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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 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption, although no significant cases were reported during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

In 2020 the government established the Federal Institute of Human Rights and nominated a board president and vice president in May. The institute is intended to intervene where other agencies, such as UNIA or the federal center for migration (Myria), do not act. The mission of the institute is to provide opinions, recommendations, and reports to the federal government, the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate, and other official bodies, to ensure that the fundamental rights arising from the international treaties to which the country is a party are carried out. The new body is competent only at the federal level, but an interfederal approach was also envisaged through a cooperation agreement between federal and regional authorities.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons.

In 2020, UNIA received 115 complaints of anti-Semitism, an increase of 45.5 percent from the 79 complaints received in 2019. Of these, 70.4 percent were related to hate speech and 48.7 percent took place on the internet. UNIA reported that 13 percent of the cases involved hate crimes and 8.7 percent (a total of 10 cases) involved Holocaust denial.

Authorities generally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted such cases.

In February members of the Jewish community in Flanders reported increasing anti-Semitism. The country’s security services also noticed an increase in hate messages targeting Jews, both online and in the streets, that referred to large gatherings in synagogues and higher COVID-19 infection rates in Jewish neighborhoods.

Also in February the public prosecutor’s office called for the prosecution of nine members of the far-right youth movement Schild & Vrienden for violating the antiracism law. The accused included Dries Van Langenhove, a member of parliament for the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang. The Ghent public prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation of the involved members in 2018 after the public broadcaster VRT documented racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic messages exchanged by its members in a chat room. Some of the individuals were also accused of Holocaust denial. As of April the investigation was underway, and the Ghent Council Chamber was expected to decide whether the suspects should be referred to a criminal court.

On June 3, a man was sentenced to six months in prison and an 800 euro ($920) fine for performing the Nazi salute in Fort Breendonk, located near the city of Mechelen, which had served as a Nazi hub for the transit and deportation of the country’s Jews during World War II. The man was a known member of the far-right group Right Wing Resistance Flanders.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (also see section 2.a.). The government provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these prohibitions.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, many inmates were still incarcerated in inadequate facilities.

The National High Council for Persons with Disabilities raised concerns about access to intensive care services for persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNIA stated as well that due to social distancing measures, persons with disabilities and older persons did not have equal access to health care. Cases included older persons and persons with disabilities being given oxygen without medical supervision, and a person with an intellectual disability being told to leave the hospital because he was too loud.

In February the European Committee of Social Rights condemned the country (specifically the Francophone community, in charge of mandatory education of francophone children) for failing to guarantee the right to inclusive education for children with intellectual disabilities. The minister of education highlighted the efforts authorities had already made but acknowledged that there was more to be done in coordinating the views and actions of different stakeholders, both from civil society and public institutions.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services, such as health care. The government enforced the law, but the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTQI+ community remained a problem.

A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 37 percent of individuals in the country identifying as LGBTQI+ reported avoiding certain areas so as not to be harassed, assaulted, or insulted.

On March 6, a 42-year-old gay man was found dead in a park in the city of Beveren, East Flanders. The man was reportedly lured to the park by his attackers through a gay dating app, then stabbed and beaten to death by three suspects. The three attackers, two 17-year-old boys and a 16-year-old boy, were placed in a youth offenders detention facility. LGBTQI+ persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery. In February the Chamber of Representatives unanimously adopted the “Resolution for recognizing the right to bodily integrity of intersex minors.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

For companies with more than 50 employees, the law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively. Workers in smaller companies were able to choose representatives to affiliate with a union but did not enjoy the same level of protection. Apart from the armed forces, civil servants in general, including members of the police force, and all private-sector employees are entitled to engage in strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers exercised these rights. Citizen and noncitizen workers enjoyed the same rights. Work council elections are mandatory in enterprises with more than 100 employees, and safety and health committee elections are mandatory in companies with more than 50 employees. Essential workers must declare their intention to participate in strike action at least 72 hours in advance, a requirement that unions said exposed workers to undue pressure from employers.

The government effectively enforced the law, but freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were not consistently respected by employers. Employers often resorted to the courts when strikes were announced, and courts often preemptively prohibited strikes. Employers can fire union representatives if they pay them compensation. Union representatives were seldom reinstated, as employers chose to pay statutory severance instead. Unions also denounced a practice among employers of dismissing worker representatives just before union elections. According to the International Trade Union Conference, 96 representatives were fired under these circumstances in 2019. Penalties for violating the law were commensurate with those for other violations. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining 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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: There is a monthly national minimum wage, and it is higher than the official poverty income level.

The standard workweek is 38 hours, and workers are entitled to four weeks of annual leave. Departure from these norms can occur under a collective bargaining agreement, but work may not exceed 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week. A rest period of at least 11 hours is required between work periods. Overtime is paid at a time-and-a-half premium on Monday through Saturday and double time on Sundays. The law forbids or limits excessive overtime. Without specific authorization, an employee may not work more than 65 hours of overtime during any one quarter. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced wage and hour regulations effectively.

On September 24, some unions led a protest of several thousand workers over the “1996 law,” which prevents wages from rising faster than in neighboring countries.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries. Inspectors from both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Security enforced labor regulations. These ministries jointly worked to ensure that standards were effectively enforced in all sectors and that wages and working conditions were consistent with collective bargaining agreements. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced visits and levy sanctions. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The primary responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with inspectors and not with the worker. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation. Wage, overtime, and occupational safety violations were most common in the restaurant, construction, and logistics industries. Some employers still operated below legal standards.

On September 29, a man died at the AccelorMittal factory in Ghent while work was being carried out on a conveyor belt. According to media reports, a roller broke off the conveyor belt and hit the victim in the head. AccelorMittal reported leading an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. Media also reported that the labor inspection services were onsite and could designate a technical expert to lead an independent investigation if deemed necessary.

Civil society organizations, such as advocacy groups and media outlets, raised concerns about the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to ensure worker safety during the COVID-19 crisis. According to Amnesty International, the government failed to preserve individuals’ right to health, life, and nondiscrimination due to several factors, including but not limited to the insufficient provision of personal protective equipment for care workers. In addition, there were serious concerns about migrant workers’ safety and well-being. Nearly 150,000 undocumented migrant workers who had lived in the country for years, if not decades, lacked access to social safety net programs and routinely worked long hours for little pay in the informal economy. The lack of access to social safety net programs was particularly problematic, since many migrant workers lost their jobs and struggled to find other employment opportunities due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Informal Sector: Workers in the informal economy are covered by the same wage, hours, and safety regulations as workers in the formal economy, but regulations were not consistently enforced. As of 2017, informal labor was estimated to make up approximately 3.6 percent of the country’s GDP and often consisted of undocumented migrants and students. A specialized governmental department, the Information and Social Research Service, created to oversee the informal economy, conducted more than 10,000 inspections in 2020 and initiated investigations, mainly in the construction, restaurant and hotel, and cleaning sectors. Infringements of workers’ rights were found in 42 percent of inspections; of those, 41 percent were in the construction sector, 55 percent in bars and restaurants, and 64 percent in carwash businesses. Authorities may fine employers for poor working conditions but may also treat such cases as trafficking in persons.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

Bulgaria is a constitutional republic governed by a freely elected unicameral National Assembly. A caretaker government headed by a prime minister appointed by the president led the country for much of the year. On November 14, the country held early National Assembly elections as well as the first round of the regular presidential election, which was followed by a runoff on November 21. National Assembly elections were also held on April 4 and July 11. The Central Election Commission did not report any major irregularities in any of the elections. International and local observers considered the three National Assembly elections and presidential election to be generally free and fair but noted some deficiencies.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for law enforcement, migration, and border control. The State Agency for National Security, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for investigating corruption and organized crime, among other responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also can assist with border security. The National Protective Service is responsible for the security of dignitaries and answers to the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violent treatment by police, including abuse of freedom of assembly; arbitrary arrests; serious problems with judicial independence; serious restrictions on free expression, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and corporate and political pressure on media; serious acts of corruption; intolerance and discrimination against Roma; violence against children; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

Authorities took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption, but government actions were insufficient, and impunity was a problem.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

In March the government adopted a new national strategy and roadmap on preventing and combating corruption for the period 2021-27, with a focus on combating high-level corruption. The government simultaneously adopted a report on the implementation of the preceding five-year anticorruption strategy, stating it had achieved its main goal to build stronger anticorruption capacity in the country. In September the caretaker government updated the roadmap for implementing the new strategy, acknowledging corruption at all levels and adding a focus on reducing corruption at the local level. NGOs alleged authorities applied the anticorruption law arbitrarily and selectively and assessed corruption prosecutions as ineffective and leading to few convictions.

Corruption: The prosecution service reported working on 274 pretrial investigations in 2020, which resulted in 17 indictments involving 56 persons and five convictions. In July the NGO Anticorruption Fund reported that in the previous five years it had monitored investigations against 63 high-profile former ministers, deputy ministers, National Assembly members, magistrates, mayors, and regional governors. The Anticorruption Fund also noted a further decline in anticorruption prosecutions, with zero convictions.

In June caretaker government ministers reported that 8.6 billion levs ($4.97 billion) of contracts (more than 40 percent) awarded by state-owned companies under the previous government since 2019 used in-house procedures and did not go through public procurement processes. The regional development minister cited an example in which the government awarded more than 1.5 billion levs ($867 million) to the state-owned Motorways company, which subcontracted a large part of the money to private companies in advance payments for projects that had not been launched yet.

In May the appellate specialized criminal court found seven customs officials guilty of extorting bribes from drivers crossing the Lesovo border checkpoint and sentenced them to pay a 5,000 lev ($2,890) fine each. As of December the trial against the former head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev, and three other employees of the agency was ongoing at the specialized criminal court. The four were charged with receiving bribes and trading in influence to aid foreign citizens in obtaining the Bulgarian passports.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials.

The Civil Society Development Council remained suspended, after failing to start working in June 2020 due to objections by the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets and conflicting views within the government coalition regarding the election of council members.

Nationalist parties and NGOs routinely targeted human rights organizations and activists with accusations of treason and criminal offenses. In May vandals defaced the facade of the building where the office of the BHC was located with offensive graffiti.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman is an independent constitutional body elected by the National Assembly for a five-year mandate. The ombudsman reviews individuals’ complaints against the government for violations of rights and freedoms. The ombudsman can request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals to end existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent specialized agency for preventing and protecting against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity.

A National Assembly permanent committee covers human rights, religious groups, and citizen petitions.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so.

The law provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law restricts the persons who can report domestic violence to the victim or the victim’s direct relatives and excludes friends and other unrelated persons. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, and order special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine. In September the Sofia regional prosecution service reported a 24 percent increase in the number of domestic violence cases in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2020. Over 10 percent of the cases involved a death threat.

According to the NGO Center for Creative Justice, the law does not provide sufficient protection to victims of domestic violence. The ombudsman criticized the legal provisions that exonerate an offender from prosecution for inflicting a medium injury (e.g., a broken tooth) or a more serious injury, such as deliberately infecting a person with a sexually transmitted disease.

In one example, in May the Dobrich regional court issued a restraining order against a 29-year-old man who entered a guilty plea and gave him a one-year suspended sentence for pouring gasoline on his former girlfriend and threatening to set her on fire. According to media reports, the two had lived together for a few years during which time the woman suffered numerous instances of physical and psychological violence but was afraid to complain to the authorities. After the woman broke up with him in January, the batterer stalked, intimidated, and harassed the woman.

NGOs criticized authorities for not tracking domestic violence cases and not keeping statistics, which NGOs claimed were needed for authorities to assess the risk of abuse turning deadly.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence survivors in 14 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that survivors could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred domestic violence survivors to NGO-run shelters. According to the Bulgarian Fund for Women, which provided free legal and psychological consultations, domestic violence was still a taboo outside big cities where there was less access to counseling and protection services.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion combined with sexual exploitation. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

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

Women in poor rural and Romani communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of information and education. The cost of contraception was not covered by health insurance. Individuals younger than 16 could not schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or have an HIV test performed without parental consent.

Romani NGOs stated that many municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to health services to restrict Romani women’s access to them (see Systematic Racial and Ethnic Violence and Discrimination, below).

Lack of health insurance sometimes limited skilled attendance at childbirth. In April the NGO LARGO Association issued a report which estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all uninsured women, or between 8 and 9 percent of all women in the country, did not receive prenatal care and had no access to relevant medical tests. According to the report, 57 percent of uninsured women were Roma. Home births were illegal, and medical personnel could be prosecuted if they assisted them.

Victims of sexual violence, who NGOs stated were mainly uninsured, often did not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. Trafficking victims had access to health care through NGOs approved by authorities.

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment. The law provides for equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life; equal access to public resources; equal treatment; exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence; balanced representation of men and women in all decision-making bodies; and overcoming gender-based stereotypes.

In June the government adopted a two-year national gender equality plan that focuses on labor market equality, economic independence, decreasing the gender income gap, equal participation in decision making in politics, business, and society, combating gender-based violence, and overcoming gender stereotypes.

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2020 women received on average 14 percent lower wages and pensions that were 32 percent lower than those for men. Women faced discrimination in employment, in the workplace, and in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects all citizens against discrimination based on race, ethnic background, or nationality. The law provides severe punishments for racial or ethnic-based crimes, with homicide carrying up to a life sentence, injury carrying up to 15 years imprisonment, mob attack carrying up to six years, and violence and enticement to discrimination carrying up to four years. Racial or ethnic discrimination in employment, education, and other social areas carries a fine of up to 2,500 levs ($1,450).

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted and manifested in frequent discrimination against Roma and ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that racial discrimination against Roma increased during the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Vazrazhdane, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In June a study commissioned by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation identified increasing ethnocentrism and “indications of potential racism,” with only 22 percent of respondents expressing willingness to co-reside with Turks and 15 percent with Roma, while 15 percent were willing to have family relations with Turks and 5 percent with Roma.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition and evicted Roma families without providing adequate alternative accommodation.

NGOs alleged that local authorities and politicians “punished” Roma communities for political gain. For example in May local activists of Democratic Bulgaria (a political alliance) initiated checks for residents’ address registrations in the Romani neighborhood in Razlog and petitioned the regional building and construction authority to demolish houses in that neighborhood after a group of Roma attacked and beat a 25-year-old person in a restaurant. In July the mayor of Gurkovo cut the water supply to the local Roma neighborhood after its residents became more insistent in demanding he deliver on his campaign promises made to them during the 2019 local elections.

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 290 mediators in 144 municipalities.

According to the umbrella coalition of NGOs and activists Standing Roma Conference, national census officials in September refused to register residents of the Nadezhda neighborhood in Silven who wished to identify their ethnic identity as “Roma.” Similarly, the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden cited cases in Blagoevgrad in which national census counters told individuals they visited that “Macedonian” was not an available option for ethnic identification.

Romani NGOs stated that municipalities set discriminatory requirements to restrict Romani women’s access to reproductive health services. For example the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo, Vratsa, and Kyustendil and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad all require the mother to have completed secondary school. According to the BHC and Doctors Without Borders, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the “persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls.” NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported an increased number of hate speech complaints, mainly originating in media statements, social networks, and other online publications. In June the Supreme Administrative Court overturned two lower-level decisions and ruled that former defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s statement in 2019 in the village of Voyvodinovo calling for “solving the Gypsy question [because] … the people don’t have to tolerate a part of the population which only has rights and refuses to understand it also has responsibilities and needs to abide by the law” was discriminatory. The court returned the case to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination for reconsideration, asserting that the minister’s statement affects the whole Romani population and, added to his high public stature and the broad media coverage, created “persistent negative, potentially hostile, and conflict-generating attitudes, and instills distrust and intolerance toward every member of the Roma ethnic group.”

There were reports of Roma being denied access to public sites such as banks, swimming pools, and discos. For example in September the DSK Bank’s branch in Lukovit refused services such as money transfers and social security payments to members of the local Romani community on the basis they were not clients of the bank.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents or by birth within the country’s territory unless one receives foreign citizenship by heritage. The law requires birth registration within seven days.

Education: The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, if instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish. According to the National Statistical Institute, there were no Romani students studying their mother tongue in public schools and the average number of students who learned Turkish, Hebrew, and Armenian declined by more than 16 percent, continuing the downward trend from the previous two years. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian.

According to the Ministry of Education, online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic deepened education inequalities and risked increasing the number of school dropouts. The ministry reported that students lacked access to the internet in 56.5 percent of urban schools and 87.5 percent of schools in the rest of the country.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, there were segregated schools in 26 out of the 28 regions in the country and approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students.

The Education Ministry provided financial support to nine municipalities that pursued policies for educational desegregation and prevention of resegregation.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against any type of abuse, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence and exploitation. The law punishes violators with fines unless the abuses constitute a criminal or more severe administrative offense. Violence against children continued to be a problem.

In April UNICEF reported results from a survey which showed that 47 percent of children in the country had experienced some form of violence. The violence faced by the children included psychological (45.9 percent of cases), physical (31.2 percent), sexual (15.6 percent), and neglect (10.5 percent). In May the national child support helpline reported a 25 percent increase in the number of cases of domestic violence against children from the previous year.

In May the NGO National Network for Children released its tenth monitoring “report card,” which identified “not only a lack of progress but a backslide and deterioration of the situation for thousands of children and families due to a lack of government will to build the necessary capacity and develop consistent child policies as a top priority.”

In August the ombudsman requested that the minister of education initiate an urgent inspection at the Center for Special Education Support in Burgas following a video distributed on social media showing teachers harassing a student. As of September the local education inspectorate and child protection services were investigating the case.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases a person may enter marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. In March the NGO Amalipe stated that reduced school attendance during the COVID-19 state of emergency had “brought back the problem of early marriage in the Roma communities.” The NGO cited an example from a vocational school in Pazardjik in which more than 25 students had married since the start of the school year in September 2020, noting a similar trend in Sliven. As of September 28, the country’s courts had sentenced 13 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 16, 19 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 14, and four parents for aiding and abetting such cohabitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law differentiates between forcing children into commercial sex, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine, and child sex trafficking, which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. In August the Center for Safe Internet expressed concern about a 20 percent increase in online sexual exploitation and harassment of children in the previous 18 months and criticized the government for lacking an integrated strategy.

Displaced Children: As of November a total of 2,268 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the country, a 650 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020. According to the UNHCR, the practice of placing unaccompanied children in migrant detention centers without a clear standard persisted.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued to close residential care institutions for children. As of January a total of 277 children remained to be relocated from four legacy facilities and placed in community-based care. According to the government, the focus of the reform was on preventing child abandonment and encouraging reintegration in a family environment. NGOs, however, believed that the new family-type placement centers did not ensure improved quality of life for children and the quality of family support services remained unchanged.

In September the Validity Foundation published a report that criticized the government for continuing to invest substantial funds in new group homes which “leads to further segregation and isolation … and reinforces the model of institutionalization.” Validity Foundation noted “behavior is controlled by staff through psychological (and sometimes physical) force, punishment, and medication”; individuals “remain locked in the buildings”; and “there is no meaningful training for independent living.” The report also stated that, even though authorities considered the process of deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities complete, placing them in smaller homes does not change the type and quality of care they receive, and there are no policies indicating a vision for their future as equal community members.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The 2011 census indicated that 1,130 Jews lived in the country, but local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number was between 5,000 and 6,000.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews, or “Shalom,” reported a trend of increasing online anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories in the context of the coronavirus pandemic as well as periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were available in tourist areas around the country.

On January 29, a memorial plaque for a Plovdiv Jew killed in 1943 was defaced with a swastika. The Plovdiv municipality promptly cleaned the plaque, but as of December police had not identified the perpetrator. On August 22, racist and anti-Semitic symbols appeared on the fence of the synagogue in Sofia. As of December police had not identified a suspect.

On February 13, after the city was unable to legally ban the event, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova canceled the so-called Lukov March after it had begun, as the municipality had not agreed to the route proposed by the organizers. Approximately 50 participants turned out for the annual demonstration of right-wing extremists to honor General Hristo Lukov, the 1940s anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi leader of the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. Police divided the rally into smaller groups and escorted them to Lukov’s house, where the group held a commemoration ceremony. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, the Democratic Bulgaria alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. In February the Sofia city court rejected a prosecutor’s claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, the Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, asserting that the claim failed to provide evidence of incitement of ethnic, racial, and religious hostility and other unconstitutional activity on behalf of the party. As of December an appeal was ongoing in the Sofia appellate court.

In February the leader of the informal ultranationalist organization National Resistance, Blagovest Asenov, accused Jews and Jewish NGOs through social media of being “anti-Bulgarian” as well as of causing a “refugee crises in Europe” and forcing the COVID-19 pandemic on authorities. Police issued a warning to Asenov, but a prosecutor dismissed the case citing lack of evidence of a criminal offense.

In February Jewish organizations protested “scandalous and slanderous content” promoted in a quiz show on public broadcaster BNT that made anti-Semitic statements and minimized the Holocaust. The BNT director and the show’s host made public apologies and fired some of the show’s crew.

In February nine universities and the Bulgarian News Agency adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism at official ceremonies.

In June Shalom reported spotting stickers with Nazi symbols inside public transportation vehicles in Sofia and inside ski lifts in Bansko. Shalom also reported increased incidents of anti-Semitic hate speech online, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns. In October vice presidential candidate Elena Guncheva of the Vazrazhdane party referred on social media to local politicians of Jewish and Turkish origin, saying they should consider themselves “guests” in this country. After Shalom complained of “xenophobia and hate speech” to the Central Electoral Commission, which condemned her words but stated it could not interfere in the political campaign, Guncheva addressed Shalom specifically on social media, reiterating that “Bulgaria is the land of Bulgarians.” Jewish community leaders also expressed concern regarding periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments and what they said was an increasing trend of anti-Semitic and xenophobic propaganda and graffiti. In June Shalom approached the local government in Provadia after discovering that the old local Jewish cemetery had become an illegal landfill with bones scattered around the site. Shalom asked the municipality to clean the cemetery and to allow a rabbi to collect the bones. As of December the municipality had not responded to Shalom.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities were not able to access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law protects the rights of persons with physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities, including their access to health services, education, employment, housing, public infrastructure, transportation, sports and cultural events, public and political events, the judicial system, and other services but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. In January the National Assembly passed a law codifying sign language that provides for including it in the school curriculum and the right to interpretation in public administrations, hospitals, and within the judicial system.

According to NGOs the ongoing deinstitutionalization, which was designed to be a carbon copy of a similar reform of childcare institutions, failed to reintegrate persons with disabilities in the community. Instead, the government allocated domestic and EU resources for institutional care. The CPT noted in its public statement in November, its “long-standing concern” regarding physical mistreatment, use of mechanical restraint, and undignified treatment of persons with cognitive and mental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals and social care homes.

In September police arrested three chairs of medical expert evaluation boards for issuing fake disability evaluations and four intermediaries also involved. As of December the investigation was ongoing.

While the law requires improved access to public and transportation infrastructure for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects and existing buildings. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination continued its nationwide campaign of inspecting public buildings, utility providers, telecommunications operators, banks, and insurance companies. Those not in compliance with the law for persons with disabilities were fined. The commission noted an increased number of instances in which uncompliant entities concluded agreements committing to ensuring accessibility within a concrete timeline to avoid sanction. As of November the commission approved 25 such agreements and confirmed compliance in 11 of 16 inspections.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities and covers 30 to 50 percent of an employer’s related insurance costs in addition to the full cost of modifying and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. The government provided a 24-month program of subsidies for employers who hire unemployed persons with a permanent disability. The law requires that companies with 50 to 99 employees hire at least one person with a permanent disability; in larger companies, persons with permanent disabilities must make up at least 2 percent of the workforce. The law provides for protected employment centers for persons with multiple permanent disabilities, mental disorders, or intellectual disabilities. According to a representative survey conducted by Alpha Research agency between January and March, the labor market remained inaccessible for 62 percent of working-age persons with disabilities.

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were widely stigmatized and often housed in institutions in remote areas under harsh conditions. According to NGOs, the government did not provide adequate medical care for all persons with mental disabilities. The Validity Foundation’s September report concluded that the deinstitutionalization model focused on the size of the facility rather than the quality of services and care that would encourage independence and integration, thus giving persons with disabilities a choice where to live and with whom.

Fewer than 3 percent of students with specific education needs attended the five segregated schools for students with sensory and hearing disabilities. Most of the remaining students with disabilities attended mainstream schools. Those studying in segregated schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying the student for further education.

In July the government amended its regulations to consider NGO recommendations, including one by Life with Down Syndrome Foundation to remove the discriminatory age limit for determination of the level of disability.

NGOs believed police and prosecutors lacked training and skills in dealing with persons with mental disabilities and often traumatized them further with their actions.

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including through use of mobile ballot boxes, voting in a polling station of their choice, and assisted voting. According to OSCE/ODIHR, the design and setup of polling stations, including those designated by district election commissions for wheelchair users as well as most campaign materials, were “often not suitable for use by persons with disabilities.”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition. No laws protect against hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Societal intolerance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons persisted.

There were reports of violence against LGBTQI+ persons. On May 15, more than 300 persons protested the participation of 30 persons in the first LGBTQI+ pride event in Burgas, throwing rocks, smoke bombs, cucumbers, eggs, and plastic bottles at them, and burned a rainbow flag. More than 300 police secured the event and prevented further violence. A few hours earlier, the local Christian Orthodox clergy in Burgas held a prayer service “in defense of and support for the traditional Bulgarian family as well as to uphold the original Orthodox values and virtues.” In May members of nationalist Bulgarian National Union disrupted several LGBTQI+ events, such as a book presentation and film screening in Sofia, behaving aggressively and breaking the windows of the venue. In September a 15-year-old student was attacked and beaten by an older student in front of many other students in a schoolyard in Plovdiv “because he had a gay voice.” The victim was admitted to an intensive care ward with a concussion and head wounds.

On October 30, LGBTQI+ organizations reported a group of approximately 10 persons led by presidential candidate and Bulgarian National Union-National Democracy leader Boyan Stankov, also known as Rasate, stormed the Rainbow Hub LGBTQI+ community center during an event and punched an employee in the face, spray painted doors and walls, and broke equipment. On November 3, authorities arrested Rasate, who denied any involvement in the attack, after the Central Electoral Commission lifted the immunity conferred upon him as a candidate. He was charged with hooliganism and infliction of an injury committed with “extreme audacity and disrespect for the democratic foundations of the state.” As of December an investigation was underway.

In March the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization political party, part of the governing coalition at the time, issued a position declaring the country “a zone free of LGBTQI propaganda.”

According to LGBTQI+ organizations, courts rejected the right of same-sex partners to protection from domestic violence because the law treats “spousal” only as applying to married persons who cannot legally be the same sex. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving very few cases – three as of September – regarding sexual orientation.

According to the GLAS Foundation, tolerance toward LGBTQI+ persons was increasing. In March a polling agency presented research commissioned by GLAS showing that 6.4 percent of respondents would vote unconditionally in the forthcoming elections for a political party that supports LGBTQI+ rights while another 34.8 percent would not mind voting for such a party if they also liked its views on other topics.

A May 2020 report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights indicated that nearly 30 percent of LGBTQI+ persons had experienced workplace discrimination and nearly 40 percent of them did not report it to the police due to fear of discrimination. A study from March 2020 by the NGOs Single Step and Bilitis reported that 83 percent of LGBTQI+ students had experienced homophobic insults, 70 percent had suffered harassment, 34 percent had been physically abused, and 19 percent had been assaulted, while 50 percent never reported incidents to the authorities.

Many health professionals considered LGBTQI+ status a disease. The general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in refusal of health services, particularly to transgender persons. NGOs complained that most political parties in the National Assembly, government ministers, and municipal authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue on the problems facing LGBTQI+ individuals and related policy matters.

NGOs urged the government to discontinue normalization therapies on intersex children, which were funded by the National Health Insurance Fund with consent from their parents.

In March the civil division of the Supreme Cassation Court, which had been asked to interpret the law and rule whether transgender persons were entitled to a legal change of their biological sex, petitioned the Constitutional Court to explain whether the definition of “sex” according to the constitution also includes separate psychological or social aspects, different from the biological aspect. In October the Constitutional Court ruled that the constitution views the term “sex” in the biological sense based on gender binary and that sexual self-determination is a legitimate reason for changing one’s gender legally only in cases involving intersex persons. The ruling identified a legal gap regarding the legal change of biological sex and gave no specific guidance to the Supreme Cassation Court on how to proceed with its decision.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides for workers to receive up to six months’ salary as compensation for illegal dismissal, and provides for the right of the employee to demand reinstatement for such dismissal. Workers alleging discrimination based on union affiliation can file complaints with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, despite the constitutional recognition of the right of association, the law did not protect it, which prevented parties to a dispute from seeking redress in administrative court. In November medical workers protested in front of St. Sofia hospital against the firing of the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Veselina Gancheva, alleging she had been dismissed for “union activity and defending the rights of hospital workers.” According to press reports, Gancheva was the fifth member of the Labor Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists fired since the union’s establishment in 2019.

