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Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports or allegations of: the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; and violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of government corruption during the year. The Ministry of Justice’s 2020 annual report disclosed that it had investigated 2,031 allegations of corruption in 2020, of which 1,594 were closed without prosecution, 249 resulted in convictions, and 93 resulted in acquittals. The convictions represent a 15 percent increase from 2019.

Corruption: On November 18, parliament voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, at his request, so that an investigation against him by anticorruption prosecutors could continue. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October but at that time continued to serve as the People’s Party chairman and started serving as the party’s parliamentary floor leader. Kurz resigned in the wake of corruption investigations against him in connection with alleged abuse of office and alleged misuse of public funds for manipulated polling and favorable press coverage beginning in 2016. Kurz withdrew from politics completely in December and resigned as chairman of the People’s Party and as the party’s parliamentary floor leader.

On August 27, a Vienna court sentenced the former vice chancellor and former leader of the Freedom Party, Hans-Christian Strache, to a 15-month suspended prison term for trying to initiate legislation to benefit the owner of a private hospital who donated $14,000 to Strache’s party. Strache appealed the verdict.

During the year, prosecutors also continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and the government holding company OeBAG. The investigations included a search of the finance minister’s house based on allegations he may have been involved in discussions about a political party donation by gambling company Novomatic in exchange for the government’s assistance regarding a tax matter in Italy. In June prosecutors initiated investigations against Kurz on perjury charges in connection with his June 2020 testimony before a parliamentary investigative committee regarding his possible involvement in the appointment of the CEO of the government holding company. The finance minister resigned all party positions and withdrew from politics in December.

Prosecutors also continued investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($575,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examines complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee also provides oversight of the government’s actions with respect to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment; domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. The government generally enforced the law, and law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was generally effective. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters.

Under the law, the government provides psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There are no legal barriers or government policies that adversely affected access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of cases of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit and owning or managing businesses or property. Women were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination are in place, and the government enforced them effectively. The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. (See section 2.a.)

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 443 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, up from 314 in the previous year.

In July the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 21, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.

The NGO ZARA, which operated a hotline for victims of racist incidents, reported receiving 3,039 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, up from 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that 2,148 of the cases were based on racist internet postings, up from 2,070 in 2019. Most of these were directed against Muslims and immigrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center reported receiving 1,402 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, a 33.4 percent increase over the 1,051 complaints received in 2019. Some 84 percent of the reported incidents took place on digital media. The incidents included verbal abuse directed against Muslims and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Muslim groups objected to a new online “Islam Map” published by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Islamic Religious Pedagogics and presented by the integration minister’s Documentation Office of Political Islam on May 27 that shows the location of over 600 Muslim institutions in the country as well as their origin and ideology, structure and network, and connections abroad. The groups interpreted the map as an attempt to put Muslims in the country under general suspicion. Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration Raab defended the map as providing more transparency that the government and public could use as reference material.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to assert that police allegedly targeted minorities for frequent identity checks.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism among police forces and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Ministry of Interior renewed an annual agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to teach police officers cultural and racial sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities in the framework of the ADL’s “A World of Difference” program. Training has been conducted on an ongoing basis for police officers since 2002 and was introduced as part of officers’ basic training in 2008. In 2020, 525 current police officers and 1,035 prospective police officers received training nationwide. As of the end of 2020, a total of 23,265 police officers had received the ADL training out of a total police force of about 31,000 members.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for commercial sex and practices related to child pornography; authorities generally enforced the law effectively. The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that the COVID-19 crisis led to a further increase of anti-Semitism. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 585 anti-Semitic incidents during 2020. These included physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti, and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, 11 concerned physical assaults, 22 involved threats and insults, 135 were letters and emails, 53 were cases of vandalism, and 364 involved insulting behavior. The IKG reported 562 incidents in the period from January to June. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators but reported that a substantial number of incidents involved Muslim perpetrators.

An August 2020 physical attack by a Syrian immigrant on a Graz Jewish community leader remained under investigation. Authorities reportedly were unable to locate the perpetrator of another assault in November 2020 on a rabbi in Vienna.

Government officials roundly condemned the attacks at the time they occurred. School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Research offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

From September 2020 – the date a law extending citizenship to descendants of Austrian victims of National Socialism entered into force – to August, approximately 6,600 persons, mostly from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, received citizenship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred. Health services and transportation were available on an equal basis with others, and government communication was generally provided in accessible formats. There were no government actions that limited participation in civic life, including the ability to vote.

The government had a National Action Plan on Disability for 2012-20 that called for gradual abandonment of segregated schools for students with disabilities. During the 2019-20 school year, however, 36.2 percent of students with disabilities were placed in special education schools.

The Federal Disabilities Act mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities. While the federal ombudsman for disabled persons has noted most buildings comply with these regulations, NGOs complained some public buildings still lacked such access. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Care, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance, to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

A Social Democratic Party parliamentarian reported in April that the Federal Ombudsman’s Office was examining his complaint about a ban on blood donations by sexually active gay men.

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

There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, condoning, or tolerating violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTQI+ persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ organizations generally operated freely. According to a survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 11 percent of homosexual persons and 17 percent of transgender persons reported they had been verbally or physically assaulted in the previous five years.

In October a court in Styria convicted a Syrian national living in Austria who had defaced the walls of an LGBTQI+ community center in the city of Graz, assaulted the president of the Graz Jewish Community, and vandalized the Graz synagogue. The court sentenced him to a three-year prison term.

In March a trial before the Vienna court on incitement charges against a man who had allegedly harassed three LGBTQI+ men after a rainbow parade in 2019 ended in a settlement providing financial compensation to the victims.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment. Laws at the provincial level prohibit discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, including with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. Civil society groups noted there was no federal mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. It prohibits antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The Austrian Trade Union Federation was the exclusive entity representing workers in collective bargaining. Unions were technically independent of government and political parties, although unions in some sectors were closely associated with parties.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws that covered all categories of workers. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were of a civil nature, with fines imposed, and were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative, registration, and judicial procedures were not overly lengthy.

There were few reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions. The government and employers recognized the right to strike and respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for collective bargaining and protecting unions from interference and workers from retaliation for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months to five years imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking in recent years due to organized crime in Eastern Europe. Traffickers were reported to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or work that is detrimental to ethics and morals. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so through regular and thorough checks of workplaces and special youth advisors in companies. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

Child labor occurred. Children were trafficked to the country and subjected to forced begging and occasionally sexual exploitation. Forced labor or exploitation of minors is treated under the criminal code as trafficking in persons, with criminal penalties of one to 10 years in prison, double the penalty for forced labor or exploitation of adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The law does not address national origin. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. Muslim women wearing headscarves sometimes encountered discrimination when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Women employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women by filing a court case or registering a complaint with the Federal Equality Commission, which can award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements covered between 98 and 99 percent of the workforce and set minimum wages by job classification for each industry. Where no such collective agreements existed, such as for domestic workers, custodial staff, and au pairs, wages were generally lower than those covered by collective bargaining agreements. The agreements set wages above the poverty line except in a few cases.

The law in general provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours, although collective bargaining agreements establish 38- or 38.5-hour workweeks for more than half of all employees. Regulations to increase workhour flexibility allowed companies to increase the maximum regular time from 40 hours to 50 hours per week with overtime. A law that entered into force in 2019 allows work hours to be increased to a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week, including overtime, but employees can refuse, without providing a reason, to work more than 10 hours per day.

Overtime is officially limited to 20 hours per week and 60 hours per year. The period worked must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 17 weeks. Some employers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and information technology sectors, exceeded legal limits on compulsory overtime. Collective bargaining agreements can specify higher limits. An employee must have at least 11 hours off between workdays. Wage and hour violations can be brought before a labor court, which can fine employers who commit violations. Penalties were commensurate with other similar crimes.

Sectors with immigrant and migrant workers were particularly affected by violations in wage and hour regulations. Foreign workers in both the formal and informal sectors made up 19 percent of the country’s workforce. They constituted 20 percent of officially employed persons and 35 percent of unemployed persons. There were concerns that some migrant workers, especially those in the childcare industry, were misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. Consequently, these workers did not have access to social safety net benefits, such as unemployment insurance, as well as other benefits, such as paid leave.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Resources and remediation remained adequate. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code. Penalties are commensurate with those for other crimes, such as negligence.

In 2020 a total of 113 workers died in industrial accidents, down from 126 in 2019. Hazardous sectors where the most accidents occurred include construction, agriculture, and forestry.

Workers could file complaints anonymously with the labor inspectorate, which could in turn sue the employer on behalf of the employee. Workers rarely exercised this option and normally relied instead on the nongovernmental workers’ advocacy group and the Chamber of Labor, which filed suits on their behalf.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Informal Sector: Authorities did not effectively enforce wage, hour, and occupational safety and health standards in the informal sector. Workers in the small informal economy generally did not benefit from social protections. Workers generally had to pay into the system to receive health-care benefits, unemployment insurance, and pensions, and such payments were rare in the informal sector. Economists estimated the size of the country’s informal sector at approximately 7 percent of GDP.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government that consolidates most power in the Office of the Prime Minister. In a December 2018 parliamentary election, Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term that kept her in office as prime minister. This election was not considered free and fair by observers reportedly due to irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.

The security forces encompassing the national police, border guards, and counterterrorism units such as the Rapid Action Battalion, maintain internal and border security. The military, primarily the army, is responsible for national defense but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The security forces report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement; mistreatment of refugees; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child abuse, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ freedom of association; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and abuse and killing by security forces.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

There were numerous reports of DSA arrests and charges for citizens who reported corruption (see section 2.a.).

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), set up in 2004 to serve as an independent monitoring mechanism, focuses on investigating cases of corruption, including but not limited to bribery, embezzlement, extortion, abuse of discretion, and improper political contributions. The ACC must obtain permission from the government to investigate or file any charge against government politicians or bureaucrats. Local human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the ACC, which they claimed was evidenced by the acquittal of most cases brought against ruling party officials and bureaucrats, while legal processes, investigations, and filing of cases against leaders of the BNP continued.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In January the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced its intent to provide public housing for 885,622 homeless and landless families, as part of an initiative to eradicate homelessness in honor of the birth centenary of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibar Rahman. In July media reported 36 subdistricts raised allegations of corruption and construction irregularities connected to the housing projects. In response to these reports, the PMO appointed five officials to inspect the allegations, announced “zero tolerance” for any irregularities, and launched technical committees to advise on the administration of the project. Media reported the secretary to the PMO accepted responsibility for the “administration’s failure to deliver on the promise of a flawless project.”

On February 1, al-Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men,” a two-year investigation alleging corruption against political and military figures, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former chief of army staff general Aziz Ahmed (see section 2.a.). The documentary focused on activities of Ahmed’s family and alleged corruption, including bribery and collusion with security forces such as the RAB unit. The documentary also alleged the government’s military intelligence service bought spyware from Israel, a country not recognized by Bangladesh, to monitor the prime minister’s political opponents. In response to the investigation, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings of the document as a “smear campaign” orchestrated by opponents of the ruling government based abroad.

Media reported numerous accounts of local authorities embezzling government food and cash assistance during the pandemic and the related government-imposed lockdowns. In response to these reports, in April 2020 the prime minister assigned 64 mid-level officials from the central government to monitor and report on relief operations. Media reported the relief distribution efforts were administered by civil servants under the executive branch. In June some politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties objected to the centrally administered relief distribution efforts, alleging bureaucrats under the ruling party were corrupt and taking over the country. Opposition lawmakers criticized the Health Ministry for its alleged failure to curb corruption and provide health care during the pandemic.

On June 6, an MP of the ruling party alleged corruption and money laundering continued despite the government’s vow to curb the practice. Another senior MP of the ruling party criticized the government’s budget proposals to impose taxes on the incomes of private universities and medical colleges.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, and they investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their reports.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced self-censorship. Observers commented on the government’s strategy to reduce the effectiveness and inhibit operations of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar, which in turn continued to report harassment, intimidation, and surveillance by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On February 14, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for dismissing the case against Odhikar’s secretary and director and ordered the case to proceed at the Cyber Crimes Tribunal. Odhikar’s NGO renewal registration remained pending at year’s end since 2014. On October 5, the case against Odhikar’s secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and director Nasiruddin Elan went to trial regarding alleged violations in 2013 of the Information and Communications Technology Act.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as security force abuses, religious matters, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+ communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced formal and informal governmental restrictions (see sections 2.b. and 7.a.). Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals.

The law restricted foreign funding of NGOs and included what rights groups reported were punitive provisions for NGOs making “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in the country reported 158 other pending requests for UN special rapporteurs to visit the country since 2016, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

On February 4, the United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson called for a full investigation by relevant authorities into allegations of corruption and illegality involving the army. The United Nations raised concerns regarding allegations the military purchased surveillance equipment from Israel. Bangladeshi military commanders claimed the equipment was bought for one of the Army units to be sent on UN peacekeeping missions, but a UN spokesperson responded surveillance equipment was not deployed with contingents in UN peacekeeping operations. Human rights groups alleged the country used surveillance equipment to target political opponents and dissidents (see section 2.a.).

