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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

The United States has not recognized the Taliban or another entity as the government of Afghanistan. All references to “the pre-August 15 government” refer to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. References to the Taliban reflect events both prior to and after August 15.

Prior to August 15, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The country held presidential elections in September 2019 after technical problems and security threats compelled the Independent Election Commission to reschedule the election multiple times. The commission announced preliminary election results on December 22, 2019, indicating that President Ashraf Ghani had won, although runner-up and then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah disputed the results, including after official results were announced February 18, 2020. Both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing-in ceremonies on March 9, 2020. Political leaders mediated the resulting impasse, resulting in a compromise on May 17, 2020, in which Ashraf Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each of them was to select one-half of the cabinet members.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three entities shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security. The Afghan National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, had primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force with no legal ability to arrest or independently investigate crimes. Civilian authorities under the Ghani administration generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently and committed numerous abuses. After August 15, security forces largely disbanded. The Taliban began to recruit and train a new police force for Kabul and announced in early October that the force had 4,000 persons in its ranks. The Taliban instructed pre-August 15 government employees to return to work, and the Ministry of Interior formally invited former police officers to return; however, returns were slow due to fear of retaliation and lack of salary payments.

The Taliban culminated its takeover on August 15 when Kabul fell to their forces. On September 7, the Taliban announced a so-called interim government made up almost entirely of male Taliban fighters, clerics, and political leaders, hailing from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. As of December, the Taliban had announced most of its “interim cabinet” but had not outlined steps or a timeline to establish a new permanent government. The Taliban is a Sunni Islamist nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s that ruled much of the country from 1996 until October 2001. The Taliban promoted a strict interpretation of Quranic instruction according to the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, seeking to eliminate secular governance.

Peace negotiations between representatives of the Ghani administration and the Taliban continued until August as the Taliban consolidated control over territory, but the talks failed to yield a political settlement or unity government. Throughout the year armed insurgents attacked Ghani administration forces, public places, and civilians, killing and injuring thousands of noncombatants. On August 15, as the Taliban approached Kabul, President Ghani fled the country, prompting an immediate collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and a political vacuum. Vice President Amrullah Saleh left the country shortly after as well.

Significant human rights issues occurred before and after August 15. Details of which group or groups perpetuated these human rights issues are addressed throughout the report. The human rights issues included credible reports of: killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by antigovernment personnel; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; physical abuses by antigovernment entities; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances and abductions, torture and physical abuses, and other conflict-related abuses; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; serious restrictions on free expression and media by the Taliban, including violence against journalists and censorship; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on the right to leave the country; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to cases of violence against women, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence by security forces and other actors against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; severe restrictions on workers’ freedom of association and severe restrictions by the Taliban on the right to work for women; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were common. The pre-August 15 government did not consistently or effectively investigate or prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces. After taking over, the Taliban formed a commission to identify and expel “people of bad character” from its ranks. On December 25, a Taliban spokesperson told media that the group had expelled 1,985 individuals, and that those accused of corruption and robbery had been referred to legal authorities. Local and provincial Taliban leaders formed similar commissions and reported rooting out corrupt members. Little information was available regarding how individuals were identified, investigations were conducted, or what their outcomes were.

On September 27, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed an application for an expedited order seeking authorization to resume the investigation of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country. The investigation had been deferred due to a request from the pre-August 15 government. The International Criminal Court prosecutor stated that the Taliban takeover represented a significant change of circumstances affecting the ongoing assessment of the pre-August 15 government’s deferral request. The prosecutor determined that there was no prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations within the country of crimes defined by Article 5 of the Rome Statute. The prosecutor announced that if he receives authorization to resume investigations, he intends to focus his efforts on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K, a terrorist group based in Salafist ideology that is an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham and which is active in South and Central Asia.

Taliban elements attacked religious leaders who spoke out against them, particularly between the February 2020 signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the August 15 Taliban takeover. During the year many Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Nonstate and armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most child recruitment and used children younger than 12 during the year. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, used children as suicide bombers. Antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported thousands of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year due to clashes between government and antigovernment actors. Many of these casualties were attributed to antigovernment actors; however, the Taliban did not claim responsibility for civilian casualties. The Taliban referred to suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations.” The Taliban engaged in targeted killings of perceived opponents in areas controlled by the pre-August 15 government and in reprisal killings as it moved across the country. After August 15, senior Taliban leadership announced a wide-ranging general amnesty that prohibited reprisals, including against officials and others associated with the pre-August 15 government, for actions before the Taliban takeover; however, credible reports were received of retaliatory acts, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, both before and after this announcement.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Implementation and awareness of a government decree regarding violence against women remained a serious problem under the pre-August 15 government. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery or beating, forced marriage, humiliation, intimidation, and deprivation of inheritance. The law criminalizes rape against both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances are present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “aggression to the chastity or honor of a female [that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina.” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. Pre-August 15 government authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of the decree, including through dedicated prosecution units. Women and girls with disabilities were at increased risk for sexual abuse.

Prosecutors and judges in rural areas were frequently unaware of the decree or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law “un-Islamic.” Female survivors faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.

The law criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which acted as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Pre-August 15 government doctors, frequently men, conducted these exams, often without consent. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The law for the pre-August 15 government criminalized assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the relevant decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. The AIHRC announced that of 3,477 cases of violence against women recorded with its organization in the first 10 months of 2020, 95.8 percent of cases involved a family-member perpetrator and that the home environment was the most dangerous place for women in the country. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim-support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a “family matter,” domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, a preference for mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. According to an HRW report published in August, there were dedicated prosecution units in all 34 provinces as of March and specialized courts – at least in name – with female judges in 15 provinces, and dedicated court divisions expanded to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country, under the pre-August 15 administration. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spent even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or her family.

At times, women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away from home is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families (see also section 6, Children, Child, Early, and Forced Marriage).

On September 19, Taliban gunmen entered a women’s shelter in Kabul by force, interrogated staff and residents for several hours and forced the head of the shelter to sign a letter promising not to allow the residents to leave without Taliban permission. The Taliban told the shelter operator they would return married shelter residents to their abusers and marry the single residents to Taliban soldiers.

Additionally, sources in September reported the Taliban were conducting “audits” of women’s shelters and women’s rights organizations, including those that provided protection services. These audits were enforced with intimidation through the brandishing of weapons and threats of violence. Equipment, including computers, paper files, and other documentation, was confiscated, and staff reported being aggressively questioned regarding their activities and possible association with the United States. Essential service providers either reduced or ceased their services altogether, citing fear of putting battered women, an already vulnerable demographic, at greater risk of violence and harm.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the 2004 constitution, the law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread. “Honor killings” continued throughout the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law under the pre-August 15 government criminalized all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual harassment. By law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law under the pre-August 15 government remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Prior to the August 15 Taliban takeover, businesswomen faced a myriad of challenges from the “traditional” nature of society and its norms regarding acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization.

After the Taliban takeover, most women-led businesses suspended operations due to the ongoing liquidity crisis and fear of violating Taliban edicts against women in the marketplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Under the pre-August 15 government, married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which was in effect by promulgation of a presidential proclamation (although parliament never passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions concerning their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

According to UNICEF, more than 50 percent of girls in the country started their period without knowing what to expect or understanding why it was happening, and 30 percent of female students in the country were absent during menstruation because schools did not have adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the pre-August 15 government’s penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. Mothers faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Abortion or ending a pregnancy was classified as a crime under the law and was punishable by three months’ to one year’s imprisonment.

Women must obtain their husband’s consent to use contraception under the law. Barriers impacting reproductive health care or obstetrical care included many men preventing their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child. Sources in October reported continued availability of contraceptives after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Persons with disabilities faced increased barriers to reproductive health resources as a result of decreased access to transportation, education, and social support. LGBTQI+ persons, already disadvantaged prior to August 15, faced further barriers to accessing reproductive health resources after the Taliban takeover. The already fragile community, which provided some resources to its members, largely disintegrated as members either fled the country or went into deep hiding. Widespread discrimination and abuse prevented most members from seeking reproductive or sexual-health assistance from all but the most trusted confidants.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

The World Health Organization reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the last year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care. Access to maternal health care services was constrained by the limited number of female health practitioners, including an insufficient number of skilled birth attendants. Additionally, the conflict environment and other security concerns limited women’s safe access to health services of any kind.

Since their takeover, the Taliban permitted women to continue their roles as health practitioners, but many women were afraid to return to work due to safety and security concerns related to the Taliban’s stated policies restricting women in the workplace. After August 15, the ever-smaller number of qualified female health practitioners steeply increased the risk of poor health outcomes for women.

Discrimination: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the justice system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents. By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands but must obtain their husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petitioned instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the decree related to domestic violence, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on other legal provisions.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation.

After August 15, the Taliban prohibited most female government employees from working, although the Taliban claimed they continued to pay their salaries. Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) executives sought meetings with the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Economy after the takeover to get clarity on whether the Taliban would allow the estimated 57,000 women-led private businesses in the country to remain open. The AWCCI stated they failed to get a formal meeting with high-level Taliban decisionmakers but were assured informally that women would be allowed to work “if that work conformed with Islamic law.”

Prior to August 15, in the Taliban-controlled areas of the country many women and girls could not decide whom they would marry or at what age, or object to beatings by their husbands. In Jowzjan’s Darzab district, a Taliban commander raped and killed a 16-year-old girl when the family refused to allow her to marry a Taliban fighter.

On April 28, the Taliban published an article, “Feminism as a Colonial Tool,” on its website, accusing the West of using feminism to justify its “invasion, subjugation and bullying of Muslims.” The article asserted the “man-made” concept of women’s rights has “destructive effects on human society” and that women’s rights must be defined by Islam.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the pre-August 15 government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior.

ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed at least 50 members of the minority Shia community at a mosque in Kunduz. On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting a Shia community mosque in Kandahar killed more than 30 worshippers. Following attacks and threats, Taliban security forces augmented protective operations at Shia mosques.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. The pre-August 15 government delivered meals and aid to approximately 200 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families who returned from India in mid-May after facing financial hardship and COVID outbreaks in India. The government also directed increased security for the Sikh and Hindu communities and the deputy minister of Haj and religious affairs said in June that the ministry had undertaken 14 reconstruction projects for temples in view of their central role in the community. With the Taliban takeover, many of the estimated several hundred Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the country may have fled to India and other countries.

According to HRW, Taliban representatives in early October forcibly displaced hundreds of Hazara families from southern Helmand Province to the northern Balkh Province, in part to distribute land to their own supporters. The Taliban carried out the evictions at gunpoint and with little notice, preventing families from taking their belongings or finishing harvesting their crops. An HRW report stated that the largest displacements took place in 15 villages in Daikundi and Uruzgan Provinces where the Taliban evicted at least 2,800 Hazara residents in September.

UNHCR reported that approximately 40 percent of Afghan arrivals to Iran were Hazaras.

In December senior Taliban representatives held a series of engagements with Shia Hazara leaders. On December 26, “interim Deputy Prime Minister” Maulavi Mohammed Abdul Kabir hosted a meeting of Shia leaders from around the country, and “interim Deputy Foreign Minister” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai spoke at a December 29 meeting of the Shia Ulema Council in Kabul. In these meetings the Taliban officials expressed their commitment to provide security for all citizens and a desire to avoid sectarian division.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions” of being members of ISIS-K and subsequent releases required recanting their faith. In October Sikhs reported harassment by armed Taliban representatives at their central temple in Kabul. In late November more than 80 Sikhs and Hindus departed for India.

After August 15, ISIS-K’s heightened activity further increased the targeting of non-Sunni groups. At least four attacks by ISIS-K targeted Shia and Hazara communities between October and December.

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked, making it difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment and repression under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban.

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

Children

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

Education: Under the pre-August 15 government, education was mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of them girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Under the pre-August 15 government, only an estimated 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools.

An education director in Jawzjan Province said in March that Taliban militants stopped an estimated 20,000 female students from studying beyond sixth grade. Even before their takeover of Kabul, in Taliban-controlled districts within the provinces of Kunar, Helmand, Logar, and Zabul, the Taliban had largely prohibited women and girls from attending school as provincial education officials attempted in vain to negotiate with the Taliban for girls to have access to education.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, hindered their access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. In February Taliban militants set fire to a girls’ school in Takhar Province, burning all equipment, books, and documents.

There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged, and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Following their takeover, the Taliban severely restricted or prohibited female education across all age levels, citing a need to ensure proper facilities were in place for segregated education in line with the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia.

The Taliban’s lack of a clear education policy regarding women’s ability to teach and girls’ ability to attend schools, combined with nonpayment of teachers’ salaries, led to low enrollment rates even where schools were open.

In September the Taliban stated that girls would be able to go to school in line with Islamic law, without further clarifying how it would respect their access to education. According to UNICEF, the Taliban instructed primary schools in late August to reopen for both girls and boys.

On September 18, the new Taliban ministry of education issued a statement resuming secondary education for boys but gave no indication as to when girls might return to classes. As of December schools in nine of the country’s 34 provinces – Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kunduz, Urozgan, Ghazni, Faryab, Zabul, and Herat – had allowed girls to attend secondary school before closing for the winter break, according to UNICEF and other reports. In December the Taliban asserted that this number had grown to 12 provinces and pledged that all girls could return to school in March 2022 after the break.

As of December all public universities remained closed. Several private, all-female universities reopened for fall classes in October.

Taliban leaders stated they were committed to allowing girls and women access to education through the postgraduate level, although only in accordance with their interpretation of sharia and within the confines of Afghan culture, which includes segregation of genders and strict behavioral and dress codes.

On November 16, the head of the so-called Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated there was no theological basis in Islam for preventing girls and women from having access to all levels of education. Other Taliban representatives expressed the group’s intent to provide educational access at all levels to women and girls. At year’s end many Afghan girls remained excluded from the educational system.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($780 to $1,560).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi cases, which deterred child victims from reporting their claims.

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, there was an uptick in arrests, prosecutions and prison sentences given to perpetrators of bacha bazi, including members of the military and security forces. Kandahar’s governor sent seven members of the ANP suspected of sexually abusing and killing a 13-year-old boy in Kandahar to trial in Kabul. One of the seven was given the death penalty, and the others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges including rape, as well as bacha bazi (two of them received sentences of 30 years’ imprisonment and the other four were sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment).

Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by the Afghan National Army, the ANP, and ALP officials, the government has only once (in September 2020) prosecuted officials for bacha bazi. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize survivors.

NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports some members of the pre-August 15 government military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The pre-August 15 government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubts that the judicial system would respond.

On May 4, the pre-August 15 government’s Minister of Justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission, Fazil Ahmad Mannawi, shared the pre-August 15 government’s statistics on trafficking in persons for the year 2020: He reported that the ministry arrested 70 suspects, the Attorney General’s Office launched investigations of 50 suspects, and courts were reviewing 235 cases of trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, and bacha bazi at the end of 2020. Six hundred victims were provided with medical, psychological, and educational services in 2020. The pre-August 15 government held more than 200 trafficking-in-persons awareness-training sessions for more than 8,000 citizens, government officials, and ANDSF personnel. There was an increase of bacha bazi cases investigated, prosecuted, and convicted.

The pre-August 15 government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The pre-August 15 government’s law criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime and builds on a 2017 trafficking-in-persons law that includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The law details the punishment for authorities of security forces involved in bacha bazi with an average punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Although no police officer had ever been prosecuted for bacha bazi, eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents and charged with “moral crimes,” sodomy, or other crimes.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and the Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law under the pre-August 15 government setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. A 2017 UNICEF study found that 28 percent of women were married by age 18. Those convicted of entering into or arranging forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited. By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is age 16 (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

After the August takeover by the Taliban, due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, widespread reports surfaced suggesting that some families were selling their young children, usually daughters for early marriage, to afford food.

Societal pressures and the Taliban practice of arranging marriages for widows forced women into unwanted marriages. HRW conducted telephone interviews with residents in Herat in September and found that women in Taliban-controlled areas increasingly felt pressured to marry for their own safety in view of restrictions upon their movements and activities imposed by the Taliban.

On August 13, the Taliban entered Herat, seizing government offices and the police station. A Taliban fighter reportedly threatened to kill a widowed mother of five if she did not marry him, and she was forced to do so in September with the consent of a mullah. She has said that her life is a nightmare and “it is like he is raping me every night.”

On December 3, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada announced a public decree banning the forced marriage of women. The decree set out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and widows should have a share in their late husband’s property. The decree mandated that courts should consider these rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The pre-August 15 government criminalized sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, a practice common in parts of the country in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment, the law provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid, and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into commercial sexual exploitation. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the Trafficking in Persons law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The pre-August 15 government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported as many as 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 in orphanages were not orphans but from families unable to provide them with food, shelter, schooling, or all three. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health-care services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan, the country’s primary military prison. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law narrowly defines forced labor and does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children were exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment was used to entrap other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage was common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the labor law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Men, women, and children (see section 7.c.) were exploited in bonded and forced labor. Traffickers compelled entire families to work in bonded labor, predominantly in the carpet and brickmaking industries in the eastern part of the country and in carpet weaving countrywide. Some women who were sold to husbands were exploited in domestic servitude by their husbands. Men were subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children ages 15 and older to do light, nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war. The Taliban made no public statements on child labor and has not purported to alter the existing labor law, but reports indicated that child labor continued in poverty-stricken areas.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the law. Labor inspectors had legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child-labor laws and to impose penalties for noncompliance. But deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Most victims of forced labor were children. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coal mines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (see section 6, Children); transnational drug smuggling; and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year (see section 1.g.). Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 1.g.).

Some children were forced by their families into labor with physical violence. Families sold their children into forced labor, begging, or sex trafficking to settle debts with opium traffickers. Some parents forcibly sent boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Children were also subject to forced labor in orphanages run by NGOs and overseen by the government.

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19 because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor experienced a worsening of conditions and worked longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported child labor laws were often violated, and noted that children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor. In November UNICEF reported 9.7 million children needed humanitarian assistance and that child labor was likely to increase as humanitarian coping mechanisms were exhausted. The number of child laborers increased both due to general impoverishment of families and the arrival of more IDPs, according to a December statement by a Social Affairs Directorate officer in Herat Province.

Gender inequities in child labor were also rising, since girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. The UN Security Council reported that nine violent attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently led parents to pull girls out of school before boys, further increasing the likelihood that girls could be subjected to child labor.

In August international aid organizations noted that, without sufficient humanitarian aid, families would be forced to resort to child labor and child marriage. In November UN officials noted that a worsening economic situation was leading households to resorting to dangerous practices, such as child labor and early marriage, in order to survive.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 2004 constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The law prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which was commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalizes physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Under the pre-August 15 government, women faced discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, LGBTQI+ persons, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministries of Labor and Public Health jointly adopted a regulation listing 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as the worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. Under the regulation, it is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

In September the Taliban-appointed “Kabul mayor” instructed the city’s female staff (amounting to approximately one-third of Kabul’s 3,000 municipal employees) to stay at home, with the exception of women whose jobs could not be replaced by men. Taliban leaders stated they would implement their version of sharia, prohibiting women from working alongside men, but gave no indication when female employees would be able to return to work. A similar Taliban ruling kept public universities from opening in September, as they were not configured to meet the Taliban’s gender-segregation standards, which effectively barred women from obtaining a secondary education, disenfranchising them from professional employment.

In October, media reported Taliban representatives stated women would continue to work at police stations and in passport offices. The Taliban further stated they were trying to provide working conditions for women in the sectors where they were needed, according to Islamic law. Taliban representatives also stated women were banned from most employment while saying women could keep their jobs only if they were in a role a man could not fill. In a December 16 interview, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed no women had been fired from public-sector jobs and that they continued to receive salaries at home.

As of December the UN OCHA mapped the agreements between aid agencies and the Taliban in each of the country’s 34 provinces, showing where female staff members would be permitted to work. The document, reviewed by HRW, indicated that, as of October 28, Taliban representatives in only three provinces had provided a written agreement unconditionally permitting women aid workers to do their jobs. Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the 2019 presidential election, which followed mass popular demonstrations (known as the Hirak) throughout 2019 calling for democratic reforms. Observers characterized the elections as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities, but they noted restrictions on civil liberties during the election period and lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures. The country held a constitutional referendum in November 2020, followed by legislative elections on June 12. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the 200,000-member General Directorate of National Security or national police, under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal defamation laws, unjustified arrests of journalists, government censorship and blocking of websites; substantial interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including squelching a resumption of the Hirak and overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed human rights abuses, especially corruption. The General Directorate of National Security conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. The Ministry of Justice reported no prosecutions or convictions of civil, security, or military officials for torture or other abusive treatment. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem.

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, migrant women were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and exploitation. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit and criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data were unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally but did not provide updated statistics for the year. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children worked in the informal economy, and inspections were limited to registered businesses. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women led a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. It was not clear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector, and women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported discrimination was common and that women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlighted its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1 percent quota during the year. The ministry reported it inspected 276 businesses, encompassing 88,718 workers, to verify compliance with the 1 percent quota. The ministry issued 44 formal notices to 68 noncompliant employers for failure to adhere to the quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons but were subjected to forced labor conditions. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant girls were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. The ruling party’s presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the party retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision making by the National Electoral Commission.