There are some limitations on these rights. The law prohibits Interior Ministry and judicial system officials from membership in national union federations. When employers and labor unions reach a collective agreement at the sector level, they must obtain the agreement of the minister of labor to extend it to cover all enterprises in the sector. The law prohibits most public servants from engaging in collective bargaining. The law also prohibits employees of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Intelligence, the National Protection Service, the courts, and prosecutorial and investigative authorities from striking. Those employees may take the government to court to provide due process in protecting their rights.

The law gives the right to strike to other public service employees, except for senior public servants, if at least 50 percent of the workers support the strike. The law also limits the ability of transport workers to organize their administrative activities and formulate their programs. Labor unions stated that the legal limitations on the right to strike and the lack of criminal liability for employers who abuse their workers’ right of association are contrary to the constitution.

Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions continued to report cases of employer obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of employees, including relocation, firing, and demotion of union leaders and members. Labor unions also alleged that some employers negotiated similar terms to those contained in the respective collective bargaining agreement with individual workers to erode unionism and discourage membership in a labor union. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria accused employers of “dumping” labor unions by negotiating better terms with workers who are not union members. In January the Autonomous Worker Confederation alleged that the management of the public transportation company in Varna had been hiding the collective agreement from company employees and labor union members. The government did not effectively enforce the labor law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. Penalties for discrimination carry lower fines than the fines for labor law violations. The law does not effectively protect against interference by employers in labor union activities. Judicial and administrative procedures were adequate in settling claims.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, but the government lacked resources to cope with the growing number of cases of international labor trafficking. In addition, labor inspectors lacked the legal authority and sufficient training to identify and pursue cases of forced labor. NGOs criticized the country’s institutions for failing to identify and prosecute cases of severe labor exploitation, alleging that the government focused instead on labor law violations that carry administrative sanctions. The government, through its central and local antitrafficking commissions, held forced labor prevention campaigns and training sessions for magistrates, law enforcement officers, and volunteers. Law enforcement officials did not have adequate capacity to investigate forced labor cases, and investigations took a long time.

There were some reports of families and criminal organizations subjecting children to forced work (see section 7.c.). As of November the national antitrafficking commission reported receiving 11 labor exploitation complaints, similar to 2020, but they involved a larger number of victims who were all exploited outside the country. Labor trafficking victims were often of Roma origin, particularly Romani children, or from rural regions. Traffickers exploited Romani children in forced begging and pickpocketing and others in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and the service sector.

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 law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. To employ children younger than 18, employers must obtain a work permit from the government’s General Labor Inspectorate. Employers can hire children younger than 16 with special permits for light work that is not hazardous or harmful to the child’s development and does not interfere with the child’s education or training.

The government did effectively enforce child labor laws. Employment of children without a work permit is a criminal offense but it is not a serious crime and carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine. Penalties for the worst forms of child labor, however, are commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The General Labor Inspectorate was generally effective in inspecting working conditions at companies seeking and holding child work permits and applying sanctions regarding child labor in the formal sector. The inspectorate reported a 71 percent increase in legal employment of children. In 2020 the inspectorate uncovered 180 cases of children working without prior permission, a nearly 24 percent decrease from 2019.

The latest national program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor expired at the end of 2020; as of the end of the year, the government had not approved a new one.

NGOs continued to report the exploitation of children in certain industries, particularly small family-owned shops, textile production, restaurants, construction businesses, and periodical sales, and by organized crime – notably for commercial sexual exploitation, pickpocketing, and the distribution of narcotics. Children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Romani children, were exposed to harmful and exploitative work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, race, skin color, age, social origin, language, political and religious beliefs, membership in labor unions and civil society organizations, family, and marital status, and mental or physical disabilities. Although the government usually effectively enforced these laws, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across all sectors of the economy with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and minority group status. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving discrimination complaints during the year concerning union membership and employment of persons with disabilities, citing examples in which employers refused to hire an employee, despite passing initial hiring processes, after discovering the person had a disability.

The government funded programs to encourage employers to overcome stereotypes and prejudice when hiring members of disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, as well as to provide for workplace accommodation and training. The government effectively enforced the law and penalties for violations were commensurate to laws related to civil rights.

The law requires the Interior Ministry, the State Agency for National Security, and the State Agency for Technical Operations to allot 1 percent of their public administration positions to persons with disabilities. Enforcement was poor, however, and the agencies were not motivated to hire persons with disabilities, citing inaccessible infrastructure, lack of sufficient funding for modifying workplaces, and poor qualifications by the applicants. The Center for Independent Living and other NGOs criticized the system of evaluating persons with disabilities based on the degree of their disability, which effectively prevented many persons with disabilities who were able to work from being hired. According to the NGO Center for Liberal Strategies, establishing hiring quotas for persons with disabilities did not effectively support their real employment, since employers would focus on checking the box and appointing a person who holds a disability assessment certificate but does not necessarily need workplace accommodation. The NGO criticized the legal framework for providing incentives for employers but neglecting practical support – for example, providing transportation or personal assistance in the workplace – for persons with disabilities who wish to find work.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. According to the National Statistical Institute, men received 13.7 percent more pay than women. As a result of the gender pay gap, according to the National Social Security Institute, women received 23.7 percent lower pensions. Women continued to face discrimination in pension benefits and retirement. The age at which women and men can access both full and partial pension benefits was not equal, nor was the legal retirement age. According to the Financial Supervision Commission, men had accumulated eight percent more money in their mandatory second pension accounts.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. Locating work was more difficult for Roma due to public mistrust, coupled with low average level of education of Roma. According to the National Statistical Institute, 66.2 percent of Roma lived in poverty, compared with 29.5 percent of Turks and 17.8 percent of ethnic Bulgarians.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy that was higher than the government’s official poverty line. In August the government changed the methodology for determining the official poverty line, resulting in a 12 percent increase in the estimate for 2022. In May the National Statistical Institute reported that 23.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. Labor inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. In 2020 the General Labor Inspectorate reported that the cases of unpaid wages decreased by 38 percent, compared with the previous year. The inspectorate maintained that its authority to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against employers who owed more than two months’ wages to at least one-third of their employees for three years contributed to the effective enforcement of correct payment of wages. In 2020 labor inspectors compelled employers to pay 5.5 million levs ($3.18 million) out of an identified 10.8 million levs ($6.24 million) of unpaid wages. In May the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported receiving numerous complaints of employers illegally punishing workers for work-related violations by cutting their wages.

The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime and prohibits any overtime work for children younger than 18 and for pregnant women. Persons with disabilities, women with children younger than six, and persons undertaking continuing education may work overtime at the employer’s request if the employee provides written consent. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of similar violations. In 2020 violations related to overtime work constituted 17 percent of the total number of violations. Most violations occurred in the retail, catering, and building construction sectors. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria criticized the legal provision allowing calculation of cumulative working time over a 12-month period, alleging that employers abused it to hide unpaid overtime work.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries, and OSH experts actively identified unsafe conditions and responded to workers’ OSH complaints. A national labor safety program provides employees the right to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions. Each year the government adopts a program that outlines its goals and priorities for occupational safety and health.

The General Labor Inspectorate, which had 28 regional offices, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing occupational safety and health requirements. Of the violations identified by the inspectorate, 51.9 percent involved safety and health requirements. According to the labor inspectorate, its activity over the previous several years increased the compliance rate to 94 percent of the companies inspected. The government generally enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. Most violations occurred in the construction sector as well as in retail, catering, crop and animal production, and hunting.

Conditions in sectors such as construction, mining, chemicals, and transportation continued to pose risks for workers. The number of work-related accidents registered in the first six months of the year increased by 5 percent over the same period in 2020. Retail business violations were the most common causes of occupational accidents. The government strictly enforced the law requiring companies to conduct occupational health and safety risk assessments and to adopt measures to eliminate or reduce any identified risks. Approximately 95 percent of companies inspected in 2020 had such risk assessments, and 98 percent of those had programs to eliminate the risks identified.

As of October there were a total 47 work-related deaths during the year across many sectors of the economy, compared to 55 deaths reported from January through September 2020.

Informal Sector: Legal protections and government inspections did not cover informal workers in the gray-market economy which, according to the National Statistical Institute, accounted for 21 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. According to a survey by the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association presented in February, the share of undeclared work in the country decreased by 41.4 percent over the previous 10 years. During the two-month COVID-19 state of emergency in 2020, the law allowed employers to assign teleworking and work at home and permitted them to force workers to use half of their accrued annual leave. The law also lifted the ban on overtime work for workers and civil servants who assisted the health-care system and police.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In July 2020 Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected president for a four-year term, the first transfer of power from one party to another in 16 years. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and orderly.

The National Police fall under the Ministry of Interior and Police but in practice report directly to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both police and the armed forces, reports directly to the president, as does the National Department of Intelligence. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally 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 by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; and police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corrupt acts, but inconsistent and ineffective application of the law sometimes led to impunity.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and in a change from previous years noted by independent observers, the government generally implemented the law effectively. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.

NGO representatives said the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was traditionally a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Under President Abinader, however, the attorney general pursued a number of cases against public officials, including high-level politicians and their families, mostly from the previous administration but also including members of the current administration. Nonetheless, government corruption remained a serious problem.

Corruption: On June 15, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Administrative Corruption (PEPCA) arrested the then director of the national lottery Luis Maisichell Dicent following allegations that Dicent orchestrated a major fraud worth more than 150 million pesos ($2.5 million). On June 29, PEPCA arrested former attorney general Jean Alain Rodriguez and seven others on fraud, public corruption, and money-laundering charges related to the construction of La Nueva Victoria Penitentiary. In September PEPCA made several arrests related to a drug-trafficking and money-laundering scheme involving one current official and three congressmembers, including one from the ruling party. In November PEPCA launched another operation that involved active military commanders. Most notably, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Torres Robiou, an Air Force general and former head of the Specialized Tourist Security Corps under the current administration. At the end of the year, all these cases were under investigation, and many of the defendants were under pretrial detention.

NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police, judges, and minor officials.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent faced occasional government obstruction.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman. The ombudsman’s functions are to safeguard human rights and protect collective interests. There is also a human rights commission, cochaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, spousal rape, domestic violence, incest, and sexual aggression. Sentences for rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a modest fine. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes even when victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.

The Ministry of Women promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community by implementing education and awareness programs, as well as training other ministries and offices. During the year the ministry revamped or opened a total of 15 shelters for female and child victims of violence, including one dedicated for trafficking victims. The ministry also collaborated with police and the Attorney General’s Office to put in place a gender and domestic violence response unit, including training all personnel on proper response to emergency calls and visits. NGO representatives generally welcomed these efforts but insisted more was needed.

In March a group of journalists released a report showing that in 2019, one in four femicides was not registered as such by the Attorney General’s Office. According to the report, the Attorney General’s Office only counted intimate femicides – those committed by a partner or former partner – among official cases. In 2019 the Attorney General’s Office officially registered 77 femicides, while the journalists’ report identified 103 cases that same year.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Acid attacks, predominantly against women, with a mix of sulfuric, hydrochloric, and muriatic acid, a concoction commonly referred to as devil’s acid, constituted a problem for authorities. The director of the burn unit of one of the largest trauma centers in the country said that 7 percent of annual admissions to the unit were patients suffering from devil’s acid burns. The government typically prosecuted the organizer of the attack (usually a former partner), not the persons hired to commit the act itself. Persons convicted for this crime received sentences of up to 20 years in prison but often spent only two years in prison, according to civil society leaders. In September Attorney General Miriam German instructed public prosecutors to treat attacks with devil’s acid as “acts of torture or cruelty.”

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment by an authority figure as a misdemeanor; conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a large fine. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.

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

Low income was a barrier to accessing information on reproductive health care. Family-planning NGOs provided contraceptives without charge. Many low-income women, however, used them inconsistently due to lack of information, irregular availability, societal influences, and cultural male dominance.

The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Women, but most of the burden for providing these services fell on women’s rights NGOs. Emergency contraception was available.

According to Human Rights Watch, pregnant students and young mothers often found it difficult or impossible to continue their education. A women’s rights NGO said there were many reasons why young women and girls dropped out of school after pregnancy, including the impact of pregnancy on their health and deficiencies in the educational system that prevented many women and girls from returning. Many were expelled from school, although it is illegal to do so, or were moved to night classes under the pretext that they were a “bad example” to other students. The NGO also noted that once young women and girls became pregnant, their families and communities considered them emancipated, regardless of their age. The young mothers were expected to stay home to take care of the baby and carry out other household chores.

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. Civil society organizations explained that women faced obstacles regarding economic equality and independence. In addition no law requires equal pay for equal work.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination based on skin color and nationality. There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants (see also sections 1.d., 2.d., and 2.g.).

Afro-Dominicans and citizens of Haitian descent experienced discrimination when accessing a variety of government services. Hospitals sometimes wrongfully gave pink birth certificates (indicating foreigner status) to children of parents assumed to be Haitian migrants based on the color of their skin, accent, or name. Police detained citizens of Haitian descent for deportation or alleged crimes based on their skin color, their accent, their place of residence, or their name. At some government agencies, as a way to keep them from accessing their documents, citizens of Haitian descent were routinely prevented from parking their vehicles or using the restroom. In November the country began deporting pregnant Haitians and Haitian persons who recently gave birth as part of newly instituted migratory policies to curb the prevalence of undocumented immigrants.

Vice Minister for Migration Management and Naturalization Juan Manuel Rosario repeatedly questioned in media the validity of the decree attempting to regularize citizens of Haitian descent. There were reports that under Vice Minister Rosario’s leadership, the ministry instituted a series of documentation requirements and administrative hurdles that made it virtually impossible for persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants to obtain their rightful documents. During the summer the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that the government continued to defend the legality of the naturalization decree issued by then president Medina and that Rosario’s comments did not reflect a change in the government’s position. In addition, on October 10, Director General for Migration Enrique Garcia stated that citizens “cannot allow them [Haitians] to take away our country” and noted that “the Haitian solution is not in the Dominican Republic.” On a December 1 radio interview, Garcia stated that the deportation of pregnant Haitians was not illegal, since the law only prohibits their “detention.” He added that he could even look for them “under the beds…because the law allows [him] to.”

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see also section 2.g.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. Children not registered at birth remain undocumented until the parents file a late declaration of birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children younger than age 18, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a large fine for persons convicted of physical and psychological abuse of a minor. Despite this legal framework for combatting child abuse, local NGOs reported that few cases were reported to authorities and fewer still were prosecuted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In late December 2020, Congress passed a bill prohibiting marriage of persons younger than 18. The bill took effect in January. Prior to passage of the law, 22 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant, an issue directly related to early marriage. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas. More than one-half of the women in the country’s poorest quintile were married by age 17.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a significant fine.

Children were exploited for commercial sex, particularly in tourist locations and major urban areas. Child pornography was also rampant and growing due to the ease of online exploitation. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others. The law provides for access to the labor market, recreational and cultural activities, and physical access to all new public and private buildings, but these laws were not enforced effectively. The law specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Ministry of Public Health and the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities and to operate specialized schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states the government should provide access to the labor market and to cultural, recreational, and religious activities for persons with disabilities, but the law was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for the care of children with disabilities, one each in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. These centers served a small percentage of the population with disabilities, offering their services to children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. They had lengthy waiting lists for children seeking care. The most recent information, from a 2016 Ministry of Education report, found that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended some form of school.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, the government, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many job applicants found to have HIV were not hired, and some of those already employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

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

The constitution protects the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTQI+ persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services. NGO representatives reported widespread discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in health care, housing, education, justice, and employment. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced rampant intimidation and harassment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, the law restricts collective bargaining rights to those unions that represent a minimum of 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met.

Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public-service personnel may not strike. The government adopted a broad definition of essential workers, including teachers and public-service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. In recent years there were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union even though the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.

Labor NGO representatives reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. In recent years companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The antitrafficking law prohibits forced labor, but there were gaps in enforcement. The laws related to forced labor in the country were not sufficient to meet international standards, as they do not criminally prohibit forced labor except when it results from human trafficking and coercion. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of exploiting forced labor. Such penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Forced labor of adults occurred in construction, agriculture, and services. Forced labor of children also occurred (see section 7.c.).

The law applies equally to all workers regardless of nationality, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGO representatives reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.

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 in a manner consistent with international standards. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than 16, limiting them to six working hours per day. For persons younger than 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, was responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors and inspections was insufficient. Incomplete or incorrect labor inspection reports and insufficient prosecutorial resources led to few prosecutions on criminal matters involving child labor. Labor inspectors are authorized to reinspect worksites to ensure that violations are remedied. Reinspections occurred less frequently and were more difficult and less consistent in remote rural areas. Some inspection reports did not set a time frame for the remediation of the violations identified.

The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, or in domestic work, street vending, construction, or begging (see also section 6). Some Dominican children were also subject to forced sexual exploitation and forced work. Low income and rural children were at greater risk. Children were also used in illicit activities, including drug 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 .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution creates rights of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or stateless status. No law mandates equal pay for equal work.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV or AIDS, persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, LGBTQI+ persons, persons of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6).

A 2019 Ministry of the Economy report showed the per-hour labor wage gap between men and women continued to increase. Between 2014 and 2020, on average women received 16.7 percent less salary than men, according to a study from the Office of National Statistics.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and the type of labor. As of October 2019, the minimum wage for all sectors within the formal economy, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation.

The law covers different labor sectors individually. For example, the laws covering domestic workers establish lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration than for other sectors and do not provide for notice or severance payments. The labor code covers workers in the free-trade zones, but those workers are not entitled to bonus payments, which represented a significant part of the income of most workers in the country.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of the maximum allowable work hours.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor set occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations that were appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face other punishments for their action.

Authorities conducted inspections but did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and to recommend sanctions. The Public Ministry, the independent prosecutors’ ministry, is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; in practice it infrequently applied penalties.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage. The Central Romana Corporation and other sugar producers faced allegations that they paid their workers substandard wages and forced them to work in unsafe conditions. Worker rights activists said sugarcane workers were paid 210 pesos ($3.70) per ton of sugarcane cut, and if there were any problems with the production, wages were further reduced (workers were paid between 173 pesos ($3.05) and 190 pesos ($3.35) per “burnt” or damaged ton). Workers normally cut three to four tons a week and thus made between 519 pesos ($9.16) to 840 pesos ($14.82) a week, well below the country’s poverty line. A series of journalistic investigations alleged that Central Romana Corporation, which was responsible for nearly 60 percent of Dominican sugar, might have systematically deprived workers of promised benefits or drastically limited access to benefits including health care, lodging, and pensions.

Industrial accidents caused injury and death to some workers. There were reports that Central Romana routinely exposed its workers to dangerous working conditions, including exposure to chemicals and unsafe machinery, and did not support workers’ medical expenses when they were injured or became ill as a result of workplace incidents.

Informal Sector: The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector, which comprised approximately one-half of all workers. Most of the informal-sector jobs were in construction, agriculture, and commerce. Many of the informal-sector workers were undocumented persons or women. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal-sector workers.

Hungary

Executive Summary

Hungary is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The unicameral National Assembly (parliament) exercises legislative authority. It elects the president (the head of state) every five years. The president appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition in parliament following national elections every four years. In parliamentary elections in 2018, the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance led by Fidesz party leader Viktor Orban won a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observation mission found that “fundamental rights and freedoms were respected overall but exercised in an adverse climate.” Specifically, it characterized certain elements of the election as “at odds with the organization’s commitments” and noted, “The widespread government information campaign was largely indistinguishable from Fidesz campaigning, giving it a clear advantage.” Orban has been prime minister since 2010.

The National Police Headquarters, under the direction of the minister of interior, is responsible for maintaining order nationwide. The Counterterrorism Center is responsible for protecting the president and the prime minister and for preventing, uncovering, and detecting terrorist acts; it is directly subordinate to the minister of interior. The Hungarian Defense Forces are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security as well as aspects of domestic security and disaster response. Since 2015, under a declared state of emergency prompted by mass migration, defense forces may assist law enforcement forces in border protection and handling mass migration situations. In September the state of emergency was renewed for an additional six months. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed systematic abuses, although there were unconfirmed reports that security forces assigned to the southern border abused migrants attempting to enter the country.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: actions that aimed to interfere with or diminish the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy including targeting investigative journalists, opposition politicians, businesspersons, and other private citizens with high-tech surveillance spyware; restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal penalties for spreading a “distorted truth” or “scaremongering” or slander and libel (although court decisions limited the impact of the latter), the removal of the last major independent radio station from the airwaves, and restrictions on media content related to the “portrayal and promotion of homosexuality” and providing gender-affirming health care to minors; exposure of asylum seekers to risk of refoulement; corrupt use of state power to grant privileges to certain economic actors; political intimidation of and legal restrictions on civil society organizations, including criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of nongovernmental organizations; and threats of violence by extremists targeting Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

While the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, action against high-level, politically connected corruption was limited.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, few such cases were filed or prosecuted during the year. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement or apply these laws effectively and that officials and those with close government connections often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

In its July 20 Rule of Law Report, the European Commission found deficiencies in the country’s anticorruption policies and noted that the government did not sufficiently address clientelism, nepotism, and favoritism, noting specifically that although “some new high-level corruption cases involving politicians were opened since 2020, the track record of investigations of allegations concerning high-level officials and their immediate circle remains limited.” The report also stressed that, similar to the previous year’s report, “deficient independent control mechanisms and close interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption.” The report noted a lack of transparency in political party financing, asset disclosure, and lobbying.

On April 27, parliament passed several legislative proposals establishing 32 “public interest asset management foundations” for the purpose of independently managing educational, cultural, health care, agricultural, and historical activities traditionally administered by the state. These asset management foundations took over the administration of most of the country’s higher education institutions and collectively received billions of dollars in state assets, including land, real estate properties, businesses, and corporate shares, in addition to annual state funding. Transparency watchdogs and opposition parties criticized the privatization of universities and the transfer of state assets and warned that most board members of the created foundations were linked to the government or to the ruling party. Critics asserted that the foundations enabled the channeling of public funds and assets as well as taxpayers’ money to government-aligned businesses and oligarchs. The ninth amendment of the constitution passed in December 2020 requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority to amend regulations governing the creation and management of asset management foundations, essentially rendering the privatization of assets irreversible even in the event of a change of government, critics warned.

Corruption: Anticorruption NGOs alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. In an August 2 research paper, the Corruption Research Center Budapest stated that the overall share of EU-funded public contracts won by construction companies with close links to the government increased from 22 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2020.

In its 2020 annual report released on June 10, the European antifraud office (OLAF) found 32 cases of potential fraud in the country associated with EU development funds received between 2016 and 2020. OLAF recommended that the government repay 2.2 percent of the funds it received during the 2016-20 period. Observers noted that OLAF’s limited resources allowed it to review only a fraction of the tens of thousands of EU cases in which EU funds were disbursed to member states.

On July 20, EU justice commissioner Reynders stated the European Commission would not back the country’s $8.5 billion COVID Recovery Plan until the government implemented judicial reforms and provided adequate assurances that corruption cases uncovered by OLAF were properly investigated. Reynders noted Hungary continued to resist accepting and implementing the European Commission’s recommendations made in country specific reports and pledged that the commission would again ask “Hungary to join the European Prosecutor’s Office, as without that, we cannot be sure of adequate protection against fraud and corruption.” On November 18, the European Commission sent a letter to the government warning that concerns regarding judicial independence, corruption, and deficiencies in public procurements could pose a risk to the EU’s financial interests. The European Commission asked the government to provide information regarding corruption concerns related to specific EU funded projects, recipients of EU agricultural subsidies, and conflict of interests in the boards of public interest foundations. At year’s end the European Commission had not approved the country’s COVID Recovery Plan, due to the plan’s shortcomings in dealing with transparency and judicial independence concerns.

On December 7, the Chief Prosecution Office stated it suspected deputy justice minister and Fidesz member of parliament Pal Volner of accepting bribes and abusing his official position for financial advantage. Volner resigned from his ministry position on the same day and on December 14, parliament lifted his right to immunity from prosecution. On December 15, prosecutors questioned him, but he was not put into pretrial detention. He retained his seat in parliament.

In Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index released on January 28, Hungary retained a score of 44 of a possible 100; in 2012 its score was 55.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operated with some government restrictions affecting their funding. Government officials were generally uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.

In June 2020 the ECJ ruled that the country’s law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law. In February the European Commission opened an infringement procedure for failing to comply with the ruling. Subsequently in May, the government submitted and adopted legislation that repealed the law and at the same time mandated the SAO to report annually on NGOs that had an annual budget of more than $66,000 and were “capable of influencing public life.” Sports, religious, and national minority organizations were exempted. Civil society groups noted that the SAO’s function was to audit organizations that manage public funds and national assets and expressed concern that the SAO would selectively audit NGOs that criticize government policies.

In July the government failed to reach an agreement with Norway’s Foreign Ministry on $255 million in funds due to a dispute regarding the disbursement of its $12 million civil society component. Based on an initial agreement reached in December 2020, both parties (Hungary and Norway) should have agreed upon an independent organization to manage the allocation of grant funds to NGOs. Norway maintained that the organization’s independence from government influence remained a precondition to the agreement. Although it originally agreed to the selection criteria, Norway stated that the Hungarian government’s objection to the chosen organization breached the agreement and disqualified Hungary from receiving funds. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein suspended payment of a previous grant to Hungary under similar conditions in 2014.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the office of the commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsperson has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsperson is nominated by the president and elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament. The ombudsperson is solely accountable to parliament and has the authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from abuse by authorities and entities providing public services. The constitution provides that the ombudsperson may request that the Constitutional Court review laws. Ombudsperson recommendations are not binding, however. The ombudsperson is also responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption, and operates the national preventive mechanism against torture.

On January 1, the ombudsperson’s office took over the mandate and tasks of the abolished Equal Treatment Authority. In its report covering June 14-24, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Subcommittee on Accreditation recommended the ombudsperson be downgraded to “B” status. Its report stated that the ombudsperson “did not effectively engage on and publicly address all human rights issues, including in relation to vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, LGBTI individuals, refugees, and migrants, as well as in constitutional court cases deemed political and institutional, (such as) media pluralism, civic space, and judicial independence. Failure to do so demonstrated a lack of sufficient independence.” The recommendation to downgrade the status of the position was not to take effect for a period of one year, giving the ombudsperson the opportunity to improve performance.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal. Although there is no crime defined as rape, the equivalent crimes are sexual coercion and sexual violence. These crimes include the exploitation of a person who is unable to express his or her will. Penalties for sexual coercion and sexual violence range from one year in prison to 15 years in aggravated cases.

The criminal code includes “violence within partnership” (domestic violence) as a separate category of offense. Regulations extend prison sentences for assault (“light bodily harm”) to three years, while grievous bodily harm, violation of personal freedom, or coercion may be punishable by one to five years in prison, if committed against domestic persons.

By law police called to a scene of domestic violence may issue an emergency restraining order valid for three days in lieu of immediately filing charges, while courts may issue up to 60-day “preventive restraining orders” in civil cases, without the option to extend.

According to press reports citing official statistics, the number of registered cases of domestic violence increased by 60 percent since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s rights groups asserted that there was no comprehensive state policy in place to address gender-based violence and that the lack of adequate professional training and adequate protocols to properly handle cases constituted systemic problems. Women’s rights NGOs continued to criticize the law for not placing sufficient emphasis on the accountability of perpetrators.

In May the president granted a partial pardon to a woman who in 2019 started serving a 10-year prison sentence for attempting to kill the father of her child, with whom she lived in an abusive relationship for years. The pardon decreased her sentence to five years.

Sexual Harassment: By law harassment of a sexual nature constitutes a violation of the equal treatment principle but is not a crime. In June independent media outlets reported that a high-ranking member of the defense forces sexually harassed a female subordinate. According to press reports, the woman reported the case, but the internal investigation was terminated. The woman also reported the case to the chief prosecutor’s office, where an investigation continued at year’s end.

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

Contraceptives were available but were not covered by the state health-care system, which limited access of marginalized groups living in poverty, including Romani women. Sterilization for family-planning (nonmedical) reasons was limited to persons who were older than 40 or already had three biological children.

In 2020 the government took over six fertility clinics and began providing state-subsidized assisted reproductive services (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization), primarily tailored to support heterosexual married couples who experienced difficulty conceiving naturally. In June parliament adopted legislation that only state fertility clinics could provide assisted reproductive services from 2022. Observers believed the law would result in the closure of the remaining three private clinics. LGBTQI+ NGOs characterized access to assisted reproductive technologies as discriminatory against same-sex couples.

The government operated state-funded shelters and a hotline for survivors of crime, including sexual violence against women, but these did not provide specialized assistance and sexual and reproductive health services for survivors.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. There is no mandate for equal pay for equal work, and according to Eurostat data, on average men were paid 8.2 percent more than women in 2019, compared with 17.6 percent in 2010. Women’s rights groups criticized the lack of a comprehensive national strategy and public action plan for the promotion of equality between women and men, covering all important fields and topics of women’s rights, and considering all women irrespective of their family status and position.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity and criminalizes offensive behavior and real or perceived threats towards members of racial, ethnic, or other groups. The office of the ombudsperson is responsible for monitoring discrimination. Hate crime is a separate type of crime. There were no public records on hate crime statistics, and NGOs reported authorities were reluctant to classify incidents as hate crimes.

