Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.
In 2018 an off-duty police officer in Berlin raped a 24-year-old woman. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office emphasized that the officer was off-duty and his status had no bearing on the alleged crime. In February the officer was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
In February a Cologne judge dismissed sexual assault proceedings against a defendant who allegedly grabbed a woman under her skirt in November 2019. The judge argued the alleged assault was minor and took place at the start of the carnival season. A local advocacy group against sexual violence criticized the decision in a public letter and protested in front of the court.
In June Rhineland-Palatinate became the first state to open a contact point for victims of sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment within the state government administration. The contact point is operated by the NGO Pro Familia.
The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 340 women’s shelters offering a total of 6,700 beds operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women are particularly vulnerable, since they are required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many live in districts in which there are no women’s shelters. Multiple NGOs expressed concern the COVID-19 lockdown constrained opportunities for women to escape violent domestic situations. ZIF called for additional government funding to place women and children in hotels if quarantine rendered its shelters inaccessible.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals who they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. FGM/C affected segments of the immigrant population, in particular those from Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Egypt, and their children born in the country. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth worked with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C. According to a June study by the Federal Ministry for Women and Families, the number of mutilated women and girls has risen from approximately 50,000 in 2017 to approximately 68,000. The ministry estimated approximately 2,800 to 14,900 girls in the country are also at risk of FGM/C. The ministry noted the growing number of cases is likely attributable to increased immigration from countries where FGM is practiced.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and provides penalties that include life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively and financed programs aimed at ending “honor killings.”
In April a trial in Essen against 13 members of an extended Syrian family who attempted an “honor killing” ended with prison terms for eight defendants of up to eight and a half years and three suspended sentences. The defendants beat and stabbed a man in 2018 for having an affair with a married family member.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of as many as five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had 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. There are no legal, social, or cultural barriers, nor government policies that adversely affect access to contraception nor to attendance of skilled health personnel during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.
Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials receive birth registration applications, they generally process them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable by five months to 10 years in prison. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored a number of programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.
Legislation passed in 2017 nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was younger than age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals ages 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics are unavailable on such cases. Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution and practices related to child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is younger than 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.”
Crime statistics indicate approximately 43 children became victims of sexual violence daily in 2019. The number of child pornography cases processed by police rose by 65 percent in 2019, to approximately 12,260.
In June police uncovered a child abuse ring in Muenster, NRW. The main suspect was a 27-year-old man suspected of sexually abusing the 10-year-old son of his partner; he also produced pornography of the abuse and sold it online, and offered his foster son to others. As of September there were 11 suspects in custody.
In October 2019 a 43-year-old man was arrested in Bergisch-Gladbach, NRW, for severe child abuse. The case evolved into a large-scale investigation involving 400 police detectives and a network of at least 30,000 suspects. As of August authorities had identified 87 suspects. In the first case to go to trial, a 27-year-old man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the network. On September 11, the regional court sentenced a man from Krefeld for 13.5 years’ and a man from Viersen to 14.5 years’ imprisonment. The two 39-year-old men were convicted of serious child sexual abuse and of possession and distribution of child pornographic material. Investigations continued.
In January the Bundestag passed a law enabling undercover investigators to use artificially created videos of child sexual abuse to gain entry to internet forums. The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues offered a sexual abuse help online portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.
In April, NRW police established a unit in the Ministry of Interior specializing in child sexual abuse investigations. Statewide, police staff in this area quadrupled to approximately 400 police officers.
In July 2019 a parliamentary committee opened an investigation into possible failures and misconduct of the NRW state government in a case of multiple sexual abuse of children at a campground in Luegde. As of November the investigation continued, with sessions scheduled until December 18.
Displaced Children: According to the NGO Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF), 2,689 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2019, approximately half of whom came from three countries: Afghanistan, Guinea, and Syria. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in just 56.2 percent of cases, a sharp drop from 94.5 percent in 2016. BumF observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
According to estimates by the NGO Off Road Kids, as many as 2,500 children between the ages of 12 and 18 become at least temporarily homeless every year. Off Road Kids reported most runaways stayed with friends and were not living on the streets. These minors were generally school dropouts who did not receive assistance from the youth welfare office or their parents, and instead used digital networks to find temporary housing with friends and online acquaintances.
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.
Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.
Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons, and such acts increased during the year. Jewish organizations also noted anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing.
In 2019 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes, a 13 percent increase from the 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes in 2018. In presenting the data, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Socialist Union) postulated that right-wing extremists posed the greatest threat to the country’s democracy. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism cautioned the number of anti-Semitic attacks officially noted was likely misleading, because a significant number of cases may have been unreported.
The FOPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents rose from 48 in 2017 to 56 in 2019. The FOPC also identified three anti-Semitic incidents with a religious ideological motivation and five with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.
On July 21, the trial of the gunman who killed two German nationals in Halle and attacked the synagogue outside of which they stood on Yom Kippur in 2019 commenced in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Defendant Stephan Baillet testified to being motivated by xenophobia and anti-Semitism in court, repeating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and calling Muslim refugees in the country “conquerors.” While he reportedly acted alone, far-right online fora played a role in his radicalization. Baillet also released a manifesto online detailing his objective and live-streamed the attack on streaming platform Twitch. As of November the trial of Stephan Baillet was still proceeding.
In December 2019 a Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania court sentenced former special weapons and tactics team (SEK) officer Marko G. to 21 months’ probation for possession of weapons and violations of the War Weapons Control Act. During an April 2019 raid, police found 55,000 rounds of ammunition at G.’s residence, most of which belonged to seven separate German state police forces, the federal police, and the German Armed Forces. G. was the leader of the group Nordkreuz (Northern Cross), which spread anti-Semitic conspiracies and had drawn up plans to take advantage of what they saw as the country’s impending economic collapse to kill prorefugee and other left-wing politicians.
On January 19, a boy found a homemade explosive device near the access area of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp memorial site. Due to the proximity to the memorial, the Thuringia State Security service was also involved in the investigation, which continued as of September.
In November 2019 a 19-year-old Jewish man was attacked by a 23-year-old man in a Freiburg gym for wearing a kippah. The attacker insulted him as a “dirty Jew,” spat into his kippah, and threw it in the trash. Only one of several bystanders tried to help. The attacker then left the gym without being stopped by employees. Police identified the attacker a few weeks after the incident. In May a Freiburg district court sentenced the attacker for incitement and defamation to a suspended prison sentence of six months and a monetary fine.
In December 2019 unknown perpetrators knocked down 40 gravestones at the Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen, NRW, spraying some with paint. In January more than 1,300 persons demonstrated against the cemetery’s desecration. In July the chief rabbi of Munich, Rabbi Brodman, was attacked by four Muslims who shouted derogatory remarks at him. Police launched a manhunt but did not locate the perpetrators.
From mid-March to mid-June, the Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism registered anti-Semitic incidents at 123 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Incidents included positive references to Nazis, including comments by protest organizer Attila Hildmann that Adolf Hitler was “a blessing” in comparison to Angela Merkel, and the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths, including the assertion that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.
On June 18, the Bundestag passed the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes, requiring social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Federal President Steinmeier announced in October he would not sign the bill into law until the government made specific revisions to make it constitutional.
Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Federal Chancellor Merkel, Federal President Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Since then, 15 of 16 states have also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs. A federal and state-level Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism and Protect Jewish Life including all commissioners was founded in summer 2019 and meets twice a year to coordinate strategies.
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. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.
Persons with disabilities faced particular difficulties in finding housing.
State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or segregated schools. The law obliges all children to attend school, so those with disabilities do so at the same rate as children without disabilities. In some instances parents or teachers in mainstream schools protested against the inclusion of students with disabilities, primarily because they perceived the schools had insufficient resources and capabilities to address their needs.
In June disability rights NGOs criticized governmental discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government classified persons with disabilities as a “risk group,” for which stricter protective regulations applied. This included, for example, a prohibition on group travel by persons with disabilities and a requirement for assisted living residents to quarantine for two weeks if they left their facility. NGOs criticized the government’s giving higher priority to more restrictive rules for persons with disabilities over their rights to freedom and self-determination.
The annual FOPC report for 2019 recorded 21,290 politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds, 925 of which were violent–a 15-percent decline from the previous year. Of these, 695 were categorized as xenophobic. The 2019 FADA report detailed a 10 percent annual increase in complaints of racism. In June, Berlin enacted a law making it easier for victims of discrimination to claim damages and compensation. If discrimination is considered “predominantly likely,” authorities must prove there was no discrimination.
In March a Nigerian immigrant appeared at a police station in Essen to report the theft of her purse. She asserted the officers refused to take her charge seriously, insulted her with racial epithets, and ultimately became violent. Several family members of the woman fought with police and were hospitalized for their injuries. Bochum police were investigating the Essen incident, and the investigation continued as of November.
Following the February arrest of a Hamm police officer on suspicion of involvement in a right-wing terror cell, NRW interior minister Reul announced in March all police authorities in NRW would appoint extremism commissioners to collect information on extremist attitudes among police officers.
In February the Villingen-Schwenningen police academy in Baden-Wuerttemberg suspended seven police cadets for having shared racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic content through a private WhatsApp chat group. Offenburg prosecutors closed their investigation in March and found the group did not commit a punishable offense, but the police academy and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Ministry stated disciplinary action would proceed and that the cadets would ultimately be dismissed.
In September the NRW Interior Ministry suspended 29 police officers for participating in a right-wing chat group in which they shared extremist propaganda, including photographs of Adolf Hitler and swastikas. The NRW Interior Ministry announced it was conducting criminal investigations and would create a new position specifically to monitor right-wing extremism across the NRW police force.
A spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced June 11 the federal government would investigate possible racist tendencies in its police forces, and the federal Ministries of the Interior and Justice would develop a study on racial profiling. Many persons reported they were targeted by police because of their skin color, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has long reported racial profiling is widespread among German police forces. On July 6, however, a spokesperson for the ministry stated Minister Horst Seehofer saw no need for such a study and it would be canceled. In July and August, 75,000 citizens signed a petition requesting the Bundestag to go forward with the study, which assured the Petitions Committee of the Bundestag would publicly discuss the topic. In October the Ministry of Interior announced it would begin a study on racism in society and an additional study on difficulties and frustration in the everyday life of security officers, including the violence and hatred they sometimes confront. A study by University of Bochum criminologists concluded in November ethnic minorities faced structural discrimination from police.
On February 19, right-wing extremist Tobias Rathjen fired shots at two separate shisha bars in Hanau, Hesse, killing nine persons and injuring several others. The bars were frequented by migrant communities, and most of the victims had migrant backgrounds. Police later found the bodies of the deceased suspect and his mother in his Hanau apartment as well as a pamphlet outlining the suspect’s ideology that included racist language and conspiracy theories. Following the attack, politicians and civil society mourned the victims at events across the country; Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), Hesse minister president Volker Bouffier (CDU), and Hanau lord mayor Claus Kaminsky (SPD) spoke at an evening vigil in Hanau attended by approximately 5,000 persons. The investigation of the case continued. In response to the attack, Federal Chancellor Merkel announced March 2 the creation of a cabinet committee to fight against right-wing extremism and racism.
In August 2019 a 51-year-old man shot a Nigerian-born German man twice at a community center in Ulm, Baden-Wuerttemberg, injuring the victim’s shoulder. In May an Ulm district court sentenced the attacker to a suspended 15-month prison term, saying he had acted out of racist motivation. According to the victim, the attacker had shouted “El Paso, Texas” (in reference to the mass shooting that had occurred there the same day).
On August 1, 12 right-wing extremists, first verbally and then physically attacked three Guineans in Erfurt, Thuringia. Two men were injured, one of them seriously. Police arrested 12 suspects but released them the next day, arguing they did not present flight risks. Thuringia’s minister of the interior Maier criticized this as a catastrophe for the victims and residents alike. As of September the Thuringian State Criminal Police Office and the Erfurt Public Prosecutor’s Office were still investigating.
The Association of Counseling Centers for Right-wing, Racist, and Anti-Semitic Violence (VBRG) announced in early May it had documented more than 130 cases of racist attacks on persons with Asian backgrounds in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the VBRG, the actual number of attacks–which included verbal abuse, spitting, and spraying with disinfectant–was likely much higher.
Persons of foreign origin sometimes faced difficulties with finding housing. FADA reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic-German origin, particularly of Turkish and African origin.
Harassment of members of racial minorities, such as Roma and Sinti, remained a problem throughout the country. In May 2019 a burning torch was thrown at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their nine-month-old baby in Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg. In July 2019 police arrested five Germans ages 17 to 20 in connection with the crime, and in September they were facing trial. One of them admitted to throwing a torch but denied intending to kill the persons inside the trailer. The defendants were released from custody in May when attempted murder charges were dropped. The court was still investigating whether the attack was motivated by racism or anti-Romani sentiments.
In May a 25-year-old German with Turkish roots was arrested for four attacks on Turkish shops in Waldkraiburg, Bavaria in April and May, which injured several persons. He said he was motivated by “hatred of Turks” and claimed to be an admirer of the Islamic State. The defendant claimed to have planned attacks on mosques and the Turkish Consulate in Munich.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activists criticized the requirement that transgender persons be diagnosed as “mentally ill” in order to obtain legal gender recognition.
In October police arrested a 20-year-old Syrian refugee and known Islamist for attacking a homosexual couple in Dresden with a knife, fatally injuring one of them. The state Ministry of the Interior and Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Saxony rejected a homophobic motive, focusing instead on the crime’s radical Islamist background. LGBTI advocacy groups decried this as “unacceptable” and “disturbing.”
In November multiple individuals attacked a 20-year-old LGBTI individual in Frankfurt a week after he spoke in a YouTube video about queer topics and hostility toward the LGBTI community. Police made several arrests, but the initial police report did not mention a homophobic motive. Police confirmed several days later they would investigate whether the individual’s sexual orientation played a role in the attack.
On May 7, the Bundestag passed a bill making it an offense punishable by up to a year in prison to offer, advertise, or arrange treatments to convert homosexual or transgender minors by means of “conversion therapy.” Penalties are also possible if persons of legal age have been coerced to undergo such “therapy.”
In August a Kassel district court found Kassel University biology professor Ulrich Kutschera guilty of defamation and fined him. In a 2017 interview, Kutschera had alleged that sexual abuse of children was likelier to occur among same-sex parents and called same-sex couples “asexual erotic duos without reproduction potential.” Following the interview, 17 individuals filed charges against Kutschera. The prosecution had also pressed charges for incitement, but the judge acquitted the defendant on that count.
In July a Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania court sentenced a 32-year-old right-wing extremist to a five-month probation for hurling a bottle at the chair of the Neubrandenburg LGBTI group “queerNB” in December 2019.
In September a study by the German Institute for Economic Research and the University of Bielefeld found 30 percent of homosexuals and 40 percent of transgender persons faced discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment and workplace bullying were also commonplace, which led one-third of homosexuals to hide their sexuality from their colleagues.
The NGO German AIDS Foundation reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work. A domestic AIDS service NGO continued to criticize authorities in Bavaria for continuing mandatory HIV testing of asylum seekers.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior announced September 1 it had appointed a panel of 12 experts to develop strategies to identify, combat, and prevent hostility towards Muslims. The panel included experts from academia and civil society and was tasked with presenting a final report in two years.
In March the Fatih Mosque in Bremen received an envelope containing a powder-like substance alongside a letter with right-wing extremist content. The powder turned out to be harmless. As of September, Bremen police had not identified any suspects, nor had they made any progress on solving separate attacks on the mosque in 2017 and 2018.
On two separate occasions in July, unknown suspects left severed pig heads in front of the Islamic Cultural Center in Greifswald, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Police were investigating as of September.
A 34-year-old Iraqi of Yezidi origin confessed in September 2019 to desecrating 50 copies of the Quran by throwing them into toilets, as well as to a similar incident in Schleswig-Holstein where he resides.