An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Albania

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November the Assembly amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system, which allows for rapid issuance of protective orders and produces a record of orders issued. Through November the system was used to document the generation of 2,324 protective orders.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of November, investigators and prosecutors had registered 81 cases of alleged sexual assault. Also through November, investigators and prosecutors registered 4,313 cases of domestic violence, six of which were murders. UNICEF reported 370 cases of domestic violence through August, with fewer cases referred in 2020 than in 2019. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women. According to a 2018 survey of women between the ages of 18 and 74 that the UN Development Program released in March 2019, 52.9 percent of women surveyed reported having been subjected to violence or sexual harassment during their lifetimes.

The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and three shelters for victims of human trafficking that also accommodated victims of domestic violence. In 2018 the government began operating a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection reported that as of December, the center had treated 20 victims, 14 of whom were minors.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. There are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which are provided free of charge to insured women. Nevertheless, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, LGBTI community members, Roma, and Balkan Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

In 2018 the Ministry of Health and Social Protection established the Lilium Center with the support of UNDP to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center is in a hospital setting and provides health care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. The center functions are based on the model adopted by the Albanian National Council for Gender Equality.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination received 83 complaints of employment discrimination, 54 of which were against public entities and 29 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in nine cases, five of which were against public entities and four against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 11 complaints of discrimination on the basis of gender and ruled in favor of the employee in one case. In that case, the commissioner for protection from discrimination ruled against the Trans Adriatica Spiecapag company for dismissing a female employee due to her pregnancy, status as a parent, and gender.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2019 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 108 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children. The law on civil status provides financial incentives for birth registration.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and members of other minorities.

Children in first through fourth grade are legally entitled to free textbooks. Because of the need to use online class delivery during the pandemic, the government offered free schoolbooks to students from the first to the seventh grade; children with special needs were eligible for free schoolbooks from the first through the twelfth grade.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law; the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that as of November, 13 children had been sexually exploited none of them involving pornography. In early June, reports emerged of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and later sexually exploited; videos of the abuse were posted online. The case has gone to trial.

Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open-migrant facility in Babrru.

Some NGOs raised concerns about the transparency of the treatment of children who were under state residential care. The law allows for moving children out of residential centers and into the care of foster families, but the government and municipalities have not used this option frequently.

Through August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that there were 17 juveniles in the justice system, none of whom had been convicted. The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders, was adequate for the population it served. The directorate reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing.

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.

Reports indicated that there were 40 to 50 Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. In September Valentina Leskaj, a former government minister, joined the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement Advisory Board, becoming its first Muslim member.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received two complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local education office in Elbasan for refusing to hire a teacher because of her disability.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. A 2018 study by World Vision and Save the Children reported that none of the 10 municipalities surveyed had a plan to eliminate barriers to information, communication, and mobility for persons with disabilities, or a dedicated budget to address the problem.

There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if the students appeared to be poor. Many schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.

As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 12 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in two cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against Fier municipality and its water and sewage utility for discriminating against Romani households. The commissioner ordered the municipality and utility to supply running water to the families. When the municipality and utility did not respond, the commissioner imposed fines.

The government adopted legislation on official minorities in 2017 but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The legislation provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received one case of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which the commission started ex officio and ruled that discrimination had occurred.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements.

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons living with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. Penalties were rarely enforced and were not commensurate to those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those for other serious crimes but were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations and the victim advocates at the prosecutors’ offices received training in a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.

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

The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children who are 16 or 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law, the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. There were isolated reports of children subjected to forced labor in cannabis fields in 2019. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. In several cases, police detained parents of children found begging in the street and referred children for appropriate child services care. The State Agency on Children’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by mobile identification units.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.

SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. As of July, SILSS reported 101 children under the age of 18 registered to work, 88 percent of whom were in manufacturing enterprises.

The NGO Terre des Hommes reported that the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened child labor violations. Restriction of movement and other measures against COVID-19 produced new exploitation trends, such as door-to-door begging and afternoon and night street work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV/AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. The commissioner for protection from discrimination reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

There are laws prohibiting women from engaging in work that requires lifting more than 20 kilograms.

The national minimum wage was higher than the national poverty threshold. SILSS and tax authorities are responsible for enforcing the minimum wage but had an insufficient number of staff to enforce compliance.

While the law establishes a 40-hour work week, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual work week. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires rest periods and premium pay for overtime, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The government rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, which made up 56 percent of the economy, according to the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Overview of the Informal Economy in Albania.

SILSS is responsible for occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and while these were appropriate for the main industries, enforcement was lacking overall. Violations of wage and occupational safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties were not commensurate to those of other similar crimes. Law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors did have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Through October there were 137 major industrial accidents that caused death or serious injury to workers.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In one example police arrested a man in April 2019 on suspicion of killing his 47-year-old wife in Alaykoy (Yerolakkos). The victim’s daughter and sister told press outlets the suspect had physically abused and threatened to kill the victim on many occasions. They claimed the victim complained to police many times and alleged that police did not take her complaints seriously. In 2019 the suspect was sent to prison pending trial, which continued at year’s end.

Nicosia district police in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots operated the specialized Combating Violence against Women Unit to respond to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline. Turkish Cypriot police reported they investigated 801 reports of abuse against women from January to September. The unit reported they received 241 complaints regarding physical violence, 135 complaints of verbal violence, and 124 general disturbances. The unit reported they receive 89 cases per month on an average basis. The unit reported there was a 12 percent decrease in the number of cases during the lockdown between March and May.

In April the Nicosia Turkish Municipality’s Domestic Violence Project coordinator reported that “there is an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 because women are forced to stay at home” and that women’s access to support mechanisms was limited. The coordinator noted that, according to an EU-funded survey conducted in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in January, 40 percent of women were subject to physical violence, 60 percent were subject to psychological violence, and 25 percent to sexual violence.

In May the Side-by-Side against Violence project coordinator stated that 35 female survivors of violence applied for protection in March and April, marking an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 and lockdown. The group stated that the municipality received an average of seven complaints monthly in 2019.

At the end of August, the Combating Violence against Women Unit reported that it received 1,765 complaints from women since it opened in 2018. The unit reported that 41 percent of the complaints were for verbal violence; 38 percent were for physical violence; 5 percent were for violence towards property (including cell phones, houses, cars, etc.); and 4 percent concerned sexual violence, including rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment.

In January the Kyrenia “court” sentenced a man to six years in jail for torturing his wife with a belt. The penalty was reported to be the highest given by a “court” for domestic violence in the history of the community.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, a 45-year-old woman, Elif Lort, was stabbed repeatedly in the middle of the street in Kyrenia by her husband. Lort died in the hospital; police apprehended and arrested the husband. An investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs sexual harassment went largely unreported. A group of international students reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of “government” authorities.

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break.

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “law” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages of minors who are 16 or 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and two years or fewer apart in age from the victim, the act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. The new cybercrime “law” enacted in July makes possession or production of child pornography punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The “law” protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to social benefits, and prohibits discrimination against them. Authorities did not effectively enforce all parts of the “law.” For example the disability community complained of the absence of accessible infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

The Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported many buildings, sidewalks, and public bathrooms were not accessible to persons with disabilities. The association claimed the “government” had not employed a single person with disabilities since 2006, although the “law” requires 4 percent of public-sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attend specific schools that are “state” funded.

Authorities reported as of August 2019, more than 270 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” In September the “council of ministers” decided to provide social security and provident fund contributions to persons with disabilities employed in the private sector to create incentives for private-sector employment. Authorities also reported that nearly 4,986 persons with disabilities received financial aid from the “government” as of September.

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 310 Greek Cypriot and 62 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the government-controlled area. Maronites living in the government-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

Foreign domestic workers faced discrimination and, at times, violence.

Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that many foreign workers receive salaries below minimum wage.

An NGO reported that seasonal workers who came from Turkey during the pandemic were not paid and were stranded in Cyprus for several months until authorities ultimately provided transportation back to Turkey. In February, approximately 300 Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan foreign workers employed by Omag Construction reported to police that they had not received their salaries for four months. The foreign workers told police they each gave $1,390 to the company for “visa/permit fees,” and were threatened by people at Omag Construction posing as police officers to remain silent about not receiving their wages. The workers also reported they believed the false “police officers” to be members of the mafia and that they had taken three of the workers, who had not been heard from since.

On March 13, the “council of ministers” adopted a decision to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and barred private sector workers in the north, including domestic workers, from traveling to households to work. The “government” announced a 1,500 Turkish lira ($195) monthly assistance payment for some private sector workers affected by COVID-19 pandemic-related business closures but limited the subsidy to “TRNC” and Turkish citizens and excluded all other foreign workers.

There were reports of social and job discrimination against Kurds in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities.

Some of the approximately 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with law enforcement. Thirty to forty thousand foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. In April the Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) said authorities excluded foreign students from receiving food packages that citizens were receiving. VOIS claimed that authorities ignored foreign students and deprived them of medical and other support during the lockdown and pandemic. A student organization reported an African student, a single mother, asked authorities at the Famagusta police station to arrest her hoping that she and her child would be provided food in jail.

In March, VOIS criticized former “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for making a racist statement on television when he said, “The responsibility to take care of the thousands of African students who live in the ‘TRNC’ lies on those who brought them here. Either universities or employers. Before the COVID-19 crisis this was already a problem. This is now an opportunity to clean them out. This is not racism, but we have to protect our citizens.”

In June, VOIS announced the results of an online survey of foreign university students living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots: 88.2 percent of those interviewed said they had been victims of racism; 52.6 percent of this racial discrimination happened on campus, and 40 percent happened off campus. In addition 81.4 percent said racism was a serious problem in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots that needed to be addressed within society.

The RRA said the minister of interior did not provide enough support to foreign students. The RRA identified the groups at highest risk, whose numbers were unknown, as unregistered students, workers, and migrants. The RRA also said NGOs were unable to leave their houses to investigate complaints or distribute donations to those in need due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

The “law” prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.”

While there were no cases recorded of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTI community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTI persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association said LGBTI persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The “law” provides for the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “council of ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order, or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining. The “ministry of labor” reported that employers could not condition employment on membership or nonmembership in a union or participation in strikes. The “law” does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining, very few private-sector workers were unionized, according to labor union representatives. A union representative said that if private-sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public-sector unions as rivals to weaken the independent unions.

Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that 35 percent of the public sector and 0.5 percent of the private sector workers are members of labor unions. Police and members of other Turkish Cypriot security forces cannot join unions.

Labor authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.” Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” involving the denial of civil rights and were sporadically enforced.

In March the DEV-IS labor union began an indefinite strike for their members employed at the Buyukkonuk municipality. The union claimed their members had not received their salaries since November and their customary 13th month bonus from 2019. On the eighth day of the strike, the “council of ministers” banned the strike on the grounds that “it prevented the provision of essential services.” Union members employed at the municipality then began a work slowdown. Police launched an investigation on the grounds that they did not comply with the “council of ministers’” decision. In April, DEV-IS members and the “mayor” of Buyukkonuk were invited to the “ministry of interior” to sign an agreement that included the payment of December and January salaries, and the payment of the 13th month bonus in installments. The union reported the 13th month bonus has not been paid, but all other salaries were paid with a one month delay.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The “law” prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the “government” did not effectively enforce it. Penalties for violations of the “law” were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were reports of forced labor during the year, primarily in agriculture, construction, and the industrial sector. A labor union representative reported migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were subjected to reduced wages, nonpayment of wages, beatings, and threats of deportation.

A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle and traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians. Some foreign students who could not pay their tuition after arriving in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots became vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor.

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

The “law” prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to not more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

Authorities reported they received three complaints to the child labor hotline during the reporting period: two children working at construction sites and one at a market.

The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Resources and inspections were not sufficient and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and NGOs reported that primarily Turkish children often worked alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, albeit to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. It was common in family-run shops for children to work after school and for young children to work on family farms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status, which were addressed by general “regulations.” Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law” and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported there were more than 49,495 registered foreign workers in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Greek Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace, but most instances of sexual harassment went unreported. Women held far fewer managerial positions than men.

LGBTI individuals often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but it did not effectively do so. The penalties for noncompliance were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

According to the “statistics department,” the poverty threshold was estimated at 3,769 Turkish lira ($450) per month.

There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required, but frequently not paid, in the private sector. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Authorities did not effectively enforce safety and health standards, and the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Multinational companies reportedly met health and safety standards. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities could conduct unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions, but according to unions and associations, inspections were not adequately carried out. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers claiming violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy. Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

There was little improvement in working conditions, particularly in hazardous sectors and for vulnerable groups. Authorities reported there were 179 major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused two deaths. “Authorities” also reported they provided eight persons with pensions (based on their) incapacity to work.

Read a Section

Republic of Cyprus

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The maximum penalty for rape, regardless of gender, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. The failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Women victims of rape did not have regular access to free social support or assistance and continued to confront prejudice and discrimination in their communities and from representatives of public institutions.

While laws in both the Federation and the RS empower authorities to remove the perpetrator from the home, officials rarely, if ever, made use of these provisions.

NGOs reported that authorities often returned offenders to their family homes less than 24 hours after a violent event, often reportedly out of a concern over where the perpetrator would live. In the Federation, authorities prosecuted domestic violence as a felony, while in the RS it can be reported as a felony or a misdemeanor. Even when domestic violence resulted in prosecution and conviction, offenders were regularly fined or given suspended sentences, even for repeat offenders.

Domestic violence was recognized as one of the most important problems involving gender equality. NGOs reported that one of every two women experienced some type of domestic violence and that the problem was underreported because the majority of victims did not trust the support system (police, social welfare centers, or the judiciary).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the period of lockdown in April, NGOs reported an increased number of cases of domestic violence. For example, 140 cases were reported to the RS domestic violence hotline, which was 30 percent higher than in the same period of 2019. In the Federation, one of the safe houses in Sarajevo received three times more calls in April than in March. For the first three months of the year, 259 cases of domestic violence were reported to RS police, while 50 cases were reported in the Federation.

The country had a gender action plan for 2018-22. In 2019 the Council of Ministers established a steering board for coordination and monitoring of implementation of the plan. In accordance with the action plan, in September 2019 the RS passed the Law on Changes and Amendments to the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence. The new law better regulates assistance to victims and provides that domestic violence be considered a criminal act rather than a misdemeanor for which the penalty in most cases was a fine.

The country lacked a system for collecting data on domestic violence cases. The state-level Gender Equality Agency worked to establish a local-level mechanism to coordinate support for victims. In 2019 the agency performed an analysis of the data collection system on domestic violence cases that were processed by judiciary and sent its recommendations for improving the system to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. It also continued developing a computerized data collection system on domestic violence in the Federation. The agency had a memorandum of understanding with the country’s eight NGO-run safe houses (five in the Federation and three in the RS), which could collectively accommodate up to 200 victims, or less than half the capacity needed. In the RS, 70 percent of financing for safe houses came from the RS budget while 30 percent came from the budgets of local communities. While the RS government and local communities generally met their funding obligations, the Federation lacks laws to regulate the financing of the safe houses, and payments depended on each canton or local community, some of which often failed to honor their obligations.

Although police received specialized training in handling cases of domestic violence, NGOs reported widespread reluctance among officers in both entities to break up families by arresting offenders.

The network of institutional mechanisms for gender equality of the parliaments comprised the Gender Equality Commission of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, the Gender Equality Commissions of the Federation House of Peoples and the House of Representatives, the Equal Opportunities Committee of the RS National Assembly, and the Commission for Gender Issues of the Brcko District Assembly. Gender equality commissions also were established at the cantonal level; at the local level, respective commissions operated within municipal councils.

Sexual Harassment: Combatting violence against women and domestic violence is mainly the responsibility of the entities. BiH law defines and prohibits gender-based harassment, including sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination.

NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a serious problem but that women rarely reported it due to the expectation they would not receive systematic support from law enforcement institutions and that the perpetrators would go unpunished or receive light punishment, as evident by years of such practices by judicial authorities.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, but access to the information and means to do so was not uniform. There was no comprehensive sexual education program, and education, including on reproductive health and related topics, was not standardized through the country. Members of minorities, in particular Romani women, experienced disparities in access to health-care information and services, including for reproductive health. Many Romani women were not enrolled in the public insurance system due to local legal requirements, poverty, and social marginalization, which prevented them from accessing health care. Both BiH entities (FBiH and Republika Srpska) as well as Brcko District have laws that provide for survivors of sexual violence to access sexual and reproductive health services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and authorities generally treated women equally. The law does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work, but it forbids gender discrimination. Women and men generally received equal pay for equal work at government-owned enterprises but not at all private businesses. As evaluated by the Gender Equality Agency in the 2018-22 Gender Action Plan, women in the country faced multiple obstacles in the labor market, such as longer waiting periods for their first jobs, long employment disruptions due to maternity leave or elder care, and the inability of middle-aged women to successfully re-enter the labor market due to market shifts and discontinuation of some types of work.

Both Federation and RS labor laws stipulate that an employer must not terminate a woman’s employment contract while she exercises her right to: be pregnant; use maternity leave; work half time after the expiration of maternity leave; work half time until a dependent child is three years of age if the child requires enhanced care according to the findings of a competent health institution; and use leave for breastfeeding. While the law provides for these rights, its implementation was inconsistent. In practice, women were often unable to use maternity leave for the period of one year as provided by law, return to their work position after maternity leave, or take advantage of the right to work half time. Employers continued to terminate pregnant women and new mothers despite the existence of legal protections. The level of social compensation during maternity leave was regulated unequally in different parts of the country. The RS government paid 405 convertible marks ($250) maternity allowance monthly to unemployed new mothers for a period of one year or for a period of 18 months in cases of twins and following the birth of every third and subsequent child. Employed mothers were entitled to one year of paid maternity leave. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl birth ratio for the country was 107.5 boys per 100 girls in 2019. There were no reports the government took steps to address the imbalance.

Birth Registration: By law a child born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen regardless of the child’s place of birth. A child born in the territory of the country to parents who were unknown or stateless is entitled to citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. The NGO Vasa Prava identified 75 unregistered children in the country, mainly Roma. UNHCR, with the legal assistance of a domestic NGO, registered the births of children whose parents failed to register them.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level but compulsory only for children between the ages of six and 15. Students with disabilities continued to struggle for access to a quality, inclusive education due to physical barriers in schools; the lack of accommodation for children with audio, visual, or mental disabilities; the absence of in-school assistants and trained teachers. While some children with disabilities attended regular school, others were enrolled in special schools for children with disabilities. Children with severe disabilities, however, were not included in the education process at all and depended entirely on their parents or NGOs for education. Both the Federation and the RS had strategies for improving the rights of persons with disabilities that included children. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed on March 11 and online education was instituted. There were no provisions for assistance to students with disabilities who needed additional support to continue their education, which further exacerbated the problem.

The legal battle continued for Slavko Mrsevic, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome from Rudo, whose exclusion from high school by the RS Ministry of Education because of complications related to his condition led to a lawsuit. In March 2019 the Visegrad Basic Court ruled that the RS Ministry of Education and Culture and the Rudo Secondary School violated Mrsevic’s right to equal treatment in education. In September 2019 the basic court in East Sarajevo rejected appeals filed by the ministry and the school as unfounded and confirmed the decision of the municipal court in Visegrad. A case was also underway against the school director and some teachers. The case highlighted the wider and deeper issue of exclusion of students with disabilities, who faced numerous human rights problems in education systems in all parts of the country. Parents of students with disabilities continued to request that their children be granted access to quality education and a chance to develop their full potential within the country’s education system.

More than 50 schools across the Federation remained segregated by ethnicity and religion. Although a “two schools under one roof” system was instituted following the 1992-95 conflict as a way to bring together returnee communities violently separated by conflict, the system calcified under the divisive and prejudicial administration of leading political parties. These parties controlled schools through the country’s 13 ministries of education and often enforced education policies based upon patronage and ethnic exclusion. Where students, parents, and teachers choose to resist segregation, they were frequently met with political indifference and sometimes intimidation, which hurt the quality of education children received further. Funds were spent on perpetuating the “two schools under one roof” system rather than on improving school infrastructure, training teachers, improving teaching materials, or conducting extracurricular activities. The situation compounded inefficiencies in the country’s education system, as evidenced by poor performance by 15-year-old students who participated in the 2018 international Program of International Student Assessment study implemented by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The results of the study showed that the country’s students were three years behind in schooling compared to the OECD average and that more than 50 percent of students did not possess functional knowledge in language, mathematics, and science. Results for disadvantaged students showed that they lagged five years behind the OECD average.

Returnee students (those belonging to a different ethnic group returning to their homes after being displaced by the war) continued to face barriers in exercising their language rights. For the seventh consecutive year, parents of Bosniak children in returnee communities throughout the RS continued to boycott public schools in favor of sending their children to alternative schooling financed and organized by the Federation Ministry of Education with support from the governments of the Sarajevo and Zenica-Doboj Cantons and the Islamic community. The boycott was based on the refusal of the RS Ministry of Education and Culture to approve a group of national subjects (specific courses to which Bosniak, Serb, and Croat students are entitled and taught in their constituent language according to their ethnicity). Parents of children in one of these schools in Vrbanjci, Kotor Varos, won a court case in December 2019 when the RS Supreme Court ruled that their children are entitled to instruction on the national subjects in Bosnian. The ministry failed to implement the decision by September. As a result, 60 children continued learning in the Hanifici Islamic Center building, where teachers traveled from the Zenica-Doboj Canton. In June lawyers representing Bosniak parents filed a request for execution of the decision at the Kotor Varos basic court. As of year’s end, there had been no reply. Lawyers also reported that they tried to meet with RS ministry officials twice, without success.

In the Federation, Serb students likewise were denied language rights as provided in the Federation constitution, particularly in Glamoc elementary school in Canton 10, where authorities prevented the use of the Serbian language and textbooks, despite the significant number of returnee Serb students. Human rights activists noted that changes in the history curriculum and in history and other textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups other than their own and that other materials missed opportunities to dispel stereotypes by excluding any mention of some ethnic groups, particularly Jews and Roma. State and entity officials generally did not act to prevent such discrimination. Human Rights Watch asserted that ethnic quotas used by the Federation and the RS to allocate civil service jobs disproportionately excluded Roma and other minorities. The quotas were based on the 1991 census, which undercounted these minorities and were never revised.

Child Abuse: Family violence against children was a problem. According to UNICEF, there was no recent data available on the overall level of violence against children in the country. While relevant institutions collect scattered data, there is no unified data collection system. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. Only a small number of cases of violence against children were reported and, as a consequence, only a few cases were brought before courts. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced domestic violence. In many cases, children were indirect victims of family violence. The Sarajevo Canton Social Welfare Center estimated that up to 700 children annually were indirect victims of domestic violence.

Municipal centers for social work are responsible for protecting children’s rights but lacked resources and the ability to provide housing for children who fled abuse or who required removal from abusive homes.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but may be as young as 16 with parental consent. In certain Romani communities, girls married between the ages of 12 and 14, and Romani human right activists reported that early marriages were on the rise. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were reluctant to investigate and prosecute forced marriages involving Romani minors, attributing it to Romani custom. As part of the activities on the implementation of the Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons in the country for 2020-23, the Roma NGO Kali Sara was included in different programs on combatting trafficking, with special focus on the inclusion of Roma representatives in the work of antitrafficking regional coordination teams.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District have laws criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under entity criminal codes, the abuse of a child or juvenile for pornography is a crime that carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. Authorities generally enforced these laws. The law prohibits sexual acts with a person younger than 18.

Girls were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and there were reports that Romani girls as young as 12 were subject to early and forced marriage and domestic servitude. Children were used in the production of pornography.

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

The Jewish community in the country reported that it had fewer than 1,000 members.

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law in both entities and at the state level prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued. The government lacked a uniform legal definition of disabilities, which complicated access to benefits for those that would readily qualify, and normally prioritized support for war veterans. The most frequent forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities included obstacles in realization of individual rights, delayed payments of disability allowances, employment, and social and health protection. Support to persons with disabilities was dependent on the origin of the disability. Persons whose disability was the result of the 1992-95 conflict, whether they are war veterans or civilian victims of war, have priority and greater allowances than other persons with disabilities.

The Federation has a strategy for the advancement of rights and status of persons with disabilities in the Federation for the period 2016-21, while the RS has a strategy for improving the social conditions of persons with disabilities in the RS for 2017-26. The strategies were developed in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both strategies have a monitoring system implemented through the establishment of coordination bodies. In addition, in the Federation, coordination bodies were established at the cantonal level as well. In the Brcko District, the law provides expanded rights of persons with disabilities. Entity governments also provide funds within their budgets for the operation of vocational rehabilitation and retraining funds. Activities on the implementation of inclusive education continued in the education system.

The laws of both entities require increased accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, but authorities rarely enforced the requirement. Human rights NGOs complained that the construction of public buildings without access for persons with disabilities continued. Both entities have a strategy for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of health, education, accessibility, professional rehabilitation and employment, social welfare, and culture and sports. NGOs complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to help persons with disabilities.

The law provides for children with disabilities to attend regular classes when feasible. Due to a lack of financial and physical resources, schools often reported they were unable to accommodate them. Depending on the severity of their disability, children with disabilities either attended classes using regular curricula in regular schools or attended special schools. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, notwithstanding that many of them were unemployed because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.

Harassment and discrimination against members of minorities continued throughout the country, although not as frequently as in previous years. The Interreligious Council of BiH reported, for example, that the number of attacks against religious buildings continued to decrease, as they recorded only 10 cases during 2019. Members of minority groups also continued to experience discrimination in employment and education in both the government and private sectors. While the law prohibits discrimination, human rights activists frequently complained that authorities did not adequately enforce the law. For example, in 2019, 130 hate crimes were recorded in the country, but only one resulted in convictions.

On January 18, unknown perpetrators broke into a facility within the Catholic cemetery Veresika in Tuzla’s Tetima settlement, broke the door of the facility, stole some items, and destroyed the rest. Just days later, on January 22, unknown perpetrators destroyed candleholders, vases, statues, and other items that were placed on graves and desecrated some graves. As of September authorities had not identified the perpetrators. The local chapter of the Interreligious Council strongly condemned the attacks.

Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities at times focused on symbols and buildings of that minority’s predominant religion. For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Roma, and especially Romani women, continued to be the most vulnerable and experience the most discrimination of any group in the country. They experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities; nearly 95 percent remained unemployed. A significant percentage of Roma were homeless or without water or electricity in their homes. Many dwellings were overcrowded, and residents lacked proof of property ownership. Approximately three-fourths lived in openly segregated neighborhoods.

In the 2013 census, 12,583 persons registered as Roma, a number that observers believed understated significantly the actual number of Roma in the country. Romani activists reported that a minimum of 40,000 Roma lived in the country, which was similar to Council of Europe estimates. Observers believed the discrepancy in the census figure was the result of numerous manipulations that occurred with the Roma census registration in 2013. Romani activists reported that in many instances, Roma were told by census takers that they had to register as Bosniaks, had their census forms filled out for them, or were simply bypassed altogether.

Authorities frequently discriminated against Roma, which contributed to their exclusion by society. Many human rights NGOs criticized law enforcement and government authorities for the failure and unwillingness to identify Roma as victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, even though the majority of registered trafficking victims in recent years were Roma. Consequently, many trafficking cases ended up as cases of family negligence, which are not criminally prosecuted.

The country has an established legal framework for the protection of minorities. State and entity-level parliaments had national minority councils that met on a regular basis but generally lacked resources and political influence on decision-making processes. The Roma Committee continued to operate as a consultative body to the Council of Ministers, but with very limited influence.

The country does not have a comprehensive strategy on national minorities. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees is in charge of implementing a law on national minorities, for which it annually allocates 150,000 convertible marks ($94,200). The country has a Council of National Minorities, an advisory body to the parliament that is composed of one representative from each recognized national minority group. The council played a marginal role, however, in influencing policies and decisions of the parliament. The country lacked human rights and antidiscrimination strategies, and the government does not have an effective system of collecting discrimination cases.

In July 2019 the BiH government joined other Balkan countries in jointly endorsing the Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process. The government’s budget for implementation of projects for Roma was two million convertible marks ($1.3 million).

While the law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. Both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Hate speech, discrimination, and violence against LGBTI individuals were widespread. The NGO Sarajevo Open Center (SOC) reported that transgender persons were the most vulnerable LGBTI group, as it is much harder for them to conceal their gender identity. According to research done by the center in 2017, an estimated two-thirds of transgender persons experienced some form of discrimination. In its 2020 Pink Report, the SOC reported that every third LGBTI person in the country experienced some type of discrimination. The SOC believed the actual number of LGBTI persons who experienced some type of discrimination was much higher but that people were afraid to report it.

In 2019 the SOC documented four discrimination cases, two of which involved workplace discrimination and two cases of unprofessional treatment by police when the victims came to report violence. None of the cases resulted in a lawsuit or a complaint against the institution. In the cases of workplace discrimination, one of the victims managed to resolve the case with the employer, while the other was afraid to initiate any legal actions. In one case the victim decided to leave the country due to loss of confidence in institutions. BiH courts had yet to issue a single final ruling on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During 2019 the SOC also documented 105 cases of hate speech and calling for violence and hatred and 16 cases of crimes and incidents motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Of the 16 cases, 12 took place in a public place or online, ranging from threats to violence and infliction of bodily injuries. The announcement of the first pride march, which took place in September 2019, resulted in the number of threats and violence in public places and online to increase threefold. The prosecution of assault and other crimes committed against LGBTI individuals remained delayed and generally inadequate.

In December 2019 the Sarajevo Canton government adopted its first Gender Action Plan for 2019-22 as a public document that contains a set of measures intended to improve gender equality in government institutions. The SOC was engaged in the creation of the plan, and 14 of 18 initiatives proposed by the center were included.

Organizers of the second pride march, which was supposed to take place in August, moved the event online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also organized a symbolic drive through the city in a convoy of vehicles flying rainbow flags, which was secured by police and conducted without incident.

Even before the pride march organizers decided to give up on holding a physical event, they faced numerous logistical problems, including government requirements to pay for excessive security measures (physical barriers on nine streets, ambulances, and fire trucks), which presented a significant financial burden. In addition, the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Traffic rejected the organizers’ request to block traffic for five hours on a main Sarajevo street for the march. The ministry justified its denial by asserting that it would disturb citizen movement and result in loss of income to the public transportation company even though the ministry had approved similar permits for other organizations.

The country has registered approximately 400 persons with HIV or AIDS, with 20 to 25 new cases reported annually. It was believed, however, that the actual number of cases was higher and that due to stigma and discrimination, many persons avoided testing. Social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers. Due to a lack of understanding of the disease and its subsequent stigmatization among the general population, many persons with HIV or AIDS feared revealing their illness, even to closes family members. The country had no permanent or organized programs of psychosocial support for these persons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes dialogue among the four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property continued in 2019. During the year the council registered 10 reported acts of vandalism against religious sites and one case of verbal abuse against an Orthodox priest but stated the actual number of incidents was likely much higher.

There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in connection with the 1992-95 conflict. In 2018 the RS National Assembly voted to annul a 2004 report on the Srebrenica massacres that acknowledged Bosnian Serb forces executed thousands of Bosniaks. During the year the then chairman of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, senior officials in his political party (the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats), and other RS officials and leaders continued to repeatedly deny that Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, despite the findings of multiple local and international courts. In February the RS government, following a proposal from the RS Academy of Science and Arts and various associations, appointed two international commissions to purportedly re-examine the war of the 1990s: a Srebrenica Commission to investigate the suffering of all persons in and around Srebrenica between 1992 and 1995 and a Sarajevo Commission to investigate the suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo during the war.

Section 7. Worker Rights

Federation and RS labor laws provide for the right of workers in both entities to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Employers in the private sector did not always respect these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide adequately for enforcement of these protections. The labor inspectorates and courts did not deal effectively with employees’ complaints of antiunion discrimination. Unions themselves complained that their own union leaders had been co-opted by the company and politicians and that they mostly protect their own privileges. The law prescribes reinstatement of dismissed workers in cases where there is evidence of discrimination, whether for union activity or other reasons. Entity-level laws in the Federation and the RS prohibit the firing of union leaders without prior approval of their respective labor ministries.

The law in both entities and in the Brcko District provides for the right to strike. The law in the Federation contains burdensome requirements for workers who wish to conduct a strike. Trade unions may not officially announce a strike without first reaching an agreement with the employer on which “essential” personnel would remain at work. In March the Federation government prepared changes to the labor law to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, which resulted in many employees in the private sector being fired overnight. The government claimed that all changes needed to allow employers flexibility to preserve businesses and save jobs were enacted. As the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers in the private sector lost jobs, while public-sector workers were protected by general collective agreement and no cuts in their benefits were allowed.

Authorities may declare the strike illegal if no agreement is reached. This provision effectively allowed employers to prevent strikes. Laws governing the registration of unions give the minister of justice powers to accept or reject trade union registration on ambiguous grounds. In addition, in the Federation there were two parallel leaderships of the unions, each of them complaining the other was illegal. Both groups represented themselves as the legal representatives of the unions, and it was unclear which should participate in the social dialogue with the government. One leadership group, led by Selvedin Satorovic (who organized protests), represented the policy of the previous union leadership, which lost the election and supported only the government employees. The other group, led by Mevludin Bektic, showed more interest in representing workers from all sectors and had support from a majority of branch unions (14 of 18) but was too weak to push out Satorovic. On July 16, the court in Sarajevo appointed a provisional administrator of the trade unions to resolve the issue, although the final result was outstanding as of September.

According to informal estimates, approximately 40 percent of the work force was unregistered and working in the informal economy.

The lack of workers’ rights was more pronounced in the private sector largely due to weaker unions in the private sector and to the broad and pronounced weakness of the rule of law.

The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws. Authorities did not impose sanctions against employers who prevented workers from organizing. Inspections related to worker rights were limited. Ministry inspectors gave low priority to violations of worker rights; state officials focused instead on bolstering revenues by cracking down on unregistered employees and employers who did not pay taxes. Some unions reported that employers threatened employees with dismissal if they joined a union and in some cases fired union leaders for their activities. Entity-level penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar violations of civil rights. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The governments and organizations of employers and workers in both entities negotiated general collective agreements establishing conditions of work, including in particular private employers. It was not confirmed that all employers recognized these agreements. Trade union representatives alleged that antiunion discrimination was widespread in all districts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Adequate legislation exists at the state level and in the RS and the Brcko District criminalizing forced or compulsory labor, while Federation laws do not criminalize all forced labor activities. The government did not enforce the law effectively, but there was little verified evidence that forced labor occurred in the country due to the limited number of inspections into forced labor allegations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

The prosecution of 13 BiH nationals for collusion in forced labor involving 672 victims of forced labor in Azerbaijan in 2015 continued in BiH courts. The government failed to prosecute organized crime syndicates that forced Romani children to beg on the streets, alleging that it was Romani custom to beg. There were reports that individuals and organized crime syndicates trafficked men, women, and children for begging and forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

The minimum age for employment of children in both entities is 15; minors between the ages of 15 and 18 must provide a valid health certificate to work. RS and Brcko District laws penalize employers for hiring persons younger than age 15. The labor codes of the Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District also prohibit minors between the ages of 15 and 18 from working at night or performing hazardous labor, although forced begging is not considered a hazardous task for all entities. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Entity governments are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and both entities and the Brcko District enforced them. Boys and girls were subjected to forced begging and involuntary domestic servitude in forced marriages. Sometimes forced begging was linked to other forms of human trafficking. In the case of Romani children, family members or organized criminal groups were usually responsible for subjecting girls and boys to forced begging and domestic servitude in forced marriages. Several of the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country included the use of children for illicit activities, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children for the production of pornography (see section 6, Children).

During the year the government did not receive reports of child labor at places of employment. Neither entity had inspectors dedicated to child labor inspections; authorities investigated violations of child labor laws as part of a general labor inspection. The labor inspectorates of both entities reported that they found no violations of child labor laws, although they did not conduct reviews of children working on family farms. The government did not collect data on child labor because there were no reported cases. The general perception among officials and civil society was that the exploitation of child labor was rare. RS law imposes fines for employing children younger than 16, but the law does not specify the exact monetary amount. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar serious crimes.

NGOs running day centers in Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina, Bihac, and Sarajevo in cooperation with the country’s antitrafficking coordinator continued to provide services to at-risk children, many of whom were involved in forced begging on the streets.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, social status (including refugee status), religion, and national origin. The government generally enforced these laws and regulations effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status, and social status. Labor laws and regulations are adequate to protect women’s rights, but authorities did not effectively enforce them in all cases. For example, women were unable to take maternity leave for the period of one year and were often unable to return to their work position after maternity leave or take advantage of the entitlement to work part time. Unsanctioned cases of employment termination for pregnant women and new mothers continue to occur.

Although the monthly minimum wage in both entities is above the official poverty income level, more than 30 percent of the population was exposed to the risk of income poverty. The Brcko District did not have a separate minimum wage or an independent pension fund, and employers typically used the minimum wage rate of the entity to which its workers decided to direct their pension funds. The RS government increased the minimum wage during the COVID-19 pandemic under the pressure of the workers.

The legal workweek in both entities and the Brcko District is 40 hours, although seasonal workers may work up to 60 hours. The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week in both entities. An employee in the RS may legally volunteer for an additional 10 hours of overtime in exceptional circumstances. The Federation has no provision for premium pay, while the RS requires a 30 percent premium. Laws in both entities require a minimum rest period of 30 minutes during the workday.

Employees may choose which holidays to observe depending on ethnic or religious affiliation. Entity labor laws prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The entities and the Brcko District did little to enforce regulations on working hours, daily and weekly rest, or annual leave.

The Federation Market Inspectorate, the RS Inspectorate, and the Brcko District Inspectorate are responsible for the enforcement of labor laws in the formal economy. Authorities in the two entities and the Brcko District did not effectively enforce labor regulations. The penalties for wage, hours, and health and safety violations were commensurate with those of similar crimes. Inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

The Federation and the RS set mandatory occupational health and safety standards, especially for those industry sectors where working conditions were hazardous. Worker rights extended to all official (i.e., registered) workers, including migrant and temporary workers.

Governments in both entities made only limited efforts to improve occupational safety and health at government-owned coal mines; such efforts were inadequate for the safety and security of workers. Workers in certain industries, particularly metal and steel processing and coal mining, often worked in hazardous conditions. There were no official social protections for workers in the informal economy unless those workers are registered at unemployment bureaus and are receiving related benefits (such as health-care coverage).

Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities provided no protection to employees in this situation. As of mid-October there were no reports of industrial accidents that led to death or serious injury of workers.

Bulgaria

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so. According to the NGO Bulgarian Fund for Women, domestic violence helplines received up to 50 percent more reports between April and November during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law restricts the persons who can report domestic violence to the victim or the victim’s direct relatives, and excludes friends and other unrelated persons. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, and to order special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine. According to a nationwide study on violence commissioned by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and released in February, 56 percent of the population has experienced domestic violence.

In one example, on June 9, the Sofia regional court sentenced a man to one year in prison for inflicting bodily injuries on his wife of 15 years. The court heard testimony from witnesses including the victim, her daughter, a neighbor, and police who responded to an emergency call during a family altercation. The victim also had medical records showing injuries from two prior assaults. According to the victim, she only filed a complaint after long-term abuse because she noticed that her 10-year-old son had started copying his father’s behavior.

In January the NGO Center for Creative Justice reported concerns that the law does not provide sufficient protection to victims of domestic violence. In addition, a Supreme Cassation Court judgment granting a perpetrator of domestic violence the right to collect rent from the survivor could discourage victims from reporting domestic violence or petitioning for a restraining order. In June the ombudsman criticized the legal provisions exonerating the offending person from prosecution for inflicting a medium injury (e.g., a broken tooth) or a more serious injury, such as deliberately infecting a person with a sexually transmitted disease, and sent the Justice Ministry a proposal for abolishing these legal provisions.

NGOs continued to express concern over an increase in cases in which women or girls were killed as a result of domestic violence. NGOs criticized authorities for not tracking domestic violence cases and not keeping statistics, which NGOs claimed were needed for authorities to assess the risk of abuse turning deadly.

In June, Sofia police reported nine deaths from domestic violence since the beginning of the COVID-19-related state of emergency in mid-March, in addition to receiving 3,500 reports of domestic aggression and the Sofia City Court issuing 600 restraining orders. In September, for example, a man set his partner on fire in the village of Tri Kladentsi while she was sleeping. The woman died in the hospital. According to news reports, the man had previously attempted to drown her in a lake. As of October pretrial proceedings were underway and the perpetrator remained in custody.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence survivors in 22 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that survivors could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred domestic violence survivors to NGO-run shelters.

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

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women in poor rural areas and Romani communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of information and education. The cost of contraception was not covered by health insurance. Individuals younger than 16 could not schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or have an HIV test performed without parental consent. Lack of health insurance sometimes limited skilled attendance at childbirth. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, approximately half of all uninsured women, or between 8 and 9 percent of all women in the country, did not receive prenatal care, and approximately 80 percent of those uninsured (about 12 to 14 percent of all women) did not have access to relevant medical tests. Home births were illegal, and medical personnel could be prosecuted if they assisted them.

There were reports that maternity services were denied during the year due to COVID-19-related restrictions. In November and December, media reported that some hospitals refused to admit women in labor unless they produced a negative polymerase chain reaction test for the disease.

Victims of sexual violence, who NGOs stated were mainly uninsured, often did not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. Trafficking victims had access to health care through NGOs approved by authorities.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women identified an increased number of cases in the country of “antigender discourse in the public domain, public backlash in the perception of gender equality, and misogynistic statements in the media, including by high-ranking politicians.” The committee also expressed concern that women facing discrimination had “limited access to justice owing to pervasive corruption, social stigma, the inaccessibility of the judicial system, and gender bias among law enforcement officers.” The committee further noted that women with disabilities and Romani women were “underrepresented in the parliament, ministerial positions, decision-making positions at the municipal level, and high-ranking posts in the foreign service.”

On December 22, the government adopted the new 10-year National Strategy for Encouraging the Equality between Women and Men, which focuses on five priority areas: equality in the labor market and an equal level of economic independence; decreasing the gender pay gap and income gaps; equal participation in decision-making; combating gender-based violence and providing victim protection and support; and overcoming gender stereotypes and sexism.

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 women received on average pensions that were 32 percent lower than those for men. Women faced discrimination in employment, in the workplace, and in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

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

Education: Due to a lack of access to appropriate devices or the internet, the Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 children could not fully participate in education after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to online learning in mid-March. The Romani NGO Amalipe conducted a survey in 200 schools with majority Romani enrollment and found that in a quarter of them, more than 50 percent of the students did not have devices able to access online content. In 20 percent of the schools, most students could not afford to pay for suitable internet service. The survey found that 13 percent of the schools served neighborhoods where there was no internet service available.

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

In February the State Agency for Child Protection announced that it was taking over the national helpline for children from NGOs, explaining that the agency was ready to operate the system and that the public preferred the government to operate the helpline. In an open letter to the prime minister, 76 NGOs expressed concern that the transition would jeopardize the helpline’s operation and put at risk children and parents who seek help. The NGOs voiced suspicion that the decision stemmed from the “propaganda, misinformation, and fake news regarding the work of the helpline” spread throughout 2019 by other NGOs such as March for the Family and Parents United for Children, nationalist political parties such as VMRO and Vazrazhdane, and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in a campaign against the government’s draft Strategy for the Child 2019-2030.

In June the NGO National Network for Children released its ninth annual “report card,” which concluded that “the government departed from the development of policies supporting children and families.”

In July a video posted on social networks showed a 32-year-old woman from Pernik beating her three-year-old daughter severely “because your father does not love you, he does not love me either.” The mother recorded it herself to “punish” the father. Authorities placed the child in a family-type home and brought charges for domestic abuse against the mother.

According to UNICEF one-third of all schoolchildren had experienced violence or harassment in school at least once within the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person may enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. In its concluding observations in March, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the “persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls.” NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities. As of September 23, the country’s courts had sentenced 85 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 16, 11 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 14, and 11 parents for aiding and abetting such cohabitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine, and child sex trafficking, which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The report on the April 2019 visit of the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children found that “child sexual exploitation, including sexual abuse within the inner circle of trust and at a residential institution, is real and extensive.” The report acknowledged there was a lack of systematic and reliable data on the scope of the problem and cited evidence gathered from child protection stakeholders. The report also identified insufficient cooperation among the various authorities engaged in child protection as a problem.

Displaced Children: As of November a total of 512 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the country, almost the same number as during the same period in 2019. As of October the Supreme Administrative Court was reviewing a case based on the 2017 petition from the ombudsman to establish uniform legal treatment of unaccompanied children across the court system. According to the ombudsman, courts apply varying standards for determining whether migrant children are unaccompanied and routinely placed children designated as such in detention centers for irregular migrants.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued to close residential care institutions for children. As of January a total of 476 children remained to be relocated from the 19 legacy facilities and placed in community-based care. According to the government, the focus of the reform was on preventing child abandonment and encouraging reintegration in a family environment. NGOs, however, believed that the new family-type placement centers did not ensure improved quality of life for children and the quality of family support services remained unchanged.

In November 2019, the NGO Disabilities Rights International published a report which concluded that the country’s deinstitutionalization reform had “replaced a system of large, old orphanages with newer, smaller buildings that are still operating as institutions” and that, while physical conditions in group homes were clean, they remained “dehumanizing and dangerous.” Most of the institutions in question housed children with disabilities, and while they provided good physical conditions (having been recently renovated or built), NGOs alleged that the service providers–other NGOs–isolated residents and immobilized them to avoid any trouble. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy described the report’s findings as “biased, nonrepresentative, and seeking to demean the deinstitutionalization process.”

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

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews, or “Shalom,” reported a trend of increasing online anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were available in tourist areas around the country. According to Shalom, the national coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and the Ministry of Interior “responded unfailingly” to anti-Semitic incidents, but weak laws prevented the authorities from punishing offenders more severely.

In January vandals broke tombstones and fences in the Jewish cemetery in Shumen. As of October authorities had not identified the perpetrators of the incident. In June vandals defaced a playground and the facades of the adjacent houses in Sofia with 56 swastikas. Authorities responded quickly, cleaning up the playground.

In February the Supreme Administrative Court upheld Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova’s ban on an annual march which gathers right-wing extremists from across Europe to honor Hristo Lukov, 1940s leader of an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. The mayor’s ban cited serious concerns that a torchlight march in downtown Sofia would disrupt public order; the ban restricted the event to laying flowers at Lukov’s plaque in front of his house on February 22. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Democratic Bulgaria alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. On February 10, a prosecutor petitioned the Sofia city court with a claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, claiming its activity violated individual rights, incited ethnic, racial, and religious hostility and homophobia, spread anti-Semitic propaganda, and undermined national integrity. As of December the case was ongoing in the Sofia city court.

In June, Shalom reported organizations such as the Revived Bulgaria-Bulgarian National Unity and Military Union-Bulgarian National Movement, or “Shipka,” spread online propaganda alleging Jews were involved in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide “a deadly pseudoantidote” that would lead to the “mass extermination of people.” Authorities issued a warning protocol to Shipka leader Lyudmila Kostadinova, informing her that she would be held criminally liable if she persisted in making anti-Semitic statements.

On December 16, Sofia University fired Mihail Mirchev, a part-time professor teaching a course on social work with ethnic groups, after the university’s ethics commission found his lectures included negative ethnic stereotypes and denigrating cliches. The university’s decision came after a student society, Shalom, and other NGOs protested that Mirchev’s lectures featured racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic content such as: “Is it possible that Bulgaria could turn into a Jewish country if they, being fewer than 1 percent, own the state, the capital, the media, and the art?” Mirchev explained to the ethics commission that his words had been taken out of context and he denied sharing such views.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities, including their access to health services, education, employment, housing, public infrastructure, transportation, sports and cultural events, public and political events, the judicial system, and other services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, focusing most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care. According to NGOs, the ongoing deinstitutionalization, which was designed to be a carbon copy of a similar reform of childcare institutions, failed to reintegrate persons with disabilities in the community. Instead, the government allocated domestic and EU resources for institutional care.

