referendum, rejected the results and accused the government of ballot-box stuffing.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; use of excessive force against detainees; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, trafficking in persons, and ineffective enforcement of laws protecting workers’ rights.

Impunity for violations of human rights was widespread. Although the government discouraged officials from committing human rights violations and sometimes arrested or dismissed officials implicated in such violations, they were rarely tried.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

During the year a referendum modified the constitution, which had provided for a rotating union government presidency once every five years, in which each of the country’s three islands took a turn at holding a primary to select three presidential candidates for national election. The new constitution removes the limitation on presidential candidates to those residing on a particular island in an election year and allows the incumbent to run for a second term. Aside from the rotation provision that was modified during the year, anyone meeting constitutional requirements of age, residency, citizenship, and good moral character may run for office.

Recent Elections: In 2015 free and fair legislative elections were held. In April 2016 presidential and gubernatorial elections were held. Incumbent candidates claimed some irregularities, including the theft of ballots on Anjouan. They filed complaints at the Constitutional Court requesting the vote be repeated for both presidential and gubernatorial candidates. They alleged the opposition stole and destroyed approximately 3,000 ballots in Anjouan. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and a third round of voting was conducted successfully at 13 polling stations in Anjouan.

On July 30, the government held a constitutional referendum to extend presidential term limits and end the system of rotation among the country’s three islands. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared that the referendum passed with 92 percent support with a participation rate of 62 percent. The opposition, which boycotted the referendum, rejected those results and accused the government of ballot stuffing. Despite irregularities observed at some polling stations (a gendarme had his hand severed and some ballots boxes were destroyed), the Supreme Court declared the referendum to be generally free and fair. As of November members of the opposition continued to reject the legitimacy of the referendum and the new constitution.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. For example, only one of the 33 seats in the national legislature was filled by a woman in the 2015 election, and only two of the 12 ministers appointed to the cabinet on August 28, were women.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape regardless of age or gender is illegal and punishable if convicted by five to 10 years’ imprisonment or up to 15 years if the victim is younger than age 15. Authorities prosecuted perpetrators if victims filed charges. There were reports families or village elders settled many allegations of sexual violence informally through traditional means and without recourse to the formal court system.

The law treats domestic violence as an aggravating circumstance that includes crimes committed by one domestic partner against an existing or former partner. Penalties for conviction include prison sentences up to five years and fines up to two million Comorian francs ($4,800). Courts rarely sentenced or fined convicted perpetrators. No reliable data were available on the extent of the problem. Women rarely filed official complaints. Although officials took action (usually the arrest of the spouse) when reported, domestic violence cases rarely entered the court system.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal, and conviction is punishable by fines and imprisonment. It is defined in the labor code as any verbal, nonverbal, or bodily behavior of a sexual nature that has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating work environment for a person. Although rarely reported due to societal pressure, such harassment was nevertheless a common problem, and authorities did not effectively enforce the law.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for equality of persons without regard to gender, creed, belief, origin, race, or religion. Nevertheless, inheritance and property rights practices favor women. Local cultures are traditionally matrilineal, and all inheritable property is in the legal possession of women. Societal discrimination against women was most apparent in rural areas, where women were mostly limited to farming and child-rearing duties, with fewer opportunities for education and wage employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Any child having at least one Comorian parent is considered a citizen, regardless of where the birth takes place. Any child born in the country is a citizen unless both parents are foreigners, although these children may apply for citizenship if they have at least five years’ residency at the time they apply. Authorities did not withhold public services from unregistered children.

Education: Universal education is compulsory until age 12. No child younger than age 14 may be prevented from attending school. An approximately equal number of girls and boys attended public schools at the primary and secondary levels, but fewer girls graduated.

Child Abuse: Official statistics revealed cases of abuse when impoverished families sent their children to work for relatives or wealthy families, usually in the hope of obtaining a better education for their children. The NGO Listening and Counseling Service, funded by the government and UNICEF, had offices on all three islands to provide support and counseling for abused children and their families. The NGO routinely referred child abuse cases to police for investigation. Police conducted initial investigations of child abuse and referred cases to the Morals and Minors Brigade for further investigation and referral for prosecution if justified by evidence. If evidence was sufficient, authorities routinely prosecuted cases.

In June, 60-year-old Ibrahim Ali Kassim was prosecuted for sexual assault of a four-year-old girl and was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of one million Comorian francs ($2,400).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Child marriage was a problem, with estimates of 35 to 40 percent of girls being married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law considers unmarried persons younger than age 18 to be minors and prohibits their sexual exploitation, prostitution, and involvement in pornography. Anyone convicted of facilitating the sex trafficking of children is subject to a prison term of two to five years and a fine of 150,000 to two million Comorian francs ($358 to $4,800). Conviction of child pornography is punishable by fines or imprisonment. There were no official statistics regarding these matters and no reports in local media of cases, prosecutions, or convictions relating to either child sex trafficking or child pornography.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and applicable laws, particularly the labor code, prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings, information, communication, education, and transportation for persons with disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Despite the absence of appropriate accommodation for children with disabilities, such children attended mainstream schools, both public and private.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and conviction is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to one million Comorian francs ($119 to $2,400). Authorities reported no arrests or prosecutions for same-sex sexual activity during the year. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally did not publicly reveal their sexual orientation due to societal pressure. There were no local LGBTI organizations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. It provides for the right to strike but requires an eight-day notification period and a declaration of the reason for the strike and its duration. Civil servants must provide 15 days’ notice. The law includes a mandatory conciliation process for resolving labor disputes with recourse to the courts. Unions have the right to bargain collectively.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers in hiring practices or other employment functions. Worker organizations are independent of the government and political parties. There are no laws protecting strikers from retribution. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including ordering employers to pay indemnities and damages to the employee, were sufficient to deter violations but were seldom applied. Labor disputes may be brought to the attention of the Labor Tribunal.

Workers exercised their labor rights, and strikes occurred in the public sector (education, workers at the port of Anjouan, health, and road transport). There were no reports of retribution against strikers. Common problems included failure to pay salaries regularly or on time, mostly in the government sector, and unfair and abusive dismissal practices, such as dismissing employees without giving proper notice or paying the required severance pay. There were reported incidents of antiunion discrimination during the year.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and establishes 15 as the minimum age for employment, with a minimum age for hazardous work of 18.

Labor inspectors were responsible for monitoring all potential violations of labor law and did not focus only on child labor cases. Regulations permit light apprentice work by children younger than age 15 if it does not hinder the child’s schooling or physical or moral development. The labor code, however, does not specify the conditions under which light work may be conducted or limit the number of hours for light work, as defined by international child labor standards. In accordance with the labor code, labor inspectors may require the medical examination of a child by an accredited physician to determine if the work assigned to a child is beyond his or her physical capacity. Children may not be kept in employment deemed beyond their capacity. If suitable work cannot be assigned, the contract must be nullified and all indemnities paid to the employee. The labor code also identifies hazardous work where child labor is prohibited, including the worst forms of child labor. Child labor infractions are punishable by fines and imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but it did not do so actively or effectively. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. In addition child labor laws and regulations do not provide children working in unpaid or noncontractual work the same protections as children working in contractual employment. Children worked in subsistence farming, fishing, and extracting and selling marine sand. Children worked in growing subsistence food crops such as manioc and beans and in the cultivation of cash crops such as vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang (a flower used to make perfume). Some children worked under forced labor conditions, primarily in domestic service and family-based agriculture and fishing. Additionally, some Quranic schools arranged for indigent students to receive lessons in exchange for labor that sometimes was forced. Some families placed their children in the homes of wealthier families where they worked in exchange for food, shelter, or educational opportunities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The preamble to the constitution provides for equality regardless of sex, origin, religion, or race. Article 2 of the labor law forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national ancestry or social origin, or actual or presumed state of health (such as HIV/AIDS). The law does not address sexual orientation. In rural areas women tended to be relegated to certain types of work, and the UN Development Program reported women were underrepresented in leadership roles. There were no official reports of discrimination, however.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A committee called the Labor Collective–consisting of representatives of unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labor–met periodically regarding an enforceable national minimum wage, as the existing minimum wage of 55,000 Comorian francs ($131) per month is only a guideline. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, except in the agriculture sector, where the maximum hours of work is set at 2,400 per year (equivalent to 46 hours per week). The minimum weekly rest period is set at 24 consecutive hours. The law provides for paid annual leave accumulated at the rate of 2.5 days per month of service. There are no provisions to prohibit compulsory overtime; overtime is determined through collective bargaining. Negotiations with the banking and pharmacy sectors, however, did not yield a collective bargaining agreement. There are no sectors or groups of workers excluded from these laws within the formal sector, but the law does not apply to the informal sector, estimated to include 73 percent of workers. The official estimate for the poverty income level (as of 2014) is 25,341 Comorian francs ($60) per month, less than prevailing minimum wages.

The government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, sets wages in the large public sector and imposes a minimum wage in the small, formal private sector. Although the unions, national government, and local governments did not enforce the minimum wage law and workweek standards, unions had adequate influence to negotiate minimum wage rates for different skill levels for unionized jobs. These provisions applied to all workers, regardless of sector or country of origin. Unions promoted this de facto minimum wage via their ability to strike against employers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. There were four labor inspectors (two on Grande Comore and one each on Anjouan and Moheli), but they did not have enough resources to perform their duties. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The labor code includes a chapter on occupational safety and health requirements, but these were seldom enforced. Fishing was considered the most hazardous work. Mostly self-employed, fishermen worked from often unsafe canoes. There was no credible datum on the number of occupational accidents. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this regard.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is a constitutional republic governed by a president and a unicameral legislative assembly directly elected in multiparty elections every four years. On April 1, voters elected Carlos Alvarado of the Citizen’s Action Party (PAC) as president during a second round of elections. In legislative elections on February 4, the governing PAC formed a coalition to gain control of the presidency of the legislature for one year. All elections were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 1, voters elected PAC’s Carlos Alvarado president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections, the National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the most seats, but it did not achieve majority in the National Assembly. On May 1, the governing PAC formed a coalition with four other parties–the PLN, Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), Broad Front, and Republican Social Christian Party–to gain control of the presidency of the legislature for one year. In 2016 municipal elections, PLN and PUSC gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and persons of African descent were represented in government but indigenous persons were not. On May 8, Epsy Campbell Barr became the country’s first woman of African descent to be elected as vice president, and she served concurrently as minister of foreign affairs. In 2016 the Supreme Elections Tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity must extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate. As a result, female legislators held 26 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, during the first months of the year, the number of femicides increased in spite of the efforts of the government and civil society to fight this problem. The killing of two female tourists on August 4 caused authorities on August 7 to declare the reduction of violence against women as a “national priority” not only to raise awareness, but also to implement coordinated actions among public institutions in areas with a higher incidence of violence.

On July 2, President Alvarado enacted a restorative justice law but simultaneously asked the National Assembly to reform some of its provisions to prevent victims of sex crimes and domestic violence from negotiating with perpetrators and aggressors, after the attorney general and the minister of women’s issues expressed their concern.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, but there was no increase in the number of cases of child violence or abuse. The institute implemented a prevention strategy against child abuse during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The law establishes penalties for sex with minors and prohibits child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.

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 Zionist Center estimated there were between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country. There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law also establishes a right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The government policy on education and the national plan for higher education aim to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities. During the February national elections, the Organization of American States Observation Mission lauded the country for facilitating voting for seniors and persons with disabilities, including accessible voting booths and technological tools to promote participation in the electoral process.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts. On August 1, Vice President and Foreign Affairs Minister Campbell Barr appointed a presidential commissioner for Afro-Descendant Affairs.

Indigenous People

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands.

On March 6, the government finalized a consultative process in response to a mandate from International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, requiring governments to engage with indigenous peoples on measures that directly affect them. The consultative mechanism consists of an eight-step process for gathering input from indigenous communities, from project inception through final monitoring. The mechanism recognizes the duty of the government to obtain prior and informed consent for large-scale development projects affecting indigenous communities but does not give them veto power. The executive order authorizing the consultative mechanism was issued in March, but as of October it had not yet been carried out.

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

The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. On May 17, President Alvarado appointed a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) commissioner in charge of coordinating efforts between civil society and the presidency to promote LGBTI issues.

Transgender individuals faced barriers to legal gender recognition until, on June 28, President Alvarado signed an executive order that instructed all public entities to modify records of transgender individuals who requested the change.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination within their own families due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. LGBTI organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms. Reports of discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community increased after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights publication of its advisory opinion on same-sex marriage, which was issued one month before the first round of national elections. By February the LGBTI community reported 32 cases of physical and verbal abuse, and several legislators and political leaders expressed their opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights opinion and its implementation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Labor discrimination towards HIV patients continued; some persons reported losing their jobs due to discrimination, their deteriorating health, or both.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years.

The labor code stipulates that at least 50 percent of the workers in an enterprise must vote to support a strike. The law, however, adds that, if there is no union at the enterprise or if the union lacks the support of 50 percent of the workforce, a strike can still be initiated if 35 percent of the workers call for a vote, under a secret ballot. The law restricts the right to strike for workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards.

The law also permits two other types of worker organizations unique to the country: “solidarity associations,” legal entities recognized by the constitution that have both management and employee membership and serve primarily to administer funds for severance payments; and “permanent committees,” enterprise-level bodies made up of three workers elected to negotiate “direct agreements” with employers. Both entities may coexist and share membership with labor unions. The law also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.

The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law prohibits solidarity associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions. Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. While the law does establish sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, in light of the lengthy process to resolve cases. To reduce delays, a 2017 reform to the labor code replaces written procedures with oral hearings, requires labor claims to be processed within two years, and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The reformed labor code also strengthens protections for labor union members, including protections against discrimination based on labor affiliation and special protections via special expedited proceedings. In 2017 the government also approved three regulations related to the labor code on labor dispute resolution, union workers voting to authorize strikes, and determining union membership to bargain collectively. The Labor Inspection Office implemented related actions to the labor code during the first six months of the year, including a new organizational structure, training for staff, and systematization of processes.

Labor unions reported that improved protections for union organizing during the first year of the reformed labor code facilitated recruitment of members in the private sector. The new expedited labor courts forced private-sector employers to reinstate workers who had been dismissed for joining unions.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted that solidarity associations set up and controlled permanent committees at many workplaces, which in turn conducted negotiations and established direct agreements. Labor unions also asserted that employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. To the extent that solidarity associations and permanent committees displaced trade unions, they affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the ILO reported an expansion of direct agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers.

In some instances, employers fired employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported one case of firing a labor leader and three complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The ILO noted no trade unions operated in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children under the age of 15 without exceptions, including the worst forms of child labor; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours daily and 36 hours weekly. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors. The law prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced child labor laws effectively in the formal sector but not in the informal sector.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, especially in the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. The worst forms of child labor occurred in agriculture on small third-party farms in the formal sector and on family farms in the informal sector. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

While the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing and taking administrative actions against possible violations of, or lack of compliance with, child labor laws, the Prosecutor’s Office intervenes in cases regarding the worst forms of child labor. As with other labor laws, the authority to sanction employers for infractions lies solely with the judiciary, and the law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on an equation derived from the minimum wage. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government continued to implement programming to eliminate illegal child labor and the worst forms of child labor by providing individual assistance through visits, interviews, and inspections to schools and workplaces. In 2017 the Labor Ministry provided protection to 434 working minors referred by different departments within the Labor Ministry and other government agencies. Of these 434 cases, 313 received a scholarship through an agreement between the Labor Ministry and the Welfare Institute, intended to help students stay or return to school. During the first six months of the year, the Labor Ministry reported 25 minors working in dangerous activities–17 in agriculture and eight working more than six hours a day. The ministry removed the minors from their jobs and gave them a study allowance to return to school.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The labor code prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, civil status, political opinion, nationality, social status, affiliation, disability, labor union membership, or economic situation. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 13 cases of discrimination from January to June. The ministry implemented a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The Labor Ministry detected 23 infractions during the first six months of the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 183,939 colones ($322) for domestic workers to 644,689 colones ($1,130) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2016 the poverty line was 107,769 colones ($189) in urban areas and 82,950 colones ($145) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work, except in the agricultural sector, and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours, except in the agricultural sector when there is “imminent risk of harm…to the harvest” when work cannot be suspended and workers cannot be substituted.

The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country, per the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations. The number of labor inspectors, 87, was likely insufficient for the size of the workforce, which included more than two million workers. According to the ILO’s technical advice of a ratio approaching one inspector for every 15,000 workers in industrializing economies, the country should employ approximately 150 inspectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections were always unannounced.

The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. As with other labor laws, inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with laws on acceptable conditions of work; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime has traditionally been subject to lengthy delays.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but less effectively in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprised 44 percent of employment as of August. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage.

According to INEC, 44 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.

Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones and agriculture. There were reports that agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. Early in the year, workers from a private pineapple-producing company organized a labor strike urging their employer to comply with basic labor laws, including paying minimum wage and recognizing their right to unionize.

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic ruled by a freely elected government. In legislative elections held in 2016, the ruling government coalition won 66 percent of National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated and won seats. The elections were peaceful and considered inclusive and transparent. The country held a presidential election in 2015 in which President Alassane Ouattara was re-elected by a significant majority. International and domestic observers judged the election to be free and fair. Senatorial elections in March were judged to be free and fair as well, but municipal and regional elections in October were marred by four elections-related killings and several irregularities during the campaign period and on election day. Special elections in December were also marred by violence and allegations of fraud despite a heavy presence of security forces and international observers.

In August, President Ouattara announced an immediate amnesty for 800 prisoners held for their participation in the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, including several former cabinet members, military officers, and Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included security force abuses; arbitrary detention; harsh prison conditions; abuse of detainees; political prisoners; criminal libel; irregularities in some elections; widespread corruption in government; sexual abuse, including against children, with few crimes being reported to police; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex persons; and child labor.

The government often did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In legislative elections held in 2016, the ruling government coalition won 66 percent of the 255 National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated and won seats. The elections were considered peaceful, inclusive, and transparent. In the 2015 presidential election, President Alassane Ouattara was re-elected by a significant majority. International and domestic observers judged this election to be free and fair.

In 2016 the government conducted a referendum on a new constitution to replace the postmilitary coup constitution of 2000. The process for drafting the new constitution–and to a certain extent the content itself–was contentious. Opposition parties and some local and international organizations claimed the process was neither inclusive nor transparent, and they criticized the new text for strengthening the role of the executive branch. Despite an opposition boycott, the referendum passed overwhelmingly in a peaceful process that was inclusive and generally transparent.

Prior to senatorial elections in March, security forces used tear gas on two occasions to disperse protesters associated with the opposition. Days prior to the election, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day but reversed the decision before the election. Civil society observers received accreditation badges one day before the election. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.