On February 6, seven international human rights groups called on the United Nations to review its use of Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops around the world. Bangladesh is the largest overall contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 6,800 personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations around the world.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. The NHRC’s primary activities are to investigate human rights abuses, address discrimination in law, educate the public on human rights, and advise the government on key human rights matters. Some human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the NHRC, alleging the government used state institutions including the NHRC to implement its political agenda.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law only prohibits rape of girls and women by men and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the girl or woman is older than 13. Conviction of rape may be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Credible human rights organizations found rape remained a serious issue in the country, with reported rapes throughout the year roughly keeping pace with previous years. Domestic human rights group ASK reported at least 1,321 women were raped during the year. In comparison Odhikar reported 1,538 women and children were raped in 2020; among them, 577 were women, and 919 were younger than age 18. There were allegations of rapists blackmailing survivors by threatening to release the video of the rape on social media.

Rights groups reported violence against women in all forms increased throughout the pandemic. ASK reported 640 women were survivors of domestic violence during the year, including 372 who died as a result of the violence. NGOs mobilized to address an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. There were reports of sexual violence committed with impunity. On June 14, actress Shamsunnahar Smriti, popularly known as Pori Moni, filed a case alleging businessman Nasir Mahmood and five other men attempted to rape and kill her at the Dhaka Boat Club. On August 4, the RAB removed Moni from her apartment during a raid in which agents allegedly found illegal substances including alcohol and narcotics. Some activists stated the police raid was in response to her filing a rape case against a powerful businessman.

On April 26, college student Mosarat Jahan Munia was found dead in her apartment in Dhaka. Nusrat Jahan, Munia’s sister filed a case against Bashundhara Group managing director Sayem Sobhan Anvir Anvi, alleging he abetted Munia’s reported suicide. On July 19, police submitted the final probe report exonerating Anvir of involvement in Munia’s death. On July 26, 51 activists and leaders across the country demanded a reinvestigation into her death, stating, “We believe a proper investigation and appropriate trial for Munia’s suicide or murder is essential in maintaining public confidence in the rule of law of the country.”

In response to a September 2020 gang rape case in Sylhet, Feminists Across Generations, a local group working against gender-based violence and abuse against women, launched “Rage Against Rape,” a movement declaring gender-based violence a national emergency. The organization’s 10-point plan urged for reform and argued the death penalty for conviction would not solve rape culture or gender-based violence. The organization advocated for women and girls’ safety from violence and raised awareness of individual cases of rape. Separately the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 17 organizations, continued to advocate for its “Rape Law Reform Now” campaign, another 10-point plan urging for legal and institutional reforms.

According to guidelines for handling rape cases, the officer in charge of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests must be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. Guidelines also stipulate every police station must have a female police officer available to survivors of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the survivor must be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the survivor deems appropriate. Survivors with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the survivor to a timely medical examination.

A collection of political, sociocultural, and human rights groups stated incidents of rape continued to occur due to a culture of impunity. According to human rights monitors, many survivors did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape survivor to prove a rape occurred, using medical evidence.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for political and economic reasons, and some of these faith groups stated attacks on religious structures increased during the pandemic.

On March 17, an estimated 89 houses and eight temples in a Hindu village in Sylhet were vandalized. Media and civil society attributed the attack to hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters triggered by a resident’s Facebook post criticizing a Hefazat leader for condemning Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit. After the incident the organization released a YouTube video rejecting responsibility for the attack. The government expressed regret and sent the RAB to the village. As of March 23, police had arrested 35 individuals in connection with the attack. Members of the Hindu minority community blamed religious fundamentalist groups for the incident, while some civil society and opposition leaders blamed the ruling party. Some other human rights groups blamed local law enforcement and administration officials for not preventing the attack.

On October 13, media reported anti-Hindu violence broke out following a social media post that went viral depicting a Quran in the lap of a Hindu deity in the city of Cumilla during the Hindu Durga Puja festival (see sections 1.d. and 2.a.). Muslim protesters allegedly attacked Hindus, Hindu temples, and damaged property in several cities. Six persons died in ensuing violence, mostly due to clashes with security forces deployed to restore order. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior officials condemned the violence, emphasized the country’s secular identity superseded religious identity, and the government took measures to compensate Hindu victims.

NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) suffered from restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the Bangladesh Liberation War) were formerly stateless, and members from this community stated their requests to obtain passports were often rejected by immigration officers due to their lack of a permanent address. Almost all this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1970s, when Biharis believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 war. A December 2020 International Republican Institute (IRI) study claimed living conditions for Biharis in the camps remained poor, with many camps containing fewer than 10 public toilets serving hundreds of residents. The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, for example, held an estimated 30,000 residents as of January. While older Biharis may have had an affinity to Pakistan, many participants in the IRI study stated they identified as Bangladeshi, particularly those who grew up after the Liberation War. In 2008 a High Court ruling that the Bihari community had rights as citizens prompted the international donor community to cease support as the community was technically no longer stateless. While the government provided some basic services, including water and electricity, Biharis reported social and economic discrimination as well as a lack of initiatives integrating them into society, leaving them isolated in crowded camps.

In September some Biharis expressed concern officials would reject their official status as Bangladeshis, expropriate their land, and implement policies to force the Biharis to return to Pakistan.

Indigenous Peoples

The indigenous community of the CHT experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which has not been fully implemented, specifically the portions of the accord empowering a CHT-specific special administrative system consisting of the three Hill District Councils and the Regional Council. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.

An August 2020 study found land confiscations, livelihood risks, and violence against indigenous women increased during the pandemic. While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. The study also found a lack of health care for indigenous persons. Other organizations corroborated health care available to indigenous persons was well below the standard available to nonindigenous persons in the country. In October 2020 a group of indigenous tribal leaders presented a memorandum to the government stating a significant portion of the food security needs of marginalized communities in CHT remained unmet.

Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.

In November 2020 business conglomerate Sikder Group, in partnership with the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust, started constructing a five-star hotel and tourist resort on Chimbuk Hill, located in the CHT, despite protests from the Mro, the resident indigenous community, regarding resulting evictions. According to activists, the project would displace 115 Mro families in four villages and lead to a larger estimated displacement of 10,000 persons. Indigenous rights groups stated the land in question is held under customary law by the tribal community for its own use, and transfer of such land may only take place with the informed consent of the indigenous residents. According to these groups, the proposed project site was critical to subsistence crop cultivation, the sole source of livelihood for the Mro people. In January a video circulated showing a confrontation between Mro villages and persons at the hotel construction site.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported deforestation to support Rohingya refugee camps and other commercial pursuits caused severe environmental degradation in their land, adversely affecting their livelihoods. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. According to one organization, Naika Mardi, an indigenous person and Liberation War fighter, was unable to register 0.04 acres of land to his name, even after trying for 10 years. Madi had been living on this land since before independence in 1971.

The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intra-indigenous community violence. The factional clashes between and within the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reported many leaders of these factions were engaged in extortion and smuggling of money, drugs, and arms. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remained unresolved. NGOs and indigenous persons familiar with the situation warned intraparty violence in the CHT had risen sharply.

Reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that were previously not part of the country. The government did not register births for nor extend citizenship to Rohingya refugees born in the country, although it permitted UNHCR to register births within the refugee camps. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through eighth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, despite free classes, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school. Numerous civil society organizations stated many families of school-aged children struggled to find access to the internet in order to benefit from online schooling during the pandemic.

Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. The law prohibits child abuse and neglect with the penalty for conviction up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. According to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), a network of child rights NGOs, the law was not fully implemented, and juvenile cases – like many other criminal cases – often lagged in the judicial system. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, operated “Child Helpline – 1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation. The hotline received approximately 80,000 calls a year on average and was accessible from anywhere in the country. The hotline center provided services such as rescue, referral, and counseling.

ASK reported a total of 453 cases of violence against children were filed in the first half of the year.

Odhikar reported child rape increased alarmingly during the year. According to a survey, 64 percent of rape survivors in Chittagong were children and adolescents. A 2019 BSAF report on child rape stated children as young as two were among the rape survivors and cited a failure of the law-and-order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape. In BSAF’s 2020 report, the domestic organization Human Rights Support Society reported 850 children were raped and 136 violent incidents were committed against children.

During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassas. In May a former leader of the Chhatra League raped a ninth-grade madrassa student. Family members later rescued the girl, finding her in critical condition. The man beat the girl’s father when he demanded justice. In September a father of a nine-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar accused his daughter’s teacher of raping her inside a local madrassa. Many smaller schools had few teachers and no oversight from governing bodies.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country. Politicians and imams used anti-Semitic statements, reportedly to gain support from their constituencies.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took mostly effective measures to enforce these provisions. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against persons with disabilities seriously, and it acted to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities. Nonetheless, civil society reported those with disabilities were the most vulnerable group throughout the pandemic, especially women and girls.

Executive Director Badiul Alam of Bangladesh Protibandhi Unnayan Sangstha (BPUS), a local NGO that has supported more than 7,000 persons with disabilities, estimated 15 to 20 million individuals, or 10 percent of the population, possessed some form of disability. BPUS estimated more than 60 percent of the disability population lived in rural areas without access to government support.

In 2020 the government passed the National Building Construction Act. Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for persons with disabilities. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In some cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. The law states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for conviction of not giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. Local NGOs estimated 50 to 60 percent of those with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as voting centers lacked accommodations for persons with disabilities. Most polling centers had no access to priority voting and no assistive tools such as braille ballots for visually impaired persons to vote confidentially. A 27-member National Coordination Committee is charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation. Civil society organizations advocated the inclusion of those with disabilities in the national parliament, stressing representation would ensure their needs are taken into consideration during decision making.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of accommodation, but data were not readily available. The government trained teachers on inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities. A peer-reviewed study released in July 2020 found many families with children with disabilities lacked knowledge and access to government programs and benefits.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as other persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. Additionally, many organizations reported persons with visual disabilities experienced difficulties accessing technology, depriving them of equal access to education, information, health, and other basic human rights. While individuals reported government websites contained more user-friendly services for persons with disabilities, they also reported information for persons with disabilities was usually uploaded on portals as scanned documents, which made it incompatible for software used by visually impaired persons. Community members reported documents uploaded in formats readable by assistive technology would make a positive difference. The government provided visually impaired students with accessible books every year and was working on a National Web Accessibility Guideline to make all government services accessible to persons with disabilities through a national web portal.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Activists reported the government’s plan of action for ensuring rights of women and girls with disabilities needed strengthening.

The government took action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. The government plans to make its national helpline more inclusive and accessible.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government operates 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances. Activists reported the monthly government allowance for persons with disabilities was 775 taka (nine dollars) and requested the government consider increasing the allowance in the national budget.

Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility during elections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ activists often cited social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations as a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Mental health care was a top concern, and according to these groups, mental health-care providers tended to use moralistic terms to shame LGBTQI+ persons. In terms of physical health care, many practitioners expressed discomfort in discussing sexual activity, and shamed patients who discussed sexually transmitted infections. Neither PrEP nor PEP, pre- and post-exposure medications that prevent transmittal of HIV during sex, were available in the country. The government made HIV testing free of cost, but stigma regarding testing and seeking treatment remained strong. On October 19, the government published national antiretroviral therapy guidelines to outline efforts to increase treatment availability around the country.

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

Same-sex sexual conduct is illegal under the penal code. The government did not actively enforce the law. LGBTQI+ groups reported the government retained the law because of societal pressure. LGBTQI+ groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTQI+ individuals and individuals who were perceived to be LGBTQI+ regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious-behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized but recognized as part of society. Nevertheless, it experienced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks. Police investigation and prosecution of those complicit in violence or crimes against LGBTQI+ individuals remained rare.

Members of LGBTQI+ communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police. They stressed the need for online and physical security due to continued threats of physical violence. In August an antiterrorism tribunal sentenced six individuals to death in the killing of two gay men five years ago, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of the country’s first gay rights magazine and a prominent gay rights activist.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services including health care and access to justice.

While some transgender women in the country identified as hijra (a cultural South Asian term for some transgender women as well as some intersex and gender non-conforming individuals), due to an affinity for the hijra subculture or a desire for increased social protection, not all chose to do so. Many transgender women asserted their transgender identities and corrected those who identified them as hijra. Meanwhile, transgender men received little support or tolerance, particularly in poor and rural communities. Some conservative clerics decried the transgender community and sharply distinguished it from the hijra identity, saying the latter would be tolerable while the former remains unacceptable.

Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

Although the government made some progress in promoting social acceptance of hijra persons, a small segment of the community, the government made limited efforts to promote the rights of others in the LGBTQI+ community. On September 16, the director general of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics announced the national census would include hijra as a “third gender” category; the census was scheduled to be conducted in 2022.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations reported high levels of rejections for trade union registration and an overly complicated registration process. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Department of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) may grant approval for registration of a union. The department may request a labor court dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the Registrar of Trade Unions regularly abused its discretion and denied applications without reason, for reasons not recognized in law or regulation, or by fabricating shortcomings in the application. One union representative explained she had completed all paperwork to form a union and had support from 30 percent of workers, but the union registration was rejected by the Department of Labor because the factory claimed it had hundreds of additional employees. Organizers’ names were shared with the factory owner, and all were fired. Furthermore, the department did not allow more than one union per garment factory. Labor leaders reported unions sympathetic to management received quick approvals to organize

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions.

The law continued to ban trade unions and severely restricted the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 430,000 workers in export-processing zones (EPZs). Worker welfare associations (WWAs), dominated by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), continued to replace the function of independent, democratically elected unions in EPZs. The law limits inspection and greatly restricts the right to strike, giving BEPZA’s chairperson discretion to ban any strike viewed as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. More than 50 percent of WWAs in one zone of the EPZ must approve a federation, and they were prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. Except for limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Unfair labor practices, including antiunion discrimination, were expressly prohibited, but 2018 amendments to labor law halved penalties for both employers and workers. The labor law and rules amendment process continued, as indicated in a roadmap the government submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Workers were often charged with unfair labor practices; employers rarely were. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. The Department of Labor has the authority to deal with unfair labor practices, while the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has the authority to mediate wage-related disputes, but their decisions were not binding. The government reported 20 complaints were filed for unfair labor practices from January to December 1; six were resolved according to the law and standard operating procedures, four investigations were completed, and 10 remained open. Trade union federations reported they have stopped filing unfair labor cases due to the enormous backlog of existing cases in labor courts.