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Criminal Investigation Services, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police within the Ministry of Interior are responsible for law enforcement relating to migration. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against groups such as the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; forced disappearance; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence or unjustified arrests against journalists and criminal libel laws; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took significant steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses as well as those who were involved in corruption. Nevertheless, accountability for human rights abuses was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and government corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment if convicted, depending on aggravating situations. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

According to the Ministry of Social Assistance, from January to August there were 639 reports of family-based violence, of which 588 victims were women. Reports decreased significantly from 2020, which reported more than 1,000 cases through May. Prosecutions were reportedly rare. In October the ministry joined an education campaign started by musician Sarissari called “Silencio Mata” (Silence Kills), which aimed to raise the awareness of domestic violence in the country.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services and postabortion emergency services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as that women have a responsibility to bear children, and religious objections to using contraception limited access to reproductive health services. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-18 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. Emergency contraception was available as clinical management of rape.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. A UN Population Fund report found that six of 10 teenage girls who abandoned school did so due to pregnancy. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

According to an official in the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security, lack of running water and sanitary facilities at some schools disproportionately affected teenage girls, causing them to not attend school for several days each month while they are having their period. The cumulative effect of lost class time was detrimental to their success in school, leading struggling students to drop out and enter the work force.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively, and societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative effect on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The penal code revision that took effect in February has several provisions that criminalize discrimination based on skin color, race, and ethnicity. The Human Rights National Plan 2020-2022 contains policies to mitigate racial discrimination. Reports of racial or ethnic violence were rare.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. Since 2019 the government’s birth registration and identity document campaign provided 1.9 million persons with their first identity documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials to guarantee a place. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school because of a shortage of teachers and schools.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Assistance offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In 2020 INAC launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. INAC reported that between June 2020 and June, the hotline received 4,274 reports of sexual violence against children.

According to the local UNICEF office, there were reports that more than 50,000 children suffered from some form of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against commercial sexual exploitation, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits the use of children to produce pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

Displaced Children: Extreme poverty and the economic decline during recent years led to an increase in the number of children living on the street, especially in urban areas of the capital. These children, estimated to number from the hundreds to several thousand, did not have access to health care or education, often resorted to begging or trash picking for survival, and lived in conditions placing them at great risk for exploitation. During the year INAC met with former street children to better understand the problem and to formulate a plan to address the growing issue.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment (age 14), which applies to all sectors. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children may work from age 14 to age 18 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. Children ages 14 to 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 34 hours per week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours per day or 39 hours per week. Children are also prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are prohibited from performing shift work. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Social Assistance, Ministry of Interior, INAC, and the national police are responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

In August the Council of Ministers approved a redesigned National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2021-2025 with the goal of combatting and preventing child labor through social assistance, education, victim advocacy, and finance the enforcement and prosecution of child labor.

The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector. Between January and March, INAC registered more than 3,000 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks, as well as working as street vendors and beggars, and reported the cases to law enforcement but acknowledged that the real number was likely much higher. The Ministry of Labor has oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors examined the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits minors younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene Province, children were forced to leave school and work as herders or dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, ethnic origin, country origin and social condition, religion, political opinion, union membership, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization, however, noted the law did not clearly define discrimination. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV or AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country existed. The law provides that both employers and workers are treated with respect, but there were no provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy.

The law provides working mothers nine weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of prematernity leave before childbirth and one day of leave each month in the next 15 weeks after the birth, while working fathers receive leave on the day of the child’s birth.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. In 2020 there were reports that persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past there were also complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (federal police), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The federal police enforce national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had effective mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

According to a 2020 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. The Institute of Criminology released a paper in February that analyzed the prevalence of domestic violence against women during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research showed that 4.2 percent of women had experienced physical violence from a cohabiting partner, while 5.8 percent had experienced coercive control. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with a long-term restrictive health condition, women from non-English speaking backgrounds, and younger women were more likely to experience physical or sexual violence or coercive control in the three months prior to the survey.

Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services, including menstrual health- and hygiene-related products, than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized gender pay gap (see section 7.d.).

Children

The Law Council of Australia; a conglomeration of legal, medical, and social justice organizations called Raise the Age Alliance; and other civil society groups campaigned for all governmental jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. The age of responsibility is set independently by federal, state, and territory governments.

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

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

The rate of indigenous children removed from their families for legal or safety reasons was nearly 10 times greater than that for the nonindigenous.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons aged 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and was effectively enforced.

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

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is a substantial fine and 15 years’ imprisonment. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed, and the maximum penalty for persistent sexual abuse of a child outside the country is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. In 73 remote communities, these measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on how welfare recipients could receive and spend payments, the linkage of support payments to school attendance, and required medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory. Police received authority to enter homes and vehicles without a warrant to enforce the intervention. Public reaction to the intervention was mixed, with some indigenous activists asserting there was inadequate consultation with affected communities, that the policies lacked evidentiary substantiation, that the intervention aimed to roll back indigenous land rights, and that the measures were racially discriminatory, because nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws. Suspected crimes of forced labor and other forms of criminal labor exploitation in the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 are investigated by the Australian Federal Police and can result in prosecution by the Office of the Director of Commonwealth Prosecutions and criminal penalties. In June a Sydney court convicted a couple of keeping a woman in forced labor at their home and business for more than three years. One defendant was sentenced to three years’ and three months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay the victim more than AU$45,000 ($34,000) in reparations. The second defendant was sentenced to two and one-half years, including one year of home detention and 500 hours of community service. and the defendant was ordered to pay the victim more than AU$25,000 ($19,000) in reparations. In July a Melbourne court convicted a couple for keeping a woman in forced labor at their home for nearly nine years and sentenced the defendants to six and eight years of imprisonment respectively. Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, and domestic service.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Not all the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. Not all state and territorial jurisdictions prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for certain illicit activities. There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. In Victoria the minimum age of employment is 15 (with exceptions for children working in a family business or in the entertainment industry, both of which do not have minimum ages of employment). Children are not permitted to work during school hours in any state or territory. States and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example, under the law in Western Australia, an underground worker may not be younger than age 18 unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet working underground to gain required experience; a person handling, charging, or firing explosives may not be younger than age 18; and a person younger than 21 may not obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities. Compulsory educational requirements effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full-time until they were age 17. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  for information on the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for its recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 14 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.

In 2019-20, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 20 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the Human Rights Commission were related to employment.

Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports or allegations of: the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; and violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment; domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. The government generally enforced the law, and law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was generally effective. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters.

Under the law, the government provides psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There are no legal barriers or government policies that adversely affected access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of cases of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit and owning or managing businesses or property. Women were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination are in place, and the government enforced them effectively. The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. (See section 2.a.)

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 443 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, up from 314 in the previous year.

In July the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 21, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.

The NGO ZARA, which operated a hotline for victims of racist incidents, reported receiving 3,039 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, up from 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that 2,148 of the cases were based on racist internet postings, up from 2,070 in 2019. Most of these were directed against Muslims and immigrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center reported receiving 1,402 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, a 33.4 percent increase over the 1,051 complaints received in 2019. Some 84 percent of the reported incidents took place on digital media. The incidents included verbal abuse directed against Muslims and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Muslim groups objected to a new online “Islam Map” published by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Islamic Religious Pedagogics and presented by the integration minister’s Documentation Office of Political Islam on May 27 that shows the location of over 600 Muslim institutions in the country as well as their origin and ideology, structure and network, and connections abroad. The groups interpreted the map as an attempt to put Muslims in the country under general suspicion. Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration Raab defended the map as providing more transparency that the government and public could use as reference material.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to assert that police allegedly targeted minorities for frequent identity checks.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism among police forces and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Ministry of Interior renewed an annual agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to teach police officers cultural and racial sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities in the framework of the ADL’s “A World of Difference” program. Training has been conducted on an ongoing basis for police officers since 2002 and was introduced as part of officers’ basic training in 2008. In 2020, 525 current police officers and 1,035 prospective police officers received training nationwide. As of the end of 2020, a total of 23,265 police officers had received the ADL training out of a total police force of about 31,000 members.

Children

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

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for commercial sex and practices related to child pornography; authorities generally enforced the law effectively. The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months to five years imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking in recent years due to organized crime in Eastern Europe. Traffickers were reported to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or work that is detrimental to ethics and morals. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so through regular and thorough checks of workplaces and special youth advisors in companies. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

Child labor occurred. Children were trafficked to the country and subjected to forced begging and occasionally sexual exploitation. Forced labor or exploitation of minors is treated under the criminal code as trafficking in persons, with criminal penalties of one to 10 years in prison, double the penalty for forced labor or exploitation of adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The law does not address national origin. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. Muslim women wearing headscarves sometimes encountered discrimination when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Women employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women by filing a court case or registering a complaint with the Federal Equality Commission, which can award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Majlis (National Assembly). The presidency is the main branch of government, dominating the judiciary and legislature. In February 2020 the government conducted National Assembly elections. The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the National Assembly elections and the 2018 presidential election took place within a restrictive legislative framework and political environment that prevented genuine competition in the elections.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The State Security Service is responsible for domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service focuses on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence matters. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.

A cease-fire in November 2020 halted 44 days of intensive fighting involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Armenia-supported separatists. Sporadic incidents of violence along the undelimited international border between the two countries and some other areas during the year resulted in casualties and detentions. There were credible reports that Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces engaged in unlawful killings, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during, and in some cases after, the November 2020 fighting. Complaints submitted by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the European Court of Human Rights accusing each other of committing atrocities during the fighting in fall 2020 and summer 2016 awaited the court’s ruling. The government acknowledged holding 41 Armenian detainees, but there were allegations, disputed by the Azerbaijani government, that at least 25 Armenian servicemen disappeared after being taken into Azerbaijani custody. Armenian detainees were not permitted to select their own legal representation during public trials. Since 1995 the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of international mediation by the cochairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (the United States, France, and Russia).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by members of the security forces; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; pervasive problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including enforced disappearances, torture, and other physical abuse; serious restrictions on free expression and the media, including violence against journalists, the criminalization of libel and slander, and harassment and incarceration of journalists on questionable charges; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including blocking of websites; a de facto ban on the rights of peaceful assembly and substantial interference with freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; severe restrictions on political participation; systemic government corruption; police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation; significant restrictions on worker’s freedom of association; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not prosecute or punish the majority of officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption; impunity remained a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and conviction for it carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Spousal rape is also illegal, but observers stated police did not effectively investigate such claims.

In October a minor and her family went public regarding an alleged August 2020 rape after the Yasamal Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case due to a purported lack of evidence. The family claimed the case was not taken seriously, as shown by a year of official inaction and mishandling of the investigation; the family attributed the mishandling to their activism and opposition party membership. The resulting media attention caused the Prosecutor General’s Office to reopen the case and place the accused offender in pretrial detention.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Activists reported that police continued to view domestic violence as a family matter and did not effectively intervene to protect survivors, including in cases where husbands abused or killed their wives. On September 30, police sergeant Ismail Mammadov used his service weapon to kill his wife, Khanym Mammadova, in a Baku police station after she came to the station to report his frequent beatings.

The SCFWCA addressed the problem of domestic violence by conducting public awareness campaigns and working to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors. In November 2020 the president approved the National Action Plan to Combat Domestic Violence for 2020-23. The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to survivors of trafficking and domestic violence. In December 2020 the SCFWCA, together with the UN Population Fund, established an emergency hotline for gender-based violence. Callers could use the hotline to access free legal assistance, counseling support, and information concerning gender and domestic violence.

On August 8, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement that in the first six months of the year, 33 women were victims of premeditated murders by family members; the office urged the public to report instances of domestic violence to authorities. The statement followed the forced dispersal by police of activists rallying to call attention to the problem of domestic violence (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly.)

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment or pursued legal action against individuals accused of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Contraception was not available through the national health care system but could be purchased from private outlets. The cost of contraceptives for persons with limited income, a lack of education, and a lack of counseling limited the usage of contraceptives. Patriarchal norms based on cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors in some cases limited women’s reproductive rights. For example, it was expected that women would become pregnant without any delay upon marriage.

The government referred survivors of sexual violence to free medical care including sexual and reproductive services. Emergency contraception was not available as part of the clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men, societal and employment-based discrimination remained a problem. According to the State Statistical Committee, there was discrimination against women in employment, including wide disparities in pay and higher rates of unemployment.

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution guarantees the equality of rights and freedoms to everyone, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, language, sex, origin, property status, occupation, beliefs, or affiliation with political parties, trade union organizations, or other public associations. Restrictions of rights and freedoms on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, language, sex, origin, beliefs, or political or social affiliation are prohibited.

Following the border closure between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1991, inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech became increasingly prevalent, particularly as an entire generation grew up without interactions with the other side. Civil society activists stated that an entire generation had grown up listening to hate speech against Armenians. Individuals with Armenian-sounding names were often subjected to additional screening at border crossings and were occasionally denied entrance to the country.

Following the November 2020 cease-fire, in January Azerbaijan released a commemorative postal stamp series to commemorate COVID first responders and the “heroes of the Nagorno-Karabakh war” that juxtaposed Azerbaijani military personnel alongside first responders. In one stamp, a man in overalls typically worn by persons responsible for the disinfection of streets was portrayed disinfecting a part of the map of Azerbaijan corresponding to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The series of images in the stamps appeared to dehumanize Armenians by insinuating they were a disease.

In April the government opened a Military Trophies Park – also known as the “War Trophies Park” – in Baku that included mannequins with exaggerated, stereotypical ethnic features. According to a media report, the sculptors of the mannequins stated, “We tried to have as realistic images as possible. We usually try to do something as beautiful as possible. This time it was the opposite. It was a time-consuming and difficult process. We created using eagle nose shapes, the absence of the back of the skull and other features….” The War Trophies Park also contained a canopy of captured Armenian helmets. In an April 27 letter to the country’s president, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, called the images in the park “highly disturbing and humiliating,” noting that “this kind of display can only further intensify and strengthen long-standing hostile sentiments and hate speech, and multiply and promote manifestations of intolerance.” The mannequins and helmets were removed in October.

On December 7, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued binding provisional rulings in response to Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s submissions of cases against each other for alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In its ruling on Azerbaijan, the ICJ satisfied most of the interim measures requested by Armenia, including mandating that Azerbaijan must protect from violence and bodily harm Armenians detained during or following the fall 2020 fighting and ensure their security and equality before the law. The ICJ ruled that several requests by both countries, including Armenia’s call for the release of all detainees, were outside the scope of the CERD. The court also ruled that both countries “shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.” Both countries also were directed to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination against persons of national or ethnic origin from the other country. (For the ICJ ruling in response to Azerbaijan’s case against Armenia, see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia.)

Some groups, including the Talysh in the south and the Lezgins in the north, reported the government did not provide official textbooks in their local native languages.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home were not registered.

Education: While education is compulsory, free, and universal until age 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls at home to work. Social workers stated that some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school.

Child Abuse: There is criminal liability for sexual violence against children. The law also stipulates punishment for child labor and other abuses of children. The SCFWCA organized multiple events prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to address the problem of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF’s 2021 State of the Worlds Children report, 11 percent of girls in the country were married before they were 18. The problem of early marriage continued during the year. The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states that a boy may marry at 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage as dictated by Islam.

Throughout the year the SCFWCA organized various events for the prevention of early marriages.

The law establishes substantial fines or imprisonment for up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with an underage child. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these contracts were not subject to government oversight and did not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of recruitment of minors for commercial sexual exploitation (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by up to eight years in prison. The law prohibits pornography, its production, its distribution, or its advertisement, and conviction is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Conviction of statutory rape is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Some civil society representatives reported that boys and girls at times were exploited for commercial sex.

Displaced Children: Significant government investment in IDP communities largely alleviated the problem of numerous internally displaced children living in substandard conditions and unable to attend school.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in circumstances of war or in the execution of a court decision under the supervision of a government agency. Penalties for violations, including imprisonment, were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Resources and inspections were inadequate, due in part to a moratorium on all routine and unannounced labor inspections.

Broad provisions in the law provide for the imposition of compulsory labor as a punishment for expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system. In 2018 the International Labor Organization Committee of Experts noted its concern with a growing trend of using various provisions of the criminal code to prosecute journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and others who expressed critical opinions under questionable charges that appeared politically motivated, resulting in long periods of corrective labor or imprisonment, both involving compulsory labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In most cases the law permits children to work from age 15 with a written employment contract. Children who are 14 may work in family businesses or, with parental consent, in daytime after-school jobs that pose no hazard to their health. Children younger than 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children who are 16 or 17 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits employing children younger than 18 in difficult and hazardous conditions and identifies specific work and industries in which children are prohibited, including work with toxic substances and underground, at night, in mines, and in nightclubs, bars, casinos, or other businesses that serve alcohol.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor and setting a minimum age for employment. The government maintained a moratorium on routine and unannounced inspections, which may have prevented effective enforcement of child labor laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate to enforce compliance, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Although the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection could receive and respond to complaints, its responses did not include worksite inspections. Instead, the State Labor Inspection Service within the ministry investigated complaints by requesting information from the employer in question. Inspectors identified violations and imposed appropriate penalties based on the information they received.

In July 2020 the president approved the National Action Plan for 2020-2024 on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. The plan tasked the relevant government bodies to continue efforts to: identify victims of human trafficking and forced labor, including children; carry out special work with children engaged in begging; develop general standards of communication with child victims or potential victims of human trafficking; conduct training on the identification and protection of child victims or potential victims of human trafficking; and conduct awareness-raising work with entrepreneurs and employers in order to prevent the exploitation of child labor.

Authorities reported no instances of investigating child labor in formal sectors of the economy. There were reports of children engaging in child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, and agriculture. Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, and HIV or AIDS status, but the government did not always enforce the law effectively. Legal penalties for discrimination in employment existed under various articles and laws but were patchwork in nature and not commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights. The law excludes women from 678 occupations in 38 industries that are framed as inherently dangerous jobs. Many of these positions were higher ranked and better paid than positions that women were permitted to occupy in the same industries. Women were also not permitted to work at night in the same way as men.

Employers generally hesitated to hire persons with disabilities, and workplace access was limited. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ individuals reported employers found other reasons to dismiss them, because they could not legally dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation. Women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Traditional practices limited women’s access to economic opportunities in rural areas. According to the State Statistics Committee, in 2020 the average monthly salary for women was 63 percent of the average monthly salary for men. According to gender experts, gender-based harassment in the workplace was a problem.

Belarus

Executive Summary

Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since 1994 Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All elections after 1994, including the August 2020 presidential election and 2019 National Assembly elections, were not considered free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the Committee for State Security, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services, also exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to the president’s personal command. Lukashenka maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces aggressively, intentionally, and routinely perpetuated abuses to stifle political dissent and repress human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and others.

Starting in late May, credible media outlets and nongovernmental organizations reported that Belarusian authorities purposefully orchestrated and profited from the entry into the country of thousands of irregular migrants mostly from Iraq, but also from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Afghanistan. These migrants often traveled through state-owned or state-affiliated travel agencies in partnership with travel agencies in the origin countries, with the aim of facilitating these individuals’ travel overland to enter the European Union. Once the migrants and asylum seekers reached Belarus, authorities facilitated their travel to the borders of the neighboring countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland and encouraged and, in some instances, forced the migrants to attempt irregular border crossings. When migrants and asylum seekers failed to enter the European Union, there were credible reports that Belarusian security services beat the migrants and asylum seekers and forced them to remain at the border to attempt additional border crossings, sometimes under dangerous circumstances. When the migrants sought asylum in Belarus, authorities generally refused these requests.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces; torture in detention facilities and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking and internet blockages; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement and on the right to leave the country; refoulement and abuse of migrants and asylum seekers seeking to irregularly cross the border into the European Union; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and outlawing of independent trade unions and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

Authorities at all levels generally operated with impunity as directed by Lukashenka and routinely failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. The penalty for conviction of rape with aggravating factors is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. While sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems, authorities generally prosecuted cases against nonspousal rape. For example, in October police in Barysau arrested a 57-year-old man on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl. According to police the case was considered under the law as rape of a known minor, which is punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to 13 years, and the abuser had been previously convicted on similar accounts. According to NGOs, authorities often did not adequately consider spousal rape incidents and did not prosecute such cases unless they involved severe aggravating factors and direct threats to victims’ lives or deaths.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and authorities did not take effective measures to prevent it or its root causes, such as substance abuse, unemployment, and other economic, cultural, and social problems. For example, police in a village in the Lida region reported that a man continuously abused his common-law spouse. The man was sentenced in June 2020 to three months in prison for abuse, but in July 2020 before beginning his sentence, he attacked his spouse with a knife, injuring her face and chest. For the attack, in March he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of attempted murder. Nevertheless, the woman continued to claim she had no problem with her spouse and told doctors her injuries were accidental.

Authorities continued to issue protective orders mandating the separation of survivors and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated 138 crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to survivors.

The law establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide survivors and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition the law prescribes a substantial fine or detention for up to 15 days for violating protective orders, battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.

According to women’s rights advocates, protective orders and crisis rooms remained ineffective and provided limited protection of the rights of survivors. Efforts to prosecute offenders and ensure legal and other remedies to correct their behavior were also lacking. NGO experts continued to note the lack of state-supported designated shelters and specialists who work with survivors, children, and aggressors.

According to a senior Ministry of Internal Affairs official, as of April officers were monitoring more than 8,000 individuals who had committed domestic violence-related crimes, including more than 10,000 administrative cases filed from January to March. The official stated the number of severe crimes related to domestic violence decreased from 109 to 78 cases in January through March, compared with the same period in 2020, and the number of persons killed by their spouse declined from 27 to 22. On October 25-30, Minsk city police reportedly inspected residences of families with a record of domestic violence or that were in vulnerable conditions and held “preventive” talks with them.

On July 15, the NGO Gender Perspectives stopped operating a nationwide hotline for domestic violence after authorities searched its offices and interrogated several personnel on July 14 in the framework of a broad crackdown on civil society (see sections 2 and 5). In 2020 it had also stopped working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs representative following the government’s crackdown on demonstrators. As of April the shelter and hotline providers had not seen an increase in requests for help in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, associating this with the lack of a government-imposed countrywide lockdown or self-isolation requirements. The Ministries of Internal Affairs, Labor and Social Protection, and Health Care and NGOs continued a campaign, “Home without Violence,” that was held on April 5-9. The campaign was covered by state media.