Roma was the country’s largest ethnic minority group. According to the most recent census in 2011, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. There were approximately 1,300 de facto segregated settlements in the country where Roma constituted the majority of the population. Romani communities were not socially integrated with broader society and were characterized by considerably lower indicators on most socioeconomic measures than the majority population. Conditions for the community deteriorated since the collapse of communism in 1989-90 but were rooted in centuries of social exclusion. Lacking advanced education and employment skills, many Roma occupied the margins of society and experienced long-term unemployment, which bred a cycle of poverty and welfare dependence.

On July 25, the extreme-right political party Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) and other far-right groups held a demonstration against “Gypsy crime” in the northeastern town of Jaszapati. Police allowed the gathering of 300 to 400 demonstrators but did not permit them to march through the Romani settlement. Mi Hazank president Laszlo Toroczkai stated that in the country and the world, “two biological weapons” were being used against civilization, “the Gypsies and the coronavirus.” Several Romani and pro-Romani civil society groups held a simultaneous counterprotest outside Mi Hazank’s office in Budapest.

Extreme-right groups staged multiple demonstrations and protests against LGBTQI+ and Roma communities. Minority groups perceived the authorities’ reluctance to investigate extremist groups’ acts of vandalism and aggressive disruption of events as hate crimes and potentially emboldening further aggressive action against them. There was no public government strategy to address the proliferation of extreme-right or white supremacist ideologies.

In April the National Roma Minority Self-Government and several Romani NGOs organized a joint campaign to facilitate the online registration for COVID-19 vaccines in Romani communities. In March human rights watchdog Hungarian Civil Liberties Union called on the government to introduce targeted epidemiological measures for residents of Romani settlements.

In 2019 the Ministry of Interior introduced a “300 poorest settlements” program, widely considered to be the government’s 10-year Roma strategy, aimed at improving the living standards for the Romani community in the country’s most underdeveloped settlements. Civil society groups criticized the program for an alleged lack of transparency and for excluding experienced local NGOs and Romani minority self-governments from the program’s implementation.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship from a parent who is a citizen. Births were registered immediately. NGOs asserted the law provides only partial safeguards against statelessness at birth because all children of foreign parents born in the country are registered on birth certificates as being of unknown nationality. In addition the NGOs claimed that children born to stateless parents or to noncitizen parents who may not pass on their nationality to their children were in some cases born and remained stateless.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education between ages three and 16 and prohibits school segregation, NGOs reported the segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as having a mental disability. The European Commission opened an infringement procedure in 2016 due to concerns regarding the disproportionate overrepresentation of Romani children in segregated schools for children with intellectual disabilities as well as a considerable degree of segregated education in mainstream schools. NGOs also assessed that school segregation and lowering the mandatory school age from 18 to 16 in 2011 contributed to high dropout rates.

In response to a May 2020 Curia award of financial compensation to Romani students segregated by a local primary school in Gyongyospata, the government amended the law in July 2020 to stipulate that compensation for damages suffered through educational segregation could only be provided in the form of education and training, not money. Human rights watchdogs argued this amendment amounted to indirect discrimination based on ethnicity. On June 9, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the country because “its national legislation does not fully comply with EU rules prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.”

On June 25, the international network of children’s rights organizations Eurochild stated that the “antipedophile law” (see Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, below) that banned the “portrayal” and “promotion” of LGBTQI+ topics to minors risked increasing discrimination, bullying, and violence towards LGBTQI+ children.

Child Abuse: Efforts to combat child abuse included a “child protection signaling system” to detect and prevent the endangerment of children; law enforcement and judicial measures; restraining orders; shelters for mothers and their children; and removal of children from homes deemed unsafe. The law provides that failure of a parent to “cooperate” with doctors, district nurses, teachers, or family supporters in the signaling system automatically constituted gross endangerment, even without any other signs of negligence or endangerment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The Social and Guardianship Office may authorize marriages of persons between ages 6 and 18. The guardianship authorities consider whether a girl is pregnant in making their determination. Data were limited regarding the prevalence of child marriage in the country, including in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography. The statute of limitations does not apply to sexual crimes against children. The government generally enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 12, provided the older partner is 18 or younger. Persons older than 18 who engage in sexual relations with a minor between ages 12 and 14 may be punished by one to five years’ imprisonment. By law statutory rape is a felony punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the survivor is younger than 12. Effective July 2020 the criminal prosecution of minors exploited in commercial sex has been prohibited. Procuring minors for commercial sex and exploitation of children in commercial sex is a punishable by two to eight years’ imprisonment.

Institutionalized Children: In 2020 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern regarding the high number of children living in institutional settings, including 300 children younger than age three. According to UNICEF Hungary, approximately 23,000 children were living in state care institutions. Pro-Roma NGOs noted that institutionalized children living in state care were especially vulnerable to human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and criticized the lack of special assistance for child victims of trafficking. Experts also noted the high rate of institutionalization of children with disabilities, who often faced segregation from society and were put at risk of mistreatment and abuse.

In 2020 former residents and staff of the children’s home in Kalocsa told local media in a series of articles concerning the physical and verbal abuse as well as degrading treatment that took place inside the institution for decades. Based on similar reports from 2014, the ombudsperson’s report from 2016 concluded that supervisors regularly abused children. In February the ombudsperson’s office conducted an onsite inspection. The report concluded there were systemic problems regarding the physical conditions at the institution but did not confirm abuses by the employees.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 10,965 persons identified their religion as Judaism. According to estimates from the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish population numbered between 35,000 and 120,000 persons. A 2018 study published in Szombat, a leading Hungarian Jewish online news outlet, found that 82 percent of Hungarian Jews had a direct family member or ancestor who lost their life in the Holocaust. Jewish organizations considered the Holocaust a defining element of Hungarian Jews’ identity, and they regarded it as vital to preserve the memory of what occurred during the Holocaust.

The Action and Protection Foundation, a Jewish group monitoring anti-Semitism, registered 30 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2020. These were 22 cases of hate speech, six of vandalism, one threat, and one case of discrimination.

On July 20, Andras Heisler, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), stated that anti-Semitism was present “across the whole of Hungarian society,” while introducing the results of a 2019-20 survey prepared by Median independent public opinion (polling firm) and commissioned by Mazsihisz. He added that while the number of cases of physical attacks and vandalism were low, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and anti-Semitism in public life increased from 2019 to 2020, and the extreme-right party Mi Hazank was among the most frequent perpetrators of anti-Semitic incidents and hate speech. Citing 2019 data, the head of Median, Endre Hann, stated that 36 percent of the country’s adult population could be characterized by some degree of anti-Semitism (including anti-Semitic prejudice and attitude towards Jews).

In February domestic and international extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups commemorated the break-out attempt by Hungarian and German troops on February 11, 1945, during the Soviet Red Army’s siege of Budapest. In February, despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, approximately 100 persons took part in an organized reenactment hike along the route of the attempted siege-breakers in Budapest. The Hungarian chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor organized the event. No senior government officials publicly condemned the event.

In January the chief rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Congregation, Slomo Koves, told domestic media outlets that the controversial “House of Fates” museum would likely be ready to open in 2022. The government first announced the museum concept in late 2013 and assigned ownership of it to the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation in 2018. The project remained stalled due to international and domestic concerns by Holocaust scholars that the House of Fates concept, which focuses primarily on Hungarians who helped to hide Jews during the Holocaust, would whitewash the role of WWII-era Hungarian leaders and citizens in the Holocaust deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

On May 1, Fidesz cofounder and media personality Zsolt Bayer wrote in government-aligned newspaper Magyar Nemzet that a prominent foreign government official of Jewish-Hungarian ancestry was a “rootless Hungarian,” which many interpreted as a classic anti-Semitic trope. Bayer has a long history of anti-Semitic writings and statements; he has high-profile platforms on government-aligned media outlets and received a prestigious government award in 2016.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, communicational, and psychosocial disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.

There were no data available on the percentage of public buildings accessible to persons with disabilities.

Based on estimates by Habitat for Humanity, approximately 5 percent of the population lived with disabilities, half of which were physical. According to disability rights NGOs, despite the government’s 2019-36 Institutionalization Strategy Hungary to reduce the number of persons with disabilities living in institutions with capacities greater than 50 persons, there was no moratorium on admissions. Habitat for Humanity stated that approximately 40,000 persons lived in such institutions in 2020, one-quarter of whom had intellectual disabilities. In a 2020 report, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that maintaining and expanding a national system of social care institutions “perpetuated segregation and isolation from society.” It also observed the prevalence of poor conditions in these institutions, overmedication, and violations of sexual and reproductive rights. Most children with disabilities were excluded from mainstream education and were either home-schooled or provided education in institutions. According to media reports, there was also a lack of support for children with autism in mainstream schools.

In March the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union reported that a 16-year-old boy with autism was repeatedly locked in a cage-like construction in a disability home in 2018 in the town of Eger. In November independent local media reported that a 15-year-old boy with a physical disability was beaten by his classmate in a school in the town of Pecs.

The constitution provides that a court may deprive persons with disabilities who are under guardianship of the right to vote in its adjudication of the individual’s limited mental capacity. NGOs noted that depriving persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities of their legal rights violated international conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities. Disability rights experts noted that persons with disabilities living in institutions were often placed under guardianship and noted the relative lack of government support for personal assistance in independent living situations.

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

Due to last-minute amendments submitted by Fidesz parliamentarians, on June 15 an “antipedophile” law was adopted by parliament that banned the “promotion” and “portrayal” of “gender reassignment” and homosexuality to minors in media, advertisements, and education. Notably, all programs and advertisements deemed to promote or portraying these topics must be rated as not recommended for minors (see section 2.a.). In addition the law limited sexual education in schools, stipulating that only state-registered organizations are allowed to conduct sexual education classes in schools.

In a June 22 joint statement, 17 EU countries characterized the law as a “flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation.” On July 15, the European Commission launched two infringement procedures, one challenging the law, and the second focusing on Hungary’s consumer protection authority’s January decision that ordered the Labrisz Lesbian Association to place a disclaimer on its children’s book, Fairyland Belongs to Everyone, stating that the tales “depict behavior inconsistent with traditional gender roles.” According to the European Commission, this violated the authors’ and publishers’ freedom of expression and “discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation in an unjustified way.” In response, government officials claimed the Commission wanted Hungary to allow LGBTQI+ “activists” and “sexual propagandists” to be present in schools. The government argued that the law did not discriminate against anyone because it “did not affect decisions taken by adults” and that it was a measure to protect children. Human rights groups observed that the prime minister’s July 21 announcement that the country would hold a “child protection referendum” in which the public would vote on aspects of the law led to prolonged, amplified rhetoric against LGBTQI+ groups and individuals during the campaign season. On July 7, a regional government office fined the domestic bookstore chain Lira 250,000 forints ($830) for failing to indicate that a children’s book featuring families with same-sex parents contained “content which deviates from the norm” and for violating rules on unfair commercial practices.

On August 6, the government published a decree that ordered shops selling “products portraying or promoting gender deviating from sex at birth, gender change, homosexuality, or containing explicit depictions of sexuality” aimed at children to display them separately and in “closed packaging.” It also banned the public display of such products and forbade their sale within 660 yards of a school or church. The consumer protection authority was tasked with monitoring compliance of the law.

On March 12, the Constitutional Court declared that the retroactive application of provisions adopted in May 2020 banning legal gender recognition was unconstitutional and could not be applied.

On July 2-3, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s body of constitutional experts, adopted its opinion on constitutional and legislative amendments. Regarding the definition of marriage and family, the Venice Commission stated there was “a real and immediate danger that the amendments would further strengthen the public attitude that nonheterosexual lifestyles are inferior” and could “further fuel a hostile and stigmatizing atmosphere against LGBTQI+ people.” The statement added that the amendment that restricted the recognition of children’s gender to their gender at birth could result in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition the law prohibits certain forms of hate speech and prescribes increased punishment for violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community. Victims of discrimination had a wide choice of remedies, including a procedure by a designated government institution (office of the commissioner for fundamental rights), enforcement of personality rights via civil court procedure, and sectoral remedies in media law. Only the civil procedure allows for the awarding of pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages. The Constitutional Court also offers possibilities to challenge allegedly discriminatory legislation. As of January 1, the office of the ombudsperson assumed the tasks of the abolished Equal Treatment Authority, which, before its abolishment, had been viewed by LGBTQI+ groups as one of the few remaining public bodies that delivered decisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor code provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization and conduct their activities without interference, although unions alleged requirements for trade union registration were excessive. The labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard, including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. Violations of this law, if proven in court, could result in monetary fines to compensate the employer for damages, although this labor code provision has rarely been implemented, and there were no reported instances during the year. Except for law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. In other spheres of the public sector, including education or government services, minimum service must be maintained. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Workers performing activities that authorities determine to be essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike. The government passed legislation prohibiting health-care workers’ right to strike in 2020 to provide for health-care services during the pandemic and prohibited an announced strike by air traffic controllers in July. Numerous trade unions decided to escalate the matter to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and sent a petition to the government requesting that it negotiate with air traffic controllers.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were generally commensurate with those for other violations. In the public sector, administrative and judicial procedures to determine adequate services were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Trade unions alleged that national prosecutors restricted trade union activities and, in some cases, reported antiunion dismissals and union busting by employers. There were also reports of unilateral termination of collective agreements, which employers in some cases attributed to financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unions reported the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.

While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the government failed to enforce it effectively and forced labor occurred. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate to penalties for other serious crimes.

Groups vulnerable to forced labor included those in extreme poverty, undereducated young adults, Roma, and homeless men and women. Hungarian men and women were subjected to forced labor domestically and abroad, and labor trafficking of Hungarian men in Western Europe occurred in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of seasonal workers, including Hungarians, as numerous hostels and workplaces became hot spots of infections and were subsequently closed. The government implemented temporary travel restrictions, quarantine, or testing for those entering the country to control the pandemic, while also increasing law enforcement efforts and sustaining its prevention efforts.

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 constitution prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working, with the exception that children ages 15 or 16 may work under certain circumstances as temporary workers during school vacations or may be employed to perform in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities with parental consent. Children may not work night shifts or overtime or perform hard physical labor. The government performed spot-checks and effectively enforced applicable laws; penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Through the end of 2020, the employment authority reported four cases of labor performed by children younger than 15. The employment authority also reported 11 cases involving 12 children ages 15 and 16 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal guardians during the school year, and eight cases involving nine children between ages 16 and 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The employment authority noted that child labor cases decreased in all age groups as a result of increased inspections during the previous two years.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principle of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.

Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons. According to NGOs, there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. The country does not mandate equal pay for equal work. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides for monetary fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: During the year the national minimum wage was below the poverty level. The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day work period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime. On January 1, amendments to the labor code adopted in 2019 that increased the limit on maximum overtime from 250 to 400 hours per year became effective. The code also provides for 10 paid annual national holidays. Under the amended code, overtime is to be calculated based on a three-year period, i.e., employees have a right to overtime pay only if, during a three-year period, they have worked an average of more than 40 hours per week. Observers noted the provision could allow employers to avoid paying overtime for work in one year by requiring employees to work less than full time during both or one of the two other years if it lowered their average workweek during the entire three-year period to 40 hours or less.

The Finance Ministry is responsible for the enforcement of wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed regulations allowing employers and employees not to apply the prescriptions of the labor code in contracts and work schedules. Trade unions claimed the regulations were unconstitutional because they enabled employers to force disadvantageous contracts upon employees and undermined their legal protections. As trade unions have no right of appeal to the Constitutional Court, they appealed to opposition parties to request constitutional review and in May 2020 filed a complaint with the ILO.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are appropriate in main industries and occupational safety and health experts actively identify unsafe conditions in addition to responding to complaints. In March 2020 the government rewrote established occupational safety and health standards to include pandemic protection measures. The government shut down several economic sectors during the pandemic, including tourism, catering, and cultural activities. Workers continued to have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar offenses. Labor inspectors regularly provide consultations to employers and employees on safety and health standards. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal sector, and inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. According to the Labor Protection Directorate of the Innovation and Technology Ministry, 20,366 injuries and 64 fatalities occurred at workplaces in 2020, a slight decrease from 2019. Most injuries occurred in the processing, manufacturing, transport and warehousing, health- and social care, education, and construction sectors. Most deaths occurred in the construction, processing, transport and warehousing, and agricultural sectors. In-depth inspections were announced, whereas other inspections based on an annual plan, reports of irregularities, spot-checks or follow-up inspections were unannounced. Measures taken against violators included penalties, suspensions, bans, and prescriptions to eliminate irregularities.

According to the Labor Supervision Directorate of the Innovation and Technology Ministry, which is responsible for enforcing the labor code, 71 percent of the inspected businesses violated labor regulations. Violations included illegal employment (19 percent) or reporting full-time workers as part-time employees (26 percent), which were typical in construction, agriculture, and catering; faulty recording of working-hours (30 percent); paying wages or overtime or not paying the minimum wage (13 percent); and other offenses (10 percent) which included delays in paying the last month’s wage and providing necessary documents for terminated employees, violating annual leave regulations. Illegal employment was typical in construction, agriculture, and catering, whereas other violations were not linked to any specific sector. The Labor Supervision Directorate noted that the number of inspections decreased during the pandemic as spot-checks were limited and numerous businesses suspended their activities.

Informal Sector: Labor standards were not enforced in the informal economy.

Iceland

Executive Summary

Iceland is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The president is the head of state, and a prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party, is head of government. There is a unicameral parliament (Althingi). Parliamentary elections held on September 25 were considered free and fair, but procedural issues in one electoral district (constituency) prompted two subnational recounts and a change in election outcome. In June 2020 voters reelected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election.

The national police maintain internal security. In addition, the Icelandic Coast Guard carries out general law enforcement duties at sea. The national police, the nine regional police forces, and the Coast Guard fall under the purview of the Ministry of Justice. The country has no military. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the Coast Guard. There were no reports of abuses committed by members of security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliament’s ombudsman, elected by parliament for a period of four years, secures the rights of the citizens to equal and impartial treatment in their dealings with public authorities. The ombudsman is independent from any governmental authority, including parliament, when exercising his or her functions. The ombudsman is party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and conducts periodic site visits to prisons and psychiatric hospitals. While the ombudsman’s recommendations were not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Judicial Affairs and Education was responsible for legislative oversight of human rights in the country. The committee was generally considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction for rape, including of men, carries a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of two to three years. The law does not explicitly address spousal rape.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and specifies a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison for violations.

Survivors of domestic violence can request police to remove perpetrators physically from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent abusers from coming into proximity with the victim, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. The law entitles survivors of sex crimes to a lawyer to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants. As of August 26, approximately 74 women and 64 children had sought temporary lodging during the year at shelters for women in Reykjavik and Akureyri.

The police procedure for handling domestic violence states that law enforcement should report to the location of the incident. If responding officers are unable to enter the premises and have reasonable suspicion that the life of an individual inside might be threatened, they are allowed to use force to enter. If a child is present, an official from the child protective services must be called to the scene. All parties present are questioned, and the case is entered into the police database. If the situation warrants, the responding officers can arrest the perpetrator and assist the survivor in seeking medical care and offer guidance on legal recourse. The victim can request a temporary restraining order be imposed on the perpetrator. In some cases officers, child protective services, or the family of the victim can request the restraining order. If officers deem the survivor to be in danger following the imposed restraining order, they provide an emergency services call device.

The government helped finance the women’s shelters in Reykjavik and Akureyri, the Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. These organizations offered services free of charge, regardless of the victim’s citizenship. In addition, the government assisted immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.

Sexual Harassment: Under the general penal code, sexual harassment is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. In addition, the law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the victim, and continues despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. The law establishes fines for violations, but more severe penalties could be applicable under other laws.

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

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive services for sexual violence survivors, both on-site at hospitals, and via government-funded nongovernmental organizations that provide free counselling and psychiatric services. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men according to the constitution and the law. Although the government enforced the law effectively, employment discrimination occurred.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

All discrimination is illegal, in both society and the labor market, including discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly of non-European origin or from Eastern Europe or the Baltic countries, suffered occasional incidents of social harassment based on their ethnicity. Law enforcement agencies recorded 11 potential hate crimes during the year.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires the country’s citizenship at birth if both parents are citizens, if the mother is a citizen, or if the father is a citizen and is married to the child’s foreign mother. If a mixed-nationality couple had obtained a judicial separation at the time when the child was conceived, the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A stateless child can become a citizen at the age of three. By law all children have access to social services regardless of citizenship. If a child is not legally domiciled in the country or is living in the country without legal guardians, a child protection committee in the municipality where the child is physically located assumes care if needed and takes measures to secure his or her best interests. Registrations of births were prompt.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The government is legally mandated to provide services for children, including a safe residence for children as well as specialized services. Under the law the general public has a duty to notify authorities if suspicion of any form of child abuse arises. The Government Agency for Child Protection is responsible for implementation of the law. The agency operated a diagnostic and short-term treatment center for abused and troubled minors and was responsible for one short-term treatment center in Reykjavik and two centers in other locations. The government maintained a children’s assessment center to secure their well-being, lessen the trauma experienced by children, coordinate victim protection, and accelerate prosecution in child sexual abuse cases. The prime minister appoints the ombudsman for children, who acts independently of the government. While the ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. There were no reports of forced marriages during the year.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the payment or promise of payment or consideration of another type for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child younger than 18. Violations may be punished with fines or imprisonment for up to two years. The law punishes child pornography by up to two years in prison. The law criminalizes statutory rape with incarceration of one to 16 years. The government effectively enforced these laws.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The law includes a requirement for explicit consent for sexual acts, meaning that consent is not considered to be given freely if obtained through violence or the threat of violence, any kind of force, or the use of drugs or alcohol.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The resident Jewish community was estimated at approximately 300-400 individuals. Jewish community leaders noted an uptick in anti-Semitism during the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, including one physical assault against a man wearing a Star of David necklace at a Reykjavik bar.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the country has several laws that describe the rights and protections provided to persons education is on the national level. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture oversees and issues the national curriculum which establishes standardized rules for all levels of education. According to the law on the issues of persons with disabilities, all municipalities are obliged to ensure that all school-aged children who have learning difficulties stemming from special needs, social, or emotional difficulties due to disability or health reasons are entitled to specialized support in accordance with their needs. The same rules apply for upper secondary and university education. The national curriculum emphasizes nonsegregated education to the extent possible.

By law persons with disabilities are free to hire their own assistance providers and tailor assistance to their needs. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications.

The government generally enforced the laws effectively, but occasional discrimination did occur, and disability rights advocates complained that authorities did not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contended that authorities rarely, if ever, assessed penalties for noncompliance.

There were no reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, or abuses against persons with disabilities.

There were no laws nor reports of government action or inaction that limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility in elections.

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

While the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it does so implicitly. The law prohibits anyone from denying a person goods or services based on that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits denying a person access to a public meeting place or other places open to the public on the same footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law further prohibits incitement to hatred against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity and the dissemination of hateful material.

In January the Gender Autonomy Act (passed in 2019) went into effect. Within the first week, 12 persons registered to change their legal gender to nonbinary.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists reported generally positive conditions. Nevertheless, the same activists continued to note the lack of explicit protections for LGBTQI+ individuals based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, in hate crime laws.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It is silent on whether workers fired for union activity should be reinstated, but it allows for fining employers who engage in this practice. The law permits the government to pass a provisional law to impose mandatory mediation when strikes threaten key sectors in the economy.

The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties for violations (damages and fines) were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements covered nearly 100 percent of the formal economy’s workforce. Independent contractors in various industries, but mainly in construction and tourism, sometimes hired subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Law enforcement authorities and the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety (AOSH) effectively enforced the law. Resources were adequate during the year, although there were no prosecutions. The law is sufficiently stringent compared with those on other serious crimes, and penalties for violations were commensurate.

Some instances of forced labor occurred. Traffickers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, tourism, and restaurants. Foreign “posted workers” were at particular risk of forced labor because traffickers paid them in their home countries and contracted them to work for up to 183 days in the country under the guise of avoiding taxes and union fees, limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Foreign workers have the same rights that are afforded to local workers in collective bargaining agreements. Union officials noted that they do take legal action on the behalf of workers, regardless of whether union dues had been paid.

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 and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions for children younger than age 18. According to the law, children ages 13 and 14 may be employed in light work up to 12 hours per week and a maximum of two hours per day outside organized school teaching hours during the school year and up to 35 hours a week or a maximum of seven hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 who do not attend school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum of eight hours per day, but not between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. For children who remain in school, the law limits work to 12 hours per week and a maximum two hours per day during the school year, but up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children younger than 18 may not be employed in hazardous work as specified by law.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspection capacity was sufficient to enforce compliance.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and other laws prohibit employment discrimination in general and provide for fines determined by the courts for violations. The law provides for equal treatment in the labor market, without regard to race, ethnicity, age, religion, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or gender expression. The law does not specifically address HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Under the law individuals, companies, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations can refer cases to the Gender Equality Complaints Committee, which rules on appointments and salary-related matters.

The government effectively enforced the law in most areas, but instances of employment discrimination occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. Despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women. Disability rights advocates asserted that persons with disabilities had a more difficult time finding jobs due to prejudice and because fewer job opportunities, especially part time, were available for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The law does not establish a minimum wage. The minimum wages negotiated in various collective bargaining agreements applied automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defined the negotiated wage levels, which were higher than the poverty level.

The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime and limits the time a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. Overtime pay does not vary significantly across unions, but collective bargaining agreements determine the terms of overtime pay. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to no fewer than eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days. AOSH monitored and enforced these regulations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries, and the Ministry of Welfare administered and enforced them through AOSH, which conducted both proactive and reactive inspections. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health and safety without jeopardy to their employment. AOSH can close workplaces that fail to meet safety and health standards.

The government effectively enforced the law. AOSH employed a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce standards effectively in all sectors. AOSH levied daily fines on companies that did not follow instructions, urging them to improve work conditions. Daily fines were commensurate with those for similar violations. Except for certain asylum seekers, the government provided universal health-care coverage to all workers, including those in the informal economy.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labor stated in its annual report for 2021 that the pandemic had revealed faults with the economy where the lowest earners and vulnerable groups lost their livelihoods and are more likely to experience long-term unemployment. Although violations of occupational safety and health standards occurred in all sectors, violations occurred most frequently in the construction and food industries. Young workers and employees who did not understand or speak Icelandic and did not know local rules and regulations were more likely to be subjected to hazardous or exploitative working conditions.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered free and fair. Members of parliament and regional representatives elect the president of the republic; the last such election was held in 2015.

The National Police and Carabinieri (gendarmerie or military police) maintain internal security. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. 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: violence or threats of violence against journalists; criminal libel laws with penalties of up to three years in prison; denial of access to asylum; crimes, violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and labor exploitation.

The government identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses. It sometimes implemented effectively laws against official corruption.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Corruption was a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

On March 29, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption noted the absences of “clear and enforceable conflict of interest rules” for parliamentarians, “a robust set of restrictions concerning donations, gifts, hospitality, favors and other benefits for parliamentarians,” “practical measures … to support the implementation of clear parliamentary integrity rules including through the development of dedicated training activities,” and “a restriction on the simultaneous holding of the office of magistrate and that of a member of local government.”

Corruption: In January the trial of 325 members of the ‘Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate began in Calabria. The charges against defendants included murder, extortion, usury, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption, and belonging to a criminal syndicate. The prosecution aimed to expose the deep links between organized crime and other elements of society. The trial continued at year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination. The Interministerial Committee for Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high-profile domestic cases.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes convicted perpetrators of rape of either gender, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members) and provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women and assistance in shielding abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, while restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to survivors.

Between August 2020 and July, 62 women were killed by domestic partners or former partners. In the same period, authorities reported 11,832 cases of stalking. On June 22, for example, police arrested a man accused of having abused his wife for more than 30 years in Catanzaro. The woman had been repeatedly stabbed, beaten, and raped.

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between January and March, the hotline received 7,974 calls, a 39 percent increase from the same period in 2020. In 72 percent of those cases of violence, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 48 percent of the cases, children were present.

Sexual Harassment: By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

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

Independent observers and NGOs reported that government health authorities did not provide sufficient resources to adequately supply the public with reproductive health services and counseling.

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. NGOs reported that in some cases government personnel were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to the requisite sources of assistance.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019, authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, including 234 incidents of incitement to violence, 147 acts of grave desecrations, and 93 acts of physical violence. On September 22, police in Foggia arrested three persons and put three additional persons under investigation for two episodes of violence against a Colombian minor and a Paraguayan who were also insulted for their nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

The European Roma Rights Center reported at least seven evictions of Roma from their unauthorized camps between January and July. On July 1, local authorities closed a Romani camp on the outskirts of Rome. Of the 105 persons living in the camp, 33 found alternative housing and 48 received financial assistance to rent apartments or were hosted in public facilities. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city.

The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2020, 11,500 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,000, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. More than half of persons living in authorized camps were minors. Their average life expectancy was approximately 10 years lower than that of the rest of the population. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, or when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

On March 10, police arrested 29 persons and investigated another 64 suspected of exploiting minors by forcing them to commit robberies and other crimes in Rome. The press reported that most of the victims, who were Romani and younger than age 14, did not attend school.