The law establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously. According to the law, at least 75 percent of union employees must support strike action. Work stoppages, strikes, and workplace actions were prevalent during the year in several sectors, and they generally concerned past-due wages, improper or illegal shutdowns, layoffs, terminations, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems.

In July the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur agitated in front of the Labor Ministry building for 10 days, demanding arrears. Despite repeated meetings of MOLE with the employers, there was still no progress as to the payment of the arrears. According to the Industrial Police, the factory had 3,200 workers who did not receive wages after the factory announced sudden closure of its operation. The workers stated wages were in arrears for four to nine months and that their total due was more than 700 million taka ($8.14 million); however, the factory owner wanted to pay less than 25 million taka ($290,698).

On June 13, a female ready-made-garments (RMG) factory worker, Jesmin Begum, died and 35 others were injured as police clashed with 500-600 former workers demonstrating peacefully for the payment of arrears in front of the Dhaka EPZ. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and used charged batons and water cannons to disperse the workers of Lenny Fashions Ltd, Lenny Apparels Ltd and A One Fashions Ltd., some of whom in return threw bricks at police, according to a local trade union leader. Union leaders said Begum died after being hit by rubber bullets, although police alleged she critically injured her head as she bumped into a pole while fleeing. In January the three referenced factories allegedly closed without clearing workers arrears, and thereafter former workers periodically demonstrated to protest. Dhaka EPZ authorities stated they were trying to sell the closed factories to clear the workers’ arrears.

On April 17, media reported at least seven workers were killed, and dozens injured after police opened fire on a crowd of workers demanding payment of unpaid wages and a pay raise at a Chinese-backed power plant. Police opened fire after approximately 2,000 protesters began hurling bricks and stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The workers were protesting regarding unpaid wages, a pay raise, and reduced hours during the holy month of Ramadan, which started the same week as the protest.

According to the labor rights organization Solidarity Center, union registration applications and approvals have declined significantly since 2013 and that workers faced significant challenges registering unions. Despite the adoption of standard operating procedures for union registration in 2017, Solidarity Center reported the process routinely took longer than the 60-day maximum time, and nearly half of all union applications were arbitrarily denied. From January to December 1, Solidarity Center’s partners assisted 10 unions with their registration, and to date only one was approved, three were rejected, and six were pending approval. The government reported receiving 233 total valid applications during the year and approved 190, rejected 31, with the remainder still to be reviewed.

Workers in the RMG sector reported resistance when seeking to establish unions and engage in collective bargaining. In a 2018 survey, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think tank, collected data from 3,856 RMG factories employing 3.6 million workers and found 97.5 percent of them had no union. During the year MOLE reported the RMG sector had 1,006 active trade unions and 1,951 participation committees. Labor leaders claimed much lower numbers of trade unions and asserted while there are perhaps 80 to 90 active unions, only 30 to 40 actually negotiated because intimidation, corruption, and violence continued to constrain union organizing. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions. Only 70 tanneries were unionized under the sector’s single union. The tea sector had one union, the largest in the country, representing 95,000 to 100,000 workers. Labor regulations do not clearly provide a legal basis for collective bargaining at the industrial, sectoral, and national levels.

Labor rights groups reported workers routinely faced retaliation and violence for asserting their rights under the law, including organizing unions, raising concerns, or even attending union information sessions. For example, on August 6, the Bangladesh Industrial Police (BIP) filed a criminal case against the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and other union leaders and members that the Solidarity Center characterized as a case of retaliation for attempting to organize. Workers at the Crossline garment factories in the city of Gazipur failed to register two unions and accused factory management of violating labor laws. These deep disagreements with management led to protests, BIP intervention, and violence on both sides; in response, Crossline filed criminal charges against up to 200 of its factory workers and dismissed others who had led the push to unionize.

Workers in unions were subjected to police violence, mass dismissals, and arrests of union leaders for asserting their rights to protest. Police intimidated unions in the RMG sector by frequently visiting their meetings and offices, photographing or recording meetings, and monitoring NGOs supporting trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted major discrepancies in labor legislation that do not align with the standards of the ILO and emphasized concerns regarding police crackdowns on workers protesting wages. ITUC also called for more measures to restrain interference in union elections. In September Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union reported police first banned several union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council was to be formed. According to labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). The law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations that provided for the effectiveness and independence of PCs.

Workers from several factories also asserted that since August 2018, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and factory owners allegedly used a database of RMG workers to blacklist those who brought demands to management or tried to form unions. Although created after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse to have a record of workers (and potential victims of future disasters), the database served to track known union organizers or anyone who has brought a complaint to management to prevent these staff from finding employment at any other factory. Labor organizations also cited examples of factory owners willing to pay up to one million taka ($11,628) to the Department of Labor to dismiss a union registration application, or to share the names of organizers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor outside prisons, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also requires that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims, but the government did not always provide such services.

During the past year, law enforcement conducted fewer investigations and denied credible reports of official complicity in hundreds of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation cases. The government did not provide sufficient victim protective services, nor did it consistently follow victim identification procedures. There were no government-owned shelters for adult male victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.). In December 2020 police rescued four workers who were being tortured in confinement at a brickfield and arrested seven individuals, including owners of the kiln. According to DIFE, at least 297 abuse cases were pending at labor courts across the country, while 106 cases were pending in Dhaka and 60 in Narayanganj. The cases were mostly filed under Section 326 of the penal code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, assault, and torture at brick kilns. According to the ILO, significant number of child laborers were employed in the various chores at the brick kiln. To complete these tasks, which required no special skill, kiln operators and their agents targeted poverty-stricken villages and urban slums to recruit unskilled laborers.

Traffickers exploited workers in forced labor through debt-based coercion and bonded labor in the shrimp and fish-processing industries, aluminum and garment factories, brick kilns, dry fish production, and shipbreaking. NGOs reported officials permit traffickers to recruit and operate at India-Bangladesh border crossings and maritime embarkation points.

The more than 907,000 Rohingya men, women, and children in refugee camps, who did not have access to formal schooling or livelihoods, were vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly by local criminal networks. International organizations reported that officials took bribes from traffickers to access refugee camps.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depended on the type of work and the child’s age. The law establishes the minimum age for work at 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, with no exceptions. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 hours per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade.

In accordance with the law, the government has declared 38 hazardous sectors where child labor is prohibited, but hazardous domestic work, fish drying, brick production, stone collection, and brick and stone-breaking sectors were not included in that list. Even in sectors declared hazardous, child labor persists, with the government declaring only eight of the 38 listed sectors free of child labor. Trade union leaders pointed to domestic work, local garments production for domestic consumption, fish drying, and brick kilns as the biggest users of child and bonded labor.

The government continued to fund and participate in programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including building schools and a three billion-taka ($35 million) government-funded three-year project that began in 2018 and removed approximately 90,000 children from hazardous jobs. In 2019 the program reintegrated 1,254 children into schools and provided rehabilitation for 3,501 children as well as livelihood support for their parents. In July DIFE stated that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, DIFE had already removed 5,800 child workers. On October 26, MOLE signed agreements with 112 NGOs to eliminate risky child labor. According to the agreements, 100,000 children would be removed from hazardous work in the fourth phase of the project, at a cost of more than 2.85 billion taka ($33.1 million).

MOLE enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. DIFE enforced child labor laws in 42 sectors, and during the 2020-21 fiscal year it targeted six hazardous sectors, engineering workshops, bakery, transport, plastic, food-processing factories, and restaurants, for complete elimination of child labor. Labor inspectors were not authorized to assess penalties; they have the power only to send legal notices and file cases in court. Even when the courts imposed fines, however, they were too low to deter child labor violations.

Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children. The government found children working eight to 10 hours per day in restaurants, engineering workshops, local transportation, and domestic work. The government also reported underage children were found in almost all sectors except the export-oriented RMG, shrimp, tannery, ship breaking, silk production, ceramic, glass, and export-oriented leather goods and footwear sectors.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the production of bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), furniture and steel, matches, poultry, salt, soap, textiles, and jute, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods bound for the local market, where the Bangladesh Labor Foundation reported 58 percent of workers were younger than 18, and 18 percent were younger than age 15.

According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of children ages six to 14 were engaged in full-time work and not in school. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. In a 2006 survey conducted by an international organization, more than 400,000 children were found engaged in domestic work. Children engaged in forced labor in the leather industry and in criminal activities, such as forced begging and the production and transport of drugs. In begging rings, traffickers abused children to increase earnings.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or foreign countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reportedly underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor as shop hands, domestic workers, fishermen, and rickshaw pullers.

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 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 labor law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations. The law does not describe a penalty for discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented most garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total RMG workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics were unreliable and varied widely due to a lack of data. Women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Oxford University and Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Additionally, former BGMEA president Rubana Haq noted the perception women were less able to adapt to increasing automation in the garment sector, leading factories to lay off many female workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. Solidarity Center partners reported there were no antiharassment committees in garment factories, but the Garment Exporters’ Association announced it had visited more than 1,100 factories to confirm the committees had been established.

In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea-workers’ spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

The laws prohibiting adolescents from participating in dangerous work specify that women are equal to adolescents and are, therefore, prohibited from working with hazardous machinery, cleaning machinery in motion, working between moving parts, or working underground or underwater.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and a Senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister and cabinet ministers. Voters elected representatives to the Chamber of Deputies on October 8 and 9 and re-elected President Milos Zeman to a second five-year term in 2018. The most recent elections, for one-third of the seats in the Senate, were held in two rounds in October 2020. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The national police report to the Ministry of Interior and are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. The General Inspection of Security Forces reports to the Office of the Prime Minister and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving police, customs officials, fire fighters, and the prison service. General Inspection of Security Forces inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out sting operations to catch violators in action. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of minority groups, mainly the Romani community and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community; and the lack of accountability for violence against women.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. Several high-level political figures were under investigation in various regions for manipulating public contracts and abuse of official power.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies and at various levels of bureaucracy, and the most common forms of corruption included: leaking information for payments; the unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; acceptance of bribes in connection with criminal proceedings and other procedures (e.g., issuance of permits) and unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures.

Observers criticized the tenuous position of principal prosecutors whom, under existing legislation, the government could remove from office without cause. Observers also criticized the continued lack of legal protections for whistleblowers and regulations on lobbying.

The government took some steps to implement its fifth Open Government Partnership action plan which contains commitments to anonymize online publication of lower court decisions, implement whistleblower protections, provide open data to enable public monitoring of the quality of education, increase civil society participation in government processes, and increase online transparency on the use of public funds. Implementation of the plan was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the parliamentary elections.

In February parliament approved legislation requiring transparency regarding the real (or “beneficial”) ownership of companies. The law bars anonymously owned companies from applying for public subsidies or tenders, although in its final version it does not authorize officials to challenge discrepancies or irregularities in a company’s ownership structure, absent a court finding.

Corruption: In May, the European Commission issued a final report on an audit of EU agricultural subsidies received by Prime Minister Babis’ Agrofert, which – like a 2020 final audit report of EU structural subsidies – concluded that Babis is in conflict of interest due to his concurrent ownership of Agrofert and position as the prime minister, despite the 2017 placement of Agrofert assets into trust funds. Prime Minister Babis and the government disagreed with the findings of both audit reports on the grounds that Babis complied with national law and took no action. In August the European Commission again requested steps to address the conflict of interest outlined in the reports and warned it would stop future EU subsidy payments if no action was taken.

In a separate case, a prosecutor was still reviewing allegations that Prime Minister Babis had improperly received investment subsidies from the EU for a development project, following a recommendation by police in September to file criminal charges against Babis and a former associate. Babis allegedly temporarily transferred the Stork’s Nest conference complex from his Agrofert conglomerate to family members to qualify for EU subsidies in 2007. The criminal proceeding in the case was initiated in 2016, dismissed by the prosecutor in 2019, and reopened later that year by the country’s top prosecutor.

In November the municipal court found former Deputy Education Minister Simona Kratochvilova and former head of the Czech Soccer Association Miroslav Pelta guilty in a case involving manipulation of sports subsidies in 2017. Together, they caused damage estimated at up to 175.8 million crowns ($7.9 million). Kratochvilova was sentenced to six and one-half years in prison and a fine of two million crowns ($90,000). Pelta was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of five million crowns ($220,000). The judgment was subject to appeal.

A trial against a large group of public officials and companies from the Brno area accused of corruption and manipulating public contracts amounting to 47 million crowns (two million dollars) took place in September 2020. The prosecutor recommended 14 years’ imprisonment for the highest-ranking regional politician implicated in the case. The court was scheduled to announce its decision in December.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views, although some politicians disparaged NGOs in public remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Government has a commissioner for human rights as well as several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, including the Government Council for Human Rights, the Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, and the Board for Persons with Disabilities. The Governmental Council for Coordination of the Fight against Corruption was placed under the Ministry of Justice, and the Agency for Social Inclusion was placed under the Ministry of Regional Development.

The ombudsman operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. The ombudsman’s office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern.