In January 2019 the prosecution service opened investigations against members of medical expert evaluation boards for defrauding the country’s social assistance system by approving “fake disability pensions.” As of October the investigations were ongoing.

While the law requires improved access to public and transportation infrastructure for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects and existing buildings. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination continued its nationwide campaign of inspecting public buildings, utility providers, telecommunications operators, banks, and insurance companies. Those not in compliance with the law for persons with disabilities were fined. According to the commission, while there was a general consensus on the problems faced by persons with disabilities, solutions took time to implement, and persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing not only public infrastructure, but also employment, health-care services, and education. According to the informal group Accessibility Alliance, the public environment for persons with disabilities remained a problem, as the law does not require accessibility of public development projects.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities and covers 30 to 50 percent of an employer’s related insurance costs in addition to the full cost of modifying and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. The government provided a 24-month program of subsidies for employers who hire unemployed persons with a permanent disability. The law requires that companies with 50 to 99 employees hire at least one person with a permanent disability; in larger companies, persons with permanent disabilities must make up at least 2 percent of the workforce. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 the number of unemployed persons with disabilities dropped by 4.8 percent and the number of employed persons with disabilities increased twofold compared to 2018.

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were widely stigmatized and often housed in institutions in remote areas under harsh conditions. According to NGOs, the government did not provide adequate medical care for all persons with mental disabilities. In February 2019 the NGOs European Network for Independent Living, the Center for Independent Living, and the Validity Foundation issued a petition that claimed replacing legacy institutions with smaller community-based centers would result in “transinstitutionalization” and fail to deal with the “deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion, and segregation of these groups.”

The Ministry of Education transformed most of the 55 “special schools” for students with specific education needs into education support centers, leaving only five segregated schools with approximately 500 students with sensory and hearing disabilities. Most of the remaining 18,000 students with disabilities attended mainstream schools. Those studying in segregated schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying the student for further education.

In July the NGO Life with Down Syndrome Foundation petitioned authorities with a claim that medical certification regulations discriminated against children with Down syndrome, neglected their needs, damaged their entitlement to financial support, and restricted their right to a quality and dignified life. The regulations instruct the assessment committee to assign children with genetic anomalies up to the age of three a 50 percent disability and those older than age three a 30 percent disability, which determines the level of support they are entitled to, including financial benefits, and depriving them of additional opportunities for physical and psychological development.

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

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes, voting in a polling station of their choice, and assisted voting. According to the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, those measures were “not sufficient to ensure equal participation, especially for persons with visual impairments who cannot vote independently.”

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted, and manifested in occasional violence against the Roma in particular, as well as societal discrimination against ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that the level of racial discrimination against Roma persisted and increased during the coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, VMRO, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In May the UN special rapporteurs on racism and minority issues stated that “racial discrimination and racism within state institutions is a reality,” and called on the government to condemn hate speech and racist and nationalist populism targeting Roma and other minorities.

On May 14, four persons between the ages of 16 and 20 assaulted a 15-year-old Rom, Stefan Stefanov, near a school in Lyaskovets while he was on his way to a local shop. Stefanov subsequently stated that he lost consciousness after the first punch and only remembered waking up later in a park. According to media reports, the attackers’ parents offered to pay Stefanov a settlement if his family withdrew the charges. As of October police were investigating.

According to NGOs, government authorities, pressured by governing coalition member VMRO, imposed ethnically biased measures on Romani neighborhoods during the coronavirus crisis by restricting movement to and from them with police checkpoints even before identifying cases of infection. Local governments quarantined at least nine Romani neighborhoods during the pandemic compared with only three non-Romani communities. NGOs pointed out that while Romani neighborhoods were locked down, which restricted their residents’ access to basic services such as pharmacies and supermarkets, and contributed to higher unemployment, other neighborhoods with the same, or sometimes worse, levels of COVID-19 remained open. After the government lifted the state of emergency in May, VMRO insisted that Romani “ghettos” should remain restricted.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition. NGOs frequently petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to order the government to freeze the razing of homes in Romani neighborhoods until authorities provided adequate alternative accommodation for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and sick persons. In August the local government in Stara Zagora demolished 97 illegally built dwellings in the Romani neighborhood of Loznitsa, planning to turn the open space into a pine forest. Residents affected by the demolition told journalists they had been paying taxes on their properties and had no housing alternative, but the municipality had refused to sell them the land and legalize the houses.

The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, provided that instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. Local government and school officials reported they were instructed to ensure that primary school classes were conducted only in Bulgarian, even in schools where more than 50 percent of the students had Turkish or Romani as their mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish.

According to the National Statistical Institute, the average number of students who learned their mother tongue in public schools declined by nearly 14 percent for a second consecutive year, although there was a 22 percent increase in the number of Romani students studying their mother tongue. However, Romani NGOs claimed there were no students learning Romani and there was no officially approved textbook. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian, but none in Turkish.

On October 14, Kemal Eshref, GERB party regional coordinator and spouse of the deputy regional governor of Shumen, wrote on Facebook that since more than 50 percent of the population in Shumen was Turkish, school instruction in the region should be in Turkish. GERB’s local leadership distanced itself from Eshref’s statement, opposition socialist member of the National Assembly Ivan Ivanov called for prosecutorial investigation, and VMRO National Assembly member Dean Stanchev characterized it as “scandalous provocation, bordering on national treason since it represents an open call to separatism.” After the backlash, Eshref posted an apology on October 17 “to all who felt offended by his previous post,” explaining that it referred to allowing Turkish-speaking students an opportunity to learn their language as part of the elective curriculum.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students. In March the Blagoevgrad regional court confirmed the Commission for Protection against Discrimination’s sanction on a local school principal for racial segregation and ethnic discrimination. In 2018 the principal refused to enroll new Romani students, arguing that the school had become segregated and she wanted to reverse that trend.

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

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 245 mediators in 130 municipalities.

According to the BHC, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. Romani NGOs stated that some municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to services in order to restrict Romani women’s access to them. For example, the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad both require the mother to have completed secondary school.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. In September the Commission for Protection against Discrimination opened an inquiry into social media publications alleging the Heaven Hotel in Slanchev Bryag displayed signs advising that the swimming pool was for “white people only” and proclaiming “White Lives Matter.” Hotel owner Georgi Slavov denied to local media the existence of the signs but also expressed regret he had not put them up, since he claimed hotels were allowed that cater to guests based on whether they have children and for gays, so “why not [allow hotels] only for white people?”

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

There were reports of violence against LGBTI persons. On September 27, a group of approximately 30 teenagers, who had a goal of “cleansing” gays and lesbians, reportedly assaulted boys and girls whom they perceived as gay or lesbian with eggs, flour, and punches in the city garden in Plovdiv, shouting homophobic insults. Videos from the incident appeared on social media networks. As of October police had identified the attackers and had referred their names to the local education inspectorate for counseling with school psychologists. Police investigated by collecting evidence, examining videos, and interrogating witnesses. Police prevented similar occurrences in Burgas and Sofia after NGOs alerted them that incidents were being organized on Facebook. LGBTI NGOs expressed concern that authorities underestimated the homophobic threat when police initially provided little security at a scheduled demonstration in support of LGBTI rights on October 10 in Plovdiv. This allowed a group of counterdemonstrators to surround LGBTI activists and block their march for nearly an hour. Graffiti with threats appeared on the facades of the building where the organizer of the Plovdiv event worked and on the home of another local LGBTI activist.

According to LGBTI organizations, courts rejected the right of same-sex partners for protection against domestic violence because the law treats “spousal” only as applying to married persons who cannot legally be the same sex. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving very few cases–two as of October–regarding sexual orientation. In May the Supreme Administrative Court revoked a decision of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination which had dismissed a 2019 complaint regarding homophobic threats and insults on Facebook against the Balkan Pride exhibition in Plovdiv. The court ruled that the commission had not fully utilized its powers to require law enforcement authorities to identify the authors of the offensive posts and had instead accepted the Interior Ministry’s “excuse” that it was unable to obtain data traffic information on user profiles due to Facebook being owned by a foreign company.

In May the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that nearly 30 percent of LGBTI persons had experienced workplace discrimination. Further, nearly 40 percent of the LGBTI persons who had experienced workplace discrimination did not report it due to fear of police discrimination based on their sexual identity. A March study by the NGOs Single Step and Bilitis reported that 83 percent of LGBTI students had experienced homophobic insults, 70 percent had suffered harassment, 34 percent had been physically abused, and 19 percent had been assaulted, while 50 percent never reported incidents. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s annual report released in February, cases where officials publicly used homophobic speech increased.

NGOs stated persons suspected of being gay were often fired from their jobs, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as LGBTI. Many health professionals considered LGBTI status a disease. The general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in refusal of health services, particularly to transgender persons. NGOs complained that most political parties in the National Assembly, government ministers, and municipal authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue on the challenges facing LGBTI individuals and related policy issues.

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

In June the Sofia city court overturned a Sofia regional court decision to fine a couple and to issue a public reprimand for libelously stating in a complaint to police that the husband’s police officer brother was gay. The Sofia city court found that the trial court had violated the plaintiff’s right to privacy by accepting evidence and requesting a technical examination of his sexual orientation. The court further found that the defendants’ “views on homosexuality or transgenderness are only meaningful to themselves” and that their “discriminatory prejudice cannot stigmatize a certain sexual orientation and its public manifestation.”

On August 5, vandals destroyed posters from an exhibition titled Together Is Super which had been installed hours earlier on Lovers Bridge in Sofia as part of the Summer Festival of Equal Rights. The posters featured photographs of LGBTI, deaf, and Romani persons, and provided information about their communities and the discrimination against them. Authorities did nothing in response.

As reported by the government’s national program for HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention and control, “Despite the enormous medical progress in HIV treatment, little has been achieved in terms of overcoming the stigma and discrimination [associated with HIV]. Negative societal attitudes have a strong impact on persons with HIV/AIDS.” According to the Health Ministry’s National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, there was on average a four-year delay in the diagnosis of persons with HIV because they were reluctant to be tested due to the stigma in society in general and from the medical community. In a media interview in July, the executive director of the National Patient Organization, Alexander Milanov, stated that “HIV patients are invisible” and cannot stand for their rights for fear of stigma and discrimination if they “come out.” According to the Bulgarian Infectious Disease Association, surgeons and intensive care wards often refused treatment to HIV patients, even though their infection had been brought under control. The stigma within the rest of the medical community was even greater. NGOs reported that the general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in denial of health services to persons living with HIV or AIDS.

According to a 2019 public opinion poll, 90 percent of those surveyed would not live with persons with HIV or AIDS, 75 percent would not be friends, 60 percent would not work with them, and 50 percent were afraid to communicate with such persons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

NGOs accused the health minister of age discrimination, and a group of lawyers challenged in the court his May 13 order which provided for mandatory isolation and hospitalization of COVID-19 patients who were 60 and older. On May 19, the minister amended the order, removing that provision.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides for workers to receive up to six months’ salary as compensation for illegal dismissal, and provides for the right of the employee to demand reinstatement for such dismissal. Workers alleging discrimination based on union affiliation can file complaints with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, despite the constitutional recognition of the right of association, the law did not provide for it, which prevented parties to a dispute from seeking redress in administrative court.

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

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

Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions continued to report cases of employer obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of employees, including relocation, firing, and demotion of union leaders and members. Labor unions also alleged that some employers obstructed negotiations or refused to bargain in good faith or adhere to agreements. In September the regional court in Ruse confirmed the labor inspectorate’s decision to sanction local company Danini, which started mass layoffs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic without prior consultations with union representatives and representatives of the employees, as required by law, and made no efforts to negotiate an agreement with them that could reduce or mitigate the consequences of the layoffs.

In June the St. Sophia Hospital in Sofia fired nurse Maya Ilieva, leader of the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists, who led a series of protests complaining of low pay and difficult working conditions. She was similarly dismissed from Tokuda Hospital in August 2019. In August the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists set up a tent camp protest in front of the Health Ministry, accusing authorities of excluding medical specialists other than physicians and dentists from the latest national framework agreement on medical activities.

The government did not effectively enforce the labor law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. Penalties for discrimination carry lower fines than the fines for labor law violations. The law does not effectively protect against interference by employers in labor union activities.

Judicial and administrative procedures were adequate in settling claims. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that employers broke the law and eroded the value of collective bargaining by letting nonunion members take advantage of the provisions in the collective agreement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There were some reports of families and criminal organizations subjecting children to forced work (see section 7.c.). The national antitrafficking commission reported receiving an increased number of labor exploitation complaints. The commission attributed these complaints to the increased number of persons who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and who exercised less caution in accepting employment opportunities. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, “children and adults with disabilities are forced into street begging and petty theft.” As of October authorities registered 26 cases of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor exploitation, although that was a significant decrease from the same period in 2019.

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

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

Employment of children without a work permit is a criminal offense but it is not a serious crime and carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine. Penalties for the worst forms of child labor, however, are commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The General Labor Inspectorate was generally effective in inspecting working conditions at companies seeking and holding child work permits and applying sanctions regarding child labor in the formal sector. The inspectorate reported a 50 percent decrease in legal employment of children. In 2019 the inspectorate uncovered 236 cases of child employment without prior permission, a twofold increase from 2018.

The government continued programs to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, mounted educational campaigns, and intervened to protect, withdraw, rehabilitate, and reintegrate children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation with regard to nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, race, skin color, age, social origin, language, political and religious beliefs, membership in labor unions and civil society organizations, family and marital status, and mental or physical disabilities. Although the government usually effectively enforced these laws, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across all sectors of the economy with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and minority group status. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving numerous discrimination complaints during the year related to employment of persons with disabilities, citing examples in which employers created hostile and threatening environments towards an employee with a disability or intentionally created mobility obstacles to push the employee to quit.

The government funded programs to encourage employers to overcome stereotypes and prejudice when hiring members of disadvantaged groups such as persons with disabilities.

The law requires the Interior Ministry, the State Agency for National Security, and the State Agency for Technical Operations to allot one percent of their public administration positions to persons with disabilities. Enforcement was poor, however, and the agencies were not motivated to hire persons with disabilities, citing inaccessible infrastructure, lack of sufficient funding for modifying workplaces, and poor qualifications by the applicants. The Center for Independent Living and other NGOs criticized the system of evaluating persons with disabilities based on the degree of their disability, which effectively prevented many persons with disabilities who were able to work from being hired.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. In July the Council of Ministers reported that men received 12.5 percent more pay than women for work in the same position. According to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, there were twice as many men as women with well paid jobs, and women were more frequently subjected to workplace discrimination than men. As a result of the gender pay gap, according to the National Social Security Institute, women received 32 percent lower pensions. Women continued to face discrimination in regard to pension benefits and retirement. The age at which women and men can access both full and partial pension benefits was not equal, nor was the legal retirement age.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. Locating work was more difficult for Roma due to general public mistrust, coupled with the Roma’s low average level of education. According to the National Statistical Institute, 64.8 percent of Roma lived in poverty, compared with 31.6 percent of Turks and 16.7 percent of ethnic Bulgarians.

The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy that was higher than the government’s official poverty line. Labor unions criticized the government for changing the methodology for designation of the official poverty line with a view to preserving the fiscal health of the state budget while neglecting the livelihoods of vulnerable citizens. According to NGOs, giving the labor and social policy minister discretion to set the official poverty line instead of having it determined by macroeconomic factors created risks of limiting the scope of persons entitled to certain social support and could be exploited for political purposes. In July the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that 67 percent of households lived below the livelihood protection threshold and 28.5 percent lived below the poverty line.

In 2019 the General Labor Inspectorate reported that the cases of unpaid wages increased by 1 percent, compared with the previous year. The inspectorate maintained that its authority to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against employers who owed more than two months’ wages to at least one-third of their employees for three years contributed to the effective enforcement of correct payment of wages. During the coronavirus emergency in the first half of the year, labor inspectors compelled employers to pay 2.5 million levs ($1.5 million) out of an identified 4.5 million levs ($2.7 million) of unpaid wages.

The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime and prohibits any overtime work for children younger than 18 and for pregnant women. Persons with disabilities, women with children younger than six, and persons undertaking continuing education may work overtime at the employer’s request if the employee provides written consent. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria stated that employers increasingly “disrespected employees’ working hours and free time.” The confederation criticized the law’s provision for calculating accumulated working time, noting that it gave employers a way to abuse overtime requirements and thus to hire fewer workers. In December the National Assembly passed amendments increasing the amount of annual allowed overtime work within a collective agreement from 150 to 300 hours.

A national labor safety program, with standards established by law, provides employees the right to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of similar violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Each year the government adopts a program that outlines its goals and priorities for occupational safety and health. The General Labor Inspectorate, which had 28 regional offices, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing occupational safety and health requirements. Of the violations identified by the inspectorate, 51.8 percent involved safety and health requirements. According to the labor inspectorate, its activity over the past several years increased compliance to 93 percent of inspected companies. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Legal protections and government inspections did not cover informal workers in the gray-market economy, which, according to the National Statistical Institute, accounted for 21 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. In September the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria said it expected the share of the gray economy to increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During the two-month state of emergency, the law allowed employers to assign teleworking and work at home and force workers to use half of their accrued annual leave. The law also lifted the overtime work ban for workers and civil servants who assisted the health-care system and police.

Conditions in sectors such as construction, mining, chemicals, and transportation continued to pose risks for workers. The number of work-related accidents registered in the first nine months of the year decreased by almost 19 percent over the same period in the previous year. Land transportation violations were the most common causes of occupational accidents. The government strictly enforced the law requiring companies to conduct occupational health and safety risk assessments and to adopt measures to eliminate or reduce any identified risks. Approximately 95 percent of the companies inspected in 2019 had such risk assessments, and 98 percent of those had programs to eliminate the identified risks.

There were 55 work-related deaths as of October, mainly in the construction and transportation sectors, nearly comparable to the 50 deaths reported from January through September 2019.

Croatia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases enforced. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, introduced stricter penalties for violence among closely related family members and violence against women. In the amendments, sexual intercourse without consent is classified as rape, punishable with three to 10 years’ imprisonment. A separate law (Law on Protection from Domestic Violence), last amended in January, provides sanctions (fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment) for misdemeanor domestic violence. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, despite recent legislative changes, violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem largely due to limited education on gender-based violence laws for investigators, prosecutors, and judges that often led to cases being decided in favor of alleged perpetrators.

On January 22, the municipal court in Slavonski Brod convicted Pozesko-Slavonska County Prefect Alojz Tomasevic to a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years, for domestic violence. State prosecutors reportedly did not request a prison sentence in the case, and Tomasevic remained in his position. Civil society organizations and the ombudsperson for gender equality criticized the verdict as too lenient and asserted that victims of domestic violence could have “no trust” in the country’s judiciary with such a punishment.

On April 19, Interior Minister Bozinovic publicly acknowledged increased public reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2019 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the latest available, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 6.3 percent compared with 2018, while the number of criminal acts committed against “closely related people” (i.e., domestic violence cases) increased by 28 percent. The report stated that 78 percent of the victims of domestic violence were women (29 percent more than in 2018).

On March 12, the Croatian Association of Employers (HUP) signed a consensual termination agreement with former deputy director Bernard Jakelic after more than 10 female employees presented sexual harassment claims over the course of his 24-year career. Upon his dismissal, Jakelic received a significant severance pay package. The ombudsperson for gender equality filed a criminal complaint against Jakelic with the state prosecutor and warned HUP against revictimizing victims with its decision to sign a consensual termination employment agreement with the perpetrator instead of firing him.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affect access to contraception. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, labor, religion, inheritance, personal status and nationality laws, property, access to credit, owning or managing businesses or property, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation.

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for grave criminal acts of sexual abuse and abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the child dies as a consequence of the abuse. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The ombudsperson for children reported in 2019 her office received almost 10 percent more overall complaints regarding children than in 2018. The office received 97 complaints of domestic violence against children, 35 more than in 2018 (a 56 percent increase). Violence was most frequently reported by parents, followed by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.

On March 18, media widely reported an incident from February 2019 in which a 54-year-old man allegedly threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home on the island of Pag, significantly injuring one. On March 18, the Zadar County Court convicted the perpetrator to 30-years’ imprisonment and mandatory psychiatric treatment for attempted murder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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 World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish population at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism. Historian Ivo Goldstein and Director of the U.S. Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff criticized the government for tolerating the rise of pro-Ustasha sentiment in the country.

During the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the Office of the Prime Minister characterized the Jasenovac concentration camp as a “painful and tragic part of the Croatian history” and stated that “remembering victims and strongly condemning atrocities are a pledge for Croatia’s European future.” On February 5, Prime Minister Plenkovic opened a Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb entitled If I forget you…The Holocaust in Croatia 1941-1945Final destination Auschwitz. The exhibition was open until mid-April and was located near the site where Jews were transported to Croatian and other European concentration camps.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac, which was also attended by President Zoran Milanovic. For the first time since 2016, after having boycotted previous government commemorations, representatives from the Jewish community, Serb National Council (SNV), Romani community, and Alliance of Antifascist Fighters joined the official commemoration. Head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus was quoted by the media saying he attended to “extend the hand of friendship and goodwill” but still sought tangible results from the government in the fight against historical revisionism. Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SDSS) president and member of parliament Milorad Pupovac stated the participation represented a show of solidarity in light of the March 22 earthquake in Zagreb and COVID-19 crisis.

On June 3, the Zagreb High Misdemeanor Court ruled that the use of salute Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready) when used by singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic in his song did not violate the law. The Zagreb-based chapter of NGO Human Rights House claimed the constitution prohibits incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system and other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The 2019 report of the ombudsperson for persons with disabilities stated there were insignificant advances in policies aimed at persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson further stated that systemic solutions were lacking for special categories of persons with disabilities and children with early on-set developmental challenges. The ombudsperson also noted the law still lacks provisions to provide for the basic rights for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced increased hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to physical assaults especially in Vukovar, where Serb youths reportedly were attacked several times by Croatian youths. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.

On June 13, police arrested six Zagreb Dinamo soccer club fans after a photograph was circulated online of them posing with a banner depicting a vulgar and hateful anti-Serb message. Charges against the suspects were pending at year’s end. Separately, on June 14, Zagreb police reported they were investigating anti-Serb graffiti near a children’s park that depicted a “Serbian Family Tree,” with several individuals hanging from its branches, accompanied by a Nazi SS logo.

The eight parliamentary seats held by representatives of the national minorities became the main partner to the ruling HDZ’s coalition government following the July 5 parliamentary elections. Boris Milosevic, a member of parliament from the Serb national minority was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs issues and human rights.

On August 12, police confirmed they questioned a man from Perusic, later identified as the mayor of Perusic, Ivan Turic, on suspicion that he threatened a Romani woman with a handgun and shot at her children, allegedly because the woman’s goats entered the man’s field. Turic denied the accusations but confirmed police questioned him and told him to stay a minimum 328 feet away from the family who accused him.

The government and representatives of the Serb national minority publicly delivered positive messages of reconciliation on the 25th anniversary commemoration of Operation Storm in the town of Knin on August 5. In a speech at the event, Prime Minister Plenkovic acknowledged all victims, including Serbs, and expressed regret for war crimes committed by Croats. President Milanovic highlighted the victory, giving credit to the role of those who fought, but stated that unity required “different perspectives.” He acknowledged that crimes had been committed during the war and emphasized the need for better relations with Serbia, pledging to do everything he could do to accomplish that goal and calling on the Serbian leadership to do the same. Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic from the SDSS considered his participation at the commemoration to be a pledge for the future and the first step to reconciliation. Milanovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Medved, and Milosevic attended a commemoration for Serb civilian war victims in the village of Grubori on August 25. At the event Milanovic stated the commemoration was a “debt of honor,” adding that the “murder in Grubori was a moral disaster which harmed Croatia.” Medved declared establishing trust between the majority Croatian people and ethnic minorities was a prerequisite for development and a safe future together, while Milosevic stated the acknowledgement of all civilian victims was a prerequisite for reconciliation [between Serbs and Croats] in the country. On September 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic headlined a commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of Operation Storm in 1995, the first time a prime minister attended the event.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. A June report published by NGO Zagreb Pride stated that 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons experienced some form of discrimination, either at school, at work, or through contact with institutions such as the police, judiciary, and health systems. In June an NGO reported that two LGBTI persons experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, one of whom claimed being verbally insulted and humiliated on a bus commuting from Rijeka to Zagreb. In the other, during the police questioning of the perpetrator, a witness was verbally attacked and spat upon because of her sexual orientation. The perpetrator was sentenced to a misdemeanor fine of 5,000 kuna ($770).

LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. According to Zagreb Pride’s report, since 2013 fewer than 10 percent of LGBTI persons had been subjected to physical or verbal violence at least once, of which 64 percent involved verbal abuse.

Anti-LGBTI organizations continued to promote anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In February during the traditional Mardi Gras festivities in the southern town of Imotski, three dolls depicting a same-sex couple and their child were publicly burned. Following the event, LGBTI organizations reported the organizers to police for public incitement of violence and hatred, while in Split the municipal state prosecutor pressed charges against them in June.

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, causing some to face discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations of these rights exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for members of the military, who are not allowed to organize or participate in a strike, while civilian employees of the military are permitted to organize but are not permitted to strike. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, any participant may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy in the country overall and could hamper redress for antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Through July 31, the state prosecutor brought one case of criminal charges for forced labor, which remained pending at the end of the year.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with other serious violations. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government collaborated with several NGOs on public awareness programs. Following the introduction of a national action plan in 2018, prosecutions and monitoring increased, and reports and prosecutions of forced labor fell precipitously.

There were isolated reports that Romani children were at risk of forced begging (see 7.c.). Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than age 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2019 (the last year for which data were available), there were 202 such requests, of which 195 were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy; the State Inspectorate; and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were generally commensurate with similar violations (see also section 7.b.). There were isolated instances of violations of the child labor law. Labor inspectors identified 35 violations involving nine minors in 2019. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality and construction sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude. Romani children were reportedly at risk of forced begging.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family obligations, age, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, wealth status, birth, social position or standing, political party membership or nonmembership, union or nonunion membership, or physical or mental disabilities.

The government enforced the law in all sectors, but sporadic discrimination in employment or occupation occurred on the basis of gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection and remediation were sufficient. Some companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations, however, sometimes chose to pay a fine rather than comply with quotas for hiring persons with disabilities. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce.

The 2019 annual report of the ombudsperson for disabilities assessed limited growth of employment of persons with disabilities, putting persons with disabilities at greater risk for poverty, especially because of low salaries and pensions. The Agency for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities reported that in 2019 companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations had to pay 200 million kuna ($31.6 million) in fines for not satisfying hiring quotas of 3 percent of employees being persons with disabilities in workplaces with more than 20 employees. According to LGBTI advocacy organizations, although legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTI persons sometimes refrained from publicly revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

The law establishes a national minimum wage slightly above the official poverty income level. The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours per year.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health without jeopardy to their employment.

There were instances of nonpayment of wages in the hospitality and construction sectors, as well as nonpayment for overtime and holidays. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty commensurate with other similar violations, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees in order to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs.

Accidents were most frequently reported in the construction sector, where foremen could be held criminally responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from safety violations.

Cyprus

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law also criminalizes domestic violence, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for violations. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many cases continued to go unreported.

The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence. A court can issue a same day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic violence offenders. The number of reported cases of domestic violence increased in recent years. In the first nine months of 2019, 519 cases of domestic violence were reported to police. As of October 2019, police had investigated 181 of the cases and filed 111 cases in court. The NGO Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (SPAVO) stated increased reporting reflected greater awareness of and access to services, rather than an increasing number of incidents. SPAVO said domestic violence victims often faced significant family and social pressure not to report abuse and to withdraw complaints filed with police. The media and NGOs criticized the Social Welfare Services for not providing sufficient support to female victims of domestic violence. In one example, in January a man stabbed and killed his estranged wife, Ghada Al Nouri, while three of their seven children were in the house. Al Nouri had reported abuse to police two weeks earlier, culminating in the man’s arrest and issuance of a restraining order. The perpetrator was released on bail just days later, pending the start of his trial. The director of the Social Welfare Service denied reports that the service did not ensure the victim was protected, stating that social workers were in constant contact with the victim and had offered her the option to move to a safe house. In July the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

SPAVO reported a steep increase in domestic violence during and immediately after the mandatory lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. In the period March 16 to June 30, the association recorded a 50 percent increase in SPAVO’s call center cases and a 46 percent increase in the number of victims at shelters, compared to the same period in 2019. Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government and operated by SPAVO.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs reported, however, that some police officers continued to dismiss claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace with a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a 12,000 euro ($14,400) fine, or both. A code of conduct outlines the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and harassment in the public service. NGOs and foreign domestic worker associations reported that authorities did not adequately investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment reportedly remained a widespread, but often unreported, problem. NGOs said permissive social attitudes, fear of reprisals, and lack of family support for victims discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment. The Department of Labor reported receiving eight sexual harassment complaints, including two from foreign domestic workers, but stated that all the complaints lacked supporting evidence. The ombudsman continued to receive and examine complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In July 2019 the major labor unions–the Confederation of Cypriot Workers and the Pancyprian Labor Federation–agreed with the Employers and Industrialists Federation on a code of conduct covering how to treat cases of harassment and sexual harassment at the workplace. Due to the pandemic, the ombudsman cancelled planned training and seminars on sexual harassment and gender mainstreaming for the public sector during the year.

In April 2019 a university student reported to police that her 48-year-old employer at a Nicosia kiosk tried repeatedly to touch, hug, and kiss her without her consent. Following an investigation, including the examination of video footage, police brought charges against the employer, who was released on bail and restraining orders pending trial.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

The government funded an NGO that provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The government generally enforced the law, but women experienced discrimination in employment and pay in the private sector. Although reporting by Eurostat showed pay parity between the genders in the public sector, NGOs reported vertical and occupational segregation remained a challenge.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, and there was universal registration at the time of birth. Citizenship is denied, however, when either of the parents entered or resided in the country illegally. The government considers as illegal settlers Turkish citizens who entered and reside in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. Children born to a Turkish Cypriot parent are not automatically granted citizenship if one or both of their parents were a Turkish national who entered and resided in the country illegally. Their applications for citizenship are reviewed by the Council of Ministers, which has the right to override this provision of the law and grant them citizenship, provided the applicants meet a set of criteria adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2007.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. The maximum penalty for child abuse is one year imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,700 euros ($2,000), or both.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18, but persons ages 16 and 17 may marry, provided there are serious reasons justifying the marriage and their legal guardians provide written consent. A district court can also allow the marriage of persons ages 16 and 17 if the parents unjustifiably refuse consent, or in the absence of legal guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and engaging in or promoting a child in any form of sexual activity. The maximum penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child who is 13 through 17 years old is 25 years in prison. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child younger than 13 is up to life in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Authorities enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

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.

There were approximately 4,500 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israelis, British, and Russians.

Unlike in previous years, the Jewish community reported that there were no attacks against members of their community.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and prohibits discrimination against them. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. The government provides a personal assistant to children with disabilities attending public schools but not to children with disabilities attending private schools. The ombudsman issued a report in September noting that the law obligated private secondary education schools to provide personal assistants for children with disabilities.

During the year the ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities concerning accessibility issues and discrimination. In May the ombudsman’s office reported that it examined a complaint submitted by parents of children with disabilities that their children were subjected to different conditions and procedures for their return to school under COVID-19-related restrictions. The ombudsman concluded that the additional conditions imposed by the Ministry of Education for their return to school violated the principle of equal treatment and nondiscrimination and called on the ministry to immediately revoke the additional requirements. The Ministry of Education complied with the recommendation.

Problems facing persons with disabilities included limited access to natural and constructed environments, transportation, information, and communications. The Cyprus Paraplegics Organization reported that several public buildings were still not accessible to wheelchair users. The ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities. In January the ombudsman reported that, in violation of relevant legislation, television broadcasters failed to provide audiovisual services accessible to persons with hearing disabilities. At the ombudsman’s recommendation, the Cyprus Radio-Television Authority (CRA) requested all broadcasters comply with their legal obligations. All broadcasters submitted accessibility action plans to the CRA. The CRA will evaluate their implementation during the course of the next year.

During the year government services implemented recommendations in the ombudsman’s April 3 report to ensure persons with physical and mental disabilities and persons in social care shelters had access to COVID-19 information and protection measures. The ombudsman intervened in a case of several persons with disabilities who were not allowed to abstain from coming to their workplace after colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 and in a case of a single parent of disabled children who was not granted leave to care for them during the pandemic. Both cases were resolved in favor of the complainant.

In February, three nurses at the public Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital reported appalling physical conditions, serious overcrowding, and personnel and medication shortages to the Cyprus Mail newspaper. The nurses reported that the building’s poor condition led to injuries of patients and staff. The ombudsman issued two reports in March and September that confirmed a shortage of nurses, the lack of a permanent pharmacist, and that past improvements to the building failed to create a suitable environment for patients.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Observers did not consider fines for violating the law against employment discrimination sufficient to prevent abuses (see also section 7.d.).

Minority groups in the government-controlled area of the country included Catholics, Maronites, Armenians, and Roma. Although legally considered one of the two main communities of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots constituted a relatively small proportion of the population in the government-controlled areas and experienced discrimination.

Christ Mayuba, a British soccer player on a local professional team, reported to police that he was the victim of a verbal racist attack by spectators during a match in February. Although Mayuba’s teammates stopped play as a show of support when a spectator called him a “slave,” the referee ejected Mayuba and eventually gave the opposing team the win by forfeit. At first police stated that a preliminary investigation did not appear to confirm Mayuba’s claims. The ombudsman conducted an investigation into the incident and concluded in March that Mayuba suffered verbal racial abuse. Following the ombudsman’s report, the police launched an investigation and submitted its findings to the attorney general for the criminal prosecution of those involved.

NGOs reported police racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities in the enforcement of movement restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. KISA reported that police illegally entered the homes of migrants without a warrant and fined them for violating the rule prohibiting home gatherings of more than 10 persons in spite of the fact that they were residents of the house. It reported that police targeted migrants in the streets to issue fines and in some cases intimidated and physically mistreated them. For example KISA reported in May that police fined three migrants playing soccer in the street outside their home for violating COVID-related movement restrictions. All three were living in a single-room apartment in the old city of Nicosia. The NGO reported the police had shown tolerance in similar cases involving local citizens. Caritas received reports from migrant workers that police fined them on the bus because their facemask was not covering their nose, as stipulated by the relevant decree, but did not fine nonmigrants, including the bus driver, wearing the mask in the same manner.

There were incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots traveling to the government-controlled areas as well as some incidents of verbal abuse or discrimination against non-Greek Cypriots. In July 2019 Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci reported to the UN Secretary General’s special representative in Cyprus that a Turkish Cypriot tourist bus driver was harassed by Greek Cypriots at Larnaca airport and called for a proper investigation. President Anastasiades instructed police to open an investigation into the complaint, which continued at year’s end.

The Ministry of Education applied a code of conduct against racism in schools that provided schools and teachers with a detailed plan on handling, preventing, and reporting racist incidents.

A May 2018 European Commission report prepared as part of the Roma Civil Monitor pilot project stated that Cypriot Roma continued to face discrimination in housing, employment, and education. The report asserted government actions to promote the inclusion of Roma were insufficient.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints that the government delayed approval of citizenship for children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots (see section 6, Birth Registration). The ombudsman reported that the government did not make progress towards implementing her past recommendations to ensure such applications were processed within a reasonable time and applicants are promptly informed in writing when their application does not meet stated criteria. The government reported granting citizenship to 50 such children in 2019.

A member of the Armenian community reported difficulties in registering with the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber, the body responsible for the accreditation of engineers, allegedly due to his ethnicity. The ombudsman continued to investigate the case at year’s end.

Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Antidiscrimination laws cover employment and the following activities in the public and private domain: social protection, social insurance, social benefits, health care, education, participation in unions and professional organizations, and access to goods and services.

Despite legal protections, LGBTI individuals faced significant societal discrimination, particularly in rural areas. As a result many LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor did they report homophobic violence or discrimination.

On September 7, authorities deported a Brazilian man who had entered a civil partnership with a Cypriot national while both were in prison. The NGO Accept LGBTI Cyprus (ACCEPT) and members of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee publicly called on the minister of interior to cancel the deportation. The Brazilian was arrested immediately after his release from prison and detained at the Paphos police station for several weeks, exceeding the maximum of 48 hours that detainees can legally be held at police stations. The ombudsman concluded that the prolonged detention violated his rights and called for his immediate transfer to the Mennoyia Detention Center for irregular migrants. The ombudsman’s investigation did not examine the reasons for his deportation. ACCEPT protested his deportation in a press release September 9, asserting that authorities had followed irregular proceedings in breach of due process and violated the victim’s rights.

ACCEPT reported police routinely declined to investigate violence against LGBTI individuals as possible hate crimes. According to ACCEPT, police inaction discouraged LGBTI individuals from reporting complaints. The NGO reported two known attacks during the year against LGBTI individuals. On March 7, two young transgender individuals were attacked by a gang of seven hooded persons while leaving a party in Nicosia. The victims were hospitalized but did not report the attack to the medical personnel, or the police, and instead said that they fell down the stairs.

There were reports of employment discrimination against LGBTI applicants (see section 7.d.).

ACCEPT reported that transgender persons undergoing hormone replacement therapy experienced discrimination in access to health care following the introduction of the new national universal health insurance system in June 2019. The NGO reported that the same category of LGBTI individuals faced increased difficulties accessing hormone treatment due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The law criminalizes incitement to hatred or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2018 the president of the HIV-Positive Persons Support Center stated that HIV-positive persons faced prejudice in employment both in the private and public sector as well as from society and their own families, largely due to lack of public awareness. Activists complained that raising public awareness of this problem was not a government priority and reported that even medical staff at hospitals were prejudiced and reluctant to examine HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively with employers. Both antiunion discrimination and dismissal for union activity are illegal.

The law requires labor unions to register with the registrar of labor unions within 30 days of their establishment. Persons convicted for fraud-related and immoral offenses are not allowed to serve as union officials. Unions’ accounts and member registers can be inspected at any time by the registrar. An agreement among the government, labor unions, and employers’ organizations established the procedure for dispute resolution for essential services personnel.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, and resources and investigations were adequate in the formal sector. Administrative procedures were efficient and immediate, but judicial procedures were subject to delays due to a case backlog. Penalties for violations, which occurred primarily in the informal sector, were not commensurate with those for other similar civil rights violations. Violations rarely occurred in the formal sector.

The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and employers generally respected the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Although collective agreements are not legally binding, they are governed by a voluntary agreement between the government and employer organizations. Unions, employers, and employees effectively observed the terms of collective bargaining agreements. Workers covered by such agreements were employed predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, health care, and manufacturing.

Private-sector employers were able to discourage union activity in isolated cases because of sporadic enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination and the implicit threat of arbitrary dismissal for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Inspections of the agricultural and domestic service sectors remained inadequate, and resources at the Department of Labor Inspections within the Ministry of Labor were insufficient.

Forced labor occurred primarily in agriculture and in domestic work. Foreign migrant workers, children, and asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable, according to NGOs. Employers reportedly forced foreign workers, primarily from Eastern Europe and East and South Asia, to work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for very low wages and in unsuitable living conditions. From January to September 2019, police identified six victims of labor trafficking. Some employers reportedly retained a portion of agriculture workers’ salaries as payment for accommodations, in violation of the law. In one example police arrested a 68-year-old retired police officer in July after videos posted on social media recorded by his foreign domestic worker indicated that he physically assaulted and terrorized her. Police charged him with trafficking in persons, labor exploitation, and other serious offenses. He was initially released on bail and then rearrested two weeks later after police found new evidence against him. The domestic worker was identified as a victim of trafficking and was transferred to the government shelter. A trial began September 28.

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

The law prohibits the employment of children, defined as persons younger than 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who are at least 14, or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to rules limiting work hours. The law prohibits night work and street trading by children. The law permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons ages 15 through 17, subject to rules limiting hours of employment and provided it is not harmful or dangerous. The law prohibits employment of adolescents between midnight and 4 a.m. The minimum age for employment in industrial work is 16. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and did so effectively. The Social Welfare Services Department of the ministry and the commissioner for the rights of the child could also investigate suspected cases of exploitation of children at work.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits direct or indirect discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, national origin or citizenship, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or regulations and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other civil rights laws. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and HIV-positive status.

Despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s enforcement of the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women was ineffective. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as hiring, career advancement, employment conditions, and pay. European Institute for Gender Equality data indicated the average pay gap between men and women was 13.7 percent in 2017. NGOs reported the relatively small overall gender pay gap masked significant vertical and occupational gender segregation. The ombudsman reported receiving complaints related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Discrimination against Romani migrant workers occurred. Turkish Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6).

Although there is no national minimum wage, there are minimum wages for groups deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The minimum wages for shop assistants, clerks, assistant baby and child minders, health-care workers, security guards, cleaners of business premises, and nursery assistants were above the poverty line. The Ministry of Interior established a minimum wage for foreign domestic workers that was well below the poverty line.

Collective bargaining agreements covered workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the poverty level.

Foreign workers were able to claim pensions, and some bilateral agreements allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not effectively do so.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, including overtime. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods. The law stipulates that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. The Department of Labor Relations within the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing these laws. The penalty for violating the law was commensurate with those for similar crimes, but laws for wages and hours were not adequately enforced. Labor unions reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements, such as small businesses and foreign domestic workers. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in construction and agriculture, exploited undocumented foreign workers by paying them very low wages.

The law protects foreign domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from deportation until their cases have been adjudicated. The Department of Labor Relations reported that from January to December 10, it received 421 complaints from migrant workers against their employers. Of those, 406 were examined by year’s end.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints from foreign domestic workers concerning the conditions of their employment and authorities’ handling of their requests to change employers. The ombudsman issued a report in November 2019 evaluating the government’s policies on foreign domestic workers. The report noted in particular domestic workers’ high dependence on their employers, combined with the lack of consequences for employers that violate the terms of the employment contract or physically abuse the employee, prevented domestic workers from filing complaints. Domestic workers also feared deportation. A domestic worker’s residence permit can be cancelled at the employer’s request in the event the employer files a complaint with the police about theft regardless of whether the alleged crime was investigated or proved. Some domestic workers complained their employers or employment agencies withheld their passports. The ombudsman’s report also noted that the lack of action by authorities to stop the practice encourages employers and employment agencies to continue to illegally hold domestic workers’ passports. NGOs reported many foreign domestic workers remained reluctant to report contract violations by their employers for fear of losing their jobs and, consequently, their work and residency permits. NGOs reported Department of Labor and police skepticism of complaints about sexual harassment and violence discouraged domestic workers from submitting complaints.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries and the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with safety and health experts. The Department of Labor Inspection in the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Authorities enforced health and safety laws satisfactorily in the formal sector but not in the informal sector, which included approximately 8.5 percent of workers. The penalties for failing to comply with work safety and health laws were commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to effectively enforce labor laws in the agricultural sector and in the informal economy, where the majority of employees were migrant workers and undocumented workers. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions in most industries but were not allowed to inspect the working conditions of domestic workers in private households without a court warrant. Four major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused death or serious injury of workers.

Read a Section

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Czech Republic

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. The government did not consistently enforce the law effectively.

Observers reported prosecutors and judges in rape cases often lacked knowledge on the subject and cited a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Demanding criminal procedures required repeated victim testimonies that contributed to their further traumatization. Penalties were often too low, and only half of all sentences included prison time.

NGOs and attorneys reported that an increasing number of victims of sexual violence did not meet the legal definition of a “particularly vulnerable victim,” attributing it to the court’s interpretation of the term. Victims were consequently not entitled to benefits such as free legal representation in courts. Victims of sexual violence were insufficiently shielded from “secondary or tertiary victimization,” which includes exposing them to attackers and asking about prior sexual history. In court proceedings, victims of sexual violence had the burden of proving lack of consent. Perpetrators of spousal rape, including brutal attacks, were frequently given inadequate sentences, including probation.

In July a regional court confirmed a lower court’s June decision that a victim of domestic violence did not qualify as a “particularly vulnerable victim” and therefore did not receive free legal representation. Her partner had repeatedly physically attacked her, choked her, and threatened her with a knife. The court based its decision on the victim’s financial means, ability to seek help, and a lack of evidence that she was at risk of secondary harm.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law states a removal order can remain in effect for a total of up to six months, including extensions. The Ministry of Interior reported police removed 1,256 offenders from their homes in 2019.

The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other individuals living in the household, especially children and seniors. The government supported a widely used hotline for crime and domestic violence victims.

In July, Charles University and several NGOs issued a survey evaluating the impact on domestic violence of the restrictive measures imposed in the spring due to COVID-19. The survey concluded the government failed to respond to the increased number of cases. NGOs reported that courts adjourned most of the proceedings related to domestic violence and sexual abuse while they continued to process other, less serious, cases. The survey noted that NGOs filled the gap and introduced new online services, virtual consultations, and other support measures to assist the increased cases of domestic violence unaddressed by the government.

In February the Vodafone Foundation, police, and the NGO Rosa fully launched a new mobile application, Bright Sky CZ. The application enables endangered persons to document incidents of domestic violence and provides a list of nearby domestic violence support services. It also serves as a resource for family and friends to help those suffering from abuse. In the first five months, 1,300 persons downloaded the application, and users submitted more than 500 questionnaires regarding their safety (in 270 cases the questionnaire was done by a third person regarding a potential victim).

NGOs reported an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines during the spring COVID-19 lockdown. Some attributed the increase to the rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 related state of emergency, with some NGOs reporting up to a 40 percent increase in their workloads or clients. Others attributed the increase in calls to the fact that in-person assistance was not possible during the state of emergency. Police data did not reflect an increase in domestic violence, but many NGOs attributed this to the limited work of police officers during the state of emergency.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. If convicted, penalties may include fines, dismissal from work, and up to eight years in prison. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals in most cases had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government does not allow women access to artificial insemination (e.g., using the cells of an anonymous donor) without the written consent of their partner, and medical providers can only use artificial insemination for opposite-sex couples. Unmarried persons, persons who do not have consent from a partner, and LGBTI persons are therefore ineligible to receive treatment. Some observers reported that Roma faced obstructions in access to health care in general, including to reproductive health care.

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

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Transgender individuals must undergo sterilization to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition.

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced employment and wage discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Observers criticized measures implemented under the first COVID-19 state of emergency that prevented persons other than medical personnel from attending childbirths, on the grounds that it was an infringement on the parental rights of fathers and the rights of birthing women to have help and support.

Although the number of children growing up in institutions has declined, the numbers were still very high. Observers criticized the length of foster care proceedings, the rising number of social work cases involving abuse or mistreatment, the lack of public housing, and difficulty accessing adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. Observers also criticized the lack of effective tools for identifying child victims in a timely manner. The lack of a centralized regulatory body or coordinated interministerial approach to child issues slowed the reform process.

In November the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights criticized the country for the extensive and discriminatory placement of disabled and Romani children in institutional care, such as infant homes for small children. According to their findings, the problem concerned hundreds of children younger than age three, mainly from low-income families.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain their parents’ citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,500 cases in which children experienced family violence. NGOs estimated 40,000 children experience some form of violence each year.

