Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. Parliamentary elections were held September 8, and observers characterized them as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities.
The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police Force manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. On October 6, the UN secretary-general appointed Staffan de Mistura as the new personal envoy for Western Sahara. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara mandate was renewed on October 29. The POLISARIO withdrew from the cease-fire in November 2020, and since then there have been reports of intermittent indirect fire between Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces and POLISARIO fighters across the 1,700-mile separation barriers (the “berm”).
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or degrading treatment by some members of the security forces; allegations there were political prisoners; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; substantial interference with the freedom of assembly and freedom of association, including surveillance and intimidation of political activists; serious government corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex conduct.
The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles that contributed to impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On September 8, Youssef Bejjaj was reportedly chased by three police officers for not wearing a helmet on a moped. Bejjaj’s mother claimed he was then beaten to death by plainclothes police officers. On November 17, the National Brigade of the Judicial Police opened an investigation. The police investigation found that the cause of death was due to the collision of Bejjaj’s motorcycle with a police motorcycle. The report stated that the autopsy revealed injuries consistent with a collision and concluded there had been “no use of excessive force” against Bejjaj.
International and local media reported that on November 3, the Royal Armed Forces conducted an airstrike in POLISARIO-controlled territory of Western Sahara using an unmanned aerial vehicle, which killed three Algerian civilian drivers in Bir Lahlou.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2018 to May 2019, the country had 153 outstanding cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992, seven fewer than at the beginning of the reporting period. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, reported that as of July, six cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992 remained unresolved. The CNDH continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance. According to the government, the working group transmitted no new allegations of enforced disappearances. Also, according to the government, no prosecutions were recorded in the first half of the year regarding past enforced disappearances.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture.
Although government institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody, reports of torture have declined over the last several years. According to the government, 385 accusations of mistreatment by police were recorded, of which 336 complaints were processed and 49 complaints were under investigation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were eight complaints of torture or degrading treatment filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office during the year. An investigation into the case of Said Feryakh concluded that the detainee had not been subjected to any treatment outside the legal framework by personnel at Souk Larbaa prison during his incarceration. According to the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) Feryakh was inciting inmates to revolt and undertake collective action that could jeopardize security and disrupt order in the institution.
As of year’s end, there were continuing investigations by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police of six security officers for use of violence in the course of their duties. The CNDH reported it opened 20 investigations into complaints of torture or degrading treatment between January 1 and August 31.
In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it, or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights NGOs, and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.
Reports of mistreatment occurred most frequently in pretrial detention. There were also accusations that security officials subjected Western Sahara proindependence protesters to degrading treatment during or following demonstrations or protests calling for the release of alleged political prisoners. OHCHR noted in March it had received reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by security forces to disperse protests.
On March 17, a video posted on social media networks showed a member of the security services in civilian clothes assaulting teachers during a union demonstration organized in Rabat. The individual, identified as Sahm Bouhfid, was detained on March 18 for violence, assault and battery, misuse of office, and interference with duties of a public office. On April 5, Bouhfid was sentenced to one year in prison. On July 26, his sentence was reduced to eight months on appeal.
According to Amnesty International, on March 25 Moroccan police in Western Sahara detained and allegedly tortured 15-year-old Mustapha Razouk for peacefully protesting the detention of another activist. According to Razouk’s testimony, authorities beat Razouk, poured boiling melted plastic on him, and suspended him from the ceiling. He alleged that he was not given access to a doctor during the first three days in custody and was forced to sign a police report without being allowed to read it. Razouk was sentenced to one month in prison for participating in a protest and throwing stones at a police vehicle. He was released on April 26. There was no information on official investigation into Razouk’s torture claims.
In April a female teacher accused law enforcement officials in Rabat of sexually assaulting her during a teachers’ demonstration calling for maintaining retirement benefits. According to the government, the Prosecutor General’s Office offered to provide medical exams to 21 other demonstrators who said they also had been sexually assaulted during the demonstration. The investigation was still pending as of year’s end.
In January 2020 the spouse of Abdelqader Belliraj, who was serving a life sentence on terrorism-related charges, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Belliraj has been deprived of contact with other inmates since 2016 and was kept in confinement 23 hours a day. According to media reports, the DGAPR stated Belliraj received an hour break each day that allowed for interactions with other inmates and was allowed family visits and access to a telephone. Belliraj claimed he was convicted based on confessions obtained under police torture. Belliraj was transferred at his request to a prison in Marrakech in March.