Human rights observers generally regarded the office of the ombudsman as effective. The ombudsman elected in March 2020, however, was widely criticized by NGOs, the Romani community, and some politicians, who contended he had publicly downplayed the extent of discrimination faced by Roma and other minorities. The ombudsman also stated that the protection of human rights was not among the functions of his office. In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudsmen for security forces and for education.

In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudsmen for security forces and for education.

Newly approved government strategies on Roma issues and children require the establishment of separate ombudsmen for these two groups.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including of women and men, including spousal rape, as well as domestic or intimate partner violence, and provides for a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances.

A survey published in October found that 9 percent of women over the age of 18 and 2 percent of men reported they had been raped, and that 54 percent of women reported having encountered some form of sexual violence or harassment.

The government did not consistently enforce the law effectively and NGOs called for revising the definition of the crime of rape to focus on the victim’s lack of consent and not on the evidence of violence. Women’s advocates pointed out that rape survivors who do not resist rape out of fear for their life or safety often lack evidence that both the investigators and the courts typically required (e.g., bruises, bleeding, and other injuries).

Observers reported prosecutors and judges in rape cases sometimes lacked knowledge on the subject and cited a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Penalties were often too low, and only half of all sentences included prison time.

In June parliament amended the law on the protection of victims of crimes to include survivors of rape and domestic violence among “particularly vulnerable victims” and thereby entitle them to benefits, such as free legal representation in courts, shared burden of proof, and compensation, and shield them from “secondary or tertiary victimization.” Perpetrators of spousal rape, including brutal attacks, were frequently given inadequate sentences, including probation. Observers acknowledged that conditional sentences were more often correctly combined with restraining orders that effectively protected victims from perpetrators.

NGOs cited continued lack of funding as a constraint on their ability not only to lobby for equal opportunities for women and men, but also to provide other services to sexually abused women or survivors of domestic violence.  NGOs highlighted that, under the government-funded program providing free legal assistance to survivors, NGOs and persons providing pro bono assistance to survivors receive a much lower hourly fee than court-appointed attorneys.

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 1,170 offenders from their homes in 2020, a small drop in removals despite the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The government supported a widely used hotline for gender-based violence crimes, including domestic violence.

The government supported a widely used hotline for gender-based violence crimes, including domestic violence.

In February Charles University and the Sociological Institute conducted research into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence. The research showed that the pandemic contributed to the frequency and intensity of domestic violence and raised the threshold for survivors reporting or seeking help from institutions. The research also showed that the most frequent types of violence were psychological forms difficult to prove. Sexual violence was present in fewer than half of the cases. NGOs reported that demand for support services increased significantly during the pandemic, in some cases by 50 percent compared to the same period in previous years, although intervention centers, police, and social departments for child protections did not record an increase in official cases.

In November 2020 IKEA’s Czech subsidiary, in cooperation with several nonprofit organizations, launched a two-year campaign to counter domestic violence. The company contributed 3.8 million crowns ($174,000) to provide domestic abuse survivors with necessary assistance and accommodation.

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.

Survey results published in October found that 54 percent of all adult women experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment. Thirty-three percent of women reported verbal harassment, 31 percent reported unwanted or unconsented touching, 17 percent reported acts involving unwanted photographs or videos, and 12 percent reported unwanted or unconsented kissing.

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

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

Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain gender altering surgery or receive legal gender recognition (see Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, below).

The government does not allow women access to artificial insemination if 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons are 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. Women must cover the costs of emergency contraception themselves.

In July, after a decade of advocacy, the government passed legislation compensating women who were involuntarily sterilized between 1966 and 2012. Eligible women are entitled to compensation of 300,000 crowns ($14,000). According to some estimates, more than 1,000 women, primarily Romani, were sterilized without their knowledge or full and informed consent during that period.

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.

In March the government approved the Strategy for Equality of Women and Men 2021-2030. Experts noted the document is more comprehensive than the previous 2014 strategy and applauded the scope and specificity in addressing electoral representation, pay gaps, availability of childcare, and security, among other issues. The government acknowledges that the country continues to significantly lag other EU member states in gender equality. Observers cited continued obstacles to achieving gender equality, including women having most household and childcare responsibilities, and professional and societal stereotypes.

There were NGO reports that allegations of hate crime, including hate speech, targeted at women based on gender are not taken seriously or handled adequately by the police and the courts. The director of a leading NGO focusing on hate crimes was unable to obtain relief in court, including the Constitutional Court, after she received more than 100 emails containing sexually explicit content and death threats from a man. The Constitutional Court reasoned that the director was a public figure and should expect and ignore such communications.

In March the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a fine for distributing an advertisement depicting an almost naked female body unrelated to the services offered by the company. The court stated that by distributing a leaflet promoting a business and completely unrelated photographs of the almost naked female body, the company discriminated against the female sex and diminished human dignity. Observers noted this decision sets an important precedent for gender discrimination efforts.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws prohibit discrimination and hate speech against racial and ethnic minorities. In January the ombudsman stated that Roma had problems finding housing because they “devastate housing stock” and not because of discrimination. Several NGOs asserted that such statements discourage Roma from pursuing discrimination complaints through the Public Defender of Rights office that the ombudsman heads. In February, 16 NGOs and several representatives of the government’s Roma rights councils, acting in a nonofficial capacity, signed an open letter demanding that Prime Minister Babis and other high-level political figures distance themselves from the ombudsman.

The situation of the Romani minority remained one of the country’s most pressing problems. Despite partial successes, marginalization, social exclusion, and territorial segregation of some Roma continued. Moreover, Roma faced daily prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In May the government approved a new Strategy for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation for 2021-2030, the drafting of which was led by Romani representatives. According to observers, the strategy required more research and data collection to address a lack of data and statistics on the Romani community. The strategy also called for the establishment of an ombudsman specializing in Romani issues.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. In August the Constitutional Court annulled a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty. This amendment had reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted. Some municipalities used this law as a tool to push Roma and other low-income citizens into their city’s periphery. A government-funded investment program to build new public housing units and provide social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($61.1 million) continued.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. An NGO reported that a man physically attacked a Romani teenage boy for having a verbal dispute with a teenage girl. The man slapped the boy, told him that he could not speak to a white girl in that manner, and damaged the boy’s hearing aid.

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 operate as a new cultural center. The Museum confirmed that despite some COVID-19-related delays in the reconstruction process, the center should open in March 2023 as originally planned. 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. The museum reported limited success in getting information about the Romani people, their history, and their culture incorporated into the country’s general educational program.

NGOs also reported a case of discrimination against a woman from Algeria who lives and works in the country. She alleged workplace discrimination, stating that colleagues at work called her a “black parasite” and praised Israel for “bombing Arabs.”

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and not by birth within the country’s territory. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. There have been no reports of denial or lack of access to birth registration on discriminatory basis. Authorities registered births immediately.

Education: In June, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures implemented by the Ministry of Health that restricted the operation of secondary and higher vocational schools and conservatories were illegal. The court stated the whole country could not be considered at risk of an outbreak at the time of closure.

NGOs reported that school children who do not speak Czech as their first language did not receive sufficient language support, and that the problem has been increasing with the rising number of foreigners residing in the country. Starting with the 2021-22 school year, NGOs reported that 200 students in elementary schools will start receiving instructions in the Czech language but noted that access should be expanded to more elementary school children and to the secondary level of education as well. In its 2020 annual report, the ombudsman’s office recommended changes to entrance examinations for high schools and universities that would accommodate students whose native language is not Czech.

School segregation of Romani children remained a problem. Following the 2007 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic, the government is obliged to prevent the inappropriate placement of Roma into segregated schools and to integrate them into schools with the general population. Children who attended segregated schools were found to have lower academic attainment and fewer employment opportunities due to lower quality of education and decreased social integration. Despite legislative changes in 2016 to expand the use of inclusive education, the situation improved only slightly, and in 2020 the Council of Europe requested more details regarding obstacles to improvements. An estimated 10.5 percent of Romani pupils were still educated in segregated programs, and the share of Romani pupils in segregated programs stood at 24.2 percent (compared to 26.2 percent in 2016), which far surpassed the percentage of Roma in the general population, which was estimated by the government in 2017 at 2.2 percent.

The government provided technical support to Romani students during the pandemic so they could participate in online education. It also offered free summer tutoring camps, but only a small number of Roma participated.

Medical Care: With the exception of children under the age of two months, to whom access to public health insurance was extended during the year, children of foreigners who are long-term residents in the country but not citizens are not entitled to public health insurance.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years. The law requires citizens to report suspected cases of child abuse. The government reported that child abuse is more prevalent among socially excluded families, households suffering from poor communication and stress, households inhabited by persons addicted to substances or gambling, foreigners and ethnic minorities, children of juvenile parents, young single mothers and other disadvantages persons, and children who are homeless or disabled. Infants and toddlers are more frequently subject to abuse because of their inability to defend themselves.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,000 cases of abused or exploited children in 2020, a slight decrease from 2019. NGOs reported, however, that three times more children called crisis hotlines in 2020 than in 2019. They also reported that there were more cases of attempted suicide among children and violence against children and between children, which they attributed to isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and more time spent on the internet.

Advocates for children reported improved collaboration among representatives from the Ministries of Education, Social Services, Health, and Interior. The Interior Ministry, in close collaboration with advocacy groups and other ministries, distributed special cards (KID cards) for early identification of endangered children to schools, police, doctors, and other specialists who working with children. The cards outline indicators of possible child abuse and recommended steps that may be taken in response.

In April police charged a social worker for failing to attempt to see a six-year-old Romani girl who was declared missing in 2017, during repeated visits to the girl’s place of residence. The social worker faces up to three years in prison. The girl’s grandmother was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2018 for severely abusing the girl and her young brother prior to the girl’s disappearance. Observers sharply criticized the placement of the children with the grandmother, who had earlier been sentenced for abuse of her own children.

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

A February 2020 documentary film, In the Net (V siti), followed online and in-person interactions between actresses posing as underage girls and real-life sexual predators, gaining significant media attention and resulting in several charges against the predators. In September, a 38-year-old foreign national was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contacting an underage girl on the internet in May and trying to arrange a personal meeting with her. The man was previously subject to probation and legally expelled from the country in February, based on activities shown in In the Net as well as separate charges of creating child pornography.

Institutionalized Children: In August the government passed legislation that will largely close so-called infant care centers by 2025. The move followed a 2020 finding by the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Rights that the institutionalization of children, particularly Romani children and children with disabilities, was widespread and discriminatory.

The infant centers are government-funded institutions for children up to three years old. Experts had criticized the centers for a variety of reasons, including their cost, quality of care, unavailability of specialist (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists) care, and the fact that children admitted to the centers must be separated from their parents to receive government assistance. The new legislation increases payments to foster parents and retains infant centers only for the care of abandoned or seriously disabled children. Supporters of the legislation urged the government to assist parents at home or enable parents battling substance abuse and similar problems to retain their children, including by bringing them to rehabilitation centers. Opponents of the legislation, most notably members of the Communist Party, argued that the abolition of infant centers would deprive children of government-provided housing and care and claimed the country lacked enough foster families.

The ombudsman visited psychiatric hospitals for children during the year and noted that conditions are humane but, in many cases children lacked the right to participate in the decision-making process about their placement into these facilities. Moreover, there was little standardization of these admissions processes between facilities. Consequently, in August, the Ministry of Health recommended that all psychiatric institutions introduce greater participation of children in decisions regarding their care and requested a more coordinated approach be taken by care providers.

In its 2020 annual report, the ombudsman also noted that children in institutionalized care were deprived of contact with parents and other family members due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country; approximately 3,000 are registered members of the Federation of Jewish Communities. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, well-organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of such groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries as well as the local Jewish community.

The Ministry of Interior recorded 27 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2020. The Federation of Jewish Communities reported 874 incidents with anti-Semitic motives in 2020, of which 98 percent were cases of hate speech on the internet.

In June, police charged the publisher of a book on the grounds of denying the Holocaust and justifying genocide.

In January police charged the publisher of a calendar that featured figures of the Third Reich with propagating a movement aimed at suppression of human rights and freedoms.

In June the government approved the 2021-2026 Counterextremism 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 Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities face challenges accessing public buildings and public transportation on an equal basis with others. The country does not have a unified law governing access for disabled persons. Instead, specific pieces of legislation in each area (education, transport, health, construction) contain accessibility provisions linked to technical or EU-approved standards. Experts reported that only buildings built since 2009 or modifications to older buildings require compliance with the standards, so access to older buildings posed a problem. The government at times enforced these provisions effectively. Government communication is not always accessible, and the government often relies on the public television service to fill this gap. There was a general absence of videos in sign language and materials in easy-to-read format for persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities on government websites. Some progress has been made in making websites and mobile applications accessible for persons with visual impairments because of the implementation of an EU directive on accessibility of public resources.

Early in the year, the government began implementing the new National Plan for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities 2021-2025, the seventh such plan since 1992. As were previous plans, the new plan is structured around the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Experts viewed the approval and implementation of the plan as a positive step but noted that recommendations under previous plans were not always implemented.

The ombudsman conducted a survey in 2020 to identify shortcomings related to the rights of persons with disabilities. The survey identified restrictions on disabled persons’ legal capacity to make financial judgments and to vote as the most significant issues, calling them a “deprivation of rights.” Nearly half the persons with disabilities under guardianships had court restrictions on their voting rights. In July the Interior Ministry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, issued guidelines to social service facilities regarding the ability of their clients, including persons with disabilities, to exercise the right to vote. The guidelines specifically focused on the October 8-9 parliamentary elections. The guidelines clarified, among other things, the legal right to vote, restrictions on the right to vote, and accommodations and support that must be provided to persons housed in the facilities for them to exercise their voting rights.

The ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 noted an undated case of a disabled woman who was thrown out of a taxi because she was accompanied by her service dog. The ombudsman also described shortcomings in early care for children with disabilities, the employment of persons with disabilities in public administration, equal access to prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women, and homes for persons with disabilities.

According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend segregated schools with specially trained teachers. 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. The ombudsman’s office reported that 14.2 percent of primary school students and 5.9 percent of secondary school students were persons with disabilities, they however noted that the percentages are based on the enrollment only and a significant portion of school-aged persons with disabilities may not be enrolled.

NGOs noted an increase in reports of violence against persons with disabilities, especially persons with mental disabilities.

Disability was among the most common grounds for alleged discrimination in cases submitted to the ombudsman in 2020. Of the 353 claims of discrimination filed with the ombudsman, 77 were based on alleged discrimination due to disability. In the courts, approximately 23 percent of equal treatment cases were based on claimed disability, making it the most frequently invoked grounds for claiming discrimination in 2020.

In July the Constitutional Court overturned a Prague court’s decision in the case of a rape victim with autism spectrum disorder/Asperger syndrome. The victim, who had identified as female since childhood, was repeatedly raped by one or more other patients in a boys’ psychiatry ward where she was placed pursuant to a court order at the age of 12. The Prague court awarded the victim less than one-fifth of what she sought in damages, in part because it found that the victim was unable, due to her disability, to understand the interference with her fundamental rights to inviolability and privacy. The Constitutional Court found the award amount inadequate and ruled that a victim’s compensation cannot be reduced based on the injured party’s incomplete understanding of interference with her fundamental rights.

In May a district court in Prague delivered the first-ever decision on reasonable accommodation of a public service employee. The plaintiff, a prison educator with a physical disability, sought reassignment to a work location closer to his home due to negative effects of a long, 180-mile commute on his health. The court found that the employer’s refusal to provide the accommodation amounted to discrimination on the grounds of disability and ordered the employer to cover lost wages and pay damages.

The ombudsman’s office noted problems related to restrictions on free movement and other emergency measures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, lockdowns in residential homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities lasted for a disproportionately long period and exceeded by a month the lockdown measures for the general population.

In September parliament passed legislation that allows schools to provide additional health services. One change specifically allows an estimated 4,000 children with diabetes to receive assistance with insulin injections from health service providers at school instead of relying on their teacher’s willingness to help.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. HIV and AIDS were classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV or 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.

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

In June President Zeman stated that he “does not understand transgender people,” that persons who undergo surgery to change their gender are “committing the criminalized act of self-harm,” and that transgender persons are “disgusting.” A leading NGO in the field viewed the comments as psychologically harmful to LGBTQI+ persons and as inciting hatred. An NGO that provides legal assistance to hate crime victims reported that it received five referrals shortly after Zeman’s statement.

An NGO reported that while attacks on Roma remained the most prevalent form of hate crime (verbal and physical), there was a significant increase in attacks on LGBTQI+ individuals during the year. The NGO noted an increase (from two to eight) in such cases reported to it between the first and the second quarters of the year.

In August a young man who identified as nonbinary, accompanied by his 74-year-old grandfather, was attacked by several men in Prague. The grandfather fell and suffered head injuries during the attack and later died in the hospital. An NGO assisting the victim reported that police were not treating the incident as an attack motivated by sexual orientation.

In June a group of eight persons attacked Jakub Stary, the editor of a gay magazine, as well as his same-sex partner and three friends in Prague because Stary and his partner were holding hands. Stary lost teeth and suffered injuries on his head and body. He reported to the media that police on the scene became dismissive of the incident when they were told the attack was provoked by Stary and his partner holding hands.

Several LGBTQI+ individuals complained to the ombudsman that their blood donations were refused on the grounds that they had unprotected sex in the previous six months, although all blood samples are tested for all sexually transmitted diseases. No similar refusals were made regarding blood donations by heterosexual persons.

Official change of gender is only available to persons who undergo gender reassignment surgery. Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain gender altering surgery or receive legal gender recognition. Gender altering surgery is allowed for single or divorced persons who have a minimum of one year of hormonal therapy and “acting” as the person of the desired gender. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsman recommended that the government submit amendments to relevant laws. In May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, that the sterilization requirement was legitimate. The decision was challenged in the Constitutional Court, where the case was pending as of year’s end.

Laws prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ 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. Laws allow registered partnerships of same-sex couples but not marriage. 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, victims of trafficking or terrorism, and, as of July, rape and domestic violence victims.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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. Strikes are permitted only in negotiations over collective agreements and can only be undertaken after mandatory mediation lasting at least 20 days. Unions 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 Global Rights Index 2021, a report produced by the International Trade Union Confederation, alleged that Amazon warehouses in the country were under surveillance to monitor “security risks, including labor organization and trade union presence.” Collected data included information about union protests and strikes, including the number of participants and whether leaflets were being handed out. Other surveillance activities reportedly included infiltrating Facebook groups and creating false social media profiles to investigate employees who led protests. In 2020 the Global Rights Index 2021 gave the country “Rating 2,” stating that repeated violations of workers’ rights occurred in the country.

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 country, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, and Vietnam were exploited in forced labor, typically through debt-based coercion or exploitation of other vulnerabilities, in the construction, agricultural, forestry, manufacturing, food processing, and service sectors, including in domestic work. Private labor agencies often used deceptive practices to recruit workers from abroad, as well as from inside the country. For example, after arriving in the country, workers from abroad were given job offers that differed from what they had been promised prior to arrival. Their rejection of a job offer on these grounds typically meant they lost money invested in travel to the country and threatened their ability to support families and children who remained in their country of origin. In 2020 women from abroad were frequently hired through such deceptive practices to work in factories, poultry farms, or hairdressing studios.

In August amendments to the foreigners and employment acts entered into force that introduced fines for employers who allow or benefit from “disguised employment,” a system of sophisticated chains of supply contracts in which a company outsources work to an employment pseudo-agency lacking necessary permits to provide such employment activities. The pseudo-agency provides workers, often foreigners without necessary work or residence permits or even Czech employees without proper contracts, necessary insurance, and protections. This system opens a space for exploitation of workers or forced labor, since such workers are often in vulnerable positions. A fine of up to 10 million crowns ($440,000) can be imposed on employers using “disguised employment” in addition to intermediaries facilitating such employment.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age 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 or other communicable disease status, social status, or trade union membership.

According to the ombudsman’s report, discrimination at work accounted for the greatest number of complaints to the ombudsman in 2020 (approximately 27 percent). Like the previous year, most complaints in 2020 were for discrimination based on age, gender, and disability. The ombudsman’s office, for example, helped an employee after his employer refused to extend the employment contract due to his age. In this case, the ombudsman’s arguments contributed to an amicable conclusion of the court proceedings, including compensation for nonpecuniary damages.

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 2020 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.

Women’s salaries lagged those of men by approximately 20 percent. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs continued using 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 the prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: 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. Inspections for compliance with the minimum wage were one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspectors.

The SBLI detected 2,610 violations of wage and hour laws in 2020 and imposed penalties of 9 million crowns ($415,000). Violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were common in the wholesale, retail, food, hospitality, land transport, construction, and security services sectors.

While SBLI inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, they are not responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Employees can seek enforcement of wage and hour laws through judicial recovery. Observers reported judicial recovery can be very lengthy and hard to get, especially for foreign worker.

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.

Occupational Safety and Health: 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. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to their employment.

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. The 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.

There were 35,071 registered workplace injuries in 2020, 7,345 fewer than in 2019. There were 108 fatal accidents in 2020, compared with 95 in 2019. Most workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry, transport, construction, and processing industries. Fatal accidents were investigated. For example, when an agricultural worker died after being injured by cattle, the SBLI concluded the employer did not take adequate organizational and technical measures to prevent the fatal injury and imposed a penalty.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with democratic, parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is head of state. A prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party of a multiparty coalition, is head of government and presides over the cabinet, which is accountable to a unicameral parliament (Folketing). The kingdom includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous with similar political structures and legal rights. They manage most of their domestic affairs, while the central Danish government is responsible for constitutional matters, citizenship, monetary and currency matters, foreign relations, and defense and security policy. Observers deemed national elections in 2019 to be free and fair.

The National Police maintain internal security and, jointly with the Danish Immigration Service, is responsible for border enforcement at the country’s ports of entry. The Ministry of Justice oversees both services. The Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have responsibility for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities, such as disaster response and maritime sovereignty enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of excessive use of solitary confinement, including of children.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Transparency International Greenland’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2020, released in March, found that 57 percent of respondents felt corruption was a “big problem.” The survey was conducted in October-November 2020, shortly after a conflict-of-interest case emerged involving the then premier of Greenland Kim Kielsen. In May 2020 Kielsen’s government raised the fishing quotas for rockfish while the then premier lent out his private boat for commercial fishing of rockfish. Kielsen confirmed that he earned 27,000 kroner (DKK) ($4,200) by renting out his boat that was not rated for commercial use. In September 2020 the government’s audit committee offered a “sharp reprimand” of the “criticizable” actions, but it did not find Kielsen had violated any laws.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman investigated complaints regarding national and local public authorities and any decisions authorities made regarding the treatment of citizens and their cases. The parliamentary ombudsman can independently inspect prisons, detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals. A European ombudsman monitored the country’s compliance with EU basic rights, a consumers’ ombudsman investigated complaints related to discriminatory marketing, and two royal ombudsmen provided liaison between the Danish central government and those in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. These ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or political interference, and were considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women and men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is not defined by a lack of consent, but rather by whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years for aggravated circumstances and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape.

Gender-based violence rates have increased due to COVID-19. The number of women enrolled in domestic violence shelters throughout the country in 2020 increased 3 percent compared with 2019. In January a new consent law went into effect. The law, which strengthened the country’s rape laws, criminalized sex without the explicit consent of all parties.

The police received 1,825 reports of rape or attempted rape in 2020.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances it also reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape. The law does not provide a minimum sentencing for persons convicted of rape but does cap sentencing at 10 years. The law is applied equally regardless of the marital relationship of the offender and the victim. The law provides that sentencing be based on the severity of the case as well as an individual evaluation of the offender. Sentencing was typically between 12 and 18 months.

In the country’s UPR, two treaty bodies of the UNHRC expressed concern that numerous women had experienced violence or had been exposed to threats thereof, and that the rates of prosecution and conviction remained low. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was concerned regarding the high incidence of sexual violence, including rape; the lack of reliable associated statistical data; the inadequacy of legal provisions relating to rape; and the very low rate of prosecution of sexual violence.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence throughout the country, including in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Under the law a man who is the survivor of domestic violence is not afforded the same opportunities for help as a woman. While the law provides women the right to be admitted to a women’s crisis center, men can only be admitted to shelters or male centers as “functional homeless.” These centers did not necessarily have expertise in caring for survivors of violence because they house a wider target group, such as the homeless and those suffering from drug or alcohol addictions. In Greenland there were 748 sexual crimes reported in 2020, a 33.8 percent increase from the 559 reported in 2019.

The law provides for 10 hours of taxpayer-funded psychological help for women, but not for men, in shelters. The government may extend this treatment to men in men’s shelters on trial basis in 2022-23.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers sexual harassment an unsafe working condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it. The government enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: 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, including under family, labor, religious, personal status and nationality, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning and managing businesses and property laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

COVID-19 vaccination rates among residents in the country’s so-called parallel societies (previously called “ghettos”) were considerably lower than other areas of the country. As of August, 40 percent of those older than age 12 who were invited to get vaccinated in the largest areas, including Vollsmose, Gellerup, and Tingbjerg, did not book a time to get vaccinated. This compared with 15 percent of the rest of the general population. Health experts attributed the low rates of vaccine uptake among certain minority and immigrant groups to insufficiently robust outreach and engagement efforts.

In a report from a study conducted between 2015 and 2018 and released in September 2020, the DIHR found that patients with non-Western backgrounds had a 40 percent higher risk of being subjected to coercion in psychiatric institutions.

The Finance Act of 2021 included a four-year grant to fund the country’s first crisis center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons with ethnic minority backgrounds. The crisis center will emphasize specialized counseling and guidance efforts and aims to promote security, well-being, and equal opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons with a minority background.

The Ministry of the Interior and Housing continued to implement the government’s action plan for the elimination of parallel societies by 2030. The government defines a parallel society as a neighborhood with more than 1,000 residents where more than half of the residents are of “non-Western” origin and meet certain socioeconomic criteria. Media widely interpreted “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities. The law requires parents from parallel societies to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions. Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to DKK 4,560 ($711) from noncompliant parents. The law also requires neighborhoods that have been classified as “parallel societies” for four consecutive years to reduce the amount of public housing in the area by 40 percent through demolition, sale, or privatization of public housing. The government is responsible for re-housing evicted individuals.

Indigenous Peoples

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, who are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources. Greenlanders also vote in national elections.

In the UPR, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that Greenland’s Thule tribe was not a distinct group of the area’s Inuit population breached the right to self-identification.

Children

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including corporal punishment, is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. According to police statistics, approximately 17 percent of total sexual offenses in Greenland were crimes of “sexual relations with individuals below the age of 15.”

During the UPR the Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns that many children, especially children with disabilities, who could not stay with their families continued to be placed in alternative care institutions.

The 2020-23 joint Denmark-Greenland project to strengthen the work for vulnerable children and young persons in Greenland established 16 targeted initiatives to ensure early support for vulnerable children and young persons, who were survivors of abuse or sexual assault. The national government allocated DKK 80 million ($12 million) to help implement the recommendations and initiatives. Previously, the Greenlandic government reported that every third child in Greenland experienced neglect, that one in five children born after 1995 experienced sexual abuse, and that the suicide rate among youth was high.