In October the government held municipal and regional elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud, intimidation, harassment, vote buying, and violence, resulting in four deaths. In most areas the ruling government party edged out independent and opposition candidates. One faction of the main opposition party participated and won seats; the other faction boycotted because the CEI had not been reformed as recommended by an African Union court. At least one major human rights group that requested accreditation to observe the elections was not allowed to send observers to polling places. Observers noted nationwide technical difficulties with tablets intended to confirm voters’ identities and eligibility through fingerprint scans. Special elections took place in December in eight localities after the Supreme Court annulled their October results. Observers also judged these elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud despite a heavy presence of security forces.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines. Ethnicity, however, was often a key factor in party membership, and the appearance of ethnicity playing a role in political appointments remained, as well. Opposition leaders reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits.

In July, one person died and three others were wounded following a clash among members of Rally for Cote d’Ivoire, a movement close to National Assembly President Guillaume Soro.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional beliefs, however, limited the role of women. Of 253 national assembly members, only 29 were women.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up the stairs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape. A life sentence can be imposed in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 15. Most rape cases were tried on the lesser charge of “indecent assault,” which carries a prison term of six months to five years.

The government made some efforts to enforce the law, but local and international human rights groups reported rape remained widespread. There were reports of widespread rape and sexual abuse targeting girls and young women. In one such report, 11 young women came forward with allegations of rape in the western part of the country. In one egregious case, a young girl died following an alleged rape.

Relatives, police, and traditional leaders often discouraged female survivors from pursuing a criminal case, with their families, often the survivor’s husband, accepting payment for compensation. Rape victims were no longer required to obtain a medical certificate, which could cost up to 50,000 CFA francs ($90), to move a legal complaint forward. As a practical matter, however, cases rarely proceeded without one since it often served as the primary form of evidence.

The law does not specifically outlaw domestic violence, which was a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs, more than 36 percent of women reported being victims of physical or psychological abuse at some time. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to cultural barriers and because police often ignored women who reported rape or domestic violence. Survivors stressed that although sexual and gender-based violence was an “everyday reality,” deeply ingrained taboos discouraged them from speaking out. Survivors were ostracized and advocates for survivors reported being threatened. Fear of challenging male authority figures silenced most victims. In September the first lady offered to pay the medical expense of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped.

The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence and rape, including counseling at government-operated centers.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to two million CFA francs ($650 to $3,610). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. In August authorities made several arrests after discovering that a group of girls had been subjected to the procedure. The government successfully prosecuted some FGM/C cases during the year. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a serious problem.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of between one and three years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

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 in labor law but not under religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. In 2012 parliament passed a series of laws to reduce gender inequality in marriage, including laws to allow married women to benefit from an income tax deduction and to be involved in family decisions. Many religious and traditional authorities rejected these laws, however, and there was no evidence the government enforced them.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. At least one parent must be a citizen for a child to acquire citizenship at birth. The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth free, except the cost of the stamp. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. For births registered after the first three months, families pay 5,000 CFA francs ($9.00) or more. For older children authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result, children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with UNICEF and the World Bank, launched a special operation to ensure the civil registration of 1.2 million school-going children in 2017, but due to numerous technical obstacles, many children did not benefit from this program.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Under a law passed in 2015, primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to fines up to 500,000 CFA francs ($900) or jail time of two to six months, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school. In principle students do not have to pay for books, uniforms, or fees, but families usually paid because the government did not often cover these expenses. Schools expected parents to contribute to the teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas.

Educational participation of girls was lower than that of boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls enrolled at a higher rate, participation rates for them dropped below that of boys because of the tendency to keep girls at home to do domestic work or care for younger siblings.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape or attempted rape of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, children were victims of physical and sexual violence and abuse. Authorities reported rapes of girls as young as age three during the year. Authorities often reclassified claims of child rape as indecent assault, which ensured a timely trial and conviction, although penalties were less severe. Judges exercised discretion in deciding whether to reclassify a claim from child rape to indecent assault, and they may only do so when there is no clear medical proof or testimony to support rape charges. There were some prosecutions and convictions during the year. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network.

Before April, three children were killed as sacrifices, one in Abidjan, including a four-year-old killed after a traditional witch doctor promised that a child sacrifice would make the killer wealthy. Following the alleged rape and ritual murder of a 14-year-old student, 11 persons were injured in March when students ransacking and torching the gendarmerie barracks clashed with gendarmes.

Although the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs; and Ministry of Education were responsible for combating child abuse, they were ineffective due to lack of coordination between the ministries and inadequate resources.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits the marriage of men younger than age 20 and women younger than age 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than age 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, traditional marriages were performed with girls as young as 14 years old.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of children for commercial sex or pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and fines of five million to 50 million CFA francs ($9,000 to $90,000). Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800).

In November armed gendarmes abducted a 14-year-old girl from an NGO in Abidjan that shelters trafficked and abandoned children. Security forces had initially demanded that the NGO give up the girl, and when they refused, gendarmes with brandished weapons arrived and forced the girl to get in their vehicle. Reportedly, relatives brought the girl to Abidjan after her father raped her, but she may have been forced to work in the household of the security force officer from which she escaped to the NGO. An investigation by a military tribunal continued at year’s end.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking. During the year the antitrafficking unit of the national police investigated several cases of suspected child sex trafficking.

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

Displaced Children: Local NGOs reported thousands of children countrywide living on the streets. The government implemented a program with a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem of hundreds of children, including many teenagers, who composed a large percentage of youth offenders and lived on the streets of Abidjan and other cities. Police often stopped to question and sometimes arrest these minors in security operations in Abidjan and other cities. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training, and the government announced a pilot resocialization program to offer civic education to 160 youth as part of efforts to address juvenile delinquency.

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 community numbered fewer than 100 persons, both expatriates and Ivoirians who converted. 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 requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and work spaces for access and use by persons with disabilities as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons, but there were no reports the government enforced these laws. The 2016 constitution contains provisions in favor of persons with disabilities, but these laws were not effectively enforced. Vision- and hearing-impaired persons were also discriminated against in civic participation, since political campaigns did not include materials for them, either in braille or sign language. An NGO reported bringing this to the attention of the CEI, but to no avail.

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. While the government reserved 800 civil service jobs for persons with disabilities, government employers sometimes refused to employ such persons. Prisons and detention centers provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.

The government financially supported separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, but many persons with disabilities begged on urban streets and in commercial zones for lack of other economic opportunities. Because most of these schools were located in Abidjan, vision- and hearing-impaired students in other areas of the country did not have the opportunity to attend them. NGOs reported that these schools functioned more as literacy centers that did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. It was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. Although public schools did not bar persons with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate students with disabilities. Persons with mental disabilities often lived on the street.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups, and ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second- or third-generation residents. Despite a 2013 procedural update that allows putative owners of land an additional 10 years to establish title, land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. There were instances in which police abused and harassed non-Ivoirian Africans residing in the country. Harassment by officials reflected the common belief that foreigners were responsible for high crime rates and identity card fraud.

In July residents from the Guere ethnic group clashed with Burkina Faso nationals over an alleged murder in western part of the country.

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

The law’s only mention of same-sex sexual activity is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in public. Antidiscrimination laws do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Law enforcement authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Two members of the transgender community were killed in Abidjan, one in February and the other in May; in one case a person was arrested, then released, and for the other, no one had been arrested by year’s end. Members of the LGBTI community reported that police rarely investigated violence against LGBTI persons. Human rights organizations reported that LGBTI persons who were attacked seldom reported the crime to police, due to fear of revenge and further abuse, as well as discrimination upon revealing their sexual orientation. Paying the authorities was often required for them to conduct investigations.

Societal discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community were problems. Human rights groups continued to report that LGBTI community members were evicted from their homes by landlords or their families. They reported several instances of LGBTI persons being beaten or blackmailed by neighborhood thugs. Security forces sometimes tried to humiliate members of the transgender community by forcing them to undress in public.

Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care, citing instances where doctors refused treatment and pharmacists told them to follow religion and learn to change.

The few LGBTI organizations in the country operated freely but with caution to avoid attracting the attention of persons who might attack or otherwise abuse its members. New NGOs promoting human rights for members of the LGBTI community were founded, including two new transgender groups based in Abidjan and a group in northern part of the country. These groups advocated on behalf of victims and collaborated with local human rights group to prod the police to investigate cases of violence against members of the LGBTI community. They also organized discussions with community and religious leaders to explain how rejecting LGBTI family members could do great harm.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. A 2014 law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes fines for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and vulnerable children, including those infected and affected by HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers, except members of police and military services, to form or join unions of their choice, provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers or others against union members or organizers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities and provides for the reinstatement of dismissed workers within eight days of receiving a wrongful dismissal claim. The law allows unions in the formal sector to conduct their activities without interference. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Nevertheless, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, the law does not have any objective criteria to establish recognition of representative trade unions, which could allow public and private employers to refuse to negotiate with unions on the grounds they were not representative. Foreigners are required to obtain residency status, which takes three years, before they may hold union office.

The law requires a protracted series of negotiations and a six-day notification period before a strike may take place, making legal strikes difficult to organize and maintain. Workers must maintain a minimum coverage in services whose interruption may endanger the lives, security, or health of persons; create a national crisis that threatens the lives of the population; or affect the operation of equipment. Additionally, if authorities deem a strike to be a threat to public order, the president has broad powers to compel strikers to return to work under threat of sanctions. The president also may require that strikes in essential services go to arbitration, although the law does not describe what constitutes essential services.

Apart from large industrial farms and some trades, legal protections excluded most laborers in the informal sector, including small farms, roadside street stalls, and urban workshops.

Before collective bargaining can begin, a union must represent 30 percent of workers. Collective bargaining agreements apply to employees in the formal sector, and many major businesses and civil-service sectors had them. Although the labor code may allow employers to refuse to negotiate, there were no such complaints from unions pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection.

University and primary school teachers went on strike throughout the year. There were no instances of strikebreaking reported during the year.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Human rights organizations reported numerous complaints against employers, such as improper dismissals, uncertain contracts, failure to pay the minimum wage, and the failure to pay employee salaries. The failure to enroll workers in the country’s social security program and pay into it the amount the employer has deducted from the worker’s salary was also a problem. In the mining sector human rights organizations reported violations relative to compensation, experienced by nonlocal laborers who were illiterate or not familiar with the law. Inadequate resources and inspections impeded the government’s efforts to enforce applicable laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

There were no complaints pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions during the year. In November, however, the government suspended the salaries of striking health workers for the month they were on strike.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The 2015 labor code raised the minimum age for employment from 14 to 16 years old, although the minimum age for apprenticeships (14 years old) and hazardous work (18 years old) remained the same; minors younger than age 18 may not work at night. Although the law prohibits the exploitation of children in the workplace, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection enforced the law effectively only in the civil service and large multinational companies.

The National Monitoring Committee on Actions to Fight Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor (NMC), chaired by First Lady Dominique Ouattara, and the Interministerial Committee are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The law prohibits child trafficking and the worst forms of child labor. Although lack of resources and inadequate training continued to hinder enforcement of child labor laws, the government took active steps to address the worst forms of child labor. The government worked on implementing its 2015-17 National Action Plan against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor and strengthened its national child labor monitoring system. The national child labor monitoring system–known as SOSTECI–received a budget of 200 million CFA francs in 2017 ($360,000), which facilitated expansion of the system to 19 new communities. This program was launched in 2013 as a pilot in several departments to enable communities to collect and analyze statistical data on the worst forms of child labor and to monitor, report, and coordinate services for children involved in or at risk of child labor. Beginning in 2014 the government implemented stricter regulations on the travel of minors to and from the country, requiring children and parents to provide documentation of family ties, including at least a birth certificate. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and diminishing the supply of children looking for work.

The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, NMC, and Interministerial Committee led enforcement efforts. The 2015-17 national action plan had a budget of 9.6 billion CFA francs ($17.3 million), with the government budgeting 50.5 million CFA francs ($91,000) in 2017. The plan calls for efforts to improve access to education, health care, and income-generating activities for children, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. First Lady Ouattara made the elimination of child labor a centerpiece of her efforts and continued to be actively involved, including by opening a shelter in June for child victims of trafficking and forced labor in the central-west region of the country. In October 2017 the first lady hosted a conference that brought together first ladies from 14 African nations to pledge support to their governments’ efforts to mitigate child labor, support victims, enhance regional cooperation, and mobilize resources.

The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and International Cocoa Initiative to reduce child labor on cocoa farms.

The list of light work authorized for children ages 13 to 16 introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. In addition the list states that a child cannot perform any work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or during regular school hours, that light work should not exceed 14 hours a week, and that it should not involve more than two hours on a school day or more than four hours a day during vacation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained a problem, particularly in gold and diamond mines, agricultural plantations, and domestic work. Within agriculture, worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cacao and coffee sectors. Inspections during the year did not result in investigations into child labor crimes. Penalties were seldom applied and were not a deterrent to violations. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

Children routinely worked on family farms or as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, domestic helpers, street restaurant vendors, and car watchers and washers. Some girls as young as nine years old reportedly worked as domestic servants, often within their extended family networks. While the overall prevalence of child labor decreased, children in rural areas continued to work on farms under hazardous conditions, including risk of injury from machetes, physical strain from carrying heavy loads, and exposure to harmful chemicals. According to international organizations, child labor was noticed increasingly on cashew plantations and in illegal gold mines, although no studies had been conducted. In 2016 UNICEF and the government undertook the Multiple Indicator Cluster (MICS) survey with a section on child labor. According to UNICEF, the child labor prevalence of 31.3 percent reported in the MICS 2016 referred to an expanded age group of children between five and 17 years old and included economic activities, household chores, and hazardous working conditions, which represented 21.5 percent.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to public or private employment and prohibits any discrimination in access to or in the pursuit of employment on the basis of sex, ethnicity, or political, religious, or philosophical opinions.

The law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, color, or language. A 2014 law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status but does not address other communicable diseases. The labor code passed in 2015 includes provisions to promote access to employment for persons with disabilities. It stipulates that employers must reserve a quota of jobs for qualified applicants. The law does not provide for penalties for employment discrimination.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law. Discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI persons remained a problem. While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, some employers resisted hiring women. In early March the government updated its labor laws to prevent women from doing certain jobs deemed “work that exceeds the ability and physical capacity of women, or work that presents dangers which are likely to undermine their morality, for example, working underground or in the mines.” The government indicated that if a woman wanted to carry out any of the work on the “prohibited list,” she needed to contact an inspector at the Ministry of Labor.

While the law provides the same protections for migrant workers in the formal sector as it does for citizens, most faced discrimination in terms of wages and treatment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for all professions other than the agricultural sector was 60,000 CFA francs per month ($110). The agricultural minimum wage was 25,000 CFA francs ($45) per month. The official estimate for the poverty income level was between 500 and 700 CFA francs ($0.90 and $1.25) per day. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Labor unions contributed to effective implementation of the minimum salary requirements in the formal sector. Approximately 85 percent of the total labor force was in the informal economy, to which labor law applies. Labor federations attempted to fight for just treatment under the law for workers when companies failed to meet minimum salary requirements or discriminated between classes of workers, such as women or local versus foreign workers. The government started paying back wages based on a 2017 labor agreement reached with public-sector unions.

The law does not stipulate equal pay for equal work. There were no reports the government took action to rectify the large salary discrepancies between foreign non-African employees and their African colleagues employed by the same companies.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime pay for additional hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards in the formal sector, while the informal sector lacks regulation. The law provides for the establishment of a committee of occupational, safety, and health representatives responsible for verifying protection and worker health at workplaces. Such committees are to be composed of union members. The chair of the committee could report unhealthy and unsafe working conditions to the labor inspector without penalty. By law workers in the formal sector have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. They may utilize the inspection system of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection to document dangerous working conditions. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. These standards do not apply in the informal sector. The law does not cover several million foreign migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 70 percent of the nonagricultural economy.

The government enforced the law only for salaried workers employed by the government or registered with the social security office. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection estimated the number of labor inspectors insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Labor inspectors reportedly accepted bribes to ignore violations. While the law requires businesses to provide medical services for their employees, small firms, businesses in the informal sector, households employing domestic staff, and farms (particularly during the seasonal harvests) did not comply. Excessive hours of work were common, and employers rarely recorded and seldom paid overtime hours in accordance with the law. In particular, employees in the informal manufacturing sector often worked without adequate protective gear. There were no reports of major accidents during the year.

Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of the Croatian Parliament. The latest presidential elections were held in 2015, and the president was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that the latest parliamentary elections held in September 2016 and the latest presidential elections held in 2015 were free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; violence and threats of violence towards journalists; violence targeting asylum seekers and migrants, and threats towards members of ethnic minority groups. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate, prosecuted such cases.

The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country last held national parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2015. According to observers both elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political processes, and they did participate. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the May 2017 elections, the Electoral Commission noted all major political parties fell short of this threshold, but there were no reports of fines imposed on political parties for this reason.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The law was in most cases effectively enforced. A separate law, the Law on Protection against Family Violence, came into force in January. Sentences range from fines to time in jail, depending on the crime’s gravity. Conviction for rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, and the law provides for misdemeanor punishments and further protects victims’ rights. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem.

Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape, but there were isolated reports that local police departments did not consistently adhere to national guidelines regarding the treatment of victims of sexual assault. According to Ministry of Justice data, from the total number of perpetrators (11,506), 68 percent were men and 32 percent were women. Only 7 percent of these perpetrators were convicted, of which; 63 percent were fined or given suspended jail sentences. The government adopted the Fourth National Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence for 2017-22.

In October the trial of Pozesko Slavonska County prefect Alojz Tomasevic began in Slavonski Brod Municipal Court on charges of domestic violence against his wife, who testified that he almost killed her. Tomasevic was removed from his political party but retained his position as prefect.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes and provides for a maximum prison sentence of one year for sexual harassment of both men and women. The law was not enforced effectively. Protection is also prescribed by the law, under which NGOs reported there were few serious sanctions for perpetrators. The ombudsperson for gender equality reported that in 2017 all new allegations of sexual harassment related to the protection of women. The ombudsperson’s report stated victims of sexual harassment were increasingly filing complaints anonymously, through third parties, or dropping charges entirely due to fear of reprisal.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work. In practice women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.b.).

Children

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent through at least one parent who is a citizen of the country or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes abuse of children. Penalties range depending on the crime’s gravity, and include long-term imprisonment if the consequence is death of a child. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The ombudsperson for children reported that police and prosecutors generally were responsive in investigating such cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; sale; offering or procuring for prostitution; and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Cases of such abuses were isolated. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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

According to the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, the country’s Jewish community numbered between 2,000 and 2,500 persons. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric online and in the media and an increase in anti-Semitic and Ustasha graffiti in the streets. NGOs reported cases of violent reprisal against community members who attempted to paint over swastikas.