On September 28, authorities liquidated Gender Perspectives, which in addition to operating the hotline, had cooperated with authorities to play a nationwide role in assisting domestic violence and trafficking survivors, advocating for their rights, promoting a separate law on countering domestic violence, and assisting victims. The NGO was one of many civil society organizations closed in cases widely seen as politically motivated (see section 5).

Despite numerous inspections by the government throughout the year, as of December the NGO Radislava continued to operate a private shelter for survivors of domestic violence, to advocate for their rights, and to assist women and their children with medical care, legal aid, employment, social reintegration, and psychological therapy. On November 9, police detained the former coordinator of Radislava’s shelter and leading women’s rights advocate for allegedly coordinating protests in 2020. As of December she remained in pretrial detention.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem. Victims of sexual harassment did not have access to criminal or civil remedies for sexual harassment that occurred in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: In prior years women with disabilities, especially those who were institutionalized, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies. While there were no indications that the practice had changed, no specific cases were highlighted during the year by press or NGOs.

Institutionalized individuals with disabilities had no political or civil rights, and courts recognized the directors of these institutions as the legal guardians of these individuals. Institutionalized individuals were not able to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting their reproductive health, including for sterilization, due to mental or other disabilities.

Although comprehensive education on reproductive health or pregnancy was not provided in schools, access to information on contraception was widely available. Government policy does not bar access to contraception, but some groups may oppose it on religious grounds. While there were no legal or cultural barriers to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth and skilled postpartum care was widely available, there were fewer professionals with the skills to assist with difficult pregnancies outside of Minsk. Authorities provided access to emergency health care, including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. Women generally did not experience discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, education, the judicial process and other institutions, and in housing.

Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in employment, in access to economic resources, as well as discrimination in the workplace.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies continued arbitrarily to detain, investigate, profile, and harass Roma, including by forcing fingerprinting, mistreating them in detention, and subjecting them to ethnic insults.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 6,848 (according to the 2019 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Romani population. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various forms of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.

Authorities harassed and jailed members of the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus and some of its members (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Children

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

Child Abuse: The law stipulates minors’ rights to education, health care, personal integrity, and protection from exploitation and violence, among others. The law provides for the inviolability of the child’s person and protects the child from all types of exploitation, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse; cruel or abusive treatment, humiliation, and sexual harassment (including by parents, guardians, caregivers, and relatives); involvement in criminal activities; use of alcoholic beverages; use of drugs, toxic or other intoxicating substances, and tobacco products; and coercion into prostitution, begging, vagrancy, participation in gambling, actions related to child pornography, and work that may harm physical, mental, or moral development.

Conviction of rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of a person older than 18 for engaging in sexual acts with a person known to be younger than 16 is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

According to local human rights groups, domestic violence and abuse against children were common, and anecdotal evidence suggested that many parents admitted beating their children. Authorities identified families in vulnerable conditions and generally intervened to prevent child abuse linked to domestic violence, providing foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government continued to prosecute child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate, and it lacked effective capabilities to detect violence and refer victims for proper assistance in a timely manner.

The government instituted a comprehensive national plan for 2017-21 to improve child care and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, but it acknowledged its inefficiency in executing certain protective measures absent assistance from international organizations and NGOs. For example, in one case authorities in the Hrodna region charged both foster parents with beating, abusing, torturing, and depriving their foster children of freedoms from 2016 through 2021. Authorities recognized eight children as victims in the case, including a minor who was 10 months old at the time and was physically abused. Local prosecutors claimed that authorities took disciplinary action against seven local officials in charge of monitoring foster families and living conditions.

With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child-abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts often used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child-abuse victims for hearings, but experts continued to raise concerns that in some cases, judges summoned victims to testify at hearings. More-experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and interests of minors.

As of January 2020 the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors in vulnerable and dangerous conditions, but independent observers questioned the quality of services. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriages in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Sex trafficking of children was a problem, and authorities took some steps to address it. From January through September, authorities identified 540 minors as victims of child sexual abuse, up from 354 in the same period in 2020. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for producing or distributing pornographic materials depicting a minor. Authorities generally enforced the law. Authorities claimed the law does not require a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense and claimed to have identified 91 minors who were trafficking or trafficking-related victims used for commercial sexual exploitation. Authorities considered child pornography and cyber-related methods such as sexting, grooming, and sextortion to be serious problems and in January 2020 adopted a separate 2020-22 plan of action to protect minors from sexual abuse and exploitation. There were no reports on the implementation of the plan as of December 2020.

In April the Internal Affairs Ministry reported that on February 16, it identified and arrested a 37-year-old foreigner who had legally resided in the country since 2017 and had engaged girls between ages five and 13 in producing pornographic materials. Four mothers of the children were arrested for providing their children for filming and commercial sexual exploitation. Police also stated one of the victims was removed from the family and taken into the government custody, while the others remained in the custody of their fathers.

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

According to a 2018 UNICEF study, more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either physical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared with children living in families, and they had two to three times more exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.

As of January 1, there were nine institutions for children with disabilities that held at least 1,300 minors. Institutions provided basic medical and social care to their clients. Although experts assessed the services as being of better quality than at adult institutions, these institutions had problems with proper diagnostics, education, and social reintegration as well as public accountability and transparency.

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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with the exception of court rulings that may require work or services as part of a sentence, and which may include penal labor.

Parents who have had their parental rights stripped and are unemployed or are working but fail to compensate state child-care facilities for the maintenance of their children, may be subject to forced employment by court order. Individuals who refuse forced employment may be held criminally liable and face community service or corrective labor for a period of up to two years, imprisonment for up to three years, or other freedom restrictions, all involving compulsory labor and garnishment of 70 percent of their wages to compensate for expenses incurred by the government.

Minsk authorities required officially registered unemployed individuals to perform paid community service one day a month. Individuals who performed fewer than 12 working days of paid community service during a year were prohibited from receiving some unemployment benefits. Individuals with disabilities, single parents, and parents of three or more children as well as parents of children with disabilities and younger than 18 were exempt.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Regulations against forced labor were seldom enforced, and resources and inspections dedicated to preventing forced and compulsory labor were minimal. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

The country largely served as a source country for labor trafficking. Aside from border restrictions enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarusians were able to freely travel to and work in Russia, reportedly the largest destination country. Compared to NGOs, the government rarely identified victims of labor trafficking, and prosecution of those responsible for forced labor remained minimal. NGOs in 2020 identified 26 labor trafficking victims, compared with the government’s identification of two. Authorities reportedly did not recognize claims by Belarusians who returned from Russia and complained they had endured forced labor there. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking did not improve during the year.

There were no reported examples of government reprisals identified against individuals who abstained from community work activities (commonly called subbotniks) during the year.

Former inmates stated their monthly wages were as low as three to four rubles ($1.50 to $2.00). Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Internal Affairs Ministry stated in 2015 that at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in prison as required by law, excluding retirees and persons with disabilities, and that labor in prison was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16. Children as young as 14 may conclude a labor contract with the written consent of one parent or a legal guardian. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for enforcement of the law. Persons younger than 18 are allowed to work in nonhazardous jobs but are not allowed to work overtime, on weekends, or on government holidays. Work may not be harmful to children’s health or hinder their education.

The government generally enforced these laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no penalty for discrimination in general. The law prohibits employer discrimination only when employers refuse to hire a person who was referred by the government’s Labor, Employment, and Social Welfare Agency as part of a quota system. In these cases the government may charge the employer with a civil penalty if the discrimination was on the basis of the person’s race, age, gender, language, political or religious beliefs, membership in a trade union, social status, or place of residence. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those of other violations related to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political preferences, ethnicity, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and HIV-positive status (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma). In addition some members of the Romani community complained that employers often discriminated against them and either refused to employ them or did not provide full-time jobs. The government did not take any action during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination. Employment discrimination happened across most economic sectors and in both private and public workplaces.

The law requiring equal pay for equal work was not regularly enforced, and in December 2020 the country’s National Statistics Committee reported that average salaries for women were 26.7 percent less than salaries for men.

The government maintained a list of 181 “physically demanding” jobs “in hazardous or dangerous conditions” that women are not permitted to occupy. Women are also not permitted to work in all the same employment sectors as men. Very few women were in the upper ranks of management or government, and most women were concentrated in the lower-paid public sector. There are no laws that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and without criminal or civil remedies to sexual harassment in the workplace, it remained a significant problem. There is no legal prohibition against gender-based discrimination in access to credit. Although the law grants women the right to three years of maternity leave with assurance of a job upon return, employers often circumvented employment protections by using short-term contracts, then refusing to renew a woman’s contract when she became pregnant.

A government prohibition against workdays longer than seven hours for persons with disabilities reportedly made companies reluctant to hire them. Local NGOs reported that up to 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Authorities provided minimal welfare benefits for persons with disabilities. Pension calculations should consider disability status under the law; however, authorities were not always willing to provide higher pensions warranted by disability status. Members of the country’s Paralympic teams received half the salaries and prize money of athletes without disabilities.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Belgium is a parliamentary democracy with a limited constitutional monarchy. The country is a federal state with several levels of government: national; regional (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels); language community (Dutch, French, and German); provincial; and local. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office if it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament. Elections are held at six different levels: communal, provincial, regional, by language community, federal, and European. In 2019 the country held federal parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

The federal police are responsible for internal security and nationwide law and order, including migration and border enforcement. They report to the ministers of interior and justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Numerous complaints were filed against members of the security services who allegedly committed abuses. Some of the security service members awaited rulings in court.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: attacks and hate speech motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersex persons.

Authorities generally took steps to identify, investigate, and where appropriate, prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person, which range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.

The activist blog StopFeminicide reported that at least 17 women died in connection with cases of rape or domestic violence during the first eight months of the year. The government did not keep a record of the number of femicides. According to 2020 federal police statistics, there were approximately 38,000 official complaints of domestic violence against men and women to include physical, psychological, or economic violence, including 175 complaints of sexual violence, during that year.

Several government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, and it was not a widespread practice in the country. Authorities effectively enforced the law. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to 2017 estimates, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM/C in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. Most potential victims were asylum seekers from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, and Somalia.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; parties found guilty are subject to fines. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws.

A June study by the NGO Plan International of 700 persons between the ages of 15 and 24 in the cities of Brussels, Antwerp, and Charleroi found that 91 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys had been victims of some form of sexual harassment in the street. Eighty-two percent of girls reported that sexist comments and catcalling were the most frequent forms of harassment.

Another June study by the Universities of Ghent and Liege and the National Institute for Forensic Science and Criminology of 5,000 persons between the ages of 16 and 100 found that 70 percent had been victims of sexual violence in their life. Women were most affected. Within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, 80 percent reported having experienced sexual violence.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

In March, UNIA reported it had received a record number of complaints in 2020. The center received 3,684 complaints of racism, an increase of 50 percent from 2019. Most cases of discrimination took place on social media, in the housing market, in the workplace, or on public transportation. UNIA noted racism against persons of Asian origin also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In its 2020 annual report, UNIA stated that it received a total 9,466 complaints related to discrimination in 2020, an 11 percent increase from 2019. UNIA noted that the COVID-19 lockdown boosted the amount of time people spent online, creating an environment in which online hate speech increased. The number of hate speech cases UNIA handled remained similar to previous years. UNIA also received COVID-related complaints (age discrimination, employment, access to housing) as well as numerous allegations of police violence.

Ethnic profiling, including by police, continued to be a problem. Between February and May, UNIA, Amnesty International, and the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) alleged that police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns sometimes targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines, and fines. In a May report, CERD expressed concern over racial profiling and police violence in the country.

Several reports of ethnic profiling by police were documented by Amnesty International and the Human Rights League’s police observatory, Police Watch.

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth on the country’s territory.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry. Federal police statistics for 2019 recorded 20 cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Local girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

In August the media reported that police had recorded a rise in sexual exploitation of minors online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police continued to track the problem.

In May the children’s rights NGO Child Focus released its 2020 annual report, which noted the group had received 2,205 reports of sexual exploitation in 2020, compared with 1,501 reports in 2019. The organization also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had vastly increased children’s internet screen time, putting them at greater risk of sexual exploitation. Child Focus reported that it had received 2,056 reports of child pornography, a 45 percent increase from 2019, through its stopchildporno.be website.

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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties included fines and prison terms and were commensurate with similar serious crimes.

In a report published in December 2020, the Interfederal Center for Migration (Myria) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to protect human traffickers and render cases of forced labor less visible. Myria reported a decreased capacity for detection because the social security labor inspection services were unable to safely complete field checks. The report also noted that it was often impossible to solicit support from police forces, which were overwhelmed with enforcing health and safety measures because of the pandemic. There was a significant drop in reports of cases of forced labor, from 3.15 cases per day in 2019 to 0.55 during 2020.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men, generally undocumented migrants, who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Men and women were subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age of employment is 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/study programs and work full time up to a limited number of hours during the school year. The Ministry of Employment regulated industries that employ juvenile workers to ensure that labor laws were followed; it occasionally granted waivers for children temporarily employed by modeling agencies and in the entertainment business. Waivers were granted on a short-term basis and for a clearly defined performance or purpose that had to be listed in the law as an acceptable activity. The law clearly defines, according to the age of the child, the maximum amount of time that may be worked daily and the frequency of performances. A child’s earnings must be paid to a bank account under the name of the child, and the money is inaccessible until the child reaches 18 years of age.

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources and inspections; such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws face penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, but permit companies to prohibit outward displays of religious affiliation, including headscarves (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

The law requires companies with at least 50 employees to provide a clear overview of their compensation plans, a detailed breakdown by gender of their wages and fringe benefits, a gender-neutral classification of functions, and the possibility of appointing a mediator to address and follow up on gender-related problems. The law requires that one-third of the board members of publicly traded companies be women.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. Trade unions or media sometimes escalated cases, and UNIA often took a position or acted as an intermediary to find solutions or to support alleged victims in the courts.

Some employers discriminated in employment and occupation against women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minority groups as well as against internal and foreign migrant workers. The government took legal action based on antidiscrimination laws. UNIA facilitated arbitration or other settlements in some cases of discrimination. Settlements could involve monetary payments, community service, or other penalties.

The Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and may initiate lawsuits if it discovers violations of equality laws. Most complaints received during the year were work related and concerned the termination of employment due to pregnancy. Economic discrimination against women continued. According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, women’s hourly wage rates were 5.8 percent less than those of their male colleagues in 2019.

The employment rate for persons with disabilities in the public sector was much lower than the quotas and targets set by public authorities.

Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a constitutional presidential republic. On April 11, voters elected Patrice Talon in a multiparty election to a second five-year term as president. Registration and sponsorship requirements incorporated in the electoral code in 2019 and implemented during municipal elections excluded most opposition political parties from participating in the election. According to the government National Electoral Commission, voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2016 to 50 percent; however, civil society organizations estimated voter turnout at only 27 percent. Voting did not take place in 16 of 546 electoral districts due to violent protests and demonstrations that prevented delivery of voting materials. International observers, however, assessed the election as generally free, fair, and transparent, but they expressed concern about the lack of inclusivity and competition among candidates. At least five civilians were reported killed and 21 police officers and military service members injured during election-related clashes.

The Beninese Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security and support the Republican Police in maintaining internal security. The Republican Police are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. There were reliable reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child, early and forced marriage; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption, officials sometimes engaged in these practices with impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape without reference to gender. Enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims not reporting cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Sentences for conviction of rape range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties survivors faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors. The primary form of evidence used to prove sexual assault required physician certification. Since physicians were only accessible in large cities, survivors in rural areas were effectively precluded from pursuing charges.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some survivors of abuse. The ministry’s Center for Social Promotion provided mediation services that in some cases resulted in restitution. The ministry also organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women. During the year the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a services-training program for survivors of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence to health clinic and social service first responders. On July 21, the government created the National Institute for the Promotion of Women to address complaints of violations of women’s rights and provide financial assistance to women who are survivors of violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and substantial monetary fines. Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C in 2018.

The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, continued to raise public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common in the workplace and in schools. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims, however, seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation; furthermore, police, examining magistrates who conduct pretrial investigations, and prosecutors lacked the legal knowledge and capacity to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to address sexual abuses involving minors. Nevertheless, on July 19, the Cotonou Appellate Court convicted a business owner of sexual harassment of a female employee, imposed a substantial fine, and sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

On October 20, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 2003 Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health legalizing elective abortion. The amended law provides for termination before 12 weeks if the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional, or moral distress incompatible with the interest of the woman, the unborn child, or both. As of November 15, the amended law had yet to be signed by the president.

Societal pressures imposed barriers to contraception. Although minors have the legal right to access contraception without parental consent, health-care workers sometimes impeded access by requiring parental consent. Cultural norms also influenced low rates of contraception. In some areas, notably the Plateau Department bordering Nigeria, traditional leaders used voodoo to threaten women to stay indoors during contraceptive campaigns, according to the Beninese Association for Social Marketing. Some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and Celestial Christian Church, strongly discouraged the use of contraceptives. Poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas, poverty, and limited formal education contributed to low usage of contraceptives and high pregnancy rates. Only 13 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception, and 35 percent of women had an unmet need for contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services because of their sexual identity.

According to the government’s 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 391 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to the high mortality rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of girls and women between the ages 15 and 19 were either pregnant or had already had one live birth. These rates varied dramatically with higher adolescent birth rates (24 to 38 percent) in northern departments and lower rates (ranging from 8 to 16 percent) in southern departments. See also the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. There were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on the occupations in which women are allowed to work (see section 7.d.).

The law bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygamy. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and other laws provide for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities and their institutions from violence and discrimination. The penal code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from physical violence, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The labor code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from employment discrimination.

Children

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

Education: Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education is tuition free for all primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was common. The law bans a wide range of harmful practices and provides for substantial fines and up to life imprisonment for persons convicted of child abuse. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, fear of police involvement, or a combination of the three.

On September 2, the government reported an increase in child rape cases in the commune of Abomey Calavi in the south of the country. Authorities recorded 26 cases of rape involving children ages 4 to 15 from January 1 to September in the commune.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage at younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the Benin 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 15. Child, early, and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the bridegroom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice. The joint government and UNICEF Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children in their communities continued.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring children for commercial sexual exploitation; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. The NGO Franciscan-Benin reported that communities in the four northern communes of Djougou, Gogounou, Kouande and Kandi continued to practice ritual infanticide. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.

Institutionalized Children: The government and human rights organizations reported poorly managed orphanages were not compliant with the law governing child protection centers. During the year the government inspected and closed several orphanages following reports of child abuse and neglect. In August the government closed one unregistered orphanage in Allada in southern Benin after inspections revealed poor living conditions and insufficient staffing. Authorities sanctioned an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns for using children as beggars to encourage charitable donations.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions. The law allows for imprisonment with compulsory labor. By law authorities may exact work not of a purely military character from military conscripts. Laws regulating various acts or activities relating to the exercise of freedom of expression allow imposition of prison sentences involving obligation to perform social rehabilitation work. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were generally commensurate with similar serious crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, particularly in the large informal sector. Forced labor occurred, including domestic servitude and bonded labor by children. Forced labor was mainly found in the agricultural (e.g., cotton and palm oil), artisanal mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial, and construction sectors. Many traffickers were relatives or acquaintances of their victims, exploiting the traditional system of vidomegon whereby a child, usually a daughter, is sent to live as a servant with a wealthier family, despite NGO and government efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with this practice.

The Ministry of Labor conducted child labor inspections throughout the year for apprenticeship agreements, most notably in the construction sector, where they issued warnings and conducted follow up inspections upon discovery of child labor. In some cases, the Ministry of Labor shut down construction operations until contractors complied with forced labor norms.

The government repatriated 14 victims of labor trafficking who had been trafficked to Gabon. The victims were identified in January and returned to Benin on September 29.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The List of Hazardous Occupations sets the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at age 18. The list identifies 21 trades prohibited for children and defines 74 related hazardous activities. Specific trades noted on the list include mining and quarrying, domestic service, and agriculture.

The labor code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children younger than age 14 in any enterprise; children between ages 12 and 14, however, may perform domestic work and temporary or light seasonal work if it does not interfere with their compulsory schooling. Children 14 and older may be employed as an apprentice in a trade if the apprentice has a formal contract with the tradesperson overseeing the apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are common, contracts are rare. The law bans night work for workers younger than age 18 unless the government in consultation with the National Labor Council grants a special dispensation. Workers younger than 18 are entitled to a minimum 12-hour uninterrupted break including the nighttime period.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Office, under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, enforced the labor code only in the formal sector. Inspection was inadequate, and the total number of inspections conducted during the year was unavailable. Penalties for those convicted of violating laws in the formal sector were commensurate with similar crimes but were not consistently enforced. There were no reports of prosecutions or convictions during the year.

Despite the government’s limited capacity to enforce child labor laws, the government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and prevent compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems. These initiatives were part of the Labor Office’s traditional sensitization program. The government also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population regarding child labor and child trafficking. The Ministries of Justice and Labor supported capacity building for officials and agencies responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

To help support their families, children of both sexes, including those as young as age seven, worked on family farms, in small businesses, on construction sites in urban areas, in public markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of vidomegon. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an education.

Host families did not always honor their part of the vidomegon arrangement, and abuse and forced labor of child domestic servants were a problem. Children often faced long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, factors indicative of forced labor and exploitation of children in domestic servitude. Sometimes the child’s parents and the urban family that raised the child divided the income generated by the child’s activities. Up to 95 percent of children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.