On September 1, authorities reported a case of a mother abusing an 11-year-old child living in a facility shared by some Romani families. The victim was prevented from attending school and forced to collect reusable items from dumpsters. In 2020 the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered a 41 percent increase in the number of reports of abused minors. In 2020 there were 13,527 reports of missing minors, approximately 70 percent of whom were foreigners. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor. Forced marriage for religious reasons is also penalized. On April 30, a Pakistani woman disappeared in Reggio Emilia after a meeting with her parents, who had attempted to force her to marry a cousin in Pakistan. Prior to her disappearance, she had contacted local social service centers and moved to a protected community. Her parents returned to Pakistan after her disappearance.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting child sexual exploitation, the sale of children, child sex trafficking (offering or procuring a child for commercial sex), and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 4,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 160 in 2019 to 105 in 2020.

On July 26, police arrested a janitor working at a primary school in Brescia on charges of engaging in sexual acts with children. The man also allegedly engaged in child sex trafficking by attempting to force some of the child victims into commercial sex.

There were reports of child pornography. In July authorities arrested four persons and investigated three others in Lombardy for producing videos and photos of exploited minors having sexual intercourse with adults and animals. In 2020 Postal Police reported 1,578 cases of online pedophilia, representing a 232 percent increase compared with 2019. Save the Children Italy reported that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, who were often forcibly trapped unprotected in overcrowded apartments without access to health care.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the age gap with the partner is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 5,101 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 8,382 unaccompanied minors, of whom 97 percent were boys. It also stated that 325 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation, including trafficking.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in imprisonment from six months to two years, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia were sold online.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including physical violence against Jews, vandalism of Jewish-owned business and synagogues, and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism, part of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, reported 123 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 17, including acts of violence. In March a food delivery rider in Rome stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming anti-Semitic insults. On May 23, three men wearing Palestinian and Algerian flags assaulted and spit on a Jewish man in Milan. The victim required hospitalization. In August a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are murderers!”

On April 29, an estimated 800 neo-Nazis marched in Milan, with groups of persons performing the Nazi salute. On June 7, antiterror police dismantled a far-right extremist group, the Roman Aryan Order, and arrested 12 persons. Police seized photographs of Hitler, swastikas, and a book listing Jewish surnames.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On February 19, a Holocaust survivor’s attempt to encourage older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in anti-Semitic comments on social media. On August 18, the center reported 41 cases of insults on the internet and five cases of graffiti against Jewish residents. Most incidents occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Rome, and Busto Arsizio.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law require authorities to guarantee access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation to persons with disabilities on an equal basis. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges, and government information was not always provided in accessible format. On March 10, the NGO Associazione Coscioni reported that a court ordered the Sperlonga municipality to remove physical barriers preventing persons with disabilities from visiting the historic center of the city. The press reported several cases of escalators and elevators out of order in public buildings and persons with disabilities being denied access to public transportation and other services.

On July 28, police arrested three persons accused of having raped a woman and committed violence against other residents in a nursing home in Serradifalco.

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

NGOs advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech. The website Gay.it received 70 reports of discrimination against gay men between January and July compared with 64 registered in 2020.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 24, a Milan court sentenced a former banker to 18 years in prison for killing a transgender escort from Brazil. When LGBTQI+ persons reported crimes, authorities consistently investigated them but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least one-half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The penalties were commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations that occurred.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Union representatives suffered casualties while raising awareness and advocating for labor interests. In June, during a demonstration, a truck driver ran over and killed a union leader who was protesting for better working conditions in the logistics sector. The truck dragged the labor leader for several yards as the driver drove away from the scene. Police arrested the driver for alleged vehicular homicide and failure to provide assistance to the union leader. Two other protesters were also reportedly hit by the truck driver and suffered minor injuries. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law.

The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes so-called caporalato, the recruitment of agricultural workers who are illegally employed at subminimum wages and required to work long hours without premium pay or access to labor or social protections. Penalties range from fines to the suspension of commercial and business licenses and in some cases imprisonment.

The government continued to focus on forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector. Government labor inspectors and labor organizations expressed concerns during the year that lockdown measures related to COVID-19 made migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Some migrant workers were designated “essential,” which put them at risk of exploitation, including employer blackmail. The government has a system to legalize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers manipulated and blackmailed migrant agricultural workers and care givers to obtain employer signatures on applications. More than 220,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. The government estimated there were 600,000 undocumented migrants in the country.

Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the South. The practice has reportedly spread to other sectors and regions. There were anecdotal media reports that a limited number of Chinese nationals were forced to work in the textile sector and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into beggary. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($17) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

In 2020 a new three-year plan (2020-22) revitalized the government’s efforts to fight labor exploitation and other illegal practices in the agricultural sector. In the same year, the European Commission and the Ministry of Labor funded projects to coordinate labor inspections with law enforcement agencies and the private sector. While the COVID pandemic made labor inspection activities challenging, nationwide in 2020 authorities identified 1,850 potential victims of caporalato and other labor law offenses, of whom 119 were undocumented migrants. Teams in several provinces in central and southern Italy inspected 758 sites, checked 4,767 positions, and identified 1,069 violations of labor rules and 205 potential victims. As a result of the inspections, 22 individuals were summoned for prosecution. The multiagency approach expanded to include an ad hoc group made up of local health officials, inspectors from other regions, and cultural mediators provided by the IOM.

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 employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors as well as all the worst forms of child labor, and there are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 are limited to working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The government generally effectively enforced laws related to child labor in the formal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the South and in family-run agricultural businesses.

There were some reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant and Romani communities. In 2020, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 127 underage laborers, of whom 51 were working in the services sector (hotels and restaurants). The remainder worked in the art, sports, and entertainment sector, wholesale and retail trade, and car and motorbike repair.

The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age of 21 and can support themselves. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to child labor exploitation and worked to prevent abuse by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained volunteer guardians at the juvenile court level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law were not yet fully implemented across the country, although significant progress has been made.

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, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. However, there were media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Office against Racial Discrimination to intervene in discrimination cases and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights, but the number of inspections was insufficient to provide adequate implementation.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases, according to labor unions, victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, due to fear of reprisal. According to a 2021 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 14.1 percent lower than those of men performing the same job in the country in 2019.

In 2020 Ministry of Labor inspectors carried out 309 inspections to protect working mothers and pregnant women. The sectors with the most violations included hospitality, wholesale and retail trade, tourism, and health- and home-care assistance.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. These minimum wages were above the poverty income level.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. The penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector. Labor inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts of government institutions

Occupational safety and health inspections were conducted by the same inspectors as wage and hour violations under the same authorities. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties were commensurate with similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

In 2020 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 103,857 companies (including agricultural firms) and identified 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor law. Migrants in the agricultural sector faced unsafe work conditions, including working outdoors for prolonged periods of time while being exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and receiving wages below legal minimum wage requirements. In addition to farmworkers, unions and workers in the logistic sector expressed concerns regarding the grueling pace of work, work-related pain and injuries, and mental health issues as well as the lack of employment stability and security for temporary workers. In 2020 there were 1,270 workplace deaths due to accidents in the industrial sector as well as 554,340 reported incidents that resulted in injuries.

Informal Sector: Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, a national trade union, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Unions reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions in some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the informal sector of the economy was responsible for more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered the elections in 2018 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard, the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, the State Security Service, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The State Police, State Security Service, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, and the National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the majority of the public believed that corruption was widespread, that officials were rarely held accountable, that investigation and prosecution of corruption cases were slow, and that convictions were rare.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. Investigation of corruption cases continued to improve, but prosecutions were slow, and conviction rates low. NGOs stated concerns with the quality of investigations, efficiency of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), lack of appropriate judicial training, quality of law education, lengthy written procedures, and sluggish use of plea bargaining as the main problems in the judicial sector.

In October KNAB initiated criminal proceedings on corruption charges against Member of Parliament Viktors Valainis, who chaired the Greens/Farmers group in parliament. KNAB investigated Valainis’s possible involvement in the alleged payment of a bribe in exchange for a council member’s deciding vote to replace the mayor in the town of Dobele.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated with NGOs and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman reported good cooperation with the agencies he monitored and operated without direct government or political interference. The office encountered difficulties resolving problems that required state budget funding or changes in the law, but effectively addressed complex social-economic issues in the Constitutional Court. In its most recent report in 2019, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) observed that the ombudsman’s mandate does not include providing independent assistance to victims of racism and racial discrimination. The ombudsman cannot enforce its recommendations or levy fines, although it may apply to the Constitutional Court to initiate proceedings against a public institution that has failed to address a source of discrimination. The ombudsman can also file a complaint in an administrative court if it is in the public interest or bring a case to the civil courts if the problem concerns a violation of equal treatment, ECRI stated. As required by law, the Office of the Ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing parliamentary committee on human rights and public affairs met weekly when parliament was in session. It considered initiatives related to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape regardless of gender. Spousal rape is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” Criminal penalties for rape range from four years’ to life imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law.

When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation. Through September police initiated 53 criminal charges for rape against 27 individuals, of which 17 cases were sent to the prosecutor’s office. Because the Ministry of Justice does not distinguish between spousal rape and nonspousal rape cases, there were no reports available on whether any spousal rape case was prosecuted.

The law provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. Domestic and intimate-partner violence is criminalized and considered an aggravating factor in certain criminal offenses. There are penalties for causing even “minor” bodily harm when the survivor and perpetrator are spouses, former spouses, or civil partners. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment.

The law allows police to investigate domestic violence without a survivor’s prior approval and criminalizes stalking. The law allows survivors of domestic violence to request that police officers issue an order for the eviction of the perpetrator for eight days. Upon such a request, police must react immediately, on the spot if necessary. Only courts can issue restraining orders and must respond to such requests within one business day. Once a restraining order is issued, it remains in force until a court revokes it.

Domestic violence remained a serious problem and increased due to COVID-19. NGOs stated reports of domestic violence increased during the summer months, when the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Another increase of reports took place after NGOs completed a domestic violence public awareness campaign in January, perhaps because of heightened public awareness. Through August police initiated 158 criminal proceedings for domestic violence and detained 57 persons. In the same period, police issued 364 restraining orders. NGOs stated that in some domestic violence cases, police and doctors were reluctant to act or arrest domestic partners. NGOs also stated police and doctors sometimes minimized the seriousness of the accusations when responding to reports of abuse. Domestic abuse complaints to police resulted in a slight rise in the rate of citations, although NGOs still viewed this as insufficient.

Police throughout the country are required to use standardized protocols to report and investigate gender-based violence, including domestic violence. Responding police officers are required to complete and send electronically an evaluation checklist to the social service of the relevant local government within one working day.

There was a government-run safe shelter designated specifically for battered and abused women in the Tukums municipality. The government provided state funding to shelters. There was one government-funded survivor support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; none was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault reports. The government hotline referred survivors to an appropriate NGO for further support.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was prosecuted under discrimination statutes. Penalties range from a reprimand to imprisonment. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. During the year there was one complaint of sexual harassment.

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

The law requires transgender persons to be sterilized before their gender identity is legally recognized.

The country’s cultural norms and concerns regarding potential violations of “virtue” laws limited consistent education in schools on sexual and reproductive health. The law obliges schools to provide students with a “moral education” that reinforces traditional (heterosexual) values regarding marriage and family life. As a result, many teachers avoided educating adolescents regarding reproductive health and contraception.

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: The law provides for equal treatment of women. The government enforced its antidiscrimination laws effectively. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law provides for equal treatment and protection of racial and ethnic minorities against violence, discrimination, and hatred. The government enforced its antiviolence laws effectively.

NGOs representing minority groups stated that discrimination and harassment of national minorities, including what they considered hate speech, remained underreported to authorities. Through September the ombudsman did not receive any written complaints of racial discrimination, although he did receive five complaints of hate speech targeting certain ethnicities. ECRI in 2019 heard from NGOs, minority representatives, and the ombudsman that victims of hate speech often did not report incidents to police because they distrusted the willingness and ability of police to investigate these cases effectively.

In July the new minister of interior established a working group focused on addressing hate crimes.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination, high levels of unemployment, and illiteracy. The government continued integration and awareness programs in support of Roma, although some community members expressed concern that the support was inconsistent. The Central Statistical Bureau reported that 4,838 Roma lived in the country.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. The law bestows automatic birthright citizenship to children of noncitizen residents. Children with noncitizen resident status are eligible for citizenship via naturalization.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. The law provides for protection of children against violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, involvement in commercial sexual exploitation, and serious threats to their life, health, or development, such as hazardous conditions. Violation of the law is punishable by imprisonment, community service, or a fine and supervised probation for a period of up to three years. The law empowers custody courts to remove vulnerable and abused children from violent homes if parents or guardians cannot do so or are themselves perpetrators of the violence. Police effectively enforced laws against child abuse.

The ombudsman received two complaints of violence against children in educational institutions and two complaints of violence against children in families. NGOs also reported a continuing overall problem with discipline and bullying in schools, citing an administrative culture of conflict avoidance as an aggravating factor.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons younger than 18 may legally marry only with parental permission and if one party is at least 16 and the other is at least 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. Through September police initiated 93 criminal proceedings for the sexual exploitation of minors younger than 16. The purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights reported four cases of peer-on-peer emotional abuse in orphanages run by municipalities. The inspectorate and NGOs stated the number of incidents was likely higher but could not be confirmed because of difficulties in accountability, infrequent visits by social workers, and limited opportunities for observation.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Government sources estimated there were between 4,400 and 8,100 Jewish residents in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups. As of September the State Security Service initiated two criminal cases against individuals for anti-Semitic comments. The government provided financial support to Jewish history, religious, and cultural institutions.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, most of the annual commemoration of Latvian Legionnaires who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet army in World War II was canceled. Organizers converted the annual memorial march into an all-day wreath-laying event. As in recent years, the event was sparsely attended, but at least one parliamentarian from the right-wing National Alliance party attended.

On July 4, President Egils Levits, Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga. The ceremony included a limited number of invitees due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions but was open to the public.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities and mandate access to education, health services, and transportation for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

The law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities. A regulation approved in October mandates greater accessibility for new and renovated public and private buildings, such as elevator accessibility and removed barriers to the installation of ramps. Nevertheless, NGOs stated that building accessibility continued to be low while the new regulation was implemented.

While health and labor services were provided as stipulated by law, NGOs stated that most persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, the absence of specialized job education and training programs, the weak performance of the State Employment Agency, and a lack of government support for businesses employing persons with disabilities. The accessibility of health services worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased the burden on medical staff. Access to housing and mortgage loans remained limited.

Schools were generally able to accommodate the needs of children with physical disabilities. NGOs cited a lack of psychological support for students with mental disabilities. Several schools dedicated only to students with disabilities still existed, although children were increasingly integrated into the regular educational system.

Access to polling stations and information regarding election candidates and processes remained a problem for persons with disabilities.

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

NGOs stated that instances of violence and other abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity tended to be underreported, and that they observed a rise in online hate speech against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community during the COVID-19 pandemic. ECRI noted in 2019 that the government did not collect data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and thus could not accurately assess the magnitude of the problem or need for specialized services. Through August the ombudsman received four complaints regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

NGOs reported widespread stigmatization of, intolerance of, and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. NGOs reported an improved relationship with the Ministry of Interior given the new focus on countering anti-LGBTQI+ discrimination following the ministry’s leadership change. They reported improvements in cooperation both with the ombudsman and the State Police since police established a specific point of contact within the department for NGOs seeking urgent assistance.

The law requires transgender persons to be sterilized before their gender identity is legally recognized.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities generally enforced the law. NGOs expressed concern regarding the lack of explicit protection in the law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On April 9, the Constitutional Court abolished the rule that requires a partner in a same-sex family to pay a higher state fee for the inheritance of their deceased partner’s estate than heterosexual spouses.

On December 10, the Supreme Court overturned an administrative court’s refusal of a same-sex couple’s application for “family” benefits and ordered a retrial to establish whether denying the couple familial status violated their rights under Article 110 of the constitution, which says that the state “shall protect and support…the family, the rights of the parents, and the rights of the child.” The ruling created a new possibility for same-sex partners to receive social services and economic benefits as a family through a court decision rather than by legislation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military and members of the State Security Services may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance since all employment conditions are fixed by law.

While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a simple majority at a meeting attended by more than half of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also applied. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other civil rights laws, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand euros, but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern regarding employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces and reported no incidents of forced labor through September. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 12 percent of positions unfilled, a situation made worse by perennial wage issues they were seeking to improve.

In July the State Police detained eight persons for suspected labor trafficking at several addiction prevention centers. Police started the investigation and suspected the NGO running the centers forced clients to perform heavy labor in the agricultural and forestry industries without pay.

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 effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children age 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. The law provides that children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were three reports of labor abuses involving children, which the State Labor Inspectorate investigated and did not find any violations. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate did not report cases of unregistered employment of youth.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights. Despite the existence of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government requires the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.

According to the World Bank Group’s publication Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the country have equal legal standing with men. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector, but they were underreported to the ombudsman. Through August the ombudsman opened one case of discrimination against women.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work, although they were free to work in all labor markets and were able to receive government employment support services, including those specifically designed for persons with disabilities. In 2019, 27 percent of all persons with disabilities were employed, a slight increase from 2018. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law sets a monthly minimum wage that was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspectorate has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters and police, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace that were current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers were able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believed their rights were violated. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are fines that vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems, effectively enforce labor laws, and occupational safety and health standards. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 18 workplace fatalities. The inspectorate also reported 139 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate reported that 66 injuries and four deaths occurred as a result of industrial accidents. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Informal Sector: Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for 25 percent of GDP. Most workers in the informal sector were officially registered and received an official wage (with all taxes paid and eligibility for all benefits). These individuals also receive some tax-free money in cash. In this case, they are covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and inspections.

Some persons who were employed illegally without any papers, paid no taxes, and received their wages in cash, did not have wage, hour, and OSH protection but did have access to social protection provided by the Ministry of Welfare, such as unemployment benefits, as well as to various social assistance programs provided by municipalities. The State Labor Inspectorate conducted inspections to find these cases and punish employers for illegal employment.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Lithuania is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority resides in the Seimas (a unicameral parliament), and executive authority resides in the prime minister and the cabinet of ministers. Observers evaluated the presidential elections and European parliamentary elections in 2019 and the national parliamentary elections in October 2020 as generally free and fair.

Police and the State Border Guard Service are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The Special Investigative Service, the main anticorruption agency, reports to the president and parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, the State Border Guards Service, the army, and the Special Investigative Service. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Starting in June a surge of irregular migrants began to flow across the border from Belarus. The government announced a nationwide emergency to deal with the influx of irregular migrants, who were detained in camps nationwide.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The European Research Center for Anticorruption and State-building and Transparency International reported that corruption remained a problem, in part due to inadequate enforcement of the country’s anticorruption law, including in the medical services sector. A Transparency International report stated that 17 percent of respondents reported paying bribes for medical treatment, while the Stockholm School of Economics’ Shadow Economy Index, published in June, estimated that 8.4 percent of business revenue was used to pay bribes.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsperson has three mandates: to investigate complaints regarding abuse of office or other abuses of human rights involving public administration; to implement the national prevention of torture mechanism under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and to serve as an accredited national human rights institution. In the last capacity, the parliamentary ombudsperson is responsible for reporting on and monitoring human rights problems, cooperating with international and domestic human rights organizations, and promoting human rights awareness and education.

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson (EOO) operates as an independent public institution accountable to parliament and is responsible for the enforcement of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and the Law on Equal Treatment, with responsibility for implementing and enforcing rights under the law.

A Children’s Rights Ombudsperson is responsible for overseeing observance of children’s rights and their legal interests. It may initiate investigations of possible abuses of such rights, either upon receipt of a complaint or on its own initiative.

The parliament’s Human Rights Committee prepares and reviews draft laws and other legal acts related to civil rights and presents recommendations to government institutions and other organizations concerning problems related to the protection of civil rights. It also receives reports from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsperson.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men as well as domestic violence are criminal offenses. Penalties for domestic violence depend on the level of injury to the victim, ranging from required public service to life imprisonment. In the first eight months of the year, authorities received 61 reports of rape, compared with 63 during the same period in 2020. Convicted rapists generally received prison sentences of three to five years. No law specifically criminalizes spousal rape, and no data on spousal rape was available.

Although the law criminalizes domestic abuse, it remained a pervasive problem. In the first eight months of the year, police registered 4,206 criminal offenses related to domestic violence, compared with 7,126 in 2020. According to the Department of Statistics, 17 domestic violence-related femicides were registered in the first eight months of the year, compared with 28 in 2020 and 21 in 2019. The law permits rapid government action in domestic violence cases. For example, police and other law enforcement officials may, with court approval, require perpetrators to live separately from their survivors, to avoid all contact with them, and to surrender any weapons they may possess. According to the Department of Statistics, 80 percent of survivors of domestic violence were women. The government allocated 1.35 million euros ($1.55 million) to NGOs working in the field of domestic violence prevention.

According to a July 2020 survey by the Women’s Information Center, only 15 percent of those surveyed who had experienced domestic violence had contacted police. From April to September the Department of Statistics carried out a survey, which collected statistics on abuses of personal security at work, the prevalence and nature of domestic violence, and the provision of assistance to survivors.

The government operated a 24/7 national hotline and 29 crisis centers for survivors of domestic violence. In September 2020 the government adopted its Action Plan for Domestic Violence Prevention and Assistance to Victims for 2021 and allocated 1.17 million euros ($1.35 million) for the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. The law defines sexual harassment as offensive verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, towards a person with whom they work, conduct business, or have other relations. Harassment is defined in the same law as unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person that occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment. Pretrial investigations of sexual harassment were relatively rare, and survivors were often blamed as the cause of the harassment.

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

The country lacked consistent sex education programs, and there was a lack of publicly available information of contraception as a method of family planning. Contraception and medical advice were hard to access for many teenagers. According to the Human Rights Coalition, some young women and girls in rural areas, mostly Roma, had limited access to reproductive health services and contraceptives due to poverty, social stigma, and lack of parental consent.

According to the Department of Statistics, in 2020 girls younger than 18 gave birth to 109 children. According to the Lithuanian Society of Obstetricians, teenage pregnancy was closely linked to social marginalization, with many girls coming from vulnerable families. On September 7, the EOO determined that the procedure for reimbursing assisted reproduction was discriminatory because it was available only to women up to age 42, contrary to the Law on Equal Opportunities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The Center for Combating Human Trafficking and Exploitation, which provides social, psychological, and legal services to survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse, noted that medical personnel conducting gynecological examinations often treated survivors in an accusatory or insensitive manner. The country had no rape crisis center, but a network of specialized NGOs provided social, psychological, health, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. A national women’s helpline also assisted survivors.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including 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 the law effectively. Women continued to experience unequal access to pension benefits and the gender wage gap remained significant, leaving women more exposed to poverty risk (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic or national minorities, but intolerance and societal discrimination persisted. According to the 2011 census, approximately 14 percent of the population were members of minority ethnic groups, including Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Karaites, and Jews.

Representatives of the Polish minority, approximately 200,000 persons according to the 2011 census, continued to raise their concerns concerning restrictions on the use of Polish letters in official documents, particularly passports, and the lack of a law on protecting national minorities’ rights.

Roma, whose population the 2011 census reported as 2,115 persons (0.07 percent of the country’s total population), continued to experience discrimination.

In August 2020, Vilnius Municipality approved a new Romani integration program for 2020-23. The plan offers new solutions to strengthen the areas of education, health care, social care, and culture, with a particular focus on integration programs. Romani families were offered individual and group consultations with psychologists, teachers, and social workers. According to the NGO Diversity Development Group, lockdowns related to COVID-19 severely affected the involvement of Romani children in education, because most of them lacked technical means to access online learning, especially at the beginning of the lockdown, and the government did not effectively organize assistance to them.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship may be acquired either by birth in the country or through one’s parents. The government registered all births promptly.

Child Abuse: The law bans all violence against children. Sexual abuse of children remained a problem despite prison sentences of up to 13 years for the crime. In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of the Interior recorded 33 cases of child rape and 175 cases involving other forms of child sexual abuse. The government operated a children’s support center to provide medical and psychological care for children, including those who suffered from various types of violence. It also operated a national center in Vilnius to provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance to sexually abused children and their families.

The Child Rights Protection Service reported that in the first half of the year 1,370 cases of possible violence against children were recorded. There were 2,841 total such cases in 2020.

In the first eight months of the year, the children’s rights ombudsperson reported receiving 216 complaints.

During the first eight months of the year, Child Line (a hotline for children and youth) received 99,888 telephone calls from children and responded to 71,788 of those calls. Child Line also received and answered 292 letters from children, whose concerns ranged from relations with their parents and friends to family violence and sexual abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Individuals involving a child in pornographic events or using a child in the production of pornographic material are subject to imprisonment for up to five years (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media). Persons who offer to purchase, acquire, sell, transport, or hold a child in captivity are subject to imprisonment for three to 12 years. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children’s Rights reported receiving two complaints of alleged sexual exploitation of children during the first eight months of the year. According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first eight months of the year, officials registered 124 criminal cases involving child pornography. The age of consent is 16.

Institutionalized Children: According to experts from the Human Rights Monitoring Institute and other NGOs, deinstitutionalization of childcare was slow, and 1,533 children were still in state care institutions. As of September 1, the children’s rights ombudsperson had opened two investigations regarding abuses of children’s rights in orphanages and large-family foster homes.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 4,000 persons. There were reports of anti-Semitism on the internet and in public.

On January 27 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day), member of parliament and then chair of the Parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and National Historical Memory Valdas Rakutis authored an article published by media outlets which stated, “After all, there was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures.” Rakutis’s article drew criticism from the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the Jewish community. On January 29, Rakutis stepped down as chair of the parliamentary commission but did not apologize or withdraw his remarks. On February 22, Vilnius prosecutors announced that they had declined to open a pretrial investigation into Rakutis’s comments on the Holocaust, stating his article did not violate the laws on genocide denial.

On April 15, parliament appointed Arunas Bubnys as director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania (GRRCL), despite the June 2020 publication by the website defendinghistory.com of an article with Bubnys photographed delivering a speech at a rally in front of photographs of Nazi collaborators Jonas Noreika and Kazys Skirpa. At the time of the appointment, Bubnys was head of the GRRCL’s Department of Historical Research. In October 2020, during his tenure as head of the department, Bubnys ran for parliament as a candidate of the National Union Party (NUP), a far-right nationalist political party. He was not elected, and in April he announced that he had left the NUP. In an interview with the 15min.lt news portal on May 4, Bubnys spoke regarding Jonas Noreika, admitting that “there were both positive and, let’s say, negative things in his activities.”

The municipal government of Ukmerge district continued to resist calls for the removal of a monument to former partisan Juozas Krikstaponis, who, based on the conclusion of the GRRCL, took part in the killing of Jews in Belarus in 1941. In a letter to the mayor of Ukmerge in May, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis suggested that the monument be relocated to the outskirts of the city.

On September 8, employees of a nearby German law firm found and erased a swastika drawn on a sign marking the old Jewish cemetery of Snipiskes. Representatives of the Jewish Community of Lithuania reported that unknown persons redrew it a few days later. On September 9, workers caring for the Jewish cemetery on Radivilenu Road in Kaunas reported vandalism at the cemetery, including at least three grave sites that had been dug up, likely by thieves searching for valuables.

On September 10, a sign listing information regarding a site in Kretinga where Jews were killed during the Holocaust was vandalized. Police started a pretrial investigation. Police had instructions to take measures to deter illegal activities, including vandalism, with special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

On November 1, it was reported that vandals dismantled a Jewish monument and destroyed its foundation at Kedainiai, where 1,125 Jews were massacred during the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no proactive enforcement of these requirements. The equal opportunities ombudsperson received 32 complaints of alleged discrimination based on disability and found violations in seven cases. In its most recent report from 2019, the National Audit Office reported that nearly one-third of persons with disabilities were at risk of poverty, a higher percentage than the overall at-risk-of-poverty rate (20.6 percent). The audit found that only 13 percent of the persons identified as needing assistance received special services in municipalities. In 32 municipalities, local governments did not arrange, as required by law, that at least 30 percent of public buildings providing social, educational, health, and cultural services were adapted to persons with disabilities. In 34 municipalities, no means of public transport were available for persons with disabilities. In 2019 only 3.4 percent of municipal websites were adapted for persons with disabilities.

The law requires all schools that provide compulsory and universally accessible education accommodate students with disabilities. The country has a tradition of separate schools for children with various disabilities. In June 2020 parliament amended the Law on Education to eliminate discriminatory provisions regarding children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational support. According to these provisions, which were scheduled to be implemented gradually and fully enter into force on September 1, 2024, children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational support would be able to attend a general education school in their place of residence, and schools would no longer be able to refuse to admit them and refer them to separate so-called special schools.

The law prohibits persons with disabilities who have been deprived of their legal capacity from voting or standing for election. According to the Central Electoral Commission, 67 percent of polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities in the October 2020 parliamentary elections.

Considering the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsperson, on March 3, the minister of health determined that the Ministry of Health would allow involuntarily hospitalized persons with mental or behavioral disorders to receive an independent mental health assessment.

According to the NGO the Lithuanian Forum for Persons with Disabilities (LFPD), deinstitutionalization has been slow in the country, with too little attention paid and inadequate funding devoted to the creation of independent living arrangements for individuals with disabilities.

According to the LFPD, a small number of persons with disabilities sought help in cases of domestic violence. The LFPD suspected that persons with disabilities did not have information concerning state-provided aid available for survivors of domestic abuse.

Those living in closed social care institutions and admitted to or involuntarily hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals were among the most seriously affected during the pandemic. After assessing the risks of human rights abuses during the quarantine as well as considering calls from residents and their relatives, the staff of the parliamentary ombudsperson office provided consultations to residents of social care institutions on the topics of ensuring human rights and freedoms and a sense of security during the quarantine.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The I Can Live NGO coalition worked with drug addicts and other vulnerable groups and noted that individuals with HIV and AIDS continued to be subject to discrimination, including in employment, and were treated with fear and aversion. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index conducted by the NGO coalition in 2018, 90 percent of persons with HIV feared revealing their status to others, and 83 percent were not aware of laws protecting them from discrimination. Of those who believed discrimination occurred, 67 percent reported being intimidated from taking action.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sexual orientation may be an aggravating factor in crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. However, it states that any information that “encourages a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania or in the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania” is detrimental to minors and should be restricted. According to Amnesty International, this law violates the freedom of self-expression of LGBTQI+ persons. Gender identity remains unrecognized in the law. Societal attitudes toward LGBTQI+ persons remained largely negative, and LGBTQI+ persons experienced stigma, discrimination, and violence. A 2019 poll by the Baltijos Tyrimai market and public opinion research company noted that one-third of citizens viewed LGBTQI+ individuals as undesirable neighbors. Transgender persons were vulnerable and regularly experienced extreme violence and death threats, and legal barriers and discriminatory practices often inhibited them from receiving health care. Most LGBTQI+ persons who experienced violent acts did not report them due to a lack of trust in the legal system. During the first-ever pride march in the city of Kaunas on September 4, eggs and potatoes were thrown at participants by protesters, who also shouted obscenities during the event.

On December 31, Minister of Justice Evelina Dobrovolska signed an order allowing transgender persons to change their names and ending the requirement to provide medical proof of gender reassignment. The order was scheduled to take effect on February 2, 2022.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits employer discrimination against union organizers and members and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. These provisions also apply to migrant workers.

There were some specific legal limits to these rights. The law bans sympathy strikes. It also prohibits law enforcement officials, first-aid medical workers, and other security-related personnel from collective bargaining and striking, although they may join unions. The law does not afford workers in essential services, whose right to strike is restricted or prohibited, alternative procedures for impartial and rapid settlement of their claims or a voice in developing such procedures.

Labor-management disputes are settled by a labor arbitration board formed under the jurisdiction of the district court where the registered office of the enterprise or entity involved in the collective dispute is located. Although the law establishes the binding character of the decision upon the parties, the decisions cannot lay down rights or obligations of individuals and are not enforceable by the courts. Labor-code procedures make it difficult for some workers to exercise the right to strike. The law allows an employer to hire replacement workers in certain sectors to provide for minimum services during strikes.

The government generally respected freedom of association but did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties are not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the judicial system was slow to respond to cases of unfair dismissal, and no employer faced penal sanctions for antiunion discrimination as envisaged in the law. No courts or judges specialized in labor disputes.

Employers did not always respect collective bargaining rights, and managers often determined wages without regard to union preferences, except in large factories with well-organized unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were instances of forced labor, most of which involved local men subjected to forced labor abroad. Foreign workers from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were at risk of labor trafficking as long-haul truck drivers, builders, ship hull assemblers, and welders.

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 and criminalizes all of the worst forms of child labor and provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light work with the written consent of the child’s parents or guardians and school. The government has not created a list of jobs considered “light work.” The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals. Under the law children younger than 18 may not perform hazardous work. Penalties for violations of child labor laws were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than 18. The government effectively enforced the law. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified 19 cases in which children were working illegally in the agriculture, retail, manufacturing, construction, and service sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination but does not specifically address HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, or gender identity. The law obliges the employer to implement the principles of gender equality and nondiscrimination, which prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, and psychological and sexual harassment. The employer must apply the same selection criteria and conditions when hiring new employees; provide equal working conditions, opportunities for professional development, and benefits; apply equal and uniform criteria for dismissal; pay equal wages for the same work and for work of equal value; and take measures to prevent psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The law stipulates that discrimination based on sex should also cover discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). A pay gap between men and women continued to exist. In addition, government social payments were not equal for men and women, contributing to a higher poverty rate among elderly women.

The EOO monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 1, the EOO received 32 complaints related to employment. To address the gender equality problem, the EOO worked with the governmental Family Policy Commission, which ensures cooperation between state and municipal institutions that formulate family policy and related legislation. The EOO prepared a gender equality self-assessment tool for employers and conducted a series of targeted training sessions on gender equality. Under the law the age requirements for women and men to retire with full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

NGOs reported that workers in the Romani, LGBTQI+, and HIV-positive communities faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6). Non-Lithuanian speakers and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and workplace access.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The labor law limits annual maximum overtime to 180 hours and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as for permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project, job-sharing, employee-sharing, and seasonal work. Employers and employees may mutually agree to a higher amount of maximum overtime through the collective bargaining process.

According to the National Department of Statistics, as of January 1, the minimum monthly wage increased by 6 percent and was above the poverty line. The Statistics Department reported that 585,000 persons in the country lived below the poverty risk line in 2020. The poverty risk level stood at 20.9 percent in the country, up by 0.3 percent from 2019.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, such as petroleum refining, food processing, energy supplies, chemicals, furniture, wood products, textiles, and clothing. The law applies to both national and foreign workers. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The State Labor Inspectorate (SLI), which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate conducted 2,449 inspections at companies and other institutions. Of these cases, 80 percent were related to underpayment of wages, late payment of wages, or worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation may appeal to the court system. According to the SLI, violations of wage, overtime, and OSH laws occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints concerning hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

As of September 13, the SLI recorded 2,930 accidents at work, including 22 fatal accidents, compared with 2,533 and 22, respectively, in 2020. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection.

The SLI also issued reports on downtime arrangements, recommendations and regulations on labor relations during emergency situations and quarantines, and support to workers and employers available during a pandemic. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. Workers have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions. Health-care workers were overloaded and at the greatest risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SLI organized 218 consultations and educational events on occupational safety and health, which were attended by more than 4,800 persons. It also organized a virtual quiz entitled “Future without Shadow” for high school students.

Informal Sector: The informal economy accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the economy. Refugee employment opportunities were primarily concentrated in construction, hospitality (restaurants), manufacturing, and housekeeping. The lack of language skills, job search assistance, education, and qualifications were major barriers to the employment of refugees.

Norway

Executive Summary

Norway is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The government consists of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a 169-seat parliament (Storting), which is elected every four years and may not be dissolved. The monarch generally appoints the leader of the majority party or majority coalition as prime minister with the approval of parliament. Observers considered the multiparty parliamentary elections on September 13 to be free and fair.

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security. Police may call on the armed forces for assistance in crises. In such circumstances the armed forces operate under police authority. The National Police Directorate, an entity of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, oversees the police force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces did not commit any abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has ombudsmen for public administration (the parliamentary ombudsman), children, equality and discrimination (the equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman, or LDO), and health-care patients. Parliament appoints the parliamentary ombudsman, while the government appoints the others. All ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The parliamentary ombudsman and the Antidiscrimination Tribunal hear complaints against actions by government officials.

Although the ombudsmen’s recommendations are not legally binding, authorities usually complied with them.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs reviews the reports of the parliamentary ombudsman, while the Standing Committee on Justice and Public Security is responsible for matters relating to the judicial system, police, and the penal, civil, and criminal codes.

The National Human Rights Institution (NIM) is an independent body funded by the parliament. It submits an annual report to parliament on human rights in the country. By advising the government, disseminating public information, promoting education and research on human rights, and facilitating cooperation with relevant public bodies, the NIM makes recommendations to help ensure that the country’s international human rights obligations are fulfilled. The NIM also engaged in several topics of structural and institutional discrimination and encouraged the government to become increasingly involved in issues such as the treatment of children from minority groups by the child-welfare services and allegations of racial profiling by police.

The Freedom of Expression Commission was established in 2017 to examine the social, technological, legal, and economic frameworks for free speech and was scheduled to present its conclusions in 2022.

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 generally enforced the law. The penalty for rape is up to 21 years in prison, depending on the severity of the assault, the age of the victim, and the circumstances in which the crime occurred. Most cases resulted in sentences of three years and four months in prison.

The law provides penalties of up to six years in prison for domestic violence and up to 21 years for aggravated rape. Gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, was a problem. In 2020 the government reported that during the previous three years, partner killings accounted for one in four killings in the country. The government generally enforced the law, although Amnesty International Norway criticized police for not allocating sufficient resources to investigations and asserted that the indictment and conviction rates for rapes were too low.

The government had programs to prevent rape and domestic violence, and offices within the police districts offered counseling and support to victims. All police districts had a domestic violence coordinator. The government continued to implement its three-year Action Plan against Rape that focuses on prevention, improvements of care and services to victims, and improvements to the judicial system. The National Police Directorate oversees the implementation of the national action plan and submits annual reports on the trends in the prosecution of rapes and sexual violence. In August the government launched a four-year action plan against domestic violence, Freedom from Violence. The plan is an interministerial product which includes measures such as prevention, victim assistance, protection and prosecution, and international cooperation. The plan also contains a separate chapter on preventing and combating domestic violence in the Sami community.

Public and private organizations operated 47 government-funded shelters and managed five 24-hour crisis hotlines. Victims of domestic violence have a right to consult a lawyer free of charge before deciding whether to make a formal complaint. If the government initiates criminal proceedings, the victim is entitled to free assistance from a victim’s advocate. Victims may also qualify for a one-time payment from a government-sponsored fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides that “employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other unseemly behavior,” and the government effectively enforced this provision. The law applies to employers with as few as 20 employees and requires most companies to include in their annual reports information on their work environment and gender equality. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines or prison sentences of up to two years, depending on the seriousness of the offense. The Antidiscrimination Tribunal has the authority to impose penalties in sexual harassment cases more in line with other cases of discrimination and harassment and puts an onus on public authorities to work actively for gender equality and the prevention of harassment, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence. The costs and resources needed to bring such cases to court have been barriers to victims seeking redress in all but the most egregious cases.

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

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

Discrimination: Under the law public and private authorities must advance gender equality in all areas of society. The law mandates that 40 percent of the members of boards of directors of publicly listed companies be women; this applies to employers with as few as 20 employees. Companies largely complied with the law.

Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in terms of gaining employment as well as discrimination in the workplace itself (see section 7.d.). As of September the LDO received 61 complaints of gender discrimination as well as 13 complaints related to parental leave.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Racial profiling is against the law, but authorities did not keep records relating to the stop and search of members of vulnerable groups. NGOs such as the Center against Racism and Black History Month Norway continued to report complaints of police profiling of members of ethnic and racial minority groups, particularly young men. To end the practice of stigmatizing minority youth in particular, the Oslo city government applied for permission from the national government to introduce a pilot program for a system in which anyone checked and cleared by police would receive a receipt stating why the person was stopped and that the person had been cleared. A goal of the system was to raise awareness among police regarding unconscious bias. The pilot program had support from Black History Month Norway and the LDO. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the local police were less enthusiastic, stating that “ethnic [and racial] profiling is not a method of approach within the Norwegian Police.” As of September, the Antidiscrimination Tribunal received 64 reports of ethnic discrimination.

Discrimination against immigrants, including asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and ethnic minorities remained a problem. Ethnic discrimination occurred in employment and housing.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the Center against Racism, hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities, remained a problem. The government continued to implement the national strategy against hate speech released in 2016 and implemented a new three-year Action Plan against Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion.

In addition to the Sami, five ethnically non-Norwegian groups with a long-standing attachment to the country have a special protected status under the law: Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Forest Finns, Roma, and Romani/Tater people (a distinct group of travelers who emigrated to Norway and Sweden in the 1500s).

Romani groups noted concerns of a disproportionate number of Romani children taken into custody by the Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), an independent human rights monitoring body of the Council of Europe, noted that, according to civil society, Romani children were also among the victims of bullying.

During its 2020 visit to the country, ECRI’s delegation received complaints from both parents with a migration background and Roma and Romani people/Tater representatives, about Child Welfare Services (CWS). The ECRI report stated that approximately 40 children belonging to the Romani and Tater minorities were in foster care with very limited access to the Romani culture. In ECRI’s opinion, the CWS’s practices of removing a higher percentage of children from these backgrounds from the home, placing them in foster care, and restricting parental visitation had led to fear and distrust in those communities. In certain instances ECRI found that the CWS had limited parental visits to once a year for a couple of hours, as well as deprivation of parents’ custody, and adoption against the will of the parents. Parents reported feeling it was not possible to challenge their decisions successfully. In one case cited in the report, five children were taken from a Romanian-Norwegian family and placed in three separate foster homes around the country. However, the law provides for nationwide implementation of a mediation process involving direct communication between the CWS and parents that reduced court cases by two-thirds in the five pilot counties.

Indigenous Peoples

There is no official registry of Sami in the country. As of 2018 government statistics showed that 55,544 persons lived in the areas defined as “Sami” in the northern part of the country. In addition to participating freely in the national political process, the Sami elect their own parliament, the Samediggi, which exercises certain administrative and financial powers according to the law. In 2021 a total of 20,005 persons registered for the Sami parliamentary elections. Members of the Sami parliament also represent their constituents in international fora and organizations such as the Arctic Council and the United Nations. Elections for the Sami parliament follow the national election schedule and last took place on September 13.

The constitution provides a right for the Sami to safeguard and develop their language, culture, and community. NGOs and Sami officials continued to express concern over Sami children’s lack of access to Sami language education due to a lack of qualified teachers.

In response to concerns about high levels of domestic violence within Sami communities, the government devoted a separate chapter in its new action plan against domestic violence, Freedom from Violence, to the subject.

The Sami have a right under the law to consultation on the use of unpopulated lands traditionally used for reindeer husbandry. Under the law three of the six members of the council to determine the proper usage of the land must be Sami. As the government moved to develop greater wind-power capabilities, the Sami raised concerns about the use of their land. Reindeer avoid the wind turbines, which leads to limited grazing areas and increased density in remaining areas. The government stated it takes the reindeer industry and the Sami parliament into account when considering proposals for new wind-power projects. In October the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the rights of the Sami people by permitting the construction of wind farms on Sami land.

The Sami Council, with delegates from nine member organizations in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia, held a hearing in February on a possible new railway to the Arctic Ocean via Oulu and Rovaniemi in Finland to Kirkenes. During the hearing Sami reindeer herders from Finland and Norway said they would veto such a railway project. Aili Keskitalo, then president of the Norwegian Sami parliament, pointed to areas in northern Sweden and Norway where trains kill hundreds of reindeer annually.

ECRI reported that more than half of the persons with a strong and visible Sami identity experienced discrimination, most often during their schooling, and such discrimination negatively affected their health.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents; children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. All birth clinics in the country reported births to a central birth register and provided the parents with a birth certificate. The birth register does not register on birth certificates the father of nonresidents born in the country. The birth certificate does not confer citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse, and the government generally enforced the law. In 2020 the Department of Children, Youth, and Family Affairs initiated 45,464 investigations of alleged child abuse and completed 45,578 investigations. By the end of 2020, the CWS assisted 22,621 children, of whom 20,655 received in-home assistance, while 1,966 were removed from their family home.

Between January and October, the ECHR found against the government twice for separating children from their parents. The ECHR had 20 pending cases against the CWS.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both women and men.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 18 is illegal, both in the country and abroad when committed by a citizen of the country. In both cases the punishment is either a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years. Child pornography is also illegal and punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years. The government generally enforced the law. In 2020 the government reported 3,308 sexual offenses involving children. In August the government launched a national strategy against online abuse of children containing 30 measures to prevent and combat abuse in digital forums. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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.

Anti-Semitism

At least 1,500 Jews lived in the country, 761 of whom belonged to Jewish congregations, according to Statistics Norway. The government does not keep statistics that require citizens to report their religion.

Jewish community leaders reported the public and government generally supported the community, although they acknowledged incidents of anti-Semitism. ECRI noted that, according to civil society, Jewish children were also among the victims of bullying. According to NGOs and research institutes, including the University of Oslo, the Institute for Social Research, and the Jewish community, hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities and religious groups continued to be a problem. The government continued to implement measures from its Action Plan against Anti-Semitism 2016-2020 and provided funding through the government budget. The action plan provided programmatic support and coordination towards integrating anti-Semitism education into all schools, supporting Jewish museums and cultural institutions, funding research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life, and public advocacy programs to combat anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities can access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities and the government provided information and communications in accessible formats. The government effectively enforced and implemented these provisions. The law mandates access to public buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. All children up to the age of 15 have the right to attend the school closest to their home. The government provides a right to education supports upon the completion of a needs assessment. Two out of three children with disabilities who need additional educational supports receive additional instruction outside their classroom.

According to the Antidiscrimination Tribunal, as of September it received 86 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

The government continued to implement its 10-year strategy to reduce discrimination and increase access and opportunities to housing, transportation, employment, and health care as well as participation in cultural and social activities for persons with disabilities.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, citizenship law, and access to government services such as health care. While violence motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards transgender persons is not considered a hate crime, crimes based on discriminatory attitudes towards sexual orientation can be treated as aggravating circumstances.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the Institute for Social Research, and the Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, hate speech on the internet against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons (LGBTQI+) continued to be a problem. ECRI noted a survey among LGBTQI+ pupils, in which 37 percent of the respondents stated they had been bullied by other pupils and 24 percent by teachers. Youths who were harassed with anti-LGBTQI+ bullying had higher rates of depression.

ECRI stated civil society believed that implementation of Safety, Diversity, Openness, the latest national action plan on LGBTQI+ issues, which launched in 2016, was slow and that there have been only a few concrete initiatives with little funding.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including migrant workers (those who have a work permit in the country), to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The right to strike excludes members of the military and senior civil servants. With the approval of parliament, the government may compel arbitration in any industrial sector if it determines that a strike threatens public safety.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. The penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced laws against it. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. A maximum sentence of up to six years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims were commensurate with analogous crimes.

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 worst forms of child labor. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may be employed up to 12 hours per week in light work that does not adversely affect their health, development, or schooling. Examples of light work include assistant work in offices or stores. Children younger than 15 need parental permission to work, and those older than 15 can work as part of vocational training, if they are supervised. Between ages 15 and 18, children not in school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day. The law limits work by children who remain in school to only those hours “not affecting schooling” without specific limits, but less than 40 hours per week. Child welfare laws explicitly protect children from exploitive labor practices. The government effectively enforced these laws, and both civil and criminal penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

While employers generally observed minimum age rules, there were reports that children were trafficked for forced labor. Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity, particularly drug smuggling and theft. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. There were also reports of children forced to work as unpaid domestic help.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. HIV or AIDS status, and refugee or stateless status are not covered by the law. The government effectively enforced the law and invoked penalties when violations were discovered. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and ethnicity. The law provides that women and men engaged in the same activity shall receive equal wages for work of equal value. In 2020 women earned on average 12.5 percent less than men monthly, according to Statistics Norway, which also reported that part-time work increased to 46 percent of women and 24 percent of men in 2020, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no prohibition against gender-based discrimination in access to credit. Equally qualified immigrants sometimes had more difficulty finding employment than nonimmigrants. As of January the unemployment rate among immigrants was 9.2 percent, compared with 2.7 percent among nonimmigrants, according to Statistics Norway. African immigrants had the highest unemployment rate at 13.7 percent, followed by Asians at 10.3 percent, South and Central Americans at 9.6 percent, and immigrants from eastern EU countries at 9.4 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not mandate an official minimum wage. Instead, minimum wages were set in collective bargaining agreements. Statistics Norway used 60 percent of the median household income after tax for the relative poverty limit. In 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, 11.2 percent of the population had an income below the poverty limit.

The law provides for premium pay of 40 percent of salary for overtime and prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of 10 hours per week. The government effectively enforced the laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The law provides the same benefits for citizens and foreign workers with residency permits but forbids the employment of foreign workers who do not have residency permits.

The Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority (NLIA) is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws and effectively enforced laws and standards in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors could conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. In 2020 police received 412 reports of violations of the labor law and other related laws, and no reports of forced labor from the NLIA.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for safe and physically acceptable working conditions for all employed persons. The NLIA, in consultation with nongovernment experts, sets occupational safety and health standards. These standards are appropriate across all sectors of the industry in the country. The law requires enterprises with 50 or more workers to establish environment committees composed of management, workers, and health-care personnel. Enterprises with 10 or more workers must have safety delegates elected by their employees. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment; authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The NLIA is also responsible for occupational safety and health laws. The NLIA may close an enterprise immediately if the life or health of employees is in imminent danger and may report enterprises to police for serious breaches of the law. A serious violation may result in fines or, in the worst case, imprisonment. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence.

In June parliament passed the Transparency Act compelling companies to respect fundamental human rights and decent working conditions in connection with the production of goods and services, and to ensure the public has access to information on how companies handle negative consequences on fundamental human rights and decent working conditions. Companies covered by the new law must perform due diligence assessments to obtain an overview of the consequences their businesses, supply chains, and business partners have on fundamental human rights and labor conditions.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy, led by a president. The country held regular elections for seats in the unicameral National Assembly (parliament) in June 2020 and for the presidency in 2017. International observers stated the country efficiently organized the 2020 elections in difficult circumstances, but the dominance of the ruling party, the opposition parties’ lack of access to the media, and the lack of media diversity overall limited voters’ choice. A coalition led by President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party won an overwhelming majority with more than 60 percent of the vote. The Republic Electoral Commission ruled that elections had to be rerun in 234 of 8,253 municipalities – an unusually high number – due to calculation errors in the voting and other confirmed irregularities. In 2017 Vucic, as leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, was elected president, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote in the first round. International observers stated that the 2017 presidential election was mostly free but noted that campaigning ahead of these elections was tilted to benefit the ruling party.

The national police maintain internal security and are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; numerous acts of serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses. Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, attacks on civil society, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively, and convictions for high-level official corruption were rare. According to an April public opinion survey by the CRTA, 65 percent of citizens believed there was significant corruption in the country, the majority believed the state was ineffective in fighting corruption, and 62 percent believed the government put pressure on individuals, media, or organizations that identified cases of corruption in which members of the government were reportedly involved. There was a widespread public perception that the law was not being implemented consistently and systematically and that some high-level officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government reported an increase in prosecution of low- to mid-level corruption cases, money laundering, and economic crimes cases. High-profile convictions of senior government figures for corruption, however, were rare, and corruption was prevalent in many areas and remained a problem of concern.

The Freedom House Nations in Transit 2021 report described the country as a “hybrid regime” rather than a democracy due to reported corruption among senior officials that had gone unaddressed in recent years. While the legal framework for fighting corruption was broadly in place, anticorruption entities typically lacked adequate personnel and authority and were not integrated with other judicial, legal, or other entities, which inhibited information and evidence sharing with the prosecution service. Freedom House’s 2020 report on the country noted the work of the Anticorruption Agency (ACA) was undermined in part by the ambiguous division of responsibilities among other entities tasked with combating corruption. Freedom House downgraded the country’s political pluralism and participation score in part based on the credible reports that the ACA did not thoroughly investigate dubious political campaign contributions, including the use of thousands of proxy donors to bypass legal limits on individual campaign donations and disguise the true source of funding. The GRECO 2020 Annual Report found that the country had not fully implemented anticorruption measures related to the recruitment and rules of conduct governing members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors.

EU experts noted continuing problems with the overuse of the vague “abuse of office” charge for alleged private-sector corruption cases. Despite the government’s publicly stated commitment to fight corruption, both the country’s Anticorruption Council and the NGO Transparency Serbia continued to point to a lack of governmental transparency.

Corruption: There were numerous reported cases of indictments or convictions for corruption during the year, although rule-of-law-focused NGOs noted that convictions in high-profile cases were exceedingly rare, which they claimed led to impunity for corrupt high-ranking public officials. Between March 2018 and July 2021, the Specialized Prosecutorial Anticorruption Department reported 2,061 convictions for corruption and financial crimes. From October 1, 2020, through September 30, the Anticorruption Departments reported 718 indictments and 526 convictions. The number of cases proceeding through the courts indicated the anticorruption prosecutorial departments made progress in working with other government agencies, investigating malfeasance, and indicting suspects.

The Anticorruption Department within the Ministry of Interior was created to investigate corruption and economic crimes. In the first eight months of the year, the department filed 49 criminal charges for suspicion of committing crimes of corruption.

During the year a high-profile investigation into an organized criminal group led by Veljko Belivuk led to numerous arrests and indictments on charges of homicide, extortion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Some NGOs and media outlets alleged the group had close connections to high-level figures in the government. There were no arrests or indictments against any public officials who were alleged to be connected to the group, and the government denied the accusations.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without major government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Cooperation between civil society groups and government institutions remained limited despite the establishment of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue. Several international watchdog groups, such as Freedom House, continued to publish reports downgrading the country’s human rights and democracy ratings. This did not, however, prompt a significant response or action by government officials.

Civil society groups continued to be subject to criticism, harassment, investigation, and threats from some public officials as well as nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets and several suspected government-organized NGOs. The number of threats and attacks against organizations, activists and journalists increased during the year, with a few activists and journalists experiencing physical attacks and questioning by police. In most cases of physical attacks against activists, police responded, and charges were filed. Prominent NGOs and media associations called on the minister for human and minority rights to condemn attacks against them. Some of the verbal attacks and threats against activists, such as those made by members of parliament against the CRTA and KRIK, prompted a response by the international community, which resulted in President Vucic publicly condemning the attacks.

In March, Aleksandar Martinovic, a parliamentarian from the ruling Serbian Progressive party, claimed in a session of parliament that some NGOs in the country were criminal enterprises; he also accused them of not paying taxes. Martinovic alleged that these organizations worked on behalf of foreign governments and mentioned the name, residence location, and car type of a director of one prominent NGO, which the individual believed increased their personal risk.

There was constructive cooperation between NGOs and the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue on certain human rights issues during the year, although cooperation between civil society and the ministry was limited in other areas.

Tensions continued between civil society and the government’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering (APML) due to unresolved issues from a 2020 investigation of civil society organizations and individuals. The APML argued this action was part of a legitimate risk analysis into vulnerabilities in the nonprofit sector, but several civil society organizations and some media outlets claimed it was a politically motivated “probe” of civil society finances. In protest, many civil society groups stopped cooperation and participation in APML-organized activities, including the 2021 National Risk Assessment for money laundering and terrorism financing and an APML-led working group’s questionnaire for a risk analysis of the nonprofit sector. In response to the 2020 investigation, in April the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism called on all members, including Serbia, to ensure that all Financial Action Task Force recommendations were not intentionally or unintentionally used to suppress the legitimate activities of civil society, noting that the monitoring body will pay particular attention to such situations arising among its membership.

In May, on the day celebrating Serbia’s victory over fascism in World War II, several graffiti messages with threatening profascist content were sprayed on the walls of the premises of two civil society organizations. While the incident was reported to police, the perpetrators were not found. In October and again in November, unknown perpetrators sprayed graffiti on the headquarters of Women in Black in Belgrade. The group is an all-women, antiwar movement. The graffiti included the names of several convicted Serbian war criminals, including Ratko Mladic, and discriminatory language. Numerous civil society organizations expressed solidarity with the organization, which called for an investigation into the attack and a condemnation from the government. According to a report on the implementation of the 2019 Law on Free Legal Aid presented in February by the NGOs Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, A11, and Praxis, the introduction of the new law, which banned NGOs without a lawyer registered with the bar association from providing free legal aid, had negative effects. They claimed that more than two-thirds of local self-governments did not establish free legal aid services. Of the 45 self-government units that had such services, only 11 advertised the service through social welfare centers, which left traditional users of the service uninformed.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2020 the European Commission for Human Rights (ECHR) dealt with 1,421 human rights related cases concerning the country, of which 1,413 were declared inadmissible or were dismissed. The ECHR delivered five judgments (concerning eight applications), four of which found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the first half of the year, there were 1,827 human rights-related cases pending before an ECHR judicial formation. On June 8, the president of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) addressed the UN Security Council and expressed concern regarding the country’s failure to arrest and transfer to the IRMCT defendants Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta to face charges of contempt of court. The defendants were accused of witness tampering, bribery, and intimidation while serving on the defense team for convicted Serbian war criminal Vojislav Seselj. Serbia argued that its agreement on cooperation with the IRMCT’s predecessor court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, did not apply to nonwar crimes cases like contempt of court, and pointed to a ruling in Serbia’s courts on the Jojic and Radeta case that confirmed this interpretation. The IRMCT disputed this interpretation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Government bodies dedicated to the protection of human rights included the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, and the Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue. All were active during the year.

The Office of the Ombudsman was responsible for responding to citizen complaints, identifying problems within state institutions, and making recommendations on remedies. The ombudsman was contacted in 2020 by 18,165 citizens, an increase of 67 percent from the previous year. In 2020, 5,056 official complaints were filed, an increase of approximately 54 percent from the previous year. The greatest number of citizen complaints concerned the work of the executive branch, most notably the work of ministries on measures to counter COVID-19.

On November 3, parliament adopted a new Law on the Ombudsman that extended the term in office from five to eight years. The new law also tasked the ombudsman with managing a national independent mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to serve as the National Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

In November 2020 the commissioner for the protection of equality, Brankica Jankovic, was re-elected to office after a six-month gap following the expiration of her previous mandate that significantly impacted the functioning of her office. Despite this, in 2020 the office received more than 3,000 citizens’ referrals and acted in 1,188 cases, of which 674 were based on complaints involving the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. Most of the complaints alleged discrimination based on health status and age, followed by national affiliation or ethnic origin, gender, and disability. During the year Commissioner Jankovic was vocal in her public condemnation of threats against civic activists and promotion of violence in the country’s media.

The commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection was active in issuing opinions and advisories during the year. In 2020 the commission received 9,218 complaints.

The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue organized 16 events as of September to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between state and nonstate actors on issues related to human and democratic rights. The ministry also drafted a new Law on Gender Equality and amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, both of which were adopted in May. The Law on Gender Equality strengthened institutional mechanisms to ensure gender equality and specifies employers’ and public authorities’ obligations to implement related measures. The amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination expanded the list of those who can face discrimination.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media outlets reported that through late June, 11 women had been killed in family/partnership violence. From November 2018 to October, the Ministry of Justice registered 64,335 victims of violence. In 73 percent of cases (47,136 persons) the victims were women, and in 27 percent (17,199 persons) cases the victims were men.

The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. NGOs criticized the government’s lack of a single electronic database on gender-based violence and femicide despite a legal obligation to have them. Women’s groups and independent institutions reported that fear from reprisal and lack of trust in institutions were the main obstacles to women reporting instances of violence. NGOs called for authorities to take urgent action to provide accommodation for women who leave abusers and hence lose shelter. The NGOs Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC) and Joint Action Roof over One’s Head warned that women who could not provide alternative accommodation and quality of life for themselves and their children were at greater risk of becoming victims of violence and not reporting violence and its perpetrators. The AWC noted that less than one-third of women who received legal assistance from the organization reported having shared or exclusive ownership of the residence where they lived.

The ombudsman stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of violence against women with disabilities, older women, women in rural areas, and Romani women. In May, Ana Ilic was killed in front of her apartment in Valjevo. Her former partner, an unnamed former police officer, was suspected in her killing and had previously stalked Ilic. The man had previously been given a suspended sentence, banned from approaching and communicating with Ilic, and was removed from his police job. He committed suicide the day after Ilic’s killing.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women and men is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not considered serious harassment.

The former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic, who was sentenced in 2020 to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic in the country’s first prominent prosecution of a powerful individual for harassment, served his sentence and was released.

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

According to a 2018 UN report on sexual and reproductive rights in the country, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked equal and equitable access to information regarding reproductive health. There were no legal barriers to contraception. According to research conducted in 2017 by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by the age of 15 and 31 percent before the age of 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population with a maternal mortality rate 10 percent higher than average.

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: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were subject to discrimination, both at home and in the labor force, regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to employment, labor, access to credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, inheritance, and access to housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women on average did more than twice as many hours of domestic work as men.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to the equality commissioner, Roma were subject to many types of discrimination; independent observers, and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. According to the report Roma in the Republic of Serbia: Challenges of Discrimination, funded by the EU’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program, Roma usually do not report discrimination except when it is accompanied with violence. Roma perceived discrimination “as a usual life situation” and refrained from reporting it to avoid subsequent confrontation and pressure from perpetrators.

Ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination and disproportionate unemployment. The addresses of numerous Albanians from three municipalities in southern Serbia were “passivized” (rescinded), resulting in the loss of personal documents and access to health, educational, and social services.

According to the Council of Europe’s Report on Use of Hate Speech in Media in Serbia, the use of hate speech was on the rise and many politicians and officials used offensive and inflammatory language. Roma, Albanians, and Croats were most often targeted by hate speech and discrimination. The report also noted that prosecutors often did not recognize hate speech, criminal charges were dismissed without grounds, and regulatory bodies rejected citizens’ complaints. Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin continued to publicly use a pejorative term for Albanians.

On November 30 during a live program, a guest commentator on TV Pink criticized an opposition leader because of her Romanian heritage and said she was an enemy of the state. The incident was widely condemned, including by President Vucic, who said individuals should not be insulted because of their nationality. On December 1, the National Regulatory Body for Electronic Media launched an investigation of TV Pink regarding this incident.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. There were 23 National Minority Councils representing the country’s ethnic minority groups. The councils had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. New council members were seated following the 2018 minority council elections and were to serve four-year terms.

The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against members of minority groups. The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue supported minority communities. Its department for antidiscrimination and national minorities prepared, monitored, and analyzed the implementation of regulations and strategic documents pertaining to the advancement and protection of minority rights and supported the work of National Minority Councils. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 45,683 school children in elementary and secondary schools (5.6 percent of all schoolchildren in the country) received education in their mother tongue. There were no textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary school students.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care, education, and social welfare. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 99.9 percent of children overall and 98.5 percent of Romani children were registered at birth.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through the age of 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age. Romani children were also disproportionately identified as having mental or intellectual disabilities and were often sent to segregated schools that limited their educational outcomes. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 92 percent of Romani children enrolled in elementary school and 64 percent completed it, while only 28 percent continued to secondary education, and only 61 percent of that group completed it. Access to and quality of education differed in urban and rural areas, often disadvantaging rural students.

By law ethnic minority populations have the right to be educated in their minority language, but this right was not always respected.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse with penalties for the offense ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect within family, schools, institutions for protection of children, digital space, and the wider community. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 45 percent of children younger than age 14 suffered abuse in their family; in Romani communities, 67 percent of children younger than 14 suffered abuse. According to the Justice Ministry, 1,715 children were registered from 2017 to 2020 as either victims or at risk of becoming victims of family violence. Children also suffered violence stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization of children and made them vulnerable to child abuse, discrimination, child marriage, and child labor.

Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. The country’s efforts to prevent child abuse largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court may allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities but were not legal marriages. The National Statistical Bureau reported that 16 percent of Romani women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married for the first time before age 16 and 56 percent before age 19.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law but abuses nonetheless occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.

Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of neglect and physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, and their placement in foster families, but the country had not adopted a comprehensive deinstitutionalization strategy.

According to the Disabilities Rights International Serbia branch (MDRI-S), 80 percent of institutionalized children were those with developmental disabilities, and 79 percent of children remained in institutions for more than 10 years, with death being the main cause of ‘leaving’ the institution. The MDRI-S report Serbias Forgotten Children, released in June and based on findings from 2019, alleged numerous ongoing violations of children’s rights and inhuman living conditions in social welfare institutions and the lack of government measures to sanction those responsible for the abuse, neglect, and inhuman treatment.

Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced additional problems, including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. In one institution, MDRI-S researchers reported finding approximately 100 children, mostly with cerebral palsy, lying in metal beds with bars and only able to leave when they were bathed and fed. The report also noted that some institutes used tube feeding despite the risks it posed if used for extended periods. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. Most children with mental disabilities remained excluded from the educational system due to structural obstacles and prevalent discrimination that prevented them from entering formal education.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. The World Jewish Congress estimated the number of Jews in the country to be between 1,400 and 2,800. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or used bookshops or posted online. Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature. In May posters with anti-Semitic content appeared in downtown Belgrade. The Federation of Jewish Communities filed charges with the public prosecutor and Ministry of Interior against the unknown perpetrator. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue condemned the incident and called on citizens to demonstrate zero tolerance for hate and anti-Semitism in the country. In June an anti-Semitic message was written on a basketball playground in the Novi Beograd municipality in Belgrade, but authorities have not found the perpetrator.

In February 2020 the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the occupation by Nazi Germany was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services on an equal basis with others. Laws requiring such access exist, but the government did not enforce them. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. In April the government adopted an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy to Improve the Status of Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2022. The plan focuses on promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities; equal rights and protection from discrimination, violence, and abuse; inclusion from the perspective of persons with disabilities in child adoption; and the implementation and monitoring of public policies. The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report noted continued government delays in adopting a strategy on deinstitutionalization and a law to protect persons with mental disabilities in social welfare institutions.

In May the equality commissioner stated that persons with disabilities filed the highest number of complaints and highlighted accessibility as the biggest issue in their daily lives. Information and communication in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities was also problem. A high number of persons with disabilities were poor or at risk of becoming poor, had difficulty getting a job, and lacked adequate education.

The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated. According to UNICEF, children with developmental disabilities were accommodated in institutions for long periods and often together with adults. Three of four children in institutions (73.9 percent) had developmental disabilities.

During the 2020-21 school year, there were 18,319 children with disabilities in elementary schools in the country. Of these, 15,184 attended regular schools and 3,135 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. There were 2,356 students with disabilities in secondary schools; 670 attended regular schools and 1,686 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. Some NGOs observed that schoolteachers were not trained to work with children with developmental disabilities and did not have professional assistance from trained individuals who could help them learn how to approach work with these children.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities.

The National Employment Agency funded several employment programs for persons with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV or AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. Access to medical treatment was hampered due to COVID-19. The National Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health urged the Health Ministry and directors of Infectious Diseases clinics to find ways to continue with regular checkups for persons with HIV, which had stopped since the beginning of the pandemic. The center noted that the lack of regular medical oversight of and treatment for patients with HIV and information on (dis)continuation of therapy and its effects presented a risk for the individual and public health. According to the country’s Public Health Institute, there were 4,217 individuals with diagnosed HIV infection in the country. Since the beginning of the year, 120 persons had been diagnosed with HIV. The equality commissioner’s reports noted that persons with HIV or AIDS were extremely vulnerable to discrimination but were often unwilling to submit a complaint, making the scale of the problem difficult to define.

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

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, sex characteristics and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but was generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community were serious problems. According to available research, most LGBTQI+ persons experienced psychological problems, physical attacks, problems in family and school, in employment, public spaces, and institutions. They also reported suffering from depression, anxiety, and receiving death threats.

NGOs stated that members of the LGBTQI+ community were exposed to threats, violence, discrimination, marginalization, and rejection but also noted a positive change in public perception of LGBTQI+ persons. Research by the civil rights NGOs Geten and the Center for Rights of LGBT Persons, respectively, noted increased support for the protection of the community from discrimination and violence and the adoption of gender identity laws. On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the ombudsman stated that existing laws needed to be amended and new laws adopted to allow members of the LGBTQI + community to fully enjoy their rights, including legal regulation of adjusting sex and gender identity. On May 27, the antidiscrimination law was amended to include recognition of sex characteristics as a basis for the prohibition of discrimination.

In response to a recommendation from the commissioner for equality, the Health Ministry removed persons with a history of homosexual relations from the list of “banned” donors of reproductive cells and embryos. NGOs noted that despite this positive step, discrimination against gay and bisexual men continued as persons who self-declared as engaging in anal sex remained banned as donors. In 2018 the courts issued their first verdict under the country’s hate-crime provisions. Hate crimes are not stand-alone offenses but can be deemed an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. The case involved multiple episodes of domestic violence perpetrated against a gay man by his father in the family home. The perpetrator received a three-year suspended sentence. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light because the perpetrator would not serve prison time if he met the conditions of his suspended sentence.

The annual Belgrade Pride parade was held on September 18 without the incidents of violence that had marred previous parades. Right-wing organizations held a protest march in which individuals shouted slurs against the LGBTQI+ community and burned rainbow flags, but police prevented them from interfering with the Pride Parade. On three separate occasions during Belgrade’s September 14-20 Pride Week, the office of an organization whose members participated in Pride Week events was vandalized with spray-painted homophobic slurs and Nazi symbols.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, and employers must verify that union leaders are full-time employees. The government designated more than 50 percent of the workforce as “essential,” and these workers faced restrictions on the right to strike. Essential workers must provide 10 days advance notification of a strike as well as provide a “minimum level of work” during the strike. By law strikes may be staged only on the employer’s premises. The law prohibits discrimination based on trade union membership but does not provide any specific sanctions for antiunion harassment, nor does it expressly prohibit discrimination against trade union activities. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, and fired workers generally returned to work quickly.

The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, a federation of unions that operated independently but was generally supportive of government policies, had more members than independent labor unions in both the public and private sectors. Independent trade unions were able to organize and address management in state-owned companies on behalf of their members.

The labor law protects the right to bargain collectively, and this right was effectively enforced and practiced. The law requires collective bargaining agreements for any company with more than 10 employees. To negotiate with an employer, however, a union must represent at least 15 percent of company employees. The law provides collective bargaining agreements to employers who are not members of the employers’ association or do not engage in collective bargaining with unions. The law stipulates that employers subject to a collective agreement with employees must prove they employ at least 50 percent of the workers in a given sector to apply for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to employers outside the agreement.

The government generally enforced the labor law with respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Both public- and private-sector employees may freely exercise the right to strike, although no strikes occurred during 2020. Since February, however, approximately 100 employees of the car component manufacturer Fiat Plastic, a Serbian subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), have been on continuous strike. Fiat Plastic workers started the strike due to a reduction of salaries, demanding that wages be restored to the level they were at prior to January and that paid leave be set at 65 percent, instead of 60 percent, of regular wages. The union also stated that some members of the striking board were prevented from entering the factory. According to the union, as a retaliatory measure, FCA moved production from Fiat Plastic to another FCA factory in the country to intimidate workers and artificially create a potential technological surplus. In addition, the company sent 20 strikers – according to the union illegally – on forced leave.

There were allegations of antiunion dismissals and discrimination. Labor NGOs worked to increase awareness regarding workers’ rights.

On March 2, the Trade Union of Workers at the National Bank of Serbia brought a freedom of association complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO has not made further details on the case available publicly.

Stefan Savic, commander of the Belgrade Penitentiary and president of the trade union Nezavisnost, was fired in August 2020 after seven years of work for allegedly cursing and insulting his superior. Nezavisnost was founded in 2019 due to staff dissatisfaction with the working conditions in the prison. Working conditions including the absence of rest rooms, transportation payment, mandatory overtime hours, and the unspecified determination of workers’ pay grades led to the formation of the union. While Savic claimed that he did not swear at his superior, the Ministry of Justice held him accountable for inappropriate and insulting behavior towards the manager, irrespective of the fact that the only witness to the event was Savic’s manager. In accordance with the procedure, Savic appealed to the Commission for Appeals, but the appeal was rejected.

In 2019 Dragana Bozic, the president of Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia in the textile factory HealthCare Europe in Ruma, was fired because she refused to transfer to another job. Bozic stated the new position was more physically demanding and that the reason for her transfer had nothing to do with business reorganization but was retaliation for her union activities. In May the Basic Court in Ruma reinstated her employment contract. As stated in the verdict, the court annulled the decision on dismissal because the employer offered Bozic a job with a lower education background requirement than the position she previously held. The court rejected Bozic’s request to reinstate her at the previous position with the explanation that only the employer is authorized to assign employees.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government supported companies through an economic and financial package that amounted to more than 12 percent of the country’s GDP under the condition that companies not dismiss workers. Labor inspectors supervised the implementation of the measures and organization of the work in accordance with the safety standards.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law also prohibits all forms of labor trafficking and “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery.” The government generally enforced the law, but incidents of forced labor were occasionally reported. Citizens of the country, particularly men, were reportedly subjected to labor trafficking in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry in Russia, other European countries, and the United Arab Emirates. Penalties for violations within the country were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In November media and NGOs reported that approximately 500 Vietnamese workers at the construction site for the PRC-owned LingLong tire manufacturing plant in the city of Zrenjanin faced inhuman working and living conditions, including insufficient food and unsafe drinking water. The workers’ passports had reportedly been confiscated upon their arrival in Serbia. After the workers went on strike, they were moved to better living conditions and their passports were returned. President Vucic publicly acknowledged the workers lived and worked in poor conditions, but other senior officials dismissed the allegations and government protection institutions were slow to react or failed to respond. The government’s Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims has not interviewed the workers and the country has not requested that the ILO investigate the allegations. To date, the only known official investigation into the situation was being conducted by the Zrenjanin Prosecutor’s Office.

A number of children, primarily from the Romani community, were forced to engage in begging, theft, domestic work, commercial sexual exploitation, and other forms of labor (see section 7.c.).

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; however, children were subjected to some of the worst forms of child labor, including in forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum age for employment is 15, and children younger than 18 require written parental or guardian permission to work. The labor law stipulates specific working conditions for minors and limits their workweek to 35 hours, with a maximum of eight hours work per day with no overtime or night work. The law regulates seasonal work, including in agriculture, and specifies that a work contract be required to employ minors.

The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry for Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not always enforce the applicable laws effectively, and penalties were not always commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The criminal code does not treat child beggars as victims, and the country’s Social Welfare Centers were overburdened, limiting efforts to combat child labor, including its worst forms.

In 2020 inspectors registered 20 cases involving the registered employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18. A total of 10 persons were found working illegally without an employment contract or other contract in accordance with the Labor Law, including without submitted applications for compulsory social insurance. Minors were found working illegally in agriculture (one person), in the catering industry (three persons), in the production of other parts for motor vehicles (one person), in the construction industry (one person), in the production of bread, fresh pastries, and cakes (three persons), and in the activity of cleaning services (one person).

The government had institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. Gaps existed, however, within the operations of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs that hindered adequate enforcement of child labor laws. In villages and farming communities, underage children commonly worked in family businesses. In urban areas, children, primarily Roma, worked in the informal sector as street vendors, car washers, and garbage sorters.

Regarding the worst forms of child labor, traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation, used children in the production of pornography and drugs, and sometimes forced children to beg and commit crimes. Some Romani children were forced into manual labor or begging.

The government did not always enforce child labor laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law provides penalties for parents or guardians who force a minor to engage in begging, excessive labor, or labor incompatible with his or her age, but it was inconsistently enforced, and beggars were treated as offenders. The Labor Inspectorate reported no children being removed from labor situations because of convictions.

See also 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

Labor laws prohibit direct and indirect discrimination of job seekers, as well as employees, with regard to gender, birth, language, race, skin color, age, pregnancy, health condition, disability, nationality, religion, marital status, family obligations, sexual orientation, political or other belief, social origin, property status, membership in political organizations, trade unions, or any other personal characteristic. HIV or AIDS status and refugee or stateless status are not explicitly stated in the law. The government enforced these laws with varying degrees of effectiveness. Penalties and enforcement were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Labor inspectors did not issue any decisions during the year regarding discrimination or gender equality at work. In the labor force, women experienced discrimination in hiring, underrepresentation in management, and lower compensation than their male colleagues.

In one example, in 2018 Snezana Pesovic went public with a case of discrimination against her employer. Pesovic claimed that despite being an employee for 12 years, she remained unregistered and that her employer did not make health insurance or pension contributions, as the law requires. Upon learning she was pregnant, Pesovic asked her employer to register her so she could receive maternity benefits. Her employer agreed but only under the condition that she pay the contributions herself and sign a voluntary termination agreement that allowed the employer to terminate her at the employer’s convenience. By the end of her maternity leave, the benefit she was receiving was less than the contributions her employer was forcing her to make. Her employer invoked the voluntary termination option when her case appeared in media. The equality commissioner agreed to take the case and represent Pesovic in a lawsuit against her employer. In late 2020 the High Court issued a decision that the Appellate Court returned to the High Court demanding it relitigate the decision because, per the appeal, it was not clear why Pesovic was subjected to discrimination. The equality commissioner stated the procedure was not over, and that they were not giving up since it was a matter of public interest.

The equality commissioner’s 2020 annual report identified 184 discrimination complaints in labor and employment. The commissioner submitted a special report on the topic to parliament in 2019 highlighting the issue. The highest number of discrimination complaints involved accommodation for persons with disabilities, followed by allegations of discrimination based on age, gender, birth, health status, national or ethnic origin, marital or family status, and sexual orientation.

The EC’s Serbia 2020 Report identified Roma, LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV or AIDS, older persons, individuals infected with COVID-19, those returning from abroad, and other marginalized individuals as the groups most subject to discrimination. The report also highlighted the equality commissioner’s assessment that the socioeconomic status of women was significantly worse than that of men and that the largest number of complaints related to discrimination on grounds of disability, age, and gender. A study by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy found discrimination was most frequent in hiring and employment, with the state and its institutions as the major discriminators.

The law provides for equal pay, but employers frequently did not observe these provisions. According to data by the country’s statistics office, during the year men earned 8.8 percent more than their female counterparts. The largest pay gap was in the financial and insurance sectors, where women had salaries as much as 21 percent lower than their male colleagues. The fact that only one-third of executives, directors, and legislators were women also illustrated gender inequality. The European Institute for Gender Equality reported that the employment rate for women was low and close to 500,000 women older than age 45 did not have a job or an income. Other reports showed their career advancement was slower, they were underrepresented in most professions, and they faced discrimination related to parental leave.

The ILO noted allegations that the law restricting the maximum age of employees in the public sector, adopted in 2015, is discriminatory because it obliges women workers in the public sector to retire at age 62, whereas male workers can work up to the age of 65. The law states that the retirement age for women will continue to increase incrementally until the retirement age is 65 for both men and women. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

Labor NGOs worked to improve the conditions of women, persons with disabilities, and other groups facing discrimination in employment or occupation.

Civil society organizations noted that the COVID-19 crisis had a disproportionate impact on LGBTQI+ persons, many of whom lost jobs and experienced hardships when looking for employment. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran, and Social Affairs pledged to finance training courses for trans persons interested in starting their own businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The monthly minimum wage was above the poverty level for a single-member household but below the poverty level for a household with multiple members.

The law stipulates a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for paid leave, annual holidays, and premium pay for night and overtime hours. A worker may have up to eight hours of overtime per week and may not work more than 12 hours in one day, including overtime. At least a 12-hour break is required between shifts during a workweek, and at least a 24-hour break is required over a weekend. The standard workweek and mandatory breaks were observed in state-owned enterprises but sometimes not in smaller, private companies, where the inspectors and unions had less ability to monitor practices. There were concerns regarding employers recruiting migrant workers from countries outside the EU. After the workers moved to Serbia, some employers refused to pay migrant workers in a regular fashion, if at all. Migrant workers also described poor working and living conditions upon entering the country.

The labor law requires that the premium for overtime work be at least 26 percent of the base salary, as defined by the relevant collective bargaining agreement. Trade unions within a company were the primary agents for enforcing overtime pay, although the Labor Inspectorate had enforcement responsibilities in companies and industries without union presence. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The Labor Inspectorate, which is part of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran, and Social Policy, is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. Labor inspectors were able to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions but were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate staffing and equipment, which limited the number of labor inspections as a means of enforcing the labor law. Companies with a trade union presence generally respected minimum wage requirements because of monitoring by the union.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires that companies must establish a safety unit to monitor observance of regulations regarding safety and the protection of personal health. These units often focused on rudimentary aspects of occupational safety and health (such as purchasing soap and detergents), rather than on providing safety equipment for workers. In cases where the employer does not act, an employee may report the inaction to the Labor Inspectorate. Employers may call the Labor Inspectorate if they believe an employee’s request involving safety and health conditions is not justified.

In case of a direct threat to life and health, employees have the right to take action or to remove themselves from the job or situation without responsibility for any damage it may cause the employer and without jeopardy to their employment. In 2020 the Labor Inspectorate completed 31,243 safety and health at work inspections. Inspectors issued 4,135 decisions on deficiencies in safety and health conditions in the workplace, including 540 decisions barring an employee from continuing to work, which was 36 percent lower than in 2019. Inspectors filed 1,168 requests for misdemeanor proceedings against individuals for failure to provide a safe workplace for employees, which was 45 percent lower than in 2019. The Labor Inspectorate employed inspectors and was responsible for worker safety and health, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The government enforced occupational safety and health laws with varying degrees of effectiveness. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence. According to the Labor Inspectorate, the most common violations of workers’ rights involved work performed without an employment contract; nonpayment of salary, overtime, and benefits; employers not following procedures in terminating employment contracts; nonpayment of obligatory pension and health contributions; and employers withholding maternity leave allowances. In 2020 the inspectorate recorded 43 workplace accidents in which an employee died. Cases of death and injury were most common in the construction, transportation and storage, agricultural, and industrial sectors of the economy.

Beginning in October 2020 the Labor Inspectorate participated in the Working Group for the Suppression of the Spread of the Infectious Disease COVID-19 and conducted joint and coordinated inspections with other national inspectors, including the inspections of local governments and other state bodies to combat the spread of COVID-19, based on the workplan prepared by the working group.

Between late October and the end of December 2020, labor inspectors, communal militia, and Ministry of Interior representatives carried out 1,724 joint and coordinated labor inspections to control the implementation of antipandemic and preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19. During 200 of the inspections, labor inspectors identified irregularities and as a result, issued 26 decisions and submitted 10 requests to initiate misdemeanor proceedings.

In June two strong explosions occurred at an ammunition plant’s facilities in the city of Cacak. There were no injuries in the first explosion on June 4, but the second explosion on June 19 left three workers with non-life-threatening injuries. The Ministry of Defense told Radio Free Europe in September that no conclusions would be released until a full review was complete, and the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Cacak confirmed that the pre-investigation procedure was underway. In parallel with the government’s investigation, the company was also conducting an internal review.

Informal Sector: Some smaller, private-sector employers were unwilling or unable to pay minimum wages and mandatory social benefits to all their employees, leading those companies to employ unregistered, off-the-books workers. Unregistered workers, paid in cash without social or pension contributions, frequently did not report labor violations because they feared losing their jobs. Informal arrangements existed most often in the trade, hotel and restaurant, construction, agriculture, and transport sectors. The most frequently reported legal violations in the informal sector related to contractual obligations, payment of salaries, changes to the labor contract, and overtime. According to labor force survey data, informal-sector employment represented 13.2 percent of total employment in the second quarter of the year, 2 percent lower than a year earlier. Independent estimates suggested the informal sector might represent up to 30 percent of the economy.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

According to the 2014 constitution, Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. In 2019 the country held free and fair parliamentary elections that gave the Nahda Party a plurality of the votes and the opportunity to form a new government in the first transition of power since its first democratic elections in 2014. President Kais Saied, an independent candidate, came to office in 2019 after winning the country’s second democratic presidential elections.

The Ministry of Interior holds legal authority and responsibility for law enforcement. The ministry oversees the National Police, which has primary responsibility for law enforcement in the major cities, and the National Guard (gendarmerie), which oversees border security and patrols smaller towns and rural areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Military courts, with judges nominated by the president and approved by the Military Judicial Council, have authority to try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes or crimes involving members of the security or armed forces. Security forces committed periodic abuses.

On July 25, citing widespread protests and political paralysis, President Saied took “exceptional measures” under Article 80 of the constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, freeze parliament’s activities for 30 days, and lift the immunity of members of parliament. On August 23, Saied announced an indefinite extension of the “exceptional measures” period and on September 22, he issued a decree granting the president certain executive, legislative, and judiciary powers and authority to rule by decree, but allowed continued implementation of the preamble and chapters one and two, which guarantee rights and freedoms. Civil society organizations and multiple political parties raised concern that through these decrees President Saied granted himself unprecedented decision-making powers, without checks and balances and for an unlimited period. On September 29, Saied named Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, and on October 11, she formed a government. On December 13, Saied announced a timeline for constitutional reforms including public consultations and the establishment of a committee to revise the constitution and electoral laws, leading to a national referendum in July 2022. Parliamentary elections would follow in December 2022.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests or detentions; the use of military courts to investigate civilian cases; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including the closure of media outlets, as well as prosecution of social media users based on criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed abuses, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles. High-profile investigations into several members of parliament and businesspeople on corruption charges also lacked transparency.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Polls indicated that most citizens viewed widespread corruption as a key hindrance to effective government. President Saied publicly announced he would prioritize anticorruption efforts. During the year some members of parliament were charged and detained based on corruption allegations. Tahya Tounes member of parliament Lotfi Ali remained in detention, with no trial date announced, following his August 21 arrest based on charges from 2014 of corruption, fraud, and money laundering.

On August 20, President Saied ordered the closure of the National Authority for the Combat against Corruption (INLUCC), an independent body charged with investigating and preventing corruption and drafting policies to combat corruption. The governor of Tunis confirmed to media that the INLUCC was closed under orders from the Ministry of Justice and would remain so until the end of the “exceptional measures” period. President Saied removed Anour Ben Hassane, the acting INLUCC president, reportedly “on a temporary basis.” On August 20, authorities placed the organization’s former president, Chawki Tabib, under house arrest based on unclear charges; the house arrest was lifted on October 10.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published without government restriction their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s primary agency to investigate human rights abuses and combat threats to human rights is the Ministry of Justice. Human rights organizations contended, however, that the ministry failed to pursue or adequately investigate alleged human rights abuses. Within the office of the president, the High Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is charged with monitoring human rights and advising the president on related topics.

The government established the INPT in 2013 to respond to allegations of torture and mistreatment (see section 1.c.).

The government formally published the final report of the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) report in June 2020 but as of November had not issued its action plan, which by law should be published within one year of the report’s release. The report’s recommendations, which focused on how to avoid a recurrence of gross abuses of human rights committed by the government or those who acted in its name from 1955 to 2013, included “preservation of memory,” reconciliation, and institutional reforms.