The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac concentration camp. The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council (SNV) and the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the third year in a row, holding their own commemorations instead. Jewish community leaders said the boycott was necessary to condemn the government’s insufficient response to historical revisionism and lack of progress on property restitution.

Police prevented members of the Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP) from entering the Jasenovac Concentration Camp Memorial Site to hold meetings on April 22 and May 6. Prior to both attempts, A-HSP President Drazen Keleminec sent the media an online invitation that included the Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (For the Homeland Ready).

In June Jasenovac officials condemned a presentation on HRT by writer Igor Vukic in which Vukic denied that crimes were committed at Jasenovac. They expressed concern that state-owned television presented a Holocaust denier as an authority on the subject of the concentration camp at Jasenovac.

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, or mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school. They were included in classes with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for students with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Constitutional protections against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against ethnic Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serbian national minority faced hate speech, graffiti, and other vandalism of Serb monuments, and significant discrimination in the justice system, particularly regarding missing persons and war crimes cases. They also stated that counterprotestors often infringed on their right to free assembly by shouting threats and hate speech during solemn Serb commemorations. The SNV reported police provided significant protection of a recent Serb commemoration in the town of Glina.

The government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained problems. An August study by the Government Office for Human Rights and Rights for National Minorities found Roma to be the most marginalized community in the country, living largely in isolated, impoverished communities without access to basic infrastructure, education, or employment. The study found 28 percent of Roma older than 14 finished only elementary school, 44 percent were unemployed, and only 50 percent had a bathroom in the home.

In a report released May 15, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted an escalation of hate speech in public discourse in the country between April and December 2017. The report pointed out a rise in youth nationalism, often in the form of praising the country’s World War II Ustasha regime. The report described racism and xenophobia against Serbs; Roma; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and refugees in the media and on the internet, abusive language toward the Roma population, and even some physical attacks against those groups and their property. The report said authorities failed to condemn hate speech and promote tolerance sufficiently.

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

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. In May ECRI reported the country was becoming increasingly hostile to LGBTI persons. In response to civil society concerns, the government revised the 2016-20 National Plan for Combating Discrimination better to address LGBTI issues.

LGBTI NGOs noted uneven performance by the judiciary on discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding an inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. Police initiated court proceedings in only two of 19 cases in 2017.

Organizations which opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention invoked anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In February anti-LGBTI protestors burned a poster-sized effigy of a book for young children of same-sex parents (My Rainbow Family) during a children’s carnival in the coastal town of Kastela.

In May vandals destroyed a large rainbow Pride flag marking the entrance to an event celebrating the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Subsequent police presence was heavy. A police investigation was ongoing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, with some facing discrimination including employment discrimination after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s recently implemented National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for civilian employees of the military. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, any participant may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government was generally effective in enforcing laws, including imposing penalties of one to 15 years’ imprisonment. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy, with frequent delays. The inefficiency of the court system hampered attempts to seek redress for antiunion discrimination and legal violations.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18, who have not completed compulsory education, may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2017 (the last year for which data were available), there were 233 such requests, of which 183 were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor and the Pension System; the ministry’s Office of the State Inspectorate; and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation and did so adequately.

There were isolated instances of violations of child labor legislation. Labor inspectors identified 34 violations in 2017 involving 21 minors. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality, retail, services, food service, and tourism sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude (see section 6, Children). Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation. Nonetheless, discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce. The 2017 report of the ombudsperson for gender equality noted women’s salaries averaged 88.7 percent of men’s salaries, and that the wage gap was higher in the public sector than the private sector. Eurostat reported the wage gap was higher among older employees. Penalties for violation of employment discrimination laws were light, and the government inconsistently applied the law.

The ombudsperson for disabilities noted progress in 2017 regarding employment of persons with disabilities but said the government should take additional steps to reduce workplace discrimination and barriers to employment.

NGOs noted discrimination and harassment against LGBTI employees in the workplace, particularly in the health and hospitality sectors. According to the NGO Freedom House, although legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide for protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTI persons sometimes refrained from publicly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Minimum wage was slightly above official poverty income level. The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours annually.

The government set health and safety standards to harmonize with EU laws and regulations. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker.

The Office of the Labor Inspectorate enforced the labor law through on-site inspections. According to the 2017 Labor Inspectorate Annual Report, there were 236 inspectors, sufficient to enforce compliance. The inspectorate conducted 32,393 workplace inspections in 2017 (up 10 percent from 2016) and reported 6,211 violations of labor laws (up 6 percent from 2016). The inspectorate referred 2,547 of these violations (up 8 percent from 2016) to misdemeanor courts for further action, and it temporarily closed 308 companies (up 6 percent from 2016) during the first six months of the year for labor law violations. The inspectorate issued fines for labor violations, which it deemed sufficient to deter future violations. Nonsafety violations of labor law were most common in the hospitality sector.

Some employees worked in the informal sector without labor protections. There were instances of nonpayment of wages, as well as nonpayment for overtime and holidays. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty of up to three years in prison for convicted employers, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs. During 2017 inspectors filed 115 reports (down 14 percent from 2016) for criminal proceedings against employers for nonpayment of wages or for not registering employees properly with state health and pension insurance.

Cuba

Executive Summary

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Communist Party (CP). Cuba has a one-party system in which the constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the highest political entity of the state. On March 11, citizens voted to ratify a preselected list of 605 candidates to the National Assembly. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates from the ballot. On April 19, the National Assembly elected Diaz-Canel president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Neither the legislative nor the national elections were considered to be free or fair.

The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of an unlawful and arbitrary killing by police; torture of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; holding of political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government engaged in censorship, site blocking, and libel is criminalized. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; and restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and on political participation. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.

Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While a voting process to choose CP-approved candidates exists, citizens do not have the ability to form political parties or choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from political parties other than the CP, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Government-run bodies prescreened all candidates in the March 11 National Assembly and provincial elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions had to preapprove all candidates for office and rejected certain candidates without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government organized protests and town hall meetings to slander their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents. Numerous opposition candidates were physically prevented from presenting their candidacies or otherwise intimidated from participating in the electoral process.

In July the National Assembly endorsed a new constitutional draft which a closed-door Constitutional Commission wrote without public input or debate, and submitted it for several months of controlled public consultation. According to a poll of more than 1,600 Cubans by independent journalism organization CubaData, more than 45 percent reported they did not participate in the consultation process. Some members of independent civil society alleged the official number of public consultations was grossly exaggerated and were not designed to gather public comments, and that some citizens who spoke up or criticized the constitutional draft during this consultation period were harassed.

Citizens who live abroad without a registered place of abode on the island lose their right to vote.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s representation increased slightly from previous years in the most powerful decision-making bodies; women held no senior positions in the military leadership.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, and separately criminalizes “lascivious abuse” against both genders. The government enforced both laws. Penalties for rape are at least four-years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits all threats and violence but does not recognize domestic violence as a distinct category of violence. Penalties for domestic violence range from fines to prison sentences of varying lengths, depending on the severity of the offense.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides penalties for sexual harassment, with potential prison sentences of three months to five years. The government did not release any statistics on arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for offenses related to sexual harassment during the year.

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

Discrimination: The law accords women and men equal rights, the same legal status, and the same responsibilities with regard to marriage and divorce, parental duties, home maintenance, and professional careers. No information was available on whether the government enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is normally derived by birth within the country’s territory, and births were generally registered promptly. Those who emigrate abroad and have children must request a Cuban passport for the child before re-entering Cuba.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of consent for marriage is 18. Marriage for girls as young as age 14 and for boys as young as age 16 is permitted with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Prostitution is legal for those age 16 and older. There is no statutory rape law, although penalties for rape increase as the age of the victim decreases. The law imposes seven- to 15-years’ imprisonment for involving minors younger than age 16 in pornographic acts. The punishment may increase to 20 to 30 years or death under aggravating circumstances. The law does not criminalize the possession of pornography, but it punishes the production or circulation of any kind of obscene graphic material with three months’ to one year’s imprisonment and a fine. The offer, provision, or sale of obscene or pornographic material to minors younger than age 16 is punishable with two to five years in prison. Child trafficking across international borders is punishable with seven- to 15-years’ imprisonment. The law does not establish an age of consent, but sexual relations with children younger than age 16 can be prosecuted if there is a determination of rape. In such cases the law leaves room for consideration of possible consent and the age of the other person, especially if the other person is also a minor. A determination of rape may be made if the victim lacks the ability to understand the extent of the action or is not in command of his or her conduct, which could be applied or claimed for a person age 15 or 14. The penalty ranges from four- to 10-years’ imprisonment. If the victim is older than age 12 and younger than age 14, the penalty is seven- to 15-years’ imprisonment. The punishment for having sex with a minor age 12 is 15- to 30-years’ imprisonment or death.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of 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 between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No known law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is in charge of the Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities. The law recommends that buildings, communication facilities, air travel, and other transportation services accommodate persons with disabilities, but these facilities and services were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities.

Some persons with disabilities who opposed the government were denied membership in official organizations for the disabled, such as the National Association for the Blind. As a result, they were denied benefits and services, which include 400 minutes of telephone usage, training in the use of a white cane and in Braille, and reduced fare on public transportation.

On March 7, authorities barred Acelia Carvajal Montane, the wife of Juan Goberna, an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, from accompanying her husband on international travel in connection with his advocacy activities. Goberna, who is blind, required assistance from his wife when he travelled. In April authorities again barred her from accompanying her husband to Lima, Peru, for the Summit of the Americas.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing unlawful beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in sought-after positions within the tourism industry and at high levels within the government.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care but does not extend the same protections to transgender or intersex individuals based on gender identity or expression.

The government did not recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Several unrecognized NGOs that promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex human rights faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government operated four prisons exclusively for inmates with HIV/AIDS; some inmates were serving sentences for “propagating an epidemic.” Special diets and medications for HIV patients were routinely unavailable.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, severely restricts worker rights by recognizing only the CP-controlled Central Union of Cuban Workers (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. To operate legally, all trade groups must belong to the CTC. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding the trade union monopoly of the CTC, the prohibition on the right to strike, and restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials have the final say on all such agreements.

The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. The CP chose the CTC’s leaders. The CTC’s principal responsibility is to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike. The de facto prohibition on independent trade unions limited workers’ ability to organize independently and appeal against discriminatory dismissals. The executive’s strong influence over the judiciary and lawyers limited effective recourse through the courts.

During the year Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, general secretary of the Association of Independent Unions of Cuba, was harassed, beaten, detained, threatened, and fined. Authorities searched his house, and NGOs reported he was under constant threat of reimprisonment for failure to pay fines.

Several small, independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Unitarian Council of Workers of Cuba; together they constituted the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC and purported to advocate for the rights of small-business owners and employees. Police reportedly harassed the independent unions, and government agents reportedly infiltrated them, limiting their capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf. In late September authorities arrested an independent union member and sentenced him a week later to one year in prison for “disobeying the authorities.”

The government may determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. The government deemed persons unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. The government also penalized professionals who expressed interest in emigrating by limiting job opportunities or firing them.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum working age is 17, although the law permits the employment of children ages 15 and 16 to obtain training or fill labor shortages with parental permission and a special authorization from the municipal labor director. The law does not permit children ages 15 and 16 to work more than seven hours per day, 40 hours per week, or on holidays. Children ages 15 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.

There were no known government programs to prevent child labor or to remove children from such labor. Antitruancy programs, however, aimed to keep children in school. Inspections and penalties appeared adequate to enforce the law, because inspections for child labor were included in all other regular labor inspections. The government penalizes unlawful child labor with fines and suspension of work permits. There were no credible reports that children younger than age 17 worked in significant numbers.

The government used some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products for government farms during peak harvest time. Student participants did not receive pay but received school credit and favorable recommendations for university admission. Failure to participate or obtain an excused absence reportedly could result in unfavorable grades or university recommendations, although students were reportedly able to participate in other activities (instead of the harvest) to support their application for university admission. There were no reports of abusive or dangerous working conditions.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits workplace discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality, “or any other distinction harmful to human dignity,” but it does not explicitly protect political opinion, social origin, disability, age, language, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. No information was available on government enforcement of these provisions during the year.

The government continued to use politically motivated and discriminatory dismissals against those who criticized the government’s economic or political model. Workers forced out of employment in the public sector for freely expressing themselves were often further harassed after entering the emerging but highly regulated self-employment sector.

Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to members of the Afro-Cuban population. Leaders within the Afro-Cuban community noted some Afro-Cubans could not get jobs in better-paying sectors such as tourism and hospitality because they were “too dark.” Afro-Cubans more frequently obtained lower-paying jobs, including cleaning and garbage disposal, which had no interaction with tourists, a major source of hard currency.

There were no statistics stating whether the government effectively enforced applicable laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Authorities set a national minimum wage at 225 CUP ($9) per month. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily wages are reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies, the government acknowledged that the average wage of 767 CUP ($31) per month did not provide a reasonable standard of living.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly minimum 24-hour rest period and one month of paid annual vacation per 11 months of effective work. These standards apply to state workers as well as to workers in the nonstate sector, but they were seldom enforced in the nonstate sector. The law does not prohibit obligatory overtime, but it generally caps the number of overtime hours at 16 hours per week and 160 per year. The law provides few grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime below these caps. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time.

The government set workplace safety standards and received technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to implement them. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security enforced the minimum wage and working-hours standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to enforce occupational safety and health standards adequately. No information was available about the number of labor inspectors. Reports from recent years suggested there were very few inspectors and that health and safety standards frequently were ignored or weakened by corrupt practices.

According to government statistics, more than 593,000 workers (34 percent of whom were women) were self-employed through August, a 9.7 percent increase from 2016. The percentage of the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent in 2012 to 31 percent at the end of 2017. In August 2017 the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for certain activities in the lucrative hospitality sector. On December 7, the government enacted new regulations for the private sector that significantly increased state control and red tape, imposed harsher penalties, and increased the tax burden on private business. Businesses operating under the license of “facilitator of home swaps and home sales-purchases” are no longer allowed to operate as real estate or dwelling management companies or to hire employees. This is also the case for music, art, or language teachers, other teachers, and sport trainers. The new rules also forbid the creation of schools or academies. They are particularly restrictive for the cultural sector, forbidding artists from dealing directly with the private sector, i.e., avoiding the intermediation and supervision of state-run agencies. The number of economic activities allowed to self-employees and small private businesses decreased, mostly by merging and regrouping activities.

Despite criminal penalties for doing so, a significant number of workers participated in the informal economy, including individuals who actively traded on the black market or performed professional activities not officially permitted by the government. There were no reliable reports or statistics about the informal economy.

Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated via a joint venture in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Most formal employment took place only through government employment agencies. Employers, including international businesses and organizations, were generally prohibited from contracting or paying workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table. The Ministry of Labor enforces labor laws on any business, organization, or foreign governmental agency based in the country, including wholly owned foreign companies operating in the country, joint-stock companies involving foreign investors operating in the country, the United Nations, international NGOs, and embassies. Cuban workers employed by these entities are subject to labor regulations common to most state and nonstate workers and to some regulations specific to these kinds of entities. Government bodies, including the tax collection agency and the Ministry of Finance and Prices, enforced regulations. There were no reports about protections for migrant workers’ rights.

Official government reports cited 3,576 workplace accidents in 2016 (an increase of 92 compared with 2015) and 89 workplace deaths (an increase of 18 compared with 2015). The government reported in April that, although statistics showed a decrease in labor-related incidents every year, deaths related to roadside work and the agricultural and industrial sectors had increased. The CTC provided only limited information to workers about their rights and at times did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions. It was generally understood that workers could not remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers facing this dilemma.

Cyprus

Executive Summary

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides. This report is divided into two parts: the Republic of Cyprus and the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots.

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS (BELOW) | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS


The Republic of Cyprus is a constitutional republic and multiparty presidential democracy. On February 4, voters re-elected President Nicos Anastasiades in free and fair elections. In 2016 voters elected 56 representatives to the 80-seat House of Representatives (Vouli Antiprosopon) in free and fair elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included crimes involving violence against members of minority ethnic and national groups.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In national elections, only Turkish Cypriots who resided permanently in the government-controlled area were permitted to vote and run for office. In elections for the European Parliament, Cypriot citizens, resident EU citizens, and Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and run for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February voters re-elected Nicos Anastasiades president in free and fair elections. In 2016 the country held free and fair elections for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives. The 24 seats assigned to Turkish Cypriots remained vacant.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

In 2014 some Turkish Cypriots complained that problems in the electoral roll disenfranchised a number of Turkish Cypriot voters. The law provides for the registration of all adult Turkish Cypriot holders of a government identity card who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots in the electoral roll for the European Parliament elections. Turkish Cypriots not residing in that area needed to apply for registration in the electoral roll, as did all other citizens. The government did not automatically register an unspecified number of Turkish Cypriots residing in the north because they were incorrectly listed in the official civil registry as residents of the government-controlled area. This problem persisted during the year.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of violence against women, including spousal abuse, and the number of cases reportedly increased in recent years. The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence. A court can issue a same day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic violence offenders.

Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs noted, however, that police dismissed claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): While the practice was not a problem locally, the government received and granted asylum applications from migrant women subjected to FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides a penalty of up to six months in prison, a 12,000 euro ($13,800) fine, or both. The ombudsman and NGOs reported that authorities did not adequately investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment was reportedly a widespread, but often unreported, problem. The Department of Labor reported receiving 13 sexual harassment complaints from foreign domestic workers but that most complaints lacked supporting evidence. The ombudsman continued to receive complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In July the Council of Ministers adopted a mandatory code of conduct for the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and harassment throughout the public service. The office of the ombudsman did not provide sexual harassment training to public servants during the year.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The government generally enforced the law, but women experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, and there was universal registration at the time of birth.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. The penalty for child abuse includes one year’s imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,000 pounds ($1,300), or both. From January to October 15, police investigated 135 cases of child abuse, 71 of which were filed in court.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18, but persons aged 16 and 17 may marry, provided there are serious reasons justifying the marriage and their legal guardians provide written consent. A district court can also allow the marriage of persons aged 16 and 17 if the parents unjustifiably refuse consent or in the absence of legal guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and engaging in or promoting a child in any form of sexual activity. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child ages 13 through 17 is a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child younger than 13 is up to life in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Authorities enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

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

There were approximately 3,000 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israelis, British, and Russians.

There were reports of verbal harassment of members of the Jewish community, including two incidents in October in which Muslim men reportedly used anti-Semitic slurs and made death threats against Jews in Larnaca. The victims had not filed complaints with police at year’s end.

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. The law provides persons with disabilities the right to participate effectively and fully in political and public life, including by exercising their right to vote and to stand for election. The government generally enforced these provisions.

