Custom Report Excerpts:
Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait +11 more
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the penal code allows men accused of rape to marry female survivors to avoid punishment. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment or execution when the survivor is younger than age 16, the rapist is the survivor’s custodian or guardian, or the rape causes death.
The law states violence against women is a crime. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common, according to several women’s rights organizations. Although government leaders and some members of parliament participated in awareness-raising activities during the year, including debates on additional legislation, authorities devoted little attention to supporting public campaigns aimed at the problem. The government maintained a shelter for women and children who were survivors of domestic violence. The law provides that local police officials should be contacted in cases of domestic violence and that the public prosecutor may investigate if information is passed from police to them. Survivors of domestic violence, however, reported difficulty knowing whom to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint.
The government did not provide statistics on documented instances or prosecutions physical or sexual abuse of women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was rarely practiced. No specific law prohibits the practice, although legal experts previously indicated the act falls under criminal code provisions that prohibit “permanent disability to another person.”
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: By law “honor” killings are charged as a homicide and punishable with life in prison or a death sentence. The penal code provides a prison sentence for killing a spouse caught in an act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no cases of honor killings reported during the year.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of imprisonment and fines. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreign female domestic workers.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
There are no known legal barriers or penalties for accessing contraception. Health centers did not require women to obtain spousal consent for provision of most family planning services but did require such consent for women seeking sterilization procedures. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced challenges in obtaining birth certificates for their children.
Contraceptives were available without prescription throughout the country regardless of nationality, gender, age, or marital status. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, although emergency contraception was not available.
Discrimination: Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings in family courts, but unlike for men, both Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven to Shia mothers, with Shia fathers typically gaining custody once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Sunni women were able to retain custody of daughters until age 17 and sons until age 15. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until age 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.” Any divorced woman who remarries loses custody of her children from a prior marriage.
The basis for family law is sharia, as interpreted by Sunni and Shia religious experts. In 2017 King Hamad ratified the Shia portion of the Unified Family Law codifying the rights of Shia citizens, in particular women, according to the civil code on issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia and Sunni family law is enforced by separate judicial bodies composed of religious authorities charged with interpreting sharia. The revised civil law provides access to family courts for all women, providing the standardized application of the law and further legal recourse, since decisions made by family court judges are subject to review by the Supreme Judicial Council. In instances of mixed Sunni-Shia marriages, families may choose which court hears the issue.
Lawyers expressed concern regarding the long waiting periods for final judgments in Shia courts, particularly in divorce cases.
Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased also receiving a share. The government respected wills directing the division of assets according to the deceased.
The law grants citizenship to ethnic Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There were numerous reports that authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. NGOs stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship, while there were reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia residents who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided for more than 25 years.
Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from their father or by decree from the king. Women do not transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d.).
Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. When a child reaches three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.
Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and is provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although girls and boys used the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students.
Child Abuse: The Family Courts have jurisdiction over child abuse matters.
There were reports police approached children outside schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.
In February the king issued the Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18 (see sections 1.d., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies). The law raised the criminal age of majority from 15 to 18 and established children’s courts, a child protection center, and a special children’s judicial committee to review criminal cases involving juveniles. The law also mandates alternative noncustodial sentences for juvenile offenders.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages before reaching these ages with approval from a sharia court.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including in commercial sex and child pornography. The Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18, imposes harsher penalties on adults who sexually exploit children or incite or coerce children to commit crimes, including increasing the mandatory minimum prison sentence for child pornography crimes to two years.
The age of consent is age 21 and there is no close-in-age exemption.
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 .
According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. On August 22, a former ambassador announced the celebration of the first Shabbat minyan (traditional service with a quorum of 10 adult Jewish males) in the country since 1947. Diplomats, members of Jewish communities throughout the Gulf, and local and Emirati Muslims also attended.
In October the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities organized the first Jewish wedding in the country in 52 years. The event, done under the auspices of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, was the first strictly kosher wedding in the kingdom’s history.
In response to Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid’s September 30 visit to inaugurate Israel’s new embassy and sign memoranda of understanding on expanding bilateral cooperation, opposition and pro-Iran factions posted antinormalization statements on social media and organized several small street protests. Protesters burned an Israeli flag, chanted “Death to Israel,” and carried posters of the Palestinian flag.
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The constitution provides for social security, social insurance, and health care for persons with disabilities. The government administered a committee to oversee the provision of care for persons with disabilities that included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee was responsible for monitoring abuses against persons with disabilities. During the year the government did not prosecute any cases for offenses against persons with disabilities.
Building codes require accessible facilities in all new government and public buildings in the central municipality. The law does not mandate access to private, nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities.
No information was available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with disabilities routinely lacked access to education, accessible housing, and employment. The sole government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The law stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and abuses of the law are punishable with fines.
Eligible voters may vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. Local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes posed problems to voters with mobility disabilities due to lack of physical accessibility. General polling stations in public spaces such as malls allowed for assistive devices. There was no absentee ballot system.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in cooperation with the UN Development Program.
There were no known cases involving societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV or AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV and AIDS. In prior years the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV-positive; the status of deportations during the year was unclear.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults at least age 21, but it allots fines, imprisonment, deportation, or any of them for persons engaging in “immoral behavior,” and this provision has been used against individuals suspected of being LGBTQI+ or cross-dressing.
The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred, including in employment and obtaining legal identity documents. In some cases, however, courts permitted transgender individuals to update identity documents if they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring survivors not to pursue charges.
On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.
On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.
Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault survivor produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse survivor. Police often treated domestic violence as a family matter rather than as a criminal matter.
The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.
On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.
According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.
On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.
On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.
Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.
Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.
On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.
On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.
The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.
There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. While the government took steps to improve their situation, women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.
Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.
Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula (divorce) allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.
On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.
The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.
In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually, the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.
In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.
The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The main groups facing racial or ethnic violence and discrimination included Nubians and Bedouins.
Nubians are indigenous to northern Sudan and the south of the country. Population estimates for this ethnolinguistic group ranged from 100,000, according to a government census in the early 1960s, to approximately four million in other estimates.
Although positive steps regarding compensation reportedly were made for the damage Nubians suffered because of the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902 and later the construction of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, no land return had occurred as of year’s end.
During the year the government provided compensation to a limited number of Nubians (11,500 according to government estimates). Nubian activists complained compensation was disbursed only to those who provided documents proving their properties had been destroyed.
Conflict and war in the Sinai Peninsula over decades contributed to the disruption of the lives of Bedouin there.
The country also hosted approximately 6.3 million migrants, according to 2020 estimates from the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the migrants were from Sudan and South Sudan, where conflicts continued to displace tens of thousands of persons annually. Migrants reported incidents of racial insults and sexual harassment due to their skin color.
In October 2020 the killing of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy, Mohamed Hassan, by a local man led to large protests, which security forces dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon and reportedly arrested 70 Sudanese refugees and migrants. The local man was later arrested and convicted of murdering the boy.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after delivery, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula registered births late or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.
On March 29, local media reported that a mother was pursuing a paternity lawsuit she filed in July 2020 to receive a birth certificate for her daughter conceived through rape. The report added that the woman needed to file a lawsuit, since the law requires the names of both biological parents and the biological father had refused to acknowledge his paternity.
On June 19, the Supreme Administrative Court in Alexandria issued a final verdict ruling that a wife has the right to obtain a birth certificate for her child without the husband’s presence if she submits an official marriage contract and her husband’s data. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman whose husband claimed that evidence for the birth certificate could only come from him.
Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian, Yemeni, Sudanese, and South Sudanese refugees. Refugees of other nationalities often chose not to attend public schools because of administrative barriers, discrimination and bullying, and preferences for English-language instruction or for other curricula.
Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which operated a telephone hotline, worked on child abuse matters, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.
Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. Media reported that six detained children died and 19 were seriously injured in a fire that broke out on June 3 during a fight between detained minors inside a juvenile detention center in Cairo Governorate. Local media reported that on June 7, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention pending investigation of four members of the center’s management, who were later sentenced by a lower court and then acquitted by an appellate court on December 27.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. A government study published in March 2020 reported that 2.5 percent of the population in Upper Egypt governorates were married between the ages of 15 and 17, and the percentage of girls in that age group who had previously been married exceeded that of boys. Informal marriages could lead to contested paternity and leave female minors without alimony and other claims available to women with registered marriages. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry a local woman more than 25 years younger than he must pay her 50,000 EGP ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouragement of child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system.
The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and governorate child protection units identified several attempted child marriages. In an April 4 statement, the council said it had identified an attempt by parents to marry their daughter, age 15, in Minya Governorate based on an April 3 citizen notification to the council’s hotline. The statement added that the girl’s parents had subsequently signed an affidavit with the girl’s fiance promising to not complete the marriage until the girl was 18 and agreeing to periodic government-led counseling sessions regarding the negative effects of child marriage and verification that the marriage would not be completed before the promised date.
On May 8 and August 10, local media reported that the Dar al-Salam child protection unit in Sohag Governorate identified a total of 11 attempts by several parents to marry their minor children, several reported through the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood hotline. The reports added that the parents of the minors subsequently signed affidavits agreeing to not complete the marriages until the minors reached the age of 18.
On March 10, the child protection unit at the Akhmeem Center in Sohag announced it had stopped a marriage of a minor in the village of al-Sawamah Sharq after receiving a report that a person was preparing to marry off his 16-year-old sister.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.
On May 24, the Giza Criminal Court sentenced four defendants to prison for the May 2020 sexual assault against Tik Tok influencer Menna Abdel Aziz, a minor. The first defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison for rape under threat, kidnapping with fraud and coercion, drug use, and breaking the COVID-19 curfew. The second defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison for indecent assault by force and threat, possession of a weapon, beating the survivor, theft, drug possession, and violating the COVID-19 curfew. The third defendant was sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault, violating the survivor’s privacy by publishing a video without her consent, beating the survivor, theft, and drug possession. The fourth defendant was sentenced to four years in prison for theft and drug possession. On May 24, a local human rights organization said that the Public Prosecution should have protected Abdel Aziz from the beginning instead of arresting and detaining her for 114 days after the May 2020 incident, when Abdel Aziz claimed in a social media video that an acquaintance and others had sexually assaulted her.
On April 27, a Cairo criminal court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor girl in Maadi. According to local media, the man lured the girl, who was selling tissues in the street in Maadi, into a residential building where he committed the crime.
Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics estimated in 2014 there were 16,000 homeless children in the country living in the streets. More recent data was not available, but experts estimated that up to two million children were on the streets. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff reportedly treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates that offered emergency services, including food and health care, to street children. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in cooperation with UN Office on Drugs and Crime implemented targeted interventions to reduce drug abuse by displaced children by training social workers and police officers on problem identification and treatment options. The program also worked to shift the perception of displaced children by authorities and service providers from criminals to survivors.
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 .
The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered as few as 10 individuals.
On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Ministry of Education approved a school subject that allows children to study verses from Jewish scripture.
On June 22, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that school textbooks contained both positive and negative information regarding Jews. There were also isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments and examination questions in classrooms. The ADL also reported that a broad array of anti-Semitic books was displayed by exhibitors at the annual, state-run Cairo International Book Fair.
The government’s interagency National Coordinating Committee for Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons reported that between April 2020 and March 31 the Interior Ministry processed eight criminal cases for organ trafficking with 29 defendants and 39 victims.
The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection. On December 23, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the law that stipulate a prison sentence of no less than two years, a fine, or both for bullying persons with disabilities, with prison terms and fines doubled for repeat offenders. Persons with disabilities do not have access on an equal basis with others to education, health services, public buildings and transportation. The new National Human Rights Strategy included a section on the rights for persons with disabilities. The strategy calls for helping persons with disabilities enjoy all rights under the law and calls for increased medical and educational services for persons with disabilities.
The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.
The National Council for People with Disabilities, an independent body, aimed to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help persons with hearing disabilities.
Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.
On May 5, local media reported that EgyptAir announced a 20 percent discount for passengers with disabilities on international flights and a 10 percent discount to their flight companions.
On May 11, local media reported that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority announced a 50 percent discount for customers with disabilities on their monthly voice and internet packages.
On August 29, local media reported that the minister of social solidarity announced the addition of sign language to the state-run digital platform to raise awareness for youth regarding marriage.
On September 3 and November 16, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders issued official statements of concern regarding the continued pretrial detention of university student Oqaba Alaa Labib Hashad, who she said was unable to walk without his prosthetic limb. The November 16 statement reported Hashad was arrested in 2019 and was allegedly subjected to physical and psychological torture, including being suspended from a ceiling and subjected to electric shocks. The statement said that a prison investigator reportedly took Hashad’s prosthetic leg in January in retaliation for a human rights report his exiled brother had published. The statement added that Hashad was held in solitary confinement without family visits for three months after he complained on March 5 of the lack of his prosthetic leg.
HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were arrested and prosecuted on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating family values,” for which the law provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTQI+ individuals or to avoid arrest. There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and mobile phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTQI+ advocates described as especially effective since LGBTQI+-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years. Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations, which rights groups indicated primarily targeted LGBTQI+ individuals. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of “debauchery.”
Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTQI+ persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTQI+ foreigners.
The Egyptian Medical Syndicate allows for gender-affirming treatment with approval by a special committee composed of medical doctors and al-Azhar clergy, according to international media citing a local LGBTQI+ activist on February 6. The committee relies on a fatwa that stipulates gender affirming treatment must be “medically necessary” and justified by a “biological,” not a “mental” matter. According to Human Rights Watch, the surgery was allowed only for intersex persons, which left transgender individuals to seek treatment from unregulated and often unsafe clinics. On August 26, according to Human Rights Watch, Ezz Eldin, a 26-year-old transgender man, bled to death following surgery in an underground clinic.
On May 6, border guards prevented two transgender Israelis from entering Sinai for tourism because they did not appear to belong to the sex listed in their passports.
According to a LGBTQI+ rights organization 2020 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 25 LGBTQI+ individuals in 2020 and conducted forced anal exams on six persons.
The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned citizens, Sudanese refugees, and other sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. There were reports that approximately 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.
For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.
The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered spousal and intrafamilial abuse a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.
An April 2020 IRNA article noted a “dramatic increase” in domestic violence-related telephone calls to public social welfare hotlines. The State Welfare Organization sent a public text message the same day highlighting the existence of the hotlines. Calls to the hotlines reportedly doubled after the text message was sent, according to a government official. In a call with an expatriate media outlet, women’s rights activist Shahla Entesari also reported higher rates of domestic violence during pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.
In previous years assailants conducted “acid attacks” in which they threw acid capable of severe disfiguration at women perceived to have violated various “morality” laws or practices. Although the Guardian Council reportedly approved a law increasing sentences for the perpetrators of these attacks, the government instead continued to prosecute individual activists seeking stronger government accountability for the attacks. In October 2020 a court sentenced Aliyeh Motalebzadeh to two years in prison for “conspiracy against state security” for advocating for women who were victims of acid attacks. Motalebzadeh was a member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign to change discriminatory laws against women. Also in October 2020 authorities arrested Negar Masoudi for holding a photograph exhibition featuring victims of acid attacks and for advocating to restrict the sale of acid.
According to Iran International, on August 8, a man in the city of Orumiyeh allegedly used his motor vehicle to run over two women, seriously injuring one of the women, after accusing them of “bad hijab,” interpreted by some as not appropriately following the Islamic dress code.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “The cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diya equal to half the full amount of diya for the woman’s life.”
Little recent data were available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces and was inflicted on girls ages five through eight, primarily in Shafi’i Sunni communities.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year. There are no official statistics kept in the country concerning honor killings, but according to academic articles and university thesis estimates cited by the daily newspaper Ebtekar, every year between 375 and 450 such killings occur, in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives – including their husbands, fathers, and brothers – in the name of preserving the family’s “honor.”
The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases, because fathers (but not mothers) are considered legal guardians and are exempt from capital punishment for murdering their children.
In June 2020 Reza Ashrafi reportedly beheaded his 14-year-old daughter, Romina Ashrafi, with a farming sickle because she had “run off” with her 29-year-old Sunni Muslim boyfriend. In June 2020, in response to a national outcry over Ashrafi’s killing, the Guardian Council approved a law making it a crime to abuse emotionally or physically or abandon a child, but it left unchanged the maximum sentence of 10 years for a father convicted of murdering his daughter. Observers noted the Guardian Council had rejected three previous iterations of the bill. In August 2020 a court reportedly convicted and sentenced Ashrafi’s father to nine years in prison, sparking further outrage at the leniency of the sentence. Ashrafi’s mother said she planned to appeal the sentence to seek a stricter penalty, but there were no reported updates to the case.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There were no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women’s and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. In April multiple women, including model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad, came forward on social media sites such as Clubhouse and Instagram to accuse singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They circulated a petition calling on media outlets to ban his presence until the allegations were investigated. According to IranWire, on April 18, Namjoo apparently apologized for the sexual harassment accusations but denied other sexual assault allegations via his YouTube channel. The incident fueled online debate regarding victims’ accounts of sexual harassment and assault.
According to IranWire, on October 12, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi announced that bookstore owner Keyvan Emamverdi confessed to raping 300 women after 30 women filed legal complaints against him. Police stated he would be charged with “corruption on earth,” a capital offense. On November 15, Emamverdi’s trial began before a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he reportedly denied all charges.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Government health care previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples. In 2012 on the supreme leader’s orders, the government ended the Family and Population Planning Program. On November 16, President Raisi signed into law the “rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill, which directs authorities to prioritize population growth. These policies include measures such as outlawing voluntary sterilization and banning the free distribution of contraceptives by the public health-care system. The law also stipulates that content on family planning in university textbooks should be replaced with materials on an “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle,” with a framework drawn up in cooperation with religious seminaries and the Islamic Propaganda Organization. In January according to a report by Iran International, the Ministry of Health banned health centers in nomadic tribal areas from providing contraceptives to women. On November 16, UN human rights experts “urge[d] the Government to immediately repeal [the law] and to take measures to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women can access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive care, in a manner that is safe, affordable, and consistent with their human rights.”
The government did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.
According to human rights organizations, an increase in child marriage – due in part to a government “marriage loan” program providing financial relief to poor families who want to marry off their girls – was likely adversely affecting the quality of health care for such girls and increasing maternal mortality rates. The practice of female genital mutilation, which primarily occurs on girls ages five through eight in Shafi’i Sunni communities, was associated reportedly with increased obstetric problems and may increase maternal mortality rates.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly hindered the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.
In June 2020 the president issued a decree enacting into law an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Children). The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.
The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives (sigheh), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter a limited-time civil and religious contract that outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant women equal rights to multiple husbands.
A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.
The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches age seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.
Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s life. By law the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, except for car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in 2019 the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman remains one-half the blood money paid for harm to a man, but the remaining difference would be paid from a publicly funded trust.
Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.
The Statistical Center of Iran reported that the overall unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year was 8.8 percent. Unemployment of women in the country was twice as high as it was of men. Overall female participation in the job market was 18.9 percent, according to the Global Gender Gap 2021 report. Women reportedly earned significantly less than men for the same work.
Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as in access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.
The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf over the head (hijab) and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.
Authorities continued to arrest women for violating dress requirements, and courts applied harsh sentences. In February an appeals court upheld sentences of 16 to 23 years for Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.” They were arrested after posting a video for International Women’s Day in 2019 during which they walked without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers. As of September 19, all three women remained in prison.
In May 2020 the lawyer for imprisoned activist Saba Kord Afshari said on Twitter that judicial authorities had reinstated a seven and one-half-year prison sentence for “corruption and prostitution” against his client without explanation. An appeals court had previously dropped that charge against Kord Afshari, who was also found guilty of “gathering and conspiring” and “spreading propaganda” related to videos she posted to social media in which she walked without a hijab and stated her opposition to compulsory dress requirements. Kord Afshari’s cumulative sentence reverted to 15 years with the reinstated portion of the sentence. In February 2020 Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, began serving a two-year sentence for “national security” crimes related to advocacy on behalf of her daughter. Human rights groups reported both mother and daughter were denied requested medical treatment and furlough during the year. Kord Afshari was “exiled” to Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin in late January, where reportedly authorities beat her and held her alongside violent criminals. She ended her hunger strike in May. Ahmadi reportedly suffered spinal cord damage in Evin Prison upon hearing of her daughter’s transfer. As of September 19, both women remained in prison.
In a February 2020 letter to Iranian authorities, the world soccer governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) insisted women be allowed to attend all soccer matches in larger numbers than the government previously permitted. In October authorities reversed their earlier announcement that 10,000 vaccinated spectators – including women – could watch Iran play in a FIFA qualifying match and allowed no spectators into the stadium.
As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes were traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.
The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.
Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities (see section 1.a.). Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime of which they were accused. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. In a July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern regarding the reported high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities.
Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris, and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.
The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.
The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. The UNSR noted in his July report that in the early part of the year many Kurdish individuals were arrested and detained in unknown locations.
According to the same UNSR report, authorities continued to target Kurdish-language teacher Zara Mohammadi, who supported learning in mother tongue languages, when an appeals court confirmed a five-year prison sentence on February 13 related to national security charges. Authorities detained without furlough Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly being a part of a banned armed Kurdish political group, and reportedly denied her access to adequate health care.
Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general.
International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.
Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups, to include Supreme Leader Khamenei. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.
In July the UNSR reported that authorities continued to target Azeri civil society actors, including Abbas Lisani and Alireza Farshi, for their advocacy of minority rights. According to a February report by CHRI, Farshi, who was convicted and imprisoned on national security charges for peaceful activities on International Mother Language Day in 2014, was transferred from Evin Prison to Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being subjected to physical violence by authorities that resulted in injuries. He was also reportedly facing new charges related to his advocacy. Between January and June 14, Lisani and seven other Azeri political prisoners refused liquids in protest over Farshi’s mistreatment. Authorities reportedly agreed to address their concerns, which included access to medical leave and a cessation of the transfer of prisoners convicted of violent crimes into their ward, but authorities did not fulfill these promises.
Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials.
According to widespread media reports and the UNSR’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officials killed 10 fuel couriers in Sistan va Balochistan Province, leading to protests. Authorities used excessive force including live ammunition to suppress these protests, causing two additional deaths (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). UNSR Rehman previously noted in July 2020 that “in the border areas of Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces, Kurdish couriers (kolbars) continue to face excessive and lethal force by border officials. In 2019 there were 84 reported deaths and 192 injuries of kolbars, continuing a trend that has seen more than 1,000 kolbars killed or injured due to the actions of border officials since 2014. It is with concern that cases of violence against kolbars are often either dismissed by the courts or closed without conviction or compensation for the victims and their families.”
The UNSR’s report noted that excessive force was routinely used in antinarcotic operations in Sistan va Balochistan Province. In May for example, antinarcotic police in Iranshahr reportedly fatally shot a five-year-old child in the head.
Birth Registration: The law provides Iranian mothers the right to apply for citizenship for children born to fathers with foreign citizenship (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Women). Although the law is retroactive, mothers do not receive equal treatment; they must file an application for their children, whereas children born to Iranian fathers automatically have citizenship. The law also includes a stipulation of obtaining a security clearance from the security agencies prior to receiving approval. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.
Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls. According to HRW the child protection law passed in June 2020 following the killing of Romina Ashrafi (see section 6, Other Harmful Traditional Practices) sets out financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level. Secondary education is free. Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In a 2019 report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding access to education for minority children, including references to high primary school dropout rates for ethnic minority girls living in border provinces.
The government consistently barred use of minority languages in school for instruction.