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

A report released in October by Ethnic Consultant Team, a department of the municipality of Copenhagen, showed an increase in the number of persons who have contacted Copenhagen and Aarhus municipalities because of threats of so-called honor killings. An estimated 100 persons, mostly women, contacted the municipalities over the past three years. The municipality of Copenhagen received 90 inquires related to “honor killings” between 2018 and 2020, of which 80 were directly related to threats of “honor killings,” and the remaining 10 to anxiety related to “honor killings.” Spokesperson for the Council for Ethnic Minorities, Halima El Abassi, called the numbers “extreme,” adding that the country has issues surrounding honor, and the big cultural differences in some environments.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Penalties for the distribution of child pornography include up to a six-year prison sentence. The government generally enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. Prostitution is not criminalized, but the purchase of sexual services from a person younger than 18 is illegal. Penalties for inciting child prostitution include up to a four-year prison sentence.

The law in Greenland prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 15; the Greenlandic Police determine the penalties for perpetrators.

Displaced Children: The government considered unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants to be vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. If a child younger than 18 enters the country without parents or any other family and applies for asylum, the child is termed an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker. As such, the child has special rights including to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance and be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason, as well as other rights described in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A personal representative is appointed for all unaccompanied children who sought asylum or who stayed in the country without permission.

In the UPR, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that: asylum-seeking families with children might be detained awaiting deportation; efforts to identify children in vulnerable situations or girls at risk of female genital mutilation were insufficient; and the best interests of the child were not adequately considered in immigration cases. The committee and UNHCR were also concerned that children aged 15 or older did not have an automatic right to family reunification.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concerned that unaccompanied children might be placed in detention when awaiting deportation and, as of age 17, were placed in centers for adults and could be separated from unaccompanied siblings. The committee was also concerned that unaccompanied children missing from asylum centers could have become sex trafficking victims and that unaccompanied children not found mature enough to undergo the asylum procedure did not have their applications processed until they were considered sufficiently mature.

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

Anti-Semitism

The organization the Jewish Community in Denmark (Det Jodiske Samfund i Danmark) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country, mostly in the Copenhagen area.

In April the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg was vandalized. Two dolls were placed near a grave, and paint was poured over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery. In addition, anti-Semitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical movement Nordic Resistance Movement were found near the dolls. A 29-year-old man was charged with vandalism and hate speech. In June the man was sentenced to one year in prison. He appealed the verdict and was released from prison on November 1, because the court deemed that there was a risk that the expected sentence from the High Court of Western Denmark would not exceed the time the man had already served.

On April 6, a 28-year-old man was sentenced to nine months in prison for racism, violation of the peace of a graveyard, and gross vandalism against a grave in a Jewish cemetery in Randers in 2019.

Representatives of the Jewish community remained concerned regarding proposals to ban nonmedical circumcision of boys younger than age 18 could reemerge in parliamentary debates.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against and harassment of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, employment, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions.

The law provides for the right of free education for all children. The law provides that most children with disabilities be able to attend mainstream classes with nondisabled peers through secondary school. On April 20, parliament voted unanimously for a bill to include on the list of hate crime offenses criminal acts motivated by prejudice against a victim’s disability. Previously, only crimes motivated by prejudice against a victims’ ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or similar, counted as hate crimes. The new law took effect on May 1.

On January 1, the law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of disability was amended to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities in day care, primary school, independent schools, and private primary schools (free primary schools). At the same time, the right to appeal was introduced to the Equal Treatment Board, which makes it possible to be awarded compensation. The purpose of the amended law is to avoid discrimination of children and young persons with disabilities in day care and at school and achieve the same opportunities for participation as other children and teenagers.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as in elections to the European Parliament, but not in national elections.

Greenland employed a spokesperson to promote the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. According to media reports, persons with disabilities in Greenland continued to lack adequate access to physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Many Greenlanders with disabilities had to be relocated to Denmark because of lack of support resources in Greenland.

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

Police and other government agents did not incite, perpetrate, condone, or tolerate violence against LGBTQI+ individuals, or those reporting on such abuse.

Danish law prohibits discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, and the government enforced such laws.

The law affords individuals legal gender recognition, but government guidelines require that individuals undergoing transition receive hormone treatment at one of two designated government-run clinics; private physicians are not permitted to establish this course of treatment.

In May the protest movement Live and Let Live (Lev og Lad Leve) published a book detailing 1,000 examples of hate crimes committed against members of the LGBTQI+ community in the country since 2020. The release of the book was accompanied by a demonstration at parliament where 1,000 chairs were placed in front of the castle, one to represent each story in the book. The organizers and authors of the book delivered copies of the book to politicians in parliament, among them Minister for Equal Opportunities Peter Hummelgaard. Several smaller demonstrations were held throughout the country where books were given to local politicians. Intersex Denmark and other LGBTQI+ organizations called on the country to end surgery on intersex children.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law states all workers may form or join independent unions. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and to legal strikes but does not provide nonresident foreign workers on Danish ships the right to participate in the country’s collective bargaining agreements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination, and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation including supporting regulations were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Breaches of collective agreement are typically referred to industrial arbitration tribunals to decide whether there was a breach. If the parties agree, the Labor Court may deal with cases that would otherwise be subject to industrial arbitration. The court determines penalties on the facts of the case and with due regard to the degree that the breach of agreement was excusable.

Employers and the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Annual collective bargaining agreements covered members of the workforce associated with unions and indirectly affected the wages and working conditions of nonunion employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced this prohibition. The law prescribes penalties that were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes.

An annual report from the National Board of Social Services noted that victims of both human trafficking and forced labor had been affected more negatively due to COVID-19. Male victims were generally trafficked for criminal actions and forced labor. Children and young persons were often exploited for criminal acts. The report underscored human trafficking increasingly took place digitally, with use of technological tools for recruitment, monitoring, retention, and exploitation of victims. The National Board of Social Services also identified cases of trafficking to slavery-like conditions. In all cases the victims had been physically deprived of their liberty.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The minimum legal age for full-time employment is 15. The law sets a minimum age of 13 for part-time employment and limits school-age children to less strenuous tasks. The law limits work hours and sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Minors may not operate heavy machinery or handle toxic substances, including harsh detergents. Minors may only carry out “light work” that is the equivalent of lifting no more than 26.4 pounds from the ground and 52.8 pounds from waist height. For minors working in jobs where there is a higher risk of robbery, such as a snack bar, kiosk, bakery, or gas station, a coworker older than 18 must always be present between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination, and the government generally enforced these laws effectively. The law prohibits discrimination and harassment based on race, skin color, or ethnic origin; gender; religion or faith; sexual orientation; national or social origin; political views; age; and disability. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV, AIDS, or refugee status. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment and were generally commensurate with those for similar violations.

The UNHRC expressed concerned regarding the persistent gender wage gap, mostly affecting women with immigration backgrounds, and obstacles faced by women in accessing full-time employment.

Danish gender equality law does not apply to Greenland, but Greenland’s own law prohibits gender discrimination. Greenland has no antidiscrimination laws in employment, and Danish antidiscrimination laws do not apply to Greenland.

Greenlandic law prohibits gender‐based discrimination in the labor market and has set up an Equality Council. The council’s mandate is restricted to gender equality, and the council “is not obliged to work at the request of citizens but can assess whether an issue requires its attention.” Greenlandic citizens cannot complain to an independent appeals board but must bring their case to court. If a complaint concerns discrimination by a public authority, citizens can complain to the parliamentary ombudsman.

In July the Employment and Integration Administration in Copenhagen released findings showing that nearly a quarter of the 3,433 young persons between the ages of 18 and 29 surveyed experienced discrimination within the past year. Of the respondents, 42 percent indicated that discrimination occurred in their workplace, up from 34 percent in 2019. The survey reported that those of younger age with an ethnic background other than Danish had a greater risk of having unpleasant experiences at work.

In May the labor union Lederne published a survey showing the extent of discrimination in Danish workplaces. According to the results, many workers with non-Western ethnic backgrounds experienced racist or discriminatory actions from customers or other employees.

In 2019 the Ministry of Equality published findings from a study regarding the situation of LGBTQI+ persons in the labor market. The study found that approximately 30 percent of LGBTQI+ workers experienced discrimination in the workplace. Following the release of this report during the year, the Ministry of Equality announced a new campaign to increase job satisfaction as well as prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not mandate a national minimum wage. Unions and employer associations negotiate minimum wages in collective bargaining agreements that were more than the estimate for the poverty income level. The law requires equal pay for equal work; migrant workers are entitled to the same minimum wages and working conditions as other workers.

Workers generally worked a 37.5-hour week established by contract rather than law. Workers received premium pay for overtime, and there was no compulsory overtime. Working hours are set by collective bargaining agreements and adhere to the EU directive that average workweeks not exceed 48 hours.

The Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) under the Ministry of Employment is responsible for the enforcement of wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government effectively enforced wage and hour laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Vulnerable groups generally included migrant and seasonal laborers, as well as young workers. These groups often worked in the agricultural and service sectors.

There were growing concerns regarding the state of working conditions in the country’s platform economy (also known as gig economy). Employees at Nemlig.com, an online grocery delivery service, were threatened with being fired or having reduced working hours if they could not work within the allotted timeframe of packing customers’ orders. Drivers were also expected to work for 15 hours a day and experienced enormous physical pressure to fulfill deliveries to avoid fines up to approximately DKK 2,000 ($310). The labor union 3F entered an agreement with Nemlig.com regarding the work pace in a warehouse located in Broendby. In March, 3F stated in a briefing note that Nemlig.com made progress during the COVID-19 pandemic but that employees continued to be treated poorly.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law prescribes conditions of work, including appropriate safety and health standards, and authorities effectively enforced compliance with labor regulations. The same inspectors with authority over minimum wage and hours conducted occupational safety and health inspections. Standards were enforced effectively for wage, hours and occupational safety and health in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for safety and health violations, for both employees and employers, were commensurate with those for similar violations. The DWEA under the Ministry of Employment may settle cases subject only to fines without trial.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for the framework and rules regarding working conditions, health and safety, industrial injuries, financial support, and disability allowances. The DWEA is responsible for enforcing health and safety rules and regulations. This is carried out through inspection visits as well as guidance to companies and their internal safety organizations. DWEA’s scope applies to all industrial sectors except for work carried out in the employer’s private household, exclusively by members of the employer’s family, and by military personnel. The Danish Energy Agency is responsible for supervision of offshore energy installations, the Maritime Authority is responsible for supervision of shipping, and the Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for supervision in the aviation sector.

The DWEA has authority to report violations to police or the courts if an employer fails to make required improvements by the deadline set by the DWEA. Court decisions regarding violations were released to the public and show past fines imposed against noncompliant companies or court-ordered reinstatement of employment. Greenland and the Faroe Islands have similar work conditions, except in both cases collective bargaining agreements set the standard workweek at 40 hours.

Workers can remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations. The same laws protect legal immigrants and foreign workers and apply equally to both categories of workers.

The DWEA registered 25 workplace fatalities in the period from January to May. An annual report from the DWEA showed that in 2020 a total of 46,391 occupational accidents were reported (a number that is the highest registered number of occupational accidents in the period from 2015-20). According to the report, the most frequent injury was ankle sprains and other muscle injuries which made up 37 percent of all reported occupational accidents in 2020.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.

The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

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

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.

The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.

On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.

On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied their rights in practice.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted most of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, but some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

Tribal leaders in Telangana accused the state government of impinging on the forest rights of tribal communities. Farmers contended the state forest department destroyed their crops without prior notice and attempted to forcibly remove them from their land. On August 6, police arrested 23 tribal farmers for attempted murder when tribal members “forcefully tried to recover farmland that the villagers have been cultivating for decades.” Tribal leaders criticized the arrests as “persecution” for defending their rights.

On August 26, a tribal man from Madhya Pradesh died after several persons tied him to a van and dragged him on the road following a minor traffic dispute. Madhya Pradesh police identified and arrested five of the eight accused after a video of the incident was disseminated widely on social media.

Children

According to a Lancet report, more than 100,000 children lost either one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a Supreme Court affidavit reporting 8,161 children were orphaned, 92,475 children lost one parent, and 396 were abandoned between April 2020 and August.

After the NCPCR raised concerns regarding complaints of illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19, the Supreme Court directed states to take stringent measures against illegal adoptions and to increase publicity of the laws and regulations.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. Analysis of government data from 2015-16 noted approximately 62 percent of children younger than five had their births registered and their parent or parents received a birth certificate.

Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected children’s right to education and nutrition. A UNICEF India report found that during the pandemic 1.5 million schools were closed, which affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Socioeconomic inequality and lack of resources, including internet and technological devices as well as limited access to electricity, resulted in less educational opportunities for some children. The report projected that 8 percent of all children may not return to school. To reduce the risk of children dropping out, the Supreme Court ordered private schools to waive fees and for the state to pay fees to ensure children remain enrolled.

According to UNICEF, more than 60 percent of secondary school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, children with disabilities faced additional challenges with online education.

Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses.

The India Child Protection Fund reported increased incidences of cyber or sexual abuse involving children. With children spending more time indoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic, often without supervision, the report expressed concern that children were more vulnerable to online sexual predators.

A Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights study, released in July, concluded that physical, online, and mental abuse against children sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than 18 and a boy younger than 21 as illegal but recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address the practice of rape survivors being forced into marriage.