The state provided facilities to enable children with disabilities to attend all levels of education. The Ministry of Education adopted a code of good practices, prepared in collaboration with the ombudsman, regarding attendance of students with disabilities in special units of public schools. Authorities provided a personal assistant for students with disabilities attending public, but not private, schools.

In a March 13 report assessing the 2016 deinstitutionalization program for persons with mental disabilities, the ombudsman noted authorities failed to handle effectively matters related to the rights, needs, and abilities of these persons and did not meet the main objective, which was the enjoyment of the right of independent living within society.

Problems facing persons with disabilities included access to natural and constructed environments, transportation, information, and communications. The Cyprus Paraplegics Organization reported several public buildings were still not accessible to wheelchair users.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Observers did not consider fines for violating the law against employment discrimination sufficient to prevent abuses (see also section 7.d.).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minority groups in the government-controlled area of Cyprus included Catholics, Maronites, Armenians, and Roma. Although legally considered one of the two main communities of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots constituted a relatively small proportion of the population in the government-controlled areas and experienced discrimination.

There were incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots traveling to the government-controlled areas as well as some incidents of verbal abuse or discrimination against non-Greek Cypriots. In March a 20-year-old Greek Cypriot pleaded guilty to participating in a 2015 attack against vehicles belonging to Turkish Cypriots. He received a 20-month suspended sentence and was fined 1,000 euros ($1,150). Eleven other defendants charged for the same attack pleaded not guilty and went to trial, which continued at year’s end.

The Ministry of Education applied a code of conduct against racism in schools that provided schools and teachers with a detailed plan on handling, preventing, and reporting racist incidents.

In May 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported the Romani community continued to face discrimination and stigmatization as well as challenges such as low school attendance and high dropout rates, difficulty accessing adequate housing, unemployment, and racist attacks. Romani and migrant children also reportedly faced social discrimination in schools.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints that the government delayed approval of citizenship for children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The ombudsman reported that its recommendations to process such applications within a reasonable timeframe had not been implemented.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Antidiscrimination laws cover employment and the following activities in the public and private domain: social protection, social insurance, social benefits, health care, education, participation in unions and professional organizations, and access to goods and services. A lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) NGO noted in February 2017 that equality and antidiscrimination legislation remained fragmented and failed to address adequately discrimination against LGBTI persons. NGOs dealing with LGBTI matters claimed that housing benefits favored “traditional” families.

Despite legal protections, LGBTI individuals faced significant societal discrimination, particularly in rural areas. As a result, many LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor did they report homophobic violence or discrimination. An NGO reported that on Pride Day in June, attackers threw rocks at a transgender woman’s home in Paphos. Police initially failed to respond to the NGO’s call for assistance, and the victim, citing fear of dealing with police, subsequently declined to file a police report.

There were reports of employment discrimination against LGBTI applicants (see section 7.d.).

Hate crime laws criminalize incitement to hatred or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In June the government appointed an advisor to the president of the republic on multiculturalism, respect, and acceptance with a view to proposing actions to protect the rights of LGBTI persons, promote public awareness, and eliminate discrimination against them.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In June the president of the HIV-Positive Persons Support Center stated that HIV-positive persons faced prejudice in employment both in the private and public sector as well as from society and their own families, largely due to lack of public awareness. Activists complained that raising public awareness of this problem was not a government priority and reported that even medical staff at hospitals were prejudiced and reluctant to examine HIV-positive persons. In July the government instituted a 300 euro ($345) monthly stipend and free medical care for HIV-positive persons receiving treatment at the Gregorian clinic in Larnaca.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including supporting statutes and regulations, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively with employers. Both antiunion discrimination and dismissal for union activity are illegal.

The law requires labor unions to register with the registrar of labor unions within 30 days of their establishment. Persons convicted for fraud-related and immoral offenses are not allowed to serve as union officials. Unions’ accounts and member registers can be inspected at any time by the registrar. An agreement among the government, labor unions, and employers’ organizations established the procedure for dispute resolution for essential services personnel.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, but unions did not consider the penalties sufficient to deter violations. Resources and investigations were adequate in the formal sector. Administrative procedures were efficient and immediate, but judicial procedures were subject to delays due to a case backlog.

The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and employers generally respected the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Although collective agreements are not legally binding, they are governed by a voluntary agreement between the government and employer organizations and unions, employers, and employees effectively observed their terms. Workers covered by such agreements were employed predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Private sector employers were able to discourage union activity in isolated cases because of sporadic enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination and the implicit threat of arbitrary dismissal for union activities.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children, defined as persons younger than 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who are at least 14 or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to rules limiting work hours. The law prohibits night work and street trading by children. The law permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons aged 15 through 17, subject to rules limiting hours of employment and provided it is not harmful or dangerous. The law prohibits employment of adolescents between midnight and 4 a.m. The minimum age for employment in industrial work is 16. Employment of children in violation of the law is punishable by penalties, which were sufficient to deter violations.

Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and did so effectively. The Social Welfare Services Department of the ministry and the commissioner for the rights of the child could also investigate suspected cases of exploitation of children at work.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit direct or indirect discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, national origin or citizenship, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or regulations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and HIV-positive status.

Despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s enforcement of the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women was ineffective. The law requires equal pay for equal work or work of equal value. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as hiring, career advancement, employment conditions, and pay. Eurostat data released in October indicated the average pay gap between men and women was 14 percent in 2015. The ombudsman reported receiving complaints related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

An NGO reported in September that an employer fired a lesbian woman because of her sexual orientation, citing his religion. Several lawyers reportedly advised the employee against pursuing a legal case for discrimination because a lawsuit would make it difficult for her to find new employment.

Discrimination against Romani migrant workers occurred. Turkish Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although there is no national minimum wage, there is a minimum wage for groups deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The minimum wage for shop assistants, clerks, assistant baby and child minders, health-care workers, security guards, cleaners of business premises, and nursery assistants was 870 euros ($1,000) per month for the first six months and 924 euros ($1,060) per month thereafter. The Ministry of Interior establishes terms of employment for foreign domestic workers, for whom the minimum salary was 309 euros ($355) per month–well below the poverty line of 8,698 euros ($10,000) per year for a single person.

Collective bargaining agreements covered workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the poverty level.

Foreign workers were able to claim pensions, and some bilateral agreements allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not actively do so.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, including overtime. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods. The law stipulates that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. The Department of Labor Relations within the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing these laws. Labor unions, however, reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in the construction industry, exploited undocumented foreign workers by paying them very low wages. The penalty for violating the law was sufficient to deter violations but was not adequately enforced. The court may order the employer to pay the employee back wages.

The law protects foreign domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from deportation until their cases have been adjudicated. The Department of Labor Relations reported that from January to April, it received 191 complaints from migrant workers against their employers, 142 involving domestic workers, and 49 involving laborers. Of those, 130 were resolved by both sides signing a release agreement that gave the worker the opportunity to seek employment with another employer, while two cases were resolved with the voluntary return of the worker to the employer on mutually agreed terms. In seven cases the workers chose to return home. A total of 48 cases were referred to the Labor Disputes Committee for Migrants from Third Countries for examination, and four additional cases remained unresolved for other reasons.

NGOs reported many foreign domestic workers remained reluctant to report contract violations by their employers for fear of losing their jobs and, consequently, their work and residency permits. NGOs reported that Department of Labor and police skepticism of complaints about sexual harassment and violence discouraged domestic workers from submitting complaints.

The Department of Labor Inspection in the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. Authorities enforced health and safety laws satisfactorily in the formal sector but not in the informal sector, which included approximately 15 percent of workers. Labor unions stated more work was required to protect undocumented workers. The penalty for failing to comply with work safety and health laws was up to four years’ imprisonment, a fine not to exceed 80,000 euros ($92,000), or both.

The number of inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labor was not sufficient to provide for enforcement of labor laws in the agricultural sector and in the informal economy, where the majority of employees were migrant workers and undocumented workers. The Department of Labor Relations carried out its own inspections to assure that employers abide by other labor laws. Inspectors were not allowed to inspect private households where persons were employed as domestic workers without a court warrant.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.


READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS (ABOVE) | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

Cyprus – the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Executive Summary

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides. This report is divided into two parts: the Republic of Cyprus and the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots.

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS (BELOW)


The northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. Mustafa Akinci was elected “president” in 2015 in free and fair elections. The “TRNC constitution” is the basis for the “laws” that govern the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Police and Turkish Cypriot security forces were ultimately under the operational command of the Turkish military, per transitional article 10 of the “TRNC constitution,” which cedes responsibility for public security and defense “temporarily” to Turkey.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included trafficking in persons and crimes involving violence against ethnic minority groups.

Authorities took steps to investigate police officials following press allegations of human rights abuses. There was evidence, however, of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The “law” provides Turkish Cypriots the ability to choose their “government” in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities have the right to vote and run for office in elections for the European Parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. On January 7, Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary” elections that observers considered free and fair. In 2015 Turkish Cypriots elected Mustafa Akinci “president” in elections that were also considered free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in Turkish Cypriot elections. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in Greek Cypriot elections but had to travel to the government-controlled area to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite enclave communities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. The Nicosia Turkish Cypriot Municipality provided a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs whose specific mission was to support rape victims.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under a general assault/violence/battery clause.

In March the Nigerian student association told local newspapers that police did not take seriously complaints that African students were sexually abused and raped in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

In November police arrested a man who had allegedly murdered his ex-girlfriend at the house in Kioneli where she worked. Press reported the man stabbed the victim 13 times before neighbors heard her screams and rushed her to the hospital where she died.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs, sexual harassment went largely unreported. A group of international students reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students.

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

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “criminal code” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

In October a 17-year-old girl complained to the “Social Services Department” that her father and uncle had sexually abused her since she was nine years old. The “Social Services Department” helped her file a complaint with police, who arrested the father and uncle. In a “court” hearing, the victim said she had filed a complaint at the Lapta police station on the guidance of her school counselor but later withdrew it under pressure from her family. The “Social Services Department” provided support and psychological aid to the victim and her brother, and the trial continued at year’s end.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages for minors ages 16 and 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and two years or fewer apart in age from the victim, the act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. There are no “laws” regarding child pornography.

In August Turkish Cypriot police arrested a 29-year-old British woman for soliciting herself and her two children in a nude live video online. She admitted to advertising prostitution and sexually abusing her children live on the internet. The “Social Services Department” took custody of one of the children, and the other was handed over to the Turkish Cypriot father. The woman was deported to the United Kingdom, according to press reports.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. 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 authorities effectively enforced these provisions. The “law” does not mandate access to public buildings and other facilities for persons with disabilities, and the disability community complained of the absence of infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

In May the Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported 653 persons with disabilities were waiting to be employed by the “government.” The association also complained that persons with disabilities had no access to buildings, sidewalks, or public areas, and that there were no public restrooms they could use. The association noted the “government” had not employed a single person with disabilities since 2006, although the “law” requires 4 percent of public sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities.

Authorities reported more than 300 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” Authorities also reported more than 4,000 disabled persons received financial aid from the “government” during the reporting period. In September, the “government” paid an additional one-time relief contribution of 1,000 Turkish lira ($190) to 8,000 poor and disabled persons who receive government aid, due to the economic crisis.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 320 Greek Cypriot and 73 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus representatives visited enclaved Greek Cypriot residents weekly and Maronites twice a month. In April the “TRNC government” cancelled an October 2017 decision by the former “government” to tax humanitarian aid convoys to the Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities. While the humanitarian aid was taxed, humanitarian aid deliveries for Greek Cypriots living in Rizokarpaz were limited to medical supplies.

Greek Cypriots and Maronites could take possession of some of their properties in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the government-controlled area. Maronites living in the government-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

A small Kurdish minority that emigrated from Turkey in the 1980s lived in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. There were reports of social and job discrimination against the Kurds as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities, in particular the annual Nowruz festival. In March local press reported a group of nationalist students tore down Nowruz posters posted at a university bus stop. When three Kurdish students tried to stop them, the nationalist students reportedly attacked the Kurdish students and forced them to voice insults against Kurds while the attackers filmed them. School security intervened; the victims were taken to the hospital, and police began an investigation.

Some of the more than 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with law enforcement.

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

The “law” prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While there were no cases recorded of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTI community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTI persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association said LGBTI persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them. The association reported that during the year police refused to register a complaint about discrimination based on gender identity from a transgender woman.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The “law” provides for the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “Council of Ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining but does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, there was very little unionization among the estimated 90,000 workers in the private sector. According to one labor union, only 8 percent of private sector workers were unionized. A union representative said that if private sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public sector unions as rivals to weaken the independent unions. Labor authorities and the “state” did not provide adequate resources, inspections, or improvements. Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” range from two to eight times the monthly minimum wage of 2,620 Turkish lira ($499), which was insufficient to deter violations due to sporadic enforcement.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to not more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Resources, penalties, and inspections were not adequate to deter violations.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and employers used children, mainly from Turkey, for labor, primarily alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions. One NGO reported some employers delayed applying for work permits for seasonal agricultural workers from Turkey, which prevented the workers’ children from being eligible for local schooling.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, albeit to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. The number of children selling tissues or other small items on the street increased over 2017, particularly in neighborhoods in Nicosia with large immigrant populations. It was common in family-run shops for children to work after school and for young children to work on family farms.

One union representative reported there were only nine “inspectors” working at the “Employment Department,” making it difficult to inspect workplaces to detect child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status. The “government” did not effectively enforce these “laws.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported 22,882 registered foreign workers in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Greek Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace and held far fewer managerial positions than men. An NGO reported a private school teacher was dismissed from her job for becoming pregnant. The private school allegedly did not want to have staff on maternity leave during the school year.

LGBTI individuals often hid their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. As of October, the monthly minimum wage was 2,620 Turkish lira ($499). Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

The standard workweek for the private and public sectors was 40 hours. There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required, but frequently not paid, in the private sector. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and paying public sector wages, but it did not effectively do so.

Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Despite occasional inspections by labor authorities, authorities did not effectively enforce those standards in all sectors. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers claiming violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy.

There was little improvement in working conditions, particularly for hazardous sectors and vulnerable groups. Authorities reported 10 fatal accidents at nine work places during the year.


READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS (ABOVE)

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and a Senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition. On October 5 and 6, the country held local and senate elections. In January voters also re-elected President Milos Zeman to another five-year term. Observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of the Romani minority.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2017 the country held parliamentary elections. In January voters re-elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s second direct presidential election. Observers considered both elections free and fair, and there were no reports of irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and minorities remained underrepresented in elected bodies. Four of 15 government ministries are headed by women.

Participation of Roma in politics and governance remained minimal in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court justices. There were some Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. Two Romani candidates ran unsuccessfully in senate elections. Roma were elected to 13 seats in local governments.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. The government enforced these provisions.

Observers, however, reported prosecutors and judges often lacked knowledge of the subject, and there was a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Demanding criminal procedures required repeated testimonies of victims contributing to their further traumatization. Only half of the sentences were unconditional prison terms.

At the beginning of the year, Prague High Court refused an appeal of a prosecutor who claimed that a suspended sentence of three years in prison with five years of probation was insufficient for a 38-year-old stepfather who sexually abused his six-year-old stepdaughter. In October, however, after an extraordinary appeal by the supreme prosecutor, the Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court.

The government provided funding for some NGOs that continued to offer immediate social, legal, and psychological services to rape victims, but long-term services were underfunded.

NGOs noted in particular the underreporting of violence against women in immigrant communities, where victims often feared losing their immigration status.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law limits to six months the total time, including extensions, a removal order can remain in effect. The Ministry of Interior reported that, in the first eight months of the year, police removed 838 offenders from their homes.

In late 2017 the Supreme Court reviewed a domestic violence case from 2014 and confirmed a decision of a district court in Brno. The defendant only received a conditional sentence of 30 months in prison with 36-month probation despite severe psychological and physical abuse he inflicted on his wife between 2012 and 2013. The abuse involved slapping her and kicking her in the stomach days after her miscarriage, regular threats and humiliations, and forbidding her to look for a job, all in the in presence of their son. The woman had to be hospitalized due to the injuries she sustained.

The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other persons living in the household, especially children and seniors. The government supported a widely used hotline for crime and domestic violence victims.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. Penalties for conviction may include fines, dismissal from work, or imprisonment for up to eight years. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

In reaction to several reported cases of sexual harassment at universities between teachers and students, the Ministry of Education organized a nationwide workshop focusing on the issue and produced an instructional video.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

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

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced discrimination in the area of employment and payment (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain only the citizenship of their parents. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years in the case of the death of a child.

NGOs estimated that 40,000 children experienced some form of violence each year. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reported that in 2017 authorities removed approximately 530 children from parents based on the decision of the court due to abuse, exploitation, or mistreatment. In 2017 three children died due to abuse or mistreatment. A 2017 survey by the Czech Institute of Criminology found that approximately 40 percent of rape victims were children younger than 18 years of age, and 21 percent were children younger than 14.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.

To fight increasing problem of sexual exploitation of children on the internet, the Ministry of Interior in 2017 joined the European “Say No” campaign initiated by Europol.

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 country’s Jewish population numbered approximately 10,000. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well-organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of such groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries.

In 2017 the Ministry of Interior recorded 27 criminal offenses with anti-Semitic motives. In January the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a district court in Jihlava, which in March 2017 sentenced well-known anti-Semitic blogger Adam Bartos to a conditional year in prison for incitement to hatred. In a separate case, a Prague district court in January sentenced Bartos to a conditional two years in prison for incitement to hatred, libel, and genocide denial. Bartos appealed the verdict, and the case was pending at year’s end.

In July a district court in Prague convicted the former secretary of the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, Jaroslav Stanik, of hate speech. According to witnesses, in October 2017 Stanik expressed his view on the premises of the lower house of parliament that Roma, Jews, and homosexuals should be shot at birth. Stanik appealed the verdict and the case remained pending at the year’s end.

In November police charged two men for placing a pig’s head at a Holocaust and Romani victim memorial in Lety in February.

In 2017 the Ministry of Culture designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov (in Eastern Czech Republic), which itself was designated as a cultural monument in 2016. A foreign philanthropist continued to lead efforts to restore the cemetery, which was destroyed by the Nazis and later turned into a public park.

The government has an antiextremism strategy emphasizing prevention and education to combat hostility and discrimination toward the Romani community as well as address anti-Semitism and Holocaust education.

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. The ombudsperson acted as a mediator in many cases while only a few cases were prosecuted in the courts. Persons with disabilities continued to face a shortage of public accommodations. Economic growth and active employment measures led to a significantly decrease in the number of unemployed disabled persons.

According to the law, only children with significant disabilities should attend special schools with specially trained teachers. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but sufficient funding remains an issue.