Most children working as apprentices were younger than the legal age of 14 for apprenticeship, including children working in construction, car and motorbike repair, hairdressing, and dressmaking. Children worked as laborers with adults in quarries, including crushing granite, in many areas. Children were at times forced to hawk goods and beg, and street children engaged in prostitution (see section 6). Children younger than age 14 worked in either the formal or informal sectors in the following activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works, trade and vending, food and beverages, transportation, and other services, including employment as household staff.

Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Children ages 12 to 13 were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they may have completed primary school but were younger than the minimum legal working age of 14.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or domestic workers, often on the understanding that the children’s wages would be sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring countries to work, including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and labor code prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, and disability. The laws, however, do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or other communicable disease status. In general, the government effectively enforced these laws and regulations in the formal sector. Women, however, experienced extensive discrimination because of legal restrictions on working in certain occupations (see section 6) and societal attitudes. Women’s wages consistently lagged those of men. According to the International Labor Organization Global Wage Report, in 2017 women on average earned 45 percent less per hour than men. Employment discrimination occurred in the private and public sectors. The prohibitions on discrimination did not apply to the large informal sector.

The labor code includes provisions to protect the employment rights of workers with disabilities, but many experienced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksite.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2020 the country held presidential and legislative elections. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party – the People’s Movement for Progress – won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” with credible results, while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. In January 2020 the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. By year’s end the government registered approximately 2,700 Volunteers. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but there were credible reports members of state-sponsored militias committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces and state-sponsored militias and extremist groups; forced disappearance by security forces and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by extremist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including widespread civilian harm, abductions, torture, and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by extremist groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses and corruption remained a problem.

The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated numerous attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces and state-sponsored militias. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks; targeted killings; kidnappings; attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines); burning of schools, medical centers, and homes; and theft of cattle, vehicles, and food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than 1.5 million persons. The government detained several hundred suspected violent extremists, including several children. Some detainees had been awaiting trial for several years. In August the Specialized Antiterrorism Court held the first criminal trials of terrorist suspects.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a substantial monetary fine when committed against an adult or minor age 13 years or older. The penalty is 11 to 30 years in prison and even higher monetary fines when the survivor is younger than 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions.

Two women were killed by their spouses on May 2 and May 9 in the Nord Region. Following these deaths hundreds of women marched on the local headquarters of the gendarmerie, where the men had taken refuge. Carrying tree branches and threatening to whip any man in their path, the protesters demanded justice for the two women, both of whom had been pregnant. The minister of women joined the demonstrations to show solidarity with the women but urged the crowd to allow the cases to work their way through the justice system.

On August 31, a man was sentenced to 48 months in prison plus a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($177) for forcing a European woman, in May in a park in Ouagadougou, to perform oral sex on him under threat of stabbing her.

Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. On International Women’s Day, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs launched a toll-free number for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the head of the center, more than 425 calls were received in the hotline’s first two months of operation and 30 survivors received care. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the ministry assisted survivors of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Ouest Regions.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of these crimes may also carry substantial monetary fines.

The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. According to the minister of women, in 2020 the High Court of Ouagadougou heard more than 120 rape cases, 43 cases of assault, and 18 abduction cases of young girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The practice of FGM/C is prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a substantial monetary fine. If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and an even higher monetary fine. Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. While comprehensive statistics were not available, as of 2019 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs had registered 185 FGM/C cases in the Sud-Ouest Region. Some arrests were reported.

Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, on May 4, five girls ages between one and three years were excised in the village of Masbore, Nord Region. On June 29, the Ouahigouya Court held a criminal hearing on the case and sentenced four defendants to 24 months’ imprisonment with a suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs ($177). In July, 10 girls ages seven to 11 were excised in the village of Sideratougou in Banfora, but no arrests were reported.

The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice. The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision. The council strengthened the skills of regional coordinators of women’s associations in the campaign against excision through training. The government also provided training to hundreds of health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications. On July 14, President Kabore spoke with representatives of youth from the 13 regions of the country engaged in the campaign.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Centre-Est and Nord Regions, primarily in rural areas, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced others as “witches” whom they held responsible for their misfortune. Those accused, often elderly women, and less frequently men, were sometimes tied up, humiliated, beaten, brutalized, banned from their villages, or killed. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine for conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the survivor is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, survivors rarely reported sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Family planning services were free in all public health facilities. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to a March survey, modern contraceptive prevalence among women in union increased from 28 percent in February 2020 to 32 percent in March. The survey revealed an increase in unavailability for certain methods such as the implant, the pill, and the male condom in health facilities in the first quarter of the year compared with 2020. The survey revealed unmet reproductive needs dropped from 32 percent to 17 percent between December 2014 and March.

Geographical distance, illiteracy, insufficient capacity of providers, lack of medical supplies, and religious and social beliefs regarding the negative effects of contraceptive methods were the main barriers to access to contraception. Women’s limited decision-making power and men’s lack of support for and understanding of family planning were also barriers to access to contraception.

The government worked with international and local aid organizations to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for IDPs.

The country’s volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs because 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est Regions closed due to insecurity.

In 2016, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography, the maternal mortality rate was 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the UN Population Fund, between 2014 and 2019, 80 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Among the leading causes of maternal deaths were hemorrhage (30 percent) and infection (23 percent).

The government’s official midwifery curriculum included components on the prevention of FGM/C and care for women and girls affected by it.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws, discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers, male and female, should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment under certain working conditions and in the same occupations and industries as men.

Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored several community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.

Allegations continued of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by state-sponsored militias, particularly against the Fulani community (see section 1.g.). While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address the growing case load of such allegations.

Many observers, including the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while most men allegedly killed by state-sponsored militias were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.

There were reports the state-sponsored militias did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the militias. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored several media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities” on several occasions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately, particularly in the rural areas; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for compulsory schooling of children until age 16. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Targeted attacks on schools and insecurity forced thousands of schools to close (see section 1.g.). Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

Many children attended Quranic schools. Educators forced some children, sent to Quranic schools by their parents, to engage in begging (see section 7.c.).

Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a substantial monetary fine for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. In 2019 the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the survivor is younger than age 13. According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 percent of women were married before age 15 and 52 percent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region, and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. The law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial exploitation, including child sex trafficking, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 83 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).

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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. There were no reported forced labor prosecutions or convictions. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, such as kidnapping.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, forced begging, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes. Traffickers also exploited Burkinabe women in domestic servitude in the Middle East.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and older to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. The law does not define the kinds of work appropriate for children younger than 16. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The government undertook activities to implement the national action plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs to disseminate information in local languages, increase access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revise the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improve data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, in part due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Educators forced some children, sent to Quranic schools by their parents, to engage in begging. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses but were seldom applied.

There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as construction. Women were forbidden from doing work that was determined to have a health risk for their health or reproductive capacity.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. Women were paid less than men and prohibited from holding certain positions (see section 6). Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma’s military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government via a coup d’etat on February 1, declaring a state of emergency and transferring all executive, legislative, and judicial authorities to the State Administration Council, an authoritarian military-run administrative organization led by armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing. The military detained key elected civilian leaders and dissolved all national and subnational legislatures, including the Union Parliament, forcing many elected members to flee their homes and offices or face potential arrest. On February 5, elected parliamentarians from the National League for Democracy and allied political parties formed the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, which subsequently declared the regime “illegitimate” and the 2008 constitution abolished before proclaiming a “National Unity Government” on April 16.

The Myanmar Police Force is primarily responsible for internal security. The Border Guard Police is administratively part of the Myanmar Police Force but operationally distinct. Both fall under the regime’s Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military general and itself subordinate to the military command. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security but are engaged almost exclusively in internal activities, including combat against ethnic armed groups. Members of the regime security forces continued to commit numerous gross violations of human rights.

Regime security forces arrested State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other leading members of the civilian government and National League for Democracy on February 1. Nationwide prodemocracy protests following the coup and the Civil Disobedience Movement, continuing as of November, opposed and disrupted efforts by the regime to exert full administrative control over governing institutions. The regime responded with repressive tactics such as the mass arrest of its political opponents and the use of widespread lethal violence against unarmed persons, including men, women, and children. Fighting between the military and ethnic armed organizations escalated, and the National Unity Government announced on April 16 that it would establish armed People’s Defense Force groups that would cooperate with various ethnic armed organizations.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment by the regime; gender-based violence by the regime; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; particularly severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national and ethnic minority groups; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were rarely enforced; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including violence and threats against labor activists; and the use of forced and child labor, including the worst forms of child labor.

There continued to be almost complete impunity for abuses by the regime security forces. There was no credible information that the regime took actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for human rights abuses or corruption.

Some ethnic armed organizations and Peoples Defense Force groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape of a woman outside of marriage carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage (which may vary according to ethnicity or religion), and the penalty is a maximum of two years in prison. The law prohibits committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and survivor typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases, and reported cases were on the rise.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes a maximum penalty of two years in prison if the harassment involves physical contact. Harassment is punishable by a fine or up to one year in prison. The regime did not report information on the prevalence of the problem, and many of these crimes were unreported. NGOs reported regime police investigators were not sensitive to survivors and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law allows the government to impose coercive birth-spacing requirements – 36 months between children – if the president or national government designates “special regions” for health care based on factors such as population, migration rate, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. In such special regions, the government may create special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing family planning regulations. The government did not designate any such special regions.

In Rakhine State, local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although some Rohingya with household registration documents reportedly circumvented the law.

The law otherwise limits the right of individuals to manage their reproductive health. Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for sexual violence survivors through public and private facilities was very limited and further exacerbated by the collapse of the public-health system after the coup. While September reports from Population Services International indicated that demand for oral contraceptives increased significantly in Rangoon after the coup, access to family planning was limited in rural areas. Economic hardship and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also limited access to family planning.

The Department of Social Welfare adapted gender-based violence services to COVID-19 restrictions, including expanding virtual platforms for online training.

The United Nations estimated in 2017 that the maternal mortality rate nationwide was 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. No more recent reliable data were available. The 2017 National Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Report stated that the maternal mortality ratio was highest in Shan, Chin, and Ayeyarwady States. NGOs regularly reported throughout the year that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to maternal mortality rates in Rakhine State being higher than the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortions were also a leading cause of maternal deaths.

Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; the high rate of home births (63 percent; a number that likely rose after the coup); limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; low coverage of antenatal care visits; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants and other trained community health workers.

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but regime officials did not enforce the law. Communities around the country implemented customary law to address matters of marriage, property, and inheritance that differed from the provisions of statutory law and which was often discriminatory against women. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but the formal sector did not respect this requirement, and the regime did not actively enforce it. NGOs reported other forms of workplace discrimination were common (see also section 7.d.). The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by requiring public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing objections to the marriage to be raised in court. The law was rarely enforced. Poverty affected women disproportionately.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against members of minority groups persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. Members of ethnic minority groups constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states comprised approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and a significant number of minorities also resided in majority ethnic Burmese regions. Rohingya continued to face severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion, although conflict between the military and ethnic Rakhine populations de-escalated.

Children

Birth Registration: The law automatically confers full citizenship to children when both parents are from one of the 135 recognized national ethnic groups and to some children who meet other citizenship requirements. Second generation children may acquire full citizenship if at least one parent has full citizenship. Third generation children of associate or naturalized citizens may acquire full citizenship. Many long-term residents in the country, including Rohingya, are not among the recognized national ethnic groups, and thus their children are not automatically conferred citizenship (see also section 2.g.). There were significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration, with an informal or almost nonexistent process in small, rural villages. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identification card, and it can provide important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and underage recruitment into the armed forces and ethnic armed groups.

Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (up to age 10). This leaves children ages 10 through 13 vulnerable to child labor, since they are not required to attend school and are not legally permitted to work (the minimum age for work is 14). Burmese is the mandatory language of instruction in public schools. The national education plan does not allow for other languages of instruction, although some public schools taught ethnic languages as extra subjects. Schools were often unavailable in remote communities and conflict areas, and access to them for internally displaced and stateless children was also limited.

In June the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools to reopen, after closing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Myanmar Teacher’s Federation, more than 90 percent of students did not return on June 2 as mandated. The teachers’ federation reported that almost one-third of teachers from the primary to university level were suspended for participating in the CDM. A suspended teacher from Rangoon told international media in May, “I’m not afraid of arrest and torture. I’m afraid of becoming a teacher who teaches the students propaganda.” In early July the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools closed due to the third wave of COVID-19; the schools reopened before year’s end.

UNICEF reported in July that the regime and prodemocracy groups conducted 180 attacks against schools and school personnel and that the military used education facilities for military purposes in at least 157 cases.

Child Abuse: The laws were neither adequate to deter child abuse nor enforced. The United Nations reported in July that hundreds of children were killed or maimed and approximately 1,000 arrested in postcoup demonstrations and clashes. The chairperson of the Child Rights Convention described children as “under siege” since the coup.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender. The minimum age for Buddhists is 18, while the minimum age for non-Buddhists is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Child marriage occurred, especially in rural areas. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), a Bangkok-based international NGO, characterized the problem of children experiencing sexual abuse and violence as “widespread,” despite the scarcity of data. Lifetime migrants constituted 20 percent of the country’s population, and the children who accompany them faced higher risks of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and trafficking, according to UNICEF.

The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including pimping; separate provisions within the penal code prohibit sex with a minor younger than 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and specifies a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a modest fine. The law on child rights prescribes a penalty of one to seven years in prison, a substantial fine, or both, for sex trafficking and forced marriage. If a survivor is younger than 14, the law considers any sexual act to constitute statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years in prison when the survivor is between ages 12 and 14, and 10 years to life in prison when the survivor is younger than 12. The law against trafficking in persons requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense. The deposed civilian government introduced these laws. ECPAT cited a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms as well as publicly available data to ascertain the effectiveness of implementation.

Displaced Children: The United Nations estimated that as of October there were more than 589,000 IDPs, approximately 37 percent of whom were 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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, although insufficient barriers exist for the use of forced labor by the military and penal institutions. The law also provides for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others. The law provides criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. The penalties were commensurate with analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The regime did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the areas where significant conflict was occurring.

In early 2020 the government established a forced-labor complaints mechanism under the Ministry of Labor. There were no data available on the functioning of or the number of cases reported to or processed by the mechanism since the coup. The ILO expressed profound concern over practices of the military authorities, including the use of forced labor.

The regime threatened CDM members with criminal charges if they did not return to work (see also section 7.a.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, although the regime did not meaningfully enforce the law. The law sets the minimum age at 14 for work in certain sectors, including shops and factories; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. There is, however, no minimum age for work for all sectors in which children were employed, including agriculture and informal work. The law prohibits employees younger than 16 from working in a hazardous environment, but the government did not issue a list of hazardous jobs. Some sector-specific laws identify activities that are prohibited for children younger than 18. Penalties under the Child Rights Law were analogous to other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children worked mostly as street vendors, refuse collectors, restaurant and teashop attendants, garment workers, and domestic workers. Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (see also section 6). Children were also vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture and forestry, gem production, begging, and other fields. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations that potentially involved forced labor. Child labor was also reported in the extraction of rubies and jade and the manufacture of rubber and bricks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination. Restrictions against women in employment exist based on social and cultural practices and beliefs. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred from them by hiring practices and cultural barriers. Women were not legally prohibited from any employment except in underground mines. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

There were reports that government and private actors practiced discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and undercut their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTQI+ persons. Activists reported limited job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons and noted a general lack of support from society. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in 2019, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In May 2020 voters elected President Evariste Ndayishimiye, members of the National Assembly (lower house), and commune councils. The government allowed the main opposition party to participate and campaign. The elections resulted in a peaceful transfer of power but were deeply flawed with widespread reports of human rights abuses perpetrated primarily against members of the main opposition party. Numerous irregularities undermined the credibility of the process in which international observers did not participate.

The National Police of Burundi, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, Community Development and Public Security, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining order. The armed forces are under the authority of the Ministry of Defense. The National Intelligence Service, which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting members of national ethnic minority groups or indigenous peoples; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials and members of the ruling party who committed human rights abuses or were involved in corruption. Observers however continued to report intimidation and violence by members of state security forces and their proxies throughout the year. Impunity for government and ruling party officials and for their supporters and proxies remained a problem.

The Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, has no official arrest authority, but some members were involved in or responsible for numerous human rights abuses. They routinely assumed the role of state security agents and detained and turned over individuals to the official security services, in some cases after committing human rights abuses. The government investigated and prosecuted some alleged abuses by the Imbonerakure, although it did not do so consistently. Additionally, the rebel group RED-Tabara claimed responsibility for a mortar attack against Bujumbura airport, while unidentified individuals threw grenades at bus stations and other locations that killed and injured several hundred persons during the year. The government pledged to investigate and later blamed exiled opposition leaders, some allegedly linked to RED-Tabara, for the grenade attacks.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape against men and women, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law prohibits domestic abuse of a spouse, with punishment if convicted ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law uniformly, and rape and other domestic and sexual violence were serious problems.

A 2016 law provides for the creation of a special gender-based crimes court, makes gender-based violence crimes unpardonable, and provides stricter punishment for police officers and judges who conceal violent crimes against women and girls. As of November 30, the special court had not been established, and no police officers or judges had been prosecuted under the law.

The National Police’s Unit for the Protection of Minors and Morals is responsible for investigating cases of sexual violence and rape as well as those involving the trafficking of girls and women. The government-operated Humura Center in Gitega and integrated centers in Makamba, Muyinga, and Cibitoke Provinces, provided a full range of services, including legal, medical, and psychosocial services, to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including the use of threats of physical violence or psychological pressure to obtain sexual favors. Punishment for conviction of sexual harassment may range from a fine to a prison sentence of one month to two years. The sentence for sexual harassment doubles if the victim is younger than 18. The government did not actively enforce the law. There were reports of sexual harassment but no data available on its frequency or extent and no evidence of arrests made under antisexual-harassment laws.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and they had access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Men often made the final decisions regarding family planning.

The government provided free prenatal and postpartum services. There were no restrictions on access to contraceptives; the contraceptive prevalence rate was 29 percent. Health clinics and NGOs freely disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health. Faith-based clinics promoted the use of traditional family planning methods.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence.

The 2016-2017 Demographic and Health Survey estimated the maternal mortality rate at 548 per 100,000 live births. According to the Ministry of Health, severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications during delivery, and unsafe abortions were the leading causes of maternal mortality. Other causes included effects from disease, such as malaria, or were related to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Mothers and pregnant women suffered from lack of access to adequate medical care, particularly in rural areas.

World Health Statistics indicated the adolescent birth rate was 54 per 1,000 in 2019. Leading causes of high adolescent birth rates likely included high rates of poverty and widespread lack of reproductive health education. Ministry of Education policy requires pregnant girls to stop attending classes until one year after they give birth or if they provide medical records showing the pregnancy ended.

There were reports of social and cultural barriers related to menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene that impacted women and girls’ ability to participate equally in society, including limits on girls’ access to education. Human rights organizations reported that lack of knowledge led to misconceptions, taboos, and negative cultural and social norms around menstruation. As a result, women and girls experienced negative health consequences and higher rates of school absenteeism and poor educational outcomes. Additionally, menstruation stigma prevented women and girls from seeking treatment for menstruation-related disorders or pain. They also refrained from taking certain jobs or were not able to work because of menstruation stigma.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal status for women and men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality. Women faced legal, economic, and societal discrimination, including regarding inheritance and marital property laws. Traditional practices continued to control distribution of assets in favor of men and boys. A woman does not inherit her father’s land and was expected to work on and benefit from the land of her husband.

By law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but the government did not effectively enforce the law (see section 7.d.). Some employers suspended the salaries of women on maternity leave, and others refused medical coverage to married female employees. The government provided only limited resources to enforce labor laws in general and did not enforce antidiscrimination laws effectively.

The law requires unmarried couples who cohabit to legalize their relationships through church or state registrations. On September 28, the minister of interior requested citizens to report any local authorities in unmarried cohabitation so that they would be suspended from their government jobs.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal in worth and dignity and that all citizens enjoy the same rights and are entitled to the same protections under the law. No citizens may be excluded from social, economic, or political life of the country based on his or her race, language, religion, sex, or ethnic origin. In addition, the constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent; however, according to a Ligue Iteka report published in February, the ethnic quota was not respected in many public institutions. The constitution designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which constituted approximately 1 percent of the population. There were no reports that police or other government officials incited, perpetuated, condoned, or tolerated violence or discrimination based on ethnicity.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that citizenship derives from one’s parents. The government registers, without charge, the births of all children if registered within a few days of birth. An unregistered child may not have access to some public services including free health care for children younger than five and free access to basic education, according to UNICEF.

Education: Education is tuition free, compulsory, and universal through the primary level, but students are responsible for paying for books and uniforms. Secondary students must pay token tuition fees per quarter; secondary school is not compulsory. Throughout the country provincial officials charged parents informal fees for schooling at all levels (see also section 6, Women, Reproductive Rights). Girls suffered from lower school enrollment rates and higher dropout rates. Contributing factors included cultural norms that favored boys obtaining education and girls engaging in domestic and agricultural work at home, preparing for marriage, and early pregnancies.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against or abuse of children, but child abuse was a widespread problem. In December the CNIDH acknowledged that there were cases of various forms of child abuse in the country and indicated the commission was carrying out a study to provide the government with more information on the problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Forced marriages are illegal, although they reportedly occurred with frequency in Muslim communities. The Ministry of the Interior discouraged imams from officiating at illegal marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. There were no prosecutions during the year.

Women and girls were smuggled to other countries in Africa and the Middle East, sometimes using falsified documents, putting them at high risk of exploitation.

Displaced Children: According to the IOM, there were approximately 61,000 internally displaced children in the country as of September (see also section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). Thousands of children were homeless throughout the country, some of them HIV and AIDS orphans. The government provided street children with minimal educational support and relied on NGOs for basic services, such as medical care and economic support. Independent observers reported that children who were homeless faced brutality and theft by police. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of persons, including children, living on the streets continued.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The penalty for conviction of forced labor trafficking was commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspections and remediation were inadequate. Workplace inspectors had authority to impose fines at their own discretion. Three convictions for child trafficking were reported.

Children and young adults were coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in the south, small-scale menial labor in gold mines, carrying river stones for construction in Bujumbura, work aboard fishing vessels, or engaging in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities (see section 7.c.). Forced labor also occurred in domestic service and charcoal production.

Citizens were required to participate in community work each Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Although enforcement of this requirement was rare, there were sporadic reports that communal administrators fined residents who failed to participate, and members of the Imbonerakure or police sometimes harassed or intimidated individuals who did not participate, especially when senior officials attended the community work sessions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor including all forms of slavery or analogous practices, work to repay debt obligations, sale or trafficking, forced recruitment for use in armed conflicts, recruitment or use in commercial sexual exploitation, production of pornographic material or shows, or obscene dancing, all work in any type of illegal activity, including production and trafficking of drugs, and any type of work that, by its nature or work conditions, tends to degrade the health, security, dignity, or morals of a child. The minimum age requirement for employment is 16 years, although there are exceptions for light work within the context of apprenticeship (age 14) and in certain cases that must be approved by the Labor Ministry if the child is at least age 15 and not a student. This law generally does not apply to children working outside of a formal employment contract. The law prohibits children from working at night and limits them to 40 hours’ work per week. Although the law was not enforced in the informal sector, the Labor Ministry stated that informal employment falls under its purview.

The Labor Ministry is responsible for the enforcement of laws on child labor and had many instruments for this purpose, including criminal sanctions, fines, and court orders. The ministry, however, did not effectively enforce the law, primarily due to the insufficient number of inspectors. As a result, the ministry enforced the law only when a complaint was filed. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. During the year authorities did not report receiving any cases of child labor in the formal sector, nor did they conduct surveys on child labor in the informal sector.

Compulsory education ends at age 15, rendering children ages 15 to 16 vulnerable to forced labor. In rural areas children younger than 16 were often responsible for contributing to their families’ and their own subsistence and were regularly employed in heavy manual labor during the day, including during the school year, especially in agriculture. Children working in agriculture could be forced to carry heavy loads and use machines and tools that could be dangerous. They also herded cattle and goats, which exposed them to harsh weather conditions and forced them to work with large or dangerous animals. Many children worked in the informal sector, such as in family businesses, selling in the streets, and working in small local brickworks. There were numerous instances of children being employed as beggars, including forced begging by children with disabilities.

In urban areas, child domestic workers were prevalent. Almost all worked in the informal sector and lacked formal contracts. Reports indicated that an increased number of children from the Twa ethnic group were being transported from rural areas to Bujumbura with promises of work and subsequently were exploited. Child domestic workers were often isolated from the public. Some were only given housing and fed instead of being paid for their work. Some employers, who did not pay the salaries of children they employed as domestic servants, accused them of stealing, and children were sometimes imprisoned on false charges. Child domestic workers could be forced to work long hours, some employers exploited them sexually, and girls were disproportionately impacted.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against any group but rather provides for equal rights. The constitution recognizes workers’ right to equal pay for equal work, but women faced discrimination regarding pay and access to equal employment, and authorities did not prosecute any violations of this equal rights requirement. Women were excluded from some jobs, and a government decree prohibits women from performing in traditional drumming groups.

The government did not enforce the law in all sectors. Much of the country’s economic activity took place in the informal sector, where protection from discrimination was generally not provided. Some persons claimed membership in the ruling party was a prerequisite for formal employment in the public and private sectors. Members of the Twa ethnic minority, who in many cases lacked official documentation, were often excluded from opportunities in the formal economy. Persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.

The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.

Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since survivors often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape, nor does it specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

During the year there were allegations that persons associated with the government raped women and children. Authorities investigated the allegations in some cases but denied the reports in other cases. On August 2, HRW reported that on June 8-9, members of the security forces raped a 53-year-old woman in the Northwest Region. Authorities did not order any investigation into the allegations (see also sections 1.a, 1.c., and 1.g.).

On April 29, Yaya Hamza Bamanga, an examining magistrate at the Koung-Khi High Court in Bandjoun, charged senior police inspector Asso’o Simon Jean with aggravated rape of a student (see also section 1.c.).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons and prohibits genital mutilation for all women, including women ages 18 and older and girls younger than 18. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. According to estimates by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), FGM/C prevalence among girls ages 15 to 19 between 2004 and 2018 was zero percent. On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family Marie Therese Obama met the Muslim community at the Yaounde Briquetterie neighborhood to raise awareness concerning FGM/C. Although the practice was gradually dying out as indicated by statistical data collected during the previous 10 years, the minister said she believed it continued in some areas. As in the previous year, anecdotal reports suggested children were subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the deceased husband, including the marital home. The government included provisions in the law outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows were subject to certain trials such as bathing in public or movement restrictions, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders may be subject to imprisonment for periods of six months to one year and a fine. If the survivor is a minor, the penalty may be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the survivor’s teacher, the penalty may increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread and there were no reports during the year that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment, in part due to sexual harassment survivors’ reluctance to file official complaints for fear of reprisal and or stigmatization.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The Ministry of Public Health offered counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. Many women, however, lacked the means to manage their reproductive health, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing reproductive health within certain communities. Women’s dependence on receiving their husbands’ consent continued to be a barrier in contraceptive decisions.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence through the development of policies to protect survivors of gender-based violence, legal support to survivors via the judiciary network, general clinical care offered in health facilities, and collection of data through the District Health Information System and provision of situational analysis. Many of the prevention and basic support programs for survivors of gender-based violence were implemented by community-based organizations.

The Ministry of Health did not provide emergency contraception for survivors of gender-based violence. UNFPA provided a kit with emergency contraception as part of post-gender-based violence clinical care. These kits were offered in a few clinical sites that provided services to gender-based violence survivors.

UNFPA indicated that as of mid-September the contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using any method was 27 percent, and 23 percent among married or in-union women ages 15 to 49. The information also indicated that contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using a modern method was 22 percent and 17 percent among married or in-union women. Unmet need for family planning among all women ages 15 to 49 was 16 percent, while it was 23 percent of married or in-union women. Access to and availability of basic social services, including sexual and reproductive health care, however, were severely limited in conflict-affected regions, and many pregnant women did not have access to adequate maternal health care.

The 36 billion CFA francs ($65.5 million) Health Check project launched in 2015 in the Adamawa, North and Far North Regions to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality came under review on March 4. Maternal and neonatal mortality decreased to 467 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and 28 neonatal deaths per 100,000 infants. Health checks were sold to women at a cost of 6,000 CFA francs ($11), which granted women access to four prenatal consultations, echography, delivery including cesarian and postnatal consultations, and a 42-day stay after delivery in a health-care facility.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women and men the same legal status and rights. The government, however, often did not enforce the law. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in some occupations and industries. Within the private sector, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states in its preamble that the State shall protect “minorities and preserve the rights of indigenous populations in accordance with the law,” but it does not mention specific categories that qualify as minorities or indigenous populations. The laws and regulations on decentralization and elections also protect the rights of minorities by requiring that lists of candidates reflect the sociological landscape of constituencies, or that the office of president of a regional council or city mayor be held by a native of the constituency. The government made efforts to enforce these provisions, but some forms of discrimination and violence persisted.

While there were no reliable reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities, there were reports of violence along ethnic lines during the year, although it was not always clear whether ethnicity was the primary reason for the violence.

On September 8, in Tonga, Nde division of the West Region, four persons were killed and several others injured in clashes between IDPs from the Northwest and Southwest Regions and local Bamileke communities. The conflict reportedly started when an Anglophone IDP killed a young Bamileke who was accused of theft. The local gendarmerie legionnaire station was reportedly burned down during the clashes between the communities.

On December 5, clashes between the Mousgoum and Arab Choa ethnic groups regarding control of water resources broke out in the Logone and Chari division of the Far North Region, leaving 22 persons dead, approximately 30 injured, and tens of thousands displaced in Chad, according to UNHCR. Thousands of persons fled to neighboring Chad for safety. Approximately 30 other persons died in similar clashes earlier in August.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents, but not through birth in the country’s territory; the responsibility to register a child’s birth falls upon parents. Birth registration was provided on a nondiscriminatory basis, but many births went unregistered because children were not always born in health facilities. Also, many parents faced problems in reaching local government offices. A diagnostic study and the complementary evaluation of the civil status system conducted in 2016 revealed that the low level of birth registration was due to a multitude of factors, including administrative obstacles linked, among other things, to the nonfunctioning of civil status centers or their remoteness from the populations. In addition existing regulations that established the free declaration and registration of births were not respected in health facilities and in civil registration centers. Ignorance of laws and regulations and the neglect of the populations also contributed to inadequate birth registration. Children without birth certificates were unable to register for official examinations to enter secondary school or secure legally required identity documents.

Offices of Civil Affairs were located within municipal councils in each subdivision, and in many rural or remote areas, they were in civil status centers. In some jurisdictions parents would need to travel more than 15 miles to find an operational civil administrative office. Parents have until 90 days after a child is born to register the birth. After that time, a birth may only be registered by appealing to the local district prosecutor. To adjudicate and notarize official birth documents, a family would be expected to pay 15,000 to 25,000 CFA francs ($27-$46) and face bureaucratic obstacles, which most families from rural communities would struggle to afford, forcing many parents to abandon the process early. The president of the court sets the price to execute summary judgements, and the price for the execution varied by division and region.

According to a Ministry of Basic Education report released in March, an estimated 36 percent of the nearly five million primary students registered for the 2020-21 academic year did not have birth certificates. On March 8, Far North Region Governor Midjiyawa Barkary issued a report in which he said 40.6 percent of primary school students in the Far North Region did not have birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education up to the age of 12. The law punishes parents with sufficient means who refuses to send their child to school with a fine. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at 12 years of age. Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

A 2019 UN Women report highlighted gender disparity in education, particularly in secondary education. According to the report, the literacy rate in 2019 was lower for women and girls (86 percent) than for men and boys (97 percent).

During the year separatists ordered boycotts and attacked schools in the Southwest and Northwest Regions that continued to disrupt the normal school operations. According to the United Nations, two of three schools in the two regions were closed. Several teachers were killed or kidnapped during the year. On November 24, suspected separatist gunmen killed four students and one teacher in the Government Bilingual High School in Ekondi-Titi in the Southwest Region. At the beginning of the school year, school attendance in rural communities remained notably lower than school attendance in urban areas.

On January 9, according to credible accounts, separatists shot and killed a school principal in Ossing, a village in Mamfe subdivision of the Southwest Region. Local reports suggest the principal was attacked and shot in his neighborhood after returning from school that day. On February 2, armed separatists stormed Bamessing in Ngoketunjia division of the Northwest Region, killed two civilians for allegedly being traitors. On March 8, separatist fighters attacked a bus transporting passengers out of the Northwest Region at Akum, killing four civilians and wounding several others.

UNICEF reported that on June 6, members of an armed group attacked a religious center in Mamfe, Southwest Region, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding a 16-year-old boy.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and situations where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child. Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school. Boko Haram continued to abduct children for use as child soldiers or as suicide bombers (see section 1.g.), and adults, including persons associated with the government sexually assaulted children.

According to an article published in the daily newspaper La Nouvelle Expression on June 21, approximately 30 cases of rape of minors were recorded in 17 months in the country. The article followed a survey conducted by Griote TV on the Day of the African Child. The authors claimed that between January and May, they identified at least 30 cases of child sexual abuse, with the survivors between three and 13 years of age, and that after investigation and discussions with families, it was clear that most of the sexual assaults involved members of the government security forces.

As of July 2, the West Region-based Association pour le developpement economique et la gouvernante locale (ADEGEL) claimed it documented 76 cases of physical violence perpetrated by men against young girls ages 12 to 14 in the Noum division, including 34 cases in Foumbot and 42 in Koptamou. ADEGEL highlighted the case of a 13-year-old girl who was gang-raped in mid-April by five men. Due to injuries suffered in the abuse, the survivor underwent restorative surgery with assistance from ADEGEL. The organization was in the process of compiling a file to share with the prosecutor’s office, but as of October ADEGEL members had been unable to identify the assailants.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between ages 20 to 24 were married before age 18 and 11 percent were married before age 15. Early and forced marriages, as well as abusive “temporal marriages,” were more prevalent in the northern part of the country and some parts of the West Region, especially in the Noun division. As of July 2, ADEGEL stated it had documented 12 cases of forced marriage in Foumbot and petitioned the Court of First Instance to nullify the marriages. In March, however, the case files were completely destroyed after the court was set on fire following the death of an inmate.

Servitas Cameroon, a nonprofit organization which aims to support and empower women and young girls, documented the case of a 13-year-old girl forcefully married to a man who was more than four times her age at the time. She endured eight years of violence and isolation, which resulted in the birth of three children before she reached the age of 18, when a marriage certificate was issued. A consortium of civil society organizations, including Servitas and Women’s Counseling and Information Center, assisted the survivor. The NGO consortium reported that they were pursuing legal action to nullify the marriage, and that the case was pending before the Wouri High Court in Douala.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale, offering, or procuring for child sex trafficking and practices related to child pornography. The country’s legal framework requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law does not set a minimum age for consensual sex. According to anecdotal reports, traffickers exploited children younger than 18 in sex trafficking, although no statistics were available. Anecdotal reports suggested the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions had contributed to a dramatic increase in child sex trafficking and number of early pregnancies, especially in areas with IDPs. Reports suggested the Bonaberi neighborhood in Douala was a hub for the sexual exploitation of underage IDP girls.

Displaced Children: Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of urban centers, although the number was in decline because of stringent security measures and a law that criminalizes vagrancy. According to estimates of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 2,170 separated children and 1,790 unaccompanied children in the Far North Region as of 2020 (Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment (MSNA), December 2020, IOM), including IDPs, returnees, out-of-camp refugees, and other migrants (see also sections 2.e. and 2.f.). During the year, among 3,369 households interviewed, 5 percent of 18,000 children were either unaccompanied or separated (Return Intention Survey, November 2021, IOM). These children faced many obstacles including limited access to school, health, and protection.

Thousands of children were affected by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. These children faced significant abuses of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike. According to the August MSNA, there were approximately 769 unaccompanied and 8,320 separated children in the Northwest and Southwest Regions among the displaced population. These children faced many problems, including limited access to school, health care, protection, and risk of being recruited into armed groups. The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking, limited labor inspection and remediation resources, and regular conflation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. In addition due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting out-of-court settlements. Anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region continued. Many members of the Kirdi, a predominately Christian and animist ethnic group enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation in room and board and generally low and unregulated wages, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable alternative options.

Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 may not legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and commercial sex. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between the ages of 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at the age of 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including cocoa production. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children younger than the minimum age of employment tended to be involved in agriculture, fishing and livestock, the service industry, sex work, and artisanal gold mining. Children in refugee or IDP camps were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation. Reports also indicated some internally displaced children from the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions were exploited in farm work, and children who escaped child and early marriages often ended up as survivors of sexual exploitation, especially in the Noun division of the West region. There were reports of underage children associated with nonstate armed groups in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest Regions. In agriculture children were exposed to hazardous conditions, including climbing trees, handling heavy loads, using machetes, and handling agricultural chemicals. Children in artisanal gold mines and gravel quarries spent long hours filling and transporting wheelbarrows of sand or gravel, breaking stones without eye protection, and digging and washing the soil or mud, sometimes in stagnant water, to extract minerals. These activities left children vulnerable to physical injuries, waterborne diseases, and exposure to mercury. Children worked as street vendors; in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions; and largely alongside families and rather than for formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Quranic schools.

Traffickers exploited children in domestic service and restaurants, as well as begging or vending on streets and highways. Additionally, criminal elements forced children to work in artisanal gold mining, gravel quarries, fishing, animal breeding, and agriculture (on onion, cotton, tea, and cocoa plantations), as well as in urban transportation assisting bus drivers and in construction to run errands, work, or provide security. Media reports indicated exploitation in the country’s fishing sector was widespread. Extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, forced children to work as scouts, porters, and cooks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against or penalties for discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, and gender identity especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.

Credible reports of discrimination against workers with disabilities persisted. For example, Bonfeu Eric Michel, a visually impaired citizen and disability rights activist, complained to the president that despite his qualifications and antidiscrimination laws, multiple state-owned and private companies refused to hire him due to his visual impairment.

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair multiparty federal election held in September, the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and formed a minority government.

Federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous police forces maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but in exceptional cases may exercise some domestic security responsibility at the formal request of civilian provincial authorities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reports to the Department of Public Safety, and the armed forces report to the Department of National Defense. Provincial and municipal police report to their respective provincial authorities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; crimes involving violence against indigenous women and girls; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting Black, Asian, Jewish, and Muslim minorities.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry prison sentences of up to 10 years, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. Most victims of sexual assault were women.

The law provides protections against domestic violence for both men and women, although most victims were women. Although the law does not define specific domestic violence offenses, assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault charges apply to acts of domestic violence. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Police received training in interacting with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse.

The law was appropriately enforced, but a study prepared for federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice and released to the public in 2018 acknowledged challenges in reporting, investigating, and prosecuting sexual assault cases. Crimes of sexual assault were self-reported, and the majority of incidents were not reported to police. According to studies in 2014 by the federal department of justice, 83 percent of survivors of sexual assault did not report their assaults to police in that year. Of all sexual assaults reported to and substantiated by police from 2009 to 2014, 43 percent resulted in police laying a charge, 21 percent proceeded to court, and 12 percent resulted in a criminal conviction over the six-year period. Indigenous women and girls were disproportionately victims of sexual abuse. In 2014 indigenous women reported a sexual assault rate of 115 incidents per 1,000 population, significantly higher than the rate of 35 per 1,000 reported by nonindigenous women.

Approximately 1,180 indigenous women disappeared or were killed from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indigenous advocates and a report issued in 2019 by the government-commissioned National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) stated the number was probably far higher, since many deaths had gone unreported. Indigenous women and girls made up an estimated 5 percent of the country’s women but represented 16 percent of the women killed, according to government statistics. Indigenous women and children were also at high risk of human trafficking.

The NIMMIWG concluded in 2019 that the government’s treatment of indigenous peoples amounted to “deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide,” that the harm continued, and that it required immediate remedy. On June 1, two years after the NIMMIWG report and one year later than the government had originally promised an official response, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said it had “lost confidence” in the government and released its own NIMMIWG action plan without waiting for government action. NWAC is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that had originally spurred creation of the NIMMIWG. On June 3, the government released its National Action Plan in response to the NIMMIWG inquiry’s 231 recommendations. The government attributed the delay to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan committed C$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion) over five years and C$160.9 million ($127 million) for data collection, counseling and support services, culture, health, justice, safety, and security, and to combat human trafficking. It committed to no timeline for action.

The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and to advance women’s human rights. The government continued a national strategy begun in 2017 to prevent and address gender-based violence, budgeting C$101 million ($77.8 million) over five years and C$20.7 million ($16.6 million) annually thereafter to create a center of excellence within Status of Women Canada for research, data collection, and programming, and to provide support for prevention, victim and family support, public education, justice, training, and programming. The 2018 federal budget allocated an additional C$86 million ($66 million) over five years, starting in 2018-19, and C$20 million ($15.4 million) per year thereafter, to expand the strategy with a focus on preventing teen-dating violence, bullying, and cyberbullying; health care for victims; investigative policing; police training; research; funding for rape crisis and sexual assault centers; and programs to prevent gender-based violence in postsecondary educational institutions. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society.

In July preliminary findings from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability’s (CFOJA) midyear report found 92 women and girls were killed between January and June, 79 of whom were killed by men. Indigenous women accounted for 12 percent of femicide victims, despite comprising 5 percent of the country’s population. The CFOJA reported 60 women and girls were victims of femicide in 2020. NGOs reported higher demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic and attributed increases in domestic partner fatalities in part to the stress of societal lockdowns. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses reported an increase of domestic violence fatalities in Ontario of more than 84 percent, from 19 to 35 in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2020.

On April 23, the Quebec government allocated C$223 million ($173.4 million) over five years to combat gender-based violence, including C$90 million ($70 million) for women’s shelters. The new money, combined with allocations in the provincial budget in March and previous commitments, totaled C$425 million ($330.5 million) over five years. According to the Quebec public security minister, as of October, 16 women had been killed by their male partners in Quebec, a significant increase from an average of 12 deaths in the province attributed to domestic violence in a calendar year.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and prosecutes the offense, including parents of minors, as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. FGM/C occurred on occasion, predominantly in diaspora communities. While internal government reports leaked to media asserted that FGM/C practitioners and victims often traveled to the country of the practitioners’ origin for the illegal procedure, officials also sought to prevent the entry of FGM/C practitioners into the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law offers protections from sexual harassment at the workplace but does not articulate a specific offense of “sexual harassment” outside of work; instead, it criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions had internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provided public education and guidance.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government. A class action suit filed in 2017 against the province of Saskatchewan by at least 60 indigenous women who claimed physicians in the provincial health system subjected them to coerced sterilization or sterilization without proper or informed consent between 1972 and 2017 remained in progress as of November.

No significant legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception; cost was cited as the most important barrier to contraception access in the country, particularly for young and low-income women and indigenous women in northern or remote communities where menstrual products and other imported consumer goods cost significantly more than in southern and urban communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in hospitals and through dedicated sexual assault care centers, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.

Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Skilled health attendants were available during pregnancy and childbirth and were publicly funded; however, women in rural, remote, and Arctic areas had more difficulty accessing care. Although the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2018 was low at 8.5 per 100,000 live births, a 2016 medical study reported indigenous women had a two times higher risk of maternal mortality than the national average and a higher risk of adverse outcomes, including stillbirth, perinatal death, low-birth weight infants, prematurity, and infant deaths. The country’s birth rate among females 15 to 19 years of age was 6.3 per 1,000 in 2019, the latest available figure, and varied widely by province. In Ontario, the most populous province that includes multiple urban centers, the birth rate was 4.3 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. In the rural northern territory of Nunavut – 86 percent of the population of which was indigenous – the rate was 97.3 per 1,000. The country’s national statistical agency cited low income, overcrowded or inadequate housing, lack of a high school diploma, and lack of access to sexual health education and contraception as social determinants of higher birth rates among indigenous adolescents.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The government enforced these rights effectively.

In May the government released 2020 data regarding female representation and diversity on the corporate boards of approximately 669 publicly traded companies in the country required by law to disclose annual diversity data. Women held 25 percent of all senior management positions in the identified companies and 50 percent had at least one woman on their board of directors. Fourteen percent had set targets for the representation of women on their boards and 32 percent had written policies relating to the identification and nomination of women for board seats. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed to 87 cents for women for every dollar earned by men in 2018 (latest available figures), except at the top of corporate structures. The agency attributed the change to women’s higher rates of public-sector work, unionization, and higher educational attainment and cited factors such as differences in the industries where men and women work, and the higher likelihood for women to work part-time, for the continuing gap.

An April 20 ruling by Quebec’s Superior Court upheld most of a provincial law that bans specific public employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. The Superior Court judge acknowledged the law violated the rights of Muslim women and had “cruel” and “dehumanizing” consequences for those who wore religious symbols but concluded it did not violate the country’s constitution. The province had shielded the law by invoking a constitutional override provision that allows a province to suspend protected rights for a period of five years. The judge, however, struck down the application of the law for two worker categories: members of the provincial National Assembly and those working for Anglophone school boards. Under the law judges, lawyers, police officers, and teachers in the majority Francophone public school system continued to be prohibited from wearing visible religious symbols at work. The two-tiered ruling was seen by minority rights groups as a major setback that they said would perpetuate violation of religious freedom and permit the continuation of legal discrimination in the province – especially against Muslim women. The judge remarked in his ruling that persons who “fall into this category can no longer seek out new jobs in the public service without compromising their beliefs.”

In June the Quebec government appealed the Superior Court ruling, which remained pending as of November. The government’s appeal paused the exemption from the law for Anglophone school boards; the English Montreal School Board asked the Quebec Court of Appeal for a temporary exemption to allow them to hire staff before the appeal was decided. A judicial decision on the temporary exemption also remained pending as of November. Separately, Muslim and civil rights organizations in Quebec in May said they would appeal the Superior Court ruling. Their appeal remained pending as of November.

First Nations women living on reservations (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or may enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution, the law, and federal and provincial human rights laws provide for equal rights, protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination, and provide redress. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of discrimination and violence against ethnic minority groups and racial profiling by police. In July the government’s national statistical agency reported 2,669 hate crimes, up from 1,951 in 2019, a 37 percent increase and the highest number since comparable data became available in 2009. The increase was largely the result of hate incidents targeting the Black population (up 318 incidents and 92 percent from 2019) and the East or Southeast Asian population (up 202 incidents and 301 percent as of 2019).

On January 28, Montreal police arrested a Black man, charged him with attempted murder, assaulting a police officer, and disarming a police officer, and detained him for six nights after an officer was attacked at a separate location following a traffic stop. The man was exonerated and cleared of all charges on February 5, and Montreal’s police chief apologized to him. Police denied the man had been racially profiled, and a public inquiry led by a Quebec Superior Court justice concurred on September 3. The judge found that both police and the prosecutor who authorized the charges acted lawfully and reasonably. The judge reported investigators made technical errors that delayed the man’s release and recommended improvements in police training and procedures. Lawyers for the man described the judicial report as “one-sided” and confirmed the man would continue with a suit seeking redress for the wrongful arrest and detention that he had filed in July against the city and the province. The suit remained in progress as of October.

Police forces in major cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, reported an increase in incidents of harassment, violence, and graffiti based on race, ethnicity, or skin color against Asians between 2019 and 2020, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Verbal harassment, targeted coughing and spitting, and physical aggression reportedly accounted for the majority of the incidents. According to the Vancouver Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes in the city increased seven-fold in 2020. A June 8 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found 58 percent of Asian respondents to the survey said they had experienced at least one incident of anti-Asian discrimination in the previous year; 86 percent of those polled said the discrimination was societal, not institutional. On June 17, police charged two individuals with mischief after they allegedly threw a hot beverage at an Asian staff member and uttered racist slurs at a coffee shop in Richmond, British Columbia, on March 29 after the employee asked them to maintain social distance between customers. A British Columbia court scheduled a hearing for the case in November. On August 18, the British Columbia Human Rights Commission launched a year-long public inquiry to investigate the increase in hate crime incidents in the province during the pandemic. The commission will not hold public hearings but will solicit expert and public written testimony and report in 2022.

The prime minister and government ministers condemned anti-Asian racism and “scapegoating” for the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the federal budget allocated C$11 million ($8.6 million) over two years to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to combat racism during the pandemic and to establish a national coalition to support Asian-Canadian communities. In 2019 the government announced a C$45 million ($35.7 million) Anti-Racism Strategy over three years to combat racism and discrimination, including creation of an Anti-Racism Secretariat to coordinate initiatives across government, conduct outreach and public education, and engage indigenous people and community groups. On August 4, the government allocated C$96 million ($76 million) to Black community groups to support capacity and workspace development in addition to C$25 million ($20 million) in 2019 and C$350 million ($277.5 million) in 2020 to support Black entrepreneurs and address barriers to access to credit and systemic racism.

The government held a national emergency summit on anti-Semitism on July 21 and a separate summit on Islamophobia on July 22 to raise awareness, conduct public education, engage communities, and identify best practices to combat discrimination. The prime minister addressed both summits, and elected officials were invited to attend. The country’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism participated in the summit on July 21. In October the prime minister confirmed the government had made the role of special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism a permanent office with dedicated funding.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately and are neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage with parental consent. Early marriages were not known to be a major problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, sale, grooming, offering, or procuring children for commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living from the proceeds of child sex trafficking face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to child sex trafficking face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than age 18 face between six months’ and 10 years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage girls, were exploited in sex trafficking. The country was a destination for child sex tourism, and Canadian tourists committed child sex tourism crimes abroad. Children from indigenous communities; at-risk youth; runaway youth; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) children; and youth in the child welfare system were at high risk for trafficking.

The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.

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

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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced the law, although NGOs said enforcement lacked resources. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes. The government’s efforts to identify victims and address forced labor, through both law enforcement and victim identification and protection measures, remained inadequate.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers. Forced labor, fraud, coercion, and the withholding of identity and travel documents from workers was a criminal offense with penalties that include imprisonment. The government’s national strategy to combat human trafficking committed to prevent human trafficking in federal procurement supply chains. In August the government’s procurement agency, Public Services and Procurement Canada, updated its code of conduct for procurement for vendors supplying products and services to the government that included new provisions relating to human and labor rights, and to mitigate risks in supply chains. The government amended its Customs Tariff Act in 2020 to prohibit the importation of all goods produced, in whole or in part, by forced or compulsory labor, irrespective of their country of origin. There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. During the pandemic there were also reports that some employers barred migrant workers from leaving the work location, hired private security to prevent workers from leaving, and deducted inflated food and supply costs from their wages. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of identified cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In July the government announced amended regulations to improve protections for migrant workers, including mandating that employers inform workers of their rights, prohibiting reprisals for workers who file complaints, requiring employers to provide access to health care and health insurance, strengthening employment assessments of applications from employers, and increasing the frequency and scope of enforcement inspections. NGOs cited lack of oversight and enforcement of quarantine and isolation for outbreaks of the virus among migrant agricultural workers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives) and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, were subjected to sex trafficking – including child sex tourism – and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, national origin or citizenship, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, and refugee status. Refugees and statelessness NGOs reported stateless persons may have difficulty in obtaining legal employment. The law does not include restrictions on women’s employment concerning working hour limits, occupations, or tasks. In 2019 Quebec used a legal exemption to override constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols – including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, and crosses – by certain public-sector employees in the province to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin or “social condition.” Some provinces list political opinion as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but the federal Human Rights Act does not extend this protection to federally regulated workers. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were generally commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Federal law requires equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers generally have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although workers in specific sectors such as agriculture or caregiving were exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces. NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president for a second five-year term in the first round during December 2020 presidential and legislative elections marred by widespread violence. In December 2020 six armed groups formerly in the peace process combined to form a new alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change, led by former president Francois Bozize, and called for a suspension of the electoral process and the establishment of national consultations. These groups significantly disrupted the presidential and legislative elections. More than half of the country’s polling stations were unable to return results primarily due to insecurity, and only an estimated 37 percent of all registered voters were able to cast votes for the presidential elections. As a result of election-related insecurity, President Touadera requested support from the Russian Federation government, which facilitated the deployment of a Russian private military company, Wagner Group, and Rwandan forces. Several opposition leaders denounced irregularities in the elections. International observers found the elections not to be free and fair due to an increased level of violence and intimidation by armed groups. On June 11, President Touadera appointed Henri Marie Dondra as prime minister

Police and gendarmes are responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have the primary role of maintaining internal security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over security forces continued to improve but remained weak. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, along with Russian private military company elements from the Wagner Group, engaged in active combat and committed human rights abuses at a rate comparable to armed groups.

State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled some portions of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in the context of an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture and physical abuse or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles to citizens’ ability to obtain formal justice.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators. (Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic and the Union for Peace, which were formed after Seleka was dissolved in 2013. The armed group known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.)

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of physical and sexual violence, as well as sexual exploitation. The law prohibits rape of all persons regardless of gender, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by several armed rebel groups continued to threaten security, as did the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of conflict. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison and prohibits all forms of violence against women. Domestic violence against women was common, including physical and verbal abuse and spousal rape. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year for domestic violence, although many courts did not operate for much of the year due to instability throughout the country. According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 52 percent suffered verbal abuse, and 32 percent were raped.

Women and girls were particularly affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Decades of unrest and harmful traditions and cultural practices in the country exacerbated gender-based violence, in particular rape, forced marriage, and domestic violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services, to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increased the risk of spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In Bangui, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) observed a significant increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence; the number of consultations linked to such attacks in its Bangui-based Tongolo center rose from 173 in December 2020 to 421 in February. Local NGOs like the National Association for the Support of Free Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence in Situations of Distress, the Flamboyants, and the Nengo (“Dignity” in the country’s predominant Sango language) Project assisted victims of sexual violence.

Increased instances of sexual violence corresponded to rising armed group activity and clashes between CPC rebels and the FACA after December 2020. Between January and June, MINUSCA’s human rights office documented 131 incidents of sexual violence connected to the conflict, including 115 rapes. Of these, 19 cases involved government security forces and Wagner Group elements, while 112 involved CPC rebels. For example during the electoral period, 3R and Anti-balaka rebels seized control of Bouar town in Nana-Mambere Prefecture. MINUSCA recorded 21 cases of rape pursuant to this single incident.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and establishes penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. When FGM/C results in the death of the victim, sentences can reach life terms with hard labor and a substantial monetary fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women were subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. One percent of girls ages 10 to 14 were mutilated. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice appeared to be decreasing, according to 2018 data, the most recent available. Information on what may be causing this trend was unavailable.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime. In August the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The most recent available data on reproductive health is based on 2019 surveys. According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 MICS Findings Report, 82 percent of women, and 89 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 years did not use contraception. Individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law authorizes abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape. The MICS 2010 survey indicated that the abortion rate was 7 percent among women ages 15 to 45.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor contributing to the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate health care. According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the most recent available, there were 873 health-care establishments in the country, of which approximately 52 were hospitals. Of these, 50 percent were small, often rural doctor’s offices, and 44 percent were clinics. Most health-care establishments received medicine, supplies, and other support from humanitarian organizations including UN organizations, the ICRC, and Doctors Without Borders.

Only 19 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS 2018-2019). The birth rate was high at 6.4 per woman (MICS 2018-2019) and 43 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS 2018-2019). Lacking sexual and reproductive education contributed to early pregnancy among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). Only 53 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas). Data from the 2018-2019 MICS survey indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The government worked closely with the International Organization for Migration and MINUSCA to train and deploy the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children (UMIRR). UMIRR opened a new office in Bouar in September to reach victims of sexual violence in the country’s northwestern region. Emergency contraception was not widely available to women as a part of the country’s clinical management of rape. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Menstrual health and hygiene issues severely impacted girls’ ability to attend school. Socioeconomic barriers, rather than explicit policies, often prevented pregnant girls from attending school.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but the government did not enforce the formal law effectively, and discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Nomadic Peuhl pastoralists were often the victims of violence. Their cattle wealth made them frequent targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Peuhl were often perceived as foreign because of their transnational migratory patterns. They were also associated with CPC-affiliated armed groups that claimed to represent Peuhl interests. Ethnic killings often occurred in relation to transhumance movements, a major source of livelihood for Peuhl. In recent years some Peuhl pastoralists armed themselves against attacks from farmers objecting to the presence of their grazing cattle. Transhumance movements brought Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim, and Christian farming communities into conflict, which waned during the rainy season and increased as cattle movements resume during the dry season.

Intercommunal clashes also took place in June between Peul herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in the village of Tiri, near N’dele. The government took no action to prosecute or investigate these killings and many others, in view of the ongoing conflict in the country.

Peuhl community leaders reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements indiscriminately targeted Peuhl civilians during military operations against the 3R rebels in the western part of the country. International community sources assessed that the government’s moving 8,000 majority-Peuhl IDPs from a site in Bambari in June was a case of forced displacement (see also section 1.e., Internally Displaced Persons).

Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Goula/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year acts of violence were recorded between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to N’dele.

The government had no programs to address factors behind racial or ethnic biases.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration was less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately for many reasons including a registration deadline of one month, registration costs, or distances to government facilities. Many citizens’ birth certificates and civil status documents were lost during the conflict. Unregistered children were at times unable to access education and other social services. During the year NGOs assisted with documentation activities. In July the Norwegian Refugee Council held mobile hearings with courts in the town of Alindao to issue birth certificates to children in need. The initiative provided more than 3,000 children between the ages of six and 13 with identity documents.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students pay for books, supplies, and transportation. Few indigenous Ba’Aka children attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’Aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is the government’s entity charged with investigating abuses against women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2018 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls in the country married before age 18 and more than one-quarter before age 15. Early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members during the year. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In June the government enacted the Child Protection Act, which provides a lifetime sentence and significant monetary fines for trafficking in persons involving minors. The age of consent for sexual activity is 18. Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.). From January to June, MINUSCA documented 84 cases of conflict-related child rape. In June the deputy headmaster of the Castors Girls School in Bangui was arrested and imprisoned for having raped a girl, age 12.

Displaced Children: Conflict-related forced displacement disproportionately affected children. UNICEF estimated 168,000 children were internally displaced within the country; and approximately 70,000 of them were not able to return home. The situation of children already displaced remained extremely worrying, because many were separated from their families and were at greater risk of child rights violations, such as being abducted, threatened, or forced to join armed groups.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports forced labor occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. In previous years the government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of ongoing programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes but were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Government officials allegedly subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, frequently in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. There were reports of one indigenous Ba’Aka minor being removed from a situation of forced domestic labor in Bangui.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers and using them as porters and assistants at illegal checkpoints during the year (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender, minority status, and national origin. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting or prohibiting the employment of women in some tasks, jobs, and industries. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premises of businesses where employees work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

Chad

Executive Summary

Chad was by year’s end controlled by a 15-member transitional military council. On April 19, the National Independent Electoral Commission announced Idriss Deby won a sixth presidential term. Observers considered the April election neither free nor fair due to bans of public gatherings, abuses by security forces against the opposition, disqualification of opposition candidates, and numerous irregularities on election day.

The National Army of Chad, National Gendarmerie, Chadian National Police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and National Security Agency are responsible for internal security. The armed forces report to the minister delegate to the president in charge of armed forces, veterans, and war victims. The National Police, National Nomadic Guard, and a specialized gendarmerie unit (the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees) report to the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The National Security Agency reports directly to the president of the Transitional Military Council. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

On April 20, President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield while confronting Libya-based rebels. Since Chad had not constituted a Senate, according to the constitution, the powers of the Senate should have devolved to the National Assembly, whose president and first vice president declined to take power. The newly established Transitional Military Council chose the former president’s son, Army General Mahamat Idriss Deby, as its president. Deby then appointed a civilian transitional government.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by or on behalf of the government ;torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

There were reports that authorities sought to combat widespread impunity by prosecuting or punishing some government officials who committed human rights abuses or participated in corruption.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa killed numerous civilians and military personnel. At least one incident in Litri was investigated, but no prosecution had resulted as of year’s end. The political-military group Front for Change and Concord in Chad engaged in armed hostilities with armed forces in April, leading to the death of at least five troops and then president Idriss Deby.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by eight to 30 years in prison. Nevertheless, rape – including rape of female refugees – was a problem. The law does not specifically address spousal rape, the gender of victims, or domestic violence. Police often detained alleged perpetrators, but rape cases were rarely tried. Authorities fined and released most rape suspects, according to local media. Communities sometimes compelled rape survivors to marry their attackers.

Although the law prohibits violence against women, gender-based violence was widespread. Police rarely intervened, and women had limited legal recourse. On June 21, the Chadian League for Women’s Rights and other women’s associations demonstrated in N’Djamena against rape and all forms of violence faced by women.

During the year the Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood Protection worked to address gender-based violence. The ministry helped organize events against gender-based violence at universities and seminars throughout the country, and on November 25, it launched a 16-day campaign against the abuse. In December the ministry also inaugurated two hospital-based centers to address the psychosocial, medical, and social reintegration needs of survivors of gender-based violence. The ministry also took an active role in advocating for an update to the National Gender Strategy and held an event in December in support of this effort. The ministry had a leadership role in advocating for women’s rights via the G5 Sahel.

During the year local newspapers began reporting what many perceived as an increase in cases of gender-based violence. For example, on September 27, a man killed his former wife in southeastern Sila Province. In response, on September 29, CMT President Mahamat Deby responded to the wave of gender-based violence, assuring that “these abject acts, contrary to our habits and customs, will not go unpunished.” The government did not provide further information on investigations or prosecutions following the September 29 announcement.

On April 4, Niger’s National Human Rights Commission and the G5 Sahel Joint Force affirmed that Chadian soldiers engaged in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel were responsible for the rapes of several women (see section 1.c.).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women, but the practice remained widespread, particularly in rural areas. According to 2019 data from UNICEF, the latest available, approximately 29 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 were survivors of FGM/C. The Ministry of Women and Early Childhood Protection is responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM/C. By law FGM/C may be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges may be brought against the parents of survivors, medical practitioners, or others involved. Nevertheless, lack of specific penalties hindered prosecution, and authorities prosecuted no cases during the year.

NGOs cited enduring local social norms and limited federal authority in rural areas as major impediments to progress. Observers denounced ineffective local officers and ministry officials, saying that despite local NGO efforts, such initiatives would not gain traction without government action. Observers reported that FGM/C continued to have the tacit support of local leaders and had become increasingly common over the past year, with impunity and political influence hindering its eradication.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, was widespread at all levels of society and typically targeted women. The law provides penalties for sexual harassment ranging from six months to three years in prison and fines. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Many persons lacked access to reproductive information or care, particularly in rural areas. Obstacles to contraception use included the lack of education, the limited supply of contraceptive products, and cultural paradigms. The government provided some contraception products for free to the public through NGOs. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated only 24 percent of live births were attended by skilled health personnel between 2014 and 2019. The country had a severe shortage of health-care providers, including nurses, midwives, hospital staff, and specialists, such as obstetricians. Prenatal care remained limited, particularly in rural areas. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence due to capacity constraints. Emergency contraception was officially unavailable, including as part of the clinical management of rape.

UNFPA estimated that in 2017, the latest data available, the maternal mortality rate was 1,140 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to maternal mortality included adolescent pregnancies, multiple closely spaced births, and lack of access to medical care.

UNICEF reported in 2013, the latest available, the adolescent birth rate was 179 per 1,000 adolescent women ages 15 to 19. The country’s high adolescent birth rate was partially attributed to conservative cultural practices, traditional gender norms in both urban and rural areas, lack of birth control, and lack of access to family planning services.

Adolescent women reported barriers to access education due to menstruation or childbirth (see the Discrimination subsection for additional information). Peers and community members often shamed female students who become pregnant while studying, and some schools did not permit their attendance.

Discrimination: Although property and inheritance laws provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, the government did not enforce the laws effectively. Inheritance, property, and housing practices frequently discriminated against women due to cultural and religious elements present in many communities. Women often could not inherit property from their father or husband. Additionally, local leaders settled most inheritance disputes in favor of men, according to traditional practice. Women seeking to rent a house often had to prove they were married, while men were able often to rent without a similar burden. Women requesting divorce from men often faced a process that took three times as long as men asking for the same. While access to financial resources typically benefited men in child custody cases, some courts granted child custody to economically disadvantaged women who demonstrated a better ability to care for children over better-resourced men.

Women who did not enjoy access to the same resources as men often struggled to qualify for credit based on one’s resources. Female entrepreneurs reported perceptions of slowness of administrative paperwork approval relative to male peers. Female entrepreneurs also pointed to a lack of understanding of their needs, since longstanding gender norms had also filled the ranks of local administrators with a male-heavy decision chain. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed dangerous, including mining, construction, and factories.