In Western Sahara, human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers from local security forces who remained in leadership positions or who had been transferred to other positions. International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints.
In March 2020, HRW published a report of police violence against two Western Sahara independence activists, Walid el-Batal and Yahdhih el-Ghazal, in Smara in June 2019. According to HRW’s report, Moroccan security forces attempted to prohibit the men from attending an event for activist Salah Labsir who was serving a four-year prison sentence on charges of premeditated violence against police and destruction of public goods. OHCHR requested an investigation into el-Batal’s case, raising concerns regarding human rights abuses. The National Police Force (DGSN) opened a judicial investigation into this incident. According to the DGAPR, six police officers were prosecuted following the dissemination on social networks of a video illustrating the circumstances of arrest.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. The first concerned transactional sex in late 2020 in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second concerned attempted rape of a child and soliciting transactional sex with an adult in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Moroccan and UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigations into both allegations remained pending.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing.
No official from the DGSN has been investigated for arbitrary detention related to the application of measures pertaining to the state of health emergency.
Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The king appoints the president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals), who chairs the 20-member council. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general; the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. While the government’s stated aim in creating the council was to improve judicial independence, there was limited progress in that regard since its inception as an independent entity in 2017. Human rights activists alleged trials in cases involving Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared politicized.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, employed informers, and monitored, without legal process, personal movement, and private communications – including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.
Amnesty International and OHCHR reported in July that Sahrawi rights activist Sultana Khaya had been under de facto house arrest since November 2020. Although the government denied Khaya was under house arrest, security forces stationed at her house monitored her movements and interactions. Khaya stated that police have raided her house several times. During one of these raids in May, Khaya alleged that police officials physically assaulted her sister and mother. Amnesty International reported that Khaya and her sister said police raped them during the raid, a charge that authorities denied. Additionally, activist Babuizid Muhammed Saaed Labhi and two student activists who were staying in Khaya’s house were reportedly detained. The Regional Council on Human Rights (CRDH) in Laayoune attempted to meet with Khaya at her home on February 13 to discuss her allegations and facilitate access to medical care. Khaya declined CRDH’s assistance, citing her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation. According to the government, in May the Laayoune Court of Appeal opened an investigation into Khaya’s allegations of police brutality and sexual assault. There was no official investigation into these claims, which Khaya attributed to her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation and the government stated was a result of her unwillingness to cooperate.
In June 2020 Amnesty International published a report claiming authorities used spyware made by Israel-based company NSO Group to target journalist Omar Radi’s phone from January 2019 to January 2020. In July 2020 police arrested Radi on charges of “indecent assault with violence; rape; the receipt of foreign funds for the purpose of undermining state’s domestic security; and initiation of contacts with agents of foreign countries to harm the diplomatic situation of the country.” According to HRW, the rape and indecent assault charges against Radi were based on a complaint filed in July 2020 by one of Radi’s colleagues. After Radi refused in March to have his trial held in a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic, his trial was postponed to May 18. In April 2021 Radi carried out a 22-day hunger strike to protest his lengthy pretrial detention. He ended the strike on May 1. On May 5, a judge denied Radi’s request for provisional release. Radi’s trial was later postponed until June 1 by the criminal chamber of the Casablanca Court of Appeal due to his poor health. Media outlets reported Radi was weakened to the point of not being able to answer the questions. The trial was postponed three times in June due to an accusation by his attorneys of procedural irregularities and further delayed due to Radi’s poor health. On July 19, Radi was found guilty on charges of espionage and sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison.
According to Amnesty International, academic Maati Monjib was additionally subjected to government surveillance through the NSO Group spyware technology.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine. For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 Moroccan dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 Moroccan dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. The law requires the DGSN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Judicial Court, and Ministries of Health, Youth, and Women to have specialized units that coordinate with one another on cases involving violence against women. These specialized units receive and process cases of gender-based violence and provide psychological support and other services to victims. In 440 precincts where gender-based violence response units have not been established, a regular police officer was designated to process the cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in domestic abuse because of isolation measures. The government and NGOs expanded programming and outreach that provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the government adopted protective measures, such as shelters, for survivors of domestic violence in the first half of the year. On May 28, the government adopted a bill to create a national registry for social support programs for women and children. Several NGOs adapted services provided to survivors of domestic violence, providing hotlines, shelter, resources, guidance, and legal support.