In January the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsperson’s office) became a monitoring body under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The ombudsperson made visits to governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson’s office reported the highest numbers of received complaints for discrimination were related to discrimination for disability. The ombudsperson specifically criticized discrimination of persons with disabilities at work and poor availability of dental services for persons with mental disabilities.

According to the Office of the Government, ministries were not complying with the law that requires 4 percent of the staff of companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to be persons with physical disabilities. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council and the ombudsperson criticized.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing and have high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy.

Hate crimes against Roma continued to be a problem. There were also instances of hate crimes against Africans and persons of South-Asian descent. Observers reported hate crimes are not sufficiently recognized by police, prosecutors, and judges, who often lacked will or adequate knowledge.

In October Czech police concluded an investigation and recommended prosecution of three men, ages 19, 20 and 23 for attacking a group of South Asians in Pisek. One of the victims ended up in hospital with injuries.

Despite legislative measures aimed at desegregation of Roma in education, according to a Ministry of Education study, more than 29 percent of students in special schools were Roma, compared with 3.6 percent in regular elementary schools. After the introduction in 2017 of a free compulsory year of preprimary education at the age of five to six years old, the enrollment of Romani children in kindergartens increased slightly but remained markedly below the levels for non-Romani peers. To support desegregation of Roma in schools, the government increased funding to provide additional support to students with special needs in mainstream schools.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in “excluded localities” or ghettos. While the law prohibits housing discrimination based on ethnicity, NGOs stated that some municipalities discriminated against certain socially disadvantaged groups, primarily Roma, basing their decisions not to provide housing on the allegedly bad reputation of Romani applicants from previous residences.

The 2017 amendment to the law on persons with material need, which was intended to solve housing problems, in some cases had the opposite effect. The amendment allowed cities to declare certain areas as having an “increased occurrence of socially undesirable activity”. In such designated zones the government paid only a part of housing subsidies. Some cities started to use this instrument to get rid of Roma and other low-income citizens.

In September the European Roma Rights Center criticized President Zeman for his negative statements on Roma and in an open letter called for his resignation. Zeman had stated that the unemployed persons in one of the country’s villages he visited were exactly the Roma who were forced to work during communism under the threat of imprisonment.

Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on internet.

In September the district court in Tachov fined a woman 20,000 koruna ($800) for posting threatening comments on the internet under a school photo of first graders from a local school. The children were mainly Romani, Arab, and Vietnamese, and the comments suggested sending them to gas chambers, shooting them, or throwing a hand grenade into the classroom. Police did not originally qualify the incident as a hate speech offense, but the supreme prosecutor requested a further investigation that led to the conviction.

In April the owners of a pig farm located on the site of a WWII-era concentration camp for Roma in Lety officially handed over the site to the Museum of Roma Culture, which will build a memorial to Roma victims. The government bought the site for 450 million koruna ($18 million). In August the government released additional 111 million koruna ($4.4 million) for the sanitation, demolition, and archeological research of the premises, which was a condition of foreign donors.

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

The country has antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, access to health care and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. The number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was low, and local LGBTI leaders stated that citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons.

To obtain legal gender recognition, transgender individuals are required to undergo surgical sterilization, a requirement the Council of Europe found contrary to member commitments on the protection of health.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. The Czech AIDS Help Society reported a number of cases of discrimination, primarily in access to healthcare, especially due to the legal requirement to inform every doctor about the HIV positivity. The cases usually ended unsolved or in mediation. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV/AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting of the problem.

In the case of wrongful termination of employment of a police officer who was HIV positive, the Municipal Court in Prague confirmed in November 2017 that HIV is a health disability. The court stated the antidiscrimination law should be applied, but the termination was in line with an applicable internal ministerial decree. The officer appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Czech AIDS Help Society reported the judicial system lacked qualified experts knowledgeable about technical HIV/AIDS issues, which led to wrongful criminal prosecution of about 30 individuals for allegedly spreading a contagious disease.

Other Societal Violence and Discrimination

According to the Security Information Service, the country’s security intelligence agency, there were no violent anti-Muslim protests or demonstrations in 2016 or the first half of 2017. Anti-Muslim protests and sentiments largely shifted to social media.

In May the State Prosecutor’s Office in Ceske Budejovice halted the prosecution of Martin Konvicka for alleged incitement of hatred against Islam due to a failure of authorities to secure timely evidence from the social network where Konvicka posted statements calling for the creation of concentration camps for Muslims and their physical annihilation.

NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Islamic attitudes, and several events promoting tolerance took place during the year.

In September the Municipal Court in Prague confirmed a decision of the district court that a female Muslim student could not wear a hijab to a secondary medical school. In the court’s opinion, the school should stay a neutral environment in which no one is exposed to religious symbols. The student appealed to the Supreme Court.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to associate freely for both citizens and foreign workers, but the latter generally did not join unions due to the often short-term nature of their employment or the lack of social interaction with employees who were citizens.

The law provides for collective bargaining. It prohibits antiunion discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal. Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercised this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors, including hospitals, electricity and water supply services, air traffic control, nuclear energy, and the oil and natural gas sector. Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form or join trade unions or strike. The scope for collective bargaining was limited for civil servants, whose wages were regulated by law. Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including nonmembers. When planning a strike, unions are required to inform employers in writing of the number of strikers and provide a list of the members of the strike committee or contact persons for negotiation. They must announce the strike at least three days in advance. While regulations entitle union members to conduct some union activities during work hours, they do not specify how much time workers may use for this purpose, leaving room for diverse interpretations on the part of employers.

The law protects union officials from dismissal by an employer during their term of union service and for 12 months after its completion. To dismiss a union official, an employer must seek prior consent from the employee’s unit within the union. If the union does not consent, a dismissal notice is invalid.

The government worked to enforce such laws effectively and permitted unions to conduct their activities without interference. Government resources for inspections and remediation were adequate, and legal penalties in the form of fines were sufficient to deter violations.

The Czech-Moravian Federation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) complained that, under the law, employers are not required to consult with unions on matters related to individual employees or to seek mutual agreement on some workplace problems, hurting the ability of employees of small enterprises to maintain union rights.

According to CMKOS, employer violations of the labor law and trade union rules continued during the year. CMKOS reported a number of violations and cases of discrimination, including employers raising administrative obstacles to collective bargaining, and threatening to dismiss employees who asserted their union rights, refused to terminate union activities, or attempted to form unions. There were no cases of unequal treatment, or making unauthorized, unilateral wage changes reported. Sometimes, employers formed “yellow,” employer-dominated trade unions to thwart collective bargaining by splitting unity and capacity of action of employees.

According to CMKOS, some employers forced employees to work formally for a minimum wage to reduce labor taxes at the time of growing wages, with the remaining amount provided “under the table.” Nevertheless, proving a violation of the law was difficult. Employees, union as well as nonunion, often preferred to switch jobs rather than file a formal complaint. Employees would usually file complaints only if the employer stopped paying wages.

CMKOS still reported cases of employers not allowing union members sufficient paid time off to fulfill their union responsibilities or pressuring union members to resign their employment to weaken the local union unit. There were cases of bullying of union officials, including unreasonable performance evaluation criteria, excessive monitoring of work performance, and being targeted for disciplinary action or reduced financial compensation based solely on union participation.

During the year labor unions most frequently used strike alerts and strikes to advance their goals. Strikes and strike alerts predominantly targeted wages.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15. Employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 was subject to strict safety standards, limitations on hours of work, and the requirement that work not interfere with education.

The law permits children younger than 15 (or until completion of mandatory elementary education) to work only in certain areas: cultural and artistic activities, advertising, product promotion, and certain modelling and sport activities. A child younger than 15 may work only if he or she obtains a positive health assessment from a pediatrician and prior approval by the Labor Office. Work permits for children were issued for 12 months. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. The State Bureau for Labor Inspections (SBLI) effectively enforced these regulations. Penalties for infringement of these laws and regulations were sufficient to deter violations. During the year the SBLI did not report any child labor law violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit any kind of discrimination based on nationality, race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, disability, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, social status, or trade union membership.

In 2017 the SBLI conducted checks for unequal treatment and discrimination and imposed penalties for violations of discrimination laws, mostly noncompliance with the requirement to employ a specific number of persons with disabilities, discrimination based on gender and age, or the publication of discriminatory job advertisements that were sufficient to deter violations. According to CMKOS cases of labor discrimination usually involved gender pay gaps. During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs issued a new methodology for labor inspectors on how to compare wages and many other tools that are freely available to the public on the internet.

In 2017 women made up 44.5 percent of the nonagricultural workforce. Women’s salaries lagged behind those of men by approximately 21 percent.

Associations supporting HIV-positive individuals reported cases of discrimination. HIV-positive individuals are not legally obligated to report their diagnoses to their employer unless the diagnosis prevents them from executing their duties. Some employers dismissed HIV-positive employees due to prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

According to the ombudsman’s report, discrimination at work consisted nearly one third of complaints delivered to the ombudsperson’s office in 2017. Despite the existence of antidiscrimination laws, the government rarely enforced the law in cases involving employment. Employees were often unwilling to file formal complaints or testify against their employers due to fear of losing their jobs, having their wages reduced, or being transferred to positions with poorer working conditions.

One of the few discrimination rulings related to employment was decision of the district court in Ostrava in the case of age discrimination. The court ruled at the beginning of this year that a 62 year-old assistant working at the University of Ostrava should receive financial compensation of 50,000 koruna ($2,000) and a public apology for unequal treatment due to her age. Younger employees were offered contract extensions for multiple years, while the claimant was offered a one-year extension.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs establishes and enforces minimum wage standards. The minimum wage is above the “minimum subsistence cost,” which is defined as the minimum amount needed to satisfy the basic needs of a working-age adult for a month. Enforcement of the minimum wage was one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspections.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a break of at least 30 minutes during the standard eight-hour workday. Employees are entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual leave. Employers may require up to eight hours per week of overtime to meet increased demand but not more than 150 hours of overtime in a calendar year. Additional overtime is subject to the consent of the employee. The labor code requires premium pay for overtime that is equal to at least 125 percent of average earnings.

The government set occupational health and safety standards, which were appropriate for the country’s main industries. The labor code obliges an employer to provide safety and health protection in the workplace, maintain a safe and healthy work environment, and prevent health and safety risks.

SBLI inspectors conducted checks for compliance with the labor code and imposed penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. SBLI’s labor inspection plan focused on sectors where there were typically high-risk working conditions, such as construction, agriculture, and forestry.

The SBLI is responsible for combating illegal employment. Labor inspectors prioritized inspections for illicit employment in those sectors that were especially vulnerable to illegal employment, such as the lodging/catering, retail, warehousing and logistic centers, agricultural, forestry, construction, and processing industries. Inspectors conducted numerous inspections in selected seasonal businesses, retail chains, and industrial zones. More than 65 percent foreign workers were EU citizens, mainly from Slovakia, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria. The majority of the third-country citizen workers were Ukrainians and Russians, followed by Vietnamese and Mongolians. Some third-country citizens worked in the country with working permits valid only for other EU countries (mainly Poland), which put them into illegal status while being assigned work in the country. The majority of illegally employed foreigners were Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Vietnamese. Those groups were potentially at high risk for mistreatment. To strengthen the effectiveness of inspections, SBLI inspectors acted in conjunction with the Labor Office, the Social Insurance Bureau, the Licensing Office, foreign police, the Customs Office, and local police.

Employers sometimes ignored standard work conditions requirements in situations involving migrant workers. Relatively unskilled foreign workers from less developed countries were sometimes dependent on temporary employment agencies to find and retain work. Migrants sometimes worked in substandard conditions. Most commonly, salaries were paid to the agencies, which then garnished them, resulting in workers receiving subminimum wages, working overtime without proper compensation, or working without compensation. Since migrant workers seldom filed formal complaints of such abuses, authorities had few opportunities to intervene.

The SBLI effectively enforced health and safety standards. Laws requiring acceptable conditions of work cover all workers equally in all sectors. During the year the SBLI conducted checks focused on health and safety standards. The inspections occurred both proactively and in response to complaints. Authorities imposed penalties that were sufficient to deter violations.

In 2017 the number of registered injuries in the workplace increased by 0.2 percent from 2016. Fatal accidents decreased by 8.7 percent during 2017. The vast majority of workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry, transport, construction, warehousing, and processing industries. According to the SBLI, the most common causes of injuries or fatal incidents included underestimated risk, falls from height, irresponsible application of dangerous work procedures and techniques, unauthorized conduct or stay in hazardous zones, and failure to observe bans. Employees of small and medium-sized companies often declined to use protective gear even though their employer provided it.

Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and the SBLI enforced this standard relatively consistently.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for 70 years. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. He is currently the Chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by authorities; arbitrary detentions by security forces; detention centers, including political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening; political prisoners; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy; censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions, and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. DPRK overseas contract workers, working on behalf of the government, also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government took no credible steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA.

Participation of Women and Minorities: As of 2016 women constituted approximately 3.1 percent of members and 2.8 percent of candidate members of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and held few key WPK leadership positions. The 2014 UN COI report indicated only 10 percent of central government officials are women.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government appeared to criminalize rape, but no information was available on details of the law or how it was enforced. The UN COI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights includes a provision prohibiting domestic violence but no legal provisions stipulating penalties for domestic violence. Defectors reported violence against women was a systematic problem both inside and outside the home. According to the 2015 KINU survey of defectors conducted from 2011 to 2015, 81 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.” For example, Human Rights Watch reported one 2009 case in which a woman was robbed, raped, and badly beaten. After reporting the rape, police did nothing, and her husband started to beat her over the incident.

Sexual Harassment: Despite the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes, defectors reported the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions, and reported there was little recourse for women who had been harassed.

Coercion in Population Control: Defectors reported that the state security officials subjected women to forced abortions although it was done for political purposes, to cover up human rights abuses, and to “protect” ethnic purity, and not population control.

Discrimination: The constitution states, “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government and defectors said gender equality was nonexistent. KINU reported that discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women. The foreign press and think tanks reported that, while women were less likely than men to be assigned full-time jobs, they had more opportunity to work outside the socialist economy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination.

Medical Care: There was no verifiable information available on whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government.

Child Abuse: Information about societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government upheld this law.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 17 years old for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: As many girls and young women attempt to flee repressive and malnourished conditions for their own survival or the betterment of their family, the 2014 Commission of Inquiry noted they often become subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of the country or in China but then sold them into forced marriages, domestic servitude, or made them work in prostitution after being smuggled out of the country.

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

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children, many of them orphans, who had inconsistent access to education.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of children born into kwanliso political prison camps as a result of “reward marriages” between inmates. Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

In 2013 the country announced that it modified its Person with Disability Protection Law to meet the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities. In a 2016 National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey, 89 percent of defectors, however, said there was no consideration for persons with disabilities.

While a 2003 law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the state has not enacted the implementing legislation. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). While the state treated veterans with disabilities well, they reportedly sent other persons with physical and mental disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined within camps, and forcibly sterilized. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, visited the DPRK for the first time in May and noted most infrastructure, including new buildings, was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. She also said more efforts were needed on information and communication access for blind people.

State media reported in July 2016 that the government launched a website for the protection of persons with disabilities, and they improved educational content in schools for children with disabilities to provide professional skills training. Independent observers were unable to verify the report.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern about de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights 2013 report on the Status of Women’s Rights in the Context of Socio-Economic Changes in the DPRK found that the birth of a baby with disabilities–regardless of circumstances–was considered a “curse,” and doctors lacked training to diagnose and treat such persons. The report stated there were no welfare centers with specialized protection systems for those born with disabilities. Citizens’ Alliance also cited reports that the country maintained a center (Hospital 8.3) for abandoned individuals with disabilities, where officials subjected residents to chemical and biological testing.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex activity, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex activity in the country and reported, “The practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of sound mentality and good morals.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, strike, or bargain collectively. There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor.

The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The central committee of the WPK directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities.

The government controlled all aspects of the formal employment sector, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire their employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which had an effect on management decisions. They established the first special economic zone (SEZ) in the Rajin-Sonbong area in 1991. The same labor laws that apply in the rest of the country apply in the Rajin-Sonbong SEZ. The government selected the workers permitted to work in the SEZ. The government announced the establishment of 13 new SEZs in 2013, six additional SEZs in 2014, and two more SEZs in 2015.

The ROK suspended the joint-venture Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in 2016, citing North Korea’s launch of a satellite using ballistic missile technology. On September 14, the two countries opened at the former KIC site a joint liaison office to facilitate dialogue; the KIC, however, remained suspended. In 2017 there were reports North Korean authorities continued to operate at least 19 clothing factories within the KIC without informing the ROK; other observers noted that, although some token industrial activity may have occurred, the KIC was not operational. When the complex was officially operational, it operated under special regulations that did not contain provisions that stipulate freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The government reportedly selected worker representatives, subject to approval of South Korean company management (also see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the state prohibits work by children younger than age 16. Neither the general labor law nor Kaesong Industrial Complex labor law prohibits hazardous child labor.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted its concern children were also sometimes subjected to mass mobilizations in agriculture away from their families, with long working hours per day, sometimes for periods of one month at a time. The Committee also noted its concern with the practice of accepting children aged 16 and 17 to dolgyeokdae (military-style construction youth brigades) for 10-year periods. Such children were subjected to long working hours and heavy physical work.

The effects of such forced labor on students included physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports such practices occurred. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or other factors. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law, yet classification based on the songbun system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. The 2014 UN COI report noted that, despite the economic advancement of women, the state continued to discriminate against them and imposed many restrictions on the female-dominated market. The November 2017 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted, for example, its concern with the continued sex-segregation of the workforce, with labor laws and directives assigning specific jobs to women while impeding their access to others, and women’s retirement age being set at 55 years, compared with 60 years for men, and its consequences for their pension benefits, economic independence, and access to decision-making positions.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination; for example, the December 2017 report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities noted persons with disabilities with no opportunities to work were “looked down upon.” Most of the approximately 1,200 workshops or light factories for persons with disabilities built in the 1950s were reportedly no longer operational; there were limited inclusive workplaces, although the government reported it created nine self-help groups in 2014 of persons with and without disabilities working together on income-generating activities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

No reliable data were available on the minimum wage in state-owned industries. Monthly wages in some enterprises in the heavy industrial sectors as well as in the textile and garment sector reportedly increased from 3,000 to 4,000 won ($0.30 to $0.40) to 30,000 won ($30) in 2013, with approximately one-third of the wage paid in cash and the remainder in kind.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday; however, some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense; however, the state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions, but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high. Citizens labored under harsh conditions while working abroad for state-owned firms and under arrangements between the government and foreign firms (see section 7.b.).