During the spring COVID-19 state of emergency, the government placed strict restrictions on the freedom of movement, subject to few exceptions such as procurement of food and medical services. In June the Children Crisis Center reported a twofold increase during the first half of the year in reported child abuse, including sexual violence. The center attributed the increase to social isolation, financial and psychological consequences of the pandemic and related restrictions, and the inability of children and families to access other assistance. In one case an abusive family member was returned to the household after his adult daughter asked for his removal because the emergency services could not place him in an open shelter or available housing.

Media reported several cases of child abuse that resulted in deaths, including several infants. Most deaths resulted from physical abuse by stepfathers or partners of mothers and involved substance abuse or mental health issues. Observers called for the establishment of a committee that would examine deaths of children and propose recommendations on systemic preventive measures. NGOs also called for increased support and funding to government agencies that provide legal assistance and social services to children.

In its annual report, the ombudsperson reported that facilities for short-term care of children in emergency situations were often used for unintended long-term housing, lacked expert psychological assistance for children, and did not communicate sufficiently with the children’s families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years, or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.

In February a documentary film, In the Net (V siti), premiered that followed online and in-person interactions between actresses posing as underage girls and real-life sexual predators and gained significant media attention. In the 10 days after they created three fake personal social media accounts, a total of 2,458 men contacted the women posing as underage girls. As a result of the film, police initiated nine criminal investigations on charges for illicit contact with a child, endangering the morals of a child, or possession of child pornography. The perpetrators were between the ages of 21 and 62; none had a prior criminal history. At least four men were convicted and received suspended sentences. One man had threatened to rape one of the actresses–who was posing as a 12-year-old–and attempted to blackmail her by posting her nude photos on social media. His case drew significant media coverage in November when he reached a plea agreement reducing the potential maximum sentence of 12 years to a three-year suspended sentence with five years’ probation.

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.

There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of extremist groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries as well as the local Jewish community.

The Ministry of Interior recorded 23 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2019. The Federation of Jewish Communities reported 697 incidents with anti-Semitic motives in 2019, of which 95 percent were cases of hate speech on the internet. Police investigated the publisher of a Czech translation of an anti-Semitic book for children written by a German author in 1938.

In July the government approved the 2020 Counter Extremism and Hate Crime Strategy that emphasized communication, prevention, and education to curb extremism and combat hostility of radicals. The strategy also addressed extremism and hate crimes on the internet.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The ombudsperson acted as a mediator in most cases, and a small number of cases were prosecuted in the courts. Persons with disabilities continued to face a shortage of public social accommodations as well as accommodation on the market. Economic growth and measures to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities led to a significant decrease in the number of unemployed persons with disabilities, although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed that trend.

According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend segregated schools with specially trained teachers. The government took steps that limited access of children with disabilities to educational support, including teaching assistants, citing budgetary constraints. A legal challenge to the changes was pending. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but funding for additional educational support such as teaching assistants and equipment remained insufficient.

In October an NGO published a report based on a survey of 335 Czech organizations that work with persons with disabilities. In the previous three years, 52 percent of the organizations encountered at least one case of violence against a person with disabilities, and one-third encountered violence based on prejudice. The organizations stated that many cases of violence against persons with disabilities were not reported; 18 percent of respondents stated that either they or their colleagues had previously been attacked in connection with their work. Respondents reported a broad range of prejudicial violence, including verbal insults and humiliation by strangers in public places; harassment and bullying in the school, workplace, and neighborhoods; and robbery, extortion, and physical assaults by family members or friends. Perpetrators included nurses in caretaker facilities, special education teachers, and state employees.

The NGO report cited a case in which a man at a train station attacked an adult who had a mild mental disability and visual impairment associated with difficulty in expression and poor spatial orientation. The perpetrator called the victim insulting names evoking the victim’s disabilities, filmed the attack on his cell phone, and made derogatory comments against persons with disabilities in general.

In July the government approved its National Plan for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2025.

The ombudsperson’s office is a monitoring body under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In September the office held the first meeting of a newly established advisory body for persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson visited governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson criticized the lack of accommodations for disabilities in the railroad industry and assisted on cases in that field. The ombudsperson also criticized the lack of guide dog access laws.

The ombudsperson reported in October that courts had addressed 19 cases of discrimination based the grounds of disability from 2015 to 2019, in which the ombudsperson participated in 14. The cases alleged discrimination in employment, education, medical care, accessibility, and social inclusion. Plaintiffs sought and were entitled to various forms of relief, including monetary penalties and injunctions. The ombudsperson highlighted that the cases resulted in a number of positive outcomes, including recognition that HIV infection is a “physical disability”; judgments in favor of a man who was denied an apartment because of visual impairment and a child who was denied education because of an autism diagnosis; and an extension of the right of parents of a deceased girl with disabilities to file a complaint.

According to the Office of the Government, ministries were not complying with the law requiring companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to have 4 percent of staff be persons with physical disabilities. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions either paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council and the ombudsperson criticized.

The ombudsperson reported 32 percent of proven discrimination cases from 2009 to 2019 were due to disabilities.

In 2019 a district court in Ceske Budejovice agreed with the ombudsperson that a teacher with a visual impairment was the victim of discrimination by the school principal, who bullied her and ultimately attempted to terminate her employment on the grounds of disability. The court granted the teacher compensation, and the school withdrew the notice of termination. During the year the ombudsperson similarly helped a visually impaired person after an appliance vendor failed to accommodate her disability. The penalty included additional training for the vendor’s employees.

There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The government introduced some legal measures that were considered controversial and moved the Agency for Social Inclusion from the Office of the Government to the Ministry of Regional Development. The agency lost the capacity to coordinate work with different ministries.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. In September a regional court in Ostrava sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking and injuring a Romani man in a bar. The court determined that the attack was motivated purely by the victim’s ethnicity. The judgment was subject to further appeals.

Government officials noted problems faced by dozens of Romani Czechs who returned from the United Kingdom during the year, both due to COVID-19 and Brexit. The returning citizens resettled primarily in areas with heavy concentration of Roma, such as the towns of Ostrava and Usti nad Labem, and confronted a lack of housing and social assimilation problems. Anticipating that more Roma would return from the United Kingdom due to Brexit, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sent a representative to Czech consular offices in the United Kingdom to assist them.

School segregation remained a problem. NGOs reported there are approximately 12 schools that are fully segregated and 70 where more than half of the pupils are Roma. Observers criticized attempts by the Ministry of Education to limit the availability of educational support and to undermine minorities’ interests by amending the implementing regulations of well received 2016 legislation promoting integrated education.

Experts noted that the Education Development Strategy 2020-2030 issued by the Ministry of Education lacks a specific action plan, funding, and delegation of responsibilities. Experts also noted that precise statistics on percentages of Romani students in public schools were missing, hindering the formulation of effective inclusion measures.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. Unemployment in these communities was 31 percent, compared with 6 percent or less in nearby areas before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some municipalities continued to use a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty, which reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted, to push Roma and other low-income citizens into a city’s periphery. Observers reported that this tool was even used against individual families to move them from their houses. Several senators initiated a constitutional complaint and requested the Constitutional Court to annul certain provisions of the law; however, the case remained pending. A government-funded investment program focused on building new public housing units and providing social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($58 million) continued and was made available to more cities. The Agency for Social Inclusion continued to oppose a shipping-container housing proposal in the city of Most and provided alternate solutions for the Chanov housing division; the city continued with its program, however.

The government took steps to promote Romani culture and heritage. The Museum of Romani Culture received a property in Prague from the Ministry of Culture to serve as the site of a new cultural center. Demolition of a Communist-era pig farm at the site of a WWII concentration camp for Roma in the town of Lety was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, although the projected completion date of 2023 remained unchanged.

Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on the internet, and authorities took steps to address it. In October a regional court upheld a suspended sentence for a man who posted threatening comments on the internet under a school photo of first graders from a local school. The children were mainly Romani, Arab, and Vietnamese, and the comments suggested sending them to gas chambers. The regional court denied the appeal.

In August police brought charges against an individual for posting an online article about an apartment building fire in the town of Bohumin in which 11 persons died. The article baselessly claimed the alleged arsonist and victims were Roma and used graphic and offensive language in reference to the victims and the incident. Charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

In March a court sentenced 13 individuals to suspended penalties (up to 16 months in prison with four years’ probation) for online attacks against Romani singer Radoslav Banga. In 2016 Banga posted on Facebook that he had walked out of the Czech Nightingale music awards ceremony to protest an award given to Ortel, a band associated with the far right. In response hundreds of hate comments appeared on Facebook. One comment called for a “white homeland” and for minorities to be sent to the gas chambers.

Antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, and access to health care, and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. The number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was low. Local LGBTI leaders stated citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons but feared society tended generally to be more divided and intolerant to minority groups.

Based on a 2019 survey by the ombudsperson, 86 percent of transgender persons reported experiencing discrimination in the previous five years, compared to 58 percent of lesbian and 33 percent of gay persons. More than one-third of surveyed LGBTI persons claimed they had faced discrimination in the previous five years, which was three times higher than for the general population. Of LGBTI survey participants, 91 percent indicated they did not report incidents of discrimination to authorities because they believed the incidents were either minor or that authorities would not take action. The most common locations where discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred were at work and school.

The law on victims of crimes covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minorities, but they are not considered “particularly vulnerable persons” and are not entitled to additional legal protections, unlike children, seniors, and victims of trafficking or terrorism.

During Prague Pride Week in August 2019, an individual set fire to a rainbow flag and fired flares at visitors to Pride Village–the main site of the Prague pride activities. The perpetrator was conditionally sentenced to 10-months’ imprisonment with a probation period of five years and assessed a monetary penalty.

NGOs reported a 50 percent increase in LGBTI children and teenagers who sought help in crisis centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. NGOs attributed the increase to the inability of LGBTI youth, some of whom have not publicly come out, to connect socially and in person with their peers in the LGBTI community.

Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsperson recommended the government submit amendments to relevant laws. In May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, the sterilization requirement was legitimate. The decision was challenged in the Constitutional Court, and the case was pending.

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV and AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting the problem. The Czech AIDS Help Society noted most insurance companies did not provide health insurance to persons with HIV and AIDS.

NGOs reported that some physicians refused to treat HIV-positive patients, and 67 percent of an estimated 3,500 HIV-positive persons in the country reported they were denied medical care at least once. Some patients were openly told that HIV was the reason for the denial. Observers were concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to reduced testing for HIV and resulted in fewer diagnoses.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Observers noted violence and discrimination against NGO employees and foreigners.

Online hate attacks, including death threats, against the director of an NGO that provides legal support to hate crime victims, including different minority groups and migrants, continued in 2019 and 2020. The director received hundreds of hate emails. The perpetrator testified at court that the main motivation for his attacks was to force the director to stop devoting her time to protection of victims of hate crimes. Employees of NGOs focusing on persons with disabilities also reported verbal attacks.

NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Muslim attitudes and reported a decrease in reported incidents. In October 2019 the district court in Teplice gave suspended sentences to a couple for the 2018 attack on a Muslim woman and her husband. The couple confronted the woman and her husband in a park in Teplice with an air gun and threatened to kill them.

In April a female Muslim student from Somalia withdrew her lawsuit against her secondary medical school, which banned wearing a hijab in school. At the time of the withdrawal, the matter was pending before a trial court in Prague after the Supreme Court remanded the case, stating that religious pluralism must be respected. The plaintiff cited fears of threats and retaliation as her reasons for withdrawing the lawsuit.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides workers with the right to form and join independent unions of their choosing without authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to associate freely for both citizens and foreign workers. Unions are apolitical and independent of the state, and the state may not interfere in their internal affairs. The minimum number of members needed to form a union is three.

The law allows collective bargaining. It prohibits antiunion discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercised this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors, including health and social care facilities, fire brigades, public utility services, air traffic control, nuclear energy, and the oil and natural gas sector. Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form or join trade unions or strike. Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including nonmembers. When planning a strike, unions are required to inform employers in writing of the number of strikers and provide a list of the members of the strike committee or contact persons for negotiation. They must announce the strike at least three days in advance.

The law protects union officials from dismissal by an employer during their term of union service and for 12 months after its completion. To dismiss a union official, an employer must seek prior consent from the employee’s unit within the union. If the union does not consent, the dismissal notice is invalid.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively and permitted unions to conduct their activities without interference. Government resources for inspections and remediation were adequate, and legal penalties in the form of fines were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) reported violations of the labor law and trade union rules continued during the year. The CMKOS also reported violations and cases of discrimination, including employers raising administrative obstacles to collective bargaining, threatening to dismiss employees who asserted their union rights, including refusing to terminate union activities, or attempting to form unions. In 2019 a long-term union chairman was dismissed immediately after criticizing his employer’s handling of an incident in the employer’s factory, which led to the loss of workers’ lives. The employee took the case to court, where it was pending at the end of the year.

During the year labor unions most frequently used strikes and strike alerts to advance their goals. Strikes and strike alerts predominantly targeted wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations.

Men and women from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Vietnam are exploited in forced labor in the Czech Republic, typically through debt-based coercion or exploitation of other vulnerabilities, in the construction, agricultural, forestry, manufacturing, and service sectors, including in domestic work. In May the government approved a new national strategy to guide the government’s antitrafficking efforts, including addressing forced labor. It did not, however, succeed in effectively screening vulnerable populations and did not adequately identify domestic or foreign victims mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Private labor agencies often used deceptive practices to recruit workers from abroad, as well as from inside the country.

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15. Employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 was subject to strict safety standards, limitations on hours of work, and the requirement that work not interfere with education.

The law permits children younger than 15 (or who have not completed mandatory elementary education) to work only in certain areas: cultural and artistic activities; advertising; product promotion; and certain modeling and sports activities. A child younger than 15 may work only if he or she obtains a positive health assessment from a pediatrician and prior approval by the Labor Office. Work permits for children are issued for 12 months. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. The State Bureau for Labor Inspections (SBLI) effectively enforced these regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations. The SBLI did not report any child labor law violations during the year.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit any kind of discrimination based on nationality, race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, disability, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, social status, or trade union membership.

According to the ombudsperson’s report, discrimination at work accounted for the greatest number of complaints to the ombudsman in 2019 (31 percent). Similar to the previous year, most complaints in 2019 were for discrimination based on age, gender, and disability.

A survey issued in October of all 90 discrimination cases addressed by courts in 2015-19 showed that 60 percent of them were employment related, mainly on the grounds of age and gender. Overall, 46 percent of the lawsuits were filed against public employers and 19 percent concerned alleged discrimination against workers in education. Some 60 percent of complainants in labor disputes in the courts were women. The court dismissed 46 percent of employment discrimination cases.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, and inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce compliance. The SBLI conducted checks for unequal treatment and discrimination in 2019 and imposed penalties for violations of discrimination laws, mostly for noncompliance with the requirement to employ a specific number of persons with disabilities, discrimination due to health conditions, gender, and age, or the publication of discriminatory job advertisements. The SBLI recorded a slight increase in cases regarding unequal treatment and discrimination at work in 2019 (269 cases) compared with 2018 (267 cases).

Women’s salaries lagged behind men’s by approximately 22 percent. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs started introducing a testing tool for employers that evaluates gender pay gaps in an organization as part of the “22 percent towards equality” project. The testing tool highlights pay gaps and sensitizes management to disparities in remuneration.

Associations supporting HIV-positive individuals reported cases of employment discrimination. HIV-positive individuals are not legally obligated to report their diagnosis to their employer unless it prevents them from executing their duties. Some employers dismissed HIV-positive employees due to prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs establishes and enforces minimum wage standards. The minimum wage is above the “minimum subsistence cost,” which is defined as the minimum amount needed to satisfy the basic needs of a working-age adult for a month. Enforcement of the minimum wage was one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspections.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a 30-minute break during the standard eight-hour workday. Employees are entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual leave. Employers may require up to eight hours per week of overtime to meet increased demand but not more than 150 hours of overtime in a calendar year. Additional overtime is subject to the employee’s consent. The labor code requires premium pay for overtime that is equal to at least 125 percent of average earnings.

The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate for the country’s main industries. The labor code requires employers to provide health and safety protections in the workplace, maintain a healthy and safe work environment, and prevent health and safety risks. Responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions remains with inspectors, who have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions.

The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce general compliance. SBLI inspectors conducted checks for labor code compliance and imposed penalties that were commensurate with those for similar violations. SBLI’s labor inspection plan typically focused on sectors with high-risk working conditions, such as construction, agriculture, forestry, handling of hazardous chemicals, and transport.

According to the CMKOS, the provisions of the employment law most frequently violated by employers in 2019 related to wages, overtime, and rest periods.

In September labor authorities and unions reported to the press that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, violations of the labor code by local companies increased. Most reported violations consisted of lowering wages in violation of employment contracts and performing layoffs under the pretense of business reorganizations. For example, employees of one metallurgy company complained that their employer ordered them to take annual leave and accept a reduction in work hours and wages, threatening to dismiss them if they did not comply.

There were 42,416 registered workplace injuries in 2019, which were 1,949 fewer than in 2018. There were 95 fatal accidents in 2019, compared with 123 in 2018. Most workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry, transport, construction, and processing industries. Fatal accidents were investigated. For example, when a worker not equipped with protective equipment fell off the roof of a building on which he was working, the SBLI concluded the employer did not take adequate technical and organizational measures to prevent the worker from falling from height and ordered compensation.

Hungary

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

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

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

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

Women’s rights NGOs continued to criticize the law for not placing sufficient emphasis on the accountability of perpetrators and the tendency of authorities to blame the victims. In November 2019 local media reported on a woman who shared photos on Facebook about how she had been physically assaulted on several occasions by her partner, a former member of the defense forces. While an investigation was underway in the case, her partner sued the woman for defamation and breach of his privacy rights. Women’s rights groups held a solidarity protest during the court hearing in Miskolc on September 28.

The Ministry of Human Capacities continued to operate a 24-hour toll-free hotline for victims of domestic violence and trafficking in persons. The ministry also sponsored crisis centers and secure shelters for victims of domestic violence operated by civil society organizations and church institutions. The crisis centers provided immediate accommodation and care for individuals and families for up to 90 days. The secure shelters addressed the needs of severely abused women whose lives were in danger, who were allowed a maximum stay of six months at the shelters. One type of service was the “crisis ambulance,” which provided mobile walk-in consultations, but not accommodation, for survivors of domestic violence.

NGOs criticized the lack of training on gender-based violence for professionals and emphasized the need for broader awareness-raising efforts among the public to encourage victims to seek assistance and report violence without stigmatization.

Sexual Harassment: By law harassment of a sexual nature constitutes a violation of the equal treatment principle but is not a crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. During the year the state took over fertility clinics and began providing state-subsidized assisted reproductive services (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization), primarily tailored to support heterosexual married couples who experienced difficulty conceiving naturally. LGBTI NGOs characterized access to assisted reproductive technologies as discriminatory against same-sex couples.

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

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

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. According to the Economists 2018 glass ceiling index, women constituted 14.5 percent of company board membership, based on 2017 data. Women’s rights organizations asserted that Romani women could suffer multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and class, and experienced barriers to equal access in education, health care, housing, employment, and justice.

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

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education between the ages of three and 16 and prohibits school segregation, NGOs reported the segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled. The European Commission opened an infringement procedure in 2016 due to concerns about the disproportionate overrepresentation of Romani children in special schools with intellectual disabilities as well as a considerable degree of segregated education in mainstream schools.

On February 13, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its observations regarding the country’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child between 2014 and 2019. The report expressed concerns about continuing segregation of Romani children in schools and the increased gap in attainment between Romani and non-Romani children in different levels of education. The findings also noted that while there were more than 200 amendments of general legislation affecting children’s rights, the government did not assess the impact of these amendments before and after their adoption.

On March 13, the government announced that all schools would stay closed as an effort against the spread of COVID-19, with all students required to continue education through digital platforms. This posed a problem for disadvantaged children, particularly in the Romani community. Throughout March several Romani NGOs drew attention to the fact that Romani children often lived together with adults in small, overcrowded spaces that were unsuitable for distance learning and often lacked internet connections and electronic devices. They added that many Romani parents were undereducated and unable to help their children with their studies at home or to give them hot meals, which schools typically provided. More than 120 civil organizations across the country set up an action group to deliver food and other donations to families living in deep poverty.

On May 12, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints ($330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years (see section 6, Ethnic Minority Groups). In response to the ruling, parliament in June amended the public education law to ban courts from awarding financial compensation as damages to those who received segregated education.

A 2019 report prepared by Romani and pro-Roma NGOs stated that one-half of Romani students dropped out of the education system. Only 24 percent of Romani students finished high school, compared with 75 percent of non-Romani students. Only 5 percent of Romani students entered university, compared with 35 percent of non-Romani students. The report noted that segregating Romani children in schools and lowering the mandatory school age to 16 contributed to high dropout rates.

In September the Ministry of Human Capacities cut state subsidies to public schools run by the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship and Igazgyongy Foundation as well as the Dr. Ambedkar School, attended mostly by Romani children.

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

In December 2019 a man from the city of Gyor who was just released from prison for attacking his wife with a hammer in 2016, beat his 13-year-old stepdaughter and 10-year-old son to death, then hanged himself. The case received widespread media attention.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The Social and Guardianship Office may authorize marriages of persons between the ages of 16 and 18. The guardianship authorities consider whether a girl is pregnant in making their determination. Limited data exists regarding the prevalence of child marriage in the country, including in the Romani community.

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

NGOs criticized the practice of punishing children who were victims of sexual exploitation as misdemeanor offenders. On March 10, parliament passed amendments to laws regarding “action against exploitation of victims of human trafficking.” The new provisions entered into force on July 1 and prohibit the punishment of minors exploited in prostitution. Procuring minors for prostitution and exploitation of child prostitution is now a crime punishable by imprisonment between two to eight years.

In July the country’s former ambassador to Peru received a one-year suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay a 540,000 forint ($1,800) fine for the possession of pornographic photos of children. The sentence prompted public and legal debates that punishments involving child pornography should be more stringent.

Institutionalized Children: The February report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the high number of children living in institutional settings, including 300 children under three years of age. According to UNICEF Hungary, approximately 23,000 children were living in state care institutions. Pro-Roma NGOs noted that institutionalized children living in state care were especially vulnerable to human trafficking for prostitution and criticized the lack of special assistance for child victims of trafficking. In a 2018 report, the ombudsperson stated that one-third of children were placed in child protection care because of their families’ poor financial circumstances.

In August former residents and staff of the children’s home in Kalocsa told local media about the physical and verbal abuse that took place inside the institution for decades. The ombudsperson’s report from 2016 had concluded that supervisors regularly abused children.

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.

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

The Action and Protection Foundation, a Jewish group monitoring anti-Semitism, registered 35 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2019. These were 27 cases of hate speech, six of vandalism, one threat, and one case of assault.

A prominent Jewish leader said that while Jews are not physically threatened in the country, the government engages in what often appears as anti-Semitic rhetoric that hurts many Jewish persons.

In an opinion piece published in the progovernment online outlet Origo on November 28, ministerial culture commissioner Szilard Demeter called a Jewish Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist the “liberal Fuhrer” and wrote that Europe was his “gas chamber” with “poisonous gas” flowing from the capsule of a “multicultural open society.” Referring to the row over the EU’s new rule of law mechanism, Demeter described Poles and Hungarians as “the new Jews” targeted by “liber-aryans.” The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) condemned Demeter’s comments as a “textbook example of Holocaust relativization” and “incompatible with the government-proclaimed zero tolerance against all forms of anti-Semitism”; the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation called Demeter’s comments “tasteless” and “unforgivable.” As of December government officials continued to defend Demeter’s continued tenure as a ministerial commissioner, arguing he had retracted the piece and apologized.

On March 5, graves at a Jewish cemetery in Kiskufelegyhaza were vandalized. Repair costs were estimated at between 300,000 and 2.5 million forints ($1,000 to $8,000).

On January 6, state-run Kossuth Radio station announced the appointment of Beatrix Siklosi as its new director. On January 27, in light of Siklosi’s history of making and spreading anti-Semitic and racist statements, 21 Jewish organizations published a joint open letter to the CEO of the public media organization MTVA, Daniel Papp, asking him to terminate Siklosi’s appointment. Papp rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism against Siklosi as unfounded.

On August 20, the government awarded the Hungarian Order of Merit to historian Erno Raffay, who has been criticized for disseminating anti-Semitic views. The European Commission coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, condemned Raffay in a social media post on August 25 for openly spreading “anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy myths.”

On January 31, the government adopted a new national curriculum that was introduced on September 1 in elementary and secondary public schools. Jewish groups expressed concern that the mandatory reading material included works by writers widely viewed as anti-Semitic and removed works by Imre Kertesz, Nobel laureate for literature and Hungarian Holocaust survivor.

On February 8, approximately 500 to 600 members of radical right-wing and neo-Nazi groups from Hungary and other European countries gathered for a “Day of Honor” in Budapest, commemorating the attempted breakout of German and Hungarian troops in February 1945 during the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army. Dressed in black and carrying flags of their respective far-right movements, they laid wreaths to honor “hero” Nazis and their collaborators. While police initially banned the event, a subsequent court ruling overturned the ban. Separated by a line of police, some 300 to 500 counterdemonstrators, including Romani groups, chanted and drummed during the event. No major conflicts were reported. The commemoration was followed by a march to the outskirts of Budapest following the route of the attempted siege-breakers, in which some participants wore historical uniforms and insignia. No senior government officials publicly condemned the event.

The opening of the House of Fates, a planned new Holocaust museum concept and education center in Budapest, remained pending due to controversy around the museum’s proposed concept. Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars criticized the museum’s proposed concept as an attempt to obscure the involvement of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust, given that Horthy allied Hungary with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews in summer 1944 to Nazi death camps.

On March 1, approximately 1,000 demonstrators took part in a march organized by the far-right party Mi Hazank and the Betyarsereg and 64 Counties extremist groups honoring the centennial of Horthy’s coming to power.

Jewish leaders criticized Laszlo Biro, a Jobbik party member and the opposition parties’ unsuccessful joint candidate in the October 11 by-election in Borsod County, for anti-Semitic and racist statements.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

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

The government reviewed its 2019-36 deinstitutionalization strategy to reduce the number of persons with disabilities living in institutions with capacities greater than 50 persons. On April 28, it published its action plan, valid until 2022, to implement the 2015-25 national program on disability issues. International and domestic NGOs called on the government to avoid sustaining institutional culture by building mini-institutions because risks for persons in these settings remain as serious as for those in larger institutions. In a report released April 16 on its visit to the country in 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that maintaining and expanding a national system of social care institutions “perpetuated segregation and isolation from society.” The report also stated that children with disabilities requiring high levels of support were overrepresented in segregated education. It also observed the prevalence of poor conditions in these institutions, overmedication, and violations of sexual and reproductive rights.

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

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. The study claimed the 2011 census underestimated the size of the Romani community, since Romani respondents often preferred not to disclose their minority status. To avoid biased responses, the researchers gathered data from municipal governments and from Romani self-government bodies instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity.

Human rights NGOs continued to report that Roma suffered social and economic exclusion and discrimination in almost all fields of life. According to an October 12 report prepared for the Council of Europe by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Roma faced discrimination in education, employment, and access to housing and health care.

On May 28, the Mi Hazank party, joined by a few hundred supporters, held a demonstration against what they called “Gypsy crime” in front of the building of the National Roma Self-Government in Budapest. The demonstration was in response to a double homicide in downtown Budapest in which a teenager stabbed two young men. Unconfirmed press reports in some conservative and right-wing media alleged that the suspect was of Romani ethnicity. A Mi Hazank politician claimed, “The majority of perpetrators [of criminal acts] belonged to the Romani minority.” Police prohibited the gathering citing COVID-19 restrictions, but the party maintained that the demonstration was an “act of mourning” outside the scope of the law. Under heavy police presence, some protesters lit smoke bombs, chanted, “Yes, Gypsy crime exists,” and marched to the site of the scene of the killing joined by individuals from far-right paramilitary organizations. In a May 28 statement, the National Roma Self-Government stated that hostile incitement against Roma was increasing and criticized those who hold them collectively responsible for criminal acts instead of acknowledging individual responsibility. On June 1, Romani civil rights activists reported that the Roma Holocaust memorial in Budapest was defaced with the text “Eradicating Gypsies = eradicating crime.”

In a high-profile May 12 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints (approximately $330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years. The educational authority and local government had asked the court to allow for educational instead of financial compensation, or to lower the compensation amount, but the court rejected both requests. On May 15, Prime Minister Orban called the ruling “unfair” and added: “It serves the law, but it does not deliver justice. From downtown Budapest, where the court is, justice for Gyongyospata is invisible. But we will find it.” The Fidesz member of parliament from Gyongyospata, Laszlo Horvath, called the ruling a “bad decision which disrupts social peace as it unilaterally and overwhelmingly punishes a whole town for the real or assumed grievances of a minority.”

On August 26, the Curia announced its ruling in favor of Romani mothers who were discriminated against in the maternity ward of a hospital in the city of Miskolc. The court agreed with the request by the plaintiff, the European Roma Rights Center, that the hospital immediately terminate the practice of requiring pregnant women’s family members to pay for a hygienic garment in order to accompany them in the hospital room. The plaintiff noted that Romani women were more likely to give birth alone and exposed to the risk of racist abuse and harassment by medical practitioners.

Segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled remained a problem (see section 6, Children). Observers claimed the public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for members of minorities in their own languages as required by law and that Romani language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights as well as to establish and operate institutions and maintain international contacts.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, the law prohibits certain forms of hate speech and prescribes increased punishment for violence against members of the LGBTI community. Victims of discrimination had a wide choice of remedies, including a procedure by a designated government agency (the Equal Treatment Authority), enforcement of personality rights via civil court procedure, and sectoral remedies in media law. Only the civil procedure allows for the awarding of pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages. The Constitutional Court also offers possibilities to challenge allegedly discriminatory legislation. NGOs reported that the Equal Treatment Authority and courts enforced these antidiscrimination laws. On December 1, parliament voted to abolish the Equal Treatment Authority, viewed by LGBTI groups as one of the few remaining public bodies that delivered decisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to place it under the ombudsperson’s office as of 2021.

On December 15, parliament adopted a government-submitted amendment introducing additional gender-specific language into the constitution, declaring that “the basis for family relations is [heterosexual] marriage,” and “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.” It also declared that the country “protects children’s right to an identity based on their gender at birth” and that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from [Hungary’s] constitutional identity and Christian culture.” Parliament also adopted government-submitted legal provisions on adoption allowing only married couples consisting of a woman and a man to adopt children, unless the minister for family affairs grants special permission.

On May 19, parliament adopted an omnibus bill that included provisions replacing the term “gender” with “gender at birth” in the civil registry and prohibited gender change on all official documents, such as identification cards, passports, and driving licenses. LGBTI organizations expressed public concern that as a result transgender persons could face harsh workplace and health-care discrimination or could be accused of fraud when presenting personal identity documents. Before the adoption of the amendment, a group of 63 members of the European Parliament sent an open letter to Justice Minister Judit Varga and the chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, asking them to withdraw the proposal.

In October, Prime Minister Orban stated that a book that depicted fairy tales with minority, Romani, LGBTI, and characters with disabilities was an “act of provocation.” The leader of the Mi Hazank party tore up a copy of the book in public, and a conservative campaign group collected signatures calling for a boycott. The Hungarian Publishers and Bookseller’s Association condemned the actions, comparing them to censorship under Communism or Nazi book burning.

On August 14, during the Budapest Pride Festival, members of the “Aryan Greens”–a supporters’ group of the Ferencvaros soccer club that includes far-right extremists–tore down the pride flag flying from the Budapest 9th district city hall building and shared photos on Facebook of demonstrators stepping on the flag and burning it. Police identified and detained one suspect on suspicion of harassment. NGOs noted that authorities did not classify the act as a hate crime. Subsequently the vice president of Mi Hazank, Elod Novak, tore down pride flags from two Budapest district city hall buildings. Party president Laszlo Toroczkai stated they would continue to take action against “violent, deviant homosexual propaganda, supported by international background forces,” which he said had reached a point where the symbol of “this satanic group” appeared on the facade of local council buildings. On August 17, a small group of far-right extremists attempted to disrupt a pride festival event but backed off after police asked for their identification. A group of approximately 20 persons dressed in black shirts with the text “Hungarian resistance” appeared at another pride event on August 18, where they damaged the restrooms of Loffice Budapest, which hosted the event.

On November 17, the Budapest Capital Regional Court ruled that police had failed in their duty when they did not take immediate action against a group of far-right extremists who had disrupted an LGBTI event at Aurora Center in September 2019. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which represented the plaintiffs, welcomed the court decision for finding that the intruders’ threatening actions and verbal violence were sufficient grounds for police intervention and for providing “clear guidance” to the authorities on what actions they must take if there is an attack on the LGBTI community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to the 2011 census, 5,579 persons identified their religion as Islam. Government officials regularly made statements in defense of a “Christian Europe.” In an essay published on the occasion of the start of the fall parliamentary session, Prime Minister Orban wrote in the daily Magyar Nemzet on September 21 that, while Central European countries were choosing a migration-free future, the majority population in large Western European cities and 20 percent of the European population would be Muslim by 2050. On August 31, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen stated that the government had built or refurbished approximately 3,000 churches in the Carpathian Basin since 2010 and pledged that “none of those churches will be turned into mosques or shopping malls.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

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

Workers performing activities that authorities determine to be essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike.

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

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

Through the end of 2018, the employment authority reported 10 cases, involving 17 children, of labor by children younger than 15. The employment authority also reported eight cases involving 11 children between the ages of 15 and 16 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives during the school year, as well as 16 cases involving 18 children between the ages of 16 and 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The employment authority noted child labor cases increased as a result of tighter legislation, which requires presentation of parental permission during an inspection.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, and persons with disabilities. According to NGOs there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.

In 2018 the net national minimum monthly wage for full-time employment of unskilled workers and the special minimum monthly wage for skilled workers exceeded the poverty level.

The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime. On January 1, amendments to the labor code became effective that increased the limit on maximum overtime from 250 to 400 hours per year. The code also provides for 10 paid annual national holidays. Under the new code, overtime is to be calculated based on a three-year time period, i.e., employees have a right to overtime pay only if, over a three-year period, they have worked an average of more than 40 hours per week. Observers noted the provision could allow employers to avoid paying overtime for work in one year by requiring employees to work less than full time during both or one of the two other years if it lowered their average workweek over the entire three-year period to 40 hours or less. The changes to the labor code led to a series of worker demonstrations in late 2018 and early 2019, following which most employers agreed not to take advantage of the overtime calculation provision of the new labor code and to continue paying overtime in the following pay period. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

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

The government rewrote established occupational safety and health standards to include pandemic protection measures. The government shut down several economic sectors during the pandemic, including tourism, catering, and culture. Workers continued to have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar offenses. Labor inspectors regularly provide consultations to employers and employees on safety and health standards. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits. Labor standards were not enforced in the informal economy. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal sector, and inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. According to the Labor Protection Directorate of the Finance Ministry, 24,055 injuries and 83 fatalities occurred at workplaces in 2019, a slight increase from 2018. Most of the injuries and deaths occurred in the processing, manufacturing, transport and warehousing, agricultural, and retail sectorss

Kosovo

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence against all persons, including rape of a relative or spouse. By law, rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison. EULEX noted courts often applied penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases and that law enforcement rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses. Furthermore, sentences were often further decreased by the appellate court. The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office reported an increased number of domestic violence cases during the year, from 946 cases in 2019 to 1,145 as of October. Sexual violence and rape occurring either within or outside the family or domestic unit, were rarely reported by victims, frequently due to social stigma or lack of trust in authorities.

The law recognizes gender-based violence as a form of discrimination but lacks a definition of gender-based violence for use in criminal and civil proceedings. Women’s rights organizations held a protest in June to draw attention to disparities between domestic violence suspects, who are generally incarcerated, and sexual assault suspects, who are often released. The groups demanded both types of crimes be treated equally by judicial officials.

The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office helped to provide access to justice for victims of all crimes, with a special focus on victims of domestic violence, trafficking in persons, child abuse, and rape. In addition, each prosecutor’s office had a prosecutor who specialized in handling domestic violence cases. These prosecutors could apply risk-assessment tools to mitigate risk of future abuse and were empowered to recommend harsher sentences for repeat offenders and violators of protective orders.

Police investigated cases of domestic violence before transferring them to prosecutors who make the determination on filing charges. In the first half of the year, the prosecution expeditiously processed domestic violence cases and indictments. The rate of prosecution was low, however, and sentences were often lowered on appeal. Advocates and court observers asserted prosecutors and judges favored family unification over victim protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while a case was pending. Sentences ranged from judicial reprimands to up to five years’ imprisonment. The criminalization of domestic violence in April 2019 was accompanied by an increase in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime. The Pristina basic court held online hearings on domestic violence cases consistent with government anti-COVID-19 pandemic measures.

In September a basic court reduced the life sentence of Pjeter Ndrecaj for murder to 24 years’ imprisonment after the Supreme Court returned the case for retrial. Ndrecaj was found guilty of killing his former wife and nine-year-old daughter in 2018. The court’s original sentence of 24 years had been extended in 2019 by the court of appeal, which found aggravating circumstances not considered by the basic court. Ndrecaj’s former wife had sought help from the police station in Gjakove/Djakovica several hours prior to the killing, but police failed to locate Ndrecaj before the murders took place. As a result, three police officers received five-month suspensions for “abuse of official duty.”

The government licensed and supported 10 NGOs to assist child and female survivors of domestic violence. The government established a budget line for financial support of shelters, resolving a long-standing funding problem. Both NGOs and shelters reported timely receipt of funding.

The Office of the Prime Minister maintained a commission to recognize and compensate survivors of wartime sexual violence. The commission has granted pensions to more than 800 women since 2018. The SPRK designated one prosecutor for cases of wartime sexual violence. Police maintained a unit for war crimes cases, including cases of wartime sexual violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment in civil and criminal proceedings. The criminal code stipulates prison sentences as an enhanced penalty for sexual harassment against vulnerable victims and in cases where the criminal procedure is initiated upon the victim’s request. In cases where a crime is committed with the use of a weapon, the sentence may vary from one to five years in prison. The NGO Kosovo Women’s Network reported that implementation of sexual harassment laws was hampered by poorly defined procedures for filing complaints of harassment, and lack of clarity regarding which government bodies should receive these complaints.

According to women’s rights organizations, harassment was common at workplaces in both the public and private sectors and in public institutions of higher education.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals, regardless of gender, ideology, or religious or cultural background; have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government generally respected reproductive rights, but poor, marginalized, and illiterate individuals often had insufficient access to information. To address the problem, the government and the UN Population Fund created family-planning curricula for all educational levels and were training educators to implement it. According to 2018 World Bank data, the country had 16 births per 1,000 inhabitants. A 2019 report from the international coalition Countdown to 2030 found that 88 percent of women had access to modern contraception, 98 percent had at least four prenatal medical visits, and 99 percent had a skilled health-care provider attend the delivery. Accurate maternal mortality data were unavailable, because the government neither gathered nor maintained records of such deaths. The law obligates the government to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Survivors are assigned a “victim’s protection official” who assists with both criminal justice and medical treatment processes. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare registered survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and provided them with medical and psychosocial support as well as a monthly pension. More than 800 individuals received such benefits during the year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The law stipulates that partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men usually inherited family property and other assets. In rare instances Kosovo-Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a family custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.

Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government. The Kosovo Women’s Network reported women were often subject to discriminatory hiring practices.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl ratio at birth was 108 boys to 100 girls. The government did not introduce policies to encourage a more equal gender balance.

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from citizen parents or by birth in the country, including those with parents whose citizenship was not documented. Those not registered at birth were primarily from the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. UNICEF indicated lack of registration could adversely affect a child’s access to social assistance, particularly for repatriated children. Children who were not registered were considered stateless.

Child Abuse: The criminal code does not specifically criminalize child abuse but addresses various elements of child abuse, including in sections on sexual assault, rape, trafficking in persons, and child pornography, among others. Penalties range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The incidence of child abuse was unknown due to social stigma and lack of reliable data.

The Law on Child Protection entered into force in July. The international NGO Terre des Homme Kosovo assisted the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare in drafting additional legislation as part of comprehensive implementation measures. The law stipulates establishment of houses offering temporary shelter, protection, and emergency assistance to child victims of physical or sexual abuse, and sets standards for licensing and operation.

In July 2019 a nine-year-old boy from Fushe Kosove was raped and killed. The boy’s mother had reported his rape by the suspect to police prior to the killing, but the suspect was released after questioning and never rearrested. Six months later, the child was found dead in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje. The suspect was then arrested for rape and aggravated murder. Following the trial, police and prosecutors began jointly reviewing all procedures and actions in child abuse cases. Disciplinary investigations were initiated against two prosecutors involved in the case over suspicion they failed to address claims of abuse in a timely and efficient manner. One of the prosecutors was disciplined by the Prosecutorial Council. A human rights lawyer took up the case and sought to hold officials accountable for inaction.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows persons to marry at age 16 with parental consent. Although there are no official data on early and forced child marriages, it was a common practice, including in Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, Bosniak, and Gorani communities. According to a government report that focused on these communities, approximately 12 percent of children, mostly girls, married before age 15. High poverty levels in these communities contributed to these rates.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Persons who produce, use, or involve a child in making or producing pornography may receive a prison sentence of one to five years. The distribution, promotion, transmission, offer, or display of child pornography is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. Possession or procurement of child pornography is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Terre des Homme Kosovo reported that national mechanisms for identification and referral of children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation are ineffective. The organization noted children transported from Albania for street work are inadequately identified as potential victims of trafficking or children at risk of trafficking. The municipality of Pristina established a special task force intended to address these issues and provide protection and necessary services for children engaged in street work.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Approximately 50 Jewish persons resided in the country, according to the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and provide for equal access to education, employment, and other state services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in access to education and hiring.

In December the NGO Association of Paraplegic and Paralyzed Children of Kosovo (Handi-Kos) presented an assessment of the country’s disability legislation, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The report noted that elementary schools in Kosovo generally did not ensure adequate disability access, and internal facility design did not ensure the equal status of children with disabilities with their peers. The report stated this lack of access resulted in a higher dropout rate for children with disabilities.

The law on the employment of persons with disabilities states that the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health will introduce special legislation that determines the level of working capacity for persons with disabilities. The absence of this legislation directly affects the employment of persons with disabilities and reinforces existing social stigma around disability.

According to Handi-Kos, health and rehabilitative services, social assistance, and assistive devices for persons with disabilities was insufficient. Physical access to public institutions remained difficult, even after the implementation of bylaws on building access and administrative support. Handi-Kos reported municipal compliance with a 2007 mandate on access to government buildings is in the single digits.

The parliament building itself was not accessible, and one member of parliament in a wheelchair had to be carried into the assembly hall by colleagues. Likewise, in the municipality of Sukhareka, persons in wheelchairs had access only to the ground floor of the municipal building, but not floors containing the mayoral and directorate offices. Educational options for children with disabilities were limited. According to Handi-Kos, approximately 38,000 children with disabilities did not attend school.

In August the Ombudsperson Institution published a report criticizing unequal access to interurban transportation for blind persons, despite legal requirements for such access. It recommended decreasing transport fees for disabled persons, reserving two seats on public transport for travelers with disabilities, and mandating a minimum number of law-enforcement inspections per month for urban and interurban public transport vehicles. To date, no entity or organization responded to this report.

The law regulates the commitment of persons to psychiatric or social care facilities and protects their rights within such institutions but it has not been implemented. The country lacks an adequate system for classification of procedures, placement, and treatment of detainees with mental disabilities. The KRCT described mental health facilities as substandard and generally at full capacity. The KCRT also noted the need for additional capacity specifically for women and juveniles with mental disabilities. The Institute of Forensic Psychiatry had a capacity of 36 beds, of which 12 were for psychiatric examinations and 24 were for mandatory psychiatric treatment. The institute did not have a specific area for treatment of women and juveniles. There were instances when domestic violence offenders with mental disabilities did not complete mandatory psychiatric care but left institute facilities due to inadequate infrastructure and capacity.

The KRCT noted that the lack of capacity at the Institute of Forensic Psychiatry led to detainees with mental disabilities being sent to standard correctional centers rather than to mental health facilities, in contradiction of both domestic law and international standards.

Societal violence persisted against Kosovo-Serb and other ethnic minority communities, all of which were also affected by social and employment discrimination.

The Kosovo-Serb community, its representatives, civil society, and the international community expressed concern over incidents involving thefts, break-ins, verbal harassment, and damage to the property of Kosovo-Serbs, particularly returnees in rural areas. The NGO AKTIV reported more than 20 incidents between March and June targeting Kosovo-Serbs, including arson, physical attacks, and robberies. Between January and October, the Communities and Return Ministry received complaints of 49 security incidents affecting Kosovo Serbs and returnees. For example the ministry issued a press release on April 28 condemning the burning of a house in Cernice/a and on May 27 issued a press release condemning the stoning of a returnee house in Lubozhde/Ljubozda and a physical attack in Drenovc/Drenovac. The ministry publicly appealed to police to enhance patrols in critical locations and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Kosovo-Serb representatives claimed ethnic hatred was the key motive for some incidents, such as the stoning of returnee houses, cases of arson, and graffiti. The representatives claimed the government did not adequately respond to these incidents. In some cases police investigations resulted in the perpetrators’ arrest.

In October unknown perpetrators reportedly shot at a group of Kosovo-Serb youth in the Bernice e Poshtme/Donja Brnjica village school in Pristina municipality. No one was injured in the incident. According to media reports and the youths, the perpetrators spoke Albanian. Police agreed to increase police presence in the area following an October 4 meeting between local Kosovo-Serbs, their representatives, police, and KFOR. Police arrested one person in connection with the incident.

Harassment of Kosovo-Serb members of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) by other ethnic Serbs was commonplace, although usually the incidents were difficult to trace. Victims in most cases did not report the incidents to police for fear of escalation and retaliation. In June a local court ordered the 30-day detention of a Kosovo Serb for harassing a Kosovo-Serb KSF member on social media. According to the prosecution, the victim received threatening messages after the suspect posted a photo of the victim in uniform alongside Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister and KLA commander. The suspect removed the post, but the victim continued to receive threatening messages. Kosovo-Serb KSF members were also routinely detained by Serbian authorities at Kosovo-Serbia border crossings.

The Ministry of Defense and KSF leadership took some steps to protect Kosovo-Serb members. These steps included better documentation of incidents, routine welfare checks by commanders, and attempts at improving the response of police and the Kosovo Intelligence Agency. The government launched a KSF recruitment campaign where leaders amplified minority recruitment efforts.

Access to justice for Kosovo Serbs improved due to the 2017 integration of the judiciary system in the four northern Serb-majority municipalities and integration of Kosovo-Serb judges and staff in other basic courts in the country. The judiciary suffered from a lack of funding and support for minorities. Poor or delayed translation in court proceedings, a backlog of cases in the north, nonexecution of court decisions, limited numbers of minority staff, and inconsistency between Albanian and Serbian translations of legislation continued to hinder the delivery of justice for Kosovo Serbs and other minority communities.

The Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities often lacked access to basic hygiene, medical care, and education and were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for subsistence. The government provided food and hygiene assistance to these communities beginning in March due to the COVID-19-related limitations on movement. Community representatives and civil society stated the assistance was insufficient to protect members of these communities from exposure to the virus and spreading the virus through traditionally practiced street work.

The prime minister’s Office of Community Affairs and the Ombudsperson Institution noted discrimination in public sector employment in almost all local and national institutions. Although the law mandates 10 percent of employees at the national level of government be ethnic minorities, their representation remained limited and generally confined to lower-level positions. Smaller communities, such as Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians, were particularly underrepresented.