In 2020 the government constituted a task force to review the increase of the minimum permissible age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years. Critics believed the proposal did not address the core concerns regarding child marriage, such as extreme poverty and lack of education.

The law establishes a full-time child marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child protection authorities.

Financial distress, parental deaths, and school closures have put more girls at risk of child marriage. According to media reports, more than 500 cases of child marriage took place in West Bengal between March and June 2020 during the COVID-19 national lockdown. The NCRB reported 785 cases of child marriages were registered throughout the country in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. Officials reported that in most cases underage girls were forced to marry because of their family’s loss of earnings and financial distress caused by the lockdown. According to a recent study, 65 percent of the child marriage cases were related to so-called romantic marriages, another 30 percent were arranged, and 5 percent were forced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into commercial sexual or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or child sex trafficking.  Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The law provides for at least one special court dedicated to sexual offenses against children (POCSO court) to be set up in each district, but implementation of this provision lagged.

NCRB data showed that the number of 16- to 18-year-old victims under the POCSO Act was higher than the number of child victims from all the other age groups. Some NGOs noted several adolescent boys entered the juvenile justice system having been charged with rape because of the changes in the law.

Media reports indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in cases filed under the POCSO Act. Data from Child Welfare Committees showed a 36.5 percent increase in the number of POCSO cases registered from January to July when compared with the number recorded for the same period in 2020. The rise in POCSO cases was attributed to increased time spent online which increased exposure to online traffickers.

On March 13, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published new rules to protect children from sexual offenses. The rules provide for immediate compensation, increased public awareness regarding services from the CHILDLINE India Foundation, and legal aid assistance. The rules advise state governments to enact a child protection policy to re-enforce the prohibition of violence against children. A new provision also directs immediate financial help to victims of child sexual abuse by the Child Welfare Committees. NGOs noted the procedure was not being implemented in a standardized fashion across jurisdictions.

In January the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a child is not considered sexual assault if there is no “skin-to-skin contact” or “sexual intent.” The National Commission for Women criticized the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Bombay’s High Court’s decision.

In a June 2020 ruling the Delhi High Court mandated notice to complainants in child assault cases to ensure their presence in every bail application filed by the accused in their case. This ensured the complainant is informed of the proceedings and has an opportunity to argue against bail. Other high courts were expected to follow suit. For instance, the Orissa High Court issued similar directions to the POCSO courts operating under its jurisdiction.

In June 2020 the Delhi High Court held that the POCSO Act does not prevent a victim from applying for monetary compensation more than once if their circumstances required. Court cases typically last for years, and a victim’s financial needs may grow as time passes.

There was a continued focus on providing speedy justice to victims of sexual abuse. A 2016 study by the NGO Counsel to Secure Justice highlighted many child sexual abuse cases were pending trial or delayed in trial. The government stated 49,000 pending cases related to rape and sexual offenses against children were addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of 1,023 fast-track courts. Critics alleged fast-track courts established for POCSO cases were often unable to function on a timely basis because of pandemic restrictions. As a remedy, the Supreme Court directed the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Rajasthan to initiate a pilot project to test videoconferencing facilities for recording testimony.

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in several group homes and orphanages.

A National Commission for Protection for Child Rights audit found that out of 7,163 childcare institutions in the country, as many as 2,039 or 28.5 percent were not registered with state governments as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse.

In 2020 the Supreme Court directed state governments to improve the handling of the COVID-19 crisis among institutionalized children. States were asked to file detailed reports, and various guidelines were issued to different childcare institutions on how to deal with the pandemic-induced crisis. NCPCR stated more than 720 children in childcare institutions in 11 states and union territories contracted COVID-19 as of August, but no fatalities were reported.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court revised the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to prevent children from being tried as adults. The Supreme Court ruled that children can be tried as an adult only for “heinous” crimes that have a minimum punishment of seven years. In view of this judgment, the Juvenile Justice Board may conduct a preliminary assessment into a child’s mental and physical capacity to decide whether the child should be tried as an adult.

Many children continued to stay in institutions. Children accused of committing crimes often did not appear before juvenile justice boards for up to a year, and in many cases, children were required to stay in institutions for extended periods of time.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

Buying and selling of human organs are prohibited by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Organs can be donated to close relatives as well as others in need of transplantation for medical reasons after proper authorization.

In July, Assam police arrested three persons for trading in human organs – mainly kidneys harvested from approximately 12 victims. Other reports indicated almost 30 individuals may have been victims. Reports suggested that pandemic-induced financial hardship led villagers to fall prey to those involved in the organ trade.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.

The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.

According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.

The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.

The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.

Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.

In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The estimated HIV prevalence has been declining since the epidemic’s peak in 2000 and has stabilized in recent years. According to the National AIDS Control Organization, there were approximately 70,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2019. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable and high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. UNAIDS 2018 data indicated new HIV infections were declining among sex workers and men who have sex with men, but stigma related to key populations continued to limit their access to HIV testing and treatment. The data showed 79 percent of individuals were aware of their HIV status and that 71 percent of individuals with HIV were receiving treatment.

According to the National AIDS Control Organization 2019 report, Maharashtra was estimated to have the highest number of new HIV infections, followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Delhi.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons with HIV. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV and AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to HIV.

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

NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.

LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.

On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.

On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

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 based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state, serves a largely ceremonial role, and has a five-year term. The kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary Malay rulers. In 2018 parliamentary elections, the Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during that campaign, opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to a lack of media access for the opposition and malapportioned districts favoring the then ruling coalition. In February 2020 the Pakatan Harapan coalition collapsed, and power transferred to the Malay-dominated Perikatan Nasional coalition which included the main Barisan Nasional components, headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. In August that coalition lost its majority in the lower house of parliament, resulting in a transfer of power to a Barisan Nasional-led coalition headed by the new prime minister, Ismail Sabri.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government entities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; criminalization of consensual adult same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil society groups alleged continued impunity.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; several sitting and former government officials remained on trial for corruption, including the former prime minister, and there remained a broadly held perception of widespread corruption and cronyism in government institutions. Media outlets reported numerous cases of alleged official corruption during the year.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is responsible for investigating corruption in both private and public bodies but does not have prosecutorial authority. An auditor general is responsible, per the constitution, for auditing the accounts of the federal and state governments, government agencies, and other public authorities.

Corruption: Corruption and abuse-of-power criminal trials were ongoing for former prime minister and sitting member of parliament Najib Razak, United Malays National Organization (UMNO) political party president Zahid Hamidi, and opposition Democratic Action Party head Lim Guan Eng, among others. Trials for all were delayed due to the state of emergency and movement control orders to combat COVID-19.

In January authorities seized 1,500 tons of frozen meat worth 30 million ringgit ($7.2 million) during a raid in Johor State. They discovered that an international cartel for more than 40 years had smuggled noncertified meat into the country and falsely represented it as halal-certified by using national halal logos with the help of corrupt senior government officials from at least four agencies. The officials were allegedly offered cash and women for sexual services to ignore the cartel’s activities. Police charged two business executives for using fake halal logos, and MACC arrested eight suspects including import agents and enforcement officers.

In February the High Court sentenced former federal minister and Negeri Sembilan State’s longest serving chief minister, Isa Samad, to six years’ imprisonment and a 15.4 million ringgit ($3.7 million) fine on nine counts of corruption and bribery for accepting three million ringgit ($720,000) in bribes in connection with luxury hotel purchase transactions. Isa was granted a stay pending his appeal.

In May MACC arrested member of parliament Tajuddin Abdul Rahman on two charges of abuse of power for interfering with the operations and business dealings of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, a government-owned public transport company under the Ministry of Finance. Police released him on bail.

In July the Court of Appeal acquitted UMNO parliamentarian and former federal territories minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor of two million ringgit ($480,000) in corruption charges and overturned a 12-month jail sentence imposed by the High Court in December 2020. The court ruled that the money received by Tengku Adnan from a businessman was a donation to UMNO, although it was deposited into an account of a company that belonged to Tengku Adnan.

In August MACC charged member of parliament and former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman with money laundering. Saddiq pleaded not guilty in a lower court in Johor State to two counts of money laundering, involving 100,000 ringgit ($24,000). The charges came on top of two other corruption charges against Saddiq on July 22 for misappropriation of one million ringgit ($240,000) in funds that belonged to his former political party, Bersatu, led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin. Saddiq was released on bail, and the charges were transferred to a Kuala Lumpur court in September.

In September a sessions court fined immigration officer Yusrazif Wan Yusoh 50,000 ringgit ($12,000) after he pleaded guilty to five counts of accepting kickbacks totaling 15,000 ringgit ($3,600) to free Filipino and Chinese nationals detained by the Immigration Department. Investigations revealed Yusrazif received a list of names and passport details of the detained foreigners from two agents and facilitated the release and return of detainees to their countries of origin in exchange for bribes. Authorities arrested Yusrazif as part of a special operation conducted by MACC and the Immigration Department since 2020 at the country’s entry and exit points that saw the arrest of 65 individuals, including 39 immigration officers, 17 agents, and nine civilians.

Also in September, MACC withdrew 29 charges of corruption against Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashi, a former UMNO parliamentarian and former director of the government-linked Federal Land Development Authority. MACC noted that all transactions associated with the 29 charges against Noor Ehsanuddin were “advances” that had been fully repaid.

According to MACC, authorities arrested 337 public officials for corruption and bribery from January to August.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views.

Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also acted against some human rights defenders and NGOs. During the week preceding a July 31 Lawan (Fight) protest in Kuala Lumpur to demand the resumption of parliamentary sessions, a moratorium on the repayment of all loans, and the resignation of Prime Minister Muhyiddin for his handling of the pandemic, authorities reportedly summoned at least 20 activists, including youth activist Sarah Irdina, who was detained for 10 hours and charged with sedition for her tweet about the upcoming event (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest). A group of civil society organizations later reported that on the day of the protest, roadblocks, closure of the public square where protesters were gathering, police crowding, and ostentatious surveillance, including by drones and a helicopter, “obstructed the public’s freedom of expression and assembly.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, issued reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate court cases in progress and must cease its inquiries if a case becomes the subject of judicial action. Representatives of SUHAKAM asserted that the government was reluctant to engage with them, making implementation of reforms impossible.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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. The NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that from January through September, it received 1,662 complaints involving domestic violence, and the number of survivors seeking shelter increased one and a half times during the same period. There was a lack of investigation into accusations of rape and gender-based violence, and little accountability.

In January a male inmate raped a 16-year-old girl, also an inmate, at a local police station in Miri, Sarawak State. The NGO EDICT declared police violated the legal mandate that at least one female officer be assigned to take care of underage female inmates. Police suspended two officers pending investigation.

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 was also a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assigned psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support. NGOs reported that the government did not take action in cases of domestic violence; victims must keep evidence, gather witness testimony, and ensure their own safety.

In 2020 the NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that 9 percent of women who had ever been in a relationship experienced domestic violence and such violence was “symptomatic of a deeper problem: gender inequality.” A November report by the organization found that 53 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was a “normal” reaction to stress or frustration, and 43 percent believed a woman could so anger a man that he hit her without meaning to, suggesting a culture deeming such violence acceptable “when perceived as an emotional gesture, or in the event the victim has behaved in a way that triggers the abuse.” In Penang State, police as of July recorded a 35 percent increase in domestic-violence cases compared to 2020. Penang police chief Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain observed that factors driving the rise in domestic violence were pressure and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and it was a common practice among Muslim and some indigenous communities. 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 contended 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.

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.

In April two members of parliament accused then deputy inspector general of police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, since promoted to inspector general, of trivializing a rape threat made against a teenage girl. In separate statements Batu Kawan member Kasthuri Patto and Petaling Jaya member Maria Chin Abdullah criticized Acryl Sani for his remarks about a police report made by a student, age 17, that a classmate had threatened to rape her after she called out her teacher for making jokes about rape. Acryl Sani was reported to have commented that the classmate’s rape threat was possibly a joke. After this incident, more than 300 former and sitting students issued anonymous statements, with the hashtag #MakeSchoolsASaferPlace, recounting sexual harassment and abuse they had experienced at school by teachers and fellow students.

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

In April, news portal Malaysiakini submitted to the Ministry of Education a list of 15 schools that allegedly required female students to undergo intrusive physical examinations to prove that they were menstruating and hence exempted from prayers. Malaysiakini reported that the practice of period spot checks dated as far back as 20 years. The measures included school officials forcing girls to show their blood-soaked sanitary pads; doing swabs of their vaginas with cotton buds, tissues, or fingers; or patting them down to feel if they were wearing a sanitary pad.

Cultural barriers and government policies impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. For example, sexual health education remained limited for all women, although more accessible for married women than for unmarried women. Reproductive awareness advocates and NGOs that provided sexual health education were frequently accused of encouraging sin and eliciting sexual behaviors. Government-run family planning clinics often would not provide contraceptive services to unmarried young persons.

One-Stop Crisis Centers, an integrated multiagency service in the emergency department of most major public hospitals, provided support, including emergency contraception, to victims of sexual violence.

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.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

No laws provided for the protection of members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups against violence and discrimination. 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, 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 government and politicians often incited or condoned violence or abuse of members of racial or ethnic minorities. For example, a government unit charged with tightening border controls posted an illustration on social media that showed armed naval vessels threatening a boat and captioned it, “Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcome” (section 2.f., Access to Asylum). The minister of home affairs stated refugees might “lead to various social ills.”