Endnote: Note on Sourcing

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The DPRK does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited guests the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess fully human rights conditions or confirm reported abuses.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Under the constitution, President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office expired in 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines, and the president remained in office. In 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and in November 2017 it scheduled presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. In August the president announced that he would abide by his constitutionally mandated term limit and not seek an illegal third term. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30; however, presidential elections were canceled in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi with those legislative and provincial elections postponed to March 2019. President Kabila did not run as a candidate and announced he would hand power over to the winner, which would mark the first civilian transfer of power resulting from elections. Results of the elections were still pending at year’s end.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Armed conflict in eastern DRC and parts of the Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings by government and armed groups; forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; delayed elections and restrictions on citizens right to change their government through democratic means; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence against women and children, caused in part by government inaction, negligence; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities or members of other minority groups; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Despite the occurrence of some notable trials against military officials, authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Government security forces, as well as rebel and militia groups (RMGs) continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the central Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender based violence. RMGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor. The government took military action against some RMGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Although CENI organized elections during the year, more than a million voters were disenfranchised by CENI’s decision to cancel elections in the Ebola-affected areas of Beni and Butembo in eastern DRC ostensibly for public health and security reasons. Elections were also canceled in the western town of Yumbi after intercommunal violence killed nearly 1,000 persons from December 16 to 18. Unknown numbers of voters were also disenfranchised on election day due to CENI’s failure to produce accurate voter lists or publicize the location of polling stations.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30 but widely criticized due to irregularities and a lack of transparency. Results were not announced by year’s end.

The government stated it accredited 270,000 domestic observers but denied accreditation to many international elections observers and media outlets. Election observers reported significant irregularities on election day due to delays opening some voting stations, confusion regarding the use of electronic voting machines, the location of polling stations, and the posting of voter lists.

On December 12, a fire at the CENI warehouse in Kinshasa allegedly destroyed approximately 8,000 voting machines and other voting materials needed to hold elections in Kinshasa. On December 20, the CENI announced elections would be delayed by seven days in order to replace the voting equipment destroyed in the fire. On December 26, CENI cancelled presidential elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province citing risks of Ebola and insecurity and in Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province due to recent intercommunal violence. CENI announced that legislative and provincial elections in those areas would be held in March 2019.

Gubernatorial elections took place in the provinces of Maniema and Kwango in March. However, the Supreme Court invalidated the Maniema gubernatorial election and the vice governor was appointed as acting governor.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Outgoing president Joseph Kabila’s Presidential Majority political alliance–which included his former party (the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Congo, and other parties–enjoyed majority representation in government, the parliament, and judicial bodies, including on the Constitutional Court and CENI. State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest source of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of opposition members, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), limiting travel within or outside the country, targeting opposition leaders in politically motivated judicial actions, and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content. On December 19, the Governor of Kinshasa prohibited presidential candidates from holding campaign activities in Kinshasa allegedly due to security concerns. The announcement, however, was widely believed to be politically motivated to suppress support for opposition candidates.

The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement and arbitrarily arrested opposition party members. At various points during the year, including the election campaign period, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events. On December 11, in Lubumbashi, PNC agents used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse violently opposition candidate Martin Fayulu from holding a campaign rally, resulting in deaths. The JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths during the campaign period, from November 21 to election day on December 30. This included three deaths Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

National Assembly president Aubin Minaku continued to prevent the opposition UDPS party from changing its representative to the CENI in violation of a December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties.

In a number of districts, known as “chefferies,” traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are then paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held 9 percent of seats in the National Assembly (44 of 500) and 6 percent in the provincial assemblies (43 of 690). Five of 108 senators were women. Among the 59 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, and vice ministers, six were women, a decrease in the total number from that of the government formed in 2016 (from 11 percent of 68 such positions to 10 percent of 59 such positions). Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 5).

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions.

From January to August, the UNJHRO reported that at least 893 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender based violence. The UNJHRO stated that perpetrators were primarily armed groups followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. The UNJHRO stated that RMGs, including the Raia Mutomboki, also targeted women and girls during the year. On April 15-19, the United Nations reported that at least 66 women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rapes and gang rapes, by members of the Raia Mutomboki in the South Kivu provincial towns of Keba, Wameli, Kamungini, and Bimpanga. Implementation, including promulgation of the text of the amended family code adopted in 2016, had not begun by year’s end. As of November 19, the United Nations reported that the SSF killed 143 adult women and RMGs killed 111 women and girls.

The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented adult victims and 183 child victims, including one boy, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Province, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey(DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On July 26, the High Military Court of Bukavu upheld the December 2017 conviction of Frederic Batumuke, a provincial member of parliament, and 10 other persons for murder and crimes against humanity for the rape of 37 girls ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The same court also convicted and sentenced Colonel Bedi Mobuli (aka Colonel 106) to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including rape, sexual slavery, looting, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence if convicted of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($125); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including mutilation of children and use of children in combat in the Kasais, to harmful traditional and religious practices. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militias often put children, particularly young girls, on the front lines of battle, believing they have powers that could protect them as well as other fighters. For example, it reported Kamuina Nsapu militias often believed young girls could trap bullets fired at them and fling them back at attackers. The Kamuina Nsapu also reportedly slashed children’s stomachs as part of an initiation ritual to see if they would survive and how the wound would heal.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with conviction carrying a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. A 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. It was not, however, compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used other schools as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and RMGs. UNJRO documented 153 attacks on schools, including 118 in Ituri province, the majority that were committed in the context of interethnic conflict.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.

The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Many children suffered abuse from militia groups that recruited children and believed they possessed magic powers. The armed group Bana Mura was reportedly responsible for taking women of childbearing age and enslaving them to give birth to children that would be raised in a different ethnic group. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militants forced children to undergo a “baptism” ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those children who did not die of these wounds were reportedly recruited into the militia and used as combatants, often put on the front lines as “fetish keepers” due to their supposed powers. These practices resulted in the deaths of many children during the Kasai conflict in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($58). The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The 2009 Child Protection Code criminalized child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through July, UNICEF assisted 2,694 children who were victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately half of these children (1,076 girls and 37 boys) were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance. There were also reports that child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, during 2016 (see section 6). While targeted sexual violence against children decreased in the region following arrests and charges against some militia members responsible, many of the survivors continued to face stigmatization from their communities.

Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which remains the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Since 2016 the conflict in the Kasais displaced more than 1.4 million persons, including many children who were kidnapped by militia members or otherwise separated from their families. The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street 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

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides specific government protection for them. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

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

While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported that authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials, who committed abuses against LGBTI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in perpetrating discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The latest available DHS, which dates from 2013-14, captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate of adults and children between 15 and 49 was 0.7 percent, and an estimated 390,000 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2017.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. In the wake of an offensive against Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, the SSF targeted for arrest young men identified by tribal scarring as members of the Bemba community. This harassment by the SSF was given as a reason why several young men subsequently joined the Mai Mai group. Small-scale conflicts in the Rutshuru and Lubero territories of North Kivu conflict exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hutu, on the one hand, and the Kobo, Nyanga, and Nande ethnic communities, on the other hand. In January 2017 the Nande-affiliated Mai Mai Mazembe RMG attacked the town of Kibirizi, decapitating one Hutu, burning one woman to death, and burning 16 homes. In April 2017 intercommunity tensions between Tshokwe and Pende (accused of being affiliated with the Congolese security forces) and Luba and Lulua communities (accused of being Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers) turned violent, particularly in Kamonia territory, Kasai Province. In April 2017 Tshokwe youths armed with rifles and machetes killed at least 38 persons, including eight women and eight children, mainly of Lulua ethnicity, in several parts of the territory.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes, although by law police, army, and domestic workers may not strike. The law also prohibits directors in public and private enterprises from striking. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. The law provides unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and more than one union may be represented within a single business. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years. Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members plus one employer representative. Union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with the unions. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors) do not have the right to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

The union committee is required to notify the company’s management of a planned strike, but it does not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. Generally, the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. Sometimes employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law disallows striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the penalties for violations were not adequate to deter violations. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three contiguous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private sector and public enterprise unions at the national level. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. The public administration sector is divided among and represented by 15 different national unions, five of which represent the majority of the workers.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Employees of the Port and Transportation Authority, whose services are essential to maintain the country’s heavily import-based economy, went on strike twice during the year due to salary arrears. Other civil servants including doctors, nurses, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Budget personnel also went on strike repeatedly during the year due to salary issues. The most recent doctors’ strike was suspended in September; the nurses’ strike continued. Professors at the University of Kinshasa went on strike at least twice, most recently beginning October 8, to protest lack of payment of their salaries at an inflation-adjusted exchange rate. In other provinces, such as Kasai Oriental, the strike continued, albeit sporadically.

The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law effectively or to provide oversight. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not effectively exercise the right to strike. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite workers’ legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances during the year, to undermine unions’ collective bargaining efforts, companies refused to negotiate with unions but opted to negotiate individually with workers.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so only partially.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child protection code and labor code set the minimum age for work at 16, and Ministerial Order No. 12 sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items. Penalties for conviction of violations for the worst forms of child labor, which are one to three years of imprisonment and fines as high as 20,000 Congolese francs ($13), were insufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted a new action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; its implementation was scheduled to start during the year; however, implementation had not begun as of September due to lack of funds. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. These agencies had no budgets for inspections and conducted no child labor investigations.

In March the governor of Lualaba Province in the Katanga region made a public announcement prohibiting children from participating in mining activities in two villages near the artisanal mines of Kasulu and Kipuki, encouraging the children to go to school instead. Children had been employed at the two sites to clean copper and cobalt ores, and haul sacks of minerals. It was unclear what impact the governor’s declaration had.

In August 2017 an interministerial committee, including the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Mining, organized a national workshop at which Minister of State for Employment and Labor Lambert Matuku announced a strategy to eliminate child labor, including in the mining sector, by 2025. In September, Matuku repeated the same strategy at another workshop sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to fight child labor in the mining sector. No implementation had taken place by year’s end, however.

While criminal courts continued to hear child labor complaints, neither the courts nor other government agencies effectively enforced these laws. The government did not allocate relevant ministries and the National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor specific budgetary resources.

There was no effective systematic government effort to redirect child labor away from artisanal mines. The Ministry of Mines International Conference on the Great Lakes Region certificate-validation process prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting, but the ministry had limited capacity to enforce this process.

The government did not undertake any measures to reinforce the capacities of the labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. The 2018 mining code, which replaced the previous code of 2002, prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was a problem throughout the country (see section 7.b.). Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. For their economic survival, families often encouraged children to work. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. The commercial exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Various mining sites, located principally in the eastern regions of North Kivu and Katanga, employed many child workers. Data on Katanga estimated that children younger than age 18 made up 40 percent of all workers in the region’s mines. According to a 2017 University of California-Berkley report, 13 percent of the mining labor force living in the mining communities of the copper cobalt belt were younger than age 18, a total of 4,714 children. Of these, 49 percent are 14 years old or younger. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Given the same status as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures.

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Upper Katanga, Kasai Oriental, Kasai Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. Persons with disabilities, albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest pay scales applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The prime minister decreed the new minimum daily wage would increase from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) as of May 10, progressively, which would raise the minimum wage above the World Bank poverty level of $1.90 per day. This increase was scheduled in 25-percent installments, and the first two occurred in June and December. The National Labor Council, the country’s highest labor forum, is a tripartite organization formed by unions, government, and employers. According to the labor code, ordinary sessions of the National Labor Council should take place twice a year. The most recent session took place in October 2017.

In the public sector, the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 to 72 hours, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The National Labor Council met in 2017 and agreed to raise the minimum wage from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) beginning January 1, 2018. The average monthly wage did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Government salaries remained low, ranging from 65,000 to 95,000 Congolese francs ($41 to $59) per month (not including bonuses, which in some instances were considerably larger), and salary arrears became more frequent in both the civil service and public enterprises (parastatals). In August the government announced a raise of 20,000 Congolese francs ($13) per month, but workers had yet to receive the additional funds by year’s end. Many public-sector employees reported that they did not receive their annual bonuses. In 2012 the government began paying some civil servant salaries through the banking system in an effort to stop the practice in which supervisors created fake employees and skimmed off some of their subordinates’ salaries. The Budget Ministry stated that 75 percent of civil servants received their pay through the banking system, but some observers believed that figure was grossly inflated. For others the government delivered cash in large shipments for local authorities and supervisors to distribute.

The labor code specifies health and safety standards. The Ministry of Labor employed 200 labor inspectors, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. The government did not effectively enforce such standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. Major international mining companies effectively observed health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. The law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 the international NGO International Peace and Information Services estimated there were approximately 300,000 artisanal miners in the East in the 2,000 identified mine sites. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with democratic, parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is head of state. A prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party of a multiparty coalition, is head of government and presides over the cabinet, which is accountable to a unicameral parliament (Folketing). The kingdom includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous with similar political structures and legal rights. They manage most of their domestic affairs, while the central Danish government is responsible for constitutional matters, citizenship, monetary and currency matters, foreign relations, and defense and security policy. Observers deemed national elections in 2015 free and fair. In 2016 the center-right Venstre Party formed a coalition government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws provide citizens, including those of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2015. There were no reports of abuses or electoral irregularities. The Faroe Islands held parliamentary elections in 2015, and Greenland did so on April 24. These elections were also considered to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women or men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape. During the year a report by the National Institute of Public Health stated that approximately 1.6 percent of Danish women older than age 16 had been victims of physical violence within the previous year. Figures from the Criminal Prevention Council showed that an estimated 5,000 rapes and attempted rapes occur annually of which 700 to 900 are reviewed, leading to 60 to 70 convictions.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances, it also reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape but reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage. Persons convicted of rape in Greenland typically receive a prison sentence of 18 months.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence. The royal family supported a variety of NGOs that worked to improve conditions and services at shelters and to assist families afflicted with domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers sexual harassment an unsafe labor condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it (also see section 7.e.). The government enforced the law effectively.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership, and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Children

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. According to the National Police, approximately 18 percent of assaults in Greenland were committed against individuals younger than age 15.

The government’s Children’s Council monitors children’s rights and promotes children’s interests in legislative matters.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Penalties for the distribution of child pornography include up to a six-year prison sentence. The government generally enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. The purchase of sexual services from a person younger than age 18 is illegal.

Displaced Children: The government considered refugees and migrants who were unaccompanied minors to be vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. A personal representative was appointed for all unaccompanied children who sought asylum or who stayed in the country without permission.

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 (Mosaiske) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country.

In July, an imam from Masjid al-Faruq Mosque in a Copenhagen suburb was charged for inciting the killing of Jews after posting a YouTube video in May 2017. In October the case was pending trial; it was the first prosecution under a change in the criminal code introduced in January 2017 to cover hate speech by religious preachers.

Representatives of Copenhagen’s Jewish community reported 30 anti-Semitic acts against Copenhagen’s Jewish community, its community center, or synagogue. The acts included two cases of aggravated and physical harassment, three cases of threats or intimidation, 24 cases of anti-Semitic slurs or language, and one uncategorized case.

During the year the government cooperated with the Jewish community to provide police protection for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen as well as other locations of importance to the Jewish community. Jewish community leaders reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.

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, or mental disabilities. It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions. It is illegal to discriminate against persons with disabilities in the workplace. In July, a law prohibiting general discrimination and harassment based on disability entered into force.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as in elections to the European Parliament, but not currently in national elections.

In spring 2017 Greenland appointed its first spokesperson to promote the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. According to media reports, persons with disabilities in Greenland continued to lack adequate access to physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Many Greenlanders with disabilities have to be relocated to Denmark because of lack of support resources in Greenland.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

A government action plan, targeting majority non-Western immigrant neighborhoods, seeks to eliminate “ghettos” by 2030. Legislation passed in December will force “ghetto” parents beginning July 2019 to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values” including Christmas and Easter traditions. “Ghetto” parents can now also lose their passports or be imprisoned up to four years if they send children back involuntarily to their country of origin on “re-education” trips. Drug, weapons, and violent crimes committed only in “ghettos” will carry increased penalties beginning January 2019.

Indigenous People

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, who are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation.

The law affords individuals legal gender recognition, but government guidelines since 2012 require that individuals undergoing transition receive hormone treatment at one of two designated government-run clinics; private physicians are not permitted to establish this course of treatment.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

During the year minority groups reported discrimination against Muslims. Spokespersons from the Muslim Council of Copenhagen reported that Muslims in the country lived with a sense of increased scrutiny from the government and society. In August legislation banning masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, went into force.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law states all workers may form or join independent unions. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and to legal strikes but does not provide nonresident foreign workers on Danish ships the right to participate in the country’s collective bargaining agreements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and prohibits antiunion discrimination.

These laws were effectively enforced. Resources, inspections, and remediation including supporting regulations were adequate. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Breaches of collective agreement are typically referred to industrial arbitration tribunals to decide whether there was a breach. If the parties agree, the Labor Court may deal with cases that would otherwise be subject to industrial arbitration. Penalties for violation are determined on the facts of the case and with due regard to the degree that the breach of agreement was excusable. Penalties typically imposed by the Labor Court frequently amount to 500,000 kroner ($75,000) and in more serious cases as high as 20 million kroner ($3 million).

Employers and the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Annual collective bargaining agreements covered members of the workforce associated with unions and indirectly affected the wages and working conditions of nonunion employees.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum legal age for full-time employment is 15. The law sets a minimum age of 13 for part-time employment and limits school-age children to less strenuous tasks. The law limits work hours and sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Minors may not operate heavy machinery or handle toxic substances, including harsh detergents. Minors may only carry out “light work” that is the equivalent of lifting no more than 26.4 pounds from the ground and 52.8 pounds from waist height. For minors working in jobs where there is a higher risk of robbery, such as a snack bar, kiosk, bakery, or gas station, a coworker older than age 18 must always be present between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays, and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination, and the government generally enforced these laws effectively. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Danish gender equality law does not apply to Greenland, but Greenland’s own law prohibits gender discrimination. No Greenlandic laws prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not mandate a national minimum wage, and unions and employer associations negotiated minimum wages in collective bargaining agreements. The average minimum wage for all private- and public-sector collective bargaining agreements was 110 kroner ($16.50) per hour, exclusive of pension benefits. The law requires equal pay for equal work; migrant workers are entitled to the same minimum wages and working conditions as other workers.

Workers generally worked a 37.5-hour week established by contract rather than law. Workers received premium pay for overtime, and there was no compulsory overtime. Working hours are set by collective bargaining agreements and adhere to the EU directive that average workweeks not exceed 48 hours.

The law prescribes conditions of work, including safety and health standards, and authorities enforced compliance with labor regulations. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were effectively enforced in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for safety and health violations, for both employees and employers, include fines or imprisonment for up to one year; penalties for violations that result in serious personal injury or death include imprisonment for up to two years. The Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) under the Ministry of Employment may settle cases subject only to fines without trial. These penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for the framework and rules regarding working conditions, health and safety, industrial injuries, financial support, and disability allowances. The DWEA is responsible for enforcing health and safety rules and regulations. This is carried out through inspection visits as well as guidance to companies and their internal safety organizations. The DWEA’s scope applies to all industrial sectors except for work carried out in the employer’s private household, exclusively by members of the employer’s family, and by military personnel. The Danish Energy Agency is responsible for supervision of offshore energy installations, the Maritime Authority is responsible for supervision of shipping, and the Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for supervision in the aviation sector.