The law requires equal conditions for all schoolchildren and recognizes minority students’ right to public education in their native language through secondary school. This law was not enforced. Bosniak, Croat, Gorani, Montenegrin, Romani, and Turkish community leaders cited the unavailability of textbooks and other materials in the Serbian, Bosnian, and Turkish languages, occasionally turning to Albanian-language curriculum or curriculum sponsored by Serbia or Turkey to educate students.

The Office of the Language Commissioner monitored and reported on the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as other official languages at the local level, including Bosnian and Turkish. The commissioner reported municipal administrations and central government institutions were inconsistent in implementing provisions of national language laws, for example, in providing Serbian translations of government statements, including emergency notices, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a complaint echoed by Kosovo-Serb civil society groups. The Office of the Language Commissioner also reported that failure to consistently implement language laws meant that many citizens were denied equal access to public services, information, employment, justice, and other rights.

Lack of translation or poor translation was also reported as a problem with regards to numerous laws, signs within public institutions, and communication during court proceedings. To address the problem of inconsistently translated legislation, the government passed a concept note sponsored by the country’s language commissioner in May 2019 requiring establishment of a governmental translation unit. As of November, the unit had not been established.

Courts regularly failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation services to minority defendants and witnesses and did not provide adequate translation of statute and court documents as required by law. The Kosovo-Serb NGO AKTIV reported that courts sent their decisions, including decisions on detention and verdicts, in the Albanian language to members of the Kosovo-Serb and other minority communities. AKTIV noted such practices inhibited access to legal remedies for members of minority communities.

Amendments to administrative rulings permit Bosniaks and ethnic Turks to have identity documents issued in their own languages, but minority representatives often complained of poor treatment by public servants and delayed implementation.

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, health care, and education. When the motivation for a crime is based on gender, sexual orientation, or perceived affinity of the victim with persons who are targets of such hostility, the law considers motivation to be an aggravating circumstance.

According to human rights NGOs, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community faced overt discrimination in employment, housing, determination of statelessness, and access to education and health care.

The NGO Center for Equality and Liberty reported that societal pressure persuaded most LGBTI persons to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. A representative noted police were insensitive to the needs of the LGBTI community. The center also noted increased homophobic public reactions in social media since the introduction of country-wide government measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police were inclusive and accepting of LGBTI and other minority communities in their public messaging, and senior police officials participated in the annual pride parade. Pristina municipality established a drop-in center for at-risk LGBTI persons.

In August 2019 the appeals court upheld a basic court ruling permitting the change of the sex marker on identity documents from female to male for a citizen living abroad. In total, two citizens changed their identity documents following lengthy court procedures, while four citizens’ requests for change of identity documents have not been resolved.

On September 4, Prime Minister Hoti and Serbian President Vucic signed agreements in which the two countries agreed to work with foreign governments to decriminalize homosexuality in the 69 countries where it is considered a crime.

There were no confirmed reports of official discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and the violation of any individual’s labor rights due to his or her union activities. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, including in essential services. The law applies equally to all individuals working in the public and private sectors, including documented migrants and domestic servants.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, which include regulations and administrative instructions that govern employment relations, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Association of Independent Labor Unions in Kosovo (BSPK), resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Employers did not always respect the right of worker organizations to bargain collectively, particularly in the private sector. The BSPK reported many private-sector employers essentially ignored labor laws.

The BSPK reported continued difficulty in establishing unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors. Representatives from these sectors anonymously told the BSPK some employers used intimidation to prevent the establishment of unions. The labor inspectorate reported receiving no formal complaints of discrimination against employees who tried to join unions during the year; however, the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls. In addition, employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations and unions to bargain collectively or to network with unions outside their organization, particularly in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law and forced labor, including forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.), during the year. Government resources, including remediation, were insufficient to bring about compliance, identify and protect victims, and investigate claims of forced or compulsory labor. The labor inspectorate reported conducting only limited investigations for forced labor offenses. Penalties, although commensurate with those for other serious crimes, were seldom applied.

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

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for contractual employment is 15, provided the employment is not harmful or prejudicial to school attendance. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age for work is 18.

The 2020 Law on Child Protection institutes key child labor protection standards unifying all the other legal and sublegal documents on the topic. It provides additional penalties for formal and informal employers of children that are commensurate with those for similar crimes. The law does not fully address the problem of child labor, as the law has little impact on the informal economy.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom applied. Inspectors immediately notified employers when minors were exploited or found engaged in hazardous labor conditions. Child labor occurred primarily in the informal sector. As of May, NGO Terres Des Hommes reported 116 cases of minors (105 Kosovo citizens and 11 minors from Albania) working in hazardous conditions. Of these, 73 were children engaged in begging, 13 in street work, and 14 in coal extraction.

The Coalition of NGOs for the Protection of Children reported that children working in agriculture encountered hazards from operating farm equipment. The coalition reported that child labor in farming persisted as a traditional activity. Government-run social-work centers reported children engaged in farming were primarily in the informal sector and were not prevented from attending school. While children were rarely their families’ main wage earners, child labor contributed substantially to some families’ income.

Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction and retail jobs, such as selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, or telephone cards on the street. Some children, especially those from ethnic minorities or from families receiving social assistance, engaged in physical labor such as transportation of goods or in picking through trash piles for items to sell.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or political affiliation. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across sectors with respect to sex, gender identity, disability, religion, political affiliation, and minority status (see section 6). During the year the BSPK received reports from labor unions and individuals claiming discrimination based on union membership, age, and family status. The BSPK and union officials noted employment, particularly in the public sector, often depended on the employee’s political status and affiliation. Union officials reported other mistreatment, including sexual harassment, based on political party affiliation. The BSPK reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave.

University of Pristina officials noted a lack of space for conducting prayers on university premises. The Kosovo Center for Peace reported several cases of female students in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje and Gjakove/Djakovica being denied elementary school access due to wearing religious garb.

The government-set minimum wage was higher than the official poverty income line.

The law provides for a standard 40-hour work week, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 per day, limits overtime to 20 hours per week and 40 hours per month, requires payment of a premium for overtime work, and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for 20 days of paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave. The law sets appropriate health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country. The responsibility for identifying unsafe workplaces lies with occupational safety and health experts rather than workers.

Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and fines were not commensurate with those for similar violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations in both the formal and informal sectors and enforcement was further curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The BSPK reported lack of enforcement by the judiciary, especially in the informal sector, citing resource and capacity limitations within the labor inspectorate.

According to the BSPK, employers failed to abide by official labor standards that provided equal standards of protection to public and private sector workers. The BSPK reported a lack of government oversight and enforcement, particularly of the standard workweek and compulsory and unpaid overtime. Many individuals worked long hours in the private sector as “at-will” employees, without employment contracts, regular pay, or contributions to their pensions. The BSPK reported employers fired workers without cause in violation of the law and refused to respect worker holidays. Women’s rights organizations reported sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of dismissal or retaliation.

The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, informal employer-employee arrangements may address when and whether employees may remove themselves from work due to dangerous work situations but the government did not track these arrangements. There were eight worker fatalities as a result of inadequate or unsafe work conditions during the year. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for both men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions, such as in construction and agriculture.

Laos

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of “a person” and provides for penalties of four to six years’ imprisonment; there is no law against spousal rape. Sentences are significantly longer and may include life imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 18 or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ to life imprisonment. A 2016 UN Population Fund study found that one in seven women experienced physical or sexual violence, most of whom said they had experienced such violence multiple times. Only 4 percent of women who had experienced violence contacted the police.

Domestic violence is illegal but often went unreported due to social stigma. In June 2019 an advocate for women’s rights said gender-based violence was widespread and engrained into cultural norms. Enforcement of the domestic violence law varied, and observers reported that violence against women in rural areas was rarely investigated. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury.

The Lao Women’s Union and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (Ministry of Labor), in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence by operating shelters, providing a hotline phone number, and employing counselors. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a countrywide hotline for reporting domestic violence that also provided victims with counseling.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and may be punished by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its prevalence remained difficult to assess.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and they had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported, however, that information on and access to sexual and reproductive health services were limited, especially for unmarried youth.

Social and cultural barriers restricted access to contraception. Contraceptive commodities were not widely available in rural areas and were often unaffordable.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies undercut access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, although poverty and an underdeveloped health care system impeded such access for some women. UNFPA’s 2020 report stated that 34 percent of women used a modern method of contraception while 8 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence.

According to 2017 UN estimates, the maternal mortality rate was 185 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 150. Pregnancy and childbirth remained a leading cause of death among women of reproductive age due to limited antenatal and obstetric care and services as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy, especially in rural areas. According to UNFPA estimates, skilled health personnel attended 64 percent of births, and very few medical centers were equipped to deal with obstetric emergencies, especially in small or ethnic villages. The adolescent birth rate remained high at 83 births per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women and men and equal pay for equal work, but in some regions traditional attitudes about gender roles kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of cultural-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas.

The Lao Women’s Union operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including by conducting programs to strengthen the role of women; programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in the civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes frequently were higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities.

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship if both parents are citizens, regardless of where they are born. Children born of one citizen parent acquire citizenship if born in the country or, when born outside the country’s territory, if one parent has a permanent in-country address. Parents did not register all births immediately. The village chief registers children born in remote areas, and then the local authority adds the name and date of birth of the child in the family registration book. Every family must have a family registration book. If parents fail to register a child at birth, they may request to add the child to the family registration book later.

Children born in the country to parents who are unable to certify their citizenship but who are integrated into society can request citizenship. This requires multiple levels of government approval, including the National Assembly. Not all children born in the country who would otherwise be stateless are able to acquire citizenship.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal through fifth grade, but a shortage of teachers and the societal expectation that children would help their parents with farming in rural areas prevented some children from attending school. There were significant differences among ethnic groups in educational opportunities available to boys and girls. Instruction was not offered in any language other than Lao, which discouraged ethnic minority children from attending school. To increase elementary school attendance by ethnic minority children, the government continued to support the establishment of boarding schools in rural areas countrywide. School enrollment rates for girls were lower than for boys, although the gender disparity continued to decrease. According to 2016 data, 17 percent of school-age girls, compared with 11 percent of school-age boys, never attended school.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, and offenders are subject to re-education programs and unspecified penal measures in more serious cases.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18, but the law allows marriage as young as 15 with parental consent. Approximately 35 percent of girls married before they reached 18, and 9 percent married before they were 15, a practice particularly common among certain ethnic groups and impoverished rural families.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There is no legal age of consent. It is unlawful for an adult to have sex with a child age 12 or younger; this is punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison. Sex with a child between age 12 and 15 is unlawful if it involves payment or offering of benefit (punishable by three to five years in prison), and sex with a child between 15 and 18 is unlawful if it involves “persuading, deceiving, inducing…[or] paying” the child (punishable by one to three years in prison). The law states that a person who coerces someone younger than 18 into prostitution can be punished by 10 to 20 years in prison. The penalty for child rape varies with the age of the victim; the rape of a 15- to 18-year-old carries a penalty of six to 10 years in prison, while the rape of a child younger than 15 has a penalty of 10 to 20 years. The penalty for possession of child pornography is three months to one year; the penalty for the dissemination of such material is one to three years.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The government continued efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through periodic raids and training workshops. The government and NGOs hosted seminars to train tourism-sector employees and provided many major international hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang with posters warning against child sex tourism.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Although constitutional protections against discrimination do not apply specifically to persons with disabilities, the law spells out the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and public transportation, while also providing tax exemptions for small businesses owned by persons with disabilities. It includes a provision for persons with disabilities to receive an identification card as part of an effort to collect data on disabilities so the government can provide better and more comprehensive services for persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities said the law broadly defined the rights of such persons but did not indicate how outcomes, such as accessible facilities or increased employment opportunities, would be achieved. Little information was available regarding discrimination in the workplace, although persons with disabilities reported it was difficult sometimes to access basic services and obtain employment.

The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is also involved in addressing health-related needs of persons with disabilities and continued to coordinate with international NGOs.

The law requires construction projects begun after 2009 to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities, particularly buildings, roads, and public places. The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings built before 2009, but Ministry of Labor regulations resulted in construction of additional sidewalk ramps.

The government continued to implement its strategic plan to protect the rights of children with disabilities and enable them to study alongside other children in schools countrywide. The nongovernmental Lao Disabled People’s Association noted that in many cases students with disabilities lacked access to separate education.

Societal discrimination persisted against minority ethnic groups, despite law and policy providing for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and barring discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation.

Some critics continued to charge that the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture and opium production adversely affected many ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas.

The Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent of the 50 official ethnic groups in the country. Several Hmong officials served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP; these included one Politburo member and several members of the LPRP Central Committee. Some Hmong reportedly maintained separatist or irredentist political beliefs. Amnestied former Hmong insurgents continued to be the focus of official suspicion and scrutiny, and the government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, or government services. There were no reports of discrimination, but observers said societal stigma and concern about repercussions led some to withhold reporting incidents of abuse.

There were no legal impediments to organized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups or activities, but local activists reported they did not attempt to hold activities they believed the government would deem sensitive or controversial.

Some societal discrimination in employment and housing reportedly persisted, and there were no government efforts to address it. Local activists explained that most openly LGBTI persons did not attempt to apply for government or high-level private-sector jobs because there was a tacit recognition that employers would not hire them. LGBTI advocates said that while the country still had a conservative and traditional society, gay and lesbian persons were becoming more integrated, but the transgender population continued to face high levels of societal stigma and discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join worker organizations independent of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The law defines collective bargaining but does not set out conditions, and it requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency. The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form or join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where a trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions or recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.

Trade union law allows workers in the informal economy, including workers outside of labor units or who were self-employed, to join LFTU-affiliated unions. It also establishes rights and responsibilities for “laborer representatives,” which the law defines as “an individual or legal entity selected by the workers and laborers in labor units to be a representative to protect their legitimate rights and interest.”

There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarceration, business license revocation, or some combination of these; these penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving civil rights. Violations and enforcement were rare.

The government reported the law permits affiliation between unions of separate branches of a company but does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports that unions not affiliated with the LFTU and without legal standing existed in some industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agricultural processing. These unions were not allowed to strike.

Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of the labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. In May former employees of one of the largest private enterprises in the country assembled outside the Ministry of Labor to demand assistance after being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministry officials later met with the LFTU and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce to find a resolution, which involved severance pay to the workers for 36 or 24 months, depending on their tenure at the company.

According to law workers who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability” can face prison time. The government’s overall prohibition of activities it considered subversive or demonstrations it considered destabilizing, workers’ lack of familiarity with the provisions of the amended labor law, and general aversion to open confrontation continued to make workers extremely unlikely to exercise their right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor may include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business license, and prosecution. The law allows for prisoners to work. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of assets. Such penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Due to limited numbers of inspectors, among other factors, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children from ages 14 to 18 to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Employers may employ children 12 to 14 to perform light work that does not affect their health or school attendance. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work.

The Ministry of Public Security and Justice and the Ministry of Labor are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the National Plan of Action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although a gender wage gap persisted, and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a woman’s marital status or pregnancy, and it protects against dismissal on these grounds. The government enforced prohibitions against employment discrimination or requirements for equal pay; penalties under law included fines and were commensurate to laws related to those for civil rights.

In 2018 the government raised the monthly minimum wage for all private-sector workers; it was above the estimated national poverty line.

The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage and overtime provisions, but it states they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license. The laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The law was not effectively enforced.

Occupational health and safety standards existed, but inspections were inconsistent. The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible to compensate the worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work to the Labor Administration Agency. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers who become disabled while at work. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with occupational safety and health provisions, but it states they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license. They were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The law also prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, and they are entitled to maintain the same salary or wage.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor is responsible for workplace inspections. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage. The overtime or wage law was not effectively enforced.

According to civil society organizations, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-financed agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers, many of whom operated informally and thus left workers vulnerable to exploitation.

There were a number of undocumented migrant workers in the country, particularly from Vietnam and Burma, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers in the logging, mining, and agricultural sectors. Migrants from China and Vietnam also worked in construction, plantations, casinos, and informal service industries, sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were common.

Latvia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape regardless of gender. Spousal rape is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” Criminal penalties for rape range from four years to life imprisonment. When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation. Through September police initiated 56 criminal charges for rape against 28 individuals, of which two cases were sent to the prosecutor’s office. Because the Ministry of Justice does not distinguish between spousal rape and nonspousal rape cases, there were no reports available on whether any spousal rape case was prosecuted.

The law provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. Domestic violence is considered an aggravating factor in certain criminal offenses. There are penalties for causing even “minor” bodily harm when the victim and perpetrator are spouses, former spouses, or civil partners.

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

Domestic violence remained a serious problem. NGOs and State Police noted a 30 percent increase in domestic violence calls and reports during COVID-19 restrictions. NGOs stated reported violence became more severe during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Through August police initiated 193 criminal proceedings for domestic violence and detained 50 persons. In the same period, police issued 320 restraining orders, a number far below 2019 figures. NGOs stated that in some domestic violence cases, police and doctors were reluctant to act to restrain or arrest domestic partners. NGOs also stated police and doctors sometimes minimized the seriousness of the accusations when responding to reports of abuse. Domestic abuse complaints to police resulted in a slight rise in the rate of citations, although NGOs still viewed this as insufficient.

Following the success of a pilot project in the city of Liepaja that resulted in a strong increase in separation order issuances, amendments to Cabinet of Ministers regulations now require police throughout the country to use standardized protocols to report and investigate domestic and gender-based violence. Responding police officers are required to complete and send electronically an evaluation checklist to the social service of the relevant local government within one working day.

No anonymous government-run shelters designated specifically for battered and abused women existed. The government provided state funding to shelters. There was one government-funded survivor support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; neither was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault. The government hotline referred survivors to an appropriate NGO for further support.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was prosecuted under discrimination statutes. Penalties range from a reprimand to imprisonment. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. During the year there were no complaints of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognizes the right of most couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; to have access to the full range of contraceptive choices; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Transgendered persons are the exception and are required to be sterilized before their gender identity is legally recognized. The country’s cultural norms and concerns about potential violations of “virtue” laws limited consistent education in schools on sexual and reproductive health. Under the law schools are obliged to provide students with a “moral education” that reinforces traditional (heterosexual) values regarding marriage and family life. As a result, many teachers avoided educating adolescents about reproductive health and contraception.

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

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. Since January 1, the law bestows automatic birthright citizenship to children of noncitizen residents, replacing a system that required permission from at least one of the parents for such a child to acquire citizenship. Children with noncitizen resident status are eligible for citizenship via naturalization.

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

The ombudsman received six complaints of violence against children in educational institutions and two complaints of violence against children in families. NGOs also reported a continuing overall problem with discipline and bullying in schools, citing an administrative culture of conflict avoidance as an aggravating factor. Police started an inquiry to verify reports by the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights of abuse claims at the Mountain Blessings Community, a religious group in Brukna focusing on addiction rehabilitation.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. Through September police initiated 92 criminal proceedings for the sexual exploitation of minors younger than 16, a 12 percent drop from 2018. The purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Due to its complexity and sensitivity, the criminal investigation of serious abuses at the Ainazi children’s psychiatric clinic, initiated in 2018, remained under review by authorities. Among other abuses children at the clinic were found to have been bound to beds for prolonged periods of time.

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.

Government sources estimated that between 4,400 and 8,100 Jewish residents live in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups. The leadership of the Jewish community stated that relations with the government were generally positive. The government provided financial support to Jewish history, religious, and cultural institutions.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, most of the annual commemoration of Latvian Legionnaires who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet army in World War II was canceled. Organizers converted the annual memorial march into an all-day wreath-laying event. As in recent years, turnout continued to decline, and the event received less attention, but at least one parliamentarian from the right-wing National Alliance party attended. Organizers aired a short film on television portraying the Legionnaires’ actions as defending Latvia and making no mention of Nazis.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

Although the law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, there was no corresponding provision for private buildings. NGOs stated that building accessibility continued to be low. Accessibility to state and local government buildings generally extended only to the first floor. NGOs cited low understanding of accessibility requirements among architects and a weak enforcement mechanism, as well as legal constraints that increase the price to modify building designs for accessibility.

In Riga schools were generally able to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities. Few schools outside of Riga could do so.

While health and labor services are provided as stipulated by law, NGOs stated that most persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, the absence of specialized job education and training programs, and reduced government support for businesses employing disabled persons.

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

Through August the State Security Service initiated three criminal cases for incitement of social hatred and enmity.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination, high levels of unemployment, and illiteracy. The government continued integration and awareness programs in support of the Roma, though some community members expressed concern that the support was inconsistent. The Central Statistical Bureau reported that 4,891 Roma lived in the country.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs expressed concern about the lack of explicit protection in the law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. NGOs stated that cases tended to be underreported, and that they observed a rise in online comments against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community during the COVID-19 lockdown period. ECRI also noted in 2019 that the government does not collect data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and thus is not in a position to evaluate the need for specialized services or the magnitude of the problem. Through August the ombudsman received one complaint regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

NGOs reported widespread stigmatization of, intolerance of, and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces, and reported no incidents of forced labor through September. Two cases of complaints about workers’ rights were forwarded to the State Police to evaluate whether forced labor took place. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 14 percent of positions unfilled, a situation made worse by perennial wage issues.

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

The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. By law children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate did not report cases of unregistered employment of youth.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the country have equal legal standing with men. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector, but they were underreported to the ombudsman. Through August the ombudsman did not open any cases of discrimination against women.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work, although were free to work in all labor markets and were able to receive government employment support services, including those specifically designed for persons with disabilities. In 2019, 27.2 percent of all persons with disabilities were employed, a slight increase from 2018. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

The law sets a monthly minimum wage which was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.

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

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are fines that vary widely depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems, effectively enforce labor laws, and occupational safety and health standards. The inspectorate has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 22 workplace fatalities, eight of which will likely be categorized as due to natural causes. The inspectorate also reported 114 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that 54 injuries and four deaths occurred as a result of industrial accidents. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for 24 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters and police, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Lithuania

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence are criminal offenses. Penalties for domestic violence depend on the level of injury to the victim, ranging from required public service to life imprisonment. In the first eight months of the year, authorities received 63 reports of rape, compared with 77 during the same period in 2019. Convicted rapists generally received prison sentences of three to five years. No law specifically criminalizes spousal rape, and no data on spousal rape was available.

The law permits rapid government action in domestic violence cases. For example, police and other law enforcement officials may, with court approval, require perpetrators to live separately from their victims, to avoid all contact with them, and to surrender any weapons they may possess. According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, eight out of 10 victims of domestic violence were women, and the law still does not follow a gender-sensitive approach.

Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem. In the first eight months of the year, police received 35,130 domestic violence calls and started 7,006 pretrial investigations, 17 of which were for killings. In 2018 approximately 80 percent of all domestic violence reports were against women.

There are a 24/7 national hotline and 29 crisis centers for victims of domestic violence. The Ministry of Justice also continued its Action Plan for Domestic Violence Prevention and Assistance to Victims for 2017-2020 and allocated 1.17 million euros ($1.4 million) for the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to access the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Despite there being no barriers for access to contraception, there was a lack of publicly available information about contraception as a method of family planning, and teenage pregnancies were common. Other family-planning methods were more widespread.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The country had no rape crisis center, but a network of specialized NGOs provided social, psychological, health, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. A national women’s helpline also assisted survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: The law prohibits coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization. In July the Kaunas Regional Court awarded 31,000 euros ($37,200) to a woman with cerebral palsy after a hospital in Lazdijai sterilized her involuntarily shortly after she gave birth.

Discrimination: Men and women have the same legal status and rights. Women continued to experience unequal access to pension benefits and the gender wage gap remained significant, leaving women more exposed to poverty risk (see section 7.d.).

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

Child Abuse: The law bans all violence against children. Sexual abuse of children remained a problem despite prison sentences of up to 13 years for the crime. In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of the Interior recorded 23 cases of child rape and 171 cases involving other forms of child sexual abuse. The government operated a children’s support center to provide medical and psychological care for children, including those who suffered from various types of violence. It also operated a national center in Vilnius to provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance to sexually abused children and their families.

According to the Ministry of Social Security and Labor Affairs, there were 5,469 reports of violence against children in 2019. In the first eight months of the year, the children’s rights ombudsman reported receiving 392 complaints.

During the first eight months of the year, Child Line (a hotline for children and youth) received 105,415 telephone calls from children, and was able to respond to 77,944 of those calls. Child Line also received and answered 385 letters from children, whose concerns ranged from relations with their parents and friends to family violence and sexual abuse.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Individuals involving a child in pornographic events or using a child in the production of pornographic material are subject to imprisonment for up to five years (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press). Persons who offer to purchase, acquire, sell, transport, or hold a child in captivity are subject to imprisonment for three to 12 years. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights reported receiving one complaint of alleged sexual exploitation of children during the first eight months of the year. According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first eight months of the year, officials opened 32 criminal cases involving child pornography. The age of consent is 16.

Institutionalized Children: As of September 1, the children’s rights ombudsman received four complaints and started one investigation regarding violations of children’s rights in orphanages and large-family foster homes.

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

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

On January 13, an unidentified man inside the parliament building approached the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, addressed her as “little Jew girl,” and said that there was no home for her in Lithuania. In response to a request by the chair, the prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the incident. No charges were filed.

On February 16 and March 11, nationalist parties sought to rally supporters at marches commemorating the country’s independence. During the February event, approximately 1,000 persons marched through Vilnius chanting and carrying banners with images of Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet resistance fighter who collaborated with the Nazis and played a role in the atrocities in the country during the Holocaust. On March 11, a similar procession of approximately 200 persons took place.

On October 8, the government-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania posted on its Facebook page a statement commemorating the 110th birthday of Noreika. It celebrated Noreika as having opposed the Soviet and Nazi occupations. It did not refer to Noreika’s collaboration with the Nazis or his participation in Nazi atrocities. Nor did it acknowledge his public writings, which included a pamphlet promoting anti-Semitic views.

On May 20, Member of Parliament Audrys Simas made a hand gesture during a committee meeting that resembled a Nazi salute. The incident prompted the Lithuanian Jewish Community to call for an investigation. The parliamentary ethics and procedures committee investigated the matter and concluded that Simas violated the state code of behavior for politicians. Simas apologized for his actions and claimed he had raised his hand in order to cast a vote and had not intended his hand gesture as a Nazi salute.

On June 26, the anniversary of a massacre of Lithuanian Jews during the Holocaust, a monument in central Vilnius of a Jewish historical figure, Dr. Zemach Shabad, was vandalized with white paint or acid. A bust of Elijahu ben Solomon Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, was vandalized with white paint or acid on June 26 and again on August 3. Police launched pretrial investigations. The foreign minister and the mayor of Vilnius condemned the acts.

Police had instructions to take pre-emptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no proactive enforcement of these requirements. The equal opportunities ombudsman investigated cases of alleged discrimination based on disability. In 2019 the National Audit Office reported that one-third of persons with disabilities were at risk of poverty, a rate 10.7 percent higher than the overall at-risk-of-poverty rate (20.6 percent). The audit found that only 13 percent of the persons identified as needing assistance received special services in municipalities. In 32 municipalities local governments did not ensure that at least 30 percent of public buildings providing social, educational, health, and cultural services were adapted to persons with disabilities. In 34 municipalities no means of public transport were available for persons with disabilities. In 2019 only 3.4 percent of municipal websites were adapted for persons with disabilities.

The law requires all schools that provide compulsory and universally accessible education to make available education to students with disabilities. The country has a tradition of separate schools for children with various disabilities. On June 30, parliament amended the Law on Education to eliminate discriminatory provisions regarding children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational supports. According to the new provisions, which were scheduled to be implemented gradually and fully enter into force on September 1, 2024, children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational supports will be able to attend a general education school in their place of residence, and schools will no longer be able to refuse to admit them and refer them to separate so-called “special schools.”

The law prohibits persons with disabilities who have been deprived of their legal capacity from voting or standing for election. The Central Electoral Commission reported that 67 percent of voting stations were accessible for persons with disabilities in 2019.

On September 9, representatives of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office reported that during an inspection they discovered a person being held behind bars in the Skemai social care home. Police started a pretrial investigation, and the director of the institution temporarily was removed from office. According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the transfer of individuals with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities from state institutions to community-based homes was stalled.

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

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

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

According to a 2019 poll conducted by Baltijos Tyrimai, 63 percent of Lithuanians viewed Roma as undesirable neighbors, and 65 percent of Lithuanians would not rent an apartment to a Rom. Roma claimed employers were unwilling to hire them, citing as justification stereotypes of drug use often perpetuated by law enforcement officers.

The Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport reported that approximately 1,000 Romani children younger than age 20 lived in the country in 2017, and 431 Romani school-age children were enrolled in school. On August 28, the Vilnius municipality announced the closure of the Kirtimai settlement and approval of a new Romani integration program for 2020-23. According to the municipality, the new plan offers new solutions to strengthen the areas of education, health care and culture, with a particular focus on the reduction of social exclusion (especially of women) and exclusion in the labor market, as well as improving fulfillment of the right to housing.

According to the press, on March 16 in Kaunas, two men, one of whom was from Tajikistan, attacked and beat Tajik refugee Ilhomjon Yakubov, the former head of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in his country’s Sughd Region. Yakubov suffered a concussion and an injured nose and rib. The press reported that police opened a criminal investigation into the beating, detaining one of the attackers and questioning the other. The investigation continued at year’s end.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sexual orientation can be an aggravating factor in crimes against LGBTI persons. Gender identity remains unrecognized in the law. Societal attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained largely negative, and LGBTI persons experienced stigma, discrimination, and violence. In 2019 the Baltijos Tyrimai poll noted that one-third of Lithuanians viewed LGBTI individuals as undesirable neighbors. Transgender persons were vulnerable and regularly experienced extreme violence and death threats, and legal barriers and discriminatory practices often inhibited them from receiving health care. Most LGBTI persons did not report sexual assault because they did not trust police.

NGO experts noted that individuals with HIV/AIDS continued to be subject to discrimination, including in employment, and treated with fear and aversion. The government did not respond.

Section 7. Worker Rights

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light work with the written consent of the child’s parents or guardians and school. The government has not created a list of jobs considered “light work.” The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals. Under the law children younger than age 18 may not perform hazardous work. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than age 18. The government effectively enforced the law; however, penalties are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified 16 cases in which children were working illegally in the construction, agriculture, retail, services, and manufacturing sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

The law stipulates that discrimination based on sex should also cover discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). The matter of female poverty among the elderly who do not receive equal government social remuneration, as well as a pay gap between men and women, continued to exist.

The equal opportunity ombudsman (EOO) monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 1, the EOO received 14 complaints. To address the gender equality problem, the EOO in cooperation with the municipalities and NGOs continued implementing projects aimed at strengthening local communities in the fight against gender-based violence and addressing gender equality problems. Under the law the age requirements for women and men to retire with full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

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

According to the National Department of Statistics, as of January 1, the minimum monthly wage increased by 9 percent and was above the poverty line.

The law limits annual maximum overtime hours to 180 hours, and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project work, job-sharing, employee-sharing, and seasonal work. The occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law applies to both national and foreign workers. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH laws are commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The government enforced standards effectively across all sectors including the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the economy. The State Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate conducted 2,119 inspections at companies and other institutions. Of these cases, 80 percent were related to underpayment of wages, late payment of wages, or worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation can appeal to the court system. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to conduct seminars for managers of companies, local communities, and persons looking for work. The seminars dealt with preventing and combating illegal employment, the administration of labor contracts, and worker’s rights.

According to the State Labor Inspectorate, violations of wage, overtime, and OSH laws occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints about hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors. As of October 1, the State Labor Inspectorate recorded 2,533 accidents at work, including 22 fatal accidents, compared with 2,527 and 25, respectively, in 2019. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Workers have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions. Health-care workers were overloaded and at the greatest risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macau

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, but the domestic-violence law does not cover same-sex couples. The rate of investigation for domestic-violence cases was low, with police initiating investigations in only 17 of the 107 cases of domestic violence reported to them in 2019, according to official statistics. Domestic-violence law stipulates that a judge may order urgent coercive measures imposed upon the defendant individually or cumulatively, and the application of these measures does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators for criminal responsibilities as stipulated in the criminal code.

The government made referrals for victims to receive medical treatment, and social workers counseled victims and informed them of social welfare services. The government funded nongovernmental organizations to provide victim support services, including medical services, family counseling, and housing, until their complaints were resolved.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes physical sexual harassment, but verbal and noncontact harassment are not covered by the law. Persons convicted of sexual harassment may be imprisoned for up to one year.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; to manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. There were no legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies, that restricted access to contraception or to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth.

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

During the year virtually all births were attended by skilled health personnel. In 2019 the adolescent (age 15-19) birth rate was two per thousand. The Health Bureau offers full support services for family planning needs.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Equal opportunity legislation mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. Penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Media reports, however, indicated that discrimination persisted and gender differences in occupation existed, with women concentrated in lower-paid sectors and lower-level jobs.

Birth Registration: According to the Basic Law, children of Chinese national residents of the SAR who were born inside or outside the SAR and children born to non-Chinese national permanent residents inside the SAR are regarded as permanent residents. There is no differentiation between these categories in terms of access to registration of birth. Most births were registered immediately.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is age 16; however, children from ages 16 to 18 who wish to marry must obtain approval from their parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law specifically provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procurement involving minors. The criminal code sets 14 years as the age of sexual consent. The law forbids procurement for prostitution of a person younger than age 18. The law also prohibits child pornography. The government generally enforced these laws effectively, but there were concerns about the exploitation of minors in commercial sex.

International Child Abductions: Macau 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 population was extremely small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings, public facilities, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of societal discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups, and the law did not fully define and criminalize racial discrimination.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation; however, the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in other areas, such as housing.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The Basic Law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly has not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers have the right to join labor associations of their choice, but employers and the government reportedly wielded considerable influence over some associations. The law does not provide for workers to bargain collectively, and while workers have the right to conduct legal strikes, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. There were no reports that the government threatened or was violent towards union leaders. The law does not stipulate the financial penalties for antiunion discrimination and cannot be compared to other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The law forbids workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, to form unions, to take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the Commission against Corruption, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment, with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is younger than age 14. Observers previously noted these penalties generally were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Children and migrants were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Migrant construction and domestic workers were vulnerable to exploitative conditions such as recruitment fees, withholding of passports, and debt coercion. Victims were compelled to work in the commercial sex industry, entertainment establishments, and private homes where their freedom of movement was restricted, they were threatened with violence, and forced to work long hours. The government investigated trafficking cases (which typically total one or two annually), but there were no convictions during the year.

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

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. A law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from working, although minors ages 14 and 15 may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they get a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” The law defines “exceptional circumstances” as: the minor (younger than age 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between ages 14 and 16 may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; and minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic, or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. The law governing the number of working hours was equally applicable to adults and legally working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors who are age 16 can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.

The law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations serve to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Penalties fall under the labor ordinance and are financial; thus these are not comparable to those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If a minor is a victim of forced labor, however, then the penalties are commensurate with those for kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. Equal opportunity legislation states that women are to receive equal pay for equal work. The labor law does not contain any legal restrictions against women in employment, to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.

In November the government put into effect a minimum wage law that excludes disabled workers and domestic workers. The government justified the exclusion based on other benefits received and for the domestic workers, a pre-established minimum rate and housing allowance. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. Penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as election interference.

Some discrimination occurred. In January security companies disclosed informal government requests to hire ethnic Chinese security guards. According to official statistics, at the end of July, nonresident workers accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in workplace hiring and wages.

In March the chief executive ordered a blanket ban on the entry of foreign nonresident workers to stem the further spread of COVID-19. The order stated that in exceptional cases, the Health Bureau could allow the entry of foreign nonresident workers “in the public interest” such as for prevention, control, and treatment of the disease, and aid and emergency measures. Nonresident workers from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were not covered by the ban.

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. In April the Legislative Assembly passed a law guaranteeing a minimum wage of 32 patacas ($4) per hour for all employees except for domestic workers and persons with disabilities. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line. The law provides for a 48-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. All workers, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. It was not clear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (a maximum of eight hours per day and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer. Overtime laws are part of the labor ordinance, which is civil, and involve a financial penalty that is not commensurate with those for crimes, such as fraud, which violate the criminal ordinance and subject perpetrators to incarceration.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his or her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” the employer must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractice are referred to the LAB.

The law requires that employers provide a safe working environment. The LAB set industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards and enforced occupational safety and health regulations. Failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors was adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not specified in the labor ordinance, other than holding the employer liable.

The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment.

Read a Section

China | Hong KongTibet

Macau

Section 7. Worker Rights

The Basic Law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly has not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers have the right to join labor associations of their choice, but employers and the government reportedly wielded considerable influence over some associations. The law does not provide for workers to bargain collectively, and while workers have the right to conduct legal strikes, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right, and no strikes occurred. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. There were no reports that the government threatened or was violent towards labor leaders. The law does not stipulate the financial penalties for antiunion discrimination. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The law forbids workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, to form unions, to take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the Commission against Corruption, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

Government and employers did not respect collective bargaining and freedom of association in practice. Government influenced the selection of association officials and interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar violations and were seldom applied.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment, with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is younger than age 14. Penalties generally were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government investigated trafficking cases, which typically total one or two annually, but during the year recorded no new investigations. There were no convictions during the year.

Children and migrants were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Migrant construction and domestic workers were vulnerable to exploitative conditions such as recruitment fees, withholding of passports, and debt-based coercion. Victims were compelled to work in the commercial sex industry, entertainment establishments, and private homes where their freedom of movement was restricted, they were threatened with violence, and forced to work long hours.

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

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. A law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from working, although minors ages 14 and 15 may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they get a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” The law defines “exceptional circumstances” as: the minor (younger than age 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between ages 14 and 16 may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; and minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic, or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. The law governing the number of working hours was equally applicable to adults and legally working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors age 16 can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.

The law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations served to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB was responsible for enforcing the law through periodic and targeted inspections and prosecutions but did so inconsistently. LAB operations were adequately resourced, but prosecutions for labor trafficking fell to zero, and the Public Prosecutions Office was unable to convict any traffickers during the year.

Penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage law and child labor provisions fall under the labor ordinance and are financial; they are not comparable to those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If a minor is a victim of forced labor, however, the penalties are commensurate with those for kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. It does not address HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Equal opportunity legislation states that women are to receive equal pay for equal work. The labor law does not contain any legal restrictions against women in employment, to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.

The government excludes persons with disabilities and domestic workers from the minimum wage law. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. The government generally enforced the law effectively in response to complaints via hotlines and online platforms. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as election interference.

Some discrimination occurred. In February Secretary for Security Wong Sio-chak stated that nonresident workers do not have the same absolute rights as guaranteed under the Basic Law when explaining why a Burmese nonresident’s request to organize a protest against the military coup in Burma was rejected.

As of December the SAR maintained a blanket ban on the entry of foreign nonresident workers to stem the further spread of COVID-19. The order stated that in exceptional cases, the Health Bureau could allow the entry of foreign nonresident workers “in the public interest,” such as for prevention, control, and treatment of the disease, and aid and emergency measures. Nonresident workers from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were not covered by the ban.

Wage and Hour Laws: Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line, but the minimum wage was well above the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day. The law provides for a 48-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, health care, and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. All workers, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (a maximum of eight hours per day and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer. Overtime and wage laws are part of the labor ordinance, which is civil, and involve a financial penalty that was not commensurate with those for crimes, such as fraud, which violate the criminal ordinance and subject perpetrators to incarceration.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his or her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” the employer must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractice are referred to the LAB.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires that employers provide a safe working environment. The LAB set industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards and enforced occupational safety and health regulations. Failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors was adequate to enforce compliance. Inspectors were authorized to conduct unannounced visits and levy sanctions. Inspectors, and not the worker, were responsible for identifying dangerous working conditions. Penalties for violations were not specified in the labor ordinance, other than holding the employer liable.

The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The most hazardous sector of the SAR’s economy was the construction industry; work-related accidents in 2020 (mostly on construction sites) caused 14 deaths and rendered 24 workers permanently disabled. The fatal work injury rate was 10.7 fatalities per 1,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2020. In separate incidents in August and November, two construction workers died after falls from the scaffolding on casino construction sites.

Malaysia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. The law does not recognize marital rape as a crime.

Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists. According to the latest statistics from the NGO Women’s Aid Organization, there were 1,582 recorded rape cases in 2017, and 5,421 recorded cases of gender-based violence in 2018. There was a lack of investigation into accusations of rape and gender-based violence, and little accountability. After the movement control order to combat COVID-19 was implemented in March, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development experienced a 57 percent spike in calls from women in distress.

In April a police inspector was arrested and suspended for abducting and raping two Mongolian women in Petaling Jaya. He reportedly stopped their taxi at a COVID-19 movement control order roadblock and, finding that they had no valid travel documents, took them forcibly to a hotel where he raped them. He was charged with eight counts of rape, carrying a maximum term of 30 years’ imprisonment and caning. He was separately charged with trafficking in persons for the purpose of exploitation through the abuse of power, with a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Initially set for July hearings, both cases were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the government and NGOs maintained shelters and offered other assistance to victims of domestic violence, activists asserted that support mechanisms remained inadequate. Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could file reports without going to a police station. There is also a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assign psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support. NGOs reported that the government does not take action in cases of domestic violence; victims must keep evidence, gather witness testimony, and ensure their own safety.

The NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that 9 percent of women who have ever been in a relationship experience domestic violence and that such violence was “symptomatic of a deeper problem: gender inequality.” In June the NGO stated that inquiries to its domestic-violence hotline had spiked to more than three times levels since February, before the COVID-19 movement control order was carried out. The NGO’s executive director, Sumitra Visvanathan, termed the sharp rise “extremely concerning,” noting that survivors in isolation with their abusers faced circumstances “where it is even easier for the abuser to exert control physically, emotionally, and socially.” In July, SUHAKAM cited the increased risk of violence faced by domestic workers, who were primarily migrant women, “exacerbated by restrictions on their travel and mobility, as well as by language barriers and xenophobia.”

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and it was a common practice. While recent data was very limited, a 2012 study by a professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Malaya, found that more than 93 percent of approximately 1,000 Muslim women surveyed in three of the country’s 13 states had undergone the procedure. Ministry of Health guidelines allow the practice in general but only at government health-care facilities, which was not always the case. Advocates and the international medical community remained concerned that the Health Ministry endorsement legitimizes the harmful practice and contributes to the “medicalization” of FGM. Women’s rights groups said a 2009 fatwa by the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs declaring the practice obligatory made FGM/C more prevalent. According to an investigation published by local media in 2018, there are no standard procedures for the practice and “in some cases box cutters and stationery store blades are used.” Government officials defended the practice during a UN review in 2018, when a Ministry of Health official stated that the practice was performed only by medical professionals and compared it to immunization programs for female babies. The UN panel urged the country to abolish the practice.

Sisters in Islam reaffirmed its concern with a 2009 fatwa from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department requiring Muslim girls to be circumcised. In conjunction with the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation in February, Sisters in Islam stated: “Even though this fatwa was not gazetted, the reality is that in general, fatwas have a strong influence over individuals and communities in their personal decision-making.” Azrul Mohd Khalib of the Galen Center for Health and Social Policy called on the government to ban the practice. “We should prohibit and criminalize the act of female circumcision to protect our infant daughters and girls from harm,” he said.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his or her position to intimidate a subordinate by any conduct that is sexual in nature. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of the difficulty of proving the offense and the lengthy trial process.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, but they did not always have the information and means to do so. Family planning services and programs were provided by the Ministry of Health, the National Population and Family Development Board under the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development, and the Federation of Reproduction Health Associations.

Sexual and reproductive health services were available at health ministry primary, secondary, and tertiary health care facilities, and included contraception, pregnancy tests, subfertility treatment, pap smears, screening and treatment for sexually transmittable diseases, HPV vaccination, and counseling. Government-run family planning clinics often did not provide contraceptive services to unmarried young people. Birth control pills were available at private pharmacies without prescription but at higher prices than at government clinics.

One-Stop Crisis Centers, an integrated multiagency service in the emergency department of most major public hospitals, provided support to victims of sexual violence.

Sexual health education remained a sensitive topic, with a majority of the population viewing abstinence as the only permissible form of contraception. Reproductive awareness activists and NGOs that provided sexual health education were frequently accused of encouraging sin and eliciting sexual behaviors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender and gives men and women equal property rights although sharia, which deviates from these principles in some areas, was sometimes applied. For instance, Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. Sharia also generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, but a small and steadily increasing number of women obtained divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslims are not subject to sharia. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Nevertheless, four states–Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang–extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers.

The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).

The law does not permit mothers to transmit citizenship automatically to children born overseas. Children born overseas can only be registered as citizens if the father of the child is a citizen.

Birth Registration: A child born in the country obtains citizenship if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth and the parents are married. Parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. According to UNHCR, children born to citizen mothers outside the country may only acquire citizenship at the discretion of the federal government through registration at an overseas Malaysian consulate or at the National Registration Department in country. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registered children born to refugees (see section 2.d.).

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years) for citizens and permanent residents, although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are not open to the children of illegal immigrants or refugees, whether registered with UNHCR or not.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. Muslim women younger than 16 may marry with the approval of a sharia court. Indigenous persons are governed by customary laws with no fixed minimum age for marriage. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape. Advocates remained concerned that Rohingya refugee families were resorting to child marriage for their girls to cope with economic hardship.

The federal government launched a national five-year roadmap in January targeting the issue of child marriage. The plan outlined policies to increase access to education and attendance in schools, increase access to health education, address stigma and social norms on child marriage, and ensure laws and guidelines on child marriages are in line with government policies guarding the well-being of children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law outlaws child pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part as a participant or an observer in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Federal police reported approximately 20,000 internet addresses in the country uploading and downloading child pornography. Under the law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is 16 for both boys and girls. The involvement in making or producing child pornography carries a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment and not less than six strokes of a cane; conviction for accessing or possessing child pornography carries a punishment of five years’ imprisonment or a fine; conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

There is a special court for sexual crimes against children, established to speed up trials that often took years to conclude. Child prostitution existed, and a local NGO estimated in 2015, the last year with reported data, that 5,000 children were involved in sex work in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas. Authorities, however, often treated children engaged in prostitution as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.

The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation.

The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest.

As of October federal police recorded 1,721 sexual crime cases involving children, while 813 cases were with the special court handling sexual crimes against children.

A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence, which posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.

Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah. Estimates of the street-child population ranged from a few thousand to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving their children without guardians. Lacking citizenship, access to schooling, or other government-provided support, these children often resorted to menial labor, criminal activities, and prostitution to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to forced labor, including forced begging.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The country’s Jewish population was estimated at between 100 and 200 persons, consisting mostly of expatriates and foreigners. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population.

A 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey found 61 percent of citizens held anti-Jewish attitudes. A newspaper reported in April 2019 the statement in parliament of the then home minister that the number of Israelis entering Malaysia for business and technology-related events dwindled from 33 in 2016 to only three in 2019. Former prime minister Mahathir defended his right to be anti-Semitic in interviews. Restrictions on Israeli citizens from entering Malaysia remain.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law affords persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access to persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “disabled friendly,” the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for persons with disabilities.

Employment discrimination occurred against persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.

The constitution gives ethnic Malays and indigenous groups, collectively known as bumiputra, a “special position” in the country. Government regulations and policies provided extensive preferential programs to boost the economic position of bumiputra, who constituted a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for non-bumiputra (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels. Government procurement and licensing policies favored bumiputra-owned businesses. The government claimed these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.

The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous people with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights.

Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, who number approximately 200,000, constitute the poorest group in the country and had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. A constitutional provision provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak” but does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions.