Child Abuse: There was little information available on how the government dealt with child abuse. The law states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months in confinement. In June 2020 the Guardian Council approved legislation to support a child’s safety and well-being, including penalties against physical harm and for preventing access to education. The law defines a set of punishments, which include imprisonment and “blood money,” for negligence by anyone, including parents, that results in death, disability, bodily harm, and sexual harassment. The law requires the State Welfare Organization to investigate the situation of children in “extreme danger” of abuse, exploitation, or being out of school, among other concerns. The state also has the authority to remove children from a household and put them under state supervision until the prosecutor takes on the case. The law also applies to all citizens younger than age 18, despite the earlier age of maturity.
Reports of child abuse reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the State Welfare Organization in Mashhad noted an eightfold increase in child abuse cases reported in Mashhad in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. According to IranWire, in October the head of Paveh city’s intelligence office ordered officers to detain and interrogate harshly two journalists for reporting on the rape of a seven-year-old girl by a 43-year-old man on September 20. The same intelligence office banned a psychiatrist from treating the child and left her with no medical care. Authorities threatened to arrest the journalists if they continued investigating the case.
According to IranWire, the Students’ Basij Force stepped up efforts in 2020 to recruit young persons into the organization. Although “most of these activities are of an educational and ideological nature,” there were reports that during recent domestic unrest, some younger Basij forces armed with light military equipment were seen on the streets of some cities. There continued to be reports of IRGC officials recruiting Afghan child soldiers, including to support Assad regime forces in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers). In a 2018 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade commander confirmed Afghan minors as young as 14 served in his unit in Syria.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as age nine may be married with permission from a court and their fathers. According to HRW, the child protection law does not criminalize child marriage.
According to the UNSR’s January report, between March 2018 and March 2019 the National Organization for Civil Registration registered 13,054 marriages of girls younger than 13. In 2019 a deputy minister warned that banks offering “marriage loans” without age restrictions increased child marriage. He stated that from March to August 2019, 4,460 girls younger than 15 had received such loans. Between March and June 2020, 7,323 marriages involving girls ages 10 to 14 were registered. The report also noted that a survey found that 37.5 percent of those subjected to child marriage were illiterate and a significant number reported domestic abuse.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, as sex outside of marriage is illegal. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation, with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. The law does not directly address sexual molestation or provide a punishment for it.
According to CHRI, the ambiguity between the legal definitions of child abuse and sexual molestation could lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery law. While no separate provision exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s age, is potentially punishable by death.
Displaced Children: There were reports of thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in Iran but could not obtain identity documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.
UNHCR stated school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside the 20 settlements, where more resources were available and where 96 percent of the refugees resided.
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 .
The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews. Members of the Iranian Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, routinely engaged in egregious anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion. On May 7, so-called Jerusalem Day, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued numerous anti-Semitic tweets calling those who live in Israel “racists,” questioning the Holocaust, and calling again for a referendum of original inhabitants to determine the future status of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control. In September 2020 a government-controlled arts organization, the Hozeh Honari, announced it would hold a third “Holocaust Cartoon Festival,” the previous two having been held in 2006 and 2016. The contest results were released on January 1.
According to media reports, officials and media propagated conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. According to NGO reports, school textbooks contained content that incites hatred against Jews as part of the state curricula for history, religion, and social studies.
It is legal for persons to sell their kidney. The government matches buyers and sellers and sets a fixed price, but a black market for organs also existed.
According to HRW the 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities increases pensions and extends insurance coverage to disability-related health-care services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. According to CHRI, as of 2019 the government did not allocate a budget to enforce the law. The law prohibits persons with vision, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, domestic news reports noted vocational centers were located only in urban areas and were largely unable to meet the needs of the entire population.
In 2019 HRW and CHRI reported persons with disabilities remained cut off from society, a major obstacle being a mandatory government medical test that may exclude children with disabilities from the public school system. Based on government figures, during the 2018-19 school year, 150,000 children of school age with disabilities were enrolled in school, and more were in “special schools” that segregated them from other students. Estimates put the total number of school-age children with disabilities at 1.5 million. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Subsequently, many persons with disabilities remained unable to participate in society on an equal basis.
The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with these standards. There were efforts to increase access for persons with disabilities to historic sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility, including access to toilets for persons with disabilities, remained a problem. Individuals with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported in 2018 that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government.
Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV or AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV or AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination. Individuals with HIV or AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While few details were available for specific cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists expressed concern that the government executed LGBTQI+ individuals under the pretext of more severe, and possibly specious, criminal charges such as rape. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTQI+. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTQI+ persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang) noted that individuals arrested under such conditions were traditionally subjected to forced anal or sodomy examinations – which the United Nations and World Health Organization stated may constitute torture – and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.
According to Amnesty International, on May 4, 20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared, who identified as a nonbinary gay man, was abducted by male relatives in his hometown of Ahwaz in Khuzestan Province. The next day these men reportedly told Monfared’s mother they had killed him and dumped his body under a tree. Authorities confirmed his throat was slit and announced an investigation; however, according to Amnesty International in September, none of the suspected perpetrators had been arrested.
According to an August factsheet by CHRI, a 2020 survey by 6Rang of more than 200 individuals living in the country and identifying as LGBTQI+ found that 46 percent reported being victims of sexual violence at their school or university, 49 percent reported being victims of sexual violence by their peers, and more than 52 percent reported being victims of sexual violence in public spaces. Anonymous respondents reported being beaten, detained, and flogged by security authorities.
The government censored all materials related to LGBTQI+ status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTQI+ issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTQI+ and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTQI+ NGOs and activists in the country.
In 2019 a revolutionary court sentenced Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender-equality activist, to five years in prison. According to CHRI, authorities arrested Mohammadi in 2018 and held her in solitary confinement for several weeks at Evin Prison, where they pressured her, including via threat of rape, to confess to receiving money to overthrow the government. Mohammadi was reportedly freed on bail.
Hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes.
The law requires all male citizens older than age 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay men and transgender women, who are classified as having mental disorders. Military identity cards list the subsection of the law dictating the exemption. According to 6Rang, this practice identified gay or transgender individuals and put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.
While LGBTQI+ status and conduct are criminalized, many clerics believed that LGBTQI+ persons were trapped in a body of the wrong sex, and NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTQI+ persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Reports indicated these procedures disregarded psychological and physical health and that many persons recommended for surgery did not identify as transgender but were forced to comply to avoid punishment for their LGBTQI+ identity. According to a July 2020 report by 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” or reparative therapies of LGBTQI+ persons continued to grow. The NGO 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTQI+ persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of persons of the opposite sex. According to 6Rang, one such institution was called the Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran, with branches in 18 provinces.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but does not specifically mention spousal rape; it permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the survivor, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The survivor’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAMI reported a significant increase in the reports of rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, immolation and self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors, and suicide due to increased household tensions because of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as economic hardship due to the country’s declining economy. In February the Federal Police stated that domestic violence increased by nearly 20 percent because of the pandemic.
In the absence of legislation to combat domestic violence, each relevant central government ministry devised its own way to respond to domestic violence. Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” and reduced sentences for violence or killing are applicable if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.
Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.
The central government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. The Yezidi Survivors’ Law, passed by the COR in March, mandates a new Survivors’ Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to provide psychosocial support to victims of ISIS, including women and members of minority groups.
The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support survivors. NGOs stated that survivors of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.
KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.
Throughout the year the KRG General Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women and Families provided workshops and seminars to its law-enforcement officers and awareness campaigns about the impact of domestic violence on individuals and society. There was also a 24/7 hotline that received reports of violence: an average of 11,000 calls annually. Furthermore, the directorate, in coordination with the UN Population Fund, developed a mobile phone app to facilitate access to the hotline, which provided access to live consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists.
Two privately operated shelters and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and NGOs reported psychological and therapeutic services were poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to survivors of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.
The Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Region formed a judicial body after ISIS took control of the Sinjar Region and surrounding areas to investigate and document claims of ISIS crimes including with recorded testimonies of victims, survivors, claimants, and witnesses. Cases filed with the courts through November totaled 4,206, including 1,191 cases that pertained specifically to ISIS crimes committed against women during the period of ISIS’s control over Sinjar district and other areas in the Mosul Province. Similarly, in Duhok Province an additional 2,036 cases of ISIS violence against women were filed with the courts; the cases were elevated to the level of the International Criminal Court.
The KRG also maintained a genocide center in Duhok for treatment, support, and rehabilitation for women who survived ISIS captivity, including investigating and documenting rape crimes; provides health and psychological services within camps; and ran a center through the KRG Directorate of Yezidi Affairs in the Ministry of Religious and Endowment Affairs for the rehabilitation of approximately 163 liberated women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk Provinces, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted “honor” as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for a murder conviction to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.
The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed 19 honor killing cases in the IKR as of September.
There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure, marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Young women, widowed or orphaned by ISIS offensives, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation. In similar cases NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them months later, sometimes pregnant.
Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern provinces. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed that of government institutions.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including in the workplace. Penalties for sexual harassment include fines of up to only 30 dinars (approximately two cents), imprisonment, or both, not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no government-provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities.
Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns and their reputations – often labeled as “staining their family’s honor.” The Iraqi Women’s Network NGO cited several cases of women candidates being targeted because of their gender during the election campaign. Local human rights NGOs stated that the harassment was particularly targeted against independent women candidates or those from new political parties that lacked recourse or political connections to government security services.
During the year NGOs reported security personnel asked female IDPs for sexual favors in exchange for provision of basic needs. This was especially prevalent among female IDPs previously living under ISIS control. In other cases criminal gangs exploited female IDPs and forced them into commercial sex.
The KRG’s High Council of Women’s Affairs and Directorate General of Combating Violence Against Women (DCVAW) stated there was a spike in online harassment of girls and women. Per the DCVAW, 75 percent of gender-based violence cases resulted from social networking sites.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Hospitals provided menstrual health services free to women.
Various methods of contraception were widely available, including in the IKR; however, women in urban areas generally had greater access than those in rural parts of the country. A married woman could not be prescribed or use contraception without the consent of her husband. Unmarried single women were unable to obtain birth control. Divorced or widowed women did not have this same restriction.
Due to general insecurity in the country and attendant economic difficulties, many women received inadequate medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in some provinces the work of reproductive health and pregnancy care units, as well as health-awareness campaigns, had ceased almost entirely because of COVID-19’s impact on the health-care system.
In the IKR the KRG Ministry of Health reported that survivors of sexual violence received treatment from provincial health departments and emergency rooms. Judges, however, rarely considered forensic evidence that was collected. The government stated it provided full services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in all provinces because the law requires that survivors receive full health care and treatment. Emergency contraceptives were available as part of the clinical management of rape through government services and in private clinics, although advocates who worked with survivors reported many barriers to women accessing those contraceptives, as well as significant gaps in service delivery.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide women the same legal status and rights as men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.
For example in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses but does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or in some cases two years’ financial maintenance; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the children may choose with which parent they wish to live.
All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Discrimination toward women on personal status matters varied depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except members of recognized religious minority groups. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.
The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.
Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.
NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.
The KRG provided some additional legal protections to women, maintaining a High Council of ’s Affairs and a ’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination, but such protections were applied inconsistently. Other portions of KRG law continue to mirror federal law, and women face discrimination. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law and provides a divorced wife up to five years’ alimony beyond childcare.
The constitution holds that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, or opinion, or economic or social status. It prohibits any entity or program that adopts, incites, facilitates, glorifies, promotes, or justifies racism or ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, restrictions on freedom of religion as well as violence against and harassment of minority groups committed by the ISF remained widespread outside the IKR, according to religious leaders and representatives of NGOs.
IKR law forbids “religious, or political, media speech individually or collectively, directly or indirectly that brings hate and violence, terror, exclusion, and marginalization based on national, ethnic, or religious or linguistic claims.” According to a representative of the Yezidi NGO Yazda, KRG authorities continued to discriminate against minorities, including Turkomans, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabak, and Christians, in territories claimed by both the KRG and the central government in the northern part of the country.
Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children, although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior; such registration was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported the widespread problem of children born to ISIS members or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate. As a result, an estimated 15,000 displaced children still lacked civil documentation, including birth certificates.
Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided free to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a problem, particularly in rural and insecure areas.
Schools continued to be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of the 2020-21 school year, keeping more than 10 million students out of school. UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to broadcast lessons through education television and digital platforms. Children’s access to alternative learning platforms via the internet and television, however, was hindered by limited connectivity and availability of digital devices, as well as lack of electricity. Moreover, the Ministry for Directorates of Education had not issued directives for guiding the delivery of distance learning.
Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but up-to-date, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.
UNICEF reported that during the year at least 1.8 million children, half of them girls, were estimated to need at least one type of protective service. In addition, 1.3 million children needed assistance to continue their education; 38 percent of all children lived in poverty. UNICEF and its implementing partners continued to deliver psychosocial support; case management and specialized protection services for children, including birth registration; civil documentation and legal assistance; and capacity development for national partners.
KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding, children’s rights. Multiple reports of child abuse surfaced during the year. Activists reported sexual abuse and assault by relatives was widespread and that some victims did not report crimes due to fear of retribution by family members.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country. UNICEF data from 2018 indicated that 7 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 28 percent by age 18. UNHCR reported the continued prevalence of early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, since many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households. Others gave their daughters as child brides to armed groups to ensure safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.
In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit a child as young as 16 to marry if the individual is entering into the marriage voluntarily and has received permission from a legal guardian. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but does not automatically void, forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents. Some Kurdish men crossed over into federal Iraqi territory to acquire a child bride since the federal laws are not as strict.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, the offering or procuring of commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Child sex trafficking was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.
Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children (see section 2.d.). Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs were children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at
The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. According to the code, Jews are prohibited from joining the military and cannot hold jobs in the public sector. The KRG did not apply the central government’s anti-Zionist laws and relied on IKR law number five, which provides protections for the rights of members of religious minority groups, including Jews. Following a controversial conference on normalization with Israel held in Erbil in September, one militia group referred to Israel as “the Satanic entity,” and another threatened violence against the participants.
A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. Media organizations reported that only four Jewish citizens remained in the country outside the IKR following the death of a Jewish doctor, Dhafer Eliyahu, in March. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were as few as 100 to 250 Jewish families in the IKR. The Jewish community did not worship in public due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or violence by extremist actors. The KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs dedicated one of its seven departments to Jewish affairs.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The government took steps to combat the illegal trade and trafficking in human organs. For example, in November Baghdad’s anticrime directorate announced the arrest of a suspect who allegedly sold her child’s kidney. Separately, the Wasit Province criminal court announced six-year prison sentences for two persons who trafficked human organs across the country.
Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. The government did not provide information and communication in accessible formats.
Although a 2016 Council of Ministers decree mandates access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access. In September individuals with disabilities told Human Rights Watch that access barriers forced them to rely on assistance to reach the polling places. When that assistance came from political party members who had permission to use vehicles, those members sometimes tried to influence how persons with disabilities voted. Human Rights Watch also reported that ballot boxes were often on floors that individuals with mobility problems could not access. Those who were unable to reach the ballot box without assistance or were unable to fill out their ballots alone were forced to rely on a family member or election commission staff to cast their ballot, raising concerns regarding privacy and the right to vote independently. As a result, the electoral commission made efforts to improve access for persons with disabilities to polling centers. Haider Jassim, an individual with a physical disability, told Human Rights Watch he asked IHEC staff for assistance when he was unable to reach the second floor of the polling station in his wheelchair and was told that the ballot box could not be moved to accommodate him. Jassim explained to Human Rights Watch that he cited the previous IHEC announcements promoting accessibility, but staff stated they were unaware. Jassim returned to the polling station later in the day and with the help of a relative was able to access the second floor and vote, but he told Human Rights Watch that he knew many persons who were not able to vote due to accessibility problems.
The COR committee on labor and social affairs estimated there were three million persons with disabilities and stated there was deliberate negligence on the part of the government in addressing their needs. Local NGOs reported that despite the government adoption of a long-term strategy for sustainable development to persons with disabilities, the implementation of the program objectives remained poor throughout the year. Persons with disabilities continued to face difficulties in accessing health, education, and employment services.
The Ministry of Labor leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The Ministry of Labor operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry provided loan programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.
The constitution states the government, through law and regulations, provides for the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional provisions, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.
The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office.
The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs led a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry. KRG law prescribes greater protections for individuals with disabilities, including a requirement that 5 percent of persons with disabilities be employed in public-sector institutions and 3 percent with the private sector. The KRG provided a 100,000-dinar ($69) monthly stipend to government employees with disabilities and a 150,000-dinar ($102) stipend to those not employed by the KRG. A lack of funds led to less-than-full implementation of the law, including an inability to pay stipends to all persons with disabilities or register any new persons with disabilities for the stipend since 2013.
Disability rights advocates in the KRG reported that the IKR’s disability protections lacked implementation, including the 5 percent employment requirement. Lack of accessibility remained a problem with more than 98 percent of public buildings, parks, and transportation lacking adequate facilities to assist the more than 110,000 registered persons with disabilities in the region. Disability advocates reported employment was low among members of the community, and many youths with mental and physical disabilities lacked access to educational opportunities.
Persons with disabilities in the IKR frequently held protests and sit-ins to call on the KRG to improve their financial and living conditions. Disability unions stated they were discriminated against in terms of employment and that the social security payments they received from the government were not enough, especially as many had medical expenses. Persons with disabilities in the IKR reported societal discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment, including from teachers. The KRG ministry covering persons with disabilities reported it was unable to undertake public awareness campaigns to combat discrimination.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct if those engaging in the conduct are younger than age 18, while it does not criminalize any same-sex activities among adults. Despite repeated threats and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals. Some political parties sought to justify these attacks, and investigators often refused to employ proper investigation procedures. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination, and LGBTQI+ individuals reported they could not live openly without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers.
In June a transgender woman named Misho, also known as Shakib, disappeared in Sidakan while attempting to retrieve documents from her father to renew her passport. NGO contacts reported her father and brother killed Misho, but the KRG was still investigating the case and no arrest warrants had been issued as of December 22. Security forces launched an operation to arrest “suspected” LGBTQI+ individuals in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Operation supervisor Pshtiwan Bahadin told local media that security forces arrested those they suspected to be LGBTQI+ for immorality and used derogatory terms to describe the community. The KRG subsequently put out a statement denying that LGBTQI+ persons were targeted and stated security forces were breaking up commercial sex rings.
According to NGOs, persons in the country who experienced severe discrimination, torture, physical injury, and the threat of death based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics had no recourse to challenge those actions via courts or government institutions. During the year the IKR NGO Rasan faced three lawsuits, including one brought by Sulaymaniyah officials of the KRG Directorate of NGOs, which alleged Rasan violated the terms of the NGO bylaws and its registration (to work on gender-based violence and women’s matters) by providing services to and advocacy for LGBTQI+ individuals. A decision remained pending at year’s end.
The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabak, as well as members of ethnic and religious minority groups, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’is, Kaka’is, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani (Dom) community, as well as an estimated 1.5 to 2 million citizens of African descent who resided primarily in Basrah and adjoining provinces. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of discrimination as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.
The law does not permit some religious groups, including Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i, to register under their professed religions, which, although recognized in the IKR, remained unrecognized and illegal under federal Iraqi law. The law also forbids Muslims to convert to another religion. In the IKR this law was rarely enforced, and individuals were generally allowed to convert to other religious faiths without KRG interference (see sections 2.d. and section 6, Children).
Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, and other militias targeted members of ethnic and religious minority groups, as did the remaining active ISIS fighters.
Discrimination continued to stoke ethno-sectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year. Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, targeted members of ethnic and religious minority groups, as did remaining active ISIS fighters. Some government forces, including PMF units, forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethno-sectarian reasons. In January social media users created the hashtag “justice for Diyala,” reacting to a report published by a local NGO that highlighted human rights abuses by militias against Sunnis and other members of minority groups in disputed areas. The abuses included running outlaw detention facilities, blackmailing tradesmen, seizing properties owned by members of minority groups, and imposing royalties on local markets.
Many persons of African descent, some stateless, lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. They were not represented in politics, and members held no senior government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war.
Israel, West Bank and Gaza
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony for which conviction is punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. Killing a spouse following abuse is chargeable as murder under aggravated circumstances, with a sentence, if convicted, of life imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law.
In 2020 the number of requests for assistance involving rape to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers was 9 percent higher than in 2019. Authorities opened 1,362 investigations of suspected rape in 2020, compared with 1,399 in 2019. In January, five men were indicted for a gang rape and sodomy of a 17-year-old minor in Ashkelon during a two-week period, including allegedly giving the survivor hard drugs daily. One of the five was the survivor’s partner, and he allegedly encouraged the others to commit these acts and documented it.
On January 20, the president of the Supreme Court published a procedure intended to facilitate the process of testifying for survivors of sexual assault. The procedure includes escorting the survivor in the court, reducing waiting time in the court, mandating the presence of both male and female judges, and limiting interaction between the survivor and the perpetrator to a minimum.
During the year, 22 women and girls were killed by their male partners or by other family members. According to Israel Women’s Network, more than 200,000 women lived in situations of domestic violence. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ hotline received 7,977 calls regarding domestic violence cases between January and October, an increase of 10 percent from 2020. In June a woman was arrested and held in detention for four days after refusing to testify in court against her former husband, who allegedly abused and threatened her. Following her arrest, the woman testified while her legs were chained together and stated her complaint was false. She was released after her appearance in court. A representative of the Public Defender’s Office stated that more proportionate measures could have been used by authorities to ensure the woman’s testimony before the court.
According to Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs data, the number of reports of domestic violence tripled in the first two months of the year compared with the average in 2019 and were slightly higher than the 2020 average. A state comptroller’s report from June 30 highlighted insufficient funding, low investment in early identification, long waiting times for treatment, and early administrative release of violent men without rehabilitation as matters of concern in the country’s struggle against domestic violence. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs operated 16 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish communities. The ministry also operated a hotline to report domestic abuse, including a text-message-based hotline. The Ministry of Justice Legal Aid Department represented women seeking restraining and safety orders and defended them in domestic violence cases.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2020 the prosecution filed 47 indictments for sexual harassment, which represented 15 percent of the total number of cases referred to it for potential prosecution during the year, a similar percentage to 2019 statistics. According to a Civil Service Commission report, in 2020 there were 230 sexual harassment complaints submitted to its Department of Discipline, compared with 214 complaints in 2019. During 2020 the commission submitted 20 lawsuits to its disciplinary tribunal, compared with 15 in 2019.
On March 11, the Haifa District Court convicted actor Moshe Ivgy of four counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment. On July 12, the actor was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment, subsequent probation, and compensation for two of the victims.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. According to NGOs, Arab/Palestinian women citizens of Israel, particularly from the Bedouin population, women asylum seekers, and Palestinian women from East Jerusalem, had limited access to health-care services. Traditional practices in Orthodox Jewish communities often led women to seek approval from a rabbi to use contraception.
The country has maintained a pro-birth policy regarding reproductive care, subsidizing fertility treatments until age 45 but for the most part not subsidizing contraceptives, except for women under age 20 and women in the IDF.
Discrimination: The law provides generally for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and national laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business property. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but a wage gap between women and men persisted (see section 7.d.). Women and men are treated differently in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious courts responsible for the adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce.
The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, but both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry, and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the rabbinate without a writ of divorce. Rabbinical courts sometimes punished a husband who refused to grant his wife a divorce while also stating the courts lacked the authority under Jewish religious law to grant the divorce without a husband’s consent.
A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband or the wife and then registered through the Druze religious courts.
In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered the municipality to remove such signs in 2018. On July 1, the Supreme Court ordered the attorney general to develop a national enforcement policy within 90 days that would allow the implementation of the court’s verdict, due to the failure at the local level to remove such “modesty signs.” The court ruled that 30 days after the policy was in place, fines would be imposed on the municipality for lack of enforcement.
Publicly displayed photographs of women were regularly defaced in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations. According to media reports, due to failed enforcement against vandalism, some companies preferred to self-censor and not show women in their ads. In a December 2020 Knesset hearing, police stated they had opened 21 investigations following the vandalizing of women’s photographs in public spaces between 2018 and 2020; police closed 19 of these investigations without filing charges and transferred one to prosecutors.
Women’s rights organizations reported a continuing trend of gender segregation and women’s exclusion, including in public spaces and events, in the IDF, and in academia. In academia, segregation based on gender in classes originally meant to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox population expanded to entrances, labs, libraries, and hallways of academic spaces, based on the Council of Higher Education inspections revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. On July 12, the Supreme Court permitted a gender-segregated bachelor’s degree track for the purpose of increasing ultra-Orthodox integration in higher education but prohibited segregation in public spaces on campuses and called for the immediate cancelation of the policy prohibiting women lecturers from teaching men-only classes. Incidents of segregation were also reported in government and local authorities’ events and courses. For example, in April the Jerusalem Municipality published an ad for a gender-segregated event for children up to the age of nine. Following a letter by the Israel Women’s Network asserting this type of separation is illegal, the municipality opened the event to the public without segregation between the sexes.
There were numerous reports of discrimination against Mizrachi Jewish citizens (Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa), Ethiopian Jewish citizens, Arab and Druze Israeli citizens, as well as temporary workers from East, Southeast, and South Asia, and African migrants. Persons presenting as Asian reported experiencing harassment based on false beliefs they were responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, presumptions that they were low-wage workers or even commercial sex workers, and other indignities. Some immigrant laborers experienced poor and sometimes life-threatening working and living conditions (see section 7.e.).
During the May escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, intercommunal violence erupted between Jewish and Arab-Palestinian Israeli citizens leading to the death of four victims (see section 1.a.). On May 10, in the mixed Jewish-Arab city Lod, Jewish residents shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in what his father described as a “cold blood murder.” The prosecution indicted four Jewish suspects on the lesser charge for reckless homicide despite their initial investigation for the crime of murder, and the court subsequently released them to home arrest. Right-wing politicians argued that the suspects used firearms in self-defense while the family of the victim rejected this argument. On May 11, also in Lod, seven Arab suspects pelted the car of Yigal Yehoshua, hitting him in the head with a brick. On May 17, Yehoshua died from what was described by authorities as a terror attack. The prosecution filed an indictment against seven Arab suspects for murder charges. They were in detention, and the trial continued at year’s end. On May 11, in the northern mixed Jewish-Arab town Acre, Arab suspects set fire to the Jewish-owned Efendi hotel. Aby Har-Even, a guest staying at the hotel, sustained burns and suffered from smoke inhalation and on June 6, died. The prosecution indicted seven Arab citizens for arson but not for the death of Har-Even.
Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Ethiopian citizens faced persistent institutional and societal discrimination. Arab/Palestinian communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially due to organized crime and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Causes included a low level of police enforcement surrounding violence and organized crime within Arab communities; limited financial services and access to credit in Arab localities; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment (especially among youth), limited housing, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to the Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crime and violence exacerbated the situation, and surveys have shown Arab citizens trust police less than Jewish citizens do. Government actions to address the matters included: opening nine police stations in Arab towns since 2016, legislation setting minimum penalties, weapons collection operations, voluntary firearms submission programs, establishment of a military division designated to combat the flow of weapons from the IDF, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, and enhancing community policing and trust with the community.
According to the Abraham Initiatives, the number of killings in Arab society reached unprecedented levels with 126 victims, 107 Arab citizens and 19 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, compared with 96 in the year 2020, and 89 in 2019.
According to the government, police devoted attention and resources to strengthening law enforcement capabilities to address crime in these communities, reducing the circulation of weapons, and developing narcotics prevention and treatment services for Arab communities. These efforts are reflected, among other things, in the establishment of a special division for the prevention of crime in Arab communities (the “Saif” Division), establishing police stations, and consolidating existing stations in Arab communities. The Ministry of Public Security stated it works to promote legislative amendments to empower enforcement measures to combat crime and violence in Arab communities. Several government decisions have been initiated in this regard.
Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.
Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.
There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab/Palestinian citizens. Some Arab/Palestinian civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab/Palestinian minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab/Palestinian community or portrayed it as an enemy.
In 2018 the Knesset passed the “Nation-State Law,” changing Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognized the right to national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people” and called for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within “the land of Israel,” which Israeli-Arab/Palestinian organizations and leaders feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. On July 8, the Supreme Court rejected 15 petitions against the Nation-State Law in a 10-1 ruling, with the single Arab justice dissenting.
The High Court ruled there were no grounds for judicial intervention to rule the law unconstitutional but added that its provisions must be interpreted in light of the country’s other basic laws, which specifically address the dual character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Adalah stated in response that the court had enshrined Jewish supremacy and racial segregation as founding principles of the Israeli state, while ACRI said the law was enacted with the direct aim of hurting the Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and to make them second-class citizens. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in the country to second-class-citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities.
The justice minister welcomed the court’s decision, saying it was an important law which forms another chapter in the country’s constitution. The minister added the law enshrines the essence and character of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and does not infringe on the individual rights of any citizen.
In 2020 PHRI published a report based on data and surveys of the Central Bureau of Statistics indicating significant health gaps between Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizen populations. The Arab/Palestinian citizen population was found to be lagging in life expectancy, infant mortality, morbidity, self-assessed health, diabetes, obesity, smoking rates and more. The report’s findings point to gaps, sometimes significant, in the quality of health-care services provided to the country’s Arab/Palestinian residents compared to Jewish residents. These gaps emerged particularly with respect to primary care in the community and to a much lesser degree in terms of specialist care. In 2020 further gaps emerged with respect to the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In June 2020 several Jewish Israelis attacked Muhammad Nasasrah, allegedly after they heard him speak Arabic. Joint List member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi criticized police for failing to investigate the incident. In November 2020 the prosecution filed an indictment against three suspects for “assault under aggravated circumstances.” Their trial continued at year’s end.
Throughout the year, there were reports of nationalistic hate crimes by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and property, often with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interest. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association. The government further classifies a price-tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. According to police, the most common offenses were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. For example, on March 12, unknown perpetrators set cars on fire and sprayed graffiti, a Star of David, and the writing “enough with intermarriage” in the village of Ein Naqquba in central Israel. According to the NGO Tag Meir, the assailants also poured gasoline on the home of two families, including on the window of the room occupied by two young children, and tried to set it on fire. On March 12, police opened an investigation into the incident.
On September 1, the Jerusalem Juvenile Court acquitted five minors indicted for incitement to terror and violence in 2015 after celebrating the killing of a Palestinian family in an arson attack by Jewish individuals by waving rifles and stabbing with knives a photo of one of the victims in what became known as the “hate wedding.” On October 14, the prosecution petitioned against the acquittal of four of the five minors. The trial against eight adults who participated in the attack continued at year’s end.
The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12.2 percent (61.5 percent of whom were entry-level employees), according to the Civil Service Commission. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent. During the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to the nonpartisan NGO Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality (Sikkuy).
Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation examination at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. Between the academic year of 2009-10 and 2020, the percentage of Arab students enrolled increased significantly: in the undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) grants the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab/Palestinian citizen of Israel wins a bid. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the Lands Administration Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the executive council at year’s end.
The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 268,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, none of the residences were connected to the electrical grid or the water infrastructure system, according to the NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electrical grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.
Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services (see section 1.e. regarding demolition and restitution for Bedouin property). Residents of unrecognized villages have no shelters or safe rooms from rockets, and the Iron Dome Missile Defense System did not provide coverage for many of the Bedouin villages since the government considers them to be “open spaces.”
According to an August 4 state comptroller report on the Bedouin population in the Negev, large discrepancies existed between the Settlement Authority and the Ministry of Interior Population Authority regarding the number of registered Bedouin, who numbered around 268,000, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. For example, according to 2018 data from the Population Authority, the estimated number of Bedouin living in the seven local authorities of the Negev was 46,000 higher than the number of Bedouin registered with the Settlement Authority. According to the state comptroller, the absence of complete data on the number of residents physically living within the jurisdiction of each of the localities impacted the budgeting, planning, and infrastructure decisions of local authorities and harmed implementation of education, welfare, health, transportation, and communication programs.
The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visits to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.
An estimated population of 159,500 Ethiopian Jews experienced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them.
The trial against an off-duty police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli Selomon Teka in 2019 on charges of negligence continued at the year’s end. On February 11, the officer was returned to his position. The following day, due to public outcry, the police commissioner announced the officer would instead take on administrative duties as a coordinator between police and the Fire and Rescue Department. His trial continued at the year’s end.
On January 25, the Supreme Court ruled that police must develop a procedure with clear criteria to request identification without reasonable suspicion. This followed a petition filed in court by NGOs, which argued the procedure led to racial profiling and the targeting of Ethiopian-Israelis and other minority populations. In July police issued a procedure by which officers may request identification without reasonable cause in a very limited set of cases. Petitioning NGOs submitted requests for an additional hearing, asserting the procedure still allowed profiling; on December 29, the court rejected the requests. On May 3, the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court ruled a police officer illegally searched and questioned a 16-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli boy in 2018 and identified him as a potential criminal based on the color of his skin. The court ordered police to pay compensation to him.
On August 4, the state comptroller published a report on law enforcement authorities’ treatment of Ethiopian-Israelis. The report examined changes implemented since a 2015 plan to increase trust between Ethiopian-Israelis and police as well as the 2018 interministerial team’s recommendations to combat racism and discrimination, including in law enforcement bodies. Between 2015 and 2019, the report found there was a decrease of 4 percent in the number of arrests and 2 percent in the number of investigations of Ethiopian-Israelis, but the rate of detention, police investigations, and indictments for Ethiopian-Israelis adults was almost double that of the general population and nearly four times higher for minors. According to the report, the number of criminal prosecutions that included a racist motive decreased from 33 in 2015 to nine in 2019, contrary to the perception of populations affected by racism. The report cited a 2019 police survey indicating only 13 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli respondents had trust in police. The report found the number of complaints to DIPO by Ethiopian-Israelis was double the rate of complaints by the general population between 2017 and 2020. The report also found that the lack of a statistical breakdown of complaints against police for racism, profiling, discrimination, and over-policing by population prevented a proper assessment of the situation and potential actions for improvement. According to the report, the Antiracism Coordinating Government Unit within the Ministry of Justice worked to combat institutional racism by receiving complaints and referring them to the relevant government authorities, but its effectiveness was limited as it had no enforcement authority or professional status vis-a-vis DIPO or police.
On February 4, Adalah sent a letter to the attorney general, minister of finance, minister of defense, and the Israel Land Authority demanding the cancellation of housing development projects and associated land allocations in construction of neighborhoods exclusively for Israeli military personnel. Adalah argued it constituted illegal residential discrimination and segregation against Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel who are exempted from military service.
On April 22, the Supreme Court issued a conditional order instructing the government to include Arab local authorities in the Northern Triangle area in its National Priority Area Plan which establishes certain areas eligible for housing, construction, and land development benefits. In its ruling the court further asked the government to explain why Arab localities were excluded from benefits received by neighboring Jewish localities. On October 6, the court ordered the government to respond by March 2022.
Birth Registration: Regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of the country, children derive citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, provided the child resides with the parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Births should be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.
On July 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition of a same-sex couple who demanded to make the process of registering parenthood for lesbian couples equal to that of heterosexual couples. The Israel LGBTI Task Force criticized the ruling and stated that the government chose to continue wrongful discrimination, which led to what the task force called “bureaucratic torture.” A petition by 34 lesbian mothers against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders, was pending at year’s end.
For children of nonresident parents, including those who lack legal status in the country, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate. The Supreme Court confirmed in a 2018 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.
The government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays may last for years. The St. Yves Society estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.
According to an April 12 report by the NGO Elem, in the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, minors experienced significant worsening of various indices of wellbeing compared with 2019, including a 160 percent increase in reported depression and anxiety, a 180 percent increase in drug and alcohol use, a 250 percent increase in physical and verbal violence, and in reports of loneliness, with 426 incidents of self-harm reported in 2020 compared with 237 in 2019.
According to a November 2 Knesset report, 11,855 complaints were processed at the Child Online Protection Bureau hotline in 2020, an increase of 65 percent from 2019. Sexual offenses accounted for 25 percent of all complaints, followed by complaints involving the distribution of embarrassing photographs and videos, boycotts, or bullying (14 percent).
Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.
The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to the NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools.
Following the nationwide closure of schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs stated that approximately 50,000 Bedouin students were unable to participate in distance learning because they lacked access to computers and tablets and their schools lacked access to funding and infrastructure to implement Ministry of Health hygiene and social distancing regulations.
There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated that in the 2020-21 school year, there was a shortage of 2,840 classrooms for Palestinian children who were residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim reported that following a freedom of information request, Jerusalem Municipality stated it did not know where an estimated 37,233 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were enrolled in school. According to Ir Amim, this figure constituted 26.9 percent of East Jerusalem children of compulsory school age. The government operated public schools for Jewish children in which classes were conducted in Hebrew that were separate from schools for Arab children, whose classes were conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children, separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.
The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge parents tuition, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.
Jewish schoolgirls continued to be denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools based on Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha. In August parents of Mizrahi schoolgirls in Elad, together with the Justice Ministry Legal Aid, filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court arguing that admissions examinations for ultra-Orthodox high school seminaries in the city were meant to exclude Mizrahi girls. The petition had yet to be acted on by year’s end.
Several municipalities segregated children of African asylum seekers and other children in schools (see section 2.f.).
There was no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents were Arab. As a result, most Arab students there attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages.
On April 20, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by ACRI on behalf of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel parents from Nof Hagalil demanding that the court order the municipality and the Ministry of Education to open an Arabic-language school for the population of approximately 3,000 Arab students. According to Haaretz, ACRI called the decision “saddening” but noted that the ruling had spoken to “the serious failure of the education system in Nof Hagalil, which neglects Arab students, who constitute a third of the city’s students, and sends them to the education system in Nazareth.” Despite rejecting the petition, the court’s ruling noted that the situation was unacceptable and the municipality was obligated to change it.
Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were survivors of, engaged in, or coerced into commercial sexual exploitation, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors.
According to local government officials and human rights organizations, Gaza fence protests, air-raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near Gaza, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than 16 if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources. In 2020 the Supreme Court ordered police to reexamine the request of a Bedouin woman, a survivor of two early and forced marriages who killed her second husband, to be recognized as a trafficking victim. The court ruled that while forced marriages did not constitute a trafficking offense in and of themselves, there was a possibility that such marriages could constitute trafficking if their purpose was to allow for sexual exploitation or forced labor or if they placed an individual at risk. At year’s end, despite the court’s order to re-examine the evidence, authorities had not granted the woman status as a trafficking victim.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty for conviction of seven to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of Public Security operated a hotline to receive complaints of activities that seek to harm children online, such as bullying, dissemination of hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and pressure to commit suicide.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between the age of 14 and 16 constitutes statutory rape for which conviction is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s report Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Jews constituted close to 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often treated crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.
The government has laws and mechanisms in place regarding claims for the return of or compensation for Holocaust-era assets. Relevant laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.
For additional information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, and transportation, the judicial system, and other government services. The government generally enforced these laws. On November 4, the Knesset postponed until 2023 the deadline for making all government buildings accessible to persons with disabilities, five years past the original deadline. In August the Government Housing Administration estimated that 17 percent of public buildings would remain inaccessible for individuals with disabilities by the year’s end.
The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2020, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 61 percent of government agencies met this requirement. According to rights groups, Arab/Palestinian persons with disabilities suffer disproportionally from a lack of access to housing, public buildings, transportation, higher education, and information in Arabic from the government regarding their rights. For example, according to a report by the NGO Bizchut, the rate of Arab/Palestinian persons with disabilities receiving housing services from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs was five times lower than that of Jewish persons with disabilities, due to reasons that included lack of appropriate funding, outreach, and sufficient manpower.
On June 17, DIPO indicted a border police officer for reckless homicide after he allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian man with autism in Jerusalem after the man failed to heed the officer’s calls to stop (see section 1.a.).
On February 16, an interministerial committee published its recommendations on improving law enforcement responses in encounters with persons with disabilities. The committee’s recommendations include establishing emergency multidisciplinary intervention teams to respond to calls or complaints involving persons with disabilities, encouraging employment of persons with disabilities in law enforcement, developing programs to promote their interests, and improving interactions with persons with disabilities through tools such as message cards, emergency cards, kits in emergency vehicles, rights advisors, and contact with families.
Discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal and, according to the Israel AIDS Task Force, institutional discrimination was rare.
On September 18, the Ministry of Health announced that the prohibition on blood donations by men who have sex with men would expire on October 1. Instead, the ministry implemented a rule stipulating that those wishing to donate blood would have to wait three months in case they had engaged in “high-risk sex with a new partner or multiple partners.”
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in goods, services, and employment. The government generally enforced the law, although some discrimination, including in employment and housing, persisted against LGBTQI+ persons. Intersex, transgender, and other gender diverse persons lack protections from discrimination based on gender identity, expression, and sex characteristics.
On March 23, Avi Maoz, the head of the Noam Party which ran on an anti-LGBTQI+ platform, was elected to the Knesset as a part of the Religious Zionist Party. On August 2, Maoz compared homosexuality to pedophilia. On August 4, Religious Zionist head Bezalel Smotrich stated a pride parade caused the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19. The Ministry of Education rejected his statement, and Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz referred to the statement as a combination of ignorance, populism, frustration, and hate.
Some violent incidents against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year led to arrests and police investigations. For example, on April 4, a group of 15 youth attacked a man in Rishon LeZion after asking him if he was gay. They punched and kicked him until he was rescued by a taxi driver, who took him to his friend’s car. The group then vandalized and caused damage to the car. Police detained and released two individuals as a part of their investigation. As of the year’s end, there were no indictments in the case.
On August 8, two siblings were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder as a part of a plea bargain after stabbing their 16-year-old brother outside an LGBTQI+ youth shelter in 2019 due to his sexual orientation. They were sentenced to 14 years’ and six years’ imprisonment, a fine, and payment of compensation to the survivor. A third individual, a friend of the siblings, was convicted of aiding and abetting the crime and sentenced to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, a fine, and payment of compensation to the survivor.
On August 10, the Tel Aviv District Court ordered the release of an ultra-Orthodox minor from a psychiatric ward on the grounds that his family had pushed for his forced hospitalization due to his perceived sexual orientation. The family initially argued that the minor was aggressive and threatening but during the appeal, which was submitted by the minor with the assistance of the Ministry of Justice, retracted this statement. The court ruled a major reason for the hospitalization was the clash due to the parent’s values regarding the minor’s homosexuality and added that sexual orientation does not justify forced hospitalization.
Conversion therapy took place mainly within Jewish and Muslim religious communities. The law allows for conversion therapy, but the Ministry of Health has warned the public against it, and Israeli mental health associations considered it an ethical and professional offense.
On June 29, the head of the Mitzpe Ramon local council published a letter indicating his opposition to holding the city’s first pride parade. He wrote that he did not recognize the pride flag and refused to refer to LGBTQI+ persons as a community, only as individuals who are not ordinary who should not “externalize their sexual orientation.” He speculated that the real goal of the community wasn’t to legitimize same-sex attraction but rather to “break the social solidarity while challenging norms that bring society together – religion, nationality, and family.” In place of a pride parade, the LGBTQI+ community held a demonstration in Mitzpe Ramon that was attended by hundreds.
Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians, including two stabbing attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups (see section 2.g., Conflict-related Abuses).
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of any individual age 15 or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. The law makes prosecution mandatory for felony offenses, including rape. Nonfelony offenses, such as certain cases of domestic violence, are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases, with consent of the victim. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape.
Violence against women was prevalent. While the reported number of “honor” crimes decreased, local NGOs reported an increase in domestic violence. As of September a human rights NGO reported that 13 women died from domestic violence.
In January two men were charged with the attempted murder of their sister. The victim, identified only as Ayah, remained hospitalized in a coma for a month. Police reported Ayah had previously been hospitalized in December 2020 after an earlier assault by one of the brothers, who was then referred to the governor but released without charges.
In August the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), a civil society organization chaired by the queen, launched guidelines for responding to domestic violence against women and children. Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. Due to social taboos and degrading treatment at police stations, however, gender-based crimes often went unreported. NGOs also highlighted that there were no official figures on the prevalence of violence against unmarried girls and women age 50 years and over.
In January the Grand Criminal Court sentenced a man to seven and one-half years’ imprisonment with hard labor for sexually assaulting his 16-year-old daughter more than 300 times. Social media activists and women’s rights advocates condemned the sentence as too lenient relative to the scope of the crime and called for legal reform to eliminate the use of mitigating factors by judges when imposing sentences for such crimes.
The FPD investigated more than 4,000 cases during the year, referring 90 cases to government shelters and more than 100 to a nongovernmental shelter. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court and asserted that courts routinely dropped two-thirds of assault cases that resulted in little or no physical injury. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed cultural authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure and fear of violence such as “honor” killings, few women sought legal remedies.
In March the PSD announced the merger of the Juvenile Police Department with the FPD to unify efforts aimed at protecting children and families. The PSD, the judiciary, and the Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Development jointly developed a formal mediation process, including a manual with guidelines. A specialized “settlement” judge must oversee the resolution of each case and confirm consent of both parties, receiving recommendations from mental health providers and social workers, and may order community service, quash criminal charges, and issue protection orders.
NGO representatives reported fewer women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes but more women at risk of domestic violence. According to international human rights organizations operating in the country, gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotional and physical abuse, often perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the family, were the most common forms of abuse.
Governors used the crime prevention law to detain women administratively for their protection. The Ministry of Social Development operated a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. As of October the Amman-based shelter for women at risk of “honor” crimes had served 268 women, including administrative detainees from the Juweideh women’s correctional and rehabilitation center, women referred to the shelter by the FPD, and women directly referred to the shelter by governors. The Ministry of Social Development amended the shelter’s bylaws to allow children younger than age 10 to accompany their mothers, including mothers who had previously been detained under protective custody.
The FPD operated a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via email and in person. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid. NGO reports indicated, prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that all government-run shelters were operating well below capacity.
The NCFA published a three-year national plan to respond to gender-based violence, domestic violence, and child protection. NGOs reported that health-care providers and teachers were still hesitant to report abuse due to the absence of witness protection guarantees. Specialized judges continued expediting domestic violence cases; misdemeanor cases took approximately three days to resolve, according to the FPD. The NCFA assisted the government in developing mediation guidelines.
NGOs reported improvements to domestic violence-related procedures and policies in law enforcement and the judiciary, since revisions recommended by an NCFA committee established in the wake of protests concerning the handling of a 2020 case in which a man allegedly bludgeoned his adult daughter to death with a brick. In March the Grand Felonies Court convicted a man who had gouged out his wife’s eyes in 2019, a case known as the Jerash crime, of premeditated murder and sentenced him to 30 years’ imprisonment with hard labor.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Civil society organizations stated that many “honor” crimes went unreported, especially in nonurban areas.
In June a man beat his 21-year-old daughter, identified as Rania, to death with an electric cable. NGOs suspected it was an “honor” killing case. The grand felonies prosecutor charged the father with torturing and murdering his daughter. The father remained in detention, and the case was still in process as of mid-November. The killing provoked popular anger and calls on social media for justice for Rania and other women killed by their families.
There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential “honor” killing during the year. NGOs noted that a few cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape, due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that, according to customary belief, if a woman marries her rapist, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” despite a law ending the practice of absolving rapists who married their victims. Nevertheless, NGOs noted that this law helped reduce such instances and encouraged more women to report rape, especially since the establishment of the shelter.
Governors referred potential victims of “honor” crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter instead of involuntary protective custody in a detention facility. During the year governors directly referred 10 women to the shelter. Most cases were referred by the FPD and NGOs.
The law authorizes DNA tests and other scientific means to identify paternity of a newborn associated with “rape, deception, and deceit.”
Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years’ hard labor. The law also sets penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment but does not define protections against sexual harassment. The government did not effectively enforce the law; sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign workers, particularly garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The law permits couples the basic right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraceptives were widely accessible and provided free of charge in public clinics. Hormonal and emergency contraceptives and medical abortion drugs were not included on the government’s over-the-counter list, according to UK-based scientific journal Bio Med Central (BMC). According to estimates in the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2020, 21 percent of women ages 15-49 years used a modern method of contraception. BMC reported that sexual and reproductive services were underutilized by youth.
Advocates raised concerns regarding barriers to services for unmarried women and access problems for women and girls with disabilities, including consent for hysterectomies. Human rights groups raised concerns regarding the treatment of single women who give birth at hospitals, including hospital staff’s reporting them to authorities.
There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no governmental policies limiting family size.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including rape kits and forensic examinations, for survivors of sexual violence, but emergency contraception was generally not available, limiting clinical management of rape. According to an NGO, health professionals did not consistently use trauma-informed practices when interacting with victims, and the quality of care varied throughout the country.
Another NGO reported unmarried victims of rape who became pregnant faced difficulties gaining access to safe delivery and establishing legal status for their children.
Adolescent girls and unmarried women who became pregnant were routinely transferred to government-funded shelters where they could receive educational services, although the quality varied. Social norms prevented underaged girls who became pregnant from attending school.
Discrimination: The constitution affords equal rights to men and women. Nonetheless, observers continued to emphasize the relevant passage’s ambiguity, and the women’s subcommittee of the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System recommended clarifying definitions of equality in the constitution in a report published in October.
In February the PSD launched its first gender-mainstreaming strategy for the years 2021 to 2024. Prior to the launch, female officers mainly served in traffic police and family protection capacities. This strategy opened all PSD positions to female officers, including positions in the Criminal Investigative and Anti-Narcotics Departments, and aimed to recruit young women and retain officers after marriage by instituting family friendly policies. The PSD established a gender office in February to implement the strategy and train PSD leaders on its tenets. The Jordan Armed Forces also launched its own strategy in September to increase women’s participation, including recruitment, retention, and advancement in leadership positions. Observing this strategy, the armed forces began to accept more female pilots into the air academy and deployed more women in UN peacekeeping missions.
The law does not necessarily provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in several areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court handling civil law matters. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a quasi-governmental organization, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.
NGOs reported a disproportionate number of individuals charged with nonrepayment of debt were women unable to repay loans they had taken out on behalf of their male family members. In March a defense order suspended prison sentences penalizing the nonrepayment of debt through December 31, and an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 individuals were released from debt imprisonment. This order echoed a Judicial Council decision in April 2020 postponing the jailing of debtors with unpaid debts less than JD 100,000 ($141,000).
The Ministry of Labor designated an office for handling discrimination claims in the workplace for both men and women. Local NGOs advocated for better representation of women in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. In March the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported Jordanian women held 62 percent of leadership positions in the education sector but just 2.7 percent of leadership positions in the overall economy. Additionally, World Bank research found the pay gap between Jordanian men and women was 40 percent in the private sector and 28 percent in the public sector. Some NGOs criticized the absence of provisions on maternity leave, childcare, and access to equal health insurance for female workers.
Under the Personal Status Law that applies sharia rulings, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive, with some exceptions. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances, such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special religious courts for recognized Christian denominations under the Council of Churches adjudicate marriage and divorce for Christians, but for inheritance, sharia applies to all persons, irrespective of religion.
Since the start of the pandemic, by order of the sharia court, alimony for women was paid electronically or through the Jordan Post Office. Due to suspension of work and salaries in some cases, the court resorted to the Alimony Credit Fund to pay women and children’s alimony.
The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Family members who inherited the pension payments of deceased civil servants received differing amounts according to the heir’s gender. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses.
The law allows a non-Muslim mother to retain custody of her Muslim children beyond the age of seven (the previous limit).
Four distinct groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including the PRS covered in section 2.f. Many of these individuals reportedly faced some discrimination. Palestinians and their children who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship. The same applied to Palestinians who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Palestinians and their children still holding residency in the West Bank after the 1967 war were not entitled to citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees and their children who fled Gaza after the 1967 war were not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These refugees had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA.
Jordanians of Palestinian heritage were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships but were well represented in the private sector.
Other minority populations in Jordan include Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Assyrians, Bani Murra (Jordanian/Syrian “Roma” regionally known as “Dom”), in addition to the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and Sudanese refugee populations (see section 2.f.). Minority Rights Group International reported the Bani Murra faced widespread prejudice and hostility across the region, suffered from high rates of poverty, and had limited access to education, employment, and government services.
Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country. The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers that differed from the standard national identification numbers given to most citizens. This made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. National identification numbers do not change during a person’s lifetime and are used in all forms of identification. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and resided in the country for at least five years, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including basic education; subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a driver’s license; and receive employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau.
By law children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. The cabinet may then approve citizenship for these children under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred. NGOs continued to lobby the government to make access to social services less onerous.
Authorities separated children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody.
Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency faced obstacles enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). See section 2.f. for information on access to education for refugees.
Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child younger than 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and death.
In March the SSC reached a decision in the case of gang members accused of torturing a 16-year-old boy (identified as Saleh), cutting off his hands and gouging out his eyes, allegedly to avenge the death of a gang member killed by the boy’s father during an extortion attempt in 2020. The court convicted the defendants of terrorizing society, forming a gang, indecent assault, criminal kidnapping, causing permanent disability, possession of an unlicensed firearm, resisting arrest, and attempted murder. Six of the perpetrators were sentenced to death, one in absentia, despite calls by human rights organizations not to bring back the death penalty, while the court acquitted seven others. The court also sentenced one defendant to 10 years in prison, another to 15 years, and two others to one year.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as age 16 may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between age 16 and 18 would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract. A local NGO reported higher rates of child marriages during the year. Early and forced marriage among refugee populations remained high. During the year a large number of marriages of Syrians in the country involved an underage bride, according to many sources. According to local and international organizations, some Syrian refugee families initiated early marriages for their daughters to help mitigate the stresses of poverty.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment for the commercial exploitation of children. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons younger than age 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.
Displaced Children: Within the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.f.).
Institutionalized Children: Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The Ministry of Social Development monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.
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 Parent Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews, without government response. In December 2020 a government university professor publicly denied the Holocaust. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust and used anti-Semitic tropes. Some private-school curriculums included information on the Holocaust. Increased anti-Semitic hate speech on social media appeared to coincide with escalated tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Organ harvesting is considered a cross-border trafficking-in-persons crime and was the third-most committed trafficking offense after forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to the PSD. The PSD’s Counter Trafficking Unit started tracking social media activity to locate potential perpetrators. There were reports of six organ harvesting cases as of October.
The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.
UN Development Program surveys conducted in April and November 2020 detailed more than 85 percent of the most vulnerable households, including those with persons with disabilities, reported facing significant challenges in meeting their basic needs. According to the report, persons with disabilities were more likely to be impoverished, less likely to have access to education, and more likely to face long-term health consequences.
The law tasks the Ministry of Public Works’ Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting existing buildings to comply with building codes. Most private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure, such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections, was largely not accessible. The HCD continued implementing the 10-year Strategy on Accessibility, a plan to make existing buildings and public facilities accessible.
The PSD’s national 911 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech disabilities by using sign language over a video call with specially trained officers on duty. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when interacting with government offices without a representative who could communicate via sign language.
Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education. The NCHR noted school classrooms were not fully accessible and that there was a limited number of qualified teachers for children with disabilities. The NCHR reported that the appointment of qualified teachers was restricted since the activation of the defense law in 2020, imposing a temporary moratorium (still in effect as of year’s end) on new appointments and the secondment of personnel in ministries, government departments, and public official institutions and bodies. Families of children with disabilities reported further obstacles from COVID-19 prevention measures.
Human rights activists and media reported cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions. As of October, three government-run centers were permanently shut down, and three were suspended for at least two months, mostly due to incidences of staff-member violence against beneficiaries. The Ministry of Social Development conducted intensive inspections and visits to ensure remedies were in place. On March 7, the ministry formed a joint investigative committee with the Higher Council for the Rights of People with Disabilities following the death of a 45-year-old man at a ministry-run shelter for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The shelter was shut down for three months and beneficiaries were transferred to another facility; an investigation remained underway at year’s end. News websites shared a video reportedly from security cameras at the shelter showing staff apparently mistreating and assaulting shelter residents. The prosecutor charged an employee with negligence, and the ministry suspended another employee until the investigation’s conclusion.
The HCD’s Complaints Division received 10 complaints of abuse. Four of those were domestic violence and were referred to the Family Protection Department for investigation. The remaining cases were complaints against staff in public and private organizations.
HIV and AIDS were largely taboo subjects. Lack of public awareness remained a problem because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTQI+ community. Society stigmatized individuals with HIV, and those individuals largely concealed their medical status. Individuals with HIV are not eligible for disability pensions. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes toward persons with HIV or AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. According to NGOs, detention centers placed detainees with HIV in solitary confinement to prevent them from mixing with other detainees. The government deported migrant workers and refugees who were diagnosed with HIV. The Ministry of Health enforced a policy to deny access to antiretroviral drugs for those awaiting deportation. Palestinian refugees with HIV were treated as Jordanian citizens and permitted to remain in the country. Refugees of other nationalities, including Syrian and Iraqi refugees, were deported to either their home countries or other countries.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not criminalized, societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was prevalent. According to a security official, these relationships were largely seen as “unacceptable by Jordan’s conservative society.” LGBTQI+ persons were frequently targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault, and authorities provided them with no legal protection. Local activists reported a significant increase in the number of cases of LGBTQI+ individuals seeking support or reporting domestic violence during COVID-related lockdowns.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. LGBTQI+ community leaders reported that most LGBTQI+ individuals kept their sexual orientation or gender identity secret due to fear of societal or government discrimination. LGBTQI+ individuals reported their reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. Some LGBTQI+ individuals reported that authorities responded appropriately to reports of crime in some cases.
Authorities arrested LGBTQI+ individuals on the pretext of violating public order or public decency ordinances. LGBTQI+ citizens faced regular administrative or arbitrary detentions, harassment including informal interrogation, and monitoring from state actors. During the year authorities shut down at least two events associated with the LGBTQI+ community and arrested participants under public decency laws. Activists planned a virtual event in mid-June to discuss the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. A member of parliament declared the event contradictory to the country’s values and traditions, referred to LGBTQI+ persons using denigrating terminology, and alerted the Ministry of Interior, which subsequently shut down the virtual event. Authorities also arrested 14 individuals in July during an LGBTQI+ gathering at a private residence after monitoring their social media pages.
Members of the LGBTQI+ community confirmed they generally lacked safe spaces and reported being targeted by the police upon leaving any of the few associated with the community. In July an NGO reported police detained 30 visitors at the NGO’s center on suspicion of “Satan worship,” a justification sometimes used to harass LGBTQI+ persons, according to NGO representatives. Authorities later claimed the NGO conducted “public LGBTQI+ activities.” Police released 12 individuals within 24 hours of the incident and released the remaining 18 within days. None of the individuals were officially charged.
LGBTQI+ persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. Individuals have reported being fired from jobs or denied professional opportunities because of their LGBTQI+ identity. Some experienced extortion and threats of being fired, disinherited, disowned, arrested, or prosecuted. Several LGBTQI+ individuals found it impossible to live in the country due to their LGBTQI+ identity and therefore left the country or were in the process of doing so. Many feared for their lives or abuse at the hands of family members or authorities. Parents were customarily allowed to request informal “warrants” from security services for children, including adult-age children, to suspend their movement inside the country, prevent travel abroad, or require authorities to forcibly return them to family custody, even if family members had previously threatened that person’s life. In cosmopolitan circles, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy loosely allowed LGBTQI+ individuals to socialize discreetly. LGBTQI+ members of the growing working classes and refugee communities were more vulnerable to police harassment and assault with impunity than individuals who belonged to politically connected families or to tribes the authorities were hesitant to harass.
Relatively few shelters accepted LGBTQI+ cases, and the facilities and NGOs that served the community lacked sufficient funding and services.
Open discussion of LGBTQI+ individuals and topics was controversial due to a generally traditional culture among all citizens, regardless of faith. The Media Commission banned books and blocked websites containing LGBTQI+ content. Government regulations on NGO registration and foreign funding largely prevented civil society groups from working on activities with perceived links to the LGBTQI+ community.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but not spousal rape. The law covers rape for men and women. Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime. The courts issued verdicts for 198 cases of sexual assault including rape. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences from five to 20 years. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. The law allows a rapist to avoid punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her male guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. Violence against women continued to be a problem, and the law does not include separate criminal penalties for domestic violence. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of sexual assault and domestic violence, which service providers stated contributes to a culture of underreporting by rape and domestic violence survivors.
When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape, and in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In July the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a former government official for kidnapping and raping a Bidoon child. As of November the alleged perpetrator was in pretrial detention. In September the Criminal Court sentenced a male citizen to 15 years in prison for raping an expatriate woman.
Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on domestic violence, cases of domestic violence against women were regularly reported by local NGOs. These NGOs noted an increase in cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts issued verdicts for 991 domestic violence cases, including 662 cases of violence against women. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences from six months to 20 years, and some were sentenced to the death penalty. Service providers observed that domestic violence was significantly underreported to authorities, but press publicized some high-profile cases.
In April a citizen man stabbed to death a citizen woman after he crashed his car into her sister’s car and kidnapped her and her daughter. She had previously filed two police complaints against the perpetrator for harassing and threatening her for more than a year after her family had refused his marriage proposal. In July the Criminal Court charged the perpetrator with first degree murder and sentenced him to death by hanging. In September the Criminal Court referred a citizen man responsible for the September 2020 killing of his sister for examination by mental health experts. Press reports indicated that the accused man killed his sister while she was recovering in the hospital from an initial attempt on her life by another brother. Media asserted the men attacked their sister because they did not approve of her marriage.
In February activists launched a countrywide social media campaign under the name Lan Asket (“I will not be silenced”) to raise awareness and end violence against women. The campaign encouraged women to submit their experiences online and documented numerous reports of women facing violence and harassment. Women’s rights activists also documented numerous stories of citizen and female foreign workers seeking help to leave an abusive situation who faced significant obstacles or were forced to remain in life-threatening situations because government has not yet opened a shelter for victims of domestic violence. As of December the Ministry of Social Affairs assigned a building for a domestic violence shelter with capacity for up to 100 women and hired at least six staff to work at the shelter and operate the domestic violence hotline.
A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. In domestic violence cases, a woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries, in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse. Advocates reported that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers are not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances were also their abusers. Information on the number of cases and final and appealable sentences issued for rape and domestic violence was unavailable.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): While FGM/C is illegal, it is not specifically criminalized by law outside of the penal code provisions prohibiting physical violence and abuse. NGOs have reported its practice in some expatriate communities. Parents and doctors found to be participating in FGM/C can be fined.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law provided reduced penalties for a man who murders a woman who allegedly engaged in an adulterous act, which NGOs have asserted legalizes honor killings. The government does not track honor killings or publish data on honor killings.
Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and mostly unreported problem. The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, but many activists, legal experts, and members of parliament have stated they are not satisfied with the penal code and called for a separate law to criminalize sexual harassment in February. In reference to the penal code, in September the government announced that sexual harassment is prohibited in the private sector workplace and that PAM is responsible for referring cases of sexual harassment and discrimination to the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prohibition also includes “all forms and means of harassment and discrimination,” including online and discrimination based on gender, age, pregnancy, or social status. PAM, however, has not announced the implementation of any procedures to report violations of the prohibition. The law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching persons against their will to rape, but police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced fines and imprisonment.
There were no reports of government interference in the right of married couples to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of children. There were no reports of government interference in the ability to access information on reproductive health. Social and cultural attitudes, however, prevented unmarried women from seeking out this information and some physicians were reluctant to administer certain procedures, such as pap smears, to unmarried women despite there being no law against it. The information and means to make decisions, as well as skilled attendance during prenatal care, essential obstetric care, childbirth, and postpartum care were freely available to citizens and foreign residents with valid identification documents. Many stateless Bidoon and unmarried women reportedly had difficulty accessing nonemergency reproductive medical care.
While the government did not provide any formal family planning programs, contraceptives were available without prescription regardless of nationality, age, or marital status. Clinics were prohibited from providing any advice on contraceptives to unmarried women, however. Cultural stigmas discouraged unmarried women from accessing contraceptives. According to UN Population Fund 2021 estimates, 34 percent of women ages 15-49 used a modern type of contraceptives. It is illegal to give birth out of wedlock, and a mother who gives birth out of wedlock can be imprisoned along with her child. Fathers of children born out of wedlock can also be imprisoned. If an unmarried woman was pregnant, authorities have at times summoned her partner for interviewing, requested the suspected father submit to a paternity test, and asked for a marriage certificate backdated nine months for the mother and father to avoid arrest. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced issues getting documentation for their children. NGOs and medical professionals reported families pressured unmarried pregnant women to claim falsely they have been raped to avoid jail time and the stigma associated with sexual relations prior to marriage.
The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but these services were largely inadequate. Emergency contraception was available. A large percentage of survivors of sexual violence had little access to health services. NGOs reported that hospitals do not have rape kits available; rape survivors are required to go to the Ministry of Interior’s forensic medical department to request a rape kit. Publicly available information was limited on the required procedures needed to request a rape kit. Expatriate survivors of sexual violence often had even less access to such services, particularly if they were illegal residents or their employer did not provide adequate medical coverage.
Discrimination: The law does not provide women the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions as men. Women experienced discrimination in most aspects of family law, including divorce and child custody, as well as in the basic rights of citizenship, the workplace, and in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in court. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. As implemented in the country, sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no reported cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, or securing housing, but no official government system exists to track this.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider the testimony of men and women equally, but in sharia courts the testimony of a women equals half that of a man. A study released by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights in 2020 found that, while the constitution provides for equal rights for women, implementation often fell short and many laws contradicted its equal protection provisions.
The law allows marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women (of Abrahamic religious groups only) but it prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother who did not convert to Islam, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of the children. A non-Muslim woman married to a Muslim citizen man is also ineligible for naturalization and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.
Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.
Women do not enjoy equal citizenship rights as men. Female citizens are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or to children. Failure to provide equal citizenship rights to women subjects their children to statelessness when a woman is married to a stateless Bidoon resident. In exceptional cases some children of widowed or divorced female citizens were granted citizenship by amiri decree, although this was a discretionary act. In March the Ministry of Interior announced female citizens could sponsor residency permits for their noncitizen husbands and children only if the husband and children were unemployed and not naturalized citizens.
Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination and their children are accorded the full legal protections of citizenship. In February, however, the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee rejected a proposal to grant citizenship to widows of male citizens even if the couple had children. Individuals can petition the Ministry of Interior to include their name on a list of proposed naturalizations, to be reviewed by the Council of Ministers. If approved the names go to the amir for signature and are published in the national gazette. The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all public universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.
The law states that all forms of expression that promote hatred against any category of society, incite sectarian strife, or call for the supremacy of any one ethnic or religious group are prohibited. In September the Ministry of Commerce and the PAM issued a decision to prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender, age, pregnancy, or social status in the oil and private sectors (see section 7.d.). Approximately 70 percent of residents are noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care (see sections 2.g, and 7.d.). The Ministry of Interior used administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.
There were credible indications of unequal treatment of persons based on race, religion, and citizenship during arrest procedures and investigations by the Ministry of Interior.
Birth Registration: Birth registration is generally available to all citizens and foreign residents as long as the parents have a recognized marriage certificate dated at least seven months prior to the birth date of their child. Citizenship is transmitted exclusively by the father (see section 6, Discrimination). The government designates the father’s religious group on birth certificates as either Muslim, Christian, or other. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Bidoon parents, and in a few cases citizen women married to Bidoon or foreigners, were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their children even after completing extensive administrative procedures. The lack of a birth certificate prevented Bidoon children from obtaining identification papers and accessing public services such as education and health care.
Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. Credible reports estimate hundreds of children are unable to attend school as a result. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended public education to Bidoon residents has still not been implemented fully. Lack of identification documents sometimes prevented Bidoon resident access to education even at private schools. The Education Ministry sets annual quotas for the number of Bidoon residents who can attend public schools, most of whom have citizen mothers. The others must attend private schools and pay fees. Charitable organizations offer tuition support to some but not all of these students.
Medical Care: Citizen boys and girls have equal access to state-provided medical care. Lack of identification papers restricted Bidoon residents’ access to free medical care.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but tradition and family expectations sometimes resulted in girls marrying at a younger age within some tribal groups.
Child Abuse: The law establishes protections for abused children, including noncitizen children. The Child Protection Office of the Ministry of Health, established in 2014, has made significant efforts in monitoring and following cases of child abuse. The office manages a child abuse hotline, which received 474 reports of abuse as of November. Most abuses occurred within the family, and cases were approximately split evenly among boys and girls. In instances of reported child abuse, children are admitted to a hospital and assessed by medical professionals pending legal proceedings. There is no shelter for abused children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There is no minimum age for consensual sex. There are no laws specific to child pornography because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law; premarital sexual relations are illegal. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for prostitution. The authorities generally enforced the law.
A Child Protection Office policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or could expose them to sexual predators.
There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric generally originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews. Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens, included transporting Israeli passport holders on the country’s national airline.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. The government provides benefits to citizens with disabilities, including monthly allowances, loans, early retirement with full salary, and exemptions from all government fees. The law obligates government agencies to have a workforce that includes at least 4 percent of employees with disabilities. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, and social welfare costs. The government had not fully implemented social and workplace programs to assist persons with physical and in particular vision disabilities.
The government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. The Public Authority for Disabled Affairs provided university scholarships for citizens with disabilities.
Authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities as citizens. Citizens can attend public schools that offer accommodations for children with disabilities, but noncitizen students must pay to attend private school to receive such accommodations. Noncitizen students attended private schools only, which generally lacked accessible materials and reasonable accommodations.
Most citizen children with disabilities attended mainstream public school on an equal basis with nondisabled citizen children. Children with severe disabilities, however, generally attended specialized separate schools. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities. There were more than 57,000 persons with disabilities registered with the government, including thousands of school-age children, according to the Ministry of Education.
Local human rights NGOs reported limited accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. Since 2016 authorities have deported thousands of foreign residents with HIV/AIDS, and during the year local media reported approximately 200 foreign residents are deported annually because of their HIV/AIDS diagnosis (see section 7.d.).
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Police incited, perpetrated, condoned, and tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. Transgender persons reported cases of repeated harassment, detention, abuse, and rape by police, who blackmailed and raped them without fear of reprisal. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex are illegal. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than age 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than age 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. The law criminalizes and imposes a fine and imprisonment for one-to-three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. These penalties were enforced.
The Criminal Court sentenced a transgender woman, Maha al-Mutairi, to prison for two years and fined her 1,000 dinars ($3,315) in October for “imitating the opposite sex” in her online activities and for “misusing phone communication.” In June 2020 al-Mutairi asserted on social media that she was targeted by police based on her gender identity and she was sexually assaulted and raped by police officers. Authorities held al-Mutairi in solitary confinement at the central prison for men. In late November the Court of Appeals issued an amended verdict sentencing al-Mutairi to one month in prison and a fine of approximately 500 dinars ($1,650). Since al-Mutairi had been imprisoned since October, she was released for completing the one-month sentence in late November. Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred. Officials practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.
No registered NGOs focused on LGBTQI+ matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTQI+ organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTQI+ human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.
Unmarried persons, particularly foreign workers, continued to face housing discrimination and eviction based on their marital status and income. For example, authorities frequently raided apartment blocks housing foreign worker “bachelors,” and reportedly shut off water and electricity to force single male workers out of accommodations. Local authorities evicted single foreign male workers to make room for citizen families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic. In December the Ministry of Interior indefinitely suspended all transactions related to obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses for migrant workers, reportedly to improve traffic conditions.
The spread of COVID-19 was followed by a strong upsurge in xenophobic rhetoric. Expatriates, particularly those working in lower-wage positions, suffered from housing discrimination, and were largely limited to specific neighborhoods designated for their use. These neighborhoods were typically higher density and suffered from poor road maintenance and were prone to flooding. High density neighborhoods were subjected to much tighter COVID restrictions, including restrictions on freedom of movement not imposed on majority citizen neighborhoods. COVID-19 vaccines provided by the government were offered first to citizens. At the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Health stated citizens were vaccinated at a rate six times that of noncitizens, although by later in the year noncitizen legal residents had free access to the vaccine due to increased supply. In May the Ministry of the Interior questioned a policeman who was caught on video slapping an expatriate in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Local media reported that from January to November, there were 120 suicides, mostly among the migrant worker community. Local media reported that the government stated in response that any noncitizen would be deported for attempting suicide.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and the use of threats or violence to claim a “marital right to intercourse,” although it does not explicitly outlaw spousal rape. While the government effectively enforced the law, its interpretation by religious courts in cases brought before them, and not to civil courts, precluded full implementation of civil law in all provinces, such as in the case of an abused wife compelled to return to her husband under personal status law, despite battery being outlawed. The minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of rape is five years, or seven years for raping a minor. The law no longer frees rapists from prosecution or nullifies their convictions if they married their victims.
The law criminalizes domestic violence, calls for provision of shelters, gives women the ability to file a restraining order against the abuser, and assigns special units within the ISF to receive domestic violence complaints. NGOs alleged that the definition of domestic violence was narrow and as a result did not provide adequate protection from all forms of abuse, such as spousal rape. Although the law provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for battery, religious courts could cite personal status law to require a battered wife to return to a home shared with her abuser. Some police, especially in rural areas, treated domestic violence as a social, rather than criminal, matter.
NGOs and activists criticized the domestic violence law, claiming that it does not sufficiently protect victims or punish abusers, who they alleged often received disproportionately light sentences.
Police and judicial officials worked to improve their management of domestic violence cases, but they noted that social and religious pressures – especially in more conservative communities – led to underreporting of cases. Some victims, often under pressure from relatives, sought arbitration through religious courts or between families rather than through the justice system. There were reports and cases of foreign domestic workers, usually women, suffering from mistreatment, abuse, and in some instances rape or conditions akin to slavery.
According to women’s rights NGO KAFA, victims reported that police responses to complaints submitted by battered or abused women improved during the reporting period. During the year ISF and judicial officials received training on best practices for handling cases involving female detainees, including victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. NGOs that provided services to such victims reported increased access to potential victims in ISF and DGS custody. The ISF continued its practice of alerting its human rights unit to all cases involving victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable groups, so officers could track the cases and provide appropriate support to victims.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISF encouraged reporting of domestic violence including raising awareness on social media of their hotline for abuse survivors. NGO ABAAD was quoted in 2020 saying that the government needed to increase services and availability of shelters to keep up with demand.
The Women’s Affairs Division in the Ministry of Social Affairs and several NGOs continued projects to address sexual or gender-based violence, such as providing counseling and shelter for victims.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In February 2020 dozens of women gathered in front of the Higher Islamic Shia Council to protest the law giving full child custody to the father automatically upon divorce. The organizers, Protecting Lebanese Women and the National Campaign to Raise the Age of Custody, called for raising the age of custody (age of emancipation) recognized by Shia courts. The protest was in reaction to a widely viewed video of a woman sneaking into the funeral service of her late daughter, who had been killed by stray bullets. The mother had lost custody of both her children when she filed for divorce, and her husband had forbidden her to attend the funeral.
Marriage is governed by 18 different sect-based personal status laws, and all sects allow girls to be married before age 18.
Sexual Harassment: A law criminalizing sexual harassment was adopted by parliament in December 2020. Despite the new law sexual harassment remained a widespread problem that ranked among the October 2019 protesters’ most vocal complaints. On September 22, the Public Prosecution pressed charges against journalist and director Jaafar al-Attar for sexual harassment and referred the case to the Beirut criminal judge. A group of women pressed charges against al-Attar on May 26 for sexual harassment after posting their experiences under the hashtag #Expose_the_harasser and #Believesurvivors. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end. This was the only case in the year where the Public Prosecution pressed charges for sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health.
Women, including survivors of sexual violence, generally had the information and means to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, although women in rural areas faced social pressure on their reproductive choices due to long-held societal values. According to a 2017 study conducted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the most recent available, 32 percent of male respondents indicated that their wives used oral contraceptive pills, while 32 percent of female respondents indicated that they used natural methods; followed by 29 percent using intrauterine devices; 4.6 percent tubal ligation; and the remainder using female condoms, hormonal injections, or suppositories.
There were no known reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women suffered discrimination under the law and in practice, including under the penal and personal status codes. The constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex. In matters of marriage, child custody, inheritance, and divorce, personal status laws provide unequal treatment across the various confessional court systems but generally discriminate against women. All 18 recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling these matters, and laws vary depending on the religious group. For example, Sunni religious courts apply an inheritance law that provides a daughter one-half the inheritance of a son. Religious law on child custody matters favors the father in most instances, regardless of religion. Sharia courts weigh the testimony of one man as equal to that of two women. Nationality law also discriminates against women, who may not confer citizenship to their spouses and children, although widows may confer citizenship to their minor children born of a citizen father. By law women may own property, but they often ceded control of it to male relatives due to cultural norms and family pressure. The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment and provides for equal pay for men and women, although workplace gender discrimination, including wage discrimination, exists.
Since 2018 divorced women have been allowed to include the names of their children on their civil records.
Lebanese of African descent reported instances of race-based discrimination and reported harassment by police, who periodically demanded to see their papers. Foreign Arab, African, and Asian students, professionals, and tourists reported being denied access to bars, clubs, restaurants, and private beaches at the direction and discretion of venue owners or managers.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, which may result in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and noncitizen father who may not transmit his own citizenship (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). If a child’s birth is not registered within the first year, the process for legitimizing the birth is long and costly, often deterring families from registration. Syrian refugees no longer need legal residency to register the birth of their children. Authorities also waived several requirements for late birth registration by Syrian refugees. Birth registration remained inaccessible to some because the government required proof of legal residence and legal marriage, documentation often unavailable to refugees.
Education: Education for citizens is free and compulsory through the primary phase. Noncitizen and stateless children, including those born of noncitizen fathers and citizen mothers and refugees, lacked this right. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education directed that non-Lebanese students could not outnumber Lebanese in any given classroom during the regular school shift, which sometimes limited enrollment. Syrian refugee children were not legally entitled to enroll in public schools at regular hours, although they could attend schools’ second shifts.
Educational institutions reported that, due to the economic crisis, the depreciation of the Lebanese pound, and lack of funding, some schools were forced to close during the year. In addition, many teachers were either laid off or resigned. According to the Syndicate of Private School Teachers, every school in the country lost between 10 to 40 teachers during the year.
Child Abuse: The country lacked a comprehensive child protection law, although legal provisions furnished some protection to children who were victims of violence.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has a hotline to report cases of child abuse. In a typical example from 2020, representatives of a local shelter for abused women and children described the case of a father who sexually and physically abused a child in the shelter’s care. According to the organization, the father escaped punishment through religious courts, as many families chose to handle such cases through these courts rather than the national justice system.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: There is no legal minimum age for marriage, and the government does not perform civil marriage. Most religious leaders oppose civil marriage, despite the law recognizing heterosexual civil marriages conducted outside the country. Each sect has its own religious courts governing matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The minimum age of marriage varies from ages 14 to 18, depending on the sect. UN agencies, NGOs, and government officials noted high rates of early marriage among the Syrian refugee population, in some cases four times the rate of child marriage as before the conflict began. They partially attributed this circumstance to social and economic pressure on families with limited resources.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits and punishes commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, and child sex trafficking. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and statutory rape penalties include hard labor for a minimum of five years and a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 15 years old. The government generally enforced the law.
Displaced Children: Some refugee children lived and worked on the street. In view of the poor economic environment, limited freedom of movement, and little opportunity for livelihoods for adults, many Syrian refugee families often relied on children to earn money for the family, including by begging or selling small items in the streets. Refugee children were at greater risk than Lebanese children for exploitation, gender-based violence, and child labor since they had greater freedom of movement compared to their parents, who often lacked residency permits. Some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers also faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law. NGOs reported discrimination against them, including bullying linked to race, skin color, religion, and nationality, although some could attend public school.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated enrollment of almost 200,000 non-Lebanese children in the 2019-20 academic year. More than one-half of refugee children ages three to 18 were out of school, according to UNHCR. The government and some NGOs offered several informal education programs to eligible students.
At year’s end there were an estimated 70 Jews living in the country and 5,500 registered Jewish voters who lived abroad but had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
The Israelite Communal Council (the officially recognized name of the Jewish Community Council) reported that a construction site adjacent to the Jewish cemetery in Beirut regularly dumped trash and rubble into the cemetery in the beginning of the year, but the dumping stopped during the year.
The Ministry of Interior continued the delay in the verification of the results of the election of members of the Israelite Communal Council, which occurs every six years (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). The council has repeatedly submitted requests to change its government-appointed name to reduce stigma, with no success. The council blames its official name in part for the difficulties experienced with renewals every six years.
A June 2020 report from the Anti-Defamation League found anti-Semitic educational material and incitement to anti-Semitism at educational institutions run by the education branch of Hizballah.
Rooms, shops, and a gas station were built on the land of the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli, and a lawsuit was filed in 2011. While the suit remained pending, authorities had taken no action on it by year’s end.
By law persons with disabilities have the right to employment, education, health services, accessibility, and the right to vote; however, there was no evidence the government effectively enforced the law. Although prohibited by law, discrimination against persons with disabilities continued.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Council of Disabled are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to the president of the Arab Organization of Disabled People, little progress has occurred in the 20 years since parliament passed the law on disabilities.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education stipulated that for new school building construction, “Schools should include all necessary facilities in order to receive the physically challenged.” Nonetheless, the public school system was ill-equipped to accommodate students with disabilities.
Depending on the type and nature of the disability, children with a disability may attend mainstream school. Due to a lack of awareness or knowledge, school staff often did not identify a specific disability in children and could not adequately advise parents. In such cases children often repeated classes or dropped out of school. According to NGOs, children with disabilities lacked access to education, as both public and private schools often improperly refused to admit them or charged additional fees, citing a lack of appropriate facilities or staff.
The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but the government failed to amend building codes to implement these provisions. The law does not mandate access to information or accommodations for communication for persons with disabilities.
HIV/AIDS is stigmatized due to sensitivities about extramarital relations and LGBTQI+ identities. NGOs reported that resources to direct patients to clinics where they can receive tests without stigma or discrimination were limited. Marsa, a sexual health center, reported six cases of discrimination against HIV-positive individuals within their workplaces in 2020 and two cases of foreign persons living with HIV who faced difficulty in receiving treatment and accessing medical care. In addition to stigma and discrimination, many persons with HIV/AIDS were unable to pay for routine tests that the Ministry of Public Health does not cover, including the blood test that must be completed and submitted to the Ministry of Public Health before any treatment may begin. The law requires the government to provide treatment to all HIV-positive citizens and Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in the country. Nonetheless, treatment was only available at one hospital in Beirut, making it difficult for patients outside of Beirut to receive treatment.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits “sexual intercourse against nature” and effectively criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Due to recent legal decisions, some government and judicial officials, along with NGOs and legal experts, question whether same-sex sexual conduct actually fits that legal definition. The law was occasionally enforced in civilian and military courts, and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.
No provisions of law provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. NGOs continued to report employment discrimination faced by transgender women due to the inconsistency between official documentation and gender self-presentation.
NGOs stated that official and societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons persisted. Observers received reports from LGBTQI+ refugees of physical abuse by local gangs, which the victims did not report to the ISF. Observers referred victims to UNHCR-sponsored protective services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs noted that the government-enforced lockdown posed increased risks to the LGBTQI+ community, which depended on community centers, tight social networks, and NGOs for emotional and financial support. NGOs also reported that the August 2020 Beirut port explosion destroyed areas frequented and inhabited by LGBTQI+ members, which severely impacted their livelihoods and well-being.
The DGS continued to maintain a travel ban on foreign attendees of the Networking, Exchange, Development, Wellness, and Achievement (NEDWA) sexual health conference, which was organized by LGBTQI+ rights NGO Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE). Starting in 2019 this conference was relocated outside of the country due to security concerns following DGS and other agencies’ threats to expose attendees from LGBTQI+-hostile countries to their governments.
The government did not collect information on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or lack of access to education or health care based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals who faced problems were reluctant to report incidents due to fear of additional discrimination or reprisal. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence but does not contain reference to penalties for those convicted of violence against women.
There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence. Social and cultural barriers – including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault – contributed to lack of effective government enforcement. Several domestic CSOs reported throughout the year that women continued to experience higher rates of domestic violence due to COVID-19 pandemic curfews and extended time spent at home.
By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes, provided her family consents. Rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.
Migrant women and girls remained particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence, including forced commercial sexual exploitation in conditions amounting to sexual slavery. There were reports of egregious acts of sexual violence against women and girls in government and extralegal detention facilities (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
Two specialized courts established in Tripoli and Benghazi by the Supreme Judicial Council addressed violence against women, men, and children. Five female judges served on these two courts.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to CSOs, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by armed groups, including harassment and arbitrary detention based on accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.
There were reports armed groups harassed women traveling without a male “guardian” and that armed groups asked men and women socializing in public venues to produce marriage certificates to verify their relationship.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted family planning services were significantly limited due to cultural and social norms favoring large families, as well as the absence of prioritization of the matter by the government. Access to information on reproductive health and contraception was also difficult for women to obtain due to social norms surrounding sexuality.
According to UNFPA estimates, the reported contraceptive prevalence rate was 27 percent, and nearly 41 percent of women had unmet needs with respect to family planning using modern methods. Women’s access to maternal health-care services and contraceptive supplies remained limited due to continued political instability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the large number of IDPs and access restrictions in conflict zones significantly affected the provision of reproductive health services. The WHO also reported lack of access to family planning services, obstetrical care, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
The government generally did not effectively provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including access to emergency contraception. Civil society actors provided limited legal assistance to survivors in the absence of the government.
Discrimination: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the GNU did not effectively enforce these declarations.
Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, their mobility, and their personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. In a 2020 study, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) found that women were 12 times more likely to be unemployed than men and that working women earned nearly three times less than men. There were significant inequalities in women’s access to insurance, loans, and other forms of social protection.
The country lacks a unified family code. Sharia (Islamic religious law) often governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia that favor men.
Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, and mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute a majority of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. Except for some Amazigh, who belong to the Ibadi sect of Islam, minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but often identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages regarding Arab traditions.
The law grants the right for “all linguistic and cultural components to have the right to learn their language,” and the government nominally recognizes the right to teach minority languages in schools. Minority and indigenous groups complained that their communities were often allowed to teach their languages only as an elective subject within the curriculum.
Some members of the Tebu minority residing in the south reported their access to higher education was limited, since university campuses were in geographic areas controlled by Arab tribes that routinely harassed or denied freedom of movement to members of the Tebu minority. Universities reportedly did not provide offsite learning alternatives to these Tebu students.
The extent to which the government enforced official recognition of minority rights was unclear. There were reports that teachers of minority languages faced discrimination in receiving accreditation and in being eligible for bonuses, training, and exchange opportunities provided by the Ministry of Education.
There were also reports that individuals with non-Arabic names encountered difficulties registering these names in civil documents.
Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “local” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.”
Some representatives from the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg communities rejected the 2017 draft constitution because of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities and inadequate provisions on decentralization.
Several Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (see section 2.d.), faced widespread social discrimination, and suffered from hate speech and identity-based violence. In the south, if a member of one tribe or group attacked a member of another tribe or group, it was not uncommon for the latter tribe to take retribution against multiple members of the former group.
Some members of ethnic minority communities in the south and west reported being unwilling to enter certain courthouses and police stations due to intimidation and fear of reprisal.
There were numerous reports throughout the year of ethnic minorities being injured or killed in confrontations with other groups.
Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from a citizen father. The law permits citizen women who marry foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children, although some contradictory provisions may potentially perpetuate discrimination. There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.
Education: Many schools remained closed throughout the year due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns. Internal displacement further disrupted school attendance as many schools were repurposed as IDP shelters.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may permit those younger than 18 to marry. LNA authorities reportedly imposed a minimum age of 20 for both men and women. Early marriages were relatively rare, according to UN Women, although comprehensive statistics were not available due to the lack of a centralized civil registry system and the continuing conflict.
There were anecdotal reports of child marriage occurring in some rural and desert areas where tribal customs are more prevalent. There were also unconfirmed reports that civil authorities could be bribed to permit underage marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were no laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or for child pornography, nor laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.
Most Jewish persons left the country between 1948 and 1967. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no reports of clearly anti-Semitic acts during the year.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. IDPs, migrants, and refugees with disabilities were especially vulnerable to poor treatment in detention facilities.
Some organizations estimated that approximately 13 percent of citizens may have some form of disability, although government estimates were much lower. Years of postrevolutionary conflict also led to a greater incidence of persons maimed by shelling or explosive war remnants.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons persisted, and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.
There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.
There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Armed groups often policed communities to enforce compliance with their commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTQI+ orientations and their families.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine. For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 Moroccan dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 Moroccan dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. The law requires the DGSN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Judicial Court, and Ministries of Health, Youth, and Women to have specialized units that coordinate with one another on cases involving violence against women. These specialized units receive and process cases of gender-based violence and provide psychological support and other services to victims. In 440 precincts where gender-based violence response units have not been established, a regular police officer was designated to process the cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in domestic abuse because of isolation measures. The government and NGOs expanded programming and outreach that provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the government adopted protective measures, such as shelters, for survivors of domestic violence in the first half of the year. On May 28, the government adopted a bill to create a national registry for social support programs for women and children. Several NGOs adapted services provided to survivors of domestic violence, providing hotlines, shelter, resources, guidance, and legal support.
There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts maintained “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.
According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the survivors responsible. Some sexual assault survivors also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.
The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs, the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.
In January 2020 media reported that 20 suspects kidnapped “Oumaima,” a 17-year-old girl, in the Moulay Rachid district (in Casablanca) and then gang raped and abused her for 25 days before she convinced a friend of the perpetrators to assist in her escape. According to the victim’s mother, during confinement, the perpetrators forced the girl to ingest toxic substances to try to kill her. The girl was hospitalized after her escape. The investigation continued.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams ($1,000) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member commits harassment, physical violence, abuse, or mistreatment, or breaks a restraining order, or if the victim is a minor. Civil society leaders stated they did not observe efforts by the government to enforce the law or provide training on the new law for judicial or law enforcement officials.
Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities generally did not discriminate against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections. Contraception is legal, and most forms were widely available. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the country has invested in increasing the availability of voluntary family planning services, expanding and improving maternal health care, and providing for access to obstetric care by eliminating fees.
The contraceptive pill was available over the counter, without a prescription. Skilled health attendance at delivery and postpartum care were available for women who could afford it, with approximately 75 percent of overall births attended by skilled health personnel.
The country’s maternal mortality rate between 1997 and 2018 declined by 68 percent according to the UN Population Fund. The most recent World Health Organization statistics showed there were approximately 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country in 2017 and that 37 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2019. The major factors influencing maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence rates were female illiteracy, lack of knowledge about availability of services, cost of services, social pressure against contraceptive use, and limited availability of transportation to health centers and hospitals for those in rural areas. While a 2018 law strengthened penalties for violence against women (see Section 6, Women) and required certain government agencies establish units to provide psychological support and other services to victims of gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch assessed at the time of the law’s passage that it did not sufficiently define the government’s role in providing services to victims. The government responded that it provides services to survivors of sexual assault via the UN Population Fund.
Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, including inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution.
According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive one-half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive one-half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.
Since 2019 the law allows female heirs to inherit, and be titled as owners of, those lands.
The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.
The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.
The majority of the population, including some members of the royal family, claimed some Amazigh heritage. Many of the poorest regions in the country, particularly the rural Middle Atlas region, were predominantly Amazigh and had illiteracy rates higher than the national average. Basic governmental services in this mountainous and underdeveloped region were lacking.
On May 31, media reported that local authorities in Kenitra had refused to register the birth of his daughter with an Amazigh name. On August 25, after review by the Ministry of the Interior, the name was permitted and evaluated according to national standards.
Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. Amazigh materials were available in news media and, to a much lesser extent, educational institutions. The government provided television programs in the three national Amazigh dialects of Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight. According to regulations, public media are required to dedicate 30 percent of broadcast time to Amazigh language and cultural programming. According to Amazigh organizations, however, only 5 percent of broadcast time was given to Amazigh language and culture.
Birth Registration: The law permits both parents to pass nationality to their children. The law establishes that all children have civil status regardless of their family status. There were, nonetheless, cases in which authorities denied identification papers to children because they were born to unmarried parents, particularly in rural areas or in the cases of poorly educated mothers unaware of their legal rights.
Education: The government offered Tamazight language classes in some schools. Although the palace-funded Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture created a university-level teacher-training program to address the shortage of qualified teachers, Amazigh NGOs contended that the number of qualified teachers of regional dialects of Amazigh languages continued to decrease. The government reported, however, that the number of teachers employed to teach the official national Amazigh language has increased. Instruction in the Amazigh language is mandatory for students at the Ministry of Interior’s School for Administrators.
Child Abuse: NGOs, human rights groups, media outlets, and UNICEF claimed child abuse was widespread. According to the government, during the year 3,600 cases were investigated for criminal offenses associated with 5,699 reported cases of child abuse. Prosecutions for child abuse were extremely rare. Some children’s rights NGOs expressed concerns regarding the lack of legislation to prosecute cases involving incest.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but parents may secure a waiver from a judge for underage marriage. The government maintained a national awareness-raising campaign against the marriage of minors.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 18. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children under the criminal code range from two years to life imprisonment and monetary fines.
On April 28, police arrested a teacher suspected of raping 11 minors in the commune of Sidi Ali in Errachidia. The parents of 12 students filed the complaint. In October the court sentenced the teacher to 20 years in prison and a fine of 40,000 Moroccan dirhams ($4,200).
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 .
The constitution recognizes the Jewish community as part of the country’s population and guarantees everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” Community leaders estimated the size of the Jewish population at 3,500. Overall, there appeared to be little overt anti-Semitism, and the Jewish community generally lived in safety.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care. The law also provides for regulations and building codes that provide for access for persons with disabilities. In general, the government did not effectively enforce or implement these laws and regulations. While building codes enacted in 2003 require accessibility for all persons, the codes exempt most pre-2003 structures, and authorities rarely enforced them for new construction. Most public transportation was inaccessible to persons with disabilities, although the national rail system offered wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and special seating areas. Government policy provides that persons with disabilities should have equal access to information and communications. Special communication devices for persons with visual or audio disabilities were not widely available.
The Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and attempted to integrate persons with disabilities into society by implementing a quota of 7 percent for persons with disabilities in vocational training in the public sector and 5 percent in the private sector. Both sectors were far from achieving the quotas. The government maintained more than 400 integrated classes for children with learning disabilities, but private charities and civil society organizations were primarily responsible for integration.
Persons with HIV and AIDS faced discrimination and had limited treatment options. UNAIDS reported that some health-care providers were reluctant to treat persons with HIV and AIDS due to fear of infection. According to UNAIDS, treatment coverage increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2016, and the National Strategic Plan 2017-2021 commits the country to reduce new infections among key and vulnerable populations, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce AIDS-related deaths, confront discrimination, and strengthen governance for an efficient response. Although overall objectives in the National Strategic Plan were achieved, the testing campaigns for affected individuals were delayed because of COVID-19. As a result, the National Strategic Plan was extended to 2023.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison for violations. According to a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office released in 2020, the state prosecuted individuals in 2020 for same-sex sexual activity. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years. According to some human rights organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) victims of violence in high-profile cases from previous years continued to be harassed when recognized in public.
In November 2020 an artist was arrested while filing a complaint against an individual for harassment and homophobia. According to the government, his detention did not have to do with his sexual identity, but rather related to violating COVID-19 restrictions. His next hearing was scheduled for September. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTQI+ persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTQI+ persons, including some reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and health care.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors had sexually assaulted them.
The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a hotline for reporting incidents of domestic violence and a shelter for victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health practitioners from conducting “traditional practices,” including FGM/C, that are harmful to a child’s health. The 2019 Executive Regulations for the Child Law include “disfiguring female genital organs” as one of these harmful practices. There are no national statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, although anecdotal reports indicated some ongoing practice of FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Harassing a woman by word or conduct is punishable by imprisonment up to a year.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Married couples have access to family planning and information, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health clinics disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. Some forms of birth control, including condoms, were available at pharmacies and supermarkets, although medically prescribed contraceptives were generally not available for unmarried women. Menstrual healthcare was available for citizens and menstrual care products were readily available in pharmacies and grocery stores. The government provided free childbirth services to citizens within the framework of universal health care. Prenatal and postnatal care was readily available and used. While survivors of sexual violence could seek medical treatment at public healthcare facilities, the government did not provide emergency contraception or dedicated sexual and reproductive health services to survivors.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance.
The Ministry of Interior requires both male and female citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment.
Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.
The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children (who are thereby at risk of statelessness) and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country.
The law provides that any adult, male or female, may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years for a woman if married to a male citizen. Women citizens cannot confer expedited citizenship to their foreign male spouses in the same manner. The approval or rejection of the citizenship application is subject to the Ministry of Interior’s final decision.
Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.
The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s concerns. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.
The law states that all citizens are equal and prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status. The law equally protects Omanis and foreigners present in Oman.
The country is an ethnically diverse society. There were no reports of racial or ethnic violence. The government’s “Omanization” policy favors Omani citizens over foreigners for employment in some sectors of the economy, and some expatriate workers reported that Omanis were favored in the workplace.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights.
Child Abuse: According to the law, any concerned citizen must report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage is in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The penal code stipulates a punishment of life imprisonment for rape of a child younger than 15 years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor younger than 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. There were no known reports of children in commercial sex; soliciting a child for commercial sex is prohibited.
There was no indigenous Jewish population. One Arabic-language newspaper featured multiple cartoons critical of the Israeli government in which a man representing stereotypical anti-Semitic tropes of Jews along with wearing the Star of David represented the state of Israel.
The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law.
The government provided alternative education opportunities for citizen children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.
Additionally, the Ministry of Education supported schools and education programs for intellectually disabled students. These services accommodated students with motor, sight, hearing, and mental disabilities. The Ministry of Education operated a program to integrate students with disabilities into primary schools. The ministers of education and of health supervised a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate the problem of child autism in the country, including early autism diagnosis and intervention. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with UNICEF to improve its alternative education systems.
The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates and implements programs for persons with disabilities in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.
Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If foreigners test positive, residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this during the year.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct and consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution, independent of gender. The government did not actively enforce this provision, and there were no public records of potential prosecutions.
The law identifies “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100 to 300 rial (approximately $260 to $780), or both.
Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations active in the country, although regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTQI+ citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTQI+-related internet content as well as international films that featured LGBTQI+ characters.
Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically recognize rape of men. Spousal rape is not illegal. Sexual assault and other gender-based crimes were rarely reported, mostly due to social taboo. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment, regardless of the age or gender of the survivor. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the survivor, the penalty is death. The government enforced the law against rape.
No specific law criminalizes domestic violence, whether against spouses or against any member of a household, including children and domestic workers. According to the NHRC, authorities may prosecute spousal violence as “general” violence under the criminal law.
Extramarital sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison, flogging (for unmarried persons), or the death penalty (for married persons). A woman who gives birth out of wedlock receives a 12-month jail sentence, on average, and may also be subject to corporal punishment (lashings) or, in the case of foreign residents, deportation. Press reports indicated jail sentences and flogging were rare in such cases, however.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and carries penalties of imprisonment or fines. In some cases sponsors sexually harassed and mistreated foreign domestic workers. The government prosecuted nearly 100 trafficking-related cases, of which 13 involved instances of violence against domestic workers; in three of those cases it issued verdicts under the penal code.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports of government interference in the rights of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. It is illegal to have children out of wedlock, and unmarried female foreign residents may risk jail time and deportation if they do. Due to the legal prohibitions and social stigma surrounding sex outside of marriage, obtaining documentation for children born out of wedlock was typically not possible.
Women were routinely asked for marriage certificates when seeking prenatal care. Unmarried individuals who reported pregnancies risked prosecution for extramarital sexual relations. Emergency contraception, in the form of pills, IUDs, condoms, and contraceptive injections, was available in public and private health centers. Birth control pills and condoms were available at pharmacies without a prescription. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. In rape cases with pregnancy, authorities provided all the required services to the victims.
Discrimination: The constitution asserts equality between citizens in rights and responsibilities, but social and legal discrimination against women persisted. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance.
In line with local social norms, male relatives generally represented female relatives in court, although women have the legal right to attend court proceedings and represent themselves. Judges have discretion to consider a woman’s testimony one-half that of a man’s.
Under the Nationality Law, female citizens face legal discrimination, since they, unlike men, are not permitted to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouses or to children born from marriage to a noncitizen. Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their offspring. The law allows children of citizen mothers to gain permanent status in country, even if the father is not a Qatari national. Citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners, which is sometimes not granted for female citizens. Male citizens may apply for residency permits and citizenship for their foreign wives, but female citizens may apply only for residency for their foreign husbands and children, not citizenship. A non-Muslim wife does not have the automatic right to inherit from her Muslim husband. She receives an inheritance only if her husband wills her a portion of his estate, and even then, she is eligible to receive only one-third of the total estate. A female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir; for example, a sister would inherit one-half as much as her brother. In cases of divorce, children generally remain with the mother until age 13 for boys and 15 for girls, at which time custody reverts to the father’s family, regardless of the mother’s religion.
To receive maternity care, a woman is required to present a marriage certificate, although hospitals generally assist in the birth of children of unwed mothers regardless. There were cases of hospitals reporting unwed mothers to authorities.
The housing law, which pertains to the government housing system, also discriminates against divorced women and women married to noncitizen men.
A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many do so. The government documents children born to a Muslim father as Muslims, regardless of the religion of the mother.
Single women younger than age 25 require the permission of their male guardian to travel outside the country, although the requirement was rarely enforced. There were sporadic reports via social media that airport authorities prevented women older than 25 from traveling abroad without the approval of the male guardian, although the law allows women older than 25 to travel without a guardian’s permission. Male relatives may prevent married or single adult female family members from leaving the country by seeking and securing a court order.
Adult women were customarily not allowed to leave home without a guardian’s approval. This included a need to obtain their male guardian’s permission to work outside the home, although the requirement was rarely enforced.
There was no specialized government office devoted to women’s equality.
The constitution stipulates that “all persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex, race, language, or religion,” although the 2005 electoral law restricts eligibility to vote in Shura Council elections (see section 3). The government enforced the law effectively. There were no reports of violence stemming from tribal, racial, or ethnic discrimination.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship only from the father. Citizen mothers are unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The government generally registered all births immediately.
Education: Education is free and compulsory for all citizens through age 18 or nine years of education, whichever comes first. Education is compulsory for noncitizen children, but they pay a nominal fee. Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims and non-Muslims attending state-sponsored schools.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse of children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The law does not permit marriage of persons younger than these ages except with consent from the legal guardian and with permission from a judge. Underage marriage was rare.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: No specific law sets a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits sex outside of marriage. In the criminal law, the penalty for sexual relations with a person younger than 16 is life imprisonment. If the individual is the nonspousal relative, guardian, caretaker, or servant of the victim, the penalty is death; there were no reports this sentence was implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community, and there were no official data on the number of Jewish foreign residents in the country. Cartoons and opinion articles in local newspapers periodically carried anti-Semitic messages.
The law prohibits discrimination against, and requires the allocation of resources for, persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, and other government services or other areas. According to the law, persons with disabilities have the right to equal access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The government is charged with acting on complaints from individuals; the NHRC has responsibility for enforcing compliance and generally did so. Few public buildings met the required standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and new buildings generally did not comply with standards.
There are 34 entities in the country offering services to children with disabilities. Private and independent schools generally provided most of the required services for students with disabilities, but government schools did not. According to the NHRC’s 2020 report, the government worked to rehabilitate 68 public schools to facilitate access for students with disabilities. Official statistics were not available concerning students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools.
There was discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Authorities deported foreigners found to be HIV-positive upon arrival. Mandatory medical examinations were required for residents. Since health screenings are required for nonresidents to obtain work visas, some HIV-positive persons were denied work permits prior to arrival. The government quarantined HIV-positive citizens and provided treatment for them.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual relations between women. Under the law a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than age 16 is subject to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a male 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison. Under sharia law homosexuality is punishable by death; there were no reports of any executions for this reason.
In addition to banning sex outside marriage for all persons, the law provides penalties for any male, Muslim or not, who “instigates” or “entices” another male to commit an act of sodomy or immorality. Under the penal code, “leading, instigating, or seducing a male by any means for sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female by any means to commit illegal or immoral actions” is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
There were no public reports of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTQI+ persons. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination, nor are there antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or gender expression.
Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTQI+ organizations, pride marches, or LGBTQI+ rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and in some cases courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Survivors must prove that a rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.
Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because survivors faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia. There were reports that domestic abuse in the form of incest occurred but was seldom reported to authorities due to fears of societal repercussions, according to local sources.
The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine unless a court provides a harsher sentence.
Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse among women to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. In July, referencing a Ministry of Health report, local media reported authorities were investigating more than 2,700 domestic violence cases, in which 75 percent of the alleged survivors were female. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.
Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence survivors, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted a continued increase in authorities’ willingness to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.
On January 27, Prisoners of Conscience reported that a woman known only as Manal was arrested after publishing details on the disappearance and death of her 26-year-old sister, Qamar, allegedly at the hands of their two brothers. Manal stated on Twitter that her two brothers killed Qamar for setting up a public Snapchat account. Authorities in al-Kharj stated they arrested two individuals in connection with the murder on January 21. As of November, Manal’s whereabouts were unknown.
The government made some efforts to reduce domestic violence. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters, although women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary. On March 29, the HRC and the Mawaddah Charitable Association signed a memorandum of understanding to increase coordination and antidomestic violence awareness efforts. It would establish an independent body to research domestic violence, propose changes to the legal framework, and develop specialized centers for survivors, local media reported. No additional information on implementation of the memorandum was available as of December.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to reluctance to report violations.
On January 12, the Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the antiharassment law that allows for the public release of names of those convicted for harassment, as a deterrent and to prevent offenders’ employment in certain jobs. The law criminalizing sexual harassment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a substantial fine. The HRC stated that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.
Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. In March the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a man seen in a video insulting and assaulting two young women in the streets of Riyadh and filed a criminal suit against him. On February 22, local media reported that former shura council member Iqbal Dandari won a case against a man for cyberharassment. Details regarding the case were unknown. On September 26, local media reported a number of sexual harassment incidents during National Day celebrations. Security authorities arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office three Saudi citizens in Medina, a Saudi and an Egyptian resident in Riyadh, and a Saudi citizen in Taif for harassing women.
In April the HRC launched a specialized group for confidential support of victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance.
Premarital sex is illegal under sharia law, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Access to most contraceptives required a prescription, but condoms were available at pharmacies and supermarkets for over-the-counter purchase. According to 2020 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 15 percent of all women and 23 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.
In some cases women may be discouraged from making certain reproductive health decisions due to cultural and religious beliefs, social pressure, and lack of awareness of their rights.
Almost all women had access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. The most recent UN Population Fund estimates reported that skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births between 2010 and 2019. While some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, others received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics. According to the government, women are entitled to medical assistance during pregnancy and delivery; the right to decide the details of their deliveries; and obtain maternity care in a language she understands and is appropriate to her cultural and religious beliefs. Adult women also have the right to consent to any medical procedures.
Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies provided medical care to sexual violence survivors as well as psychological and social support. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s Center for Protection Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline and shelters across the country with access to medical care for victims of sexual violence, while the quasi-governmental National Family Safety Program agency provided medical support to sexual abuse victims. (See sections 2.g. and 6, Children, for issues related to legal status for children born outside of marriage.)
Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. A series of regulations issued from 2019 through year’s end, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.
Most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.
Women older than 18 have the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These included registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.
In June judicial authorities amended the absenteeism law, or taghayyub, to allow all unmarried, divorced, or widowed women to live alone without the consent of a male guardian. The amendment followed a July 2020 court decision in which a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi, a Saudi woman who lived independently in Riyadh, despite prosecutors’ attempt to convict her for absenteeism. Under the previous absenteeism law, guardians could report the unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual.
In advance of Hajj in July, authorities ended the male guardian requirement for women to participate in the annual pilgrimage.
Adult women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or ex-husbands. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care and no longer need a male guardian’s permission to start a business.
By law women have equal rights to employment. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned employee discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age, or disability, citing reforms to human resources laws. Commenting on a job advertisement that contained gender discriminatory language, the ministry stated it violated the labor law, stressing that citizens have equal employment rights without any form of discrimination, including gender.
On February 21, the Ministry of Defense began allowing women to serve in the army, air defense, navy, strategic missile force, and armed forces medical services as enlisted personnel, but not as officers. In November data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s National Labor Observatory showed women constituted 60 percent of Saudi youth who joined the local employment market during the first nine months of the year.
Women no longer require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.
The law permits women to transmit citizenship to their children under certain circumstances (see section 2.g. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.
Few businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.
Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners, like males, were only required to dress “modestly.”
Women faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals one-half that of a man. Women have begun practicing law, but all judges are male. In divorce proceedings, women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.
In February 2020 the Justice Ministry ended the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. The ministry also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.
A woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such cases the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. According to local media in 2020, courts considered an average of 750 marriage contract cases annually.
In February the crown prince announced forthcoming legal reforms that would impact the personal status law and expand protections for women. On October 24, Minister of Justice Walid al-Samaani stated the personal status draft law would address a woman’s agreement to marriage, preserving her and her children’s financial and alimony rights, as well as other issues related to divorce requests. Additional details regarding these reforms were not made public by year’s end.
Courts routinely awarded custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In some cases former husbands reportedly prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children.
Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters one-half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.
According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through the university level was standard. Some private universities, such as -Faisal University, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers. A few other government universities offered coeducation in selected programs, largely in the sciences. Private international and national schools may offer coeducation at any grade; most private international schools are coeducational, while most private national schools are segregated. Primary public schools offered mixed-gender education up to the third grade.
Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.
Birth Registration: Citizenship generally derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). On June 25, the social security administration announced children from foreign fathers and Saudi mothers will be allowed to benefit from their mother’s pension, as long as she is widowed or divorced. In January the HRC stated that a child born in the country to unknown parents would be considered a Saudi citizen.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development had 17 social protection units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse. Child abuse is a crime punishable by one year’s imprisonment, a maximum fine of 50,000 riyals ($13,300), or both.
On January 30, local media reported that the family protection unit in Jizan investigated the case of a 15-year-old girl abused by her father, stating that legal actions would be taken against him. There were no updates as of November.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18; those younger than that age may marry only with court approval. According to local media, the court ensures several conditions are met before approving a marriage contract for a bride or groom younger than 18, including assessing their psychosocial development and hearing statements from the potential bride, groom, and guardians to determine consent. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of such marriages. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex. In February a woman was arrested for sexually abusing a girl in Riyadh. The woman allegedly filmed herself and the girl and posted the footage on social media. In the same month, Mecca police arrested a man for sexually harassing a child. He reportedly posted a video of the harassment on social media.
There were no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.
Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Semitic language in their sermons were generally rare but occurred more frequently during the May conflict in Gaza. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs vets all sermons. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.
On January 30, a Washington Post article cited expert assessments that anti-Semitic references and language in Saudi textbooks had been removed or tempered, including calls to “fight the Jews.” Nonetheless, some concerns remained regarding anti-Semitic themes in textbooks; for example, a textbook’s passage refers to a Quranic text that suggests God changed a group of Israelites into “monkeys.”
A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated that the October Riyadh International Book Fair included exhibitors selling more than two dozen notoriously anti-Semitic books. The ADL noted that the presence of these anti-Semitic books at the largest book fair in the country “seem[s] at odds with some positive Saudi trends.”
In January a group of Israeli drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to compete in the Dakar Rally, despite a ban on Israeli travelers to the country. On February 2, the English-language newspaper Arab News ran an op-ed by two Israeli writers, Hay Eyta Cohen Yanarocak and Jonathan Spyer, believed to be the first time a Saudi newspaper knowingly published Israeli writers.
The law mandates the state to “protect human rights in accordance with Islamic law,” which the Authority for Persons with Disabilities notes includes justice, equity, and antidiscrimination on any grounds, including disability. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned workplace discrimination, including on the basis of disability (see section 6, Women). On April 21, the ministry announced that all private and government institutions were obliged to meet certain accessibility requirements within six months; accommodations were implemented at some government buildings, retail establishments, and sidewalks. Local media reported that the ministry had formed expert committees to oversee the implementation of accessibility requirements that would follow the building code and accessibility standards developed by the King Salman Center for Disability Research. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools. The Ministry of Education took measures to integrate students with disabilities, including special education programs in regular schools, training faculty members who work with students with disabilities and providing technological instruments for students with disabilities free of charge. On September 29, the education minister stated students with disabilities would have equal educational opportunities to help them integrate into the labor market, adding that the ministry had prepared a teaching and training strategy to ensure students with disabilities students received proper education and training.
Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.
There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV or AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to counter stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Under sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTQI+ rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Clerics condemned homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques.
During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to punish harshly individuals engaging in same-sex relations.
On October 24, local media reported that Northern Borders Province police arrested and referred for prosecution five men who appeared in public in women’s clothing. The men filmed themselves and posted the video on social media in an apparent attempt to attract more social media followers. A police spokesman described their conduct as “inconsistent with the public morals of society.”
Observers at the December MDLBeast Soundstorm music festival reported that it included the public display of LGBTQI+ culture.
Social, legal, economic, and political discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. HRW claimed that some state clerics and institutions “incited hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority.”
To address the problem, the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard included antidiscrimination training in courses offered by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Rape of men is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). The COI reported regime and proregime forces continued to commit sexual violence targeting protesters and opposition supporters, including rape and sexual abuse. Regime officials in the intelligence and security services perpetrated sexual and gender-based violence with impunity, according to the NGO Trial International. A September Amnesty International report revealed that refugees who returned to Syria, particularly women and children, faced severe sexual violence, including rape. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. Victims often feared reporting rape and sexual abuse, according to OHCHR, due to the stigma associated with their victimization and threat of retaliation.
Women and girls subjected to sexual violence lacked access to immediate health care, particularly in regime detention facilities where reports of sexual violence continued to be prevalent, and authorities often denied medical care to prisoners (see section 1.g.). The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reported that many detainees were subjected to rape, sexual harassment, genital mutilation, intimate searches, forced nudity, and forced abortions (see section 6, Reproductive Rights).
In April HRW reported that Syrian state and nonstate actors subjected gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and nonbinary persons to sexual violence resulting in severe physical and mental health consequences.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. UNFPA and local human rights groups reported women and children were at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.
In January the COI reported Kurdish and Yezidi women in SNA detention were “raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, including degrading and humiliating acts, threats of rape, performance of ‘virginity tests,’ or the dissemination of photographs or video material showing the female detainee being abused.” The UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported in March that members of the SNA were implicated in a number of rape cases and were found to have used sexual violence in detention facilities. In March the COI reported that sexual and gender-based violence committed by ISIS was a “regular practice specifically targeting women and girls,” and noted in its February report that ISIS members subjected Yezidi women and girls to rape, including through sexual slavery. The COI also reported that former detainees described sexual violence, including rape, in HTS facilities.
In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus, licensed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women. These programs were not available throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. Reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased following the onset of the crisis in 2011. In September the STJ reported the honor killing of a young woman and her mother in the HTS-controlled Idlib Governate. A paternal male cousin of the young woman killed her and her mother after the daughter posted a photograph to social media of herself without a hijab. A May STJ report on domestic violence and honor killings recorded the death of 16 women at the hands of male relatives on the pretext of bringing shame to the family from January 2020 to February. The SNHR reported thousands of victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage were subsequently ostracized by their families because of their abuse. OHCHR noted one reason why sexual violence remained severely underreported was the threat of honor killings of the victims by family members.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. The Syrian Observer reported cases of women in Damascus facing sexual harassment and exploitation after being forced to drop out of school and enter the labor market.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of involuntary sterilization. PHR stated that women reportedly were increasingly choosing caesarean deliveries to reduce the amount time spent in hospitals which were known to be targets of attacks. In July 2020 UNOCHA reported an increase in coerced abortions in the northwest in response to increasing psychosocial stress, poverty, and lack of employment opportunities, compounded by the effects of COVID-19; no additional information was available.
Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care and reproductive services both costly and dangerous, and the COI reported that the regime and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. PHR assessed that attacks on humanitarian actors by the regime and Russia and, to a lesser degree, armed groups caused medical providers to operate in secret or in some cases to leave the country (see section 1.g.). Attacks impacting hospitals affected pregnant women, and during the year midwives reported that hostilities forced an increasing number of women to give birth through caesarean sections to control the timing of their delivery and avoid traveling in insecure environments. The NGO International Rescue Committee reported pregnant women did not receive care during pregnancy, such as monitoring the fetus or essential vitamins. UNFPA reported a dramatic rise in early deliveries, miscarriages, and low-weight births during the year and expressed concern that COVID-19 threatened to further restrict access to family planning services already impacted by the conflict.
Activists reported that regime detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth.
Many pregnant women living in IDP camps in Idlib Governorate and camps such as al-Hol and Rukban lacked access to hospitals, doctors, or skilled birth assistants.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status questions for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.
The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.
The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor share responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.
Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported the conflict, and more recently COVID-19, reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.
HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories it controlled. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s February report noted women cannot grant citizenship to their children, initiate divorce, or exercise their right to vote under HTS. HTS imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, forbade women from living alone, and required that women be accompanied by a mahram – a male member of their immediate family – in public. According to the STJ, HTS routinely detained, abused, and killed women under pretexts including “insulting deity,” “adultery,” and “espionage.”
The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The regime continued to limit the use of the Kurdish language, restricting publication in Kurdish of books and other materials and Kurdish cultural expression. The Kurdish population – citizens and noncitizens – faced official and societal discrimination and repression (see section 2.g.), as well as regime-sponsored violence. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed SNA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals, as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.). In March the COI reported cases of SNA members arresting, beating, and kidnapping Kurdish women in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn, and in September the COI found that the SNA continued to subject civilians of Kurdish origin to unlawful deprivations of liberty.
The minority Alawite community to which President Assad belongs enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.
ISIS members continued to target ethnic and religious minorities in attacks. The February COI report stated that ISIS subjected Yezidi women and girls to human trafficking, torture, inhuman treatment, murder, and rape (see sections 1.g. and section 6, Children). In February The Jerusalem Post reported Yezidis in Syria denounced a new regime ruling that required them to follow Islamic personal status laws. Some Yezidis had previously requested to have their own court oversee personal status matters.
HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against members of all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.).
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities often did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.
Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement. The regime continued to limit the teaching of the Kurdish language.
Combatants on all sides of the conflict attacked or commandeered schools. The COI reported in February that repeated attacks on schools, growing poverty rates amid an economic crisis, recruitment of boys for military roles, and violent treatment of children in detention centers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on displaced children, particularly girls. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.
In October UNICEF reported 6.8 million children needed humanitarian assistance, negatively impacting their ability to remain in school. Approximately 2.1 million children were out of school among more than 2.6 million internally displaced Syrian children, including refugees; another 1.3 million were at risk for leaving school. HTS reportedly imposed its interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.). The group imposed dress codes on female teachers and pupils where it allowed girls to remain in school, while preventing large numbers of girls from attending school at all, according to the COI.
The COI reported in September that the 40,000 children in al-Hol camp lacked sufficient access to education.
The SDF reportedly imposed penalties on school administration staff members who did not use their curriculum. For example, the COI reported in September that Asayesh, the SANES internal security forces, detained six teachers for tutoring students enrolled in university exams and forced them to sign a pledge that they would no longer instruct the government curriculum.
Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. In September the COI reported children, especially girls, were acutely vulnerable to violence and were victims of a broad array of abuses.
NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). HTS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories it controlled.
The regime did not take steps to combat child abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent. Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family. In February the COI reported that the death or disappearance of male parental figures at the hands of the regime and other armed groups left many children vulnerable to child labor and child marriage. In July the STJ reported that violence against women was increasing, leaving girls increasingly vulnerable to early and forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families by the conflict, problems exacerbated by COVID-19, and societal pressures. In August UNFPA reported an increase in early marriage cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Hassia industrial camp, Majar farms, and Shamsin.
There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.
NGOs reported that early and forced marriages were prevalent in areas under the control of armed groups, and citizens often failed to register their marriages officially due to fear of detention or conscription at regime checkpoints.
In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g.). The Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to fear and the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS.
From 2014 onwards ISIS began to forcibly marry women and girls living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, but many forced marriage cases the COI documented in its February report involved young girls. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced “prostitution,” both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” There were no known prosecutions for child pornography.
The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.
Displaced Children: The population of IDP children increased for the 10th consecutive year due to the conflict, and a limited number of non-Syrian refugee children continued to live in the country. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).
NGOs and media reported that the Jewish population had fled the country and there were no known Jews still living in the country. In January the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported that researchers had compiled a list of more than 2,000 important Jewish heritage sites in the country that should be protected, many of which had sustained damage during the conflict. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”
While the law provides some protections for persons with disabilities, the regime did not make serious attempts to enforce applicable laws effectively during the year. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.
The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. In February the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported violence against health-care workers and attacks on health facilities had compounded the effects of COVID-19, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to receive medical care, including those suffering from disabling injuries from the conflict. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, buildings, or transportation. The COI’s February report noted the difficulties experienced by children with disabilities caused by the conflict. A June HRW report revealed that the conflict and lack of access to aid services had a devastating impact on the mental health of children with disabilities. In April the UNHCR reported 36 percent of IDPs had a disability, and 47 percent of this population lacked access to health facilities.
There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported, and COAR noted that stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS was enormous. The UN Development Program assessed COVID-19 presented barriers access to HIV testing and treatment. COAR also assessed schools employed substandard educational curricula concerning HIV/AIDS and determined that HIV/AIDS awareness was inadequate.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and stipulates imprisonment of up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but COAR reported the lack of protections in the legal framework created an environment of impunity for rampant, targeted threats and violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. NGO reports indicated the regime had arrested dozens of LGBTQI+ persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.
In June COAR reported that the regime and other armed groups subjected perceived members of the LGBTQI+ community to humiliation, torture, and abuse in detention centers, including rape, forced nudity, and anal or vaginal “examinations.”
Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTQI+ matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.
In February the COI reported that ISIS systematically discriminated against LGBTQI+ individuals as a matter of policy. HTS and other armed groups used unauthorized “courts” to impose draconian social restrictions, according to the COI, particularly against women and LGBTQI+ individuals (see section 1.g.).
Yezidis, Druze, Christians, Shia, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS, HTS, the SNA, and other groups (see section 1.g.).
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
United Arab Emirates
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is defined as coerced sexual intercourse with a woman or sodomy with a man. Rape is punishable by death under the penal code. Changes to the penal code announced in November made rape of women generally punishable by life imprisonment but still punishable by death in certain cases. The penal code does not prohibit spousal rape. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. The government rarely prosecuted these cases, and those that did led to few convictions.
In November 2020 the government decriminalized consensual extramarital sex. Changes to the penal code announced in November, however, stipulated that consensual extramarital sex is punishable by six months’ imprisonment if a complaint is filed by a husband or guardian of either of the parties. Updates to the penal code also criminalized indecent assault by coercion, threat, or deceit, and cover instances where the victim is incapable of providing consent due to mental incapacity. Sexual relations with a person younger than the age of consent, 14 years old, is punishable as indecent assault. Changes to the penal code announced in November raised the age of consent to 18. If the perpetrator is related to the victim, responsible for their upbringing or care, or has authority over them, the punishment may be up to life imprisonment.
In February the Ras al-Khaimah Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of two Gulf nationals convicted of kidnapping and raping an unidentified person described only as “a youth.” Also in February the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced three male nationals of a Gulf country to life imprisonment on charges including attempted rape. In April the Dubai Court of Appeals upheld a life sentence against an Indian salesman for raping a housewife inside her home and threatening her with a knife.
The penal code outlaws multiple forms of domestic abuse, including mental, sexual, and financial abuse. Public prosecutors may issue protective orders for victims, and abusers may be subject to prison or monetary fines. In June a criminal court in Dubai sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his wife.
Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There are domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.
While the government has not yet fully implemented the Family Protection Policy, adopted in 2019, it did coordinate with social organizations to increase awareness of domestic violence, conduct seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children sought to increase awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and by sponsoring a hotline. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation, which operated a shelter, also launched a project with the L’Oreal Fund for Women to construct a medical screening and quarantine facility for domestic abuse survivors. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children in Ras al-Khaimah also maintains a hotline for domestic abuse survivors.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure, private clinics and ritual/traditional circumcisers continued to carry it out. The type of FGM/C most prevalent in the country was performed during infancy and childhood. FGM/C was practiced by some tribal groups and was reportedly declining as a traditional custom, although little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In November 2020 the government repealed an article in the penal code allowing men to receive lighter sentences for killing a female relative found in the act of extramarital sex. The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives threatening to commit honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included providing housing to individuals for their safety and well-being and family mediation and reconciliation.
Sexual Harassment: The government has prosecuted sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual harassment includes repetitive harassment through action, words, or signs, and acknowledges that men can be victims of sexual harassment. The penal code stipulates punishment by a prison term of at least one year, a fine of 100,000 AED ($27,250), or both. If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it is to include a prison term followed by deportation.
Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.
According to changes to the penal code announced in November, pregnancy outside marriage is punishable by two years’ imprisonment unless the parents marry or one or both acknowledge the child and obtain identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either parent is a national. Unmarried noncitizen women who become pregnant have faced difficulties registering births and obtaining identity documents for children, complicating the ability for such children to remain in the country.
While reproductive health care is available, it was more challenging to access for unmarried and noncitizen women, who represented a significant majority of the female population. Additionally, there were restrictions to health-care access based on health insurance. Although the government provides free health care to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens, insurance plans for unskilled laborers often did not offer prenatal or postnatal care, and the government did not provide free postnatal care for noncitizen pregnant women. Foreign residents with no health insurance benefits may use public hospitals for a fee and sometimes relied on charity to cover these costs. Access to limited pharmacological contraception options was available only through medical prescription. Oral contraceptive prescriptions are legal for single women as treatment for menstrual issues. Most health insurance plans did not cover insertion and removal of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.
Abortion is generally illegal. It is permitted only when the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, or when there is evidence that the baby will be born with deformities and will not survive.
There were no reports that virginity tests were practiced in the country. Hospitals must report rape cases to police, and rape victims were usually provided with medical care. Emergency contraception was reportedly available with a doctor’s prescription and in some cases required spousal consent.
Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage. In November Abu Dhabi passed a new personal status law for non-Muslims related to marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance that would limit discrimination against non-Muslim women.
The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives. Non-Muslim women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter under sharia law. The reforms announced in November in Abu Dhabi would entitle non-Muslim women to larger inheritances than previously. Legal reforms in 2019 allow women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband. In 2019 the government began allowing women to be head of household.
To obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, a woman must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or did not provide for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. In April, Sharjah passed a decree providing female citizens additional protections against eviction from their marital home in cases of divorce. According to the decree, a divorced citizen woman cannot be evicted if the home was given as government aid or if she has children.
The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts applied the “the best interests of the child” standard. According to federal law, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach age 13 and sons age 11. are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law, fathers are permitted to seek custody of a son younger than age 11 if they believe the child has become “too soft.” The new family law for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, issued in November, grants parents joint custody, unless a parent waives their right or submits a request to deny the other parent custody on grounds of “ineligibility,” potential danger to the child, or failure to perform parental duties.
In March a criminal case against a resident who gave birth out of wedlock in 2020 was dismissed on the grounds that the decriminalization of consensual premarital sex rendered the act “unpunishable.” The legal reforms did not address the civil status of births out of wedlock, however, and many residents were not able to register their children without a marriage certificate.
Despite these changes to federal laws, local laws may still penalize adultery or consensual premarital sex. In August the Supreme Federal Court rejected the appeal of a woman from Sharjah accused of consensual premarital sex, finding that local laws remained applicable despite the absence of a federal penalty.
While the law mandates equal access to education for all, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. Many private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials, local women represented more than 70 percent of national higher education students.
The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses, because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.
The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, working outside the home. In 2020 the president issued a law stipulating equal wages for women and men in the private sector.
Racial discrimination is illegal, but the government did not effectively enforce these protections and discrimination remains common in areas such as employment. In September the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies accused the government of arresting individuals based on their race and national origin and deporting them without charge. Job postings may list ethnic preferences, and the government has taken no action to mitigate such discrimination in the workplace.
Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. The children of citizen mothers married to foreigners do not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon. Despite recent legal reforms, women reportedly faced difficulty registering births, and thus obtaining residency and travel documents for their children, without a marriage certificate, or if they were unable to pay hospital debts.
Education: Education is compulsory through the 12th grade or until the age of 18, whichever occurs first; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered in Arabic, and if one of the parents worked in a government entity, among other criteria. In 2018 the Ministry of Education made all public schools coeducational from the first to fifth grades, starting with that year’s first-grade class.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government took steps to increase awareness of the issue, including the Child Safety Campaign, which reinforced the role of media in protecting the rights of children. In March the Fujairah Appeals Court fined an Emirati man AED 1,100 ($300) for assaulting and injuring his 11-year-old son, as confirmed in two videos by the victim’s mother. In August the Dubai police announced they had handled 103 child abuse cases, including 17 instances of children deprived of identity documents and 14 of their education rights, thus far in the year.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18, unless a judge gives approval for an earlier marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children younger than 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.
There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues, but Abu Dhabi was constructing the country’s first purpose-built synagogue as part of the larger government-sponsored Abrahamic Family House, scheduled to open in 2022. The small foreign Jewish population conducted regular and holiday prayer services in rented space. In February the Jewish community living in the country formally incorporated the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, the country’s first Jewish court of law, to adjudicate personal disputes. Dubai’s Jewish community was able to obtain its first official license from the CDA under the name “Gates of the East,” conferring among other privileges the ability to seek religious worker visas. Anti-Semitic remarks decreased on social media, and government officials demonstrated inclusivity by broadcasting greetings on Jewish holidays through social media and highlighting the normalization of UAE-Israel relations under the Abraham Accords to promote interfaith understanding and combat anti-Semitism.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government enforces the law, and children with disabilities are integrated into the school system. Most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.
Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens.
The Ministry of Community Development is the central body responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In September 2020 the ministry launched the first guide for the employment of persons with disabilities. The guide incorporated sign language interpretation technology through a virtual 3D cartoon character. The government continued to raise public awareness of societal inclusivity through its National Strategy for Empowering People with Special Needs.
In September 2020 Abu Dhabi launched a five-year strategy, involving six government organizations and 30 initiatives, to increase integration, empowerment, access, and opportunities for persons with disabilities in the emirate.
In April the cabinet adopted the National Autism Policy to improve the health and well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to support caregivers. The policy focuses on improving service delivery and upgrading the skills of personnel working in ASD centers operated by the Ministry of Community Development.
On October 1, the government opened the six-month Expo 2020 Dubai with the stated aim for it “to be one of the most accessible Expos in history.” Organizers implemented various measures to meet this goal, including hearing induction loops, service-dog relief areas, and the creation of specifically designed applications to assist persons with disabilities in navigating the event. The site is wheelchair accessible, and organizers worked with international consultants to incorporate accessibility into building designs. Expo 2020 Dubai received international accreditation as a “Sensory Accessible Event” from the International Board of Sensory Accessibility due to its incorporation of quiet rooms, tactile maps, audio output, and braille. On December 3, organizers celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with programming by international participants across the site, including an event hosted by the Ministry of Community Development in partnership with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs addressing such topics as inclusive accessibility and education
Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination. Legal protections against employment and education discrimination for individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as free access to HIV treatment and care programs, existed for citizens; however, noncitizens did not have these rights. The government does not grant residency or work visas to persons with certain communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS. Noncitizens who test positive for these diseases may be detained and deported. Doctors are required to inform authorities of HIV/AIDS cases, reportedly discouraging individuals from seeking testing or treatment.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi’s penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no known reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct.
The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.
In November 2020 the penal code dropped a clause criminalizing wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex. The law now criminalizes only men who enter a place designated for women while disguised as a woman. The punishment for this infraction is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to AED 100,000 ($27,250).
The law permits doctors to conduct sex reassignment surgery when there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison.
Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTQI+ organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held.
West Bank and Gaza
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for conviction of rape is five to 15 years in prison. The PA repealed a law in 2018 that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim. Neither the PA nor Hamas effectively enforced laws pertaining to rape in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, one in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. According to UN Women, in the West Bank and Gaza one in three women who have ever been married were subjected to physical violence by their husbands, and one in seven who have never married are subjected to violence by a household member. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence.
PA and Hamas did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or Hamas due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. Women’s rights and child advocacy groups reported sharp increases in incidents of domestic violence and abuse related to coronavirus mitigation measures including lockdowns and business closures.
According to human rights groups, the Attorney General’s Office and the security services ignored death threats directed at employees and employees’ family members at a women’s rights organization.
On November 22, Amer Rabee allegedly stabbed his wife, Sabreen Yasser Khweira, to death in their home outside Ramallah. Rabee also allegedly attacked his mother, who suffered injuries and was transferred to a hospital. PA police arrested Rabee later on November 22, and both the Khweira and Rabee families have called for his execution. According to press reports, Rabee had spent a month in prison earlier in the year after Khweira filed a complaint with police after Rabee beat her with cables. The case following Khweira’s killing continued at year’s end.
In October 2020 Palestinian police began an investigation into the death of a pregnant woman at her home in the West Bank town of Nabi Elias, according to media reports. Shortly after the investigation began, the PA Ministry of Social Affairs stated the woman’s husband had killed her and PASF arrested him. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In 2018 the PA amended the law to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs claimed the amended law was not sufficiently enforced. According to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS), 11 Palestinian women were killed in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem during the year out of 555 total killings; five in the West Bank, four in Gaza, and two in Jerusalem.
In September 2020 the PA attorney general charged three male family members with murder in the 2019 death of Israa Ghrayeb in an alleged honor killing, according to media reports. Hearings in the case were postponed several times due to coronavirus emergency measures. On February 17, the Bethlehem Court released the three suspects on bail. The case continued at year’s end.
Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. UNICEF reported that 100 percent of live births were attended to by a skilled birth attendant. While menstrual hygiene supplies were widely available, access to clean water and reliable sanitation facilities was a chronic problem. UNRWA provided reproductive health services include preconception care, antenatal care, intranatal care, postnatal care, and family planning to UNRWA registered refugees.
Discrimination: Inheritance for Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza falls under the Palestinian Basic Law, which is based on sharia. Under the Palestinian Basic Law, women have a right to inheritance but generally received less than men. According to human rights groups, in some cases women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance. While recognized Christian communities have separate civil court systems, there is no separate civil law for Christians, so those communities also utilize the Palestinian Basic Law. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment. Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women were common, and factories often did not hire pregnant or newly married women to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.
The Palestinian Basic Law included broad protections for Palestinians but was often superseded by informal tribal laws or the Jordanian penal code which offered less protection. There were no Palestinian laws that specifically provided for the protection of members of racial or ethnic minorities.
The government of Israel has assigned the IDF to maintain law and order in the West Bank through a series of military orders, but none specifically provide for the protection of Palestinian civilians or reference Palestinian rights. Rather, the focus of the IDF’s presence in the West Bank is the protection of Israeli citizens residing or transiting there. Minister of Defense Gantz repeatedly stated throughout the year that the IDF did not have the authority to arrest Israelis who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank. His remarks came after numerous videos that showed Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian civilians in the presence of and occasionally with the assistance of IDF. Israel’s nationalistic crimes unit investigated hate crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, including “price tag” attacks, in the West Bank. On November 18, Gantz held a meeting with top security officials to discuss “the grave phenomenon” of settler violence against Palestinians over the olive harvest period. After that meeting, Gantz announced the establishment of interagency teams to review force postures and strengthen legal authorities. The interagency teams had not announced any steps to address settler violence as of the end of the year.
According to a HRW report released in April, throughout most of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel was the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercised primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, HRW concluded, Israeli authorities methodically privileged Jewish Israelis and discriminated against Palestinians.
Palestinians also allegedly attacked other Palestinians on behalf of Israeli settlers. For example Daoud Nassar, director of the Tent of Nations farm, faced more than 25 cases in Palestinian courts involving various Palestinian attacks on the farm and against him personally. In May an arson fire destroyed hundreds of trees. His farm also faced property damage inflicted by Israeli forces. In June a COGAT bulldozer plowed through the property “for access” to another site, destroying trees and fences. There were several demolition orders against structures on the property, regarded as unpermitted in Israeli courts – in one case including a natural cave. Tent of Nations stated it had a valid title to the land dating back approximately 100 years under the British Mandate. The farm, located near Bethlehem, was on a hill with a 360-degree view and settlements occupy surrounding hilltops. Tent of Nations continued to wait at year’s end for COGAT’s Registry Committee to confirm the boundaries of their land and their ownership.
According to the HRDF, on October 11, one Palestinian and two Israeli human rights activists were violently arrested by the Israeli army while assisting Palestinian families in their yearly olive harvest near Salfit village in the West Bank, allegedly for entering a closed military zone and assaulting a soldier. The arrest occurred despite a Supreme Court ruling which stated that the Israeli army must let Palestinians access their lands freely to harvest their olives. Based on video footage, the judge released both Israeli human rights activists under the condition of a five-day ban from Salfit and from Nof-Avi Farm, a nearby unauthorized outpost which was erected on Salfit’s lands. The Palestinian human rights activist was released on similar terms. The Israeli activists were tried under the Israeli civil law system, while the Palestinian activist was tried under the Israeli military legal system, although the three were arrested together and charged with the same offenses.
On December 10, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian resident with live ammunition during ongoing antisettlement protests in Beita village against the unauthorized outpost that Israeli settlers established in May. Since regular protests began in early May, OCHA reported that in Beita and Beit Dajan, nine Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,700 injured, including 218 by live ammunition, 1,083 by rubber bullets and 4,341 others who required medical treatment for inhaling teargas. Most of the Beita residents killed by the IDF were killed during weekly Friday protests against the unauthorized settlement, which has temporarily been converted into an IDF base following the evacuation of settlers in June.
According to Bimkom, an estimated 35,000 Palestinian Bedouins lived in Area C of the West Bank. Many were UNRWA-registered refugees. Bedouins were often resident in areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C. Many of these communities lacked access to water, health care, education, and other basic services. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that 16 Israelis died during the year because of Palestinian attacks; 14 of the 16 were in Israel, one was in the West Bank, and one was in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Thirteen died during the May conflict. The Shin Bet reported, without specifying the identity of perpetrators or victims, that during the year there were nine incidents of rock throwing that resulted in moderate or worse injuries, 94 cases of live fire incidents, 46 stabbing attacks, and 1,516 Molotov cocktail attacks. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded, and one Palestinian killed during the “Day of Rage” protests that were called in solidarity with Gaza on May 19 in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were also dozens of reports of arson, as well as stone throwing.
As of December, Shin Bet had registered 397 settler attacks resulting in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or properties in the West Bank, compared to 272 violent incidents in 2020, according to Israeli press reports. The NGO Breaking the Silence reported 416 anti-Palestinian incidents in the West Bank during the first half of the year – more than double the figure for the first half of 2020 and more than all of 2019. According to Haaretz reporting, the IDF was aware of these incidents and often allowed settlers to “let off steam” to avoid confrontation with the settlers.
The ISF reportedly accompanied settlers during some attacks as well. According to The Intercept and NGOs, on May 14, six IDF soldiers accompanied a group of settlers who arrived in the town of Urif, near Nablus. The settlers allegedly uprooted 60 fig and olive trees, attacked the town’s school with stones, and broke its solar panels. During the attack the soldiers allegedly protected the settlers with gunfire, gave orders on where to go, what to uproot, and what to destroy and appeared to coordinate the attack while shooting at anybody who tried to get close. The attack left four Palestinian residents dead, and survivors said they did not know whether settlers or the IDF had shot them.
Some Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as numerous NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire. On July 26, a B’Tselem video showed a settler shooting in the direction of Palestinians in the village of al-Tuwanai, near Hebron, with an IDF-issued assault rifle belonging to a soldier who reportedly stood close by. The settler was then seen picking up large rocks to throw at Palestinians before IDF troops ordered him to leave the area. The IDF acknowledged the incident, saying that the soldier was summoned for an immediate investigation and clarification by the brigade commander, and the regulations were clarified. Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents because Israeli police stations in the West Bank were located inside Israeli settlements, often where alleged perpetrators resided, and they feared settler retaliation. Israeli police are not permitted to enter Palestinian villages without IDF accompaniment. Palestinians were also discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs. Following a freedom of information act request, Yesh Din received Israeli police figures for 2018 to 2020 which revealed that 369 cases of Israeli violence against Palestinians were opened, and 11 indictments were filed during the period. In comparison, 363 cases of Palestinian politically motivated crime against non-Palestinians (Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers) were opened, and 70 indictments filed.
Israeli settlers also attacked and injured Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, in some cases severely. On September 28, 40 mostly masked Israeli settlers from two nearby unauthorized outposts attacked the Palestinian village of Um Faggarah around lunchtime. The settlers first attacked a Palestinian herder and tried to steal his flock of sheep. Settlers then entered villagers’ homes and threw rocks at residents, including at close range. One Israeli settler dropped rocks on the head of a sleeping three-year-old Palestinian boy, fracturing his skull. According to UNOCHA, settlers injured eight Palestinians including children, killed five animals, and damaged numerous vehicles and 10 homes. UNOCHA reported that the IDF shot tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets, injuring another 20 Palestinians. On September 28, IDF soldiers detained a Palestinian and an Israeli settler in connection with the attack. The Palestinian was eventually released on bail; it was unclear whether the settler remained in custody. On September 29, Israeli police arrested two adults from Jerusalem and one youth from the settlements in connection with the attack. As of the end of the year, media outlets reported that two Israelis were charged for the assault out of dozens involved in the attack.
According to NGO and media reports, Palestinian civilians killed three Israeli civilians in the West Bank. On December 16, Israeli settler Yehuda Dimentman was shot and killed and two additional Israeli citizens riding in the same car were injured in a shooting attack near the outpost of Homesh. Press reported that Israeli police subsequently detained six Palestinians, two of whom they alleged conducted the attack, while the others aided the attackers. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, and the investigation continued at year’s end. Following Dimentman’s death, press reported that thousands of Israeli citizens flocked to Homesh in support of retroactively legalizing the Homesh yeshiva and establishing a settlement in memory of Dimentman. Israeli security forces blocked local roads and four nearby Palestinian villages and did not stop the march despite the protesters marching to an area that was illegal for Israelis to enter. According to the ICRC, some protesters entered the nearby Palestinian village of Burqa, vandalizing homes and tombstones and attacking residents, and approximately 100 Palestinians were injured and one hospitalized, mostly from teargas in clashes with the IDF. No arrests were reported despite the heavy Israeli security forces presence.
In December 2020 according to media reports, Israeli police were chasing a car in the West Bank when the car flipped over and one of its occupants, 16-year-old settler Ahuvia Sandak, died. Sandak and the other four occupants, who were also settlers, were reportedly throwing stones at Palestinians before the incident occurred. Sandak’s death sparked violent protests outside police stations in Jerusalem as some questioned the actions of police involved in the incident. In the West Bank, according to media reports, settlers blocked roads in protest of the police role in the incident, threw rocks at cars with license plates that identified them as Palestinian, and raided some Palestinian homes.
There were dozens of reports of settler violence during the olive harvest. Yesh Din stated that between October 1 and November 15, it recorded 41 incidents, including 12 incidents of violent offenses, 10 instances of burning or uprooting olive trees, 16 instances of crop theft, four incidents of land prevention to olive groves, and one case in which soldiers allegedly denied a farmer access to his land without basis. They noted, however, that they had limited resources to document incidents, suggesting that their statistics understated the problem. Army radio reported on November 8 that the Ministry of Defense recorded 67 incidents of settler violence towards Palestinians during the harvest season (with approximately one more week left in the season at that point). The incidents included uprooting, cutting, and burning trees as well as setting cars on fire, and vandalism. Israeli security forces arrested at least three settlers suspected of stone throwing and were investigating other incidents of violence and property damage, according to media reports.
Settler violence occurred throughout the year. According to the IDF, in the first half of the year there were 416 violent incidents on the part of the settlers, averaging 2.5 incidents per day, compared to 507 violent incidents the IDF reported for all of 2020. According to Peace Now and Yesh Din, 63 percent of acts of settler violence against Palestinians took place in the vicinity of outposts, and most violence went unreported to authorities.
Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews. On August 18, five young Jewish Israelis stabbed Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem Ahmed Salima outside West Jerusalem’s main market, Mahane Yehuda. Salima had finished his shift at a nearby restaurant and was waiting for his ride. The Israeli Jewish youth were reportedly headed to pray at the Western Wall. While Israeli police first accused the five of committing the attack with nationalistic motives, the prosecutor did not view it as a hate crime and instead announced charges on August 29 of aggravated intentional assault and possession of a knife. The case remained pending.
The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem. Civil society organizations and representatives of the Palestinian Authority stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs such as Bimkom and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy was to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem according to the Jerusalem Municipality’s Outline Plan 2000. Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign NGOs noted the Israeli government’s goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city,” as stated in the Jerusalem municipality’s master plan, and limiting the number of Palestinian residents. The plan originally set a target “ratio of 70 percent Jews and 30 percent Arab,” but planners later acknowledged that “this goal was not attainable” considering “the demographic trend” and adjusted to a 60-40 target.
Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, are entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949. Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had a right to compensation only but not to reclaim the property. In some cases, private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods and settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant legal and governmental barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, Israeli government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.
Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.
Social services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, were available only to Israelis and not Palestinians, according to NGOs.
Throughout the year there were nationalistic hate crimes and violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and property, often with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. According to UNOCHA, there was a 21 percent increase in “nationalistic” attacks in the West Bank by settlers or Jewish extremists that involved Palestinian property damage. There were 274 such attacks in 2020, compared to 332 as of December 20.
On May 3, B’Tselem reported that dozens of Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian village of Jaloud, setting brush fires and throwing stones at villagers. The attack reportedly was revenge for three Israelis wounded in a drive-by shooting at a nearby traffic junction days earlier.
On July 22, three settler youth allegedly set fire to a stone factory west of Hawara Palestinian residents of nearby Jamma’in village described it as a price tag attack, according to media reports. Israeli police stated they had received reports of arson and they had arrested one of the suspects and transferred him to a hospital for medical care.
On November 9, Palestinian residents of al-Bireh found graffiti sprayed on approximately two dozen cars and a building in their neighborhood. The damage included punctured tires, spray-painted Stars of David, and anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew. The slogan “enemies live here” was also painted on a building and “price tag” painted on a van. Israeli police and the IDF were dispatched to the scene, but there were no reported arrests.
In December 2020 Muhammad Marwah Kabha killed Israeli citizen Esther Horgan near the West Bank settlement of Tal Maneshe, according to multiple media reports. Kabha confessed to scouting the area in advance and killing Horgan, and an Israeli military court convicted him of murder on October 27. In May 2020 Palestinian Nizmi Abu Bakar threw a brick off his roof striking IDF soldier Amit Ben Yigal in the head and killing him while the IDF was conducting operations in Area A, according to media reports. In June 2020, Israel indicted Bakar for intentionally causing death. In November 2020 Bakar pleaded not guilty, and the defense stated they would work to annul the confession he gave during his interrogation, according to the Israeli government. The case continued at year’s end.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the occupied territories, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to Israel’s Civil Administration. The PA may not determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents may receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the Civil Administration if they are born in the West Bank or Gaza to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and Israel’s Civil Administration both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.
The Israeli government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays can last for years. The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.
Education: In Gaza primary education is not universal. UNRWA, Hamas, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports that Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps to which school-age children could apply for admission.
In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. UNICEF documented 85 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2020, 26 percent of which involved firing weapons in or near schools. UNICEF’s preliminary data indicated there were approximately 100 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank during the year.
According to NGOs, the difficulty of obtaining permits to build schools and the Israeli destruction of schools built without permits prevented many West Bank Palestinian children from getting an education. Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem also negatively affected Palestinian students’ access to education. As of the end of the year, 46 Area C schools and eight East Jerusalem schools, serving an estimated 5,400 students, were under pending partial or full demolition or stop-work orders, according to UNICEF. None were demolished during the year. B’Tselem further reported that on August 24, Israeli troops trained with heavy equipment close to homes and a school near the village of Tayasir in the north Jordan Valley, provoking protests that led to injuries. During the year the Civil Administration conducted 583 demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that displaced 370 Palestinian minors, complicating their ability to attend school, according to the United Nations.
There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated that in the 2020-21 school year, there was a shortage of 2,840 classrooms for Palestinian children who were residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim also reported that following a freedom of information request, the Jerusalem Municipality said it did not know where 37,233 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were enrolled in school. According to Ir Amim, this figure constituted 27 percent of East Jerusalem children of compulsory school age.
Child Abuse: PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and Hamas in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators convicted of family violence. Reports of domestic abuse increased under coronavirus emergency orders.
There were reports Hamas ran jihadi-themed summer camps, although there were no reports that Hamas recruited or used child soldiers.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. President Abbas issued a presidential decree declaring a marriage legal only if both parties enter into the marriage willingly and both are 18 years old. The decree provides an exemption for minors if a judge agrees the marriage is in “the best interest of both parties.” As of the end of October, the chief justice of the Sharia Court, Mahmoud al-Habash, granted 400 exemptions out of 2,000 requests, according to Palestinian media outlets. Some of the justifications for granting exemptions were not sufficient reason to provide an exception, according to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, which claimed some of the accepted justifications included “the girl agreed to marriage without coercion,” and “the husband agrees to let his wife complete her studies.”
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on Jordanian law. Punishment for conviction of rape of a victim younger than 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. In Gaza, under the rule of Hamas, suspects convicted of rape of a victim younger than 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms in Gaza led to underreporting to Hamas of sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consensual sex in the West Bank is 16. The Gaza Strip has no legal age of consent because marriage is legally required before sexual intercourse is allowed.
Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced significant numbers of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 441,600 residents at the end of 2019 and 451,700 at the end of 2020, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric, including Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism also regularly featured in public discourse, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis and Jews. During a protest in Beita against an unauthorized settlement on August 15, some of the activists burned a Star of David with a swastika inside. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging terrorist attacks against Israelis, and official PA media outlets published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content.
Civil society organizations cited problematic content in PA textbooks, including those used by UNRWA in its schools, to include anti-Semitic content, incitement to violence directed against Israel, and the failure to include Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. On June 18, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research released a study of a sample of 156 books that noted the textbooks’ adherence to UNESCO standards, including a “strong focus on human rights” as well as progress in the excision of inciteful content, e.g., elimination of references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in math and science textbooks. The study also noted a pronounced narrative of resistance towards Israel and found that some selections questioned the legitimacy of the State of Israel, contained anti-Semitic content, and praised Palestinians who committed violent attacks against Israel. UNRWA declared during the year that it had “zero tolerance for hatred, incitement to violence or discrimination” and that it reviewed the content of educational materials to ensure they were in line with UN values and principles and to address problematic content.
In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas but also media outlets controlled by the PA’s ruling Fatah party, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government did not provide information or communication in accessible formats. PA law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities. It does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications. The ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures in refugee camps.
Israeli authorities advanced plans to build an elevator and parking lot at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to provide access for persons in wheelchairs. Under the Oslo Accords, the Hebron PA municipality would need to issue a permit for the construction, and it has refused to do so, according to media reports. PA officials have called the construction criminal and tantamount to annexation of Palestinian land. The site has experienced frequent protests and clashes with Israeli security forces over the past year, in part due to Israeli construction plans.
Persons with disabilities received inconsistent and poor-quality services and care in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both the PA and Hamas offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities, according to advocacy groups. HRW stated neglect from Hamas and the Israeli closure of Gaza significantly affected the lives of persons with disabilities in Gaza, contributing to a lack of access to assistive devices and widespread stigma. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities as well as difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Hamas was more likely to provide prostheses and mobility aids to individuals injured in Israeli airstrikes or in the protests at the Gaza fence than to those born with disabilities, according to NGOs.
In May 2020 a border police officer in Jerusalem chased and then shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, after he had failed to heed calls to stop. A manslaughter indictment was summitted on June 17 to the Jerusalem District Court against the officer responsible for the shooting.
While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV or AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals in the West Bank was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV and AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
PA law in the West Bank does not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reported examples of violence, criminalization or abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. NGOs reported PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested individuals due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza sexual acts “against the order of nature” are criminalized. NGOs reported Hamas security forces harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but it does not criminalize spousal rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 25 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively. By law authorities may prosecute rape survivors on charges of fornication if authorities do not charge a perpetrator with rape. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession, the rape survivor must provide four male witnesses to the crime. There were no reliable rape prosecution statistics, and the number of rape cases was unknown. Human rights NGOs stated their view that underreporting of sexual and gender-based violence cases was common.
The GEE concluded that individuals affiliated with the government of Yemen, progovernment forces, and the Houthis committed rape. The Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence reported in March that increased conflict heightened the risk of sexual violence, including against migrants in border areas. The POE’s report during the year documented sexual violence against two internally displaced women in Aden committed by members of the Security Belt Forces, and cases of sexual violence in detention settings committed by the Houthis. On February 25, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2564 (2021), sanctioning Houthi leader Sultan Zabin for his role in weaponizing sexual violence. The special representative on sexual violence previously assessed that the Houthis systematically targeted female political leaders and activists since 2017. The GEE previously reported that in Houthi-controlled areas, women were threatened with sexual violence, as well as prostitution charges, physical harm, and arbitrary and secret detention if they spoke out against the Houthis. Mwatana during the year documented nine rape cases and one attempted case of rape of which two cases were attributed to the government, six to the Houthis, and two to the Southern Transitional Council. Among the survivors were four girls, five boys, and a woman.
Muhamasheen women were particularly vulnerable to rape and other abuse because of the general impunity for attackers due to the women’s low-caste status (see section 6, Systematic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).
The law states that authorities should execute a man if convicted of killing a woman. The law, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an “honor” killing or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of gender-based abuse, such as forced isolation, imprisonment, and early and forced marriage.
The law provides women with protection against domestic violence, except spousal rape, under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Survivors rarely reported domestic abuse to police and criminal proceedings in cases of domestic abuse were rare. The most recent UN Population Fund (UNFPA) study reported that 46 percent of gender-based violence incidents in 2018 were physical assault, 22 percent psychological abuse, 17 percent denial of resources, 11 percent child marriage, 3 percent sexual abuse, and 1 percent rape. Oxfam reported in February that women and girls do not report violence due to fear of being killed or exposed to further violence. Citing a September 2020 baseline study published in February, Oxfam reported that 71 percent of respondents justified male violence against wives, women, and girls for violating social norms. UNFPA estimated that 6.1 million women and girls needed domestic violence services.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, although a 2001 ministerial directive banned the practice in government institutions and medical facilities, according to HRW. According to UNFPA, the most recent data from 2013 indicated 19 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have undergone FGM/C, with prevalence rates as high as 80 percent and 85 percent in al-Mahrah and Hadramawt, respectively. FGM/C was less common among young girls ages 15 to 19 than among women ages 45 to 49.
Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the penal code criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. Authorities rarely enforced the law, however; sexual harassment was a major problem for women.
The ongoing conflict and ensuing humanitarian crisis made it difficult to find reporting on the government of Yemen’s approach to reproductive rights, including possible interference by the government with the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The conflict led to a breakdown of the healthcare system, and women and girls, including survivors of sexual violence, did not have access to essential reproductive health services. The UNFPA reported that only 20 percent of health facilities offered maternal and child health services, due to lack of supplies, staff shortages, damage due to conflict, inadequate equipment and supplies, and inability to meet operational costs. As a result five million women and girls of childbearing age and 1.7 million pregnant and breastfeeding women had limited or no access to reproductive health services.
UNFPA reported in March that a woman died in childbirth every two hours, almost always from preventable causes, that violence frequently limited access to hospitals, and that 1.2 million pregnant and breastfeeding women were acutely malnourished. According to the most recent World Bank and UNICEF estimates (2017), the maternal mortality ratio was 164 deaths per 100,000 live births. Most births took place at home, and only 40 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, according to 2020 UNFPA estimates. The adolescent birth rate remained high at 60 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19, according to 2017 UN Population Division estimates. UNFPA reported during the year that underage pregnant girls frequently died and lost their babies due to lack of access to hospitals, exacerbated by displacement.
Access to medications and pharmaceutical products, including contraceptives, also decreased due to both the conflict and Houthi interference with distribution of supplies. Reports of Houthi interference with contraceptive distribution continued.
According to Mwatana’s annual report, the Houthis issued a decision that banned family planning for being inconsistent with “faith identity.”
Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, and the government did not implement them effectively.
Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians; do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody; and have little legal protection. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d.).
A male relative’s consent was often required before a woman could be admitted to a hospital, creating significant problems in a humanitarian context in which the men of the household were absent or dead. Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where a woman’s testimony equals half that of a man’s testimony. A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. In the formal legal system, a woman must provide justification.
Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior (see section 1.f.). A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.”
Women experienced economic discrimination, and the Houthis prohibited women from participating in certain professions (see section 7.d.). The UN POE’s report stated that the Houthis “have detained, tortured, maimed, sexually violated or repressed politically or politically active women, who opposed Houthi views.” The Houthis, according to the UN POE report, use claims of prostitution and record sexually compromising videos to socially isolate and maintain leverage over women to deter them from taking any political role.
Mwatana reported that the Houthis discriminated against women in the workplace, restricted their freedom of movement, and interfered with their daily lives. The NGO stated that in January, Houthis forced the removal of all female employees of a restaurant in Sana’a and coerced the manager to sign a pledge not to hire women, which took away the livelihoods of 30 persons. The Houthis issued a document in September that prohibited girls from carrying smartphones and wearing makeup when they attend weddings and parties, and from riding in a car without a male relative escort. Violators would be fined and barred from employment with relief agencies. Mwatana in two days documented 11 incidents of movement restrictions placed on women in Hajjah governorate during the year.
The GEE and Amnesty International documented the case of Asmaa Omeissy, whom the Houthis arbitrarily detained in 2016, denying her fair trial rights and outside medical treatment, keeping her in solitary confinement, and torturing her. As of June 30, her appeal to the Supreme Court was pending. The GEE noted that the “morality” charges against Omeissy represented a “weaponization of gender” intended to “suppress the political participation of women and enable violations against women and girls.”
On February 20, in the Shamlan neighborhood of Sana’a, armed individuals detained actress and model Entisar Abdul Rahman Mahyoub al-Hammadi and a colleague on charges of “prostitution.” Human rights observers contend the women were targeted because of their work in the fashion industry. They were taken to a local police station and then transferred to the Houthi-controlled “Criminal Investigation Department” in Sana’a governorate, where they were reportedly tortured and kept for 10 days while their families were unaware of their whereabouts. According to the GEE, the Houthi-controlled “specialized criminal prosecution service” declined to prosecute case due to lack of evidence and referred it to the public prosecution of West Sana’a. The latter ordered a 45-day extension of the women’s detention and their transfer to the Central Prison in Sana’a. Amnesty International in May called for the Houthis to halt plans to subject al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing, which it described as a form of sexual violence and torture under international law. As of June 30, al-Hammadi’s lawyer, who received threats, was unable to access her case file. On November 8, she was “convicted” of crimes including “prostitution” and “drug use” and “sentenced” to five years in prison.
Although racial discrimination is illegal, some groups, such as the muhamasheen community and the muwaladeen (citizens born to foreign parents), faced social and institutional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and social status. The muhamasheen, who traditionally provided low-prestige services such as street sweeping, generally lived in poverty and endured persistent societal discrimination. Muhamasheen women were particularly vulnerable to rape and other abuse because of the general impunity for attackers due to the women’s low-caste status. The GEE reported the muhamasheen continued to be targets of extreme sexual violence (see section 6, Rape and Domestic Violence).
Media reports referencing muhamasheen activists noted that while social castes and slavery were abolished in the 1960s, tribal justice systems reinforced historical patterns of discrimination. There have been no further media reports on slavery since 2015, when the Yemeni Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation reported that slavery remained commonplace in some districts of Hajjah governorate and Hudaydah, with a total of 190 cases in 2012. Walk Free estimated in 2018 there were 85,000 victims of modern slavery in the country, or 3.1 percent of the population, but that due to the impossibility of conducting surveys under conflict, data likely underestimated the problem. This broad category included forced labor and debt bondage, human trafficking, and forced and early marriage.
During the year the Houthis reportedly targeted muhamasheen communities to recruit fighters. In July, Houthis killed four muhamasheen and injured another in Amran province after they refused to join Houthi fighters on the front lines.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. A child of a citizen father is a citizen. Women may confer citizenship on children born of a foreign-born father if the child is born in the country. If the child is not born in the country, in rare cases the Ministry of Interior may permit a woman to transmit citizenship to the child if the father dies or abandons the child.
There is no universal birth registration, and many parents, especially in rural areas, never registered children or registered them several years after birth. The requirement that children have birth certificates to register for school was not universally enforced, and there were no reports of authorities denying educational or health-care services and benefits to children based on lack of registration. The lack of birth registration reportedly led courts to sentence juveniles as adults, including for crimes eligible for death sentences.
Education: The law provides for universal, compulsory, and tuition-free education from ages six to 15. Public schooling was free to children through the secondary school level, but HRW reported that many children, especially girls, did not have easy access to education.
According to an October OCHA report, the number of out-of-school children more than doubled since the start of the conflict, reaching more than two million during the year. Two-thirds of all teachers had not received a regular salary for more than four years due to the conflict, including in government-controlled areas. Some unpaid teachers left the profession to seek alternative means of supporting themselves, further reducing educational opportunities of children. More than 523,000 displaced school-age children could not access education due to lack of space in existing classrooms. Even where schooling was available, the quality of education was negatively impacted by the conflict and humanitarian and economic crises.
The GEE raised concern that some parties to the conflict deprived children of their right to education through military use of school buildings, manipulation of education, and targeting of educators. Government of Yemen Special Security Forces reportedly used a school in Shabwah as a military barracks and detention facility, and the Houthis allegedly used four schools for weapons storage, manufacturing, and training.
Child Abuse: The law does not define or prohibit child abuse, and there was no reliable data on its extent. Authorities considered violence against children a private family matter.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Early and forced marriage was a significant, widespread problem, and the conflict has exacerbated the situation. There is no minimum age for marriage, and girls reportedly married as young as age eight. The UN special representative on sexual violence noted in March that out of desperation, IDPs arranged marriages for girls as young as age 10. UNFPA estimated that one in five displaced girls ages 10 to 19 were married. According to a UNICEF report issued during the year, 9 percent of girls were married before age 15, and 32 percent of girls were married before age 18. The United Nations reported that forced marriage and child marriage for financial reasons due to economic insecurity was a systemic problem.
According to UNICEF girls forced into early marriage often remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and unfulfilled potential, and married boys and girls were more vulnerable to being coerced into child labor or recruited into fighting (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits pornography, including child pornography, although there was no information available on whether the legal prohibitions were comprehensive. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law does not define statutory rape and does not impose an age limit for consensual sex.
Displaced Children: As of November, according to UNICEF, half of all IDPs in the country were children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at .
Media outlets reported in March that approximately four Jews remained in the country after the Houthis expelled 13 individuals from three families in March. One Jewish citizen, Levi Marhabi, remained in Houthi-controlled detention and was subjected to torture, according to the NGO Insaf. The Houthi movement continued to use anti-Semitic slogans. Anti-Israel rhetoric often blurred into anti-Semitic propaganda. The Houthis propagated such materials and slogans throughout the year, including adding anti-Israel slogans and rhetoric into the elementary education curriculum and books. The UN POE’s report noted that children in Houthi summer camps are instructed to shout the Houthi slogan, which contains the phrase “death to Israel, curse the Jews.”
Members of the Jewish community were not eligible to serve in the military or national government. Authorities forbid them from carrying the ceremonial national dagger.
The constitution and laws affirm the rights of persons with disabilities. The laws permit persons with disabilities to exercise the same rights as persons without disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce them. The law mandates the establishment of special educational institutions to provide basic education to persons with disabilities. Additional articles of the law stated education was a right for persons with disabilities. UNICEF reported in 2015 that “schools did not necessarily accept children with disabilities” due to inaccessible buildings, lack of specialized materials, staff, and transport. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Ministry programs aimed at integrating children with special needs largely halted with the outbreak of the conflict. The Yemen Fund for the Care and Rehabilitation of People With Disabilities reported in 2018 that only 750 students with disabilities were still studying at the university level, and that 190,000 students with disabilities had been deprived of education after 300 specialized centers shut down. The war continued to worsen access, as well as social stigma and official indifference. Information concerning patterns of abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental health institutions was not publicly available.
While there were no reports of social violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, the topic was socially sensitive and infrequently discussed. Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is a criminal offense. Information was not available regarding whether there were incidents of discrimination.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The government did not consider violence or discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons “relevant” for official reporting.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with the death penalty as a sanction under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law. There have been no known executions of LGBTQI+ persons in recent years.
Due to the illegality of and possibly severe punishment for consensual same-sex sexual conduct, few LGBTQI+ persons were open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals known or suspected of being LGBTQI+ faced discrimination.
There was one active LGBTQI+-related social media site. HRW reported in July 2020 that Saudi Arabia sentenced a Yemeni man who had posted a video advocating for LGBTQI+ rights to 10 months of prison, to be followed by deportation to Yemen, where he feared for his life. No further information was available on his situation.