The DWEA has authority to report violations to the police or the courts if an employer fails to make required improvements by the deadline set by the DWEA. Court decisions regarding violations were released to the public and show past fines imposed against noncompliant companies or court-ordered reinstatement of employment. Greenland and the Faroe Islands have similar work conditions, except in both cases collective bargaining agreements set the standard workweek at 40 hours.

Workers can remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations. The same laws protect legal immigrants and foreign workers and apply equally to both categories of workers.

The number of labor inspectors was considered sufficient to enforce compliance. The DWEA effectively enforced labor health and safety standards in all sectors, including enforcement of limiting the hours worked per week. Vulnerable groups generally include migrant and seasonal laborers, as well as young workers.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. In 2016 President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fourth term. International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. Most opposition groups did not characterize the elections as free and fair. Three of the seven opposition parties participated in the February legislative elections. Opposition groups stated that the government reneged on a 2015 agreement by not installing an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the AU, IGAD, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by the leaders of unrecognized opposition parties.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary treatment by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; criminal libel; restrictions on free assembly and association; abusing and detaining government critics; government abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose or influence significantly their government; government corruption; violence against women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. The government seldom took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the 2016 presidential election and confirmed the re-election of President Ismail Omar Guelleh for a fourth term in the first round of voting. The Constitutional Council certified that Guelleh was re-elected president with 111,389 of 127,933 votes cast, giving him 87.7 percent of the vote. Two opposition and three independent candidates shared the rest of the votes. One opposition group boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities unfairly ejected opposition delegates from polling stations, precluding them from observing the vote tallying. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the 2016 presidential election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. For example, international observers stated the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) coalition continued to provide campaign paraphernalia after the campaign period closed, including on the day of the election. Some polling station workers also wore shirts and paraphernalia supporting the UMP. The executive branch selected the members of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).

During the year the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the legislative election and confirmed the ruling coalition’s control of 90 percent of the legislature. Two opposition parties shared the remaining 10 percent. Leaders of unrecognized opposition parties called the election results illegitimate due to the lack of a regular and independent election commission, and expressed their displeasure through Facebook posts and hunger strikes.

International observers from the AU, IGAD, Arab League, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation characterized the legislative elections as “free, just, and fair.” The mission from the AU, however, noted several worrisome observations, including lower voter registration due to restrictive laws, inadequate implementation of biometric identification processes during the elections, voter intimidation, inadequate security of submitted ballots, premature closures of voting centers, and the lack of opposition observers during ballot counting.

There was limited progress on implementing the 2016 law establishing conditions for opposition party activities and financing. The AU noted that the financing part of the law had not been implemented for the legislative elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: State security forces beat, harassed, and excluded some opposition leaders. The government also restricted the operations of opposition parties.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize three opposition political parties, although they continued to operate: the Movement for Development and Liberty (MoDEL), the Movement for Democratic Renewal, and the Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RAADE). Members of those political parties were routinely arrested and detained for illegal political activity.

In August the minister of interior refused to renew the authorization for the Republican Alliance for Development (ARD) party to operate legally in the country. After an internal party reshuffle, the government refused to acknowledge new party leadership. From August 8 to 18, ARD president Abdoulkaer Abdallah went on a hunger strike.

On March 23, authorities arrested a security guard at an annex of the RADDE opposition party. Authorities detained him for one day and released him with instructions to evacuate the space. Abdisalam Ismail, Youth Designate for the RAADE party, was arrested on October 21 and remained detained.

On October 18 and 19, police arrested five MoDEL leaders for reportedly opening a training school for their supporters.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. While women did participate, they did not meet the required 25 percent of political candidates and election administration officials, required by a 2017 law. International observers documented only 11 percent of election administration officials were women, and only 8 percent of candidates were women.

In 2017 the country elected its first female mayor in a communal election. In the February legislative elections, the number of women elected to the legislature more than doubled from eight to 18.

Women held 18 of 65 seats in the National Assembly, and there were three women in the 23-member cabinet. The presidents of the Appeals Court and of the Tribunal of First Instance were both women. Custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life.

For the February legislative elections, CENI had no high-ranking female members.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law includes sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape but does not address spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence against women was common. While the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, it prohibits “torture and barbaric acts” against a spouse and specifies penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. Police rarely intervened in domestic violence incidents. The Cellule d’Ecoute (Listening Committee) addresses domestic violence in a tripartite arrangement with the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement agencies, and the council on sharia. This committee refers cases to the Ministry of Justice when abuse is violent or to the council on sharia for divorce proceedings.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but it was a problem. According to a 2012 Ministry of Health survey, 78 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C. According to the UNFD, infibulation, the most extreme form of FGM/C, with a prevalence rate of 67.2 percent, continued, although with declining frequency. Per government officials, new cases of FGM/C were rare in the country’s urban areas, but they also noted a small subsection of the population travels to surrounding countries to have FGM/C performed. The law sets punishment for conviction of FGM/C at five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650), and NGOs may file charges on behalf of victims. The law also provides for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 DJF ($565) for anyone convicted of failing to report a completed or planned FGM/C to the proper authorities; however, the government had punished no one under this statute by year’s end. Government officials acknowledged their awareness-raising efforts to end FGM/C were less effective in remote regions of the country.

The government continued efforts to end FGM/C with a high-profile national publicity campaign, public support from the president’s wife and other prominent women, and outreach to Muslim religious leaders. During the year the government began drafting strategies to raise awareness among migrants, persons with disabilities, and youth.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal information suggested such harassment was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens without distinction concerning gender, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector. In accordance with sharia, men inherit a larger proportion of estates than do women. The government promoted female leadership in the small business sector, including through expanded access to microcredit.

A presidential decree requires that women hold at least 20 percent of all high-level public-service positions, although the government has never implemented the decree.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. The government encouraged prompt registration of births, but confusion regarding the process sometimes left children without proper documentation. Lack of birth registration did not result in denial of public services but did prevent youth from completing their higher studies and adults from voting. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although primary education is compulsory, only an estimated three of every four children were enrolled in school. Primary and middle school are tuition-free, but other expenses are often prohibitive for poor families.

Child Abuse: Child abuse existed but was not frequently reported or prosecuted, and the government made only limited efforts to combat it.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the law fixes the minimum legal age of marriage at 18, it provides that “marriage of minors who have not reached the legal age of majority is subject to the consent of their guardians.” Child marriage occasionally occurred in rural areas. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning worked with women’s groups throughout the country to protect the rights of girls, including the right to decide when and whom to marry. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for three years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650) for conviction of the commercial exploitation of children. The law does not specifically prohibit statutory rape, and there is no legal minimum age of consent. The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The sale, manufacture, or distribution of all pornography, including child pornography, is prohibited, and violations if convicted are punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 DJF ($1,130).

The government enacted an anti-trafficking-in-persons (TIP) law in 2016 that prohibits trafficking and outlines definitions distinguishing trafficking and smuggling. The law provides language that the “means” element generally needed to prosecute TIP cases is not required when the victim is a child.

Despite government efforts to keep at-risk children off the streets and to warn businesses against permitting children to enter bars and clubs, children were vulnerable to prostitution on the streets and in brothels.

Displaced Children: During the year the government and NGOs in partnership commissioned an investigation and full qualitative and quantitative study of unaccompanied minors living on the streets. This report had not been released to the public. NGOs reported an increasing number of unaccompanied minors living in Djibouti City or traveling through the country en route to the Middle East.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community at fewer than 30 persons, the majority of whom were foreign military members stationed in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, although the law prohibits such discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Both the Ministry of National Solidarity and the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning have responsibility specifically to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The government also created the position of presidential advisor for persons living with disabilities. Nevertheless, the law was not enforced. The government did not mandate access to government services and accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, and buildings were often inaccessible. The law provides persons with disabilities access to health care and education, but the law was not enforced.

Authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities separately from other pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. They received minimal psychological treatment or monitoring. Families could request confinement in prison for relatives with mental disabilities who had not been convicted of any crime, but who were considered a danger to themselves or those around them. There were no mental health treatment facilities and only one practicing psychiatrist in the country.

Government agencies conducted awareness-raising campaigns, and NGOs organized seminars and other events that drew attention to the need for enhanced legal protections and better workplace conditions for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The governing coalition included all of the country’s major clans and ethnic groups, with minority groups also represented in senior positions. Nonetheless, there was discrimination based on ethnicity in employment and job advancement (see section 7.d.). Somali Issas, the majority ethnic group, controlled the ruling party and dominated the civil service and security services. Discrimination based on ethnicity and clan affiliation remained a factor in business and politics.

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

The law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct among consenting adults. No antidiscrimination law exists to protect LGBTI individuals. There were no reported incidents of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, although LGBTI persons generally did not openly acknowledge their LGBTI status. There were no LGBTI organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reported cases of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although stigma against individuals with the disease was widespread. Several local associations worked in collaboration with the government to combat social discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right to form and join independent unions with prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law provides the right to strike after giving advance notification, allows collective bargaining, and fixes the basic conditions for adherence to collective agreements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The economic free zones (EFZs) operate under different rules, and labor law provides workers fewer rights in the EFZs.

The procedure for trade union registration, according to the International Labor Organization, is lengthy and complicated, allowing the Ministry of Labor virtually unchecked discretionary authority over registration. The government also requires unions to resubmit to this approval process following any changes to union leadership or union statutes, meaning each time there is a union election, the union must reregister with the government.

The law provides for the suspension of the employment contract when a worker holds trade union office. The law also prohibits membership in a trade union if an individual has prior convictions (whether or not the conviction is prejudicial to the integrity required to exercise union office). The law provides the president with broad discretionary power to prohibit or restrict severely the right of civil servants to strike, based on an extensive list of “essential services” that may exceed the limits of international standards.

The government neither enforced nor complied with applicable law, including the law on antiunion discrimination. Available remedies and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations, particularly in view of the lack of enforcement.

The government also limited labor organizations’ ability to register participants, thus compromising the ability of labor groups to operate. The government did not allow the country’s two independent labor unions to register as official labor unions. Two government-backed labor unions with the same names as the independent labor unions, sometimes known as “clones,” served as the primary collective bargaining mechanisms for many workers. Members of the government have close ties to the legal labor unions. Only members of government-approved labor unions attended international and regional labor meetings with the imprimatur of the government. Independent union leaders stated the government suppressed independent representative unions by tacitly discouraging labor meetings.

Collective bargaining sometimes occurred and usually resulted in quick agreements. The tripartite National Council on Work, Employment, and Professional Training examined all collective bargaining agreements and played an advisory role in their negotiation and application. The council included representatives from labor, employers, and government.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all labor by, and employment of, children younger than age 16, but it does not specifically prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law places limitations on working more than 40 hours a week and working at night. Government enforcement of the law was ineffective. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for monitoring workplaces and preventing child labor; however, a shortage of labor inspectors, vehicles, and other resources impeded investigations of child labor. Inspections were carried out in the formal economy, although most child labor took place in the informal sector.

Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, occurred throughout the country. Children were engaged in the sale of the narcotic khat, which is legal. Family-owned businesses such as restaurants and small shops employed children during all hours. Children were involved in a range of activities such as shining shoes, washing and guarding cars, selling items, working as domestic servants, working in subsistence farming and with livestock, begging, and other activities in the informal sector. Children of both sexes worked as domestic servants. Children experienced physical, chemical, and psychological hazards while working.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no law prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate resources to carry out inspections for discrimination in both the formal and informal sectors. According to disability advocates, there were not enough employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and legal protections and access for such individuals were inadequate. The law does not require equal pay for equal work (see section 6).

By law foreign migrant workers who obtain residency and work permits enjoy the same legal protections and working conditions as citizens. This law was not enforced, however, and migrant workers experienced discrimination. In January 2017 the National Assembly passed a refugee law formalizing refugees’ right to work, and it passed two implementing decrees the following December.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 35,000 DJF ($198) per month for public-sector workers, compared to the World Bank poverty income level equivalent to 336 DJF ($1.90) per day. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for the private sector, but it provides that minimum wages be established by common agreement between employers and employees. According to the government statistics office, in 2017 79 percent of the population lived in relative poverty.

The legal workweek is 40 hours over five days, a limit that applies to workers regardless of gender or nationality. The law mandates a weekly rest period of 48 consecutive hours and the provision of overtime pay at an increased rate fixed by agreement or collective bargaining. The law states overtime hours may not exceed 60 hours per week and 12 hours per day. The law provides for paid holidays. The government sets occupational safety and health standards that cover the country’s main industries. The minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced, including in the informal economy.

No law or regulation permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment.

There was a large informal sector but no credible data on the number of workers employed there.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards, wages, and work hours; however, resources allotted to enforcement were insufficient, and enforcement was ineffective. The ministry employed one labor inspector and four controllers. The Labor Inspectorate conducted 30 inspections, including within EFZs, during the year based on complaints about illegal labor conditions and found violations in every case. Because of lack of enforcement, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Resources provided to enforce the law, including inspections, were inadequate. The Labor Inspectorate had insufficient resources to train inspectors, conduct regular preventive inspections, or pursue enforcement of previous cases. The most common remedy for violations was for the labor inspector to visit the offending business and explain how to correct the violation. If the business complied, there was no penalty.

Migrants were particularly vulnerable to labor violations. Workers across several industries or sectors sometimes faced hazardous working conditions, particularly in the construction sector and at ports. Hazards included, for example, improper safety equipment and inadequate safety training. According to the Labor Inspectorate, workers typically reported improper termination, not abuses of safety standards.

Dominica

Executive Summary

Dominica is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. In the 2014 general election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labor Party prevailed over the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) by a margin of 15 seats to six. The Organization of American States (OAS) election observers noted some irregularities but found the elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, although no cases were reported during the year, and criminalization of libel.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the ruling Dominica Labor Party won 15 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the UAP, which won six seats. The Caribbean Community and OAS election observers declared the election generally fair and transparent but made a number of recommendations to address widespread concerns about the electoral process. Observers noted concerns about the voter list, whose number of registered voters exceeded the country’s population. They also noted that the government should implement a voter identification system, review its electoral boundaries, review legislation covering the validity of votes, and enact political finance regulations. As of October none of the recommendations had been implemented. Furthermore, civil society and opposition leaders alleged that the government had provided travel and financial assistance to citizens living abroad to return to the island to vote for the prime minister’s Dominica Labor Party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape or incest) is 25 years’ imprisonment, the usual sentence was five to seven years. Police generally were not reluctant to arrest or prosecute offenders. Whenever possible, female police officers handled rape cases. Women were reluctant to report domestic violence to police. The only shelter for victims of gender-based violence remained closed since Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Civil society reported that sexual and domestic violence was common. The government recognized it as a problem, but according to civil society groups, understanding of gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, was low among the general population. Although no specific laws criminalize spousal abuse, spouses were able to bring charges against their partners for battery.

The law allows abused persons to appear before a magistrate without an attorney and request a protective order.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment. Civil society reported it was a pervasive problem.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides women with the same legal rights as men, but property deeds continued to be given to heads of households, who were usually men. The law establishes pay rates for civil service jobs without regard to gender.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or to a citizen parent. Birth certificates were provided to parents on a timely basis. Failure to register resulted in denial of access to public services except emergency care.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly a pervasive problem, but up-to-date statistics on child abuse cases were not available.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, but marriage is permitted at age 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 16. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children for purposes of prostitution, and related activity may be prosecuted under laws against prostitution or trafficking. The law protects all persons from “unlawful sexual connection,” rape, procurement for prostitution, and incest. It prohibits sexual intercourse between a child and an adult and increases the penalty to 25 years of imprisonment for an adult who rapes a child whom the adult employs or controls, or to whom the adult pays wages. A 2016 amendment criminalizes behaviors such as voyeurism.

The maximum sentence for sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 14 years is 25 years in prison. When victims are between ages 14 and 16, the maximum sentence is 14 years.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is no organized Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of discrimination or anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. There is no legal requirement mandating access to buildings for such persons. Although persons with disabilities have the right to vote, polling stations were often inaccessible.

Children with physical disabilities and those with hearing and vision disabilities were integrated into mainstream schools. Civil society reported that one visually impaired student completed the entire mainstream education with the help of a teacher. The government funded a separate special education school for children with intellectual or mental disabilities.

Indigenous People

The Kalinago (Carib) population was estimated at 3,000 persons, most of whom lived in the 3,782-acre Kalinago Territory. The government recognizes their special status, and their rights are protected in law and practice. The law allocates Kalinago territory and gives the local council its authority, including the exercise of veto power over new infrastructure projects within the territory. Some societal discrimination against the Kalinago existed, most notably when Kalinago children attended schools outside the territory.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity for both sexes is illegal under indecency statutes. The law also prohibits anal intercourse between males. The government reported rare enforcement of both statutes, and there were no instances of the law being enforced through September. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adult men carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics in employment, housing, education, or health care.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that strong societal and employment discrimination against persons due to their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics was common. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) victims of violence or harassment avoided notifying police of abuse because of social stigma. Stigma and fear of abuse and intimidation prevented LGBTI organizations from developing their membership or executing activities such as Pride marches.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Reports from civil society indicated individuals with HIV feared job discrimination if their HIV status became public. This fear resulted in patients not seeking treatment at a hospital.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Employers must reinstate workers who file a complaint of illegal dismissal, which can cover being fired for engaging in union activities.

Restrictions on worker rights include the designation of emergency, port, electricity, telecommunications, and prison services, as well as the banana, coconut, and citrus fruit cultivation industries, as “essential.” The International Labor Organization noted that the list of essential services is broader than international standards and called on the government to exclude the banana, citrus, and coconut industries, as well as the port authority, from the schedule of essential services. The procedure for essential workers to strike is cumbersome, involving appropriate notice and submitting the grievance to the labor commissioner for possible mediation. Strikes in essential services also could be subject to compulsory arbitration. In recent years mediation by the Office of the Labor Commissioner in the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security resolved approximately 70 percent of strikes and sickouts, while the rest were referred to the Industrial Relations Tribunal for binding arbitration.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced applicable laws, and penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals, and there were no cases during the year. Government mediation and arbitration were free of charge. Few disputes escalated to strikes or sickouts. A company, a union representative, or an individual may request mediation by the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security. In most cases, the ministry resolved the matter.