The courts have ruled that the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution, but NGOs said the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government can seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between indigenous communities and logging companies over land, and uncertainty over their land tenure made indigenous persons vulnerable to exploitation.

In June, two Orang Asli communities set up blockades at the entrances to their villages in Kelantan and Perak States to protest logging activities in the area. In a police report, villagers claimed their village had been “pawned away” by the Kelantan government.

In September the Federal Court ordered the Johor state government to pay RM 5.2 million ($1.2 million) to the residents of Orang Laut Seletar village as compensation for their ancestral land, after villagers were forced to relocate in 1993 to make way for development. The court also ordered that a separate land area which the villagers now occupied be registered as an Orang Asli settlement. Lawyer Tan Poh Lai, representing the villagers, termed the settlement a “great victory” for the Orang Asli, stating, “This is a recognition that the land they were made to move from was indeed native customary land. This result is an encouragement for all Orang Asli in Malaysia.”

All same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” In November 2019 the Selangor State sharia court sentenced five men to six to seven months in jail, six strokes of the cane, and a fine for “attempting to have intercourse against the order of nature.” Numan Afifi, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights told media the ruling was “a gross injustice” and would cause a “culture of fear.” Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a.).

Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense face a token fine and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions are fines and up to three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.

In February, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, then the minister for Islamic affairs in the Pakatan Harapan government, said he would ask the communications commission to take action against Nur Sajat, a prominent transgender entrepreneur, after she posted pictures of herself on pilgrimage in Mecca. The minister called Nur Sajat’s actions an “offense” that could compromise bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. Noting that photos and videos of Nur Sajat wearing women’s garments in Mecca had gone viral on social media, causing “discomfort among Muslims,” Mujahid told media he would take “firm steps.” The communications commission said it would study the matter but did not announce any action. Images of Nur Sajat’s passport and other documents, however, spread on social media, raising concerns among civil society groups about her privacy and safety.

A 2018 survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse. The local rock band Bunkface released a song in February with the lyric “LGBT can go and die.” Facing public criticism, the band defended the line, stating it did not target specific individuals but was responding to the growing LGBTI movement in the country.

State religious authorities reportedly forced LGBTI persons to participate in “treatment” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In July, Minister of Religious Affairs Zulkifli Mohamad announced he had given “full license” to Islamic authorities to arrest and “educate” transgender persons to ensure they came “back to the right path.”

LGBTI persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for limited freedom of association and for certain categories of workers to form and join trade unions, subject to a variety of legal and practical restrictions. The law provides for the right to strike and to bargain collectively, but both were severely restricted. The law prohibits employers from interfering with trade union activities, including union formation. It prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for legal union activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits defense and police officials, retired or dismissed workers from joining a union. The law also restricts the formation of unions of workers in similar trades, occupations, or industries. Foreign workers may join a trade union but cannot hold union office unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Human Resources. In view of the absence of a direct employment relationship with owners of a workplace, contract workers may not form a union and cannot negotiate or benefit from collective bargaining agreements.

The director general of trade unions and the minister of human resources may refuse to register or withdraw registration from some unions without judicial oversight. The time needed for a union to be recognized remained long and unpredictable. Union officials expressed frustration about delays in the settlement of union recognition disputes; such applications were often refused. If a union’s recognition request was approved, the employer sometimes challenged the decision in court, leading to multiyear delays in recognizing unions.

Most private-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively, although these negotiations cannot include issues of transfer, promotion, appointments, dismissal, or reinstatement. The law restricts collective bargaining in “pioneer” industries the government has identified as growth priorities, including various high-technology fields. Trade unions in companies granted pioneer status may not negotiate terms and conditions that are more favorable than the provisions stipulated in labor law unless approved by the minister of human resources. Public-sector workers have some collective bargaining rights, although some could only express opinions on wages and working conditions instead of actively negotiating. Long delays continued in the treatment of union claims to obtain recognition for collective bargaining purposes. The government also had the right to compel arbitration in the case of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

Private-sector strikes are severely restricted. The law provides for penal sanctions for peaceful strikes. The law prohibits general strikes, and trade unions may not strike over disputes related to trade-union registration or illegal dismissals. Workers may not strike in a broad range of industries deemed “essential,” nor may they hold strikes when a dispute is under consideration by the Industrial Court. Union officials claimed legal requirements for strikes were almost impossible to meet; the last major strike occurred in 1962.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employers from seeking retribution for legal union activities and requiring reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Penalties included fines but were seldom assessed and are not commensurate with those of other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In June, five members of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services were arrested while conducting a peaceful protest against their employer’s alleged union-busting tactics. Union officials claimed the company prevented employees from testing for COVID-19, failed to provide proper personal protective equipment, and withheld the monthly special government allowance worth RM 600 ($140) for frontline workers. Union officials further accused the company of forbidding union-related discussions between union worksite committees and workers, intimidation, and arbitrary change of working schedules and locations of union workers to decrease their earnings. The five arrested activists were released the following day. In October the magistrate’s court dropped the charges against the activists for defying the conditional movement control order by gathering in front of the employer’s premises “for social purposes.”

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions–peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak–to operate. They exercised many of the responsibilities of national-level labor unions, although they could not bargain on behalf of local unions. The Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a registered “society” of trade unions in both the private and government sectors that does not have the right to bargain collectively or strike but may provide technical support to affiliated members. Some workers’ organizations were independent of government, political parties, and employers, but employer-dominated or “yellow” unions were reportedly a concern.

The inability of unions to provide more than limited protection for workers, particularly foreign workers who continued to face the threat of deportation, restrictions on the right to strike, and the prevalence of antiunion discrimination created a disincentive to unionize. In some instances companies reportedly harassed leaders of unions that sought recognition. Some trade unions reported the government detained or restricted the movement of some union members under laws allowing temporary detention without charging the detainee with a crime. Trade unions asserted some workers had wages withheld or were terminated because of union-related activity.

In October the court of appeal overturned a high court decision that the dismissal of a trade union leader for issuing a statement highlighting the plight of workers and calling for the CEO’s resignation had been illegal. The court of appeal set aside the award to the trade union leader for wrongful termination of RM 210,000 ($50,300) and instead ordered the trade union leader to pay RM5,000 ($1,200) to the employer MAS Airlines in costs.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In 2018 the government established an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to provide comprehensive reform plans to the government regarding foreign-worker management and labor policy. The committee presented its final report to cabinet in July 2019 with 40 recommendations on streamlining policies related to foreign workers, but the report was not made public. On June 23, former minister of human resources M. Kulasegaran stated that “vested interests” had hijacked government policies on the matter as “not a single recommendation has been implemented to date.”

A variety of sources reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, electronics factories, garment production, rubber-product industries, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).

Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and in Malaysia sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage.

In July a nonprofit organization filed a formal complaint with a foreign government urging it to ban imports of products from Sime Darby Berhad, a palm oil company, due to reports of forced labor at Sime Darby plantations. Another petition filed in August 2019 accused palm oil company FGV Holdings of forced labor abuse, including deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and the keeping of worker’s identity documents. FGV subsequently finalized their action plan on enhancing labor practices in April. NGOs maintained the action plan, however, failed to prove FGV’s product was not the result of forced labor.

In July a foreign government discontinued imports of disposable medical gloves made by the world’s largest medical glove maker, Top Glove Corp Bhd, in response to findings of forced labor in their manufacturing facilities. In November more than 5,000 Top Glove workers contracted COVID-19 resulting from substandard and overcrowded working and living conditions.

The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of September. Private companies linked to the then deputy prime minister’s brother and brother-in-law reportedly charged Nepali workers more than RM185 million ($46.3 million) for medical tests and to submit visa applications during the prior five years. These medical and visa-processing services increased the cost tenfold without offering additional protections or benefits. Zahid denied involvement in or knowledge of the scam, but the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission charged him in 2018 with 45 counts of corruption, bribery, and money laundering, three of which concern RM three million ($750,000) he allegedly received in bribes from a company that ran a visa center for Nepali workers. Critics of the former government had long characterized the foreign-worker recruitment system as corrupt.

Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.

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

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between the ages of 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.

NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status or refugee status in employment and hiring; the director general of labor may investigate discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment for both foreign and local employees. The law prohibits women from working underground, such as in mines, and restricts employers from requiring female employees to work in industrial or agricultural work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to commence work for the day without having 11 consecutive hours of rest since the end of the last work period.

The director general may issue necessary directives to an employer to resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, although there were no penalties under the law for such discrimination and thus penalties were not commensurate to laws related to penalties for civil rights, such as election interference.

Employers are obligated to inquire into most sexual harassment complaints in a prescribed manner. Advocacy groups such as the Association of Women Lawyers stated these provisions were not comprehensive enough to provide adequate help to victims. In June the industrial court upheld the dismissal of a manager for nonphysical sexual harassment, including using a term of endearment, giving of personal gifts, and excessive unwanted attention.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women; members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and persons with disabilities. A code of practice guides all government agencies, employers, employee associations, employees, and others with respect to placement of persons with disabilities in private-sector jobs. Disability-rights NGOs reported that employers were reluctant to hire persons with disabilities. A regulation reserves 1 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers must undergo mandatory testing for more than 16 illnesses as well as pregnancy. Employers may immediately deport pregnant or ill workers. Migrant workers also faced employment discrimination (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.). Employers were unilaterally able to terminate work permits, subjecting migrant workers to immediate deportation.

Women experienced some economic discrimination in access to employment. Employers routinely asked women their marital status during job interviews. The Association of Women Lawyers advocated for passage of a separate sexual harassment bill making it compulsory for employers to formulate sexual harassment policies.

The government reserved large quotas for the bumiputra majority for positions in the federal civil service as well as for vocational permits and licenses in a wide range of industries, which greatly reduced economic opportunity for minority groups (see section 6).

The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers in most sectors, with the exception of domestic service (see below). The minimum wage rates were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak.

Working hours may not exceed eight per day or 48 per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The law specifies limits on overtime, which vary by sector, but it allows for exceptions.

The law protects foreign domestic workers only with regard to wages and contract termination. The law excludes them from provisions that stipulate one rest day per week, an eight-hour workday, and a 48-hour workweek. Instead, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding between the government and some source countries for migrant workers include provisions for rest periods, compensation, and other conditions of employment for migrant domestic workers, including prohibitions on passport retention.

The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces wage, working condition, and occupational safety and health standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor enforcement officers was insufficient to enforce compliance. Department of Labor officials reported they sought to conduct labor inspections as frequently as possible. Nevertheless, many businesses could operate for years without an inspection.

Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and can rise to imprisonment. Employers can be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines per day that wages are not paid. Employers or employees who violate occupational health and safety laws are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Employers did not respect laws on wages and working hours. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries.

The Ministry of Human Resources began enforcing amendments to the Worker’s Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act on September 1. The measure aimed to provide foreign workers with better accommodation and employee facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers and centralized accommodation providers must provide every worker with a single bed measuring not less than 18 square feet, a mattress at least 3.9 inches thick, a pillow, blanket, and a locked cupboard. In addition employers must ensure water, electricity, and basic furniture are supplied, and that amenities, including a bathroom to employee ratio, are observed in the accommodations. Although the punishment for employers was not directly stated in the regulations, Minister of Human Resources M. Saravanan on August 27 stated that employers who failed to comply with the standards could face a significant fine for each offense.

Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common, performed hazardous duties, and had no meaningful access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse. Some workers alleged their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions and physically assaulted them. Employers of domestic workers sometimes failed to honor the terms of employment and subjected workers to abuse. Employers reportedly restricted workers’ movement and use of mobile telephones; provided substandard food; did not provide sufficient time off; sexually assaulted workers; and harassed and threatened workers, including with deportation.

While the government mandated that all workers in businesses permitted to stay in operation must be tested for COVID-19, there were concerns for the labor conditions under which migrant workers were forced to work during the pandemic or risk losing their jobs. The Timber Employees Union of Peninsular Malaysia declared that migrant workers now felt “they’re being made to choose between COVID-19 or starvation.” The Malaysian Trade Union Congress claimed to have received more than 500 complaints against employers who continued operations despite the movement control order, with some reportedly threatening to terminate employees who refused to come to work, and not providing personal protection equipment.

Occupational health and safety laws cover all sectors of the economy except the maritime sector and the armed forces. The law requires workers to use safety equipment and cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace, but it does not specify a right to remove oneself from a hazardous or dangerous situation without penalty. Laws on worker’s compensation cover both local and migrant workers but provide no protection for migrant domestic workers.

The National Occupational Safety and Health Council–composed of workers, employers, and government representatives–creates and coordinates implementation of occupational health and safety measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies with more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees.

According to Department of Occupational Safety and Health statistics, as of October, 174 workers died, 5,705 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 226 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents.

Maldives

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against both men and women, as well as spousal rape and domestic violence including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. The law also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The law allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower. Penalties if convicted range from four months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment, depending on factors such as the age of the victim.

NGOs and other authorities reported MPS officers were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family. Reportedly, this made victims reluctant to file criminal cases against abusers. While the MPS received 842 reports of domestic violence as of September, the MPS conducted investigation into only 342 and recommended charges in only 33 cases. Of these 33 cases, charges were brought in just three cases as of September. While the MPS received 95 reports of rape and sexual assault as of September, the MPS conducted investigations into 74 complaints and recommended charges in only 10 cases. Of these 10 cases, charges were raised in just two as of September. Human rights activists staged a series of protests in Male throughout the year to express concern regarding inadequate investigations of rape and child sexual abuse cases and the impunity of offenders.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services received reports of rape, sexual offenses, and domestic violence and conducted social inquiry assessments of cases it submitted to the MPS. It also provided psychological support to victims during MPS investigations.

To streamline the process of reporting abuses against women and children, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services operates family and children’s service centers on every atoll. Residential facilities were established in only four of the centers to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims. Authorities and NGOs both reported the service centers remained understaffed and under resourced, especially lacking budgets to travel to attend cases in islands. Staff employed at the centers lacked technical capacity and were forced to divide their time between administrative duties and casework.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No cases of FGM/C were reported to government authorities during the year. Some religious leaders have intermittently called to revive the practice since 2014 and in November, a popular individual associated with a religious NGO reportedly called for a resumption of female circumcision. In January the Minister of Health ordered the Health Protection Agency to revoke a request submitted to the Fatwa Majlis, the statutory body mandated to resolve differences of opinion on religious matters, seeking its opinion on Islam’s stance on female circumcision. This followed criticism of the request by Maldivians on social media, who argued the request would set a dangerous precedent by allowing religious scholars to police women’s bodies. The minister noted, “female circumcision is not part of government policy and is not encouraged, so there is no need to seek any advice on the matter.” NGOs expressed concern the government failed to publicly denounce or counter calls for revival of female circumcision.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: A 2015 amendment to the penal code states only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery, though this was not enforced.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, detention facilities, and any centers that provide public services. NGOs reported that while the law requires all government offices to set up sexual harassment review committees, a significant number of government offices had failed to establish these committees or in cases where the committees had been set up, employees were unaware of their existence.

The MPS reported forwarding two out of a total 63 received cases of sexual harassment for prosecution. President Solih dismissed Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed after multiple ministry employees accused him of sexual harassment. The MPS launched an investigation against Waheed on suspicion of sexual harassment and assault and in October asked the PGO to file charges against him in October. The PGO had yet to raise official charges as of November.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Nevertheless, extramarital sex is criminalized and childbirth out of wedlock is stigmatized.

Limited public information on reproductive health services was available for unmarried individuals. Health-care facilities generally provided reproductive health services only to married couples. A centralized system of health-care provision is a significant barrier to access for health-care services on islands outside the capital region. Men tended to influence or control reproductive health decisions of women, often based on religious and cultural beliefs. Studies published by the United Nations Population Fund in 2018 and 2020 stated that youth access to reproductive health information and services was especially limited and that cultural attitudes prevented youth from accessing what limited services were available from health facilities.

NGOs reported that the government provided access to emergency contraceptives for sexual violence survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination including in workplaces, educational institutions, and service providers, such as hospitals, but discrimination against women remained a problem. Women’s rights activists reported that women who initiated divorce proceedings faced undue delays in court as compared with men who initiated divorce proceedings. According to women’s rights activists, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents. Under the law a child born of a citizen father or mother, regardless of the child’s place of birth, may derive citizenship. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported receiving cases a lower number of cases where parents had neglected to register their children than in previous years. Unlike in previous years, NGOs reported no known cases of the Family Court refusing to register children born to couples whose marriage ceremony was held outside of the country.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through secondary school. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services handled 18 cases of children being deprived of education as of September, a lower number than in previous years. NGOs stated this included parental refusal to send children to school, in some cases based on religious reasons. NGOs and activists noted the effect of religious extremism on child rights was an emerging issue but lacked a baseline study determining its prevalence. NGOs reported receiving reports that some families wanting to keep children out of the formal education system for religious reasons used COVID-19 related school closures to deprive children from school attendance for periods of time. NGOs reported a 2018 Ministry of Education report revealed that, while more girls were enrolled in primary schools than boys, there were more boys enrolled in secondary schools than girls. The report attributed this discrepancy to the possibility that some girls are home schooled from lower secondary school age on, but NGOs noted no formal studies have been made to identify the real cause.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual offenses against children. The courts have the power to detain perpetrators, although most were released pending sentencing and allowed to return to the communities of their victims. The MPS investigates and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services is in charge of following up on reports of child abuse, including cases of sexual abuse. More than 70 percent of the total cases received by the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services as of September were cases of child abuse, the majority involving sexual abuse. Of the child abuse cases received by the MPS, 43 percent were also sexual abuse cases, with the MPS forwarding only 18 percent of these cases for prosecution as of September. The PGO had only proceeded with charges in 14 percent of these cases. Human rights activists staged a series of protests in Male throughout the year expressing concern regarding inadequate investigation of rape and child sexual abuse cases and impunity of offenders. Human rights activists reported the lack of effective coordination of authorities handling child abuse cases, delays in attending to reports of abuse, and a lack of standard operating procedures to handle child abuse cases remained a problem.

NGOs reported authorities failed consistently to use the online child rights’ case management system through which various authorities can monitor progress and actions taken by other authorities on child abuse cases. NGOs noted widespread awareness of the existence of the Ministry of Gender’s Child Rights Helpline, but that victims faced challenges in reaching the helpline during a COVID-19 related lockdown of Male when many vulnerable families used the helpline to reach Ministry officials seeking assistance for matters unrelated to cases of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The Child Protection Act, which came into force in February, prohibits any marriage of a child under age 18. Previously, marriage of children age 16 was allowed with authorization from the Supreme Court and based on an assessment conducted by the Ministry of Gender. The Supreme Court had not authorized child marriages for years, however. While NGOs lauded the prohibition of all marriages of children, they also reported concerns that the prohibition would lead to an increase of child marriages outside the legal system and reported anecdotal evidence that some child marriages were still being conducted outside of the legal system. Girls reportedly often quit school following such marriages. In December 2019 the PGO raised charges of sexual abuse against a man who entered into marriage with a child outside of the legal system, but the criminal court had yet to conclude hearings in the case as of November. The case was related to late 2019 and early 2020 police raids on a group of religious fundamentalists active on Raa Maduvvari Island. The government reported some individuals in the group had entered into unregistered, unlawful marriages with girls.

Institutionalized Children: Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) released a report in 2016 detailing abuses in government-run “safe homes.” ARC reported children routinely spent many months at these homes, although they were intended to be temporary stopovers for children being taken into state care. According to ARC, the safe homes were inadequately furnished and equipped, lacked basic essentials, and were often understaffed, resulting in inadequate care, protection, and education for institutionalized children. NGOs reported these concerns remained the same during the year. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported one of the two government-run children’s homes housed more children than its capacity allowed. NGOs reported staff were untrained to care for several children with autism housed in these facilities. The country lacked a juvenile detention center, so youth offenders were held with juvenile victims of abuse. NGOs reported continuing inadequate supervision of the children by overstretched workers. NGOs also reported that some children taken into state custody were held in social housing units that had not been officially designated as facilities for such children and did not meet established standards. The HRCM reported it received a report in 2019 alleging 10 employees of Kudakudhinge Hiya children’s home mistreated 22 children living in the home. It chose not to investigate, however, because the alleged offense took place more than a year prior to reporting, and it proved challenging to gather evidence and information.

NGOs reported the multiagency panel that reviewed and made decisions on taking children into state custody and moving them among facilities was dissolved between March and September. During this period the Ministry of Gender acted unilaterally to transfer children with behavioral issues out of the children’s homes, some either returned to families without the ability to care for their specific needs or moved to in outer atolls with little supervision.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The public practice of religion other than Islam is prohibited by law, and the government did not provide estimates on the number of Jewish residents in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The constitution and law provide for the rights and freedom from most types of discrimination for persons with disabilities. Although the constitution provides for freedom from discrimination in access to employment for persons with disabilities, the Disabilities Act does not do so. The Disabilities Act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities as well as financial assistance. The act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than 2,000 rufiyaa ($130) to each registered individual. NGOs reported the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA), which handles the National Registry, has strict conditions and a cumbersome screening process that prevent the majority of persons with disabilities from being registered. The NSPA requires an assessment from a medical center in Male City, which may cost up to 40,000 rufiyaa ($2,600) for some families living in the islands who have to travel and stay in Male City for lengthy periods while the assessment is completed. During the year the government authorized a limited number of medical centers outside Male City to conduct the assessments, which reduced the cost in some limited cases. In January, the NSPA began covering 5,000 rufiyaa ($324) of assessment-related costs. The NSPA published the requirements for inclusion in the National Registry and rejected several applications. NGOs noted inclusion on the registry is a precondition to access several other benefits provided for persons with disabilities, including priority in accessing social housing schemes and special accommodations during voting.

Although no official studies have been concluded, NGOs which operate throughout the country estimated as much as 10 percent of the total population of persons with disabilities had been subjected to various forms of abuse and 40 to 60 percent of girls or women with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, were subject to sexual abuse. The families of these victims often do not report these cases to authorities, because the police investigation and judicial process is inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Government services for persons with disabilities included special educational programs for those with sensory disabilities. Inadequate facilities and logistical challenges related to transporting persons with disabilities among islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school. The vast majority of public streets and buildings were not accessible for wheelchair users.

The government integrated students with disabilities into mainstream educational programs at primary and secondary level. Most large government schools also held special units catering to persons with disabilities who were not be accommodated in the mainstream classes. Nonetheless, children with disabilities had virtually no access to transition support to higher secondary education.

Maldives Immigration reported approximately 117,000 legal foreign workers as of September, with an additional estimated 63,000 undocumented foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. NGOs reported government agencies implemented discriminatory policies towards foreign laborers while Bangladeshi workers faced harassment and violence by local citizens.

The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the penal code, the punishment for conviction includes up to eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes under Maldives Islamic law. None of the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. No organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) problems in the country. There were no reports of officials complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons, although societal stigma likely discouraged individuals from reporting such problems. Local citizens who expressed support for LGBTI rights on social media reportedly were targeted for online harassment as “apostates” or irreligious. In June groups of protesters gathered outside the residences of two men on two separate islands, accusing the men of engaging in same-sex relations. Media reported the men were taken into police custody on both occasions.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The trial of six men arrested in 2017 and charged in connection with the murder of Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and social media activist, continued during the year. NGOs reported online death threats and attacks against citizens perceived to be critical of Islam continued and NGOs reported the government failed to take action in these cases.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association; however, there is no specific law protecting the right to freedom of association, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination. As a result the court system refused to recognize trade unions officially. Worker organizations are usually treated as civil society organizations or associations without the right to engage in collective bargaining. Police and armed forces do not have the right to form unions. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner. Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers. The Home Ministry enforces the act by arresting workers who go on strike, but there were no such arrests during the year.

The government did not always enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) is mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations. The Employment Tribunal examines and adjudicates legal matters arising between employers and employees and other employment problems, but its processes are cumbersome and complicated. In addition, because the LRA does not regularly screen labor violations such as nonpayment of wages for elements of trafficking, the Employment Tribunal adjudicates some potential trafficking cases. Violators who refused to correct violations or pay fines were referred to the courts, whose decisions often were ignored. The cases are heard in the Dhivehi language, which few foreign workers understood. Foreign workers may not file a case with the tribunal unless they appoint a representative to communicate for them in the local language. If an employer fails to comply with a decision of the tribunal, the case must be submitted to the Civil Court, which often delays decisions. The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) reported the judicial system continued to delay final decisions on numerous such cases, some older than age six. The Employment Tribunal only hears cases submitted within three months for cases involving unfair dismissals and within six months of the alleged offense for all other violations of the Employment Act. A 2018 amendment to the Employment Tribunal regulation that states dismissed or withdrawn appeals may only be resubmitted once, after paying a monetary fine, was still in place. Previously there was no restriction on the number of times such cases could be resubmitted.

Under the law some workers’ organizations were established as civil society organizations, specifically in the tourism, education, health, and shipping (seafarers’) sectors, although these functioned more as cooperative associations and had very limited roles in labor advocacy. The Teachers Association of the Maldives (TAM), TEAM, and the Maldives Trade Union Congress, an umbrella organization formed by TEAM, TAM, Maldivian Ports Workers, and Maldives Health Professionals Union were among the more active workers’ organizations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

All forms of forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The foreign worker population, especially migrant workers from Bangladesh, were particularly vulnerable to forced labor in the construction industry, as were Sri Lankan and Indian women engaged in domestic work. Maldives Immigration detained undocumented workers at Hulhumale Detention Center, an immigration-processing center near Male, until deportation or repatriation. There were continued reports of bureaucratic delays in receiving passports from foreign missions for undocumented immigrants and substandard facilities at the immigration-processing center. Maldives Immigration reported it did not have in place any mechanisms to screen workers for victims of trafficking prior to repatriation, and there were reports some of the detained and deported undocumented workers should have been identified as trafficking victims. In April the Ministry of Economic Development announced a program to repatriate undocumented workers and had repatriated more than 15,000 workers as of November. Authorities report these workers were not screened for human trafficking.

Under the penal code, conviction of forced labor carries a penalty of up to eight years’ imprisonment. Under section 29 of the Maldives Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, confiscation, alteration, or withholding of identity and travel documents is a crime, and convicted perpetrators are subject to up to five years’ imprisonment. In 2015 parliament approved the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2015-19. The penalty for conviction of human trafficking is a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. As of September the MPS and Maldives Immigration reported they were continuing to investigate more than 35 labor recruiters or agencies allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices. In July the MPS launched an investigation into a construction company on suspicion the company “carried out forced labor and acts of exploitation against foreigners, acted in a manner that has led to human trafficking, failed to make payment of fees required to be paid to the government on behalf of these workers and violated the rights of these workers.” The investigation was ongoing as of November. Employee associations continued to report concerns the alleged traffickers were deported with no further action or attempts to identify local traffickers who worked with them to traffic victims.

The LRA, under the Ministry of Economic Development, recommended to the ministry and Maldives Immigration the blacklisting of companies that violated the law, precluding the companies from hiring in additional workers until violations were rectified. The LRA reported, however, that the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Immigration did not always take its recommendations to blacklist and allowed companies to continue operations. In addition to blacklisting, the law allows a fine for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies and were not commensurate with other analogous serious crimes which carried sentences of imprisonment.

As of August Maldives Immigration reported the number of documented foreign workers at approximately 117,000. It estimated an additional 63,000 undocumented foreign workers in the country, predominantly men from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the foreign workers in the country were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors. Both the LRA and NGOs noted a continuing trend of resorts hiring third party subcontractors to work in departments such as maintenance, landscaping, and laundry services. These subcontractors reportedly hired undocumented migrant workers who received a lower salary, work longer hours, and often experience delays in payment of salaries and work without a legal employment contract. Most victims of forced labor suffered the following practices: debt bondage, holding of passports by employers, fraudulent offers of employment, not being paid the promised salary, or not being paid at all. Domestic workers, especially migrant female domestic workers, were sometimes trapped in forced servitude, in which employers used threats, intimidation, and in some cases sexual violence to prevent them from leaving.

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with an exception for children who voluntarily participate in family businesses. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18 in “any work that may have a detrimental effect on health, education, safety, or conduct,” but there was no list of such activities. The law prescribes a monetary fine for infractions.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Family and Child Protection Unit of the MPS are tasked with receiving, investigating, and taking action on complaints of child labor. According to the LRA, the MPS and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services none of the complaints received related to child labor or employment of minors, but the MPS and Ministry of Gender received reports of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor such as being used for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and the transport of drugs for criminal gangs. NGOs reported children were also engaged in forced labor in domestic work. The LRA found no cases of child labor during its regular labor inspections during the year. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, because no additional resources were dedicated specifically to uncover additional child labor cases. The penalties for commercial sexual exploitation of children were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, and the Child Rights Protection Act criminalizes the child exploitation including the use of children to sell drugs with penalties for conviction of imprisonment.

Government officials and civil society groups continued to report concerns that some Bangladesh migrant workers in the construction and service sectors were under 18 but possessed passports stating they were older.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, political opinion, religion, social origin, marital status, or family obligations. The government generally enforced those laws and regulations, with some exceptions that included unequal pay for women and discrimination in working and living conditions of foreign migrant workers, especially from Bangladesh.

According to NGOs, no policies were in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The law and constitution prohibit discrimination against women for employment or for equal pay or equal income, but women tended to earn less than men for the same work and also because they tended to work in lower-paying industries. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women with children to remain employed after they had children.

The Employment Act establishes an Employment Tribunal to examine and protect the rights of employers and employees in legal matters and other employment problems.

Discrimination against migrant workers was pervasive (see section 7.b.).

The country does not have a national policy on minimum wage. Wages in the private sector were commonly set by contract between employers and employees and were based on rates for similar work in the public sector.

The law establishes maximum hours of work, overtime, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and guidelines for workplace safety. Civil servants are allowed six months of maternity leave and one month’s paternity leave. The law provides for a 48-hour per week limit on work with a compulsory 24-hour break if employees work six days consecutively. Certain provisions in the law, such as overtime and public-holiday pay, do not apply to emergency workers, air and sea crews, executive staff of any company, and workers who are on call. Employee associations reported some government schools and hospitals placed a cap on overtime pay. The law mandates implementation of a safe workplace, procurement of secure tools and machinery, verification of equipment safety, use of protective equipment to mitigate health hazards, employee training in the use of protective gear, and appropriate medical care, but there were no national standards for safety measures, and as a result such measures were at the discretion of employers. The LRA also reported difficulties in assessing safety standards during inspections due to the lack of national standards. Safety regulations for the construction industry which requires employers to provide employees with safety equipment such as helmets, belts, and masks, but NGOs reported the government failed to monitor implementation of these standards. All employers are required to provide health insurance for foreign workers.

In 2013 parliament approved the country’s accession to eight core International Labor Organization conventions, but the government had not finalized the bills required for the conventions to be legislated into domestic law as of September.

The LRA and Employment Tribunal are charged with implementing employment law, and the LRA conducted workplace investigations and provided dispute resolution mechanisms to address complaints from workers. The most common findings continued to be related to lack of or problematic provisions included in employment contracts and job descriptions, overtime and other pay, and problems related to leave. The LRA preferred to issue notices to employers to correct problems, because cases were deemed closed once fines were paid. The LRA typically gave employers one to three months to correct problems but lacked sufficient labor inspectors and travel funding to enforce compliance. The government effectively enforced overtime laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, worked in unacceptable conditions, and were frequently forced to accept low wages to repay their debts with employment agencies, especially within the construction sector. The LRA reported more than 60 percent of the complaints it received were submitted by foreign migrant workers. Between April and August, hundreds of foreign migrant workers employed by several construction companies separately staged protests regarding nonpayment of wages. In July the MPS launched an investigation into one of these companies on suspicion the company “carried out forced labor and acts of exploitation against foreigners, acted in a manner that has led to human trafficking, failed to make payment of fees required to be paid to the government on behalf of these workers and violated the rights of these workers.” The investigation was ongoing as of November.

Migrant workers are treated harshly and the COVID-19 pandemic compounded this. Migrants experienced abuses from employers, including deceptive recruitment practices, wage theft, passport confiscation, unsafe living and working conditions, and excessive work demands, which indicate forced labor and violate domestic and international standards. The spread of COVID-19 and the lockdown to contain it exacerbated these conditions, as workers face job loss, unpaid leave, reduced salaries, and forced work without pay.

NGOs expressed concern that senior government officials made statements characterizing the protests as “a threat to national security,” indicating a lack of political will to address the exploitation of foreign migrant workers. In July the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment released a statement cautioning registered NGOs against “actions that are detrimental to national security and national interests” after several NGOs expressed solidarity and called for the release of workers arrested during the protests. Female migrant workers, especially in the domestic service sector were especially vulnerable to exploitation. Employers in the construction and tourism industry often housed foreign workers at their worksites or in cramped labor quarters.

The Maldivian Red Crescent reported their inspection of labor quarters in Male found each quarter housed approximately 200 workers, with six to seven individuals sharing rooms of 100 square feet; in some locations, workers were forced to sleep in bathrooms or on balconies due to a lack of space. Most buildings also lacked adequate space for cooking and posed safety risks due to being structurally unsound. In April the government introduced regulations, which came into force in October setting standards for employer provided accommodations for foreign migrant workers for the first time. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Some migrant workers were exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially in the construction industry, and worked in hazardous environments without proper ventilation. The LRA, mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations, has the authority to conduct unannounced inspections recommended to the ministry and Maldives Immigration, and to blacklist companies that violated the law precluding companies from hiring additional workers until violations were rectified. The LRA reported, however, that the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Immigration did not always take their recommendations to blacklist and allowed companies to continue operations. In addition to blacklisting, the law allows a monetary fine for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies. The LRA discontinued inspections during a COVID-19 lockdown in capital Male between April and September. The country does not have a general occupational health and safety law, but certain industries have compiled their own standards and regulations. There were no reports the government took any action under health and safety regulations during the year. During the year there were multiple accidents at construction sites in Male, including the death of a migrant worker who fell from the 14th floor of a construction site in Male in July. In September the High Court rejected the appeal against the managing director of a construction company who was acquitted in 2019 on charges of negligent homicide raised in relation to the 2018 death of a young girl struck by a cement bag that fell from a construction site. The Employment Act protects workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Moldova

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines domestic violence as a criminal offense, provides for the punishment of perpetrators, defines mechanisms for obtaining restraining orders against abusive individuals, and extends protection to unmarried individuals and children of unmarried individuals. The law covers five forms of domestic violence–physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and spiritual. The maximum punishment for family violence offenses is 15 years’ imprisonment. The law also criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, or forcible sexual assault and establishes penalties for violations ranging from three years to life in prison. It requires, however, that the victim prove they were subjected to violence. Domestic violence resulting in “nonsignificant bodily harm” falls under the Contraventions Code, rather than the Criminal Code, and may be punished by a fine or community service.

The law provides for cooperation between government and civil society organizations, establishes victim protection as a human rights principle, and allows third parties to file complaints on behalf of victims. The international NGO La Strada operated a hotline to report domestic violence, offered victims psychological and legal aid, and provided victims options for follow-up assistance. The Women’s Law Center also offered legal, psychological, and social support to domestic violence victims. During the year 10 centers providing assistance to domestic violence victims were operational in the country. An additional two centers provided counselling and resocialization services to family aggressors.

In July parliament adopted legislation to improve reporting in domestic violence cases, streamline the victims’ referral system and the use of restriction orders, improve access to state-guaranteed legal assistance for domestic and sexual violence victims, and expand the use of electronic monitoring devices in domestic violence cases. Rape remained a problem, and there were no specific governmental rape prevention activities.

In its concluding observations on its sixth periodic report on the country in March, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted concerns about the high prevalence of gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence and economic and psychosocial violence, and underreporting of gender-based violence against women, in particular domestic violence, due to fear of stigmatization and revictimization. The committee also noted limited financial compensation in gender-based violence cases, a lack of shelters and victims’ support services, including psychosocial counselling, legal assistance, and rehabilitation programs, particularly in rural areas and Transnistria.

Police reported a similar number of domestic violence criminal cases during the year with 1,409 cases registered in the first nine months, including 10 domestic violence cases that resulted in death. The General Police Inspectorate issued 3,205 restraining orders. From January to September, the courts issued 534 protection orders.

Police protection of victims and proper execution of protective orders improved slightly; the law requires that authorities issue protective orders within 24 hours. This provision was often not implemented, however, particularly for protection order requests filed on Fridays and examined by the courts the next Monday. A law adopted during the year authorizes the Ministry of Justice to expand the use of electronic devices for monitoring accused aggressors in domestic violence cases.

Police and human rights NGOs reported an increase in domestic violence complaints during the COVID-19 state of emergency and the subsequent state of public health emergency. From January through April, the General Police Inspectorate reported a 24 percent increase in the number of complaints of domestic violence received, and the Women’s Law Center reported that the number of calls to their domestic violence hotline doubled during the state of emergency. NGOs attributed the increase to domestic violence victims staying in isolation with their abusers for lengthy periods of time without the ability to seek assistance. From March 17 to May 31, the NGO La Strada’s Women and Girls’ Trust Line received 390 calls, including 247 complaints of domestic violence. During the state of emergency (March 17-May 15), shelters for domestic violence victims did not accept new applicants to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Authorities did not take steps to provide placement for survivors. While police and courts established protection measures for victims of violence, in most cases a lack of coordination between members of local multidisciplinary teams (which are meant to bring together law enforcement, health professionals, social workers, spiritual leaders, and local public officials to assist victims) left victims without the resources and protections the courts intended to provide for them.

According to La Strada, the subject of sexual violence remained sensitive for the country. Societal attitudes affected the behavior and the reticence of sexual violence victims to report incidents. Sexual abusers frequently used information technologies to threaten, frighten, humiliate, or cause the victim not to report abuses to law enforcement agencies. Specialists responsible for intervening in sexual violence cases were affected by prejudice and stereotypes and sometimes contributed to the victimization of or discrimination against victims of sexual crimes. Media outlets sometimes reinforced stereotypes and contributed to social stigma in their reporting on cases of sexual violence.

In Transnistria domestic violence without “substantial bodily harm” (such as broken bones or a concussion) remains an administrative, rather than criminal, offense only punishable by a fine.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law provides criminal penalties for sexual harassment ranging from a fine to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits sexual advances that affect a person’s dignity or create an unpleasant, hostile, degrading, or humiliating environment in a workplace or educational institution. There are no criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in employment. According to NGOs, law enforcement agencies steadily improved their handling of sexual harassment cases, addressing harassment of students by university professors and several instances of workplace harassment. Civil society groups, however, criticized the judicial system for displaying inadequate concern for the safety of victims and for not holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior.

According to an informative note on a January bill published by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection calling for the review of national legislation on sexual harassment, one in five women in the country experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Similarly, a 2018 Partnership for Development Center survey concluded that one in five women reported being sexually harassed by a teacher. Societal attitudes and lack of interest from law enforcement discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. By law minors under the age of 16 must have permission from a parent or legal guardian to obtain reproductive health services; a medical provider may waive this requirement if the minor’s life or health are in danger.

The state provides contraception free of charge to citizens through primary care providers. Although minors have access to contraception without parental consent through a network of Youth-Friendly Health Centers, many are reluctant to request contraception from family doctors due to social stigma.

Victims of sexual violence have access to sexual and reproductive health services on the same basis as other citizens.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women and men enjoy the same legal status in family, labor, property, nationality, inheritance law, and in the judicial system. The law requires equal pay for equal work, which authorities generally respected. The law requires that women fill a minimum of 40 percent of decision-making positions in government and political offices; prohibits sexist and discriminatory language and images in the media and advertising; and spells out employers’ responsibilities in ensuring that workplaces are free of discrimination and sexual harassment. The law also establishes a minimum quota of 40 percent female representation on the electoral lists of political parties and sanctions for noncompliance. During the February 2019 parliamentary elections, 41.8 percent of candidates were women on the political parties’ electoral lists and over 25 percent of members of parliament were women. During the November presidential elections, only one woman ran for office. While launching his electoral campaign for the second round, incumbent president Igor Dodon made gender-based discriminatory statements against his political opponent in the runoff, Action and Solidarity Party leader Maia Sandu.

According to a report issued in February by the Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction and Promo-LEX, female drug users, sex workers, and inmates were the most vulnerable to multiple risks, such as HIV or AIDS, human trafficking, harassment, and violence due to discrimination, criminalization, stigmatization, and exclusion from society. Despite such vulnerabilities authorities did not protect basic rights to health care and justice for women in these categories.

Discrimination with respect to employment, pay, and access to pension benefits persisted in the country (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Persons may acquire citizenship through birth to a citizen parent, birth in the country to stateless persons, birth to parents who cannot transmit their citizenship to the child, or through adoption by citizen parents. Registration of birth is free of charge for all citizens. The lack of registration certificates for a number of children, especially in rural areas and in Romani families, remained a problem.

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory until the ninth grade. Education of Romani children remained a problem; only half of Romani children attended school and one in five attended preschool. According to Romani representatives, absenteeism and school dropout rates in Romani communities stemmed from poverty and fear of discrimination.

All schools, kindergartens, and other educational institutions closed and were replaced with online schooling during the COVID-19 state of emergency that began on March 17. While some schools had the necessary resources and human capacity to hold classes online, most educational institutions, particularly in rural areas, failed to provide proper education through the end of the academic year. At the start of the new academic year on September 1, there were 11 schools out of 1,252 that remained closed due to COVID-19 cases among teachers and students. An additional eight schools closed after the school year started. By September 14, there were over 200 COVID-19 cases in schools in Chisinau; 1,325 students and 57 teaching and technical staff from 21 educational institutions were quarantined and there were 35 active cases in kindergartens.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits child neglect and specific forms of abuse, such as forced begging, child abuse remained a problem. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection has noted that social norms created a permissive environment for violence against children at home and at school.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research reported 4,738 cases of violence against children in the first half of the 2019-20 academic year. Some 2,171 children reported physical violence and 1,316 children reported neglect, while there were 40 cases of labor exploitation and 17 of sexual abuse. Local public authorities failed to monitor all cases of abuse against children, claiming a lack of experts. The ombudsman for children’s rights stated that most child neglect cases were due to alcohol abuse in the family.

An April study by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research and the National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse noted that children were exposed to more risks during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased psychosocial stress, a sense of fear and panic generated by the pandemic, the suspension of school activity, infection with coronavirus or quarantine, access to and improper use of disinfectants and alcohol, their increased vulnerability to exploitation for child labor, social discrimination, and the limited availability of services for children with disabilities. Following the closure of schools and kindergartens, 32 children who were left home unsupervised died from accidents in the first six months of the year.

A special unit for minors in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Juvenile Justice Unit, is responsible for ensuring that particular attention and expertise are devoted to child abuse victims and child offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for women and 18 for men. There were no official statistics regarding child marriages.

Child marriage was most common in Romani communities, where it was reportedly acceptable to marry off girls between the ages of 12 and 14. This either took the form of a forced marriage, whereby a girl is married off to an adult man against her will, or an arranged marriage, whereby “match makers” arranged for two children to be married in the future. In such cases marriage takes place without official documentation or registration. After marriage, girls commonly dropped out of school to take on household duties.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The exploitation of a child in a commercial sex act is punishable by 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment. Authorities punished commercial sex with minors as statutory rape. The law prohibits the production, distribution, broadcasting, import, export, sale, exchange, use, or possession of child pornography, for which the punishment is one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. These laws were generally enforced. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country is a destination for child sex tourism. According to the International Organization for Migration’s 2020 Violence against Children and Youth Survey report for Moldova, 7.6 percent of girls and 5.4 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 experienced sexual violence in the previous year.

The Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Organized Crime and Special Cases is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child sexual abuse cases, and the Antitrafficking Bureau of the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child trafficking and child sexual exploitation. During the first 10 months of the year, law enforcement officials identified 42 victims of child online sexual exploitation, ranging in age from eight to 17 years old. La Strada’s Child Safeguarding Team registered 81 new cases of child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse that included 27 cases of child pornography, 21 cases of child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and 33 cases of sexual abuse. Law enforcement bodies referred 63 cases for assistance.

Institutionalized Children: During the year the number of children placed in residential institutions decreased to 961, including 195 children with disabilities. The government also operated family-type homes, maternal centers, and daycare centers that provided various services for deinstitutionalized children, including children with disabilities. Another 26 mobile teams assisted over 840 beneficiaries across the country, including 485 children with disabilities. Children raised in residential institutions were at greater risk of unemployment, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and suicide as adults compared with their peers raised in families. According to human rights watchdogs and the ombudsperson for children’s rights, legal protective mechanisms to prevent recidivism and reinstitutionalization of homeless children were not functional during the year.

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 HYPERLINK “” HYPERLINK “https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html”https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The Jewish community numbered between 1,600 and 30,000 persons (depending on source and definition), including up to 2,000 living in Transnistria.

According to the Jewish community, anti-Semitic discourse, hate speech, and instigation to discrimination and violence against members of the Jewish community, especially on the internet, was a systemic problem. Publications related to the community’s activities were often followed by discriminatory comments or verbal insults that were not banned on such platforms, including blaming the Jewish community for the spread of COVID-19. Online security was another problem during the pandemic. In April the Jewish community reported a case of unauthorized individuals accessing an online Zoom session conducted by the community’s rabbi during a daily Torah lesson. The unknown perpetrators intimidated Zoom participants and posted insulting photographs and videos for several minutes.

The Jewish community reported two acts of vandalism during the year. Unknown individuals made an anti-Semitic inscription at an exhibit dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Chisinau-Tel Aviv twin cities agreement. The community registered a complaint with police, and the case was pending at year’s end. In a second case, unknown individuals vandalized and drew anti-Semitic graffiti on 82 tombs at the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau. The Jewish community sent a complaint to the police and called on the authorities to adopt legal mechanisms that would prevent and punish Holocaust denial, the glorification of Nazi leaders or the use of Nazi symbols. The Chisinau police department opened a criminal case. According to the Jewish cemetery director, the perpetrators vandalized an unprecedented number of tombstones on the nights of October 30 through November 1. In reaction the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research, which oversees the Jewish History Museum, which includes the Jewish cemetery, announced the installation of video surveillance equipment at the cemetery to prevent similar incidents in the future. In November the government also adopted amendments to the criminal code; strengthened sanctions for “acts of vandalism and desecration of tombs, monuments or places revered by persons belonging to various religious groups;” and imposed higher fines and imprisonment terms of up to four years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration condemned the acts of vandalism, noting “the destruction of Jewish gravestones and monuments is a barbaric attack not only on the memory of the Jews from the Republic of Moldova, but is also challenging the entire Moldovan society.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to public facilities, health services, or the provision of other government services, but authorities rarely enforced the law.

Investigation of degrading treatment of patients in psychoneurological institutions was deficient. In most cases prosecutors refused to investigate complaints submitted by patients, questioning the accuracy of allegations made by persons with mental disabilities. According to Promo-LEX, most prosecutors and investigators lacked technical skills to investigate acts of violence or torture in psychiatric institutions. Authorities also lacked a regulatory framework for the psychological assessment of victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in psychiatric institutions.

During the first nine months of the year, members of the Council for Prevention of Torture, as part of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NMPT), conducted preventive visits to residential institutions for persons with disabilities. The NMPT identified a number of problems in such institutions, including a shortage of personnel in most residential institutions, including of medical staff in institutions hosting persons with disabilities; verbal and physical abuse by personnel of persons with disabilities; involuntary confinement of patients; insufficient qualified staff at specialized institutions for children with disabilities; and lack of complaint mechanisms.