On August 10, civil society organizations and trade unions called on President Saied to prioritize transitional justice in the government’s next steps, including by investigating the lack of follow-up to the IVD report. There was no official response to a 2020 statement by the civil society coalition for transitional justice urging the government and the Supreme Judicial Council to address challenges facing the Specialized Criminal Courts (SCCs), established to adjudicate cases referred by the IVD of human rights abuses and financial crimes. Among these challenges were the refusal of police unions to cooperate with the SCCs to deliver subpoenas and other requests, the regular rotation of SCC judges, and the judges’ part-time status. By year’s end none of the 204 cases referred, representing more than 1,100 victims of abuses committed between 1955 and 2013, had been resolved.

The National Human Rights Authority published a list of martyrs and wounded of the revolution in the official gazette on March 19. The list, prepared by a special committee within the Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, contained the names of 129 martyrs and 634 injured who by their inclusion became eligible for compensation and access to medical care. The government, however, reportedly did not provide compensation or medical care to those on the list. The “Release the List” campaign, composed of civil society representatives, rejected the published list as incomplete. According to a statement by a victims’ association, those who wished to appeal omissions from the list could do so before the administrative court.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law broadly defines violence against women as “any restriction denying women equality in the civil, political, economic, social, or cultural domains.” The law criminalizes rape (including of men), incest, sexual harassment of women in public places, and gender discrimination. A rapist cannot avoid prosecution by marrying the survivor.

Rape remained a taboo subject, and cultural pressures often dissuaded survivors from reporting sexual assault. There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Survivors received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country, in addition to five centers – one managed by the government and four by civil society organizations – dedicated to survivors of gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Justice tracked gender-based violence cases, gathering information on cases in each court but not making such information public. The government did not, however, systematically track the number of rape cases. Civil society representatives reported anecdotally that few rape cases resulted in a conviction.

Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem. The law allows women to seek restraining orders against their abusers without filing a criminal case or filing for divorce. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Senior Citizens monitored complaints of domestic violence and worked with civil society to increase awareness of the law and help them connect women with available support services. The ministry operated a national hotline for survivors of family violence.

On February 8, Minister of Women, Family and Senior Citizens Imen Zahouani Houimel announced the creation of a national committee to monitor implementation of the anti-gender-based violence law. The committee included representatives from government institutions, national organizations, and civil society. Houimel stated that despite passage of the law, the rate of violence against women remained high. The emergence of political and economic violence, “now practiced not only in traditional closed spaces but also in public spaces,” necessitated the committee’s creation, according to Houimel.

Human rights organizations, including local NGO Aswaat Nissaa and Avocats Sans Frontieres (Lawyers without Borders), issued a May 10 joint press release condemning impunity and calling for implementation of the law against gender-based violence following the May 9 death of an El Kef woman, allegedly killed by her husband, a National Guard officer. According to the Women and Citizenship Association in El Kef, the victim had filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband a few days before her death. Women’s rights groups accused the El Kef deputy prosecutor on duty during the incident of not arresting the defendant because he was a security officer. A campaign in solidarity with the victim spread online. As of July 15, Aswaat Nissaa reported the defendant was in detention pending trial; there were no further developments as of December.

Sexual Harassment: The gender-based violence law allows up to a two-year sentence for the harasser and a 5,000-dinar ($1,840) fine. Sexual harassment can include any act, gesture, or words with sexual connotation, including harassment in the street. The punishment is doubled if the victim is a child or the perpetrator has authority over the victim.

On August 2, independent member of parliament Faycal Tebbini was arrested on charges of online harassment of two female members of parliament in October 2020. On September 22, Tebbini received an eight-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and was released the same day.

On August 16, independent member of parliament Zouheir Makhlouf was placed under house arrest in response to sexual harassment allegations made in 2019 that he allegedly followed and exposed himself to a female student. On November 12, the court sentenced him to one year in prison on sexual harassment and public indecency charges.

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 through the Ministry of Justice, although services were often delayed. Emergency contraception was available without a prescription.

Discrimination: The constitution and law explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Women faced societal rather than statutory barriers to their economic and political participation. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion judges drew upon interpretations of sharia as a basis for family and inheritance disputes.

Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or to keep them separate. Sharia inheritance law in some instances provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to that given to sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other unless they seek a legal judgment based on the rights enshrined in the constitution. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to one-third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination, including “all distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, origin, heritage, or all other forms of racial obstruction, obstacle, or deprivation of rights and liberties or their exercise.” The law penalizes acts of racial discrimination with up to three years in prison and a substantial fine for an individual and a larger fine for a legal entity. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and there were no reports of prosecution based on antidiscrimination laws.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth from the parents, and the law provides for 10 days to register a newborn. Thereafter, parents have 30 days to explain their failure to register a newborn and complete the registration. Female citizens transmit citizenship on an equal basis with male citizens, and there was no discrimination between a mother and father regarding passport application and authorization to leave the country.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. Between January and November, the Ministry of Women’s psychosocial hotline for children and their families received 5,176 reports of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18, but the courts may, in certain situations, authorize the marriage of persons younger than 18 upon the request and approval of both parents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual relations with a child younger than age 16 are considered rape in all cases, and the perpetrator is subject to 20 years in prison with the possibility of a life sentence if there were aggravating circumstances, such as incest or the use of violence (see section 6, Women). The court has discretion, but is not required, to drop the charges of sex with a minor if the perpetrator agrees to marry the victim, with the approval of her parents.

On November 8, the Court of Appeal of Sidi Bouzid sentenced the director of an unlicensed, privately run Quranic school in Regueb, Sidi Bouzid Governorate, to five years in prison, three years of probation, and a 50,000-dinar ($18,500) fine on charges of rape, sexual exploitation of minors, and forced labor of children, in a case dating to January 2019.

The law prohibits child pornography.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population numbered an estimated 1,400 persons. An April 7 statement by the religious freedom NGO Attalaki Association highlighted two instances of harassment, including one by a government official: a customs officer who reportedly targeted a Jewish merchant, beating him and removing his pants. Another Jewish man was harassed by a man who yelled at him to leave the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Since 1991 the law requires all new public buildings to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and the government generally enforced the law. Persons with physical disabilities did not have access to most buildings built before 1991. The government did not ensure information and communications were accessible for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The government issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, free and priority medical services, free and preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts. In general, public buses and trains were ill-suited and not easily accessible to persons with disabilities. The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. The government administered approximately 310 schools for children with disabilities, at least five schools for blind pupils, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. These special education centers served individuals ages six to 30. The Ministry of Social Affairs managed centers that provided short- and long-term accommodation and medical services to persons with disabilities who lacked other means of support.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided 180 dinars ($66) per month to families that included persons with disabilities and an additional 20 dinars ($7) per school-aged child with disabilities.

One of the greatest problems for persons with disabilities, according to the Ibsar Association, an NGO promoting rights for persons with disabilities, was a lack of access to information through education, media, or government agencies. For children with physical disabilities, inaccessible infrastructure remained a major hurdle to their social inclusion, as few buildings or cities were easily accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

There were very limited education options or public-sector accommodations for persons with hearing or vision disabilities. There were no schools for children with hearing disabilities, and Ibsar estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with hearing disabilities were illiterate. The government provided hearing aids to persons with hearing disabilities.

The HAICA ordered a one-week suspension of Radio Mosaique FM’s daily show “Ahla Sbeh” on March 3 for mocking persons with vision disabilities. The HAICA board called the show’s mockery “a serious violation of human dignity” and ordered the radio station to remove the episode, which had aired on February 23, from its website and social media pages.

For the 2019 national elections, the Independent High Authority for Elections worked with civil society organizations to prepare electoral handbooks in braille and to develop elections-related materials in sign language, including a mobile application that standardizes signed vocabulary and phrases related to elections. Civil society observer groups noted the election authority increased its efforts to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities but that there continued to be a need for effective, timely voter education programs targeting persons with disabilities and their families.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Whereas the French version of the law uses only the word “sodomy,” the Arabic version, which takes precedence, specifically mentions homosexual acts between men and between women. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs authorities occasionally used the law to detain and question persons concerning their sexual activities and sexual orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. NGOs reported that in some instances lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals were targeted under a penal code article criminalizing “infringement of morality or public morals,” which carries a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($370).

LGBTQI+ individuals continued to face discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats and societal stigma, and fear of prosecution discouraged individuals from reporting discriminatory violence and threats.

Human rights groups reported an increase in arrests of LGBTQI+ individuals by police, as well as cases of societal harassment. Allegations included reports that some police unions targeted LGBTQI+ participants in January and February protests by posting their home addresses or pictures online and engaging in online hate speech. According to the Damj Association, an LGBTQI+ rights NGO, during the year authorities sentenced 28 LGBTQI+ persons under provisions of the criminal code criminalizing “sodomy,” “infringement of morality or public morals,” and “insulting a public official.”

On January 8, police arrested Zizi, a transgender woman, and four other transgender individuals on charges of public indecency and disturbing public morality. The Damj Association issued a statement on January 12 condemning the arrests and calling for the release of Zizi and other LGBTQI+ individuals in detention. The organization noted police officers denied Zizi access to a lawyer despite her request. On January 23, the First Instance Court of Sousse released all five individuals and dropped all charges against them.

After self-described queer activist Rania Amdouni participated in antigovernment protests in January and February, some police unions posted photographs of her on Facebook groups and called for her arrest. On February 27, Amdouni went to a police station in downtown Tunis to press charges against members of the security forces she claimed harassed and followed her. Police arrested her after she reportedly had a verbal altercation with a police officer at the station. On March 4, a Tunis court sentenced her to six months in prison for insulting a public servant. Amdouni’s supporters held a small protest outside of the Tunis court, and civil society organizations denounced her arrest and called for her release. On March 17, the Appeals Court of Tunis fined Amdouni 200 dinars ($75) and ordered her release. On June 24, she announced her departure from the country to seek asylum in France.

On March 22, Damj Association president Badr Baabou reported that four unidentified individuals physically assaulted him on March 10, targeting him for his LGBTQI+ rights advocacy. According to Damj, police officers in a vehicle approximately 65 feet away failed to respond to the physical assault or verbal harassment. Baabou filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office against his assailants and the security officials who allegedly did not intervene.

According to the Damj Association, Baabou was assaulted again, this time by two police officers in downtown Tunis, on October 21. According to public reports, the officers struck Baabou with multiple blows to his body and face. The government did not publicly comment on the case. On December 1, the National Police general inspector opened an investigation into the case and requested Damj’s assistance in collecting documents and statements related to reports of police abuse.

On October 26, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced the president of LGBTQI+-rights group Shams Association, Mounir Baatour, in absentia to one year in prison for a 2019 Facebook post that allegedly expressed “contempt of the Prophet.” Baatour has been residing outside Tunisia since 2019 after reportedly receiving death threats.

There continued to be no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to organize, form, and join unions, and to bargain collectively. The law allows workers to protest or strike, provided they give 10 days’ advance notice to their federations and receive Ministry of Interior approval. Union leadership normally approves the decision to hold a strike; however, wildcat strikes (those not authorized by union leadership) increased in frequency during the year.

The right to strike extends to civil servants, except for workers in essential services “whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety, or health of all or a section of the population.” The government did not explicitly define which services were essential. Authorities largely respected the right to strike in public enterprises and services. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and retribution against strikers. The government enforced applicable laws through arrests, fines, and business closures. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. After President Saied suspended parliament on July 25, there were no reports of police aggression towards labor protesters, including during a large labor protest in Sfax on October 29.

Conciliation panels with equal labor and management representation settled many labor disputes. In the absence of conciliation panels, representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the UGTT, and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts formed tripartite regional commissions to arbitrate disputes. Observers generally considered the tripartite commissions effective. Representatives from UGTT’s smaller rival labor unions, the General Confederation of Tunisian Labor and the Union of Tunisian Workers, complained their organizations were ignored and excluded from the tripartite commissions because a previous minister of social affairs, also a former UGTT leader, drafted a decree law explicitly aimed at excluding the smaller unions from social dialogue. The smaller unions accused UGTT of denying the rights of laborers to freely choose the union best representing their interests.

UGTT representatives alleged that some private-sector businesses targeted union leaders and fired them once they led strikes or made demands on behalf of the labor force. UGTT made allegations of other antiunion practices by private-sector employers, including the firing of union activists and employing temporary workers to deter unionization. In certain industries, including textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers accounted for a majority of the workforce, a practice reportedly aimed at minimizing the risk of union-related disruptions of business.

UGTT expressed concern regarding the exclusion of factions of the union confederation that oppose actions taken by Secretary General Tabboubi, specifically his decision to change UGTT electoral bylaws to allow himself to run for a third term in February 2022. The factions opposing this action were reportedly targeted by UGTT leadership and received threats, had their membership frozen, and faced other disciplinary measures.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines. The labor code allows workers to change jobs after giving notice as specified in their contract. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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 and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. On June 30, parliament passed a domestic workers’ law prohibiting employing children in domestic work. The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The law generally prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working in jobs that present serious threats to their health, security, or morals. The minimum age for light work in the nonindustrial and agricultural sectors during nonschool hours is 13. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work no more than two hours per day. The total time that children spend at school and work may not exceed seven hours per day. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 must have 12 hours of rest per day, which must include the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs monitored compliance with the minimum age law by examining employee records. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Nevertheless, the worst forms of child labor reportedly did occur in the informal economy, including forced labor and domestic work in third-party households, seasonal agricultural work, street vending, and begging. Children at times worked up to 10 hours per day, without benefits or written contracts, and faced health problems from dangerous and arduous work environments. They were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking, sometimes because of human trafficking (see section 6).

The Ministries of Employment and Vocational Training, Social Affairs, Education, and Women, Family, and Senior Citizens all have programs directed to both children and parents to discourage children from entering the informal labor market. These efforts included programs to provide vocational training and to encourage youth to stay in school through the secondary level. Dropouts remained high, however, especially among low-income families.

On September 10, a member of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Mounir Hassine, stated that more than one million students have dropped out of school since 2010. 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 employment discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not always effectively enforce those laws and regulations (see section 6). Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Temporary contract laborers complained they were not afforded the same protections as permanent employees.

Societal, legal, and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. The gender-based violence law contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap. The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it through fines as laid out in 2017 amendments to the Labor Code. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child younger than age 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years. Women can apply for early retirement at the age of 55 if they have at least three children.

The domestic workers’ law passed June 30 regulates the conditions of domestic work, defines the obligations of workers and employers, establishes oversight mechanisms, and sets penalties for infractions. It mandates a guaranteed minimum wage, a workweek not to exceed 48 hours, and a weekly rest day. The law also requires that domestic workers be recruited through accredited employment offices under fixed-term or open-ended contracts. Violators may be punished with one to three months’ imprisonment and a fine. Despite the absence of an asylum law, an internal government circular from the Ministry of Social Affairs allows refugees registered with UNHCR who hold regular employment with a contract validated by the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, or who are self-employed, to enroll in the social security system (CNSS), thereby formalizing their employment. According to UNHCR, refugees who fulfill the requirements may apply through their employer for CNSS coverage, and their applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. It mandates that at least 2 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law sets a maximum standard 48-hour workweek for manual work in the industrial and agricultural sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period per week. For administrative jobs in the private and public sectors, the workweek is 40 hours with 125 percent premium pay for overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Depending on years of service, employees are statutorily awarded 18 to 23 days of paid vacation annually. The labor code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages; the minimum wages were above the poverty income level.

Although there was no standard practice for reporting labor-code abuses, workers have the right to report them to regional labor inspectors. The government did not adequately enforce the minimum-wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. The prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime was not always enforced. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

UGTT advocated for three key labor matters during the year. First, on February 6, UGTT signed an agreement with the government for 47 sectoral wage increases in 27 public sectors, to be phased in over two years. As a result of President Saied’s suspension of parliament on July 25, an increase due in September did not go into effect. Second, on April 30, the UGTT Electricity and Gas Federation denounced the government’s decision to increase the salaries of engineers working for ministries because the raises excluded those working for state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Third, on June 8, UGTT announced an agreement with the government to increase the guaranteed minimum wage by 6.5 percent for the public and private sectors. Most public-sector employees were paid well above minimum wage, so this largely targeted the private sector. The agreement was not implemented by year’s end.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for key industries in the country, including energy, agriculture and food processing, car parts, electronics, and chemicals, but the government generally did not enforce them. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker.

Special government regulations control employment in hazardous occupations, such as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Workers were free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they could take legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising this right. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing health and safety standards in the workplace. Under the law all workers, including those in the informal sector, are afforded the same occupational safety and health protections. Regional labor inspectors were also responsible for enforcing standards related to hourly wage regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Credible data on workplace accidents, injuries, and fatalities were not available.

Working conditions and standards generally were better in export-oriented firms, which were mostly foreign owned, than in those firms producing exclusively for the domestic market.

Informal Sector: According to the government and NGOs, labor laws did not adequately cover the informal sector, where labor violations were reportedly more prevalent. According to the labor ministry, the inspectorate did not have adequate resources to fully monitor the informal economy, officially estimated to constitute 38 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, 46.4 percent of the total labor force, amounting to 1.6 million individuals, worked in the informal sector by the third quarter of 2020. Occasionally, labor inspectors coordinated spot checks with UGTT and the Ministry of Education.

Civil society worked with the government to support the most vulnerable among the country’s migrant populations, especially day laborers, those working in the informal sector, or those living in shelters who were adversely impacted by COVID-19 prevention measures. The government announced measures to support the largely sub-Saharan migrant community during the COVID-19 crisis. These included commitments by the Ministry of Interior not to arrest migrants during the remainder of the health crisis, to finalize a national migration strategy, to regularize the legal status of migrants, to release some migrants at the Ouardia Center, and to improve the conditions for those who remained. The ministry also suspended fines for visa overstays during the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed to landlords to forgive migrants’ rent. Some municipalities covered the rent of sub-Saharan African migrants in need.

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a unicameral 600-seat parliament (the Grand National Assembly). In presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and the campaign environment, including the jailing of a presidential candidate, that restricted the ability of opposition candidates to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely.

The National Police and Jandarma, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in urban areas and rural and border areas, respectively. The military has overall responsibility for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over law enforcement officials, but mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption remained inadequate. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Under broad antiterror legislation passed in 2018, the government continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended tens of thousands of civil servants and government workers, including more than 60,000 police and military personnel and more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors, arrested or imprisoned more than 95,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accused of masterminding the coup attempt and designated as the leader of the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.”

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and continued detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition politicians and former members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; political prisoners, including elected officials; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country, including kidnappings and transfers without due process of alleged members of the Gulen movement; significant problems with judicial independence; support for Syrian opposition groups that perpetrated serious abuses in conflict, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement, including overly restrictive laws regarding government oversight of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; some cases of refoulement of refugees; serious government harassment of domestic human rights organizations; gender-based violence; crimes involving violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem. The government took limited steps to investigate allegations of high-level corruption.

Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist organization and its affiliates continued and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, terrorists, and civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counterterrorism operations.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Parliament entrusts the Court of Accounts, the country’s supreme audit institution, with accountability related to revenues and expenditures of government departments. Outside this audit system, there was no dedicated regulator with the exclusive responsibility for investigating and prosecuting corruption cases and there were concerns regarding the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of corruption cases. According to Transparency International, the public procurement system has consistently declined in transparency and competitiveness, with exceptions to the Public Procurement Law widely applied.

While opposition politicians frequently accused the ruling party of corruption, there were only isolated journalistic or official investigations of government corruption during the year. Journalists and civil society organizations reported fearing retribution for reporting on corruption issues. Authorities continued to pursue criminal and civil charges against journalists reporting on corruption allegations. Courts and RTUK regularly blocked access to press reports regarding corruption.

In May the state-run Anadolu Agency fired reporter Musab Turan after he asked government officials about corruption allegations against Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu during a press conference. Anadolu Agency issued a statement that Turn was fired for lacking “journalistic principles” and propagating “political propaganda.” The statement also said that Anadolu requested that prosecutors open a terrorism investigation into Turan. Fahrettin Altun, the presidency’s communications director, wrote on Twitter, “Those who seek to harm the respectability of our state will pay the price.”

Corruption: There were several credible press allegations of corruption throughout the year. For example, in June the opposition-leaning Cumhuriyet published a series of reports on the conclusions of an Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality probe into corruption allegations of excessive public spending on projects benefiting the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), which was closely linked to ruling AKP figures. Under prior AKP leadership, Istanbul municipal officials reportedly colluded with the public-housing authority KIPTAS in a series of opaque real estate transactions apparently aimed at avoiding open bidding. One such deal saw a contract for a public cultural center repurposed for use by TUGVA. TUGVA and another AKP-linked foundation were also allocated municipal luxury cars and toll passes. Investigators estimated the total losses to the public at approximately $1.6 billion. Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu directed municipality officials to initiate the probe when he took office in 2019. The Ministry of the Interior took over the investigation in December 2020 after which progress appeared to have stalled.

In October a former TUGVA employee leaked to a journalist documents suggesting the government allocated thousands of state-owned dormitory buildings for exclusive use by TUGVA members and channeled generous subsidies to TUGVA and other AKP-aligned foundations via state-owned banks. The whistleblower also shared purported lists of TUGVA-nominated candidates for jobs within the police, judiciary, and military. TUGVA officials denied the authenticity of the documents. RTUK fined opposition Halk TV for its coverage of the allegations regarding TUGVA.

In April authorities investigated accusations that seven municipalities in the southeast issued official visa-exempt passports in exchange for bribes, allowing individuals to travel to Europe. The scheme was allegedly discovered after most participants in municipality-organized visits to Germany claimed asylum while abroad and did not return to Turkey.

There were no high-profile prosecutions of officials on corruption charges during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A limited number of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country, although many faced continued pressure from the government during the year. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations. Human rights groups reported the government was often unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights abuses occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, and harassment, and their organizations faced closure orders for their activities.

The HRA reported that its members have collectively faced a more than 5,000 legal suits since the group’s establishment, of which more than 200 were active at year’s end. These cases were mostly related to terror and insult charges. The HRA also reported that executives of its provincial branches were in prison. Others faced continued threats of police detention and arrest.

In March police detained a cochairman of the HRA, Ozturk Turkdogan, on terrorism charges. Police released Turkdogan under judicial control on the same day. Turkdogan reported that the charges against him were based on speeches and press statements he gave as part of his work for the HRA. The HRA noted that the detention appeared to have been retaliation for its criticism regarding the government’s handling of a hostage release operation in Gara, Iraq, in February that resulted in the death of 13 hostages. After the HRA released a statement calling for government accountability regarding the failed operation, Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu called it “that cursed association” and falsely accused it of not condemning killings of civilians by terrorist organizations.

In September a Diyarbakir court convicted lawyer and human rights defender Nurcan Kaya of “making terrorist propaganda” for her 2014 social media posts related to Turkey’s operations in Syria, many of which criticized state violence and human rights violations. She was sentenced to one year and three months in prison in a suspended sentence. Kaya was appealing the decision at year’s end.

The harassment, detention, and arrest of many leaders and members of human rights organizations resulted in some organizations closing offices and curtailing activities and some human rights defenders self-censoring.

Some international and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty renewing their official registrations with the government, obtaining program approvals, and obtaining residency permits for their staff. Some noted the government’s documentation requirements were unclear.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Institution and the National Human Rights and Equality Institution serve as the government’s human rights monitoring bodies. The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament as a complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues, although dismissals under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees did not fall within its purview. The Ombudsman Institution’s mandate extends only to complaints relating to public administration. The National Human Rights and Equality Institution reviews cases outside the Ombudsman Institution’s mandate. Independent observers assessed that both institutions were not financially nor operationally independent.

In 2020 the National Human Rights and Equality Institution received 685 applications as part of the national preventive mechanism against torture and found violations in one case. Of the applications, 236 related to health rights and conditions, 122 to physical conditions in prisons, 122 concerned mistreatment, and 98 were prison transfer requests.

The Ombudsman Institution received 90,209 applications for assistance in 2020, compared with 20,968 in 2019. Driving the increase were applications related to unfair practices at banks and financial institutions when applicants applied for economic assistance. In 75 percent of cases, the Ombudsman Institution provided advisory opinions to government institutions.

The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures was established in 2017 to review cases and appeals related to purges and closures during the state of emergency (see section 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies).

The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department served as the ministry’s lead entity on human rights issues, coordinating its work with the ministry’s Victims’ Rights Department. It is responsible for developing the national human rights action plan, the latest version of which was released in March. Human rights groups reported that they had limited input into the plan and expressed skepticism that it would result in substantive changes, since previous versions of the plan had not been fully implemented and did not address root issues.

Parliament’s Human Rights Commission functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members maintained a dialogue with NGOs on human rights problems and conducted some prison visits, although activists claimed the commission’s ability to influence government action was limited.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes gender-based violence and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. Women’s groups reported that the government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect survivors.

Gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. NGOs continued to report higher rates of domestic violence reports during periodic COVID-19 lockdowns implemented throughout the year.

The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an NGO dedicated to monitoring violence against women, estimated that men killed at least 415 women during the year, compared with 410 in 2020. Government authorities did not consistently release statistics on gender-based violence. The minister of interior stated that 266 women were killed in episodes of domestic violence in 2020.

The law requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also mandates government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.

The law provides for the establishment of violence prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. In 2020 the Ministry of Family and Social Services reported there were 145 women’s shelters nationwide with capacity for 3,482 persons. In July the minister of family and social services announced that 55,882 individuals, including 35,311 women and 20,551 children, received services from women’s shelters in 2020. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Shelter capacity was further reduced as a result of COVID-19 prevention requirements. Lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTQI+ women as well as for women with older children.

The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and a web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). In May the Ministry of Interior stated that since its inception in 2018, the KADES application had received 138,978 reports of which 73,417 were legitimate threats and that authorities had responded to each. The ministry did not specify types of response. NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in response to calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence and that women were at times directed to mediation centers or told to reconcile with their husbands.

In March, President Erdogan announced the country’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention in 2012; its withdrawal from the convention became effective July 1. Women’s groups strongly criticized the withdrawal, expressing concern that it would result in a weakening of protections for survivors of gender-based violence and foster impunity for perpetrators. Women’s and human rights groups asserted that the withdrawal, which was accomplished by presidential decree without consulting parliament, violated the country’s constitution and filed court challenges. The constitution specifies that parliament must ratify international agreements but does not address withdrawal. The Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, upheld the presidential decree in November, but appeals were ongoing. Since the country’s withdrawal from the convention, women’s groups that worked with survivors of gender-based violence reported that they were less likely to approach authorities, believing that the withdrawal signaled a lessening of the government’s commitment to aid survivors.

Government officials, including President Erdogan, stated that the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention did not signal a diminished government commitment to combating gender-based violence. The Presidency’s Directorate of Communications issued a statement that the withdrawal resulted from the convention’s “hijack[ing]” by those “attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values” (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

In July the government released its National Action Plan for Combatting Violence Against Women (2021-2025). Women’s groups largely dismissed the plan as a tactical effort to stem public criticism following the Istanbul Convention withdrawal and stressed that prior action plans did little to curb the rise in gender-based violence in the country.

Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported police rarely enforced them effectively. According to a report compiled by the opposition CHP, courts rejected 7 percent of restraining order requests in 2020. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.

In May, Zeynep Erdogan was stabbed and killed by her husband, Mehmet Erdogan, in Ankara. According to press and NGO reporting, Erdogan had filed multiple restraining orders against the husband, who was on trial for domestic violence against her during the time of the killing. Police arrested Mehmet Erdogan following the killing.

Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “unjustifiable provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. The criminal code allows defendants to receive a reduced sentence if the offense was committed “in a state of anger or severe distress caused by an unjust act.” For example, in May press outlets reported that a Konya court reduced the sentence of convicted felon Bekir Erol, who killed his wife, Tuba Erol, in 2019 by stabbing her 46 times. Erol initially received a life sentence with no possibility of parole. The court ruled to reduce the sentence to 18 years and four months on the grounds of “good behavior” and “unjustifiable provocation.”

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were occasional reports of “honor killings” of women, mainly in the southeast. In October the press reported that a man stabbed and killed his mother in public in Istanbul after the family discovered she had an affair 20 years earlier. Police arrested the suspect.

The criminal code prescribes life imprisonment for killings perpetrated with the motive of “custom,” but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors, including “unjustifiable provocation.”

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported, however, that authorities rarely enforced these laws.

Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened.

Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 28,083 sexual harassment cases in 2020, a significant increase from the previous year. Prosecutors did not prosecute 43 percent of the cases. In cases that went to court, the courts acquitted the accused perpetrator in 16 percent of cases, convicted and sentenced the perpetrator in 40 percent, and suspended the sentence through a verdict postponement judgement in 25 percent of the cases. The high rate of verdict postponement contributed to perceptions of impunity for sexual harassment.

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

There were no government restrictions or policies designed to prevent information on medical treatment affecting reproductive health from reaching vulnerable populations, including ethnic minorities and refugees.

The UN Population Fund determined that 11.5 percent of women in the country had unmet needs in family planning based on data from the 2018 Turkey Demographic and Health Survey conducted by Hacettepe University’s Institute of Population Studies. The survey, conducted every five years, found 97 percent of women knew of at least one family prevention method. At least 70 percent of married women reported using at least one family planning method.

An analysis of historical survey data from 2013 and 2018 by the NGO Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation (TAPV) found that there was significant unmet demand for family planning counseling and services, particularly among older women with at least one child. Women in Northeast Anatolia, Istanbul, West Marmara, and Southeast Anatolia regions had the highest rate of unmet family planning needs in the country. TAPV concluded that the shrinking role of public health-care providers in reproductive health (vice private health-care providers) negatively impacted accessibility to family planning resources, particularly among lower income women. Women could access contraception methods for free in government-funded primary health-care units and hospitals or from pharmacies and private practitioners for a fee.

An interview-based survey of health providers conducted by TAPV in 2020 found that the COVID-19 pandemic further limited access to contraception and family planning counseling, while the country maintained maternity services, such as pregnancy follow-ups.

A 2021 report in BMC Womens Health based on interviews in Istanbul found that religious factors played the leading role in women’s choice of a particular family planning method, with less religious women more likely to choose modern contraception methods. The study found that religious belief did not have a direct influence on decisions of whether to employ family planning. The report also noted that men had limited involvement in family planning decision making.

Access to family planning methods and information on managing reproductive health was more difficult for many of the four million refugees in the country. A 2020 Reproductive Health Journal analysis of the sexual and reproductive health of Syrian refugee women stated the rate of postnatal care was inadequate. The review reported a 24 percent rate of modern contraceptive method use among all age groups of Syrian girls and women, with estimated rates of unmet family planning needs at 35 percent and only 20 percent of Syrian women having regular gynecological examinations.

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 enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Based on data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the labor participation rate for men was 78 percent and only 35 percent for women. A joint 2020 study by TUIK and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated the gender pay gap in in the country at 15.6 percent. Women were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic economically.

The constitution permits measures to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to fully exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, race, or color and provides for equality in the eyes of the law, but authorities did not consistently enforce these provisions.

More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).

Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut.

The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and five universities had Kurdish-language departments. A survey by the Ismail Besikci Foundation of 58 academics working in Kurdish studies found that 63 percent reported practicing self-censorship in their classes and 70 percent reported practicing self-censorship in their academic research and publications.

The law allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language, but this right was not protected. The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services.

In October police detained and released on the same day a Kurdish shop owner in Siirt Province after his comments to an opposition politician circulated in a social media video. As shown in the video, the man stated, “Our language is denied, our identity is denied, ‘Kurdistan’ is denied.” Prosecutors launched an investigation into the statements for “making propaganda of a terrorist organization.”

There were several attacks against ethnic Kurds that human rights organizations alleged were racially motivated. In July assailants shot and killed seven members of the Dedeogullari family in Konya. A mob attacked the family earlier in May. Family relatives alleged the May attack was perpetrated by ultranationalists affiliated with the extremist group the Grey Wolves. The Konya Public Prosecutor’s Office denied that the attack was racially motivated, attributing it to a long-standing dispute between the Dedeogullari and another family. Police arrested 13 suspects in connection with the killings. Prosecutors indicted 11 suspects for the killings. Their trial was ongoing at year’s end.

In September the Kiziltepe Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against JinNews reporter Oznur Deger. Deger reported that police questioned her about her reporting on the Dedeogullari family killings and social media posts regarding her Kurdish identity.

In May police arrested three persons who attacked a Kurdish family visiting the southeastern province of Mersin from Erbil, Iraq. The family alleged the assailants used anti-Kurdish slurs and the hand sign of the ultranationalist extremist group the Grey Wolves during the attack.

Romani communities reported discrimination and lack of access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Community members recounted that majority of community members do not complete formal education and as a result are unable to secure employment. Community representatives indicated that more than 90 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many had jobs in the informal economy.

The government adopted a national Romani strategy in 2016 but underfunded the initiative. Romani advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also reported that Romani communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the national government did little to provide economic assistance to the communities, particularly since most Roma worked in the informal economy as garbage collectors, flower vendors, and musicians who perform at restaurants or social events. With the imposition of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social-distancing precautions, many Roma found themselves cut off from their livelihoods and without access to the social safety net available to those who could apply for unemployment benefits. Community representatives reported that some families lost housing and utilities due to inability to pay their bills. For instance, 60 families in Izmir relocated to a tent camp after being evicted from their apartments. Romani children also faced difficulty accessing distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government did not compensate Roma forcefully removed from tent cities in Cesme in 2020.

Armenian minority groups reported hate speech and coded language directed against the Armenian community, including from high-level government officials. The Armenian Patriarchate reported receiving anonymous threats around Armenian Remembrance Day.

In April independent parliamentarian Umit Ozdag threatened Garo Paylan, an HDP member of parliament and ethnic-Armenian Turk, after Paylan criticized the fact that streets and schools were still named after Talat Pasha, the Ottoman Empire’s minister of interior during the Armenian genocide. Ozdag responded, “Talat Pasha didn’t expel patriotic Armenians but those who stabbed us in the back like you. When the time comes, you’ll also have a Talat Pasha experience, and you should have it.”

Children

Birth Registration: There was universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country may not receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.

Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education and the progress made by the nationwide literacy campaign launched in 2018, some families were able to keep female students home, particularly in religiously conservative rural areas, where girls often dropped out of school after completing their mandatory primary education. The reliance on online education platforms during COVID-19 lockdowns in the 2020-21 school year negatively affected both boys and girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged families lacking internet access and further exacerbated learning inequalities. In May the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim Sen) reported that four million students were not able to access distance education during the previous school year. In a survey, 44 percent of the teachers interviewed by the union said the attendance rate in their classes was less than 20 percent. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute 2020 data, 98 percent of men and 87 percent of women had a primary education, while 50 percent of men and 38 percent of women had a secondary education. A total of 20 percent of men and 17 percent of women had a postsecondary education.

Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. The Turkish constitution prohibits any language other than Turkish to be taught “as a mother tongue.”

Child Abuse: The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to children who are victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported inconsistent implementation and called for expansion of support for victims. The law requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

By law if the victim of abuse is between the ages of 12 and 18, molestation results in a sentence of three to eight years in prison, sexual abuse in a sentence of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is younger than 12, conviction of molestation results in a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, conviction of sexual abuse a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, and conviction of rape a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, courts opened 22,497 legal cases related to child sexual abuse and sentenced 12,064 persons to imprisonment for child sexual abuse in 2020. Child advocates stated that reports of child abuse increased during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and school closures.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.

Comprehensive statistics on child, early, and forced marriage were unavailable because the marriages often took place unofficially. NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian community in the country. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. A study of child, early, and forced marriage by the UN Population Fund and Hacettepe University released in December 2020 found that the proportion of women who had married before the age of 18 in the 20-to-24 age group declined between 1993 and 2008. The decline did not continue between 2008 and 2018, however, and the rate of child, early, and forced marriage increased in West Marmara, Aegean, Mediterranean and Southeast Anatolia regions. In 2020 according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, 4.6 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18.

Human rights organizations reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic there were incidences of families “selling” girls for marriage to Turkish men as an economic coping mechanism. Hacettepe University’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before the age of 15 and 38 percent married before the age of 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among individuals in the Turkish and Syrian populations in southeastern provinces.

Women’s rights groups stated that there were instances of forced marriages and bride kidnapping, particularly in rural areas, although the practices were not widespread.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child commercial sexual exploitation is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence. The government did not publish data on rates of sexual exploitation of children.

NGOs such as ECPAT noted that young Syrian female refugees were particularly vulnerable to being exploited by criminal organizations and pressured into sex work, and this practice was particularly prevalent among adolescent girls.

The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.

Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns regarding anti-Semitism.

Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year, increasing during the outbreak of conflict in West Bank and the Gaza strip in May. Addressing Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, President Erdogan deployed anti-Semitic rhetoric, stating, “They [Israelis] are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They are only satisfied by sucking their blood.” Turkish officials denied that the statement was anti-Semitic.

In July, Huseyin Hakki Kahveci, a writer and journalist, linked the massive wildfires in Turkey to Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, the chair of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States. Kahveci wrote on Twitter that the location of the fires corresponded to the rabbi’s route as part of his travel for a Jewish heritage project. He wrote, “Rabbis know Kabbalah-Black Magic well.” The Turkish Jewish Community, a foundation representing the Jewish community, announced that it would file a criminal complaint against Kahveci.

To combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion, the government continued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing a statement for the occasion. The Presidency’s Directorate of Communications established a website dedicated to the memory of victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. The website included video messages from President Erdogan, the chief rabbi, and the president of the Turkish Jewish Community. In March the government donated $36,000 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.

In February the government for the sixth year in a row commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration. As in previous years, President Erdogan issued public messages in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, provides details on the country’s history during the Holocaust and activities for Holocaust restitution, remembrance, education, and archival access (see https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. Government guidelines required official information materials to be provided in accessible formats. The law requires that transit on public transportation be provided free of charge to persons with disabilities. The government, however, made limited progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained restricted. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service accessibility problems for individuals with disabilities, particularly in the health sector.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.

The Ministry of Family and Social Services is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. Most children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.

According to Ministry of Family and Social Services data, the public sector employed 62,337 persons with disabilities as of December. Some NGOs representing persons with disabilities reported delays in appointment of candidates with disabilities to government positions. In June a group called the Platform for Disabled Teachers Waiting for Appointment staged protests in Ankara demanding the immediate appointment of thousands of teachers with disabilities whose appointments were delayed due to COVID-19.

The private sector employed approximately 100,000 of the two and a half million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include at least 3 percent representation in their workforce of employees with disabilities. The public-sector quota is 4 percent. There was no information available on the implementation of fines for accountability.

The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education, a situation aggravated by distance learning implemented as a COVID-19 precaution. NGOs reported that public distance-education programs created to enable distance learning under COVID-19 did not provide sign interpretation or subtitles for hearing impaired students. According to a June report by the Ministry of Family and Social Services, during the 2019-20 school year (the latest period for which data was available), 425,774 students with disabilities were in school, with 318,300 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. A Ministry of Family and Social Services program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Many persons with HIV and AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV and AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV and AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. Human rights advocates reported that some employers required HIV/AIDS testing prior to employment to screen positive applicants. HIV-positive individuals also reported issues in receiving exemption from compulsory military service. In September the Pozitif-iz Association reported that it received 42 complaints of human rights abuses in 2020, the majority related to health service-provider discrimination (52 percent) followed by employment discrimination (31 percent). The NGO reported instances of doctors citing COVID-19 prevention measures, such as government guidance to postpone elective procedures, as an excuse to deny treatment to HIV-positive individuals.

The government implemented an HIV/AIDS control program for 2019-24 to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also incorporated HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.

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

During the year LGBTQI+ individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against LGBTQI+ persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police rarely arrested suspects or held them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed or assaulted LGBTQI+ individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTQI+ advocates reported police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.

In March a Syrian transgender woman was severely injured and lost one eye after a hydrochloric acid attack in Istanbul. An Istanbul court initially sentenced the perpetrator, the victim’s former boyfriend, to 11 years in prison for the attack, but it subsequently reduced the sentence to six years on the grounds of “unjustifiable provocation.” Friends of the victim alleged that hospital staff expressed homophobic attitudes towards the victim.

Numerous LGBTQI+ organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. NGOs reported that police targeted LGBTQI+ individuals using disproportionate force while intervening in demonstrations. University officials limited LGBTQI+ students’ ability to organize and stage pride events.

Human rights activists attributed what they assessed to be increased public anti-LGBTQI+ sentiment and incidence of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals to an uptick in anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric by government officials amplified through progovernment media.

Government officials increased the targeting of the LGBTQI+ community after an art exhibit staged by students during the Bogazici University protests in January that displayed a picture of the Muslim holy site, the Ka’aba, with superimposed rainbow flags (see section 1.c.). Government officials baselessly blamed the LGBTQI+ community for the exhibit. Minister of Interior Soylu tweeted, “Four LGBT perverts were detained for disrespecting the Ka’aba at Bogazici University.” In a February 2 interview, Soylu alleged that Western countries were spreading the LGBTQI+ “movement” to Turkey to destroy its values by funding LGBTQI+ organizations in the country. President Erdogan told AKP party members, “God willing, we will bring our youth to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth in the nation’s glorious history. You are the youth on the keyboards of computers, you are not the LGBT youth. You are not a youth that vandalizes; on the very contrary, you are a youth making the broken hearts stand on their feet again.”

Police detained seven students associated with the exhibit and raided the LGBTQI+ student club on the Bogazici University campus. The students continued to face charges of “inciting hatred and insulting religious values” at year’s end. Police confiscated pride flags and banners during the raid and alleged finding a PKK-linked book. The university shut down the student club following the raid. In March police detained 12 other students for displaying pride flags during a demonstration. The students were subsequently released but continued to face charges for violating the law on meetings and demonstrations. Also in March the Adana Security Directorate issued a ban on displays of pride flags and posters during the Women’s Day march.

The Presidency Communications Directorate attributed the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention to the convention being “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.” LGBTQI+ groups reported concern that following the country’s withdrawal from the convention, the government would weaken protections for LGBTQI+ victims of gender-based violence or follow the withdrawal with anti-LGBTQI+ legislation.

In June police intervened to disperse the Istanbul Pride March, using force, tear gas, and rubber projectiles. Police detained 47 demonstrators and observers, including an Agence France-Presse photojournalist. All were later released. The Istanbul Governor’s Office refused to issue a permit for the march, citing threats to public morality and the “inappropriate” nature of the event, among other reasons. Police also intervened and detained demonstrators during smaller pride events in Istanbul, Ankara, and Eskisehir.

An opposition parliamentarian reported that the student loan and housing board under the Ministry of Youth and Sport subsequently retaliated against several university students for participating in Eskisehir pride events, cancelling their scholarships and expelling them from government dorms.

In October an Ankara court acquitted 18 Middle East Technical University students and alumni and one faculty member for organizing a pride march on campus in 2019. The court ruled to fine one of the students for insulting a police officer, but the sentence was deferred and could be challenged on appeal.

The criminal code does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity. LGBTQI+ definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTQI+ individuals.

Provisions of the law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.

In September, Larin Kayatas, a transgender doctor, reported that the Ministry of Health expelled her from service on the basis of her LGBTQI+ identity after finding that her social media posts were not “in line with public morality.” Kayatas alleged that a colleague had filed a complaint regarding her social media messages with the Presidency’s Communications Center, which precipitated a disciplinary investigation.

Human rights organizations reported that some LGBTQI+ individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTQI+ individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTQI+ community. In June the NGO KAOS GL reported that a doctor in Istanbul refused treatment to a transgender woman and shouted transphobic insults at her after forcefully pushing her from the examination room. Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, as landlords refused to rent to LGBTQI+ individuals or charged them significantly higher prices.

LGBTQI+ organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines. Authorities audited LGBTQI+ organizations more frequently than NGOs focused on other issues.

Dating and social networking sites catering to the LGBTQI+ community faced content blocks. In August, Apple removed the social networking application Hornet from its Turkey store, based on a 2020 court order stemming from a complaint filed by the Ankara provincial Jandarma command. Details on the case or the court’s reasoning were not publicly available. Access to Hornet’s website also remained blocked. Authorities have blocked the dating site and application Grindr since 2013.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and discourages employers for terminating workers involved in union activities. In particular, the law requires employers to either reinstate a worker fired for participating in union activity or pay enhanced compensation of at least one year of the affected worker’s salary if a court finds the worker was unfairly terminated for participating in union activities. If the employer opts not to reinstate the worker to their formal role, the law requires the employer to pay union compensation and an additional fine of a minimum of four months’ wages and a maximum of eight months’ wages. Some public-sector employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, may not form or join unions.

In July the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations filed a complaint with the ILO alleging that the option for employers to pay an additional fine rather than reinstate workers allowed employers to dismiss workers for union activity at little cost. The complaint cited several examples of companies, including Cargill, Olam Group and Dohler Group, that opted to pay fines rather than reinstate workers after courts ruled their termination was unlawful.

The law provides some workers the right to strike. Public-sector workers who are responsible for safeguarding life and property as well as workers in the essential areas (coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education) do not have the right to strike. Instead, while the law allows some essential workers to bargain collectively, it requires workers to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.

A 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that bankers and municipal transport workers have the right to strike remains in force. The law further allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation that represents a threat to public health or national security.

The government also maintains restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires labor unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must occur in officially designated areas, and allows government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings.

The law requires a minimum of seven workers to establish a union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the worksite employees and 1 percent of all workers in that industry. The law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties. The law also prohibits union leaders from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. As of July, 65 percent of public-sector employees and 14 percent of private-sector employees were unionized. Migrant workers and domestic servants without legitimate work permits were prohibited from joining unions and nonunionized workers were not covered by collective bargaining laws.

The government did not enforce laws related to collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively, and penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although as with other courts, the appeals process could often last for years.

The 19 unions and confederations shut down under the 2016-18 state of emergency, some due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement, remained closed.

The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. Police frequently attended union meetings and conventions. In addition, some unions reported that local authorities prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences.

Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights. In September employees at a smartphone manufacturer in Istanbul went on strike to protest the dismissal of 170 workers, mainly women, who were seeking to unionize following allegations of abusive labor practices.

The government instituted a ban on lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis that in some cases resulted in the employees being compelled to take leave without pay or earn less than minimum wage. The ban expired at the end of June, resulting in a spike in the unemployment rate. Some companies instituted COVID-19 precautions, including prohibiting workers from leaving and returning to a worksite for extended periods of time.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).

Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to forced labor. Although government efforts to prevent forced labor continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying victims nationwide. The government did not release data on the number of arrests and convictions related to forced labor.

The government implemented a work permit system for adult temporary protection beneficiaries (Syrians); however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both international protection status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

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 law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from the age of 14 and establishes 16 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws but made efforts to address the problem. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises that employed 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.

Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, fostered in part by large numbers of Syrian refugees and the pandemic driving more family members to seek employment. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem remained unclear according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for adult temporary protection beneficiaries (Syrians), but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, a total of 285 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor in 2015-20.

Also see 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 does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation and views. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other civil rights violations.

Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the labor participation rate for men was 78 percent, and 35 percent for women. A joint 2020 study by TUIK and the ILO estimated the gender pay gap in the country at 15.6 percent. Women were prohibited from working in select industries that require intensive physical labor. There was no prohibition against gender-based discrimination in access to credit, which remains a barrier to women’s entrepreneurship.

Women in the country were disproportionately affected economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Center and the ILO’s Turkey office concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected women’s labor force participation.

For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.

LGBTQI+ individuals in particular faced discrimination in employment. Employment laws allow the dismissal of public-sector employees found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant,” while some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” KAOS-GL and other human rights organizations noted that some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTQI+ individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear. Given the situation, some labor unions created commissions to strengthen efforts to combat discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday and leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. The government effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors but not in other sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Labor inspectors conducted scheduled and unannounced inspections and had the authority to initiate sanctions. In 2020, the latest year for which data was available, inspectors conducted 9,170 inspections, the majority of which were unannounced. The number of labor inspectors, however, was insufficient to enforce full compliance. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: Government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries. OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent, and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,494 workplace deaths during the first eight months of the year. These figures included COVID-19-related deaths. In many sectors, including mining, workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. The same labor inspectors that cover wage and hour are also responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws. The number of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health in all sectors, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of similar crimes.

Informal Sector: Wage and hour laws did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction. A majority of international protection status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries were working informally, as employers found the application process for work permits too burdensome (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue. May 23 National Assembly elections were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. Civilian authorities maintained 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 by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.

The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated human rights or engaged in corruption, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices. This included existing and retired officials from the politburo, central party, military, and public security services.

Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.

The Communist Party’s Central Committee on July 6 dismissed Binh Duong Province party secretary Tran Van Nam as punishment for land management offenses. Subsequently police arrested Nam on July 27 on criminal charges of enabling a private company to illegally take over a valuable land lot.

On August 5, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption reported that nearly 180 Communist Party members were disciplined during the previous six months for corruption and deliberate mismanagement, and more than 20 others for offenses in asset and income declaration.

On September 23, prosecutors arrested Colonel Phung Anh Le, head of the Economic Police Division of Hanoi Police, for unlawfully releasing detainees in exchange for cash. At least three other police officers also faced criminal charges in this case.

On November 6, former deputy head of the General Department of Intelligence Nguyen Duy Linh was sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting a bribe worth five billion dong ($220,000) in 2017 from his subordinate, Phan Van Anh Vu, who was under investigation for leaking secrets and for offenses related to the sale of public properties in Da Nang. On the same date Vu was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison for offering bribes.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly. Some activists reported receiving death threats from plainclothes individuals they believed were associated with the government. Authorities often asserted that human rights and democracy advocacy were acts against the Communist Party and state.

On July 16, police and security officers in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak detained at least 21 individuals who had reportedly participated in civil society training organized by a human rights NGO. The detained individuals were affiliated with two unregistered Protestant churches long targeted by authorities. One detainee said that approximately 30 police arrived at his house in personal protective equipment masquerading as health authorities. At least one victim reported that police officers beat him during interrogations and threatened to kill him for refusing to sign a confession. Another victim reported police shackled her ankles while detaining her and her infant. Interrogators reportedly questioned detainees on the civil society training; on their links to Pastor A Ga; their ties to diaspora Vietnamese; and meetings with foreign diplomats. Interrogators reportedly warned victims they were breaking the law by associating with unregistered churches, taking civil society training, researching the Law on Belief and Religion, and contacting any individuals outside the country. Authorities released all detainees within three days without charge.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. The Ministry of Public Security reported 244 rapes with 252 suspects of which police investigated 230 cases and 246 suspects.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the survivor suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.

Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women worried about domestic violence and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.

While police and the legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men regarding domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law specifically prohibits sexual harassment only in the workplace. The Labor Code that came into effect in January allows workers to terminate a labor contract immediately without prior notice if the worker is sexually harassed in the workplace. The new Labor Code also requires employers to include sexual harassment in their “labor regulations.” Perpetrators of sexual harassment outside of the workplace may be fined.

In serious cases survivors may sue offenders under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Coercive population policies restricted reproductive rights. The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” By law couples or individuals are limited to giving birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. Regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.

The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applicable only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence, and included emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.

Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data (the latest available) from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far greater than the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the topic of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and prohibits gender-based violence and discrimination. Abuses of these provisions were subject to fines or imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities awarded cash incentives for giving birth to girls. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that have two girls a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $57).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent.

Ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the northwest, Central Highlands, and portions of the Mekong Delta. The constitution recognizes the rights of members of ethnic minorities to use their languages and protect and nurture their traditions and cultures. There were reports, however, that not all members of ethnic minorities were able to engage in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions.

International human rights organizations and refugees continued to allege that authorities monitored, harassed, and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, particularly ethnoreligious minorities in the Central and Northwest Highlands, including Christian H’mong.

Authorities in previous years used national security laws to impose lengthy prison sentences on members of ethnic minorities for their connections to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims, although there was no such example during the year.

Although the government allocated land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, land expropriation in these areas was common. The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. In addition the government supported infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to noncitizen parents may also acquire citizenship in certain circumstances.

Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire citizenship if the parents or mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.

The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children. Local authorities, moreover, prevented some parents from registering children to discourage internal migration.

Education: By law education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, but school fees were common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.

Certain gender gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.

The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.

Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment were common.

Observers concurred that violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. The National Hotline for Child Protection reported large increases (150 percent) in calls involving violence and abuse against children between May and August compared with the first three months of the year. There were also more reports of online child abuses attributed to school closure and social distancing because of COVID-19.

UNICEF stated in 2019 there were no effective interdisciplinary child- and gender-sensitive procedures or processes for handling child-abuse reports and that the responsibilities of government agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem, especially at local levels.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing or entering an underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sale, deprivation of liberty, and all acts related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 16. The commercial sexual exploitation of children ages 16 and 17 is not fully criminalized. The law also prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development.

Punishment for sexual exploitation crimes ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction for acts related to the exploitation of children in commercial sex, including harboring commercial sex (12 to 20 years), brokering commercial sex (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18 vary from five to 10 years in prison, depending upon the circumstances. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the survivor becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the survivor, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law and convicted child rapists received harsh sentences.

Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children were homeless in 2014 and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.

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://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or both and protects their right to access education and other state services, but the government struggled to enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social stigmatization. The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transport, the judicial system, and other state services; however, most persons with disabilities faced challenges in exercising their rights.

Services for persons with disabilities were often unavailable, and declared policies were not implemented. For example, while the law requires new construction or major renovations of government and large public buildings to include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement was sporadic, particularly outside major cities.

Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and those with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited.

There is no legal restriction on the right of persons with disabilities to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various education policies. The National Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries worked with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, in-patient physical therapy.

NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding and offering training for disability-related programs from certain provincial governments, which hampered access for international experts to conduct training.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Individuals with HIV continued to face discrimination in finding and holding employment. Being arrested and detained in compulsory rehabilitation centers for continued use of heroin or methamphetamine also prevented drug users from accessing HIV and other health services, although such treatment was considered a basic right of such patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers who are citizens to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answered directly to the VFF, which did not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The new labor code, which came into force in January, allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing (workers’ representative organization) that does not have to be affiliated with the VGCL; however, some of the implementing decrees needed to operationalize the new code remained pending.

The Trade Union Law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.

The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.

The new labor code includes provisions for collective bargaining on any matter of concern to both parties in order to regulate working conditions and relationships between the parties and to develop progressive, harmonious, and stable labor relations. The law requires bargaining to commence within seven days of a party’s request and provides 90 days to reach an agreement.

Collective bargaining is allowed at the enterprise, multienterprise, and sectoral levels but has additional requirements, such as establishment of the collective bargaining council by the people’s committee of the province where the headquarters of the enterprise is located, or in the case of multiple enterprises, in the province they select.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; maritime and air transportation; navigation; public works; and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The new labor code provides workers who have the right to collective bargaining through the VGCL or their workers’ representative organization with the right to strike with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level people’s committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.

The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.

The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and imposes administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating as union leadership or interfering in union activity.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with similar laws.

There were few strikes due to COVID-19 restrictions on movement and gatherings. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers.

Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health matters and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant concern in apparel and footwear factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The government does not effectively enforce the law. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows. In 2020 the Ministry of Labor inspected 84 enterprises sending workers abroad, fined 32 for administrative violations, and revoked six licenses for violations. Despite these actions and ministry awareness-raising workshops, problems continued. Workers seeking overseas employment incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage, in the receiving countries. In addition there continued to be reports indicating forced labor in the informal apparel industry.

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 new labor code states a worker older than 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from ages 13 to 15 may perform light jobs included in a list from the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some other manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.

In the informal garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly worked in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports indicated this was most common in small, privately owned informal garment factories and workshops.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws.

Also see 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 gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment and labor relationships, but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights. The government did not effectively enforce the laws.

No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.

The new labor code includes a definition of sexual harassment and assigns employer responsibility for its prevention. Employers must implement regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace and include it as possible grounds for dismissal.

Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Under the new labor code, the retirement ages for employees in normal working conditions is 60 years and three months for men, and 55 years and four months for women, and increases by three months for men and four months for women each succeeding year.

Enterprises led by women had limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers. Many women older than 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at the age of 35. Legal restrictions exist against women in certain occupations and tasks, including jobs deemed “hazardous” in industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.

Social barriers and the limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.

The law provides for a 48-hour regular workweek, with overtime payment for additional hours worked. The new labor code limits overtime to 40 hours per month, an increase from 30 hours per month. The new code limits overtime to 200 hours per year, but provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.

The new labor code broadens the definition of “employment relationship” so that a legally valid employment relationship exists where two parties agree to a document that includes a description of the job, salary, management, and supervision conditions. This may include a contract with an “independent contractor,” “service provider,” “freelancer,” or other informal agreement with employment-like terms. The new labor code also limits the repeated use of limited-term contracts. The law extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and workers without contracts were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards.

From April through October most companies in the main production areas in the south temporarily or permanently closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, halting inspections for approximately six months. The lockdown required labor inspection staff to stay at home which also prevented them from conducting inspections in provinces not under the lockdown.

Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training in response to labor law violations. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. Penalties for wage and hour and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2020 Annual Report, indicated many apparel and footwear factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 76 percent still failed to enforce monthly limits (40 hours).

During a severe COVID-19 outbreak, authorities in the southern part of the country imposed strict manufacturing protocols, requiring factories to create protective “bubbles” by housing workers onsite in order to stay in operation. This policy resulted in tens of thousands of workers living for more than three months in factories that were not designed to house people, with ad hoc shelters and limited hygiene facilities that posed risks to employee safety and well-being, particularly for female workers.

On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. Work-related injuries and deaths remained at approximately the same level in 2020 (most recent data) and 2019. In 2020 the government reported 8,380 occupational accidents with 8,610 victims, including 919 fatal incidents with 966 deaths. Among the deaths, 661 involved contracted laborers, while 305 involved workers without contracts.

Informal Sector: The informal sector includes small household businesses, individual vendors in traditional markets, streetside or online, and gig workers for transportation and delivery. In 2020 reports indicated 20.3 million persons worked in the informal economy.

Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector were only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contributed to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.