Workers exercised the legal right to organize and choose their representatives. Small family-owned farms performed most agricultural work, and workers on such farms were not unionized. Workers exercised the right to collective bargaining, particularly in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy, including in government service. Employers generally reinstated or paid compensation to employees who obtained favorable rulings by the ministry after filing a complaint of illegal dismissal. Generally, essential workers conducted strikes and did not suffer reprisals.

Persons with disabilities generally experienced hiring discrimination.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for a minimum age of employment: children may start working at the age of 12 years in family-run businesses and farms, as long as the work does not involve selling alcohol. The law allows children age 14 to work in apprenticeships and regular jobs that do not involve hazardous work. The law prohibits employing any child under 16 during the school year but makes an exception for family-owned businesses. While the government does not have a comprehensive list of hazardous work prohibited for children, the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security considers jobs such as mining and seafaring as hazardous. In addition, children under 18 are prohibited from engaging in night work and from working on ships. Safety standards limit the type of work, conditions, and hours of work for children over 14, most of whom worked in services or hospitality. Children may not work more than eight hours a day. The government effectively enforced these standards. The law provides for sentences of up to 20 years in prison for child labor violations. Although resources were insufficient to engage in inspections on a comprehensive basis, the laws and penalties generally were adequate to remove children from illegal child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, place of origin, color, creed, and political opinion, and the government generally enforced this provision. There were no government programs in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace and no penalties to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, sexual orientation, and persons with disabilities. The labor law permits employers to pay persons with disabilities lower wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage law establishes no universal minimum wage but rather varies base wages depending on the category of workers, with the lowest minimum wage set at $4.00 east Caribbean dollars (XCD) ($1.48) per hour and the highest minimum wage at $5.50 XCD ($2.04) per hour. A 2009 study by the Central Statistical Office, the most recent data available, estimated the poverty income level at $6,230 XCD ($2,310) annually and found that 29 percent of the population lived below this threshold. The law provides that the labor commissioner may authorize the employment of a person with disabilities at a wage lower than the minimum rate. The labor commissioner did not authorize subminimum wages during the year.

The law provides for overtime pay for work above the standard workweek of 40 hours, and the employee must give prior agreement for overtime work. The law does not prohibit forced or compulsory overtime but mandates that overtime wages paid to employees be not less than 1.5 times standard wages. Some overtime violations were reported in the tourism sector.

The law was amended in 2017 to ensure that occupational health and safety standards were consistent with international standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively enforced this right.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the labor commissioner within the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security, including in the informal sector, where workers were not commonly unionized. The commissioner lacked sufficient resources, including inspectors, to enforce the law effectively. Four inspectors from the Department of Labor in the ministry, as well as 12 safety officers in the Fire Department, conducted inspections. To ensure compliance with labor regulations, inspectors have the authority to prescribe specific compliance measures and impose fines. Noncompliance can result in prosecution of offenders. The penalties for violations were insufficient to ensure compliance. The Ministry of Health had 17 inspectors who also inspected labor violations and conducted health and safety surveys. Fines for noncompliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act were up to $10,000 XCD ($3,700), and $75 XCD ($28) per day for violations of wage or hours of work laws.

The informal sector, primarily in agriculture, was significant, although statistics were unavailable. No social protection is provided to persons in the informal sector beyond social security benefits for maternity leave, sickness, disability, or death. Domestic workers are not covered by labor law and did not receive social protections.

Quarry workers faced hazardous conditions. Some reports claimed that workers entered mines before adequate time elapsed after blasting, which exposed them to hazardous chemicals. Other reports claimed that workers refused to wear their protective gear due to discomfort.

There were no reported workplace fatalities and accidents.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In 2016 Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) was re-elected president for a second four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the elections were generally free and orderly despite failures in the introduction of an electronic voting system.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police and other government agents; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; corruption; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced labor and child labor.

The government took some steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but there were widespread reports of official impunity and corruption, especially concerning officials of senior rank.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The constitution prohibits active-duty police and military personnel from voting or participating in partisan political activity.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 voters participated in general elections for all levels of government and elected Danilo Medina of the PLD as president for a second four-year term. The JCE instituted a system of electronic vote counting during this election. According to international observers and experts on electronic voting systems, the JCE did not follow international standards, as it neither audited nor gradually implemented the system. On election day many electronic voting systems failed or were unused. The JCE did not announce final, official results with all ballots counted until 13 days after the elections. Many congressional and municipal races remained contested for weeks after, leading to sporadic protests and violence. On election day the Organization of American States (OAS) and domestic observers noted widespread political campaigning immediately outside of voting centers in violation of the law, as well indications of vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The OAS and domestic NGOs criticized the inequality of preceding political campaigns regarding allocation of funding. By law major parties, defined as those that received 5 percent of the vote or more in the previous elections, received 80 percent of public campaign finances, while minor parties shared the remaining 20 percent of public funds. Civil society groups criticized the government and the incumbent PLD party for using public funds to pay for advertising in the months leading up to the 2016 elections, although the law prohibits the use of public funds for campaigns. In March 2016 President Medina ordered a stop to the use of public funds for the campaign, and government spending on advertising decreased. According to civil society groups, revenue from government advertising influenced media owners to censor voices in disagreement with their largest client, the PLD party. In August Congress passed and the president signed a Political Parties law, which among other provisions, establishes limits on party financing, governs primaries, and amends regulations for the establishment of new political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The JCE required political parties to comply with a 33 percent quota for nominations of women to posts as deputies and governors at the district level as well as specific quotas for other political offices.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, such as incest and sexual aggression. The sentences for conviction of rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000).

Rape was a serious and pervasive problem. Despite government efforts, violence against women was pervasive. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes, even in cases in which victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling. In November 2017 the attorney general announced a new national plan to combat violence against women and funding for a “City of Women” to provide comprehensive services for victims. During the year the government relaunched its 24-hour domestic violence hotline, launched a national publicity campaign against domestic violence, opened five new victims assistance units (of a planned 14 new units), hired 200 new specialized staff to serve in the units, and signed an agreement with National University Pedro Henriquez Urena for a degree program for prosecutors and inspectors specializing in gender violence and in intrafamily and sex crimes. In September the attorney general also launched a “100-day challenge,” for which his office opened 1,986 new domestic violence cases, nine times the number in the 100 days before the challenge. The attorney general declared his office resolved 215 cases during the challenge.

The Ministry of Women actively promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women through implementing education and awareness programs and the provision of training to other ministries and offices. It also operated shelters and provided counseling services, although NGOs argued these efforts were inadequate.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a fine equal to the sum of three to six months of salary. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and sexual harassment remained a problem.

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

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men (see also section 2.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see section 2.d.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. A child not registered at birth remains undocumented until parents file a late declaration of birth.

Education: The constitution stipulates free, compulsory public education through age 18; however, education was not universal through the secondary level for undocumented students. Public schools enrolled children who lacked identity documentation and promoted undocumented children between grades, although an identity document was necessary for the Ministry of Education to issue a high-school diploma. The Ministry of Education and the Vice President’s Office, through the Progressing with Solidarity program, worked with families to assist children with late registration of birth and identity documentation.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a fine of three to five times the monthly minimum wage for persons convicted of abuse of a minor. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of women, before age 18 was common. According to a 2014 UNICEF-supported government survey, 10 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 37 percent by age 18. The government conducted no known prevention or mitigation programs. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000).

The commercial sexual exploitation of children generally occurred in tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking (see section 2.d.).

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

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on 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 comprised approximately 350 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

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, these individuals encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, and in obtaining health care and transportation services. The law provides for access to basic services and physical access for persons with disabilities to all new public and private buildings. It also specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities as well as to operate schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states the government should provide for persons with disabilities to have access to the labor market as well as to cultural, recreational, and religious activities, but it was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for care of children with disabilities–in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. In 2016 the Ministry of Education reported that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended school, but this had not been independently verified.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, but the government denied such prejudice or discrimination existed and, consequently, did little to address the problem. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent.

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

The constitution upholds the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. It does prohibit, however, discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTI persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services.

NGOs reported police abuse, including arbitrary arrest, police violence, and extortion, against LGBTI persons. According to civil society organizations, authorities failed to properly document or investigate the incidents that were reported. According to a report presented by civil society before the UN Human Rights Committee, the law does not provide for the prosecution of hate crimes against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in such areas as health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many workers found to have the disease were not hired, and those employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed alleged criminals in vigilante-style reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement considered excessive by the ILO restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise to bargain collectively. In addition, the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike. The government considers essential public service personnel those workers in the fields of communications, water and energy supply, hospitals and pharmacies, as well as all other workers from similar industries.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being part of a committee seeking to form a union. Although the law requires the Ministry of Labor to register unions for them to be legal, it provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join a union for it to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones (FTZs).

The government and private sector inconsistently enforced laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor inspectors did not consistently investigate allegations of violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Workers in the sugar sector, for example, reported that labor inspectors did not ask them or their supervisors about freedom to associate, right to organize, union membership or activity, or collective bargaining, although workers had separately reported some instances of employers threatening them with firing or loss of housing if they met with coworkers.

Penalties under law for labor practices contrary to freedom of association range from seven to 12 times the minimum wage and may increase by 50 percent if the employer repeats the act. Noncompliance with a collective bargaining agreement is punishable with a fine. Such fines were insufficient to deter employers from violating worker rights and were rarely enforced. Additionally the process for dealing with disputes through labor courts was often long, with cases pending for several years. NGOs and labor federations reported companies took advantage of the slow and ineffective legal system to appeal cases, which left workers without labor rights protection in the interim.

There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide legal documentation to participate in the union, despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers within the territory regardless of their legal status.

Labor NGOs reported the majority of companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers frequently had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

In early April autonomous trading unions protested against an international company, claiming violations of labor and freedom of association rights. The unions alleged the company had put pressure on them, dismissed workers unjustifiably, and offered money to the union leaders to leave their posts. At the end of the month, the international company released a statement denying the allegations.

Companies used short-term contracts and subcontracting, which made union organizing and collective bargaining more difficult. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that nascent unions could not afford.

Unions in the FTZs, which are subject to the same labor laws as all other workers, reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of discharging workers who attempted to organize unions.

The law applies equally to migrant workers, but NGOs reported that many irregular Haitian laborers and Dominicans of Haitian descent in construction and agricultural industries did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported. The 2017 survey by the National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund found that of the 334,092 Haitians age 10 or older living in the country, 67 percent were working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Multiple labor unions represented Haitians working in the formal sector; however, these unions were not influential.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than age 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For persons younger than age 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work, such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law also prohibits minors from selling alcohol, certain work in the hotel industry, handling cadavers, and various tasks involved in the production of sugarcane, such as planting, cutting, carrying, and lifting sugarcane, or handling the bagasse. Firms employing underage children are subject to fines and legal sanctions.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Gaps, including limited human and financial resources for the enforcement of child labor laws and inadequate assistance for victims of commercial sexual exploitation and harmful agricultural work, existed within the ministry that could hinder adequate enforcement of its child labor laws. While the ministry and the council generally effectively enforced regulations in the formal sector, child labor in the informal sector was a problem. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences.

A National Steering Committee against Child Labor plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor established objectives, identified priorities, and assigned responsibilities to combat exploitative child labor. Several government programs focused on preventing child labor in coffee, tomato, and rice production; street vending; domestic labor; and commercial sexual exploitation.

The government continued to implement a project with the ILO to remove 100,000 children and adolescents from exploitative labor as part of its Roadmap towards the Elimination of Child Labor. The roadmap aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the country and all other types of child labor by 2020.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, small businesses, private households, and the agricultural sector. Children often accompanied their parents to work in agricultural fields. The commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a problem, especially in popular tourist destinations and urban areas. Forced child labor was mainly present in domestic work, agriculture, construction, street vending and begging, each sometimes as a result of human trafficking (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to LGBTI persons, especially transgender persons; against HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, and women (see section 6). For example, the ILO noted its concern regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and urged the government to take specific steps to address existing social and cultural stereotypes contributing to discrimination. Discrimination against Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent occurred across sectors. Haitians earned, on average, 60 percent of the amount a Dominican worker received in wages. Many Haitian irregular migrants did not have full access to benefits, including social security and health care (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage, the amount of which depends on the size of the enterprise or type of labor. In 2016 the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development calculated the official poverty line at 4,644 pesos ($93) per household per month. As of November the minimum wage for all sectors was above the 2016 official poverty line. The ministry estimated that 30.5 percent of the population, approximately 3.2 million persons, were living in poverty. In 2015 the Juan Bosch Foundation released a study that reported 63 percent of workers did not receive an income sufficient to pay for the lowest-cost family budget, and only 3.4 percent received a salary adequate to provide for a family of four. The report stated that 80 percent of workers earned less than 20,000 pesos ($400) per month.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. While agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, in no case may the workday exceed 10 hours. The law stipulates all workers be entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime during three months. The labor code covers domestic workers but does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.

The law applied to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.

The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they could not do so without reprisal.

Authorities did not always enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for these violations range between three and six times the minimum wage. Both the Social Security Institute and the Ministry of Labor had a small corps of inspectors charged with enforcing labor standards, but it was insufficient to deter violations. In September the NHRC and trade unions reported abusive practices by call centers, including inhuman working conditions, paying workers for fewer hours than worked, underpayment of social security taxes, interference with union organizing, and failure to meet international labor standards.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In some cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under the law. Some companies paid biweekly salaries every eight days with the four-by-four schedules instead of weekly salaries with a standard 44-hour schedule every seven days. These practices resulted in underpayment of wages for workers, since they were not compensated for the extra hours worked.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.

Companies did not regularly adhere to workplace safety and health regulations. For example, the National Confederation of Trade Unions Unity reported unsafe and inadequate health and safety conditions, including lack of appropriate work attire and safety gear; vehicles without airbags, first aid kits, properly functioning windows, or air conditioning; inadequate ventilation in workspaces; an insufficient number of bathrooms; and unsafe eating areas.

Accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In April 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair, marking a successful democratic transfer of power after the two-term presidency of Rafael Correa.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh prison conditions; official corruption at high levels of government; criminalization of libel, although there were no reported cases during the year; violence against women; and the use of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, as it engaged in efforts to strengthen democratic governance and promote respect for human rights.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. On February 4, a national referendum restored term limits for all elected positions, including the presidency, which had been eliminated through a 2015 constitutional amendment.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 4, 82 percent of citizens voted in a national referendum that consisted of seven questions related to corruption, environmental rights, child abuse, real estate capital gains, elimination of indefinite reelection, and institutional reforms of oversight bodies. The “yes” vote won an average of 68 percent on all seven questions. International observers from the Organization of American States, UNASUR, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The criminal code includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a fine for “damages, pain, and suffering” ranging from $350 to $5,300, depending on the severity of the crime. The law stipulates penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence.

On February 5, the Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women went into effect. The law seeks to prevent and provide reparation to victims of gender-based violence. It also advocates for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual harassment and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor reported 202 killings of women between January 2017 and July 2018. A report by four civil society organizations indicated there were 64 cases of femicide between January 1 and October 2. According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault because of fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.

During the year the government offered installation of emergency buttons in the homes of potential gender-based violence victims and established toll-free telephone lines with personnel trained to support victims of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, together with some local and provincial governments and NGOs, also provided psychosocial services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The ministry subsidized shelters and other initiatives, including medical services at care centers and private clinics. Based on 2016 statistics, there were 50 judicial units and 78 courts specializing in gender-based violence. The judicial units have responsibility for collecting complaints and assisting victims in ordering arrest warrants for up to 30 days of detention against the aggressor. Victims and NGOs expressed concern the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload and that judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common. The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 739 complaints of sexual harassment during the first trimester of the year. Of the 2,067 complaints received in 2017, as of July officials were investigating 48 cases and the courts had convicted and sentenced 12 perpetrators.

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

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On March 8, El Universo cited figures by the National Institute of Statistics and Census that in 2017 the average monthly income of an employed man was 20 percent more than a woman working under the same conditions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. NGOs reported the problem particularly affected refugee children. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: According to the constitution, education is obligatory through ninth grade and free through 12th grade. Nonetheless, costs for school-related items, such as uniforms and books, as well as a lack of space in public schools, continued to be an impediment to adolescents attending school.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 90 years in prison depending on the severity of the abuse.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 4,800 complaints of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse against minors between 2015 and September 2018. At least 714 of these alleged crimes took place in elementary and secondary schools. NGOs reported that children living in the streets or in rural parts of the country, many of whom came from poor indigenous families, suffered from exploitative conditions. Throughout the year the Ministry of Education sent officials to investigate reported cases of child abuse in educational establishments. In October the National Assembly’s special legislative committee to investigate the judicial handling of child abuse complaints met to review its final draft report. Since its creation in 2017, the committee had issued several reports on the efficiency of government institutions in processing child abuse cases.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On June 22, officials from the Ministry of Education launched a campaign to combat the problem. Antiviolence teams visited 251 public schools in the coastal region to identify bullying and reviewed cases of students with repetitive violent conduct. In the city of Guayaquil, officials reported 175 cases of bullying in the 12 months preceding October.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The age of consent is 14. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

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

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. 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. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

President Moreno promoted social initiatives to raise awareness about disability rights. In October 2017 the president replaced procedural regulations that went into effect in 2013 with executive decree 194, which broadens the defined legal recognition of a disability and increases tax benefits for persons with disabilities; however, human rights activists noted that much work remained. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. According to a December 2017 article in El Telegrafo, the National Council on Disability Equality reported there were not enough ramps for persons with disabilities that used public transport in Quito and that architectural barriers used in constructions in public spaces were obstacles.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage, increases access and inclusion in education, and creates a new program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. In 2009 the government began implementing a national plan to eradicate racial discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic and cultural differences. From 2013 to 2017, the government implemented a national agenda to promote the equality of indigenous peoples and nationalities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. Afro-Ecuadorian activist Antonio Ayovi reported in September 2017 that “racism, discrimination, and intolerance affect almost all sectors of the Ecuadorian population ….”

Indigenous People

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation before the execution of projects that affect their rights. It also provides for their right to participate in decisions about the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands and that could affect their culture or environment. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country.

Throughout the year indigenous groups engaged in a national dialogue with the government in which they raised issues related to community development, intercultural education, respect for the application of indigenous law, and environmental rights and extractive industries. The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported on January 22 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous woman continued to lag behind the rest of the population. During the February 4 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

On July 17, legislator Encarnacion Duchi reported that in 2017 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador filed 180 petitions for amnesty related to convictions of indigenous protesters during the Correa administration. Human rights activists claimed that under Correa the government forcibly evicted indigenous communities from their ancestral territory, without respecting their constitutional rights, to facilitate the establishment of Chinese mining projects, leading to clashes between the Shuar community and local security forces. Duchi said the National Assembly’s Administrative Council had deemed only 33 cases merit-worthy and approved only one case.

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

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation as a right. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons