Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem. The Ministry of Interior Affairs identified 526 women, including 259 girls under 16 as victims of rape, sexual abuse, and child molestation from January to October. Of these, 59 women, including 23 minors, were raped.
Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took limited measures to prevent it during the year. The government issued protective orders mandating the separation of victims and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to victims.
The law on crime prevention establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition, the code on administrative offenses prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for violating protective orders, battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs Domestic Violence Prevention Department head Aleh Karazei said 55 reported victims died as a result of domestic violence from January to July, up from 48 during the same period in 2018. Domestic violence caused 100 deaths annually in the country on average. According to Karazei and law enforcement data, more than 80 percent of domestic violence acts are committed under the influence of alcohol, and twice as many cases of domestic violence are reported in rural than in urban areas.
On February 1, a court in Valozhyn sentenced a local resident to 15 years in prison on a charge of beating his spouse to death in April 2018. The family, with two minor children, lived in a dormitory, and their neighbors told police the victim had complained of abuse and domestic violence. According to prosecutors, the victim sustained at least 18 severe injuries.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.
Coercion in Population Control: Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.
Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one parent is not a citizen. Births were generally registered immediately.
Child Abuse: Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions and provided foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate. The government instituted a 2017-21 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, but it acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures.
With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child-abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts often used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child-abuse victims for hearings, but experts continued to raise concerns that in some cases judges summoned child-abuse victims to testify at hearings. More experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and interests of minors. The government resumed operations of a national hotline for assisting children.
As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors in vulnerable and dangerous conditions, but independent observers questioned the quality of services. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. From January through June, the Ministry of Internal Affairs identified 353 minors as victims of pedophiles. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The government generally enforced the law. The government claimed that the law did not require a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense.
Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child-abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.
A UNICEF study reported in 2018 that more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either physical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared with children living in families: They had two to three times higher exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews lived in the country.
Anti-Semitic incidents were rare. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern regarding pan-Slavic nationalism professed by some extremist groups. Neo-Nazis, such as the Russian National Unity group and supporters of similar groups, were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and xenophobic newspapers, literature, frequently imported from Russia, were widely available. While the government encouraged classes and lectures on the Holocaust to be held on the January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it did not promote antibias and tolerance education.
Media continued to report that many memorials to the victims of the Holocaust built in Soviet times and more recently do not acknowledge Jewish victims to distinguish them from other victims of Nazi atrocities. The Jewish community continued to work with local authorities to erect new monuments that specifically commemorate Jewish victims.
On March 23, two memorial stones, including one honoring Jewish victims of Soviet repression, were vandalized with anti-Semitic and other smears at the memorial site of Kurapaty, where tens of thousands of people of various nationalities, including Jews, were killed between 1937 and 1941 by the Soviets. The Investigative Committee of Belarus launched an investigation into the vandalism, but no results were reported before the end of the year. Protests against a restaurant built near the killing site turned anti-Semitic when it was revealed that some owners of the establishment are Jews.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and discrimination was common.
The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for persons with hearing and vision disabilities. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not suitable to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated, although the situation continued to improve during the year.
The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 81 such institutions across the country housed around 20,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care. Approximately 14,000 of the 20,000 persons with disabilities, who lived in “psychoneurological” institutions, were deprived of legal rights, and courts designated directors of these institutions as their legal guardians.
Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. In 2017, experts of the ACT NGO released a monitoring report indicating that 3.3 percent of all educational institutions across the country were accessible to persons with disabilities, including with vision and hearing disabilities, and most of these facilities were recently constructed.
Persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, often encountered problems with access to courts and obtaining court interpreters. Women with disabilities often faced discrimination, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that they would not appropriately care for their children. Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.
Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, profiled, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, mistreatment in detention, and ethnic insults.
Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Roma. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.
On May 23, Presidential Administration head Natallya Kachanava and several top-level Mahilyou officials met with a group of Romani community representatives behind closed doors in Mahilyou. Kachanava reportedly apologized for a police roundup of Roma in Mahilyou and other nearby towns, which followed an alleged kidnapping and murder of a Mahilyou traffic-police officer on May 16. The officer had sent a text message to his colleagues claiming, “Gypsies drove me away in a vehicle.” Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich later stated the officer had committed suicide but defended the police action as justified by the circumstances. Kachanava reportedly promised that authorities would investigate all complaints and appeals regarding the Roma’s maltreatment “if indeed it took place.” The spokesman of the Prosecutor General’s Office, however, stated in June that the office would not investigate the incident because no Roma filed complaints. Independent human rights groups reported that Romani families declined to file complaints fearing retaliation.
Consensual same-sex conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was widespread, and harassment occurred. The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. Police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against them.
The government allows transgender persons to update their name and gender marker on national identification documents, but these documents retain old identification numbers that include a digit indicating the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Transgender persons reportedly were refused jobs when potential employers noted the “discrepancy” between the applicant’s identification number and their gender marker. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds. Transgender men were issued military IDs that indicated they had “a severe mental illness.”
In May the Ministry of Interior Affairs issued a statement criticizing the British Embassy for flying a rainbow flag on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, remarking the day had “no significance to Belarus.” The ministry claimed that same-sex relations violated “moral norms and led to a rise in sexual crimes against children.” Prosecutors refused a request from human rights groups to investigate similar statements by the ministry made in May 2018.
On June 3, the Ministry of Information’s expert commission charged with assessing print and online materials recognized two Vecherny Mogilev online articles as “extremist.” The articles featured hate speech, homophobic remarks, and called for violence against the LGBTI persons. The newspaper appealed to the Minsk city economic court to challenge the ministry and the commission findings, but the appeal was denied on August 16.
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS noted there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews. There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware.
The government continued to broadcast and post public-service advertisements raising awareness concerning HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.