There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts maintained “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.
According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the survivors responsible. Some sexual assault survivors also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.
The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs, the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.
In January 2020 media reported that 20 suspects kidnapped “Oumaima,” a 17-year-old girl, in the Moulay Rachid district (in Casablanca) and then gang raped and abused her for 25 days before she convinced a friend of the perpetrators to assist in her escape. According to the victim’s mother, during confinement, the perpetrators forced the girl to ingest toxic substances to try to kill her. The girl was hospitalized after her escape. The investigation continued.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams ($1,000) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member commits harassment, physical violence, abuse, or mistreatment, or breaks a restraining order, or if the victim is a minor. Civil society leaders stated they did not observe efforts by the government to enforce the law or provide training on the new law for judicial or law enforcement officials.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities generally did not discriminate against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections. Contraception is legal, and most forms were widely available. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the country has invested in increasing the availability of voluntary family planning services, expanding and improving maternal health care, and providing for access to obstetric care by eliminating fees.
The contraceptive pill was available over the counter, without a prescription. Skilled health attendance at delivery and postpartum care were available for women who could afford it, with approximately 75 percent of overall births attended by skilled health personnel.
The country’s maternal mortality rate between 1997 and 2018 declined by 68 percent according to the UN Population Fund. The most recent World Health Organization statistics showed there were approximately 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country in 2017 and that 37 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2019. The major factors influencing maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence rates were female illiteracy, lack of knowledge about availability of services, cost of services, social pressure against contraceptive use, and limited availability of transportation to health centers and hospitals for those in rural areas. While a 2018 law strengthened penalties for violence against women (see Section 6, Women) and required certain government agencies establish units to provide psychological support and other services to victims of gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch assessed at the time of the law’s passage that it did not sufficiently define the government’s role in providing services to victims. The government responded that it provides services to survivors of sexual assault via the UN Population Fund.
Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, including inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution.
According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive one-half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive one-half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.
Since 2019 the law allows female heirs to inherit, and be titled as owners of, those lands.
The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.
The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.
The majority of the population, including some members of the royal family, claimed some Amazigh heritage. Many of the poorest regions in the country, particularly the rural Middle Atlas region, were predominantly Amazigh and had illiteracy rates higher than the national average. Basic governmental services in this mountainous and underdeveloped region were lacking.
On May 31, media reported that local authorities in Kenitra had refused to register the birth of his daughter with an Amazigh name. On August 25, after review by the Ministry of the Interior, the name was permitted and evaluated according to national standards.
Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. Amazigh materials were available in news media and, to a much lesser extent, educational institutions. The government provided television programs in the three national Amazigh dialects of Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight. According to regulations, public media are required to dedicate 30 percent of broadcast time to Amazigh language and cultural programming. According to Amazigh organizations, however, only 5 percent of broadcast time was given to Amazigh language and culture.
Birth Registration: The law permits both parents to pass nationality to their children. The law establishes that all children have civil status regardless of their family status. There were, nonetheless, cases in which authorities denied identification papers to children because they were born to unmarried parents, particularly in rural areas or in the cases of poorly educated mothers unaware of their legal rights.
Education: The government offered Tamazight language classes in some schools. Although the palace-funded Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture created a university-level teacher-training program to address the shortage of qualified teachers, Amazigh NGOs contended that the number of qualified teachers of regional dialects of Amazigh languages continued to decrease. The government reported, however, that the number of teachers employed to teach the official national Amazigh language has increased. Instruction in the Amazigh language is mandatory for students at the Ministry of Interior’s School for Administrators.
Child Abuse: NGOs, human rights groups, media outlets, and UNICEF claimed child abuse was widespread. According to the government, during the year 3,600 cases were investigated for criminal offenses associated with 5,699 reported cases of child abuse. Prosecutions for child abuse were extremely rare. Some children’s rights NGOs expressed concerns regarding the lack of legislation to prosecute cases involving incest.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but parents may secure a waiver from a judge for underage marriage. The government maintained a national awareness-raising campaign against the marriage of minors.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 18. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children under the criminal code range from two years to life imprisonment and monetary fines.
On April 28, police arrested a teacher suspected of raping 11 minors in the commune of Sidi Ali in Errachidia. The parents of 12 students filed the complaint. In October the court sentenced the teacher to 20 years in prison and a fine of 40,000 Moroccan dirhams ($4,200).
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 .
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.
The constitution recognizes the Jewish community as part of the country’s population and guarantees everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” Community leaders estimated the size of the Jewish population at 3,500. Overall, there appeared to be little overt anti-Semitism, and the Jewish community generally lived in safety.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care. The law also provides for regulations and building codes that provide for access for persons with disabilities. In general, the government did not effectively enforce or implement these laws and regulations. While building codes enacted in 2003 require accessibility for all persons, the codes exempt most pre-2003 structures, and authorities rarely enforced them for new construction. Most public transportation was inaccessible to persons with disabilities, although the national rail system offered wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and special seating areas. Government policy provides that persons with disabilities should have equal access to information and communications. Special communication devices for persons with visual or audio disabilities were not widely available.
The Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and attempted to integrate persons with disabilities into society by implementing a quota of 7 percent for persons with disabilities in vocational training in the public sector and 5 percent in the private sector. Both sectors were far from achieving the quotas. The government maintained more than 400 integrated classes for children with learning disabilities, but private charities and civil society organizations were primarily responsible for integration.
Persons with HIV and AIDS faced discrimination and had limited treatment options. UNAIDS reported that some health-care providers were reluctant to treat persons with HIV and AIDS due to fear of infection. According to UNAIDS, treatment coverage increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2016, and the National Strategic Plan 2017-2021 commits the country to reduce new infections among key and vulnerable populations, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce AIDS-related deaths, confront discrimination, and strengthen governance for an efficient response. Although overall objectives in the National Strategic Plan were achieved, the testing campaigns for affected individuals were delayed because of COVID-19. As a result, the National Strategic Plan was extended to 2023.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison for violations. According to a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office released in 2020, the state prosecuted individuals in 2020 for same-sex sexual activity. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years. According to some human rights organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) victims of violence in high-profile cases from previous years continued to be harassed when recognized in public.
In November 2020 an artist was arrested while filing a complaint against an individual for harassment and homophobia. According to the government, his detention did not have to do with his sexual identity, but rather related to violating COVID-19 restrictions. His next hearing was scheduled for September. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTQI+ persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTQI+ persons, including some reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and health care.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions. The law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary, from forming and joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law excludes migrant workers from assuming leadership positions in unions.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prohibits companies from dismissing workers for participating in legitimate union-organizing activities. Courts have the authority to reinstate workers dismissed arbitrarily and may enforce rulings that compel employers to pay damages and back pay. Trade unions complained that the government at times used the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for most unionized and nonunionized workers. The law allows independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the employee base to be associated with a union to permit the union to be represented and engage in collective bargaining. Unions can legally negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues. At the sectoral level, trade unions negotiated with private employers concerning minimum wage, compensation, and other concerns. Labor disputes were common and, in some cases, resulted from employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages. It was unclear whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The law concerning strikes requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, prohibits sit-ins, and calls for a 10-day notice of a strike. The government may intervene in strikes. A strike may not occur over matters covered in a collective contract for one year after the contract commences. The government has the authority to disperse strikers in public areas not authorized for demonstrations and to prevent the unauthorized occupancy of private space. Unions may neither engage in sabotage nor prevent those individuals who were not on strike from working.
Most union federations are affiliated with political parties, but unions were generally free from government interference.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and establishes a fine for the first offense and a jail term of up to three months for subsequent offenses. Penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The domestic workers law provides some protections to domestic workers. Reports indicated that forced labor, especially of children, occurred (see section 7.c.).
For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor, and child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 16 in dangerous labor. The law prohibits children younger than age 16 from working as domestic servants. The law does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. In some cases employers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), forced domestic work, and forced labor in the production of artisan products and construction.
The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from hazardous work in 33 areas, including working in mines, handling dangerous materials, transporting explosives, and operating heavy machinery. The labor code does not apply to children who work in the traditional artisan or handicraft sectors for businesses with fewer than five employees or to those who work on private farms or in residences. Some children became apprentices before they were 12, particularly in small, family-run workshops in the handicraft industry and in the construction industry and mechanic shops. Children also worked in hazardous occupations as designated by law. These included fishing and, in the informal sector, in textiles, light manufacturing, and traditional handicrafts. Children’s safety, health conditions, and wages were often substandard.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The overwhelming majority of child laborers worked in rural areas, according to the government’s statistical agency, the High Planning Commission. Punishments for violations of the child labor laws include criminal penalties, civil fines, and withdrawal or suspension of one or more civil, national, or family rights, including denial of legal residence in the country for five to 10 years. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Integration only conducted child labor inspections in the formal economy across the country, but acknowledged child labor violations in the informal sector, including potential forced child labor crimes. The government reported that, overall, labor inspections suffered from insufficient personnel and resources to address child labor violations, including potential child trafficking crimes, throughout the country. The government adopted Law 51.17, which requires the government to enact compulsory education for children between the ages of four and 16 by 2025. It significantly increased the number of prosecutions related to the worst forms of child labor, from five cases in 2018 to 170 cases in 2019; however, in 2020 the number dramatically dropped to just 22 cases. For more information see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination against persons in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, or disability, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability. The law does not address age or pregnancy.
Discrimination occurred in all categories prohibited by law. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Women are prohibited from working in occupations that present a risk of excessive danger, exceeds their capacity or is likely to undermine their morality, such as jobs in quarries and underground in mines, or engaging in work that exposes them to the risk of falling or slipping as well as work in a constant squatting or leaning position, work or activities using asbestos and benzene and any other activity exposing them to dangerous chemical agents.
Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan African countries, experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment. These workers often reported employer noncompliance with low or unpaid wages, excessive hours of work, restricted movement, dangerous and difficult work conditions. Even after obtaining a residence card, their vulnerability was reinforced by lack of access to the formal economy, pushing them to the margins of society. Most lived in crowded rooms in dilapidated neighborhoods, while others slept on the streets, in cemeteries, and forests.
Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the poverty line. The law provides for a 44- to 48-hour maximum workweek with no more than 10 hours work in a single day, premium pay for overtime, paid public and annual holidays, and minimum conditions for health and safety, including limitations on night work for women and minors. The law prohibits excessive overtime. A 2019 tripartite agreement among the government, employers, and unions stipulated that the monthly minimum wage be increased by 10 percent, phased in through two 5 percent increases. The first occurred in 2019 and the second in July 2020. The current, hourly minimum salary was raised based on the tripartite agreement; however, many employers did not observe the legal provisions regulating conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce basic provisions of the labor code, such as payment of the minimum wage and other basic benefits under the National Social Security Fund. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Employment and Vocational Integration sets and enforces rudimentary occupational health and safety standards. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country, and the government did not effectively enforce them. It was unclear whether responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. In the formal sector, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations. The government has not ratified article 13 of Convention 155, and there are no provisions in the labor code that refer directly to this right. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence. The government did not adequately enforce labor laws, particularly inspections. The country’s labor inspectors reported that although they attempted to monitor working conditions and investigate accidents, they lacked adequate resources, preventing effective enforcement of labor laws. Inspectors reported that their role as mediators of labor conflicts significantly limited time spent proactively inspecting work sites and remediating and uncovering violations. Inspectors do not have punitive power and cannot independently levy fines or other punishments. Only action by the public prosecutor that results in a judicial decree can force an employer to take remedial actions. Enforcement procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Major workplace accidents were reported during the year. Most notably, in February a flood in a textile factory in Tangier killed 28 garment workers. They were electrocuted when the basement flooded and water came into contact with exposed wiring. The factory was unregistered, and it reportedly did not meet safety standards. In December the factory owner was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Informal Sector: The domestic worker law provides protections for domestic workers, including limits on working hours and a minimum wage. Penalties for violating the law start with a fine and, in cases of repeated offenses, can include one to three months of imprisonment. Labor inspectors did not inspect small workshops with fewer than five employees and private homes where many such violations occurred, as the law requires a warrant or permission of the owner to search a private residence. The law establishes a conciliation process for labor inspectors to handle disputes between domestic workers and their employers, but the law lacks time limits for a resolution. Labor inspectors reported their small numbers, scarce resources at their disposal, and the broad geographic dispersion of sites limited their ability to enforce the law effectively.