In some ethnic groups, when a woman menstruated she was not permitted to prepare food for men to eat because she was considered “unclean.” Some religious groups prohibited a woman from praying during her menstrual period.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Both the constitution and transitional charter provide for the protection of “fundamental rights and freedoms” for all citizens and for legal equality regardless of race, origin, or religion. Members of the Zaghawa, the former president’s ethnic group, occupied a disproportionate share of civilian and military posts, creating imbalances in access to opportunity and enforcement of laws guaranteeing equal protection for all.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth within the country’s territory or from at least one parent. The registration process for male and female individuals was the same. Failure to register a birth via official channels, common in rural areas with low government presence, often resulted in later complications accessing government services and, sometimes, fines upon registration.

Education: Although primary education is tuition free, universal, and compulsory between ages six and 16, parents were required to pay for textbooks, except in some rural areas. Parents often were required to pay tuition for public secondary education. According to a UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2019 report, approximately 65 percent of girls enrolled in primary school, compared with 82 percent of boys. Similar gender disparities persisted through secondary school, where approximately 13 percent of girls enrolled, compared with 23 percent of boys.

An obstacle to education cited by human rights organizations was the problem of the mouhadjirin, migrant children who attended certain Islamic schools and whose teachers forced them to beg for food and money. There was no reliable estimate of the number of mouhadjirin.

Individuals with family and kinship ties to ruling elites from the Zaghawa ethnic group enjoyed disproportionate access to educational opportunities.

Medical Care: All children enjoy equal access to medical care before the law, but stigmatization of young pregnancies often dissuaded young women from seeking prenatal and other related care.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for men and women. According to UNICEF’s 2019 data, approximately 24 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or in a union before age 15 and nearly 61 percent were married or in a union before age 18. The law precludes invoking the consent of the minor spouse to justify child marriage and prescribes sentences of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of perpetrating child marriage. The practice, however, was widespread, especially in northern areas where there were minimal government efforts to enforce the law and resistance from local religious leaders who condoned the practice. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were often forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law specifically addresses the sale, offering, or use of children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. The law prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 14, even if married, but authorities rarely enforced the ban. The law criminalizes the use or offering of a child for the production of pornography; no cases of child pornography were reported during the year. Refugee children from CAR were particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

In May, three men were jailed on suspicion of raping a girl age 15 and leaving her on the street semiconscious. The alleged perpetrators, who were believed to the sons of military generals, filmed the assault and posted the video on social media. Between 2019 and 2020, medical professionals in N’Djamena reported a sixfold upsurge in sexual assault on girls younger than age 18 toward the end of the rainy season, attributed to rising insecurity. UNICEF confirmed this increase in incidents of gender-based violence from 2019 to 2020, including physical assault, psychological violence, and denial of resources.

Displaced Children: Insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin limited the ability of humanitarian actors to understand this population more precisely. While exact figures were not available, there was no indication that the age distribution of IDPs differed systematically from the broader population distribution and therefore contained a substantial youthful portion.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes labor trafficking offenses, including forced labor. The Ministry of Justice’s Action Plan for 2019 Ordinance on Trafficking in Persons focused on training members of the courts, local authorities, traditional and religious leaders, members of civil society, and members of enforcement agencies.

The law criminalizes “involuntary labor” or servitude using force, fraud, or coercion, although observers noted there are gaps in the law. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government engaged in forced prison labor and may legally compel political prisoners to engage in forced labor. Prison officials subjected prisoners to forced labor on private projects, separate from the penalties provided for by the legal sentence imposed on the prisoners. Human rights NGOs reported that the use of forced prison labor was common.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government did not conduct adequate inspections. There were no reports of prosecutions. Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Children and some adults in rural areas were exploited in forced labor in agriculture, industry, and services.

In coordination with the International Organization for Migration, in September the Ministry of Justice launched an interim interministerial committee to combat trafficking in persons, a problem closely related to compulsory child labor in areas where children are forced to look after livestock holdings. The committee issued standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of trafficking victims to medical care and in September conducted training sessions for security services, law enforcement, and civil society to implement the procedures. The committee began training law enforcement and judicial sector personnel immediately following the committee’s launch.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children age 16 and older to engage in some forms of hazardous work, and existing prohibitions on hazardous work do not apply to children in the informal sector. The labor code stipulates the minimum age for employment is 14. The law provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and domestic service at age 12. The legal minimum age for employment, a lack of schooling opportunities in some areas, and tribal initiation practices contributed to a general acceptance of working children if they were 14 or older, some of whom might have engaged in hazardous work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, but the law allows for children age 16 or older to engage in certain forms of hazardous work. The prohibition on children doing hazardous work does not apply to children in the informal sector. The minimum age for military recruitment is 18, and the minimum age for conscription is 20. The law prohibits the use of child soldiers.

The Child Protection Brigade of the National Police is responsible for enforcing criminal laws against child forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and use of children in illicit activities. The brigade coordinated with the Ministry of Women, Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity; the Ministry of Public Service, Employment, and Social Dialogue; and the Ministry of Justice to enforce criminal laws against child labor and hosted detachments from all three organizations to facilitate collaboration. Child labor remained widespread, but authorities did not prosecute any cases, according to officials at the Ministry of Labor. Labor laws apply to work only in formal enterprises; there are no legal protections for children working in the informal sector. Penalties for violating child labor laws were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law does not impose penalties “if the breach was the result of an error as to a child’s age, if the error was not the employer’s fault.” Police sometimes took extrajudicial action, such as arresting and detaining persons without a court warrant, against child labor offenders. Traditional leaders also sometimes meted out traditional punishments for offenses, such as ostracism, according to local human rights organizations.

While the government did not have a comprehensive plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it worked with UNICEF and NGOs to increase public awareness of child labor. Efforts continued to educate parents and civil society on the dangers of child labor, particularly for child herders.

Children provided labor, often forced, in various sectors: agriculture (cultivating and harvesting crops, production of charcoal, herding livestock, fishing), industry (brick making, carpentry, gold mining), and services (domestic work, street vending, work in restaurants as servers and barmaids, garbage scavenging, begging, tailoring, auto repair). Local children were also found in forced cattle herding in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria. Child herders often lived in substandard conditions without access to school or proper nutrition. Their parents and herders generally agreed on an informal contract for the child’s labor that included a small monthly salary and a goat after six months or a cow at the end of a year. Local NGOs reported that compensation often was not paid. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were often forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and labor regulations prohibit employment or wage discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, refugee status, national origin or citizenship, or membership in a union. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social origin. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed hazardous, arduous, or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women generally were not permitted to work at night, more than 12 hours a day, or in jobs that could present “moral or physical danger,” which is not defined.

Workers may file discrimination complaints with the Directorate of Labor Inspection, which investigates and subsequently may mediate between workers and employers. If mediation fails, the case is forwarded to the labor court for a public hearing. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. The penalties by the labor court for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Persons with disabilities frequently experienced employment discrimination. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on citizenship, foreign citizens often had difficulty obtaining work permits, earned lower wages, and had poor working conditions. LGBTQI+ persons and HIV-positive persons reported facing social and employment discrimination in all industries and avoided revealing their sexual orientation or status.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Read A Section: China

Hong Kong | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority. Communist Party members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the Communist Party Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as party general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses.

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution, including torture and sexual violence; the inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. Enforcement of laws on corruption was inconsistent and not transparent, and corruption was rampant.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws include language that protects members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively, and authorities perpetrated and promoted violence and discrimination against members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.

The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.

The government promoted Han Chinese migration into minority areas, significantly increasing the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP posts and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang.

In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” Since 2017 the government used this broad definition of extremism to detain more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in re-education or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported government security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).

Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology specifically designed to target and track Uyghurs.

The national government perpetuated and condoned policies and attitudes that promoted discrimination; minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions intentionally disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government promoted racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, and disparaged and denied the resulting complaints, cracking down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion.

Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment could be based on expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to the official news agency Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big-data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” (See section 1.f.) Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.

Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. (See sections 1.a. and 1.b.).

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability.” It requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content, and to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households. Persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones. (See section 1.f.).

Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. Throughout the year ethnic Kazakhs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan reported that PRC officials attempted to silence protests regarding their missing family members in Xinjiang. Small groups of Kazakhs often protested outside the PRC consulate in Almaty and the PRC Embassy in Nur-Sultan to demand answers concerning their families’ detention in Xinjiang. Local sources stated that PRC officials frequently called their cell phones to pressure them to stop protesting. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.

The government pressured foreign countries to forcibly repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information concerning the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited in Xinjiang. For information regarding abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside policy quotas or to single women often cannot be registered or receive other legal documents such as the hukou residence permit. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.

Government authorities in Inner Mongolia required instructors to use Mandarin to teach history and politics instead of the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which are viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and other provinces to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into commercial sex could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or a death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who paid for commercial sex with girls younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.

Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had relatives willing to care for them, the government placed the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with CCP ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions regarding their parents’ religious beliefs and practices.

In October 2020 a study on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available. According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased from 497,800 to 880,500. Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. Government policy aimed to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.

Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 2018. Voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in a second round of elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

The Colombian National Police force is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The Colombian National Police shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Attorney General’s Corps of Technical Investigators. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and arbitrary detention by government security forces and armed groups; rape and abuse of women and children, as well as unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups; criminalization of libel; widespread government corruption; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; killings and other violence against trade unionists; and child labor.

The government generally took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases continued to experience long delays. The government generally implemented effectively laws criminalizing official corruption. The government was implementing police reforms focused on enhancing community-police relations, accountability, and human rights.

Armed groups, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, National Liberation Army, and drug-trafficking gangs, continued to operate. 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, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and threats of violence against journalists, women, and human rights defenders. The government investigated these actions and prosecuted those responsible to the extent possible.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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, as well as impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of armed groups continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.

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 through July, the Attorney General’s Office opened 63,000 investigations into domestic violence, with women identified as the victim in 50,000 of those investigations.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretariat 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 imprisonment 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.

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.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law, however, allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Contraception was widely available. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive services and emergency contraception was available for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, discrimination against women persisted. There is no law prohibiting access to credit based on gender. 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.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to the 2018 national census, approximately 9.3 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. NGOs and the OHCHR reported that Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities continued to be disproportionately affected by illicit economic activities in rural territories that lacked sufficient state presence.

The government continued 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, Raizals, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

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 Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported that between January and July 31, there were approximately 8,500 cases of sexual abuse of a minor. The ICBF provided psychosocial, legal, and medical care to victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at the age of 18. Boys older than 14 and girls older than 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 age 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 armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine for violations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

On July 30, police dismantled a sex-trafficking ring operating in three cities, arresting five persons. The criminal organization behind the sex-trafficking ring deceived women with false job advertisements to lure them to China for sexual exploitation. Human traffickers recruited vulnerable women and girls in dire economic circumstances, mostly Colombians and displaced Venezuelans, into “webcam modeling.” In some cases traffickers drugged victims using fear and coercion through debt and extortion to force them to perform live-streaming sex acts. Government officials and civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the burgeoning webcam industry and its ties to sex trafficking. According to media reports, the economic fallout from COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in “webcam modeling.”

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.e.).

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/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there were reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments sufficient to deter violations. The ILO noted the law permits military conscripts to be compelled to undertake work beyond that of a military nature, such as activities designed to protect the environment or natural resources.

There were reports ELN guerrillas, FARC dissidents, and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and June 30, 2021, a total of 7,023 children and adolescents had demobilized from armed groups, of whom 12 percent were indigenous and 8 percent Afro-Colombian.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized panhandling, mining, agriculture (especially near the coffee belt), cattle herding, crop harvesting, forced recruitment by armed actors, and domestic service, remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous persons, Venezuelan migrants, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. Authorities did not make efforts to investigate cases or increase inspections of forced labor. In July the Ministry of Labor and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime published a manual and protocol to help labor inspectors identify and refer possible cases of labor trafficking in the formal economy to judicial authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution. Impunity nevertheless remained for forced labor, and unidentified victims remained without protection in critical sectors, such as floriculture, coffee production, and extractive industries.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children ages 15 and 16 years 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 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 be 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. The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines that 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. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. Through June 30, the Ministry of Labor conducted 86 worksite inspections to ensure that adolescent workers were employed with proper authorization and received proper protections. Through these inspections, 10 authorizations were revoked for noncompliance. During this time the ministry granted 179 permits for adolescent work. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor problems. It also updated an information system to register working children that permits public and private entities to provide information. 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. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society.

The government, including through a cooperative agreement between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the ICBF, continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices led 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, which 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 operated 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. The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collected and published information on the economic activities of children between the ages of five and 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s survey published in April, 4.9 percent of children were working, with 44 percent of those engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 32 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children were 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. DANE reported that 45 percent of children who were engaged in an employment relationship did not receive remuneration.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, coffee, emeralds, gold, grapes, coca, pome and stone fruits, pornography, and sugarcane. Forced child labor was prevalent in the production of coca. Children were also engaged in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Penalties for crimes related to the worst forms of child labor were commensurate with penalties in law for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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 the 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 Amazonas, Antioquia, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, La Guajira, Narino, Norte de Santander, and Valle del Cauca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in informal mines and quarries, and in 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 to harvest coca (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to forced labor. 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 https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/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. There are legal restrictions against women being in employed in the construction sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. Media reported that on average women earned 12 percent less than men for the same work. 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.

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic governed by a president. Elections in March for the 255 seats of the National Assembly, the more powerful of the country’s two legislative bodies, were considered free and fair, and all major political parties participated. The president was re-elected for a third term in October 2020 under conditions generally considered free, although some international observers questioned the fairness of the overall electoral process. Some observers found the process to be satisfactory while others concluded it did not allow for genuine competition.

The National Police, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Security, and the National Gendarmerie, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for domestic law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for national defense. The Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, is responsible for countering internal threats. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were reliable reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detentions; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and/or intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses perpetrated by members of the security services. The government took some steps to prosecute officials in the security services, as well as elsewhere in the government, who were accused of abuses, but victims of reported abuses alleged their perpetrators were not disciplined. The government also took steps to prosecute officials who were accused of committing corrupt acts and to recover assets stolen from the state.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law provides for a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence 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 18. The law does not specifically address domestic violence and intimate partner violence or mandate special penalties for these acts. Authorities did not enforce these laws effectively.

Human rights organizations reported family members and community leaders often informally mediated rape accusations without victim input and dissuaded victims from reporting to police to avoid bringing shame or other negative consequences to the family, particularly if the perpetrator was related. Families often accepted payment as compensation. Police reportedly often had a blame-the-victim mentality. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.

Although rape victims were not legally required to have a certified, postrape medical examination to press charges, human rights organizations reported that the certificate and other documentation (such as a victim’s psychological evaluation or a crime scene report) were frequently treated as essential to successful prosecutions. At a cost of 50,000 CFA francs ($91), the certified examination was prohibitively expensive for most rape victims. Police often did not know to refer rape victims to a medical practitioner for an examination, while many medical practitioners were not trained how to examine victims for signs of sexual and gender-based violence or prepare the certificate. Human rights organizations reported that the only government-run victim shelter in the country (located in Abidjan) had limited beds and would not house victims for more than three days.

In April media reported on the alleged assault and rape of a woman in Abidjan. The alleged assailant and the victim initially met and corresponded online. When they met in person, police reported the accused served the victim a drugged drink, raped her, and stole her belongings. The victim was transported to a local hospital the next day where she died shortly thereafter, apparently due to an overdose from the drug the accused allegedly gave her. Authorities arrested the accused a week later and announced he had confessed to drugging and raping the victim. After the victim’s death, the case gained increasing social media attention, and at least 30 women came forward to report the accused had raped them under similar circumstances.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 37 percent, with prevalence varying by region.

In June media reported on the genital cutting of eight adolescent girls in Zouan Hounien, a village in the western part of the country. Authorities arrested the alleged assailant and referred the victims to a government-run social center.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, 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). Human rights organizations stated these cases were rare. The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

As a result of FGM/C, scarring was common. Scarring could lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that was a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability (see the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) subsection for additional information).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation, and conflicting moral and religious beliefs, including providers opposed to providing modern methods of contraception to adolescent girls.

According to the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.

Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, authorities often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of the clinical management of rape cases.

According to the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the UN Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local NGOs reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality.

Stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to menstruation hygiene caused some girls not to attend school during menstruation. The Ministry of Education authorized pregnant adolescent girls to attend school, but not all schools adhered to this policy. Additionally, pregnant adolescent girls faced stigma that sometimes caused them to stop their studies.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d., Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation). The law establishes the right of widows to inherit property upon the deaths of their husbands equally with any children. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision making.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism, including discrimination against persons based on their ethnic origin. The government effectively enforced the law.

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups; human rights organizations reported 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. Land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

Media reported on several interethnic (referred to as intercommunal in the country) conflicts during the year. In February clashes erupted between two ethnic groups, the Agnis and Malinke, in Abongoua over the planned relocation of a makeshift Malinke market by local authorities. The clashes resulted in injuries and property damage. The government reported nine interethnic conflicts involving violence in the first quarter of the year.

In May following the publication on social media of a video falsely depicting citizens being mistreated in Niger, violence broke out against Nigerien nationals in several neighborhoods in Abidjan. The government reported that attackers killed one Nigerien, wounded approximately 40 others, and looted approximately 50 businesses. According to the government, authorities arrested 38 persons in connection with the attacks, including a cyberactivist who posted the video on her social media account. Media reported a court convicted the cyberactivist of inciting unrest and calling for murder. The court sentenced her to five years in prison and a substantial fine. President Ouattara denounced the attacks and the minister of defense met with a government delegation from Niger in the aftermath of the attacks.

During the 2020 presidential election period, numerous interethnic clashes occurred, resulting in at least 25 deaths.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers citizenship at birth if at least one parent was a citizen when the child was born.

The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. 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. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. The government requires health-care workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF, birth registration services were available in 89 percent of maternity hospitals and 98 percent of vaccination centers.

Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. To enter 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 (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons). Education was 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. In September the government stopped requiring families to pay fees imposed by school management committees and began to pay those fees directly to schools, although some schools reported they had not received the payments promised by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law on mandatory education were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.

Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ rates because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students when traveling to school and, once at school, by teachers and other staff.

Child Abuse: Consensual sex with a child younger than age 15 is classified as rape. For victims between the age of 15 to 18, consent can be raised as a defense to a charge of rape. A March 2020 government study on violence against children and youth younger than age 18 found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and that 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence.

In May media reported on the alleged rape of an Abidjan girl, age 12, by her teacher. Shortly after media reported the incident, the minister of women, families, and children visited the alleged victim and worked with authorities to document and investigate the case. Authorities arrested the teacher and transferred him to the country’s main prison. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government strengthened the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.

Responsibility for combating child abuse lies with the Ministries of Employment and Social Protection; Justice and Human Rights; Women, Families, and Children; Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and the Fight against Poverty; and National Education. International organizations and civil society groups reported that lack of coordination among the ministries hampered their effectiveness.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage for women and men at 18. The law prohibits marriage for men and women below 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, reports of traditional marriages involving at least one minor spouse persisted.

In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. The law does not specifically address grooming children for commercial sex. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking.

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

Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide were homeless and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth operated several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A Ministry of Justice center provided reintegration training and support for former juvenile offenders.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking, including for the purposes of forced labor or slavery. The law grants government officials the broad power to requisition labor for “national economic and social promotion,” in violation of international standards. Judges may propose that defendants convicted of certain crimes perform physical labor for the benefit of the state as an alternative to incarceration, but the defendant must accept the terms of such a sentence.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were criminal and commensurate with those for comparable crimes such as kidnapping but were seldom and inconsistently applied. The government did not provide enough resources or conduct enough inspections to enforce compliance. Forced and compulsory labor, including for children, continued to occur in small-scale and commercial production of agricultural products, particularly on cocoa, coffee, pineapple, cashew, and rubber plantations, and in the informal labor sector, such as in domestic work, nonindustrial farm labor, artisanal mines, street shops, and restaurants.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16 years, although the minimum age for apprenticeships is 14. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Minors younger than 18 may not work at night. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, Ministry of Interior and Security, and Ministry of Justice are responsible for enforcing the law through inspections, investigations, penalties, and court sanctions. The National Monitoring Committee to Combat the Trafficking, Exploitation, and Labor of Children, chaired by the president’s wife, and the Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The List of Light Work Authorized for Children between 13 and 16 Years of Age, an order issued by the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection in 2017, introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. 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. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children ages six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and reducing the number of children looking for work.

The government took steps to address the worst forms of child labor. The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, along with the two antitrafficking committees, led enforcement efforts. The government continued to implement the 2019-21 National Action Plan for the Fight against the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The plan called for efforts to improve access to education and health care for children and income-generating activities for their families, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the International Cocoa Initiative to implement these measures. The budget for the plan, although higher than the previous plan’s, was not fully funded by the government and international partners. The government did not make available the amount of the shortfall.

The government established six special police units in 2020 across the country to investigate child labor and child trafficking cases, and these units carried out enforcement operations. Each unit had 10-20 officers with two motorcycles, a four-wheel drive vehicle, computers, and office materials.

In February media reported police arrested four alleged traffickers and rescued 19 children suspected of being transported to work on cocoa plantations. The police operation took place while the children, reportedly all Burkinabe, were being transported from the northern town of Korhogo to the southeastern town of Aboisso.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor occurred, particularly in artisanal gold mines, on farms (generally small plots), and in domestic work. Periodic, standardized data collection efforts remained weak. Efforts to counter child labor in sectors besides the cocoa industry, such as palm oil, cotton, rubber, and artisanal gold mining, also remained weak. Within agriculture the worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Inspections carried out during the year did not result in fines for child labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes but were seldom applied. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

In urban areas children often worked as vendors, vehicle windshield cleaners, and parking attendants. In rural areas children were involved in handicrafts such as cloth weaving, agriculture, artisanal gold mining, and forestry. Those who worked in the gold-mining sector often used dangerous chemicals harmful to human health. Nationally, some children worked in housing construction and carpentry, with dangerous tools. Others worked as seamstresses, tailors, hairdressers, mechanics, welders, and in local public transport as apprentices, but under informal conditions that lacked occupational safety regulations. Some girls were exploited in sex trafficking. Others worked as cleaners in local restaurants and stores and as babysitters and housekeepers in private homes. A study released in July 2020 found that child labor in the cocoa sector had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. A follow-up study released in November found child labor rates from July to September 2020 returned to pre-COVID-19 levels.