During its monitoring activities, the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights identified systemic deficiencies in psychiatric hospitals and temporary placement centers for persons with disabilities. Experts reported cases of forced medication without a legally mandated court order. Patients isolated in temporary placement centers reported the administration of psychotropic drugs without consent and mistreatment by personnel. The institute also found deficiencies in documentation, investigation, and management of cases involving persons with mental or psychosocial impairments by police, prosecutors, judges, and health service providers. While all institutions are required to document and report any unexplained injuries to the Anti-Torture Prosecutor’s Office, officials at the Codru Psychiatric Hospital reported no such cases during the year, despite IDOM monitors finding numerous patients with visible injuries during the course of their audit.

According to the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights, Balti Psychiatric Hospital lacked a separate ward for patients who committed crimes, leaving them to be housed and treated alongside civilly committed and voluntarily committed patients. Persons with different types of disabilities and widely different ages were sometimes lodged in the same rooms, and unjustified restrictive measures were sometimes applied. There was no separation of persons who were civilly committed as presenting a danger to themselves or others from those who voluntarily committed themselves in any of the country’s three psychiatric hospitals.

During the March 17 to May 15 state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all “closed institutions” including psychiatric hospitals and temporary placement centers for persons with disabilities (“social care centers”), suspended discharges, keeping patients and residents involuntarily confined. Visitors and outside monitors were also denied access to these facilities during the state of emergency “as a quarantine measure.” Independent monitors reported that stresses imposed on patients, residents, and staff by the quarantine measures led to an increase in mistreatment cases and hurt the mental health of patients and residents.

The law requires new construction and transportation companies’ vehicles to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Authorities implemented the provisions of the law only to a limited extent. While many newly built or reconstructed buildings were accessible, older buildings often were not. According to the disability rights NGO Motivation, more than 70 percent of public institutions lacked access ramps for persons with disabilities. Persons with mobility disabilities complained about the lack of access to public transportation and public institutions as well as the shortage of designated parking places. Despite some improvements during the year, city authorities and construction companies often disregarded legal requirements on accessibility for persons with mobility impairments.

An audit on the accessibility of polling stations conducted by the Central Electoral Commission and the UN Development Program in 2019 found that only 1 percent of 612 stations assessed were fully accessible for wheelchair-bound persons. Most polling stations had no ramps or accessible toilets, narrow entrances, and dark hallways, which led to many persons with disabilities requesting mobile ballot boxes. According to Central Election Commission data, there were 170,000 persons with disabilities of voting age. There were no measurable improvements to these metrics reported in the year.

The government continued the deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities and provided alternative community-based services under the National Program of Deinstitutionalization of People with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities from residential institutions for 2018-26. Deinstitutionalization was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 state of emergency from March 17 to May 15.

Human rights observers criticized the country’s guardianship system. A person placed under guardianship loses all standing before the law and cannot perform social and legal acts, such as marriage, voting, claiming social benefits, and consenting to or refusing medication. Most residential institutions lacked proper accommodation for persons with mobility impairments.

Most schools were poorly equipped to address the needs of children with disabilities. Some children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, while authorities placed others in segregated boarding schools, or they were home schooled. Although the law provides for equal employment opportunities and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (with the exception of jobs requiring specific health standards), many employers either failed to provide accommodations or avoided employing persons with disabilities.

According to NGOs providing services for persons with mobility impairments, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected persons with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs. Authorities suspended the provision of most health-care rehabilitation and social services during the state of emergency and public health state of emergency, negatively affecting the physical and psychological condition of persons with disabilities.

In Transnistria the “law” provides for protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of education, health care, and employment. According to the latest 2019 report of the Transnistrian “ombudsman,” there were 17,121 persons with disabilities registered in Transnistria as of December 2019, including 1,304 children with disabilities (aged under 18 years old). The same report noted 188 patients as of October 2019 in the region’s only psychiatric institution in Vyhvatintsy village. Reliable information about the treatment of persons with disabilities in Transnistria was generally unavailable, but there were reports that children with disabilities rarely attended school and lacked access to specialized resources.

Roma continued to be one of the most vulnerable minority groups in the country and faced a higher risk of marginalization, underrepresentation in political decision making, illiteracy, and social prejudice. Roma had lower levels of education, more limited access to health care, and higher rates of unemployment than the general population (see section 7.d.). According to a study released during the year by the Partnership for Development Center, the employment rate among Roma was only 6.4 percent. The unemployment rate among the Romani community stood at 45 percent. Romani women were particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and discrimination.

Approximately 60 percent of Romani families lived in rural areas. Some Romani communities lacked running water, sanitation facilities, and heating. Other problems facing Roma included lack of emergency health-care services in secluded settlements, unfair or arbitrary treatment by health practitioners, and lower rates of health insurance coverage. Authorities lacked an effective mechanism to address vulnerable families whose children did not attend school.

According to a 2019 survey of 476 Romani women from 48 localities conducted by the Roma Women Network in Moldova, the most serious problems reported were limited access to education, the job market, medical services, and information about health and hygiene. The survey showed that only 36.6 percent of Romani women attended some form of state-guaranteed education, while 57.8 percent said they did not have an opportunity to continue their studies. About 84.7 percent of respondents were unemployed, and many of them alleged that they were subject to discrimination when trying to get a job. According to the survey, one-third of women reported discrimination when consulting a doctor; 70 percent of women reported not having access to information about health and hygiene. There were no measurable improvements to these metrics reported in during the year.

According to Romani leaders, the community faced a high rate of emigration and the state did not provide financing for Romani community mediators, as prescribed by law. A total of 54 Romani community mediators were active during the year. The government earmarked 3.5 million lei ($210,000) for Romani community mediators during the year, but its 2016-20 action plan for the community was unfunded.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continued. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported verbal and physical abuse. In most cases police were reluctant to open investigations against the perpetrators. According to a survey conducted by the Antidiscrimination Council in 2018, the LGBTI community had the lowest societal acceptance rate of any minority group.

In June the NGO Genderdoc-M organized the 19th annual Moldova Pride Festival. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, events were conducted almost exclusively online. Genderdoc-M rented three billboards bearing the festival’s theme, “I Am Close to You but You Don’t Know Me,” to carry information about LGBTI pride for one month. The company leasing the billboards removed the signs after two weeks, reportedly at the request of Chisinau city government. Genderdoc-M filed a complaint with the Equality Council, which had not ruled on the matter at year’s end.

A 2019 Promo-LEX report, Hate Speech and Discrimination in the Public Space and Media, noted that hatred and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity dropped by approximately 30 percent in 2019 compared to 2018. The LGBTI community remained among the groups that were most vulnerable to hate speech and was subjected to some of the most aggressive and violent speech registered by authorities. During the electoral campaign for the November 15 runoff presidential election, President Igor Dodon promised to ban LGBTI parades.

Genderdoc-M reported eight verbal and nine physical assaults against LGBTI individuals during the year. On May 8, the parents of a 15-year-old girl reportedly beat her after they were told that she was a lesbian. The girl filed a complaint at the Securuel police station in Riscani, Chisinau, with the support of Genderdoc-M representatives. The responding police officer initially refused to accept the complaint and called the girl’s parents to the station. Only after a Genderdoc-M representatives threatened to call the national emergency number did the officer begin recording the complaint and call a victims specialist. Genderdoc-M later filed a complaint against the officer with the Ministry of Interior.

On April 15, a young man was walking in central Chisinau when a minibus stopped next to him and several individuals forced him into the vehicle. He was taken to an alley where a group of assailants beat him and threatened him using derogatory terms for homosexuals. He was forced to put a condom on his head and then forced to eat a second condom. The attackers threatened to set him on fire and additional unspecified violence if he reported the attack. The attack was recorded on one of the attackers’ cell phone and later posted on social media. Police were investigating the attack at year’s end.

Civil society organizations reported that, although transgender individuals were allowed to change their names (e.g., from a male to a female name) on legal identity documents, including passports, the government did not permit them to update gender markers to reflect their gender identity. Transgender individuals also experienced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

In Transnistria consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and LGBTI persons were subjected to official as well as societal discrimination. A young gay man in Transnistria was reported to be under investigation by “authorities” for refusing conscription into the separatist military. He expressed fear of violence and discrimination within the “military” and relocated to Moldovan government-controlled territory to escape persecution.

Persons living with HIV continued to face societal and official discrimination.

The law prohibits hospitals and other health institutions from denying admission or access to health-care services or requesting additional fees from persons with HIV or suspected of being HIV-positive. Prison inmates with HIV or AIDS faced high levels of discrimination by both prison staff and other inmates. Official practice requires that positive HIV test results be reported to the public health sector’s infectious disease doctor. In some cases positive test results were also reported to the patient’s family physician, a practice to which many HIV-positive individuals objected.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The government generally respected these rights with limitations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law does not allow government workers and workers in essential services, such as law enforcement, judges, holders of public administration offices, health-care providers, and public utility employees, to strike. The law prohibits strikes during natural disasters, epidemics, and pandemics as well as in times of state emergency. Authorities may impose compulsory arbitration at the request of one party to a dispute. There are no particular groups of workers excluded from or covered differently by relevant legal protections.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government, political parties, employers, or employers’ associations. There were no reports that the government, political parties, or employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Prosecutors may reject appeals by trade unions alleging antiunion behavior, and authorities did not punish alleged violations of the trade union law. Workers exercised the right to strike by conducting legal strikes.

There is a mechanism to monitor and enforce labor laws through the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but it failed to monitor effectively and enforce the rights to collective bargaining and to organize. The law does not provide effective sanctions for violations of freedom of association, or stipulate penalties for violating trade union rights. Penalties for the deliberate failure to negotiate and amend collective agreements or the violation of negotiated terms were not commensurate with those of other laws related to civil rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions. The law and a government decision allow central and local authorities as well as military bodies to mobilize the adult population under certain conditions, such as in the event of a national disaster, and to employ such labor to develop the national economy. The government did not invoke this provision during the year. Penalties for persons who engage workers in forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation for forced labor were generally inadequate. Men and women were subjected to labor trafficking within the country and in other parts of Europe and the Middle East. Internal trafficking occurred in all regions of the country, focused mostly on farms and begging in larger towns. Internal trafficking for begging and labor exploitation, particularly in the agriculture and construction sectors, was steadily on the rise. Official complicity in trafficking continued to be a significant problem that the government attempted to curb by prosecuting those involved.

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

The minimum age for employment is 15. The law permits juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to work under special conditions, including shorter workdays (35 hours per week and no night, weekend, holiday, or overtime work). With written permission from a parent or guardian, 15-year-old children may work. Work for children who are 15 or 16 should not exceed 24 hours per week. Children younger than 18 are not allowed to perform hazardous and dangerous activities in 30 industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and textiles. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for persons engaging children in such activities. Under aggravated circumstances, courts can increase the sentence to life imprisonment. These penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Authorities did not effectively enforce legal protections, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the agriculture and construction industries. The government was unable to make unannounced inspections and could only take action on a violation directly related to a complaint. If child labor violations were observed during a complaint based inspection, the government did not have the authority to take action.

Parents who owned or worked on farms often sent children to work in fields or to find other employment. Children left behind by parents who had emigrated abroad also worked on farms. The vast majority of child laborers worked in family businesses or on family farms.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race, color, nationality, religion, political opinion, social origin, residence, disability, HIV-positive status, and membership or activity in trade unions, as well as other criteria. The law requires employers to provide for equal opportunity and treatment of employees without discrimination, to apply the same criteria to assess each employee’s work, and to provide equal conditions for men and women relating to work and family obligations. The law defines and prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other crimes related to denial of civil rights. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Discrimination on the basis of sex in access to pension benefits persisted in the country. The age at which men and women can retire with either full or partial benefits is not equal, nor is the mandatory retirement age for men and women.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, minority status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace is common in the country. Pregnant women reported being denied employment opportunities, since such employment was associated with additional benefits payable after childbirth.

The law also stipulates that the Equality Council be responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations. As of September the council made decisions on 193 cases of alleged discrimination, 3.2 percent more than in 2019.

In Transnistria job segregation “laws” ban women from more than 300 jobs. Prohibited occupations include a wide variety of occupations deemed “too dangerous or demanding” for women, including welding, pouring, driving, snow blowing, gas extracting, and climbing.

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is less than the poverty level. According to the National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC), as of July salary arrears were more than 20.9 million lei ($1.2 million).

The law sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours with overtime compensation, provides for at least one day off per week, and mandates paid annual leave of at least 28 calendar days (government holidays excluded). Different paid leave plans may be used in some sectors, such as education, health care, and public service. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Foreign and migrant workers have the same legal status as domestic workers.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards. According to labor law, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The labor code requires work contracts for employment but the central government did not have an effective mechanism to monitor compliance. In the agricultural sector, approximately 63 percent of workers were employed informally, according to NTUC.

Government efforts to enforce requirements for minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards were limited and ineffective. The law requires the government to establish and monitor safety standards in the workplace but inspections could only occur when a complaint was received and not all complaints met the criteria for a workplace inspection. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Labor inspectors were generally required to give advance notice before conducting labor investigations and were generally prohibited from conducting onsite inspections if the information sought could be obtained in writing, which undercut their enforcement ability. The 10 sectoral inspection agencies responsible for occupational health and safety controls did not have sufficient trained staff to carry out adequate inspections. In the first eight months of the year, the SLI reported 334 unplanned inspections in areas defined by law as “labor relations,” 42 in “salary payments” and 46 in “occupational safety and health.” Labor inspectors could not confirm that any of these unplanned inspections were unannounced. In person, onsite inspections were suspended during the state of emergency declared between March 17 and May 15, and the moratorium continued under the public health state of emergency that continued from May 16 to the end of the year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A thriving informal economy accounted for a significant portion of the country’s economic activity. According to the International Labor Organization, 30.9 percent of the total employed population had an informal job. Workers in the informal economy did not have the same legal protections as employees in the formal sector. No government social programs targeted workers in the informal economy who were hardest hit by the COVID lockdowns during the year.

Poor economic conditions led enterprises to spend less on safety equipment and to pay insufficient attention to worker safety. There is a consensus among stakeholders that after the change in the legislation governing labor inspections, occupational safety and health standards in the workplace worsened during the year. In the first eight months of the year, the SLI reported 231 work accidents involving 235 victims. The SLI also reported 13 work-related deaths. Enterprise committees investigated 170 cases of temporary incapacitation resulting from work accidents, involving 171 persons.

Mongolia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes forced or nonconsensual sexual intercourse or sexual acts that involve the use or threat of physical violence, abuse a position of authority (financial or official), or take advantage of the victim’s incapacity to protect him- or herself or object to the commission of the act due to mental illness, temporary loss of mental capacity, or the influence of drugs or alcohol, and provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment or life imprisonment, depending on the circumstances. The criminal code criminalizes spousal rape. Domestic violence is also a crime, for which perpetrators can be punished administratively or criminally, including in the latter case by a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. The government maintains a nationwide database of domestic violence offenders, and those who commit a second domestic violence offense are automatically charged under criminal law.

The nongovernmental National Center against Violence (NCAV) reported that police response to domestic violence complaints improved. Although the law provides alternative protection measures for victims of domestic abuse, such as restraining orders, it has not yet been implemented due to a lack of training, technical, and other resources.

Despite continued attention, domestic violence remained a serious and widespread problem. The NCAV reported increased reporting of domestic violence by third parties. Combating domestic violence is included in the accredited training curriculum of the police academy and in all police officer position descriptions.

According to the NPA, there were 31,043 domestic violence complaints registered as of October 1. NCAV reported a 1.4 percent increase in reported serious domestic violence crimes and a 36.8 percent increase in petty domestic violence offenses during the first eight months of the year. They attributed this rise to school closures and restrictions on movements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. NCAV reported a 20 percent increase in demand for shelter services and a 36.8 increase in calls received by its hotline, compared with the same period in 2019.

The Family, Child, and Youth Development Authority reported a 99 percent increase in domestic violence cases classified as petty offenses during the period of COVID-19-related restrictions on movements.

The NCAV expanded its activities to support domestic violence victims with disabilities by engaging sign language interpreters and renovating facilities to make them more accessible to persons who use wheelchairs or have other mobility difficulties.

In January the NPA established a special unit dedicated to combating domestic violence. According to the NPA, there were 18 shelters and 16 one-stop service centers for domestic violence survivors run by the NPA, a variety of NGOs, local government agencies, and hospitals. All shelters followed standard operating procedures developed by the NCAV. The one-stop service centers, located primarily at hospitals, provided emergency shelter for a maximum of 72 hours. The relatively small number of shelters located in rural areas presented a problem for domestic violence victims in those areas.

A May assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence conducted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and the UN Population Fund revealed that social and economic stresses caused by the pandemic were major causes of domestic violence and violence against children.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code does not address sexual harassment. NGOs said there was a lack of awareness and consensus within society of what constituted inappropriate behavior, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem. As of September 1, the NHRC had received one sexual harassment complaint that was referred for the prosecution and resulted in a dismissal. Upon receiving such a complaint, the NHRC may perform an investigation, after which it may send a letter to the employer recommending administrative sanctions be levied against the accused party.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Teenage schoolgirls in some rural areas, however, reported being subjected to gynecological examinations in schools (known as girls’ examinations) that some students believed were to test for virginity. Two NGOs confirmed that the practice of subjecting girls to gynecological examinations at their schools had not been completely eliminated in some rural locations. The government did not condone the practice, and NGOs continued efforts to eradicate it. An NGO survey of 370 middle- and high-school girls who reported undergoing such an examination at schools in Ulaanbaatar and several provinces found that 29 percent of the girls believed the examinations were intended to test their virginity, but there were no reports of coercive population control methods. Reproductive health information was widely available. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights to women and men, including equal pay for equal work and equal access to education. These rights were generally observed, although women faced discrimination in employment. As of October 7, the NHRC had received nine complaints of discrimination: five based on social status, three on disability, and one on sexual orientation.

The law sets mandatory minimum quotas for women in the government and political parties. It also prohibits discrimination based on sex, appearance, or age, although some NGOs noted authorities did not enforce this provision. By law women must comprise at least 15 percent of political appointees to government positions at the national, provincial, and capital city levels; 20 percent at the district level; and 30 percent at subdistrict levels. The law also requires that women must represent at least 25 percent of a political party’s senior leadership. Women were underrepresented at the highest levels of government, although representation improved marginally following June parliamentary elections. Of the country’s 16 cabinet ministers, three were women; the prior cabinet had only one female minister. Of the 75 members of the newly elected parliament, 13 were women; the previous parliament had 11 female members. One of two deputy speakers was a woman, as was the secretary general of the parliament secretariat. Only one of 11 parliamentary standing committee chairs was a woman, however. While the gender quota was met in most jurisdictions following the October local elections, Bayan-Ulgii Province failed to meet the quota at the provincial and some subprovincial levels.

In most cases the divorced wife retained custody of any children, but divorced husbands were often not penalized for failing to pay child support. Women’s rights activists said that because family businesses and properties usually were registered under the husband’s name, ownership continued to be transferred automatically to the former husband in divorce cases.

The National Committee on Gender Equality, chaired by the prime minister and overseen by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, coordinates policy and women’s interests among ministries, NGOs, and gender councils at the provincial and local levels. The government’s National Program on Gender Equality 2017-21 and its related action plan seek the economic empowerment of women and equal participation in political and public life.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Births are immediately registered and a registration number issued through an online system jointly developed by the Ministry of Health, National Statistics Office, and State Registration Agency. Failure to register could result in the denial of public services.

Child Abuse: The criminal code includes a specific chapter on crimes against children, including abandonment, inducing addiction, engaging children in criminal activity or hazardous labor, forced begging, or engaging in pornography.

Child abuse was a significant problem and consisted principally of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The Family, Child, and Youth Development Authority (FCYDA) operated a hotline to report child abuse, an emergency service center, and a shelter for child victims of abuse. The government-run shelter served child victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and abandonment, but it had inadequate capacity to provide separate accommodation for especially vulnerable or sensitive children. The FCYDA also stated it provided funding to an NGO in Ulaanbaatar to run additional shelters to which it referred child victims of abuse. According to an NGO, space was inadequate for the number of child abuse victims referred for long-term care.

Although the FCYDA reported an increase in reports of child abuse in previous years following enactment of obligatory reporting laws, reports of child abuse fell by 30 percent during the year compared with 2019, largely attributed to the fact that the primary reporters of such abuses–schools, kindergartens, and other educational institutions–were closed between January and September due to COVID-19-related protective measures.

Child abandonment was also a problem. Some children were orphaned or ran away from home because of neglect or parental abuse. Police officials stated they sent children of abusive parents to shelters, but some observers indicated many youths were returned to abusive parents. According to the FCYDA, as of August there were 1,069 children living in 31 child-care centers across the country. More children were referred to long-term care than there was space available. As of September 25, 1,248 child victims were assisted by 17 temporary shelters and 13 one-stop service centers.

Each province and all of Ulaanbaatar’s district police offices had a specialized police officer appointed to investigate crimes against, or committed by, juveniles. The international NGO Save the Children implemented a program to facilitate annual–and sometimes more frequent–interagency meetings on preventing child abuse at local administrative units across the country. Police were active in campaigns to improve the safety of children and increase children’s awareness of their rights, and they broadcast a variety of public-service announcements through programs and commercials broadcast on television, radio, and social media.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, with court-approved exceptions for minors age 16 to 18 who obtain the consent of parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although illegal, the commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 18 was a problem. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Violators of the statutory rape law (defined as sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16 not involving physical violence or the threat of violence) are subject to a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Those who engaged children in prostitution or sexual exploitation are subject to a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, or life imprisonment if aggravating circumstances are present. Under the criminal code, the maximum penalty for engaging children in pornography is eight years’ imprisonment. According to the NPA, 58 percent of child victims of sexual abuse were abused by family members or close associates, and 63 percent of the registered rape cases involved child victims of sexual abuse.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The Jewish population was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. Neo-Nazi groups active in the country tended to target other Asian nationalities and not Jews.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, defining these as persons with long-term physical, intellectual, mental, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. A representative of the disability community said the concept of workplace accommodation was not well understood and access to employment was therefore poor for persons with disabilities. She attributed this to a lack of expertise and awareness in government and business.

Most government buildings remained inaccessible to wheelchairs, and only a few intersections in Ulaanbaatar were equipped with auditory crosswalks to aid pedestrians with visual impairments.

There is no explicit prohibition of discrimination in education, but the law charges the government with creating conditions to provide students with disabilities an education. Children with disabilities are by law allowed to attend preschools and mainstream schools but faced significant barriers. Schools often lacked trained staff and the infrastructure to accommodate children with disabilities.

Autism and Mongolia, an NGO serving children with intellectual disabilities, reported that a 2019 order requiring mainstream schools to facilitate inclusive education and retrofit schools accordingly had yet to be implemented due to inadequate teacher training and lack of a system for employing assistant teachers. COVID-19 and Disability, a survey conducted jointly by the Open Society Forum and the Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children, stated the transition from classroom teaching to distance and virtual learning in response to the pandemic had impaired the learning process for children with disabilities, and parents noted that classes offered through television broadcasts did not meet special needs. Although the majority of children with disabilities entered the public-school system at the appropriate age, the dropout rate increased as the children aged. Children with disabilities in rural areas were more likely to drop out of school because most schools for students with disabilities were in Ulaanbaatar.

Although the law mandates standards for physical access to new public buildings and a representative of persons with disabilities serves on the state commission for inspecting standards of new buildings, most new buildings were not constructed in compliance with the law. Public transport remained largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Emergency services were often inaccessible to blind and deaf persons because service providers lacked trained personnel and appropriate technologies. A representative of the disability community said information was not always accessible, especially on government and business websites, such as for online banking applications. Most domestic violence shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities.

To mitigate economic harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government disbursed an additional 100,000 tugriks ($35) per month to social welfare recipients, including children with disabilities.

Instances of covert police surveillance of LGBTI persons and social events, arbitrary detentions, intimidation, threats, and physical and sexual assaults by police were reported. In addition LGBTI prisoners also reportedly suffered physical and sexual abuse from other inmates.

An NGO noted that despite increased police awareness of abuses faced by the LGBTI community and capacity to respond to problems affecting LGBTI persons, there were reported cases involving police harassment of LGBTI victims of alleged crimes. Authorities frequently dismissed charges when a crime victim was an LGBTI person.

LGBTI individuals faced violence and discrimination both in public and at home based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were reports LGBTI persons faced greater discrimination and fear in rural areas than in Ulaanbaatar due to less public awareness and limited online media accessibility in rural areas. The NGO LGBT Center received reports of violence against LGBTI persons, most involving young persons disclosing their LGBTI status to their families or whose families discovered they were LGBTI.

Evidence gathered from the LGBTI community suggested a lack of understanding of sexual minorities among health-care providers, as well as a lack of understanding of the attendant physical and psychological problems members of the LGBTI community might face. LGBTI persons said they feared that the disclosure of their sexuality to health-service providers would lead to ridicule, denial of service, or reporting of their sexuality to other government authorities. Evidence indicated a higher suicide rate among the LGBTI community, particularly among youth, than among the general population.

There were reports of discrimination against LGBTI persons in employment.

Although there was no official discrimination against those with HIV or AIDS, some societal discrimination existed. The public generally continued to associate HIV and AIDS with same-sex sexual activity, burdening victims with social stigma and potential employment discrimination.

During the June parliamentary elections, a transgender candidate was the target of discriminatory social media postings, including some posted by opposing candidates. The government took no action to address these public statements of hatred.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join independent unions and professional organizations of their choosing without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the rights of all workers except those employed in essential services to participate in union activities without discrimination, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law bars persons employed in essential services–defined as occupations critical for national defense and safety, including police, utilities, and transportation services–from striking, and it prohibits third parties from organizing strikes. The law prohibits strikes unrelated to matters regulated by a collective agreement.

The government generally enforced laws providing for the rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association. Penalties, largely fines, were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Labor dispute settlement committees resolved most disputes between individual workers and management. These committees comprise representatives of the local government, the employer, and the employee, who is joined by a representative of the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions (CMTU). The CMTU reported the court process was so lengthy many workers abandoned their cases due to time and expense.

The CMTU stated some employees faced obstacles, including the threat of salary deductions, to forming, joining, or participating in unions. Some employers prohibited workers from participating in union activities during work hours. The CMTU also stated workers terminated for union activity were not always reinstated. The CMTU reported some employers refused to conclude collective bargaining agreements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a legally imposed sentence. The criminal code provides for a fine or imprisonment for forced labor offenses; these were not commensurate with penalties for similar serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Inspection was not adequate, and inspectors did not perform unannounced inspections nor enforce the law in the informal sector.

There were isolated reports of forced labor, including forced child labor such as forced prostitution and begging.

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for penalties for forced labor or slavery; prohibits the use of children in prostitution; or the use, procurement, or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. The minimum age for work does not apply to children in the informal sector or to those who are self-employed. At age 14, children may, with parental and government permission, work a maximum of 30 hours per week to acquire vocational training and work experience. At age 15, children may enter into a vocational training contract with permission from parents or guardians. According to a Ministry of Labor and Social Protection order, children younger than 18 may not work in hazardous occupations such as mining and construction; engage in arduous work; serve as jockeys during the winter (children may be jockeys beginning at age seven during other seasons); participate in cultural, circus, or folk art performances at night; work in businesses that sell alcoholic beverages; or engage in roadside vending. Despite these restrictions, children were commonly seen participating in horse racing, roadside vending, and other occupations in contravention of the order.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Authorities reported employers often required minors to work in excess of 40 hours per week and paid them less than the minimum wage. Penalties were not criminal and were not commensurate with those for similar serious crimes. Child labor, including forced child labor, occurred in many sectors, including in hotels and restaurants, vehicle repair, manufacturing, petty trade, scavenging, forced begging, event or street contortionism (a local art form), and the illicit sex trade (see section 6, Children). The FCYDA and the General Agency for Specialized Inspection (GASI) conducted announced child labor inspections, including at artisanal mining sites, public markets, service centers, dumpsites, construction and transportation sites, and on farms. The law did not apply to the informal sector, where most children worked.

International organizations continued to express concern regarding child jockeys in horseracing. Children commonly learned to ride horses at age four or five, and young children traditionally served as jockeys during the annual Naadam festival in races ranging from two to 20 miles. All jockeys including child jockeys are prohibited from working from November 1 to May 1, when cold weather makes racing more hazardous.

Racing regulations also require registration, insurance, adequate headgear, and chest protection, but despite greater government and public attention to safety, enforcement was inconsistent. The FCYDA registered 9,785 child jockeys who competed nationwide during the Naadam festival in July. In these races, 197 children reportedly suffered falls, but no serious injuries or deaths were reported. Unsanctioned races–of which there were many–were not counted in these statistics.

The FCYDA maintained an electronic database containing information on more than 10,000 child jockeys and collected biometric information to better track jockeys and prevent children younger than seven from working as jockeys. In addition labor ministry guidelines require an insurance policy for jockeys that pays jockeys or their surviving family members up to 20 million tugriks ($7,000) in case of injury or death sustained during a race. Observers reported compliance with safety regulations at national races but less satisfactory compliance at community and regional events. The government, however, conducts child labor inspections at horse racing events only once a year and must provide 48 hours’ notice before initiating an investigation.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on nationality, language, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, sex or marital status, social origin or status, wealth, religion, ideology, education, or medical status. It also prohibits employers from refusing to employ a person with disabilities but provides broad exceptions, applying “unless the condition of such person prevents him from performing a specified activity or would otherwise be contrary to established working conditions at the workplace.” The law prohibits employers from refusing employment to or dismissing an individual diagnosed with HIV or AIDS unless the condition makes it difficult to perform job duties. The law also prohibits women from working in occupations that require heavy labor or exposure to chemicals that could affect infant and maternal health.

The government enforced the law inconsistently, and discrimination occurred in employment and occupation based on sex and disability, as well as on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations.

The law charges employers with taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, including by establishing internal rules about sexual harassment and the redress of complaints, but provides no penalties. The NHRC reported poor knowledge of the law’s sexual harassment provisions among both employers and employees. The CMTU organized a campaign in July and August to raise awareness of sexual harassment, put an end to workplace coercion and harassment, and urge the implementation of recommendations on sexual harassment.

The NHRC found employers were less likely to hire, promote, or provide professional development opportunities to women. According to a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office in September, the monthly wages paid to men were, on average, 20 percent higher than those paid to women.

Although the law requires workplaces with more than 25 employees to employ a minimum of 4 percent of persons with disabilities or pay a fine, NGOs reported a reluctance to hire them persisted. They also noted the government itself failed to meet the quota. Members of the disability community noted that, even when hired, the lack of accessible public transport made it difficult for persons with disabilities to hold a job (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

The Labor Ministry’s Department for the Development of Persons with Disabilities is responsible for developing and implementing employment policies and projects for persons with disabilities. Government organizations and NGOs reported employers’ attitude toward employing persons with disabilities had not improved and that many employers still preferred to pay fines to the Employment Support Fund maintained by the Labor Ministry rather than employ persons with disabilities.

NGOs, the NHRC, and members of the LGBTI community reported companies rarely hired LGBTI persons who were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTI persons who revealed their status in the workplace frequently faced discrimination, including the possibility of dismissal. Illegally dismissed LGBTI persons rarely sought court injunctions to avoid disclosing their status and increasing the risk of discrimination.

Foreign migrant workers did not receive the same level of protection against labor law violations as the general population.

The National Tripartite Committee, which comprises the government, the CMTU, and the Federation of Employers, annually establishes a national minimum wage that is above the poverty line. The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and the payment of overtime, but in practice payment of overtime is rarely enforced. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector.

Laws on labor, cooperatives, and enterprises set occupational health and safety standards, which apply equally to local and foreign workers. GASI noted many standards were outdated.

Labor inspectors assigned to GASI’s regional and local offices are responsible for enforcement of all labor regulations and have the authority to compel immediate compliance. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, working hours, and occupational safety and health laws and regulations. GASI reported its inspectors, faced with large investigative workloads, needed better training on investigative techniques and evidence collection. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce. Inspectors generally did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.

GASI acknowledged that fines imposed on companies for not complying with labor standards or for concealing accidents were not commensurate with those for similar violations and did not compel management compliance. Moreover, safety experts responsible for labor safety and health were often inexperienced or had not received training. GASI lacks the authority to perform unannounced inspections.

The law on pensions allows for participation by small family businesses and workers in the informal economy (such as herders) in pension and social benefit programs. These categories of workers were able to access health care, education, social entitlements, and an optional form of social security.

Many workers received less than the minimum wage, particularly at smaller companies in rural areas. Workers in the construction sector, in which work is constrained to a few months each year due to extreme winters, were sometimes pressured to work long hours, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Reliance on outmoded machinery, poor maintenance, and management errors led to frequent industrial accidents, particularly in the construction, mining, and energy sectors. According to the NHRC, lack of proper labor protection and safety procedures contributed to the high accident rate in the construction sector. Workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous situations, but the CMTU stated workers had limited awareness of their legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

GASI provided safety training to companies and private enterprises. According to GASI, the training resulted in a decrease in industrial accidents in accident-prone sectors. Information on the number of deaths and injuries in industrial accidents was not available. In September demonstrations erupted in Umnugobi Province among truck drivers and their supporters after the deaths of three truck drivers hauling coal between a major coal mine and the Chinese border. Protesters cited dangerous road conditions, excessive work hours, employer retention of drivers’ passports, and a lack of basic support and services for drivers.

Montenegro

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: These acts are illegal, and authorities generally enforced the law. In most cases the penalty provided by law for rape, including spousal rape, is one to 10 years in prison, although the law permits lower sentences in cases where there are exceptionally extenuating circumstances or a significant lack of evidence. Actual sentences were generally lenient, averaging three years. Judges often used questionable methods, including forcing confrontations between victims and perpetrators, to assess the credibility of victims. NGOs expressed concern about the security of the courtrooms where victims were often forced to meet with abusers. In one case a convicted perpetrator assaulted a domestic violence survivor in front of a judge while being escorted into the courtroom by prison staff. Despite that incident and the testimony of several experts, including NGO representatives and the victim’s lawyer, the perpetrator was acquitted by the judge. Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. This problem was further compounded by the additional constraints put on prosecutors and the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases police were quick to dismiss allegations of domestic violence, particularly for young couples, noting that the problems would be resolved over time. Even when their cases were tried in court and they received a judgment in their favor, survivors noted the sentences imposed on perpetrators were lenient and dominated by suspended sentences and fines. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.

Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. This problem was further compounded by the additional constraints put on prosecutors and the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases police were quick to dismiss allegations of domestic violence, particularly for young couples, noting that the problems would be resolved over time. Even when their cases were tried in court and they received a judgment in their favor, survivors noted the sentences imposed on perpetrators were lenient and dominated by suspended sentences and fines. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.

Police response to domestic violence was also reported to be substandard, with officers often counseling women to “forgive” their attackers or to “not harm their (the attackers) job prospects.” Cases involving perpetrators who were also public officials remained problematic. The trial against a police officer who attacked and injured a woman in a nightclub in 2019 was still ongoing 15 months after the incident and a year since the start of the trial. Other institutions’ responses were also problematic. According to NGOs, social centers have increasingly taken actions to keep victims and abusers together in order to preserve the family structure or pay one-time assistance for rent, rather than accommodating victims in licensed shelters and providing other needed support to them, including psychological and legal support.

The country aligned its legislation with the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, but domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits survivors to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When the abuser and survivor live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights. In practice this was rarely done, and NGOs reported that, as a result of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 restrictive measures, women were actually spending more time with abusers. Domestic violence was a serious problem in all communities.

According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female survivors of domestic violence often complained that government-run social welfare centers did not respond adequately to their appeals for help. NGOs reported that state institutions did not provide physical protection for survivors.

The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. As a part of COVID-19 measures, the government imposed a curfew barring citizens from leaving their homes between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the following morning, which was accompanied by an increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases. The government promoted use of the NGO SOS Hotline in Niksic and the UNDP developed the mobile application “Be safe” as tools for domestic violence victims to call for help. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover. According to NGOs, because of the restrictive COVID-19 measures, authorities failed to address domestic violence in a timely manner, leaving survivors with limited support. The NGO Women’s Rights Center stated that perpetrators often confiscated victims’ phones and not all victims were able to use digital tools, which limited reporting.

In March, NGOs reported that police in Niksic refused to accept the complaint and call for help of a Romani survivor of domestic violence seeking safe refuge at a police station, despite being accompanied by a caseworker from the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives who was there to support the survivor and help her find safe accommodations. The survivor, who was from Kosovo and primarily spoke Albanian and had only a limited knowledge of the Montenegrin language, was a trafficking victim who entered Montenegro illegally in December 2019 after escaping a forced marriage in Kosovo. In Montenegro, she was initially forced into a marriage with a man in Bar and then to a man in Herceg Novi.

During her first marriage in Kosovo, the survivor first became the victim of domestic violence from her husband’s family. Her second marriage to a man in Montenegro was equally abusive, with her husband taking her personal documents to keep her under control. She then fled her second husband’s family home to Niksic to stay with an acquaintance’s family, although she once again encountered domestic violence. While she was not subject to physical violence from either of the families she stayed with in Montenegro, the survivor claimed that she endured mental and emotional abuse. A male friend of the acquaintance’s family in Niksic, who offered to provide her with a ride and help the survivor escape, turned on her and attempted to rape her. While in Niksic, the survivor came into contact with the Center for Roma Initiatives and she was advised to file a complaint for forced marriage and trafficking, domestic violence, and attempted rape with the police. Because the survivor was from Kosovo, the police refused to act without first receiving permission from a health-sanitary inspector due to COVID-19 restrictions, even though she had been living in Montenegro since December 2019. Under the government’s preventative health measures, health-sanitary inspectors worked with the police and oversaw decisions pertaining to quarantine and self-isolation for individuals seeking to enter Montenegro during the pandemic. The health-sanitary inspector required the victim and the NGO caseworker who followed her to self-isolate for 14 days, a period later extended to 28 days. Homeless and unable to find accommodation due to the requirement that she self-isolate for 14 days, the survivor spent the night in front of the police station with her eight-month-old baby after which she returned to her abuser, as she risked facing criminal charges for violating public health measures. The Center for Roma Initiatives remained in touch with the survivor and continued to advocate on her behalf with police, who finally agreed to allow her to be accommodated at the shelter run by the NGO SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence Niksic in mid-April. Shortly thereafter, the Department for Combatting Trafficking in Persons at the Ministry of Interior took up the survivor’s case, and in June she was transferred to the Shelter for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.

The Center for Roma Initiatives claimed that the harsh treatment of the survivor and the NGO caseworker at the hands of the police and the health-sanitary inspector was due to discrimination based on their Romani ethnicity. Their unwillingness to accept the survivor’s complaint caused her considerable anguish as she feared for her life, both from her second husband’s family and from the man who tried to rape her, who she often saw passing by the house where she lived. After her return to the home of her second husband’s family, she faced renewed mental and emotional abuse and significant pressure to leave the house as soon as possible. The case was under investigation, and NGOs continued to monitor it closely.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Child marriage continued to be a problem in Romani communities (see Child, Early, and Forced Marriage subsection under Children, below). Although illegal, in many Romani communities, the practice of paying a traditional “bride price” of several hundred to several thousand euros for girls and women to be sold into or purchased from families across the border in Kosovo or Albania led to concerns about trafficking in persons. The potential to be “remarried” existed, with some girls being sent back to their families, being resold, and the money then given to the former spouse’s family. These practices were rarely reported, and police rarely intervened, viewing the practices as “traditional.” These practices led to girls withdrawing from school at a rate much higher than boys, limiting their literacy and ability to provide for themselves and their families, essentially trapping them in these situations. At the end of 2019, the government established a team for the formal identification of victims of trafficking. Since the beginning of the year, the team identified two victims of forced child marriage, and it continued to evaluate additional potential cases of forced child marriages. In June, police filed criminal charges for human trafficking against a 43-year-old individual from Podgorica who allegedly arranged an illicit marriage for his 17-years-old daughter in exchange for 5,000 euros ($6,000). The multi-institutional Human Trafficking Task Force initiated several cases in which police intervened and the girls and women were given status as victims of trafficking in persons.

In June, police filed criminal charges for human trafficking against a 43-year-old individual from Podgorica who allegedly arranged an illicit marriage for his 17-years-old daughter in exchange for 5,000 euros ($6,000). The multi-institutional Human Trafficking Task Force initiated several cases in which police intervened and the girls and women were given status as victims of trafficking in persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, sexual harassment, including street harassment, of women occurred often, but few women reported it. Public awareness of the problem remained low. Victims hesitated to report harassment in the workplace due to fears of employer reprisals and a lack of information about legal remedies. Stalking or predatory behavior with physical intimidation is punishable by law with a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of most couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. In the case of transgender individuals, the country continues to require sterilization before their gender identity is legally recognized.

Free health care was available to all citizens; however, health-care costs acted as a barrier for noncitizens and those lacking identification documents to access regular prenatal care. Due to poor education and living conditions, Romani and Egyptian women seldom visited gynecologists, obstetricians, or any other doctors and had the least access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Romani and Egyptian women able to access these services often reported discriminatory treatment, including verbal harassment Women outside these communities also reported verbal harassment when accessing reproductive health services. NGOs noted that such harassment was often unreported due to inadequate victim support mechanisms. Depending on the location, there was one gynecologist per 5,000 to 8,000 women, which affected women’s access to routine health services during pregnancy and childbirth.

There were no legal barriers to contraception; however, a 2020 UNFPA report indicated the country had enacted only 37 percent of legislation and regulations necessary to ensure full and equal access to contraceptive services. According to NGOs, there was a lack of publicly available information and appropriate educational programs, and economic status and restrictions by partners were barriers preventing women from using contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. NGOs stated that these services were often not tailored to those experiencing sexual violence and that persons performing examinations sometimes lacked the necessary expertise to prepare a valid forensic report.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted, however, that women often experienced difficulty in defending their property rights in divorce proceedings due to the widespread public belief that property belongs to the man. Sometimes women ceded their inherited property and inheritance rights to male relatives due to tradition and pressure from their families. Men consequently tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership, sometimes limiting a woman’s options in the cases of domestic violence or divorce. Women continued to experience discrimination in salaries and access to pension benefits (see section 7.d.).

The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government has a 2017-21 strategy on gender equality. In January the government published the Gender Equality Index for Montenegro, one of a series of indices that measure inequalities in EU member states and countries in the EU accession process. The index measured labor, money, knowledge, time, power, health, and violence. The index value for Montenegro was 55 (out of 100 points). The largest inequality between men and women was noted in the category of power (35.1), followed by time (52.7), knowledge (55.1), money (59.7), and work (65.2). The highest equality was reported in health (86.9).

According to Romani rights NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 110 to 100. The government did not actively address the problem.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and, under some circumstances, by birth in the country, through naturalization, or as otherwise specified by international treaties governing the acquisition of citizenship. Registration of birth, a responsibility of the parents, is required for a child to have the necessary documents to establish his or her citizenship. Births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions were registered automatically. The parents of Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children not born in hospitals registered their births at much lower rates than other groups, mostly due to lack of awareness of the registration process or the parents’ own lack of identification documents. It was difficult for the unregistered children of Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents to access such government services as health care, social allowances, and education. Of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian children in primary school, 10 percent were not registered.

Education: The law provides for free, compulsory elementary education for all children. Secondary education is free but not compulsory. Enrolment in secondary education starts at the age of 14 or 15. NGOs reported that the end of elementary education represented one of the most vulnerable moments for Romani children, especially Romani girls, as without school attendance monitoring, children were left to their parents and were vulnerable to “traditional” marriages. According to a UN Rapid Social Impact Assessment of COVID-19’s impact between April and June, in households with children under the age of 18, while 78 percent had a television set, only 63 percent had a computer or laptop with an internet connection and just 39 percent had a tablet with an internet connection. A multiple indicator cluster survey from 2018 sponsored by UNHCR and UNICEF in the country found that only 89.5 percent of Romani households had a television, compared with 99.1 percent of total households and only 15.3 percent had a computer compared with 61.1 percent of total households, putting Romani children at a greater disadvantage for distance learning than other students.

Child Abuse: Child abuse laws are covered by the 2017-21 strategy for the prevention and protection of children from domestic violence. Penalties range from a year in prison for violence without a weapon to 12 years for actions that result in the victim’s death; however, severe penalties were rarely seen and short prison stays, suspended sentences, or even small fines were the norm.

In September media outlets reported that an individual in Ulcinj was arrested for forcing a child to commit theft in February. The Basic Court in Ulcinj sentenced the perpetrator to 360 hours of public work over a six-month period. According to media reports, the perpetrator had a criminal record for theft and had been sentenced before for the same crime.

The Ministry of Health reported that child abuse remained a problem, with every third child subject to emotional abuse, while every fourth child was a victim of physical abuse. Many children, particularly high school students, were exposed to alcohol, drugs, and violence. The ombudsman noted that child sexual abuse victims were usually girls between the ages of 14 and 16. The abusers were mostly close relatives of the children, and abuse usually occurred at home. The very low number of reported cases of sexual violence against children raised concerns about identification of victims. To address the problem of child abuse, the government developed, in conjunction with UNICEF, The Strategy for Exercising the Rights of the Child 2019-2023. The strategy set out a comprehensive “whole of government” approach to improving the conditions for exercising children’s rights in all areas covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.

Authorities prosecuted child abuse when they had cases with enough evidence, and the government worked to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting cases. Facilities and psychotherapy assistance for children who suffered from family violence were inadequate, and there were no marital or family counseling centers. Authorities sometimes placed juvenile victims of domestic violence in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic or in the orphanage in Bijela.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in most cases, but persons as young as 16 may marry with the consent of a court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally owing to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.

Child marriage was a serious problem in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. There continued to be reports of underage girls being sold into “traditional” or “arranged” marriages without their consent, including to persons in neighboring countries. These marriages generally did not meet the criteria necessary for legal, documented marriages. As such, they were difficult to track and regulate, regardless of legality. In March the government launched the “Children are Children” campaign to raise the awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities and explain the applicable regulations and procedures for protecting children from arranged marriages. The campaign was conducted by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Police Administration in cooperation with the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives and focused on working with members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities in Podgorica, Niksic, Tivat, and Berane.

The custom of buying or selling virgin brides continued in the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. Brides found not to be virgins prior to marriage faced severe repercussions, including violence, from the groom’s family, their family, and the community at large.

The government implemented some measures to prevent underage marriage, including enforcing mandatory school education.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring for prostitution, and the country partially enforced the law. The age of sexual consent is 18. There is a statutory rape law. Sexual activity with a juvenile carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Paying a juvenile for sexual activity carries a prison term of three months to five years. Authorities may fine or imprison for one to 10 years any person found guilty of inducing a minor into prostitution.

Child pornography is illegal, and sentences for violators range from six months in prison for displaying child pornography to eight years for using a child in the production of pornography.

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

The Jewish community population was estimated to be approximately 400 to 500 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government was implementing the Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2020, but NGOs claimed it did not do so effectively. During the year a network of 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities continued to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy. The NGO Youth with Disabilities stated that although the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is in charge of the register of persons with disabilities established pursuant to the strategy, there were problems consolidating information on persons with disabilities that had been collected by different state institutions and included new data from persons who had not previously registered with any institution.

Authorities generally enforced the requirement that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but most public facilities, including buildings and public transportation, were older and lacked access. Although election laws specifically require accessible polling places, according to NGOs, approximately 65 percent of polling stations remained inaccessible during the August 30 national parliamentary elections. In addition, ballot templates for persons with visual disabilities were missing in 17 percent of polling stations. Individual abuses of the right to vote with a proxy voter were also reported.

Some recent renovations of existing government buildings took accessibility into account, such as the beginning of construction on a central elevator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The plan was only at its initial stages, however, and had yet to realize a completely accessible building.

Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to bring legal proceedings against persons or institutions seen to be violating their rights. Observers ascribed this reluctance to the adverse outcomes of previous court cases or, according to the ombudsman, to insufficient public awareness of human rights and protection mechanisms relating to disabilities. Several discrimination cases that the NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities initiated against the Ministry of Finance, a health center in Podgorica, the Montenegrin Fund for Solidarity Housing Construction, , and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued through the year, while a discrimination case against the postal service was resolved in favor of the person with disabilities.

The Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare, has responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. It consists of the Ministries of Health; Labor and Social Welfare; Education; Sports; Finance; Justice; Human and Minority Rights; Sustainable Development and Tourism, as well as the Secretariat for Legislation, the State Employment Agency, and five NGOs, all of which provided assistance and protection in their respective spheres through the year.

According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. Associations of parents of children with disabilities were the primary providers of these services. The law permits parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to work half time, but employers did not respect this right.

The government made efforts to enable children with disabilities to attend schools and universities, but the quality of the education they received and the facilities to accommodate them remained inadequate at all levels. There are three models of education for children with disabilities in the country: mainstream schools, special classes at mainstream schools, and resource centers, of which there were three in the country. The laws governing education also provide for the creation of special commissions by municipalities to provide guidance in the educational process for children with disabilities. Such guidance does not apply to other children.

The NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro stated that the last two models are tantamount to segregation of students with disabilities, which is considered to be a form of discrimination under the law. The NGO’s monitoring of the education of children and young persons with disabilities showed that commissions often referred them to a limited number of primary and secondary schools and that no child with a disability was sent to a gymnasium (a prestigious preparatory school for students who will continue on in postsecondary education), which was unacceptable.

NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the schooling of children with disabilities, many of whom remained without adequate teaching assistance. Paid leave was not ensured to some parents of children with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities were often institutionalized or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. The NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro reported two cases of human rights violations in institutions catering to persons with disabilities during the year. The Ombudsman’s Office confirmed the violation in both cases.

The first case involved a child who used the services of the day care center in Niksic. Workers at the center used scotch tape to bind a child and then wrapped the child in a carpet, and officials claimed this was the method to “calm a child.” The parent submitted a request for the day care center to provide video footage of the center from the day of the incident, but the center employees claimed the camera was not working at that time. The ombudsman issued an opinion in which the violation was confirmed, but due to sensitivity of the child data contained in the opinion, it is not available to the public.

Persons with physical disabilities had difficulty obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.

Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly as a result of prejudice and limited access to social services due to a lack of required documentation. The law on citizenship and its accompanying regulations makes obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. Access to health-care services, including childbirth, remained challenging for members of these communities due to their lack of medical-care cards.

According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained higher than for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians lived in illegal squatter settlements that often lacked services, such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal. NGOs reported that several Romani neighborhoods did not have running water, which prevented, for instance, the Vreli Ribnicki Romani community from complying with health recommendations. The NGO Young Roma stated, however, that one of the biggest problems of the Romani community living in illegal squatter settlements was the risk of eviction, especially in the southern part of the country.

The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights stated that the government continued to provide housing for marginalized groups, including Roma.

The government’s implementation of its Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and BalkanEgyptians 2016-2020 resulted in some improvement in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing. According to the NGO Young Roma, the state employment agency, in conjunction with international organizations, financed the employment of three individuals as associates for the social inclusion of Roma and Balkan-Egyptians in the area of education over the previous three years. NGOs reported that, although the number of Romani children attending school increased, they continued to face limitations in the area of education. The NGO Young Roma reported that its research showed the average score of Romani children in schools was 2.23 out of 5–just above passing–which reduced their chances of continuing later education. The NGO Pihren Amenica stated that Romani children were additionally disadvantaged due to the shift to online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as not all families had access to electricity or computers to facilitate virtual learning (also see section 6, Children).

Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northeastern parts of the country frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect. Ethnic Serb politicians claimed that the government discriminated against the Serbian national identity, language, and religion.

Following the August 30 parliamentary elections, media outlets reported several cases of physical and verbal attacks on members of the Bosniak community in Pljevlja. On September 2, unknown assailants smashed windows at the Islamic Community in Pljevlja and left the message, “The black bird will fly; Pljevlja will be Srebrenica.” The cases raised ethnic tensions and concerns about future attacks on Bosniaks and increased fear among Muslim communities. The attacks were condemned by different political actors, other religious groups, and the international community, all of whom called for peace and tolerance. Authorities visited Pljevlja and former minister of interior Mevludin Nuhodzic stated that everything would be done to identify the perpetrators. Although the Islamic community facility was covered by security cameras, police failed to identify the perpetrators and an investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those groups. NGOs, legal observers, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.

The law forbids incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The presence of an anti-LGBTI bias motive is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.

During the year the NGO LGBT Forum Progress submitted more than 219 complaints to police of online discrimination, hate speech, and verbal abuse, including comments on social media, and asked authorities to press charges against the commenters. According to NGOs, as a result of COVID-related restrictions on movement, many LGBTI persons returned to their primary residences where they experienced an increase of hate, abuse, discrimination, and rejection by family members. Many of them searched for psychosocial and legal support. LGBTI centers run by NGOs were closed due to the pandemic, limiting their ability to provide support to the LGBTI community.

In January 2019 the Supreme Court annulled a 2018 Constitutional Court decision that prohibiting the gathering of the LGBTI community in Niksic in 2015 violated the right to peaceful assembly of members of the organizations LGBT Forum Progress and Hiperion. Instead of reversing the original decision of the Administrative Court based on the Constitutional Court’s resolution of the legal issue at the heart of the case, however, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Administrative Court for reconsideration. The NGO Human Rights Action criticized the Supreme Court for not exercising its authority to issue a final decision in the case, arguing that the court’s action caused further unnecessary delays and weakened legal protection for the freedom of assembly in the country. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTI persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTI NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community. The government also formed the National Focal Point Network composed of representatives from local municipalities to promote LGBTI rights at the local level.

During the year the national team formed by the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights to monitor implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of LGBTI Persons in Montenegro 2019-2023 worked to increase the capacity of institutions involved in the protection of individuals against discrimination, particularly in the judicial system. The NGOs Juventas and Queer of Montenegro reported they cooperated with the team to help local authorities create and approve local action plans to fight homophobia and transphobia and improve the quality of life for LGBTI persons. During the year four municipalities (Podgorica, Kolasin, Bijelo Polje, and Kotor) adopted local action plans.

The government did not provide funds for operating the LGBTI shelter in the coming year, although the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of LGBTI Persons in Montenegro 2019-2023 anticipated that the shelter would be fully funded for the duration of the strategy.

The NGOs Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records discouraged many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people had difficulty or were unable to access HIV testing, and medical personnel failed to provide adequate treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the rights of workers, including members of the armed forces, to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. To represent workers in collective bargaining at the enterprise level, a union must count at least 20 percent of the workforce in the enterprise as members. To act as a worker representative in a sector, group, or branch of industry, a trade union must include at least 15 percent of the total workforce in that sector, group, or branch. The law prohibits discrimination against union members or those seeking to organize a union and requires the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

During the year a new labor law took effect that is intended to strengthen the protection of employees’ rights, increase flexibility in the labor market, and suppress the informal economy through a number of new measures. The new law creates an obligation for employers to consult with a labor union (or employee representatives) and notify the Employment Agency about the consultations in cases of a collective layoff (i.e., dismissal of at least 20 employees over a 90-day period); creates an obligation for all employment agreements to contain a reference to bargaining agreements being applied with the employer; and requires that all employer bargaining agreements must be registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

The government generally enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights.

While the government generally respected freedom of association, employers often intimidated workers engaged in union activity. According to the Union of Free Trade Unions, workers in the trade sector were intimidated when establishing their union, and they belonged to the category of workers whose rights were the most endangered.

Workers exercised their right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, although not always without employer interference.

Although allowed by law, collective bargaining remained rare. The government continued to be party to collective negotiations at the national level. Only the union with the largest registered membership at any given level was entitled to bargain, negotiate settlements of collective labor disputes, and participate in other government bodies.

The right to strike is restricted for public servants whose absence from work would jeopardize public interests, national security, the safety of persons and property, or the functioning of the government. International observers noted that the range of professions in which strikes are proscribed exceeds international standards. Employers may unilaterally establish minimum service requirements if negotiations with trade unions fail to lead to an agreement.

Management and local authorities often blocked attempts to organize strikes by declaring them illegal, citing lack of legally required advance notice, which ranges from two to 10 days, depending on circumstances. There were reports from employees in both the private and public sectors that employers threatened or otherwise intimidated workers who engaged in union organizing or in other legal union activities. In some cases private employers reduced workers’ salaries or dismissed them because of their union activities.

Workers in privatized or bankrupt companies had outstanding claims for back pay and severance. In some cases workers were not able to collect on their claims, despite valid court decisions in their favor. Several local governments failed to pay their staff for months at a time. Unpaid wages, factory closures, and growing poverty led to some protests and labor strikes, including a strike of workers for a municipal company in Pljevlja and a transport company in Berane.

Trade unions claimed workers were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retaliation if they initiated complaints.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and authorities made efforts to investigate or identify victims of forced labor in the formal economy. Penalties under the law for offenses related to forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

In January police operated the “Call Center” action and reported that 93 Taiwanese persons were found and arrested in three locations in Podgorica. The investigation showed that 37 persons, of whom 25 were men and 12 were women, were victims of forced labor and received the status of trafficking in persons victims. The status of an additional 40 persons involved in the case was still unknown. The traffickers restricted the movement of their victims and used force and threats to commit fraud through the internet against persons from Asian-language areas. Montenegrin police in cooperation with Taiwanese police returned the victims and perpetrators to their country of origin, where prosecutions were ongoing.

There were reports of Romani girls forced into domestic servitude and of children forced to beg, mostly by their families (see section 7.c.). Migrants from neighboring countries were vulnerable to forced labor during the summer tourist season, although to a lesser extent during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no reports of prosecutions or convictions.

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The official minimum age for employment is 15. Children younger than 18 may not engage in jobs that require difficult physical labor; overtime; work at night , underground or underwater work; or work that “may have a harmful effect or involve increased risk to their health and lives,” although the law allows employees between the ages of 15 and 18 to work at night in certain circumstances. The government generally enforced these restrictions in the formal, but not the informal, economy.

Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The Labor Inspectorate investigated compliance with the child labor law only as part of a general labor inspection regime. The Labor Inspectorate reported that few cases of child labor were identified in informal workplaces. In these cases, the Labor Inspectorate imposed fines and inspectors ordered employers to acquire necessary documentation to meet the legal requirements permitting child labor. The government did not collect data specifically on child labor.

Many parents and relatives forced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children to work at an early age to contribute to their family’s income. They engaged in begging at busy intersections, on street corners, door to door, and in restaurants and cafes or in sifting through trashcans. While many working children were from the country, a large percentage of those between the ages of seven and 16 were from nearby countries, mainly Kosovo and Serbia. Police generally returned the children they apprehended to their families.

In villages, children usually worked in family businesses and agriculture. Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children worked chiefly during the summer, typically washing car windows, loading trucks, collecting items such as scrap metal, selling old newspapers or car accessories, or working alongside their parents as day laborers. Many internally displaced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children were forced to engage in begging or manual labor. Police asserted that begging was a family practice rather than an organized, large-scale activity, but this claim was disputed by several NGOs. Begging was readily observable, particularly in Podgorica and the coastal areas during the summer. During a March operation dubbed “Beggar,” police identified children forced to beg and prosecuted their parents, who faced misdemeanor charges. The children were returned to their families.

Despite operation “Beggar,” police seldom pressed charges against the adult perpetrators. Authorities placed victims of forced child labor who did not have guardians in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic. After leaving the facility, most children returned to forced begging. Romani NGOs tried to raise awareness of the problem and suggested the government did not provide sufficient resources to rehabilitate children begging and living on the street.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children, and section 7.b.). In 2019 the supreme state prosecutor indicted one individual for trafficking four children for the purpose of labor exploitation. The case remained pending.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion or other affiliation, national origin, citizenship, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, pregnancy, marital status, social status or origin, membership in political and trade union organizations, or health conditions, including HIV-positive status and other communicable diseases. The government did not enforce antidiscrimination laws and regulations effectively, and there were instances of discrimination on these bases. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other crimes related to denials of civil rights.

Persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment despite affirmative action programs that provided significant financial incentives to employers to hire persons with disabilities. Although the state employment agency did not track the employment rate of persons with disabilities, it reported that 25.6 percent of unemployed persons were persons with disabilities. In addition, the NGO the Association of Youth with Disabilities reported that approximately 3,021 persons with disabilities were employed in the country. Advocates noted there were too few training programs for persons with disabilities to contribute significantly to their economic integration. Neither governmental entities nor private employers hired many persons with disabilities. NGOs reported employers often chose to pay fines rather than employ a person with a disability.

In late July, parliament passed a number of amendments to the Law on Pension and Disability Insurance, one of which changed the previous mandatory retirement age for both men and women from 67 to 66 for men and 64 for women, prompting outcries of gender-based discrimination. The amendments arose from the government’s consultation and public debate with the Union of Free Trade Unions, which asked for the right to earn a pension at the age of 65 for men and 62 for women, with the possibility to continue working until the age of 67 for all workers. In September the Association of Judges in Montenegro submitted an initiative to the Constitutional Court challenging the amendments, claiming that they violated the constitution and international treaties, which prescribe equality between women and men. More specifically, the Association claimed that if the amendments were implemented, a large number of judges would need to retire in the next year, including Supreme Court president Vesna Medenica, who would need to retire in the summer of 2021. In November the Constitutional Court agreed to begin proceedings on the initiative; a decision on the initiative was not expected until 2021.

Women were also, at times, subject to discrimination based on their marital status, pregnancy, or physical appearance. Employers did not respect all their legal obligations to pregnant women and sometimes reduced their responsibilities or fired them after they returned from maternity leave. A disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility than men. Employers promoted women less frequently than men. Some job announcements for women explicitly included discriminatory employment criteria, such as age and physical appearance. Employers at times violated women’s entitlement to a 40-hour workweek, overtime, paid leave, and maternity leave. Societal expectations regarding women’s obligations to the family reduced their opportunities to obtain jobs and advance in the workplace. Nevertheless, an increasing number of women served in professional fields, such as law, science, and medicine. Women accounted for less than 9 percent of personnel in the armed forces and National Police Force.

According to the Union of Free Trade Unions, gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination existed in the workplace, but most victims were discouraged from reporting incidents due to several systemic issues. Very few employed women recognized certain behaviors as gender-based violence and harassment, and often it was very difficult for them to assess whether there was gender discrimination. Even when instances of gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination were clear, many victims were reluctant to report the violations due to few examples of successful prosecutions and fear of reprisal.

In 2019 the NGO Women’s Right Center published a study in which 34 percent of survey respondents said they had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at work. Every tenth respondent said that a colleague or superior proposed to have sex with them, and 6 percent said they faced such sexual advances more than once. In addition, 5 percent of the respondents said that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse with their colleague or supervisor. In 71 percent of cases, the respondents stated that the person perpetrating the sexual harassment was in a higher position than they. Approximately half of the respondents who had experienced sexual harassment at work said they told someone about the incidents, while the other half said they did not tell anyone due to shame or fear of losing their jobs.

The law does not mandate equal pay for work of equal value. Women were not permitted to work in the same industries as men, as the government designated some jobs too dangerous to have women working in them, and women were not allowed to work the same night hours as men. Women also faced discrimination in access to pension benefits, as the legal age at which men and women could retire and access both full and partial pension benefits were not equal.

As part of COVID-19 health measures, the government decided to close kindergartens and schools, and parents of children under the age of 11 were entitled to take paid leave. In practice, however, private employers did not respect these measures and recipients were required to trade days off for holidays if seeking paid time off. Trade unions and NGOs reported that although the government partly subsidized one payment, employees were not receiving the full amount. Employees, especially women, often did not report such violations due to the risk of losing their jobs.

Bosniaks, who accounted for 9 percent of the country’s population, traditionally constituted 6 percent of the government workforce. Roma, displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers faced employment discrimination. Migrant workers usually came from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, or Albania to work on construction sites and in agriculture. There were also instances of discrimination against unregistered domestic and foreign workers.

In July the Basic Court in Podgorica ruled that between 2009 and 2019, the Ministry of Defense committed severe forms of prolonged and repeated discrimination against the Trade Union of Defense and the Army of Montenegro. The court forbade any further discriminatory actions against the union. In the explanation of the sentence, the judge indicated that the ministry and general headquarters of the army systematically discriminated against the president of the union and its members for performing work activities related to the union. In 2018 the ombudsman issued an opinion recommending that the discriminator take adequate measures to eliminate uneven treatment within 30 days.

According to the National Statistics Office, the national monthly minimum wage, was slightly above the government’s absolute poverty line. Significant portions of the workforce, particularly in rural areas and in the informal sector, earned less than the minimum wage.

The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week, and total work time cannot exceed 48 work hours per week on average within a four-month period, but seasonal workers often worked much longer. During the year new labor laws came into effect that provide new protections for employees with regard to required overtime, night work, and the duration of fixed-term employment contracts.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Many workers, particularly women employed in the commercial, catering, and service industries, worked unpaid overtime, and employers sometimes forced them to work on religious holidays without additional compensation or to forgo their rights to weekly and annual leave. Employers sometimes failed to pay the minimum wage, other employee benefits, or mandatory contributions to pension funds. Employees often did not report such violations due to fear of retaliation. The practice of only formally paying a worker the minimum wage, thus being responsible for lower mandatory contributions, and giving the employee cash payments as a supplement was common. Also common was the practice of signing short-term work contracts or having lengthy “trial” periods for workers instead of signing them to permanent contracts as prescribed by law.

Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, sometimes taking years. This led to an increase in the number of persons seeking recourse through alternative dispute resolution. Most disputes reviewed by the Agency for Peaceful Resolution of Labor Disputes involved accusations of government institutions violating laws on overtime, night work, holidays, social insurance contribution requirements, or other administrative regulations.

The government set occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. Regulations require employers and supervisors to supply and enforce the use of safety equipment, conduct risk assessment analysis, and report any workplace deaths or serious injuries within 24 hours.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal economy. Resources, remediation efforts, and investigations were not adequate to successfully identify, enforce, or prevent violations in the informal economy. The Union of Free Trade Unions reported that approximately 40,000 persons were employed in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety standards were generally commensurate with those for other similar crimes in the formal sector. Labor inspectors have the legal authority to close an establishment until it corrects violations or to fine owners who commit repeated violations, although they rarely exercised this right in practice. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections.

Employment in the construction, energy, wood-processing, transportation, and heavy industries presented the highest risk of injury. During the first eight months of the year, the Labor Inspectorate registered 13 worker injuries, of which nine were serious injuries and four resulted in death.

The most frequent reasons cited for unsafe working conditions were the lenient fines for violations of safety rules, failure to use safety equipment, lack of work-related information and training, inadequate medical care for workers, and old or inadequately maintained equipment.

North Macedonia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Penalties for rape range from one to 15 years’ imprisonment, but those laws were poorly enforced. Domestic violence is illegal but was a persistent and common problem. Penalties range from six months to five years imprisonment for lower-level offenses and one to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes resulting in grave or permanent bodily injury. Offenders can receive up to life imprisonment if their actions resulted in the death of their victim. Additionally, courts can impose fines of 500 to 5,000 euros ($600 to $6,000). The law is enforced in cases where victims press charges, but many do not.

From January to June, the Ministry of Labor registered ‎824 victims of domestic violence: 611 women, 140 men, and 73 children. Three were victims of sexual abuse.

The government ran four regional centers for victims of domestic violence that accommodated 67 victims in the first six months of the year. In cooperation with the civil society sector, the government funds one venter for victims of domestic violence and one crisis center, which cares for victims for 24 to 48 hours after an assault. A national NGO operated a hotline in both the Macedonian and Albanian languages and ran two crisis centers to provide temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The ombudsman conducted several inquiries concerning child abuse on his own initiative and received four complaints requesting protection from domestic abusers. In each case the ombudsman pursued all legal measures to protect the victim, to secure appropriate treatment for them, and to sanction the perpetrators.

According to the CSO National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the government measures introduced in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic deepened existing gender differences and pushed the burden of the crisis primarily onto women. Violence against women increased during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and access to support services decreased as a result of government-issued quarantine measures. According to the National Network, women and children who were stuck at home with abusers during the state of emergency had little recourse. A set of guidelines supporting female victims of assault during the pandemic, produced in part by the National Network, called on the government to designate support services provided by women’s NGOs as essential services during any further periods of lockdown, to materially support the work of these organizations, to provide them with personal protective equipment, and to prioritize women seeking refuge in shelters for COVID-19 testing. CSOs opened hotlines in March to field calls from victims who were otherwise unable to access resources and reported receiving calls every day. As of August 20, authorities received 920 domestic violence complaints, involving 934 victims, of whom 592 were female. A plurality of the complaints, 307, were submitted by women alleging spousal abuse.

In contrast to the experience of other CSOs, the First Family Center in the City of Skopje, a specialized counseling and assistance center for victims directly or indirectly affected by violence, reported a rapid decrease in calls during the COVID-19 quarantine periods. Between March 22 when a police curfew was introduced and mid-April, the center only received two calls for assistance.

The Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the OSCE Mission to Skopje, opened the National Free Mobile SOS Line for Victims of Domestic Violence and launched a campaign for the prevention of and protection from domestic violence during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The SOS Line and the campaign provided round-the-clock, accurate, timely, and confidential assistance, including information on victim protection, available services, and telephone counseling to victims of gender-based and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace of both men and women and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. When victims pursued legal remedies, the government effectively enforced the law. Nonetheless, sexual harassment of women in the workplace remained a problem, and victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Most individuals had access to information and the means to do so, but accessibility to reproductive health services varied across geographic areas and populations.

Women from rural areas had limited access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Romani women faced barriers to accessing family planning counseling and gynecological services due to discrimination, high poverty levels, and the lack of sufficient numbers of family doctors and gynecologists in their communities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Three centers for survivors of sexual violence in Skopje, Kumanovo, and Tetovo were funded by the government and the NGO Open Gate/La Strada. In addition a shelter in Skopje for trafficking victims provided reproductive health care.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, nationality, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The laws were effectively enforced. In some communities the practice of men directing the voting or voting on behalf of female family members disenfranchised women.

President Pendarovski signed the comprehensive Law on Prevention of and Protection from Discrimination on May 22, 2019, codifying protections for vulnerable groups under one piece of legislation. On May 14, the Constitutional Court repealed the law, due to an inadvertent procedural error in parliament during the law’s 2019 adoption. Parliament readopted the Law on Prevention of and Protection from Discrimination on October 27. Appointments to the new Antidiscrimination Commission it creates were pending as of November 3. According to the law, members of the commission will be appointed by a parliamentary select committee made up of two members of the majority, two members of the opposition, and three representatives from civil society.

Nondiscrimination provisions were previously included in a number of separate laws and regulations applicable to various sectors. Those laws remained operable while the Antidiscrimination Law was pending.

No complaints were pending before the ombudsman or Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) for unequal treatment of women in political life as of August 31.

Birth Registration: The law determines citizenship primarily by the citizenship of the parents. It also allows orphans found in the country to obtain citizenship, unless authorities discover before the orphan reaches the age of 18 that his or her parents were foreigners. The government automatically registers the births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions, and the law requires that parents register the births of all children born in other places, including those born at home, with magistrate offices within 15 days of birth. Some Romani families delayed the registration of newborns, making it difficult for them to access educational, medical, and other benefits later in life due to lack of proper identity documents.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties for conviction include fines, imprisonment, and closure of businesses. Child abuse was a problem in some areas. The government operated a hotline for domestic violence, including child abuse. At its own initiative, the Ombudsman’s Department for the Protection of Children’s Rights opened a case for the protection of the rights of two persons, of whom one was an 11-year-old child with disabilities, based on media stories of an alleged rape. The review of both complaints continued as of August 20. The ombudsman found evidence indicating domestic violence against children had occurred in five additional cases he reviewed.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. A court may issue a marriage license to persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if it finds them mentally and physically fit for marriage. Early and forced marriage occurred occasionally in the Romani community and, to a much lesser extent, in some Albanian communities. There are no official statistics on minor mothers.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children, including the offer, sale, or procurement of children for prostitution. The penalty for the commercial sexual exploitation of children is 10 to 15 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and provides penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country follows the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which any person younger than age 18 is considered a child.

Authorities considered child commercial sexual exploitation a problem but did not know its extent. As of August 17, the Center for Social Work and the Ministry of Interior identified four victims of human trafficking, all of them minors and domestic citizens. Three of them were sexually exploited and one was forced to beg. The country had an online registry, searchable by name and address, of convicted child traffickers and sex offenders that listed photographs, conviction records, and residential addresses. Offenders could ask authorities to remove them from the register 10 years after they completed their sentence, provided they did not commit a new offense. According to the registry, during the year there were six pedophiles serving prison sentences of two to 20 years.

According to the Ministry of Labor, as of the end of August, there were 37 newly registered displaced children of different ethnicities. The ministry funded two day centers for street children, one operated by the Center for Social Work and the other by the NGO Association for Protection of the Rights of the Child in Suto Orizari.

Institutionalized Children: As of August 25, children were housed in small group homes with five to six children per home and 24-hour oversight by social workers and childcare providers. All orphans younger than age three were in foster homes. The Ministry of Labor also took steps to shorten the time required to adopt orphaned or abandoned children. There were no reports of child abuse in these household accommodations.

The ombudsman took the initiative to inspect small group homes and registered cases of rejection and discriminatory treatment of the children living in them by classmates, classmates’ parents, and teaching staff. Schools were receptive to the ombudsman’s recommendations and took corrective action. The ombudsman opened a case related to hospital conditions for treatment of children with severe disabilities, followed by an intervention with the Ministry of Labor, which was fully endorsed and implemented. In another case arising from the inspection, the ombudsman successfully intervened with the ministry to protect the rights of children who were victims or suspected victims of human trafficking.

The ombudsman noted the educational-correctional facility for juveniles in Volkovija-Tetovo, completed in 2016, was still not operational. Juveniles continued to be housed in the penitentiary in Ohrid, which did not fully meet the established criteria for accommodating juveniles and did not provide adequate rehabilitation and medical services.

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.

According to the Jewish community, approximately 200 Jewish persons resided in the country. The community reported no violent acts against them but submitted a complaint to the authorities over extreme anti-Semitic content and comments in a Facebook group. This case remained pending in September.

Anti-Semitic speech and incidents in the country occurred rarely and sporadically, usually on social media.

On January 6, political party leaders and academics condemned anti-Semitic comments on social media by supporters of the governing SDSM Party against interim Minister of Labor and Social Policy Rashela Mizrahi. Mizrahi was ultimately dismissed by a majority vote in parliament on February 15 for failure to observe the country’s new constitutional name in her public appearances. Mizrahi stated she had been the target of a “witch hunt that started with anti-Semitic attacks.”

In March the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) 2013 working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion, following IHRA’s December 2019 unanimous decision to accept the country’s request to elevate its observer status to a liaison country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The Law on Prevention of and Protection from Discrimination readopted on October 27 protects the rights of persons with disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities), including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

A separate law regulates a special government fund to stimulate employment of persons with disabilities. The Employment Agency managed the fund with oversight by the Ministry of Labor. The fund provided grants for office reconstruction or procurement of equipment for workstations to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. The law requires persons with physical or mental disabilities to obtain approval from a government medical commission to serve in supervisory positions in the private and public sectors. The law establishes accessibility standards for new buildings; existing public structures were to be made accessible for persons with disabilities by the end of 2015. NGOs reported many public buildings did not comply with the law. Although all buses purchased since 2013 by the government for Skopje were accessible to persons with physical disabilities, public transportation remained largely inaccessible in other regions.

The Ministry of Education and Science made efforts to provide suitable support to enable children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools. It employed specially trained educators, assigned either to individual selected schools or as “mobile” municipal special educators covering all schools in their municipality, to support teachers who had children with disabilities in their regular classes. Despite these efforts, a large number of students with disabilities continued to attend separate schools. Many of the polling stations in the parliamentary elections, particularly in the rural areas, were inaccessible for persons with disabilities.

As of August 17, the ombudsman received and successfully helped address complaints concerning discrimination against persons with disabilities. For example, he assisted complainants in obtaining due compensation to enroll an autistic child in kindergarten and receive educational support while changing schools.

On January 23, the ECHR delivered a judgment against the country for substantive and procedural violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) involving inappropriate placement, lack of requisite care, and inadequate diagnosis of an institutionalized minor, as well as an inadequate response in investigating the case. The child had been moved to a small group home with 24-hour care prior to the court’s ruling.

The constitution and laws refer to ethnic minorities as communities. According to the country’s most recent census, in 2002, the ethnic composition of the population was 64.2 percent Macedonian, 25.2 percent Albanian, 3.9 percent Turkish, 2.7 percent Romani, 1.8 percent Serbian, 0.8 percent Bosniak, and 0.5 percent Vlach. According to the ombudsman’s August data, the smaller ethnic minorities, with the exception of Serbs and Vlachs, remained underrepresented in the civil service and other state and public institutions.

The law provides for primary and secondary education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Romani, Turkish, and Serbian languages. Press reported parents of students in Idrizovo submitted an official complaint to the Ministry of Education and Science claiming their children were not able to attend school in the Albanian language, despite their constitutionally protected right to do so. Opposition parties Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa publicly alleged on several occasions that ethnic Albanian students were denied their right to study in Albanian language in the municipalities of Chashka and Bitola/Manastir as well. The number of minority students who received secondary education in their native language continued to increase, although the government was unable to provide full instruction in Romani due to a shortage of qualified teachers.

On January 15, the Law on the Use of Languages was promulgated and became final. The law is seen by many ethnic Albanians as resolving the last remaining issue from the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ethnic Albanians continued to criticize unequal representation in government ministries and public enterprises, as well as inequitable budget allocations.

In August the ombudsman’s office noted slow implementation of the measures for equitable representation of the smaller ethnic communities in the state administration. According to the ombudsman’s 2019 annual report, 1.74 percent of all complaints received in 2019 alleged discrimination on various grounds, including a lack of fair and just ethnic representation. Ethnic Albanian and other minority representation within the civilian administration of the Ministry of Defense remained low, with 16 percent overall, and less than 9 percent of leadership positions. Two of the top 12 positions in the Army were held by ethnic Albanians. The president improved the representation of nonmajority community officers in elite units of the military, but some police units had almost no representation of ethnic minorities.

Roma reported widespread societal discrimination. NGOs and international experts reported employers often denied Roma job opportunities, and some Roma complained of lack of access to public services and benefits. The Ministry of Health and NGO Hera, in partnership with UNICEF, sponsored the Roma Health Mediators Program to provide health, social, and early childhood development services in seven municipalities with high Romani populations. Ethnic Turks also complained of underrepresentation in state institutions.

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care, and the government enforced such laws. Sexual acts between members of the same sex are legal.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community remained marginalized, and activists supporting LGBTI rights reported incidents of societal prejudice, including hate speech. In January 2019 the ECHR found the country violated the privacy rights, as well as the right to appeal, of a transgender person related to their gender change procedure. The court required the government to pay 9,000 euros ($10,800) in damages to the unnamed applicant. Despite the court ruling, the Civil Status Registry rejected the request, underscoring NGOs’ complaints the government failed to recognize gender identity changes in identification documents. On February 10, the second-instance State Commission quashed the Civil Status Registry decision by expressly invoking the binding nature of ECHR judgments. In October the Civil Status Registry enforced the judgement and entered the gender identity change in the official books as requested by the plaintiff.

The Ministry of Labor and the CSO Sexual and Gender Minorities Association Subversive Front trained 325 civil servants from 82 public institutions on addressing discrimination and hate speech. The training survey results report showed better knowledge and skills among the civil servants in tackling discrimination and hate speech based on ethnic origin, religious affiliation, and political beliefs than on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and health status.

On June 27 and 28, the Ministry of Labor, in partnership with the Council of Europe and CSO Subversive Front, organized the first-ever state-organized national conference on advancing the human rights of LGBTI persons in the country. The conference gathered national, regional, and European institutional actors and civil society organizations and aimed to increase the state’s commitment to improving LGBTI rights. This resulted in the development and adoption of a national action plan on advancing the human rights of LGBTI persons.

The ombudsman received one complaint from an NGO referring to discrimination based on gender identity in the education process regarding a textbook used in high schools. The Ministry of Education acted upon the recommendation of the ombudsman.

Violence against members of the LGBTI community remained an issue. Prominent LGBTI activist Beqim Asani was attacked August 5 in downtown Tetovo, while in his car with four other members of his organization. When his and another car got into each other’s way, Asani took off his mask to speak and upon recognizing him, the passenger in the other car referred to him with an epithet, got out of the car, and punched Asani through the open car window. This was the second physical attack against Asani that he reported to the authorities. A criminal investigation into a June 2019 attack on Asani was still pending as of August.

In June the second Skopje Pride parade was held virtually. State representatives participated in online discussions, addressing the issues relevant to LGBTI rights and status, including the repealed antidiscrimination law and the ways in which the 2020 health crisis affected the lives of LGBTI persons. Skopje Pride 2020 garnered significant hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity. CSO Subversive Front filed five criminal complaints about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-based hate speech with the PPO in July 2020.

CSO Subversive Front reported two cases of intersectional discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV status in access to health care, and one case of discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV status at the workplace. The victim in the latter case was fired when his employer stated his HIV diagnosis was a threat to the health of his colleagues and that he was endangering their working conditions. Subversive Front chose not to report these cases to the authorities due to prior negative experiences. Staff feared victims’ privacy would be violated and their HIV status disclosed and cited the poor implementation of the few laws and policies protecting LGBTI persons as contributing to their decisions.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Trade unions are based on voluntary membership, and activities are financed by membership dues. Approximately 22 percent of employees are union members.

Union representatives, with the exception of a few branch unions, claimed they were generally not free from the influence of government officials, political parties, and employers.

The law requires federated unions to register with the Ministry of Labor and with the State Central Registry.

A court of general jurisdiction may terminate trade union activities at the request of the registrar or competent court when those activities are deemed to be “against the constitution and law.” There are no nationality restrictions on membership in trade unions, although foreign nationals must have a valid work permit and be employed by the company or government body listed on the permit. Although legally permitted, no unions operate in the free economic zones.

The government and employers did not always respect freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. Unions cited as evidence the law’s “exclusionary” provision, which allowed employers to terminate up to 2 percent of workers from collective bargaining negotiations during a strike. Collective bargaining is restricted to trade unions that represent at least 20 percent of the employees and employers’ associations that represent at least 10 percent of the employers at the level at which the agreement is concluded (company, sector, or country). Government enforcement resources and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other laws involving the denial of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were generally subject to lengthy delays.

During the year the Ministry of Labor did not receive any complaints regarding violations of the right to union organization and freedom of association. Workers often feared reprisal and refrained from filing complaints directly with the Ministry of Labor. Where applicable, workers would sometimes have unions file complaints on their behalf.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government largely enforced applicable laws. The law prescribes imprisonment, which applies to violations of forced labor laws or for the destruction or removal of identification documents, passports, or other travel documents. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. There were instances in which women and children were subjected to forced labor, such as peddling small items in restaurants and bars, and sexual exploitation. Some Romani children were subject to forced begging, often by relatives (see section 7.c.).

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

The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor, including prohibiting the worst forms of child labor. The government made efforts to enforce the law in the formal economy but did not do so effectively in the informal economy. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from labor abuses, including the worst forms of child labor, and the minimum age for work. The minimum age for employment is 15. Children may begin work at 14 as apprentices or as participants in official vocational education programs, cultural, artistic, sports, and advertising events. The law prohibits employing minors younger than age 18 in work that is detrimental to their physical or psychological health, safety, or morality. It also prohibits minors from working at night or more than 40 hours per week.

The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing laws regulating the employment of children. Police and the ministry, through centers for social work, shared responsibility for enforcing laws on child trafficking, including forced begging. The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

There were no reports of children younger than age 18 unlawfully engaged in the formal economy. During inspections at some family-run businesses, the State Labor Inspectorate noted minor children assisting in the work, most commonly in family run handicrafts and retail businesses, as well as on farms.

Child labor occurred in agriculture, domestic work, and in bars and nightclubs. Some children in the country engaged in forced begging, cleaning windshields, scavenging, or selling cigarettes or other small items in open markets, on the street, or in bars and restaurants at night. Although the necessary laws were in place, government efforts to eliminate forced begging by children were largely ineffective. Children involved in these activities were primarily Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian and most often worked for their parents or other family members. Despite enforcing legal remedies, such as temporary removal of parental rights, criminal charges, and revoking parental rights of repetitive offenders, officials were largely ineffective in preventing this continuous practice, and Romani children remained vulnerable to exploitation and forced labor.

The Ministry of Labor runs a call center where child abuse can be reported, and most reports referred to cases of street begging. The ministry also funded two day centers that provided education, medical, and psychological services for children who were forced to beg on the street.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations generally prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, health status, political opinion, religion, age, national origin, language, or social status. The law does not specifically address discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status but does refer to the health status of employees. The government did not always enforce the laws effectively, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other laws related to civil rights.

Despite government efforts and legal changes for mandatory inclusion in primary and high school education, Roma continued to live in segregated groups without proper health and social protection, mostly due to lack of registration documents. Data from the national employment agency showed that due to low participation in the education system, particularly higher education, Roma generally had difficulties finding jobs in the formal economy. Women’s wages lagged behind those of men, and few women occupied management positions. Per Articles 131 and 160 of the Labor Relations Law, women are prohibited from working in certain “high risk” and “physically demanding” positions in the mining and construction industries. The government made efforts to prevent discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Ombudsman reported some progress in improving the representation of smaller nonmajority communities in public administration working-level ranks, but not at the managerial level.

During the year the ombudsman received two complaints regarding employment discrimination on ethnic grounds and determined that one of the two cases represented a bona fide case of discrimination.

The law does set a minimum wage in all sectors, which is below the poverty income level.

Although the government set occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards were not enforced in the informal sector.

The total number of labor inspectors was considered adequate to investigate violations of labor law. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspections, however, were not adequate to ensure compliance, due, in part, to an inadequate regional distribution of inspectors.

The law establishes a 40-hour workweek with a minimum 24-hour rest period, paid vacation of 20 to 26 workdays, and sick-leave benefits. Employees may not legally work more than an average of eight hours of overtime per week over a three-month period or 190 hours per year. According to the collective agreement for the private sector between employers and unions, employees in the private sector have a right to overtime pay at 135 percent of their regular rate. In addition the law entitles employees who work more than 150 hours of overtime per year to a bonus of one month’s salary.

During the year the Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspectorate filed complaints against several businesses for forcing employees to work long hours without the rest breaks required by law; nonpayment of salaries, benefits, and overtime; and cutting employees’ vacation. Violations in wage and overtime were most common in the textile, construction, railroad, and retail sectors.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar crimes. Many employers hired workers without complying with the law, and small retail businesses often required employees to work well beyond legal hourly limits. During the year the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was not fully functional and played only an advisory role. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their future employment, employers did not always respect this right, reportedly due to the high unemployment rate.

In a whole-of-government response to the economic impacts of COVID-19, the government adopted a series of economic and social measures to help both businesses and employees. The measures were wide ranging and included instituting physical distancing measures in workplaces, providing subsidies to private-sector businesses to retain their employees, and allowing one parent of children up to age 10 to stay home without financial penalty.

As of June 30, the State Market Inspectorate received more than 7,000 complaints alleging violations of workers’ rights in relation to the government’s COVID-19 relief measures and other workplace violations and conditions, most of which came from the textile and food-processing sectors. The largest number of complaints, (28 percent) alleged employers violated the government’s order to excuse parents with children up to age 10 from work while schools and childcare facilities were closed.

Civil society organizations, including the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Reactor Research in Action, reported on business noncompliance with the government’s pandemic measures. Examples included businesses forcing employees to use sick leave while they were entitled to administrative leave, failing to pay salaries, and threatening employees with termination if they failed to return to work. In cases of termination during the pandemic, Reactor Research documented different treatment of male and female workers. Men were usually fired, while women were often forced to sign documents terminating their contracts. In these cases these women were then ineligible for state benefits because the record indicated they had left their employment of their own free will.

In July the Public Revenue Office (PRO) disclosed that hundreds of employers who received financial support from the state to pay salaries during the COVID-19 state of emergency failed to transfer the money to their employees. PRO Director Lukarevska said 281 employers were cited in April and 427 in May. The government published a list of the companies that abused the financial assistance and updated it as employers fulfilled their obligations to their employees.

According to data from the Macedonian Occupational Safety Association, there were 25 workplace fatalities and 153 workplace injuries in 2019. Most of the accidents resulting in casualties occurred in the category of household activities, which included farming and use of agricultural equipment, followed by the construction sector.

Poland

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.

On November 30, a new law entered into force introducing an immediate restraining order that may be issued by police who respond to a domestic dispute. Under the revised law, the perpetrator must immediately leave the location where the violence took place. The president signed the legislation into law on May 19.

The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents, sometimes arguing there was no need for police intervention. The center also noted some women complained police did not properly respond to their calls because they were preoccupied with duties related to monitoring the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. During the country’s lockdown in March and April due to the pandemic, women’s rights NGOs noted an increase in the number of calls to their hotlines from domestic violence victims.

The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.

Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the legal right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children but had restricted access to the information and means to do so. On October 22, the Constitutional Tribunal outlawed abortion in all but limited circumstances, although the implementation of this ruling was delayed. NGOs noted that infertility treatments were only available to legally married couples defined as a man and a woman, restricting access by LGBTI couples and all single persons.

The law obliges both central and local governments to provide citizens with unrestricted access to methods and means serving “conscious procreation,” implemented by the government as gynecological counseling for women and girls and access to contraception. While there were no legal restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, a patient’s ability to obtain them was limited, according to NGOs. The Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) noted the government excluded almost all prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, making them less affordable, especially for poor women in rural areas. The law also provides that doctors may refrain from performing health services inconsistent with their conscience. According to a report during the year by ASTRA (the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights), doctors regularly used the conscience clause to refuse to write prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also noted that some pharmacies intentionally did not sell contraceptives or have them in stock. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. According to Federa, young persons lacked sex counseling services.

Although women have the right to comprehensive medical services before, during, and after childbirth, home birth, while legal, is not subsidized by the National Health Fund. According to the Childbirth with Dignity Foundation, standards for perinatal and postnatal care written into the laws are adequate, but the government failed to enforce them effectively. A 2018 report by the Supreme Audit Office indicated women living in rural areas had limited access to medical services related to childbirth due to an insufficient number of gynecological and obstetric clinics in smaller towns and villages.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. According to women’s rights NGOs, access was limited due to victims’ fear of social stigma, some legal constraints, and the use of the conscience clause by medical doctors who refused to provide such services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: A government ombudsperson for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsperson’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. The government continued its public awareness campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although courts may grant permission for girls as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by three months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and alleged pedophiles.

According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.

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 Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including a synagogue and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on television and social media. Some Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding the physical safety and security of their members.

On February 27, a member of the lower house of parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, said, “As a result of the pogroms, the strongest and the most gifted [Jews] survived…. The Jews are a power because they had pogroms.” He added, “There are even theories that rabbis deliberately provoke pogroms precisely so that Jews survive and then there is natural selection.”

During the year there were several attacks on Jewish properties and houses of worship. Examples included: defacement in mid-March by unknown perpetrators of a plaque commemorating the local Jewish community and Jewish residents of the city of Szczecin, who were killed during World War II in the Belzec extermination camp; the breaking of a synagogue’s windows on April 14 in the city of Wroclaw by a man who used neo-Nazi speech and gestures; and the tipping over of dozens of tombstones by unknown perpetrators in three Jewish cemeteries in the city of Zabrze and the towns of Dobrodzien and Tarnowskie Gory in September.

In mid-June a narrative appeared in public media during the presidential campaign that drew accusations of anti-Semitism from the domestic and international Jewish community. On June 15, the state-run television broadcaster ran a story claiming that the main challenger to the incumbent president would use public funds to “compensate Jews” with respect to private property restitution should he be elected president. It also claimed the candidate’s approach to restitution “was not based on Poland’s interests” and included images of Israel, George Soros, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and money falling out of a bag. On June 16, American Jewish Committee Central Europe acting director Sebastian Rejak sent a letter to the Polish Media Ethics Council stating that public television coverage could “incite hatred and contempt towards Jews in the world and Polish Jews.” On June 18, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland released a joint statement that declared, “public media should educate and integrate, not divide” and added, “we must all speak against the use of anti-Semitism or hatred of any other group for political purposes.” On June 29, the OSCE issued a first-round presidential election assessment that stated public television had become “a campaign tool for the incumbent” with reporting that had “clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

A trial of six persons accused of publicly promoting Nazism in 2017 by organizing a celebration of Hitler’s birthday in a forest, donning Wehrmacht uniforms, and burning a swastika continued at year’s end. The incident was secretly filmed and later broadcast by undercover television journalists. The main organizer of the event, a member of the neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity Association, pleaded not guilty, claiming the event was private. In August 2019 in a separate case, the Gliwice Regional Court decided to dissolve Pride and Modernity, stating that the event was tantamount to approval or even affirmation of Hitler and Nazism. In November 2019 the legal representative of the association appealed against the decision. On February 5, the Gliwice District Court suspended the appeal procedure due to the continuing separate trial into irregularities related to the registration of the association.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and there were reports of societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.

The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible.

The law states that education is obligatory for all children, including those with disabilities. Children with disabilities may attend schools where they are integrated with children without disabilities, or they may attend separate schools, depending on the significance of their disability.

A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. Several incidents tied to the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the early days of the pandemic.

On February 28, a bridal store in Warsaw refused to serve two female customers of Indonesian origin because employees thought they might be infected with COVID-19.

On March 25, three men attacked a young Chinese woman who worked at the Silesian University in the town of Sosnowiec. The men surrounded her and shouted “coronavirus” and “China” at her. Police detained one man who was charged with assaulting the woman on the grounds of her national origin, for which he could face up to a three-year prison term.

On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. Unlike previous years there were no reports of slogans targeting national or ethnic minorities, but violence occurred mainly between some march participants and police. There was also an incident where participants threw flares at a building displaying a rainbow flag and the logo of a women’s rights group, starting a fire (no injuries were reported).

Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.

Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.

During the year the government allocated 11.2 million zloty ($2.88 million) for programs to support Romani communities, including for educational programs. The Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.

The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On February 9, seven men verbally and physically attacked a group of five foreigners from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in the city center of Torun. One of the attackers, who turned himself in to police, was charged with using violence and making threats against others on the grounds of their national identity. On February 18, the man was placed in pretrial detention for three months. Police were searching for other perpetrators at year’s end.

On May 23, a man physically attacked a Ukrainian man and insulted his nationality in a store in the city of Gdansk. Police intervened and charged the man with public insult on the grounds of national identity. The man pleaded guilty and received 10 months of community service.

On June 27, a man attacked a Belarusian security guard in a store in Krakow after the guard asked him to leave the store for not wearing a face mask. The man verbally abused the guard and spat on him several times. On July 2, police detained the man and charged him with public insult on the grounds of national identity, for which he may face up to a three-year prison term.

During the year there were incidents of xenophobic attacks targeting those of African and Middle Eastern descent.

On July 14, two men attacked and shouted racist insults at a man of African descent at a bus stop in the town of Wieliczka. A bystander defended the victim and was also brutally attacked. On July 17, police detained one of the attackers and charged him with public incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality, inflicting bodily harm, and making death threats. The man was placed in pretrial detention for three months.

On August 2, a group of six men verbally and physically assaulted a group of four foreigners, including citizens of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, on a street in Krakow. Four of the suspects were arrested and faced up to five years in prison for violence on the grounds of race or nationality. Police continued to search for the other two perpetrators at year’s end.