To help prevent child trafficking, the government regulated the travel of minors into and out of the country, requiring children and parents to provide documentation of family ties, including at least a birth certificate.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on HIV and AIDS status but does not address other communicable diseases. The law includes provisions to promote access to employment for persons with disabilities: it stipulates employers must reserve a quota of jobs for qualified applicants with disabilities but does not provide penalties for noncompliance with this provision.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, but seldom applied. Human rights organizations continued to report discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The government did not provide information on employment discrimination reported or actions taken to address discrimination.

The law does not stipulate equal pay for equal work, and wage discrimination occurred. For example, there were no reports authorities took action to rectify the large salary discrepancies between foreign non-African employees and their African (i.e., both foreign African residents and citizens) colleagues employed by the same companies.

There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in certain occupations and industries, including in mining, construction, and factories, but no known limitations on working hours based on gender. 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 women in the public sector generally received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, wage inequality remained common in the nonpublic formal sector and informal sector. Additionally, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018. In January 2019 the National Independent Electoral Commission declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the 2018 presidential election. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, which stated the results did not match those of their observation mission. The 2019 inauguration of President Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police, which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security. In reality, however, these forces focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard, and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the Congolese National Police, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities exercised limited control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Conflict between government military forces and the more than 15 significant and cohesive illegal armed groups continued in the eastern provinces of the country. In response the president announced a state of siege in the Ituri and North Kivu Provinces on May 6, which parliament repeatedly extended and remained in effect at year’s end. The state of siege transfers powers from civilian to military authorities, provides for increased police powers, extends the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilian criminal offenses, restricts certain fundamental rights and freedoms, and suspends immunity from prosecution for certain elected officials (including national and provincial deputies and senators).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by illegal armed groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups, and indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, although there was impunity for many such abuses. Authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish those who were responsible, particularly at higher levels. The government convicted some officials on counts of murder, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and corruption, and sometimes punished security force officials who committed abuses.

Illegal armed groups continued to commit abuses in the eastern provinces and the Kasai region. Additionally, large-scale killings by ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo persisted in parts of North Kivu and Ituri. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and gender-based violence, which was widespread even in areas with no armed conflict, by both government and armed groups. Illegal armed groups also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and subjected children and adults to forced labor. The government took military action against illegal armed groups and investigated and prosecuted some armed group members and the state security forces for human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape of all persons, but the law was not often enforced. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence were widespread throughout the country, even in areas without armed conflict. The survivors seldom reported this for cultural and social reasons, and the perpetrators were rarely punished. Rape was also common and used as a tactic in areas of armed conflict. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape or intimate partner rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the survivor), but such practices still occurred. Both international organizations and local NGOs reported that female rape survivors were sometimes forced to pay a fine to return to their families and to gain access to their children. Husbands often divorced wives who were survivors. The law also prohibits forced marriage, but it continued to take place. The law allows survivors 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 sometimes imposed such sentences in rape convictions in the infrequent instances when these crimes came to trial. Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence.

IAGs frequently used rape as a tactic of conflict (see section 1.g.). The UNJHRO reported that from January through June, Nyatura combatants committed the greatest number of human rights abuses, attacking the civilian population and committing sexual violence against 39 women, one man, and 22 children. Local NGOs and international organizations reported that sexual mutilation was often used as a tactic of conflict, with rapists in conflict using weapons or sharp objects to torture women. The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kalembe, Nyatura Coalition des Mouvements pour le Changement (CMC) combatants raped two women, killed one man, and wounded another with a machete. The FARDC was also responsible for sexual violence, especially in conflict areas, where the UNJHRO documented 72 sexual violations against women.

Government agents raped and sexually abused women and girls during arrest and detention, as well as during military action, according to UNJHRO reporting (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). While sexual violence was a problem throughout the country, most cases took place in areas affected by internal conflict. The PNC continued its nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate gender-based violence by the SSF, including through the fight against impunity and the protection of survivors and witnesses. The campaign to operationalize the national action plan to combat gender-based violence was not fully funded by October, and few activities had taken place.

In analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found increased exposure to and increased incidence of sexual and gender-based violence with fewer persons on the streets after curfews. Women in Lubumbashi reported increased break-ins and sexual assaults during the COVID-19 curfew, some by armed men in uniform. Seven women told Agence France Presse in January that they had suffered a break-in and been raped during curfew hours in Lubumbashi.

As noted below, persons with disabilities faced high rates of gender-based violence and suffered health consequences as a result. LGBTQI+ persons were targeted by particular forms of gender-based violence, including “corrective” rape. 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.

UNFPA’s most recent statistics indicated that 37 percent of women had experienced intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months. Among the barriers to reporting for women who had been sexually abused, UNICEF noted in an April report on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) that women said they would not confide in anyone if they were sexually abused, and that they feared diminished marriage prospects and community gossip after surviving this crime.

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 judicial authorities took action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict or give them better luck with mining, and children often died because of these rapes.

Accusations of witchcraft often targeted women and resulted in killings, including some by burning. The NGO Association of Women in the Media said it had recorded 324 accusations of witchcraft from June through September. An administrative chief for Kabare Territory, South Kivu, said those killed were mainly women, more than 60 of whom had been designated as witches by individuals who claimed they could detect witches. A report by the Permanent Consultative Framework for Congolese Women (CAFCO) recorded more than 37 women killed by mobs following witchcraft accusations in South Kivu, Ituri, Kinshasa, and Kongo Central during the year. CAFCO called on national authorities to punish those responsible and ensure the safety of the victims.

In September the Guardian reported that eight women had been accused of witchcraft and burned to death or lynched in South Kivu during the month. An attorney quoted in the Guardian noted that a 2014 provincial law forbidding mob justice had not been applied.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year if convicted, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

In late September several international news organizations reported allegations of SEA by World Health Organization (WHO) staff members working on the Ebola efforts in the country during the 2018-20 epidemic. The United Nations reported that the perpetrators included both Congolese and foreign staff, with an investigation by a WHO commission identifying 83 persons involved in the abuse, 21 confirmed as WHO employees. A New York Times article noted that women reported being asked to provide sex in exchange for a job or even to get water. The BBC reported that local women described being ambushed in hospitals, where they were raped. A Reuters article noted 29 women reported they were raped, with some forced by their abusers to have abortions. The United Nations noted that the report described how managers refused to consider verbal reports. In late October Reuters reported that more women had reported SEA, and the WHO issued a plan to prevent such misconduct by humanitarian workers.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law recognizes the rights of all couples and individuals of reproductive age to benefit from information and education on contraception and to have free access to reproductive health services, although many couples and individuals lacked the means and access to information.

In 2020 according to UNFPA, 28 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 obtained access to modern contraception after requesting it, while reproductive health needs for 21 percent of women were unmet. The prevalence of modern methods of contraception was approximately 12 percent.

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s selected sexual and reproductive health indicators between 2007 and 2018, 32 percent of respondents’ recent births were unplanned. According to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, there were 147 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in Kinshasa in 2016. The study found that in Kinshasa, 5 percent of women seeking postabortion care after using misoprostol were discharged in good health in less than 24 hours and did not require treatment.

Problems affecting access to family planning and reproductive health services included an inadequate transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, and poor logistics and supply chain management leading to frequent stock shortages. Cultural norms favoring large families; misinformation surrounding contraceptive use, including fear that contraception causes infertility; and especially the population’s general inability to pay for contraceptive services were also barriers.

The adolescent birth rate was 138 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. UNICEF reported that 27 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant. In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 and its impact on women and girls in the country, UNICEF reported an increase in the use of family planning services, an increase in sexual activity among adolescents, a reduction in antenatal care visits, and an increase in the number of pregnancies and women and adolescents seeking clandestine abortions.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of gender-based violence. The provision of emergency contraception was included as part of clinical management of rape, but women could not always access them in time. The services were free and intended to provide a postexposure prophylaxis kit within 72 hours to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Prominent human rights observers reported, however, that women who went to the police to report rape were often asked to pay for actions needed to investigate and prosecute the crime. The government established mobile clinics for gender-based violence survivors in remote areas. LGBTQI+ survivors reported barriers to accessing emergency care.

According to the 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, despite sustained high usage of health facilities for deliveries, which suggested a poor quality of health services. Geographic barriers, lack of appropriate equipment, and low health professional capacity also hindered the provision of quality maternal and child health services and led to high maternal mortality and childbirth complications, such as obstetric fistula.

After analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF noted that school closures and financial difficulties pushed some adolescent girls to engage in transactional sexual relationships. Young women often did not have access to menstrual hygiene, which impacted their ability to attend schools, which often lacked bathrooms and running water. Furthermore, unwed girls who became pregnant were pressured to drop out of school, and young women who become mothers often faced societal stigmas.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. The law 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 violence. Nonetheless, women experienced economic discrimination, and there were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations considered dangerous, but no restrictions on women’s working hours.

In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found that women were disproportionately affected by the health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. Most women worked in the informal sector, and border and market closures limited business opportunities.

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 they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Since changes in the family law in 2017, women and men receive the same punishments for adultery of “an injurious quality,” but this change was not applied to the criminal law.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides that “no one could be discriminated on the basis of his race, ethnic, tribe, cultural or linguistic minority.” Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

Long-standing ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. The UNJHRO reported the resurgence of interethnic conflict between Twa and Luba communities in Tanganyika Province and noted that conflicts between the Twa and the Bantu in Monkoto, Tshuapa Province, led to violence and casualties. The UNJHRO also reported persistent ethnic conflicts and attacks by the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga Provinces between January and June. According to MONUSCO, hate speech was spreading on social media among local communities in the city of Uvira and surrounding areas.

From January through June the UNJHRO documented 278 human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of the intercommunal conflict in the Haut Plateau covering parts of the territories of Uvira, Fizi, and Mwenga. The UNJHRO reported this conflict pitted the Banyamulenge community against the Bafuliiru, Bayindu-Banyindu, and Babembe communities and was characterized by the involvement of multiple armed groups and militias organized in ethnically based alliances, notably combatants from the Ngumino armed group and the Twigwaneho and Android militias, linked to the Banyamulenge community, and Mai Mai, and Biloze Bishambuke combatants linked to the Bafuliiru, Banyindu, and Babembe communities.

In May a journalist from the magazine New Yorker reported that when he was traveling in Kolwezi, a mining town in the South, staff at a casino run by and frequented by foreigners told him that Black Africans were not allowed to gamble. The journalist further wrote that the treatment of Congolese artisanal miners by their foreign bosses in the mining areas evoked that of the colonial period.

On September 27, two lawyers from South Kivu filed a complaint with the public prosecutor and the auditor general of the FARDC alleging acts amounting to ethnic cleansing in Minembwe between 2018 and 2020. The complaint, filed on behalf of 71 Banyamulenge living in the highlands of South Kivu, alleged that armed Mai Mai militia from the Fuliiro, Bembe, and Nyindu ethnic groups killed, raped, tortured, and kidnapped Banyamulenge and also burned houses and farm buildings and looted cattle, with the indifference or complicity of the FARDC. The complaint also denounced hate speech against Banyamulenge, sometimes propagated by well-known politicians and social-media influencers.

Uvira mayor Kiza Muhato banned an anti-Banyamulenge march after it had been postponed from October 12 to October 15, leading organizers to cancel it again. The organizers planned the demonstration in support of the comments made by former minister of rural development Justin Bitakwira calling for Bafuliiro youth to take up arms to defend their ancestral land from Banyamulenge “invaders.”

On December 9, FARDC major Joseph Rugenerwa Kaminzobe was accompanying a patient in an ambulance carrying four other FARC soldiers headed to the Fizi General Referral Hospital when demonstrators in Lweba village pulled him from the ambulance, assaulted him, and burned him alive, allegedly for his Banyamulenge ethnicity. According to local sources, the demonstrators were a mix of young persons called “Bazalendo” (Swahili for “patriot”) and Mai Mai rebels protesting against the killing of three civilians during an attack by the Banyamulenge-linked Ngumino militia two days earlier. The deputy prime minister of interior and security launched an investigation and maintained the government was committed to combating hate speech. A FARDC delegation arrived in Lweba on December 11 to begin the investigation.

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 in the country in 1960. According to UNICEF, the government registered approximately 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility, but only 14 percent children had a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate, which provides proof of where a child was born and the identity of the child’s parents, a child lacked any proof of entitlement to a nationality and was therefore left at risk of statelessness. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. Despite President Tshisekedi’s policy to provide free primary education, the government was unable to offer it consistently in all 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. UNICEF reported that approximately 7.6 million children ages five to 17 were out of school, and half of girls ages five to 17 did not attend school. For the vast majority of schools, the lack of funding led to decreased access and quality of learning, rendering the policy heavily politicized and at times unpopular.

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. There were reports of teachers pressuring girls for sexual favors in return for higher grades. Educational obstacles for children with disabilities included inaccessible infrastructure; exams provided in formats not accessible to everyone; and a lack of awareness among teachers, students, and staff in addition to the reluctance to include children with disabilities.

Many of the schools in the East were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG forcible recruitment and use of child soldiers. In March the Child Protection Section of MONUSCO documented one attack against a school and another against a hospital in Mabelenge, Irumu Territory, both perpetrated by ADF combatants in Ituri Province. The school was destroyed, and the hospital was looted. In April approximately 30 schools closed due to insecurity in Ikobo, North Kivu. Radio Okapi reported that most schools in Beni Territory were closed in May because of rampant insecurity and the subsequent displacement of students and teachers from troubled areas.

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.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: While the law requires consent and prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place, in part due to continued social acceptance. 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. The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15; however, enforcement was limited.

Provisions in the law do not clarify who has standing to report forced marriage as a crime or if a judge has the authority to do so. UNFPA reported that child marriage was widespread, with approximately 37 percent of girls married by age 18 and 10 percent of women ages 20 to 24 having been married before the age of 15. Dowry payments greatly incentivized underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect dowries or to finance dowries for sons. UNFPA further reported that some parents considered child marriage a way to protect a girl from sexual violence, reasoning that her husband would be responsible for her safety.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. In April UNICEF published a report on SEA that highlighted persistent social beliefs that undermine protection for child survivors. For example, UNICEF noted in the report that adolescent girls who were in exploitative relationships and received money in exchange for sex were not perceived to be children. According to the report, sexual violence against children was considered more serious and more likely to be reported than sexual violence against adults, as it was commonly believed that child victims do not bear the same stigma as adult victims.

There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support and only 3 percent received medical support. In 2019 the NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and causing misfortune. Humanium noted that street children were unsupervised with no access to food, education, or shelter and other basic necessities, circumstances that left them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults and law enforcement personnel who forced them into illegal criminal activity. Law enforcement officials sometimes recruited street children to disrupt political protests and cause public disorder, making children liable for injury or death.

In February UNICEF reported that there were an estimated three million child IDPs in the country, largely as a result of violence in the east of the country (see section 2.e.).

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows for arrest and compulsory labor as a penalty to enforce payment of the tax debt. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country (see section 7.c.). Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining equipment, often at high interest rates. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay their debt were at risk of debt bondage. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate the practice.

In the East, IAGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages; held men, women, and children captive; and exploited them in forced labor and sex trafficking. In North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, some members of FARDC units and IAGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines. There were no reports of FARDC units forcing persons to work in mines. IAGs sometimes forced local communities to perform construction work and other labor at mine sites. The deputy administrator of Ngungu, Theophile Ndikabuze, told a local news site that the self-proclaimed General Mahachano, a Masisi rebel, continued to recruit young persons for gold trafficking. The government did not enforce laws banning this practice. In the provinces of the Katanga region, the use of force to evict artisanal diggers led to violence and casualties.

Some police arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports in North and South Kivu Provinces of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom.

The government took limited action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. Following a five-month closure of courts for pandemic restrictions, civilian and military courts resumed investigations and prosecutions of multiple traffickers for cases in which victims were subjected to forced labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude. The prosecutions continued through the year. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16, and a ministerial order 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.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. While criminal courts heard some child labor complaints, it was unclear if these resulted in sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with other serious crimes. The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. 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. The Ministry of Mines employed mining inspectors, whose duties include inspecting for child labor at mine sites. The government did not devote adequate support to these agencies, and they conducted no inspections or specialized investigations for child labor during the year.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was prevalent throughout the country. Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. 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. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

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 Haut-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 at times treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted an action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; however, as of September it had not been implemented. In 2020 the General Labor Inspectorate issued a plan to conduct a child labor survey and develop a roadmap to review and curb the use of child labor in the rice sector in Kongo Central Province, but no survey was conducted during the year.

Forced child labor was prevalent in the mining sector. The law prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations. Nonetheless, various mining sites, located principally in North Kivu and Haut-Katanga Provinces, employed many child workers. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Treated as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures. According to the civil society organization Leave Kabare to Live (MLKAV), surveys carried out in Kabare territory in South Kivu indicated that more than 70 percent of laborers in stone-mining quarries were minor children, both girls and boys, ages eight to 15.

The mining police and private security forces, including those guarding large-scale mining concessions, reportedly subjected child laborers on artisanal mining sites to extortion and physical abuse.

There was a systematic government effort in conjunction with NGOs to redirect child labor away from mines. The government and the African Development Bank continued a 160 billion Congolese francs ($80 million) project to provide alternative livelihoods for children engaged in the cobalt sector.

The Ministry of Mines prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting minerals; however, the ministry had limited enforcement capacity.

In 2019 the government undertook a five billion Congolese francs ($2.5 million) project to boost the capacity of labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. Additionally, in March the Ministry of Mines issued a decree forming an interministerial commission with the Ministry of Labor to inspect child labor in artisanal mines. As of September the commission had yet to act, due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation 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 not commensurate with other violations of civil rights.

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. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous, and women were prohibited from occupying many jobs that require night work. Persons with disabilities, including albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

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 2019 to be free and fair.

The National Police maintain internal security and, jointly with the Danish Immigration Service, is responsible for border enforcement at the country’s ports of entry. The Ministry of Justice oversees both services. The Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have responsibility for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities, such as disaster response and maritime sovereignty enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of excessive use of solitary confinement, including of children.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses or engage in corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women and men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is not defined by a lack of consent, but rather by whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years for aggravated circumstances and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape.

Gender-based violence rates have increased due to COVID-19. The number of women enrolled in domestic violence shelters throughout the country in 2020 increased 3 percent compared with 2019. In January a new consent law went into effect. The law, which strengthened the country’s rape laws, criminalized sex without the explicit consent of all parties.

The police received 1,825 reports of rape or attempted rape in 2020.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties of 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. The law does not provide a minimum sentencing for persons convicted of rape but does cap sentencing at 10 years. The law is applied equally regardless of the marital relationship of the offender and the victim. The law provides that sentencing be based on the severity of the case as well as an individual evaluation of the offender. Sentencing was typically between 12 and 18 months.

In the country’s UPR, two treaty bodies of the UNHRC expressed concern that numerous women had experienced violence or had been exposed to threats thereof, and that the rates of prosecution and conviction remained low. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was concerned regarding the high incidence of sexual violence, including rape; the lack of reliable associated statistical data; the inadequacy of legal provisions relating to rape; and the very low rate of prosecution of sexual violence.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence throughout the country, including in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Under the law a man who is the survivor of domestic violence is not afforded the same opportunities for help as a woman. While the law provides women the right to be admitted to a women’s crisis center, men can only be admitted to shelters or male centers as “functional homeless.” These centers did not necessarily have expertise in caring for survivors of violence because they house a wider target group, such as the homeless and those suffering from drug or alcohol addictions. In Greenland there were 748 sexual crimes reported in 2020, a 33.8 percent increase from the 559 reported in 2019.

The law provides for 10 hours of taxpayer-funded psychological help for women, but not for men, in shelters. The government may extend this treatment to men in men’s shelters on trial basis in 2022-23.

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 working condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it. The government enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, religious, personal status and nationality, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning and managing businesses and property laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

COVID-19 vaccination rates among residents in the country’s so-called parallel societies (previously called “ghettos”) were considerably lower than other areas of the country. As of August, 40 percent of those older than age 12 who were invited to get vaccinated in the largest areas, including Vollsmose, Gellerup, and Tingbjerg, did not book a time to get vaccinated. This compared with 15 percent of the rest of the general population. Health experts attributed the low rates of vaccine uptake among certain minority and immigrant groups to insufficiently robust outreach and engagement efforts.

In a report from a study conducted between 2015 and 2018 and released in September 2020, the DIHR found that patients with non-Western backgrounds had a 40 percent higher risk of being subjected to coercion in psychiatric institutions.

The Finance Act of 2021 included a four-year grant to fund the country’s first crisis center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons with ethnic minority backgrounds. The crisis center will emphasize specialized counseling and guidance efforts and aims to promote security, well-being, and equal opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons with a minority background.

The Ministry of the Interior and Housing continued to implement the government’s action plan for the elimination of parallel societies by 2030. The government defines a parallel society as a neighborhood with more than 1,000 residents where more than half of the residents are of “non-Western” origin and meet certain socioeconomic criteria. Media widely interpreted “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities. The law requires parents from parallel societies to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions. Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to DKK 4,560 ($711) from noncompliant parents. The law also requires neighborhoods that have been classified as “par