While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The government plenipotentiary for equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The ombudsperson also continued to work on LGBTI human rights cases.

During the year several government officials made anti-LGBTI or homophobic public statements. In presidential campaign remarks on June 13, President Andrzej Duda asserted “LGBT ideology” was a form of “neo-Bolshevism” and “even more destructive” than Communism itself. Former interior minister and sitting Member of European Parliament Joachim Brudzinski wrote on Twitter on June 13 that “Poland without LGBT is most beautiful.” Minister of Education and Science Przemyslaw Czarnek stated on June 13 (he was not yet minister at the time) that LGBTI persons were “not equal to normal people.” On July 30, Deputy Minister of State Assets Janusz Kowalski declared the entire country should be an “LGBT-free zone.” He added that a law should be adopted to prohibit public funding of any activities of organizations that explicitly promote “LGBT.” At an election rally on July 1, President Duda said adoption by same-sex couples constituted experimentation on and enslavement of children. On August 25, then minister of education Dariusz Piontkowski defended the education superintendent of Lodz Province for saying the “LGBT virus…of ideology” was “much more dangerous” than COVID-19. On September 14, Law and Justice Party chairman and soon-to-be deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said “LGBT ideology” was a threat “to the very foundations of our civilization.”

On August 7, authorities used force to detain 48 persons in Warsaw during a protest against the pretrial detention of an LGBTI activist. The representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) operating under the human rights ombudsperson investigated the mass arrest and released a report on September 7 that stated the treatment of detainees by police “constituted degrading treatment, and in some cases…inhuman treatment.” The NPM interviewed 33 of the 48 detainees, who complained, inter alia, about disproportionate use of force by police, use of homophobic or transphobic comments by police, lack of access to food and drinking water, not being promptly informed of the right to a lawyer, and difficulty in contacting or meeting with a lawyer. In an August 8 press conference, the minister of justice stated police had behaved professionally. On September 2, the deputy minister of interior and the chief of police briefed a Sejm committee on the August 7 events and argued the police reaction was appropriate and proportional to the situation.

During the year there were several verbal and physical attacks against members of the LGBTI community. On August 11, two perpetrators using homophobic language brutally beat a man in Poznan. The man sustained a broken nose and concussion as a result of the attack. The attackers were charged with bodily injury and theft. On August 14, an activist affiliated with LGBTI rights groups reported he was physically and verbally attacked in Warsaw because he was holding hands with his LGBTI partner. He reported he had a broken tooth and a black eye and that his partner suffered bruises on his body. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

During the year local governments around the country adopted “family rights charters,” bringing the total number who had adopted such charters or separate declarations rejecting “LGBT ideology” to more than 90 since 2019. These legally nonbinding documents focused in varying degrees on preventing “LGBT ideology” in schools, called for protection of children against moral corruption, and declared marriage as a union between a woman and a man only. LGBTI NGOs stated the declarations may have a chilling effect on institutions subordinate to local governments and may increase the number of hate crimes. On July 14, the Gliwice administrative court struck down a declaration adopted by the Istebna municipality as a result of a complaint filed by the human rights ombudsperson in December 2019. The court ruled the declaration violated administrative law and the constitution, in particular the ban against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro sent appeals against the ruling and a similar one regarding a declaration in the Klwow municipality to the Supreme Administrative Court in September. Meanwhile, on June 23 and 24, the Krakow administrative court rejected the ombudsperson’s complaints against the municipality of Lipinki and the county of Tarnow, arguing that the declarations neither limited nor interfered with the constitutional rights and freedoms of any group of citizens and did not discriminate against any person. On August 18, Ziobro defended local communities that signed such declarations and emphasized the declarations referred to “ideology,” not individuals. Ziobro argued that while local authorities did not persecute LGBTI persons, they also did not accept “offensive actions” of LGBTI groups that tried to “impose their ideology” on others.

On February 11, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the final appeal of a same-sex couple who wanted to register the birth of their foreign-born child in the country. The child was born abroad to the two women, and his foreign birth certificate listed them as his parents. Polish birth certificates list spaces for a mother and a father. The Supreme Administrative Court found that a woman could not be listed in the space provided for a father’s name, and a man could not be listed in the space provided for a mother’s name.

A 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found a rise in tolerance toward the LGBTI community in the country, with almost half of citizens (47 percent) declaring society should accept homosexuality, compared with the 2002 edition of the survey, in which 40 percent of those polled expressed acceptance.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides legal measures under which workers fired for union activity may demand reinstatement. Individuals who are self-employed or in an employment relationship based on a civil law contract are permitted to form a union.

Government workers, including police officers, border guards, prison guards, and employees of the supreme audit office, are limited to a single union. Workers in services deemed essential, such as security forces, the Supreme Chamber of Audit, police, border guards, and fire brigades, do not have the right to strike. These workers have the rights to protest and to seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system.

Trade unions are registered when at least 10 eligible persons adopt a resolution to form a trade union. Newly established trade unions must appoint a founding committee consisting of three to seven persons. A new trade union must register with the National Court Registry within 30 days of the resolution. The court may remove a trade union from the registry only if a trade union adopts a resolution to dissolve; is no longer able to operate due to the bankruptcy, liquidation, or reorganization of the company in which the trade union operated; or if a trade union has fewer than 10 members for more than three months.

Legal strike ballots require the support of the majority of union voters. To allow for required mediation, a strike may not be called fewer than 14 days after workers present their demands to an employer. The law obligates employers to report workplace group disputes to the district inspection office in their regions. Cumbersome procedures made it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. What constitutes a strike under the law is limited to strikes regarding wages and working conditions, social benefits, and trade union rights and worker freedoms. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.

The penalties for obstructing trade union activity range from fines to community service. The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not adequate, and the small fines imposed as punishment were an ineffective deterrent to employers. Administrative and judicial procedures were subjected to lengthy delays and appeals. Unions alleged that the government did not consistently enforce laws prohibiting retribution against strikers.

Trade union representatives stated that violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining occurred. While many workers exercised the right to organize and join unions, many small and medium-sized firms, which employed a majority of the workforce, discriminated against those who attempted to organize. The government enforced applicable law, but penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other laws related to the denial of civil rights.

Labor leaders continued to report that employers regularly discriminated against workers who attempted to organize or join unions, particularly in the private sector. Discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, termination of work contracts without notice, and closing of the workplace. Some employers sanctioned employees who tried to organize unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, forced labor occurred.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced labor violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government assisted in removing 154 victims from forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and Polish men and women were subjected to forced labor in construction, agriculture, and restaurants and that children were subjected to forced begging (see section 7.c.).

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

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16, with exceptions in the cultural, artistic, sporting, and advertising fields when parents or guardians and the local labor inspector give their permission. The labor inspector issues a permit on the basis of psychological and medical examinations. Child labor is not allowed if the work may pose any threat to life, health, or physical and mental development of the child, or may conflict with the child’s education. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable law prohibiting employment of children younger than 16, and penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Some children younger than 18 engaged in hazardous work in agriculture, primarily on family farms. Migrant Romani children from Romania were subjected to forced begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation in any way, directly or indirectly, on all grounds, in particular on the grounds of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or trade union membership, and regardless of whether the person is hired for definite or indefinite contracts, or for full- or half-time work. The law does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on language, HIV-positive status, gender identity, or social status. According to the Polish Society for Antidiscrimination Law, by law the accused must prove that discrimination did not take place. In the case of labor contracts that are protected by law, antidiscrimination measures are adequate, and judges know how to apply them. Civil contracts are protected under antidiscrimination law, which prohibits unequal treatment in employment on the basis of gender, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, belief, viewpoint, disability, age, or sexual orientation. According to the society, it is relatively straightforward for claimants to assert discrimination occurred during court proceedings; however, very few employees come forward and report discrimination at the workplace. The government enforced applicable law, but penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of similar laws related to civil rights.

On September 29, the Warsaw District Court ruled an employer discriminated against a transgender woman worker by requiring her to wear a male uniform. The woman’s lawyer said it was the first time that a Polish court affirmed a legal prohibition on discrimination against transgender persons in the workplace.

On May 28, the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office announced charges against a human resources manager at an IKEA store for dismissing an employee after he posted quotes from the Bible on the company’s intranet website to imply gay persons deserved death. Prosecutors argued the manager violated the employee’s religious rights. On June 2, several dozen NGOs working on nondiscrimination and equal treatment issued a statement protesting the decision to press charges, arguing that the manager properly fulfilled her duties by preventing discrimination in the workplace. On November 27, the Krakow District Court began a criminal trial against the human resources manager. On November 10, a labor branch of the Krakow court started a labor dispute case against IKEA that was initiated by the fired employee. The employee demanded compensation and the right to return to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, age, minority status, disability, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and trade union membership. According to NGOs, sexual harassment at the workplace was an underreported problem, and police statistics showed a low number of identified offenses (107 in 2019, the latest statistics available). Discrimination against Romani workers also occurred (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

The national monthly minimum wage and the minimum wage for formal work agreements meet the social minimum monthly income level. There is no minimum wage for informal work agreements. There were reports of employers withholding wages or underpaying laborers under informal work agreements, particularly Ukrainian migrant workers in the construction and agriculture industries.

The constitution provides every employee the right to statutorily specified days free from work as well as annual paid holidays.

The law defines strict and extensive minimum conditions to protect worker health and safety and empowers the National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) to supervise and monitor implementation of worker health and safety law and to close workplaces with unsafe conditions. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. While the NLI’s powers are limited to the formal economy, one of its responsibilities is to inspect the legality of employment, which can contribute to limiting work in the informal economy and ensuring employees who are hired in the informal economy are provided with appropriate occupational health and safety conditions.

Resources were inadequate to enforce effectively minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety in the formal or informal sectors. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

According to the inspectorate’s 2019 report, labor rights violations primarily concerned failure to pay or delayed payment of wages, failure to pay for overtime work, and failure to sign a labor contract in situations when the job performed constituted regular labor. Most wage payment violations occurred in the processing and trade services industries. Seasonal workers were particularly vulnerable to such violations. The national inspectorate’s report did not cover domestic workers because inspectors could only conduct inspections in businesses, not private homes. Another common problem was inaccurate timekeeping records for hours worked.

The large size of the informal economy–particularly in the construction and transportation industries–and the low number of government labor inspectors made enforcement of the minimum wage difficult. The Main Statistical Office definition of informal economy includes unregistered employment performed without a formal contract or agreement and is not counted as a contribution to social security and from which income taxes are not deducted. According to the Central Statistical Office, in 2017 (the latest year for which data were available) 5.4 percent of the workforce (880,000 persons) worked in the informal economy.

In 2019 the NLI launched a three-year information and education campaign to improve work-related health and safety standards in meat-processing companies and continued similar programs targeting construction companies, small businesses, and agricultural employers.

Employers routinely exceeded standards limiting exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise. According to the NLI’s 2019 report, the majority of work-related accidents occurred in industrial processing companies, at construction sites, and in trade. The report also noted poor organization of work processes, lack of proper supervision of employees, inadequate training of employees in work-related health and safety standards, and inadequate measures by employers to prevent accidents were among the leading causes of workplace accidents. The Central Statistical Office reported 83,205 victims of workplace accidents, including 184 fatal accidents during 2019.

Qatar

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. 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 victim. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the victim, 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. According to the Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter (PSRC), rape and domestic violence against women continued to be a problem. Police treated domestic violence as a private family matter rather than a criminal matter and were reluctant to investigate or prosecute reports.

According to Human Rights Watch, 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, which could also include deportation, and even corporal punishment (lashings); however, press reports indicated jail sentences and flogging were rare in such cases. On October 2, authorities at the Hamad International Airport deplaned more than a dozen female foreign nationals from an outbound flight and subjected them to gynecological examinations after a live infant was found in an airport restroom. Human rights groups and several foreign governments condemned the actions of the authorities and requested an investigation into the government’s handling of the situation. The Government Communication Office released a statement expressing regret for the incident and explained that authorities aimed to locate and arrest the mother promptly and prosecute her before she was able to leave the country. Officials underscored that the exams went against protocol and promised that those responsible would be referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The PSRC reported receiving 277 cases of physical violence against women and children and 155 cases of psychological violence in 2019, including 36 cases of sexual harassment. The center hosted 45 survivors at its shelter during the year and provided legal representation of eight victims in courts. Per the center’s statistics, they referred 10 cases to courts and 20 to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The center said one court case received a final verdict during the year.

In August authorities deported a Yemeni woman and her child to Djibouti, from where they could be returned to Yemen. The woman accused the government in a video posted online of kidnapping her and her child and forcefully deporting them to Djibouti. She called on the international community to help her and stop authorities in Djibouti from sending her and her child to Yemen because of the danger she would face there. The woman received a court ruling granting her divorce and custody of her child; however, she was threatened with repatriation to Yemen and separated from her child following the cancellation of her residency. An online campaign encouraged the management of the main Qatari shelter to host them for a short time, but authorities deported them to Djibouti.

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 Ministry of Interior reported 13 cases of violence against domestic workers and four cases of rape against them in 2019, all of which were under judicial processing at year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the rights of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. It is illegal to have children out of wedlock and even unmarried female expats risk jail time if they do. Due to the legal prohibitions and social stigma surrounding sex outside of marriage, obtaining documentation for children born out of wedlock is typically not possible.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected married women’s access to contraception, or healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, but women were routinely asked for marriage certificates when seeking prenatal care. According to 2015 estimates by the UN Population Fund, only 37 percent of citizen women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraceptive, and the government generally encouraged large families through generous benefits. The Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal noted that the top three reasons for not using any family planning method were the desire for more children, potential side effects, and objections raised by husbands.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Unmarried individuals who reported pregnancies risked prosecution by authorities for extramarital sexual relations.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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. The value of a woman’s testimony is in some cases considered one-half a man’s testimony.

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. Citizen women are unable to pass citizenship to their offspring. A 2018 residency permit 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. According to official statistics, in 2018 there were 232 requests by citizens to marry foreigners, of which one was rejected, 19 were under processing, and the remainder were approved.

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 husband’s family, regardless of her religion.

To receive maternity care, a woman is required to present a marriage certificate, although in practice hospitals will 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 women married to noncitizen men and against divorced women.

A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many did 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 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.

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: There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse. The PSRC report mentioned 130 cases of violence against minors in 2018.

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 below 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 ever implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of 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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community, and there are no official data on the number of Jewish expatriates in the country. Periodic cartoons and opinion articles in local papers carried anti-Semitic messages. In May the government-owned al-Jazeera news channel hosted Dr. Abduljabbar Saeed, head of the Quran and Sunnah Department at the Faculty of Sharia at Qatar University, on one of its talk shows. During the interview the host made negative statements against “the Jews” when discussing Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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. The government is charged with acting on complaints from individuals, and the NHRC has responsibility for enforcing compliance.

Private and independent schools generally provided most of the required services for students with disabilities, but government schools did not. Few public buildings met the required standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and new buildings generally did not comply with standards.

The NHRC 2019 report called on authorities to accelerate the issuance of a new law on the rights of persons with disabilities to replace the 2004 law. The report stated the draft law was submitted to authorities in 2015 but had never been issued. The report stated the country became a signatory of International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 but needed to apply Article 33 of the Convention on the “implementation and monitoring at the national level” in relation to guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities under the convention.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) 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.

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 anyhow for sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female anyhow to commit illegal or immoral actions” is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTI persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTI persons. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination, nor are there antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTI organizations, pride marches, or LGBTI 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.

There was discrimination against HIV-positive patients. 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.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law does not allow workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.

The law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs may mediate a solution. An agreement signed between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Under the umbrella of this agreement and as of August, at least five joint committees initiated operations and held elections to choose employee representatives. Following the formation of “joint committees,” the ILO provided extensive training to the committee members on how to manage the committees, how to establish open channels of communications with workers and management, and the mechanisms to submit complaints to the competent authorities.

The law requires approval by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers.

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In May, several hundred migrant workers staged a protest over unpaid salaries. Security forces surrounded the location of the protest but did not disperse the protesters. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs released a statement the following day assuring that the ministry would pay salaries in full.

In May the government gave the private sector the right to alter employee contracts without legal liability due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies forced workers to take a combination of unpaid leave, decreased salaries, or premature contract terminations, negatively affecting tens of thousands of workers. In June the Ministry of Finance instructed government ministries, institutions, and state entities to reduce monthly costs for non-Qatari employees by 30 percent, by either cutting salaries or laying off workers with a two-month notice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers. In February, National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking statistics recorded the average fine for physical and psychological violence against domestic workers in 2019 as 2,000 Qatari riyals ($550) and a penalty of one month in prison. There were 812 convictions for abuse. During the year Amnesty International reported multiple cases of slow access to justice after three medium-sized companies refused to pay wages, withheld passports, and refused to appear in court. The ILO noted the law allows for the imposition of forced labor on those who hold political views ideologically opposed to the established political and social system.

The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor but did not in all cases effectively enforce the law; the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. Legal changes during the year extended the elimination of exit visa requirements to 95 percent of government workers and all domestic workers. In August the country abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) as a basic salary. While the abolishment of the no-objection certificate was effective immediately, the implementation of the minimum wage provision was scheduled to come into force in March 2021. If fully implemented, these laws will protect migrant workers, who are prone to exploitation in the kafala system.

Workers who are still required to seek their employers’ permission to leave the country may request an exemption from a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated grievance committee in case of the employers’ refusal to grant the permission.

In 2019 the government opened the first trafficking-in-persons shelter, which had assisted 10 victims as of July. On October 27, the Criminal Court sentenced two expatriates to a 10-year prison term, a substantial fine, and deportation for trafficking-in-persons offenses, among other crimes. This was the country’s first conviction since 2016 under its antitrafficking law.

The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law violations. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the NHRC conducted training sessions and distributed to migrant laborers multilingual written explanations of their rights under local labor and sponsorship laws. To combat late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees subject to the labor law through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties, but enforcement was inconsistent.

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially among migrant workers in the construction and domestic-labor sectors. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports, ATM cards, and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. One migrant worker told an NGO that his employer threatened him and nearly 1,000 other employees with deportation if they refused to sign new contracts with substantially lower wages. Another migrant worker said his company had not paid its workers in five months. Contract substitution remained a problem, according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system existed in several third countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this new system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrived in Doha without contracts.

Although the country witnessed a nearly total precautionary lockdown of all official and commercial activities from mid-March until mid-June, FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued construction despite crowded worksites and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Human rights groups and international media condemned the exemption of World Cup projects from the precautionary countermeasures.

The Ministry of Interior received 817 reports of nonpayment of wages, down from 1,164 in the year before, 810 of which were referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Courts issued final verdicts in 495 cases; the rest were under review at year’s end.

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

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may work with parental or guardian permission. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The education ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government effectively enforced the applicable law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The labor law does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, dangerous, or morally inappropriate.

By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. Gender-based violence or harassment occurred in the workplace. In 2019 there were reports of rape, but the outcomes of those cases were pending. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6). Other forms of discrimination targeted certain nationalities in the country. In January the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs gave orders to all private security companies to terminate immediately security guards with Egyptian nationality, causing hundreds of Egyptian residents to lose their jobs. Egyptian residents also reported discrimination in denial of the right to transfer employment, apply for bank loans, and request family visas.

The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as 2 percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to moderate fines. There were no reports of violations of the hiring quota requirement during the year.

In December 2019 the UN rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance highlighted the “remarkable and commendable progress” the country had made to end discrimination but raised concerns regarding discrimination against domestic workers and workers from South Asian and sub-Saharan African countries.

The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work, including overtime pay provisions, do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers.

Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs as well as to the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, because government agencies and the major private-sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous violations of civil rights.

The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In 2018 the worker dispute settlement committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. In 2019 the committees received a total of 4,922 complaints and issued final 2,781 final verdicts, up from 1,088 in 2018. More than three-quarters of verdicts favored workers.

The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, after inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, they returned one month later to verify any recommended changes were made. If a company had not remedied the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Inspections in 2019 fell by nearly half compared with 2018; inspections in 2020 were further limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations. Blacklisting is an administrative hold on a company or individual that freezes government services such as processing new visa applications from the firms. Firms must pay moderate fine to be removed from the list–even if the dispute is resolved–and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list after the fine is paid as a punitive measure.

The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit. Violators faced penalties that were insufficient to deter violations.

Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector. A Kenyan worker said his employer required him to work unpaid overtime, seven days a week, paid wages months late, and provided insufficient personal protective equipment despite a risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials.

International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals. On June 11, Amnesty International reported that a contracting company constructing the World Cup 2022 al-Bayt Stadium failed to pay the salaries of hundreds of its workers for seven months. On August 24, Human Rights Watch published testimonies of 93 foreign workers who alleged nonpayment of wages, forced labor, manipulation, or fraud.

On October 4, both the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs published the National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health, which aims to prevent accidents, injuries, and diseases arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work. In March the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, announced that nine laborers working on the World Cup facilities died in 2019, bringing the number of deaths on World Cup projects to 34, since construction began six years ago. According to the committee, 31 of the deaths were classified as “nonwork related.”

Romania

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. The law provides for five to 10 years’ imprisonment for rape and two to seven years’ imprisonment for sexual assault. If there are no aggravating circumstances and the attack did not lead to death, police and prosecutors may not pursue a case on their own, but they require a victim’s complaint, even if there is independent physical evidence.

The law classifies family violence as a separate offense and stipulates that when murder, battery, or other serious violence is committed against a family member, the penalty is increased. The law also states that, if the parties reconcile, criminal liability is removed. Amendments to the law on equal opportunities for men and women passed during the year include cyberviolence among the forms of domestic violence and defines it as the occurrence of online harassment, online messages that incite to hate based on gender criteria, or the nonconsensual publication of private graphic content that aim to humiliate, scare, threaten or reduce victims to silence. The FILIA Center for Gender Studies and Curriculum Development–an NGO that aims to promote gender equality–stated that there were no regulations to implement these amendments.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem that the government did not effectively address. The law provides for the issuance of provisional restraining orders by police for a maximum of five days and restraining orders by a court for a maximum of six months upon the victim’s request or at the request of a prosecutor, the state representative in charge of protecting victims of family violence, or, if the victim agrees, a social service provider. Violation of a restraining order is punishable by imprisonment for six months to five years, but the FILIA center stated that some judges may issue lesser sentences because of overlapping legislation. The court may also order an abuser to undergo psychological counselling. The FILIA Center stated that police lacked procedures for the implementation and monitoring of restraining orders.

In February, a man under a restraining order killed his wife in the town of Chitila. According to the FILIA Center, the man had violated the restraining order multiple times, a fact which police were aware of, and the woman had asked social services to provide her a secure place to live in order to prevent her husband from contacting her. Regulations authorize local governments to establish emergency mobile intervention teams that assist victims of domestic violence. Observers stated that teams lacked training and funding and were often ineffective. The FILIA Center conducted a study that revealed that most local governments of cities and villages in Bacau County did not fund any social services for victims of domestic violence, a situation that was common throughout the country.

Several human rights activists reported that some police officers tried to dissuade victims of rape from pressing charges against their aggressors and, in some cases, refused to register criminal complaints submitted by victims. In some instances, police delayed action against sexual abusers. E-Romnja, an NGO that works to advance the rights of Romani women, stated police often discouraged Romani women and girls from filing complaints. E-Romnja described the case of a 14-year-old girl who reported a rape to police in April and continued to report the case for six months. Police opened an investigation but did not question the suspect and failed to protect the victim from repeated harassment by the suspect and his family. Following several interventions from the victim’s lawyer and E-Romnja, police forwarded the case to the Prosecutor’s Office and the suspect was placed in pretrial detention in September.

Courts prosecuted very few cases of domestic abuse. Many cases were resolved before or during trial when the alleged victims dropped their charges or reconciled with the alleged abuser.

Sexual Harassment: Criminal law prohibits sexual harassment, which it defines as repeatedly asking for sexual favors in a work or similar relationship. A victim’s complaint is necessary to initiate a criminal investigation. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment of three months to one year. The law on equal opportunities for men and women defines sexual harassment as the occurrence of unwanted behavior with a sexual connotation, which can be expressed physically, verbally, or nonverbally and has the effect or result of damaging a person’s dignity and, in particular, the creation of a hostile, intimidating, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, but some individuals did not have access to the information and means to do so. According to several NGOs and observers, there were infrastructure and information barriers to an individual’s ability to maintain his or her reproductive health, including the lack of community health care and age-appropriate sex education for adolescents. Some women, especially those from poor, rural, or Romani communities, had difficulty accessing reproductive health services due to a lack of information, ethnic discrimination, and poverty.

Access to government-funded contraception and family planning services was limited because of insufficient funding and training for health professionals. According to the World Health Organization, as of 2020, 71.8 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied by modern methods of contraception.

Observers reported that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some maternity hospitals were open only for patients infected with COVID-19, making access to reproductive and prenatal care more difficult. Although home birth is not prohibited by law, regulations forbid health professionals from providing home birth services. According to UNICEF, skilled health personnel attended 94.8 percent of deliveries in 2018.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, but some women had difficulties accessing these services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Under the law women and men enjoy equal rights. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but there was a 3.5-percent gender pay gap according to EU data. Segregation by profession existed, with women overrepresented in lower-paying jobs. There were reports of discrimination in employment. Women experienced discrimination in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth from at least one citizen parent. Although birth registration is mandatory by law, it was not universal, and authorities denied some children public services as a result. Most unregistered children had access to schools, and authorities assisted in obtaining birth documents for unregistered children, but the education of unregistered children depended on the decision of school authorities. The law provides simplified birth registration for children whose mothers do not have proper documentation to register their children.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including emotional, physical, and psychological violence and neglect, continued to be serious problems. Media outlets reported several severe cases of abuse or neglect in family homes, foster care, and child welfare institutions. The government has not established a mechanism to identify and treat abused and neglected children and their families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for both men and women, but the law permits minors as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances. Illegal child marriage was reportedly common in certain social groups, particularly among some Romani communities. NGOs reported cases of Romani girls as young as 11 being sold into marriage by their families. Child protection authorities and police did not always intervene in such cases. There were no public policies to discourage child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides one- to 12-year prison sentences for persons convicted of sexual acts with minors, depending on the circumstances and the child’s age. Sexual intercourse with a minor who is 14 to 16 years of age is punishable by a one- to five-year prison sentence. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 14 is punishable by a two- to nine-year prison sentence and deprivation of some rights. The law also criminalizes sexual corruption of minors (which includes subjecting minors to sexual acts other than intercourse or forcing minors to perform such acts), luring minors for sexual purposes or child prostitution, and trafficking in minors. Pimping and pandering that involve minors increases sentences by one-half. The law allows authorities to maintain a registry of individuals who had committed sexual offenses against or exploited adults and children.

Child pornography is a separate offense and carries a sentence, depending on the circumstances, of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which may be increased by one-third if the perpetrator was a family member or someone in whose care the child was entrusted or if the life of the child victim was endangered.

Institutionalized Children: During the year there were several media reports of abuses in placement centers for institutionalized children, including sexual abuse, physical violence by colleagues or staff, and trafficking in persons. Numerous reports noted a lack of adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, and counselling services.

According to media reports and NGOs, in 2018 psychiatrists administered psychotropic drugs to thousands of children in residential institutions or in foster care in order to control their behavior. According to official estimates, one-third of the institutionalized children, including those with disruptive behavior, attention-deficit, or hyperactivity disorder, were under psychotropic medication, but observers believed the number to be much higher.

By law unaccompanied migrant children are held in placement centers, where they have access to education and benefits other children receive. The detention of families with children is allowed by law, with preservation of family unity used as justification. Several such cases were recorded during the year.

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 travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

According to the 2011 census, the Jewish population numbered 3,271. Representatives of the Jewish community stated that according to their estimates, the Jewish population numbered approximately 7,000. Acts of anti-Semitism occurred during the year.

The law prohibits public denial of the Holocaust and fascist, racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic language and symbols, including organizations and symbols associated with the indigenous Legionnaire interwar fascist movement. The oppression of Roma as well as Jews is included in the definition of the Holocaust.

Streets, organizations, schools, or libraries continued to be named after persons convicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity, according to the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. For example, Radu Gyr was a commander and anti-Semitic ideologist of the fascist Legionnaire movement convicted of war crimes. The Wiesel Institute requested the renaming of Radu Gyr Street in Cluj-Napoca. As of September, the local government had not changed the name of the street.

Material promoting anti-Semitic views and glorifying legionnaires appeared on the internet. According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in May, several articles published online claimed that Jews or the state of Israel were responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and were profiting from the health crisis.

In September media reported a case of anti-Semitic messages painted on the fence belonging to the relative of a mayoral candidate from the village of Dornesti in Suceava County. The messages included the candidate’s name, a swastika, and the Romanian equivalent of the ethnic slur ‘kike’.

In April 2019 media outlets reported a case of vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in Husi, where unknown individuals destroyed dozens of headstones. Law enforcement officials identified three suspects, and as of September the investigation was pending.

Romania introduced mandatory Holocaust education in 1998 and additional courses are sometimes offered. The high school course History of the JewsThe Holocaust was optional. During the 2019-20 school year, 3,209 pupils took the course.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not fully implement the law, and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained a problem.

The law mandates that buildings and public transportation be accessible for persons with disabilities, however, streets, buildings, and public transportation remain largely inaccessible. Persons with disabilities reported a lack of access ramps, accessible public transportation, and accessible toilets in major buildings.

Discrimination against children with disabilities in education was a widespread problem due to lack of adequate teacher training on inclusion of children with disabilities and lack of investment to make schools accessible. Most children with disabilities were either placed in separate schools or not placed in school at all. According to a report released by Save the Children Romania and the Ombudsperson in 2019, only 30 percent of schools had access ramps for persons with motor disabilities and only 15 percent of schools had accessible toilets.

The CLR identified a series of problems in centers for persons with disabilities or psychiatric sections, including verbal and physical abuse of children and adults, sedation, excessive use of physical restraints, lack of hygiene, inadequate living conditions, and lack of adequate medical care. In February the CLR released the conclusions of a visit made at a residential center for persons with disabilities located in the city of Husi, Vaslui County. According to the CLR, there were reasonable suspicions that the residents of the center were subjected to physical punishment and verbal abuse. The NGO also discovered unsanitary living conditions, overcrowding, and lack of basic personal hygiene products. According to the MFA, following a report published by CLR, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice requested the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Huși First Instance Court to examine the alleged abuses in order to establish whether there are elements that would warrant a criminal investigation concerning the conditions in the residential center.

The National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children and Adoptions under the Labor Ministry coordinated services for persons with disabilities and drafted policies, strategies, and standards in the field of disabilities rights. The National Authority notified authorities about several alleged abuses against persons with disabilities interned in residential centers. In January the National Authority’s Director, Madalina Turza, announced it had notified prosecutors about the case of a resident of a center in Prahova County who, according to the center’s staff, accidentally fell and suffered head injuries. The staff did not call the ambulance right away and sent the person to the hospital only two days after the alleged accident. Doctors found evidence of repeated brain injuries and performed a surgery. One month after the surgery, the person was sent back to the center while in a coma where another resident allegedly unintentionally removed a medical tube attached to the patient. The center’s staff called an ambulance but several days later the patient died.

Discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. Romani groups complained that there were instances of police harassment and brutality, including beatings. Both domestic and international media and observers reported societal discrimination against Roma. NGOs reported Roma were denied access to, or refused service in, some public places. Roma also experienced poor access to government services, a shortage of employment opportunities, high rates of school attrition, and inadequate health care. A lack of identity documents excluded many Roma from participating in elections, receiving social benefits, accessing health insurance, securing property documents, and participating in the labor market. According to the Ministry of Interior, 177,816 persons older than age 14 did not have valid identity documents. Romani rights activists reported that most of these persons were Roma who cannot acquire legal identity documents because they resided in informal settlements and housing. Roma had a higher unemployment rate and a lower life expectancy than non-Roma. Negative stereotypes and discriminatory language regarding Roma were widespread.

In July the “Impreuna” Agency for Community Development released the results of a poll that showed seven in 10 residents of the country do not trust Roma and that 41 percent of respondents did not accept the idea of living in the same city or village with Roma. In March and April, several local government officials publicly claimed cited Roma in particular spread COVID-19, stoking anti-Romani sentiment. Throughout March and April, media outlets regularly alleged that Roma disobeyed COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. News stories specifically highlighting Romani migrants returning to the country from Italy and Spain, countries with high rates of COVID-19 infection, also circulated in local media outlets and social media, often suggesting they might be carriers of COVID-19.

Despite an order by the Ministry of Education forbidding segregation of Romani students, several NGOs continued to report that segregation along ethnic lines persisted in schools.

Researchers and activists reported a significant number of the remaining Romani Holocaust survivors who applied for a pension were denied because of unreasonable administrative barriers raised by the pension offices, problematic standards, lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and Roma, and burdensome requirements. According to researchers, despite historical evidence, in hundreds of cases authorities considered that Roma were resettled and not deported, and consequently granted them smaller pensions.

In April 2019 the driver of a minibus operated by a transportation company in the city of Zalau denied a Romani woman and her two children access to the vehicle and hit her repeatedly with a wooden stick. After she called the 112 emergency line to report the incident, the operator insulted the victim and used racial slurs against her. According to Romani CRISS, the attack was racially motivated. The Civic Union of Young Roma from Romania reported that prosecutors indicted the driver for abusive behavior and the Romani woman for public disturbance. The NGO reported that the indictment against the woman was abusive because her screams were a result of the driver’s violent behavior. As of November the case was pending before the Zalau court.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related mainly to the use of the Hungarian language. Ethnic Hungarians reported that the government did not enforce the law that states that ethnic minorities are entitled to interact with local governments in their native language in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population. There were continued reports that local authorities did not enforce the law that states that in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population, road signs must be bilingual.

The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania reported that in a legal dispute between separated parents over their child’s language of schooling, the Cluj-Napoca Court decided in June that the child, who has a mixed Romanian-Hungarian ethnicity, should be schooled at the kindergarten in Romanian, contrary to the will of the child’s ethnic Hungarian mother. According to the court, an insufficient knowledge of Romanian would damage the child’s ability to perform well once they become a university student considering that most universities in the country offer study programs in Romanian. According to the Department for Interethnic Relations, throughout the March 16-May 14 state of emergency, the government provided Hungarian translations of the state of emergency regulations related to the COVID-19 outbreak with a delay. In several counties with a significant ethnic Hungarian population, government agencies such as public health directorates or police inspectorates did not provide information on COVID-19-related measures and precautions in Hungarian. The Miko Imre Legal Service reported that during a soccer match in March that took place in the city of Ploiesti, supporters of the home team shouted offensive words against the rival team Sepsi OSK, which is based in the ethnic-Hungarian majority city of Sfantu Gheorghe. Supporters chanted “Hungarians out of the country!” and threw objects at some of the Sepsi OSK players, which caused the referee to suspend the match for 10 minutes. In February unknown persons painted the Romanian flag over the Hungarian name of Baia Mare city that was displayed on several welcome signs.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. NGOs reported that societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was common, and there were some reports of violence against them. On some occasions police condoned violence against LGBTI persons. The NGO ACCEPT reported that in 2019 a person living near their headquarters continuously verbally harassed LGBTI persons who visited the NGO and its employees, and destroyed the property of a transgender woman. In June 2019 ACCEPT submitted a criminal complaint, but as of November, police had not taken any measures. ACCEPT reported that in the meantime the harassment stopped after the perpetrator moved out.

A survey carried out by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported revealed that 15 percent of respondents experienced a physical or sexual attack motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity during the past five years. Out of respondents who described the most recent physical or sexual attack, only 4 percent reported the incidents to authorities because they are LGBTI. As many as 28 percent of respondents indicated fear of a homophobic reaction, transphobic reaction, or both from police as the reason for not reporting a physical or sexual attack.

The law governing legal gender recognition for transgender persons was vague and incomplete. In some cases, authorities refused legal gender recognition unless an individual had first undergone sex reassignment surgery. Access to adequate psychological services was also limited because some psychologists refused to accept transgender patients.

Although the law provides that HIV-infected persons have the right to confidentiality and adequate treatment, authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities did not adopt regulations that were necessary to provide confidentiality and fair treatment, and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS impeded their access to routine medical and dental care.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions can affiliate with regional, national, or EU union federations, but they may affiliate with only one national organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows workers fired for union activity to challenge their dismissal in court for reinstatement. The law provides for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining, but unions complained there was little enforcement to protect against violations of these rights.

Civil servants generally have the right to establish and join unions. Employees of the Ministry of National Defense, certain categories of civilian employees of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, judges, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and senior public servants, including the president, parliamentarians, mayors, prime minister, ministers, employees involved in security-related activities, and president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained about the requirement to submit lists of union members with their registration application. Since employers also had access to the list, union officials feared this could lead to reprisals against individual unionized employees, particularly dismissals, and hinder the formation of new unions.

The law requires employers with more than 21 employees to negotiate a collective labor agreement but provides no basis for national collective labor agreements. Employers refusing to initiate negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can receive fines. The law permits, but does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. The law requires employers to consult with unions on such topics as imposing leave without pay or reducing the workweek due to economic reasons.

Unions may strike only if they give employers 48 hours’ notice, and employers can challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Although not compulsory, unions and employers can seek arbitration and mediation from the Labor Ministry’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. Unions criticized the Labor Ministry for failing to intervene effectively in cases involving arbitration and mediation efforts.

Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. The law permits strikes only in defense of workers’ economic, social, and professional interests and not for the modification or change of a law. As a result, workers may not challenge any condition of work established by law, such as salaries for public servants, limiting the effectiveness of unions in the public sector.

Unions complained that the legal requirement for representativeness, which states that the right to collective bargaining and to strike can be asserted only by a union that represents 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise, was overly burdensome and limited the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer can appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate agreements. It is common for companies to create separate legal entities to which they then transfer employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the necessary threshold for representation.

Unions complained about the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities, intended to prevent unofficial agreements to support political parties, due to past abuses by union officials.

Official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal. It is difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however, penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations when enforcement was successful. The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacks the power to order reinstatement or other penalties, and employees usually must seek a court order to obtain reinstatement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports that such practices continued to occur, often involving Romani, persons with disabilities, and children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and took limited measures to prevent forced or compulsory labor. The law criminalizes forced labor, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but were not evenly applied in all sectors.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 16.5 percent of human trafficking victims officially identified in 2019 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. In June organized crime investigators detained five individuals on charges of modern slavery. The individuals were accused of having kidnapped and detained several persons with a vulnerable background or mental health problems; the victims were used for agricultural work without pay, starved, and forced to live in inadequate farm annexes. This case remained pending as of December.

Men, women, and children were subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing. Organized rings, often involving family members, forced persons, including significant numbers of Romani women and children, to engage in begging and petty theft (see section 7.c.).

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

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16. Children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at age 15 if the activities do not endanger their health, morality, or safety. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions, includes a list of dangerous jobs, and specifies penalties for offenders. Some examples of hazardous jobs for children include those posing a high risk of accident or damage to health, exposure to psychological or sexual risk, night shifts, exposure to harmful temperatures, and those requiring use of hazardous equipment. Parents whose children carry out hazardous activities are required to attend parental education programs or counseling and may be fined if they fail to do so.

Minors who work have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours per day and no more than 30 hours per week, provided their school attendance is not affected. Businesses that impose tasks incommensurate with minors’ physical abilities or fail to respect restrictions on minors’ working hours can face fines. Many minors reportedly did not attend school while working. Minors have the right to an additional three days of annual leave.

The law requires schools to notify social services immediately if children miss class to work, but schools often did not comply. Social welfare services have the responsibility to reintegrate such children into the educational system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection may impose fines and close businesses where it finds exploitation of child labor. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (ANPDCA) in the Labor Ministry has responsibility for investigating reports of child labor abuse, but enforcement of child labor laws tended to be lax, especially in rural areas with many agricultural households and where social welfare services lacked personnel and capacity to address child labor violations. The ANPDCA is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources were inadequate, but penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes like kidnapping. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and ANPDCA dedicates limited resources to prevention programs. According to ANPDCA, 389 children were subject to child labor in 2019 and incidents of child labor are widely believed to be much higher than official statistics. Child labor, including begging, selling trinkets on the street, and washing windshields, remain widespread in Romani communities, especially in urban areas. Children as young as five frequently engaged in such activities but were frequently underreported because official statistics are limited to cases documented by police. Children whose parents worked abroad remain vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Of the 389 documented cases of child labor in 2019, authorities prosecuted alleged perpetrators in 20 cases, while an additional 200 cases remained under investigation at the end of 2019. Between January and June, 115 child labor abuse cases were investigated; out of these, 78 were closed, 52 were still in progress, and criminal investigations were started in three cases.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation because of race, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, social status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, reacting to claims of discrimination rather than adequately engaging in programs to prevent discrimination. Penalties for violations were in general commensurate with those for other types of discrimination, but were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Romani and migrant workers also occurred. The CNCD investigated employment discrimination cases in both the public and private sectors. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, media reported several cases of medical staff being discriminated against by neighbors and denied access to local shops. Following media reports, there was a wave of public support for the medical staff in question.

The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value. Eurostat reports the pay gap between men and women in the country was 3 percent in 2018. While the law provides female employees re-entering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age still suffer unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.

Systemic integration of persons with disabilities does not exist. Public bias against persons with disabilities persisted. NGOs have been working actively to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities to gain skills and gainful employment, but the government lacks adequate programs to prevent discrimination. The law requires companies or institutions with more than 50 employees to employ workers with disabilities for at least 4 percent of their workforce or pay a fine for lack of compliance, which many companies chose to do. Before this provision was introduced in 2017, the law allowed companies not in compliance with the quota to fulfill their legal obligation by buying products from NGOs or firms, known as “sheltered units,” where large numbers of persons with disabilities were employed. NGOs reported that sheltered units lost an important source of income as a result. On November 9, the government re-established “sheltered” or “protected units”, enterprises that employ at least three persons with disabilities who represent at least 30 percent of the overall staff and contribute at least 50 percent of the cumulated full time work hours. Local labor offices had limited success in facilitating employment for persons with disabilities.

NGOs reported that patients suffering from cancer and tuberculosis faced discrimination in the workplace. In 2019 almost one-third of employees with cancer reported they postponed informing their employer of their illness until after treatment, and 17 percent reported a substantial reduction in job duties and responsibilities upon returning to work. The law supports tuberculosis patients by providing monthly food allowances, medical leave, and psychological support but does not contain measures to protect patients from workplace discrimination.

As authorities allow greater numbers of non-EU citizens to live and work in the country, reports of discrimination against migrant workers have become more prevalent. Local residents in Ditrau commune (Harghita County) protested after a local bakery hired two Sri Lankan employees. The two employees were given other jobs and relocated due to opposition to their presence in the village. Another group of Sri Lankan clothing factory workers was stranded in Bucharest following a COVID-19 outbreak and labor dispute that ended with their employer unilaterally terminating their employment contracts and abandoning the group of workers outside of the main airport in Bucharest, even though there were no flights. To resolve this issue, the Labor Force Agency and the General Inspectorate for Migration signed a joint protocol to allow non-EU workers to find employment elsewhere in Romania if their contracts expire to prevent repeat cases. In another case, the Labor Inspectorate launched an investigation after media reported on poor working conditions and accommodations for Indian construction workers following a COVID-19 outbreak at a building site in Bucharest.

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level and has nearly tripled in nominal terms since 2012. Approximately 42 percent of employees earn the minimum wage according to the labor ministry. Despite minimum wage increases, nearly one in seven employed Romanians remains at risk of poverty.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or five days. Workers are entitled to overtime pay for weekend or holiday work or work of more than 40 hours. An employee’s workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week on average over a four-month reference period, although exceptions are allowed for certain sectors or professions. The law requires a 48-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers received two days off per week. During reductions in workplace activity for economic or technical reasons, the law allows employers to shorten an employee’s workweek and reduce the associated salary.

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the government extended the category of eligible furlough (technical unemployment) benefits to independently registered businesspersons, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. Starting in August the government adopted a flexible work plan modeled after Germany’s Kurzarbeit (flexible work) program, applicable until December 31, with the aim of retaining employees on payrolls with joint government and employer contributions. The plan required employers to cover half of full-time wages and the Government of Romania to pay 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee based on the number of hours actually worked. As part of the same package, independent and seasonal workers affected by the epidemic could continue to receive 41.5 percent of the average gross wages for a limited period while day workers and SME employees also would be able to receive separate, limited payments to cover wages and teleworking equipment. Kurzarbeit and technical unemployment support was extended until June 2021.

Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints are rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. Starting during the year, the law allows for one of two caretakers of children to receive paid days off for periods when schools are closed; the income is capped at maximum 75 percent of the average economy wage.

The law gives employers wide discretion regarding performance-based evaluations of employees. The law permits 90-day probationary periods for new employees and simplifies termination procedures during this period.

The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for work performed without a labor contract in either the formal or the informal economy. In accordance with EU regulations, the maximum duration of a temporary contract is 36 months.

The labor ministry, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, health and safety, hours, and minimum wage rates, but it did not effectively enforce all aspects consistently. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those of other similar crimes, but were not consistently applied. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance in all sectors. The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards.

According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce tax burdens for employees and employers alike. To address underreported labor, in 2017 the government increased the minimum required payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those of a full-time employee earning minimum wage. Additionally, the Labor Inspectorate collaborated with the National Authority for Fiscal Administration to conduct joint operations to check employers in sectors prone to underreported labor, including the textile, construction, security, cleaning, food preparation, transportation, and storage industries. These investigations often focused on underpayment of taxes rather than workers’ rights.

The government did not effectively enforce overtime standards. Union leaders complained that overtime violations were the main problem facing their members, since employers often required employees to work longer than the legal maximum without receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional risk bonuses were awarded to healthcare staff caring for COVID-19 patients or for those involved in pandemic response. Health sector unions and media highlighted cases in which medical staff had limited access to protective equipment. In Suceava county, lack of protective equipment and lapses in protocol led to a disproportionate outbreak among medical staff, prompting the government to implement a range of oversight and lockdown measures to contain and control the outbreak, including placing Suceava’s County Emergency Hospital under military management.

Serbia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

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

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media reported that through mid-August, 16 women had been killed in family violence. According to the Justice Ministry, there were 12,332 victims of family violence through mid-August, 8,924 of whom were women.

The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. Women’s groups often cited a lack of timely and efficient institutional reaction, lack of response to reports of violence, and a tendency by authorities to minimize the circumstances that affect survivors’ security as contributing to the violence against women.

In May 2019 Mirjana Jankovic and her parents (Nada Pajic and Branislav Pajic) were killed in their family home in Novi Sad. Mirjana’s husband, Goran Jankovic, admitted to killing them with a hammer in front of his and Mirjana’s two children, ages 10 and three. He then threatened to hurt his children if they told anyone he had been in the home and fled. Mirjana had reported Jankovic for domestic violence and possession of an illegal weapon two weeks before the killing; she was granted a restraining order that should have barred him from approaching or entering the family home. In February, Goran Jankovic committed suicide in Novi Sad District Prison.

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

On July 7, the country’s first prominent case of prosecution of a powerful individual for sexual harassment ended with a verdict against the former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic. Jelicic was sentenced to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic, a municipal government worker in the city.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. Most persons had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to a 2018 UN Serbia report on sexual and reproductive rights, however, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked the same access as other women to information and the means to manage their reproductive health. Although there are no legal barriers to contraception, contraception remained taboo for some persons, reducing its use. According to a 2017 research by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by age 15 and 31 percent before age 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population among vulnerable populations with a maternal mortality rate over 10 percent. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

Birth Registration: Citizen