In October, according to media reports, a senior politician from the Bersatu party, Borhanuddin Che Rahim, used an ethnic slur to describe an ethnic Indian member of the national badminton team. Also in October, in a widely viewed TikTok video, Muslim preacher Syakir Nasoha accused members of religious and ethnic minorities of “killing Muslims,” sparking fears this could incite violence against Buddhists (largely citizens of Chinese descent), Hindus (largely citizens of Indian descent), and Dayaks (an indigenous community of Sarawak and Sabah states).

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous persons with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights.

Indigenous persons in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, who number approximately 200,000, constituted the poorest group in the country and had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. The constitution 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 contended the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government may 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 February the High Court ruled against the Semelai Orang Asli claim for customary rights over a plot of land in Pahang State to make way for an oil palm cultivation project. In 2013 the state government had awarded Sri Jengka, a semi-state government corporation, a 99-year lease on the 1,618-acre tract. In September, however, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision, citing improper procedures by the company in taking possession of land with a customary right claim.

In April the Selangor State government issued an eviction notice to the Mah Meri Orang Asli for illegally infringing upon government land, nine days after the state government’s investment arm, Permodalan Negri Selangor Bhd, had awarded a 99-year lease for 101.62 acres of land in Mukim Sepang, Selangor, to a private ecotourism development company. The notice warned residents they could be fined up to 500,000 ringgit ($120,000), serve a five-year jail term, or both, if found guilty of the offense of building structures on government land.

Children

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. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registers children born to refugees (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons).

In September the High Court ruled that mothers who are citizens have the right to confer citizenship to their children born overseas on an equal basis with men who are citizens, but the government appealed the decision. Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe lamented “a missed opportunity” for the government to “rectify this discrimination and make amends to its women who have been negatively impacted for over 60 years by their inability to obtain citizenship for their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men.” After the Attorney General’s Chambers filed the appeal, NGO Lawyers for Liberty coordinator Zaid Malek termed the government position “unacceptable” and declared that mothers with foreign spouses and children born overseas “live in fear that their children could be rendered stateless.”

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years of school) for citizens and permanent residents, although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are open to some UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to the children of illegal immigrants.

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 government’s national five-year roadmap for 2021-25 targets 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 specify laws and guidelines on child marriages that are in line with government policies guarding the well-being of children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law bans 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. By 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 fewer 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. Commercial sexual exploitation of children 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 exploited in commercial sex as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.

The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including sex trafficking.

The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest.

As of April, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development recorded 2,040 cases of child abuse. Of the total, 30 percent were physical and sexual abuse.

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.

In May police reported an increase in cases involving child pornography during the movement control order period from March 2020 to April 2021, including child grooming without physical contact using words or showing obscene sexual acts to children.

In June the Royal Malaysian Police Sexual, Women, and Child Investigation Division reported an increase in the number of reports of child rape by older family members during the various movement control orders. The division’s principal assistant director, Siti Kamsiah Hassan, told media that police received an average of 15 incest cases every month during the year.

In August, Alladin Lanim was arrested for online child exploitation and sentenced to 48 years and six months in prison and 15 strokes of the cane after joint investigations by the Royal Malaysian Police and Australian Federal Police revealed he was sexually abusing children at a plantation in Sarawak State and sharing the material online. Alladin, one of the child sex offenders most wanted by global law enforcement authorities, was linked to at least 34 victims between ages two and 16; he had uploaded more than 1,000 images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children over the course of 14 years.

Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah State. 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 and criminal activities to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to sex trafficking and 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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population was estimated at 100-200 persons, consisting mostly of foreign residents. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population. The religious NGO Ikram warned that some residents rejected the COVID-19 vaccine, believing it to be part of the “Jewish agenda,” that it contained nonhalal ingredients and tracking chips, and that it could cause death.

There were restrictions on Israeli citizens entering the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The 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 for persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “friendly” to persons with disabilities, the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for such persons.

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.

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

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 February the Federal Court nullified a Selangor State law on same-sex sexual conduct. The verdict ruled on an appeal of a Selangor State sharia court’s 2019 conviction of a man for “intercourse against the order of nature.” The Federal Court found that existing federal legislation outlawing the same conduct for the same reason preempted the state law, meaning it was unconstitutional and hence the case should not have been brought nor ruled on by the sharia court. This verdict could potentially nullify some strict anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) legislation at the state level that uses the same rationale as the federal laws. Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a., Nongovernmental Impact).

In June then deputy religious affairs minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary proposed that social media postings that “promote LGBTQ lifestyles” and “insult Islam” be punishable offenses under sharia. Ahmad Marzuk also announced a special multiagency government task force, including the government multimedia agency and police, to monitor posts related to LGBTQI+ issues. Activist Numan Afifi expressed concerns about the “escalation and trend towards more prosecution against the LGBTQI+ community in Malaysia,” including separate proposals in April to increase sentencing terms against LGBTQI+ offenses under sharia. SUHAKAM urged the government to reconsider its decision to impose heavier punishments for offenses associated with the LGBTQI+ community. SUHAKAM commissioner Hishamudin Yunus declared the best approach towards LGBTQI+ individuals was to “help integrate them into mainstream society” by respecting their constitutional rights to equality, privacy, and a life of dignity. Speaking to local media, the former Court of Appeal judge declared it should not be acceptable to discriminate against the community or to treat its members as criminals.

In June, 40 religious NGOs and educator groups released a joint statement protesting an online program entitled, “School as a Safe Place for Individuals of Various Sexual Orientations,” alleging the event supported the “open promotion of LGBTQI+ elements in schools.” The statement argued that schools “must be saved from elements of pro-unnatural sex orientations and transgenderism ideology that are against religious teachings.” The online program proceeded as scheduled.

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 January the Selangor Islamic Religious Department detained transgender social media influencer Nur Sajat for questioning regarding an online video of her saying Islamic prayers in women’s clothing in 2018. Religious department officers allegedly beat and slapped her while in custody. They subsequently charged her with “defamation of Islam,” punishable by a fine, up to three years’ imprisonment, or both, and released her on bail. Nur Sajat failed to appear for her court date on February 23, citing a medical condition. Her lawyer presented a medical leave certificate to the court the next day, but the judge rejected it. The religious department then issued a warrant for her arrest without bail and sent department officers looking for her, with police support. Nur Sajat crossed into Thailand, and UNHCR granted her refugee status.

In September the Perlis State Fatwa Committee declared that men “who appear like women” such as “cross-dressers” or transgender individuals were forbidden from entering mosques while “not in gender-conforming appearances.” Penang State mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor suggested that transgender individuals “should change their appearance” if they wanted to be in mosques or suraus (Islamic assembly buildings) so that “they do not look odd and avoid uncomfortable feelings among other worshippers.” Representatives from the NGO Sisters in Islam observed that “the fatwa and statement of the mufti not only contradicts the federal constitution” but was “not in accordance with inclusive Islamic traditions.”

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.

State religious authorities reportedly forced LGBTQI+ persons to participate in “conversion therapy,” “treatment,” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In a September response to a parliamentary inquiry, Prime Minister Sabri wrote that as of June, a total of 1,733 individuals from the LGBTQI+ community had been sent to a rehabilitation camp run by the Islamic Development Department, a government agency. The camp, called the Mukhayyam Program, was a government initiative designed to change the lifestyle and sexual orientation of LGBTQI+ individuals. Sabri added that the government was serious about the issue, “as Malaysia is a country that adheres to the religion of Islam.”

In September religious authorities in Kelantan State posted fliers in public places such as shopping malls and grocery stores warning the community about LGBTQI+ persons and the need to be vigilant against their influence. On November 1, Kelantan’s Sharia Criminal Code (I) Enactment 2019 came into force, criminalizing 24 new offenses applying to Muslims. Although the code’s five offenses infringing the rights of LGBTQI+ persons – “sodomy,” “homosexual activities involving women,” “changing gender,” “crossdressing as a female,” and “crossdressing as a male” – were not among the newly added crimes, observers expressed concern about the implications for the LGBTQI+ community. The NGO Sisters in Islam declared that Kelantan first minister Ahmad Yakob’s characterization of the code as “restorative and retributive” posed “a grave concern” and asked what this meant for actions deemed crimes under the code in the context of the “looming tabling” of legislation in federal parliament allowing sharia courts to mete out stiffer penalties. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism urged the Kelantan government to review its “recently enforced” law, including “punishments against homosexual activities and a slew of other offenses.” There were no reports of the revised code being used to prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals at year’s end.

LGBTQI+ persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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 rights 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 nationwide January-August state of emergency restricted freedom of assembly and prohibited worker strikes and protests.

The law prohibits defense and police officials and 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 may not 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, subcontracted workers may not form a union and may not 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. 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 may not include matters 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 were severely restricted. The law requires two-thirds of the members of a registered trade union to vote for a strike through a secret ballot, and a report must be submitted to the director general of trade unions to approve the strike as legal. Workers who strike without the consent of the director general of trade unions are liable to a fine of 2,000 ringgit ($480), imprisonment for up to one year, or both. 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 were not commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In July police opened investigations into a protest by contract doctors demanding better job security. The protest took place amid threats of disciplinary action by hospital administrations and heavy police presence at several major hospitals nationwide. Doctors at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang COVID-19 Center canceled their walkout after police allegedly threatened them with arrest. Opposition lawmakers slammed then minister of health Adham Baba for breaking his promise that no action would be taken against doctors who participated in the strike. Member of parliament Saifuddin Nasution Ismail stated on July 28, “the doctors were questioned from midnight till 4 a.m., this is a form of intimidation” and added that the physicians’ lawyer had been prevented from representing his clients.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions – for peninsular Malaysia, and for the states of 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 Trades Union 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.

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.

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 February General Mills issued global “no buy orders” from palm oil producers FGV and Sime Darby Plantation due to forced labor claims. Other buyers requested suppliers to reduce or exclude FGV and Sime Darby products for supplies entering numerous countries.

In June the Malaysia Stock Exchange removed Top Glove from its responsible investment indexes based on allegations of forced labor. Observers 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 locally sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage. A July study by Newcastle University of 1,500 mainly migrant workers found that the following forced labor indicators in the country had worsened during the pandemic: restrictions on movement, isolation, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime. Other indicators, such as abuse of vulnerability, deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and retention of identity documents, had remained at the same level as before the pandemic.

The Newcastle research found that 85 percent of workers reported paying recruitment fees and 43 percent reported taking out loans averaging more than $2,000 to cover the costs, which took nearly a year on average to repay. Nearly a third reported that their recruitment agency threatened them not to speak about being charged the fees.

During the year several medical glove manufacturers announced repayments to workers based on forced labor practices. By April, Top Glove had reimbursed 150 million ringgit ($36 million) to approximately 13,000 existing and eligible former workers. Kossan completed repaying more than 5,500 workers a total 54 million ringgit ($13 million) with a final transfer of 24 million ringgit ($5.8 million) at the end of June. Hartalega finished its reimbursements process of 41 million ringgit ($9.8 million) to existing workers who joined the firm prior to April 2019. A Hartalega spokesperson announced in August the firm had fully reimbursed all migrant workers who were then employed at Hartalega and was continuing to reimburse eligible former workers. Supermax had repaid nearly 1,750 workers by June and stated it had allocated 23 million ringgit ($5.5 million), including remediation payment to contract workers.

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. Zahid faced charges filed in 2018 of corruption, money laundering, and taking bribes totaling three million ringgit ($720,000) from a company that ran a visa center for the workers, who paid tenfold higher costs for visa services and medical tests over a five-year period without receiving additional protections or benefits.

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/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 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 ages 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 State 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. Child sex trafficking 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 or 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 with laws related to 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.

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 requiring 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, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers, except for those in domestic service and the gig economy (see section 7.e., Informal Sector). Minimum wage rates varied according to location and were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak states.

Working hours may not exceed eight hours per day or 48 hours per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The director general of the Ministry of Labor may grant exceptions if there are special circumstances making the extra hours necessary.

The law protects foreign domestic workers only regarding 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.

Occupational Safety and Health: 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. In June the government expanded social security coverage to local and 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 July, 111 workers died, 3,668 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 140 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents.

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. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and may rise to imprisonment. Employers may be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines for each 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 Trades Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries. In June a court ordered Goodyear Malaysia Berhad to provide 185 migrant workers more than 5 million ringgit ($1.2 million) in unpaid wages, shift allowances, annual bonuses, and pay increases. The lawyer representing the migrant workers submitted pay slips to the court showing some migrants worked up to 229 hours a month in overtime, exceeding the legal limit of 104 hours.

In February the government introduced the Worker’s Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act as an emergency ordinance during the state of emergency compelling employers and centralized accommodation providers to provide lodging with sufficient living space and amenities for migrant workers to effectively control the spread of COVID-19. The legislation expanded this authority to include housing and local government agencies, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs in order to enforce fines and penalties up to 200,000 ringgit ($48,000), three years’ jail time, or both, against employers that failed to adhere to regulations.

In September Minister of Human Resources Saravanan announced that the government had found 49 workers’ hostels “unfit for human habitation” and ordered them closed, causing the relocation of 2,942 workers. As of August 24, the ministry had inspected 23,993 employers and 129,668 staff quarters covering the accommodation of 804,204 migrant workers and close to 1.2 million workers. The violations included “failure to comply with building capacity, operating without permission, failure to provide entry and exit route and nonadherence to social distancing.”

Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common. They 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.

Informal Sector: As of 2019 more than one million workers were considered to be in the nonagricultural informal sector. This included any enterprise not registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia or other professional body and included more than one million self-employed or micro businesses, such as in-home workers, street vendors, and small workshops. More than half of informal workers were male, and more than three-quarters were in the cities.

Reports indicated that COVID-19 led to an increase in the number of self-employed “gig” employees. Estimates were as high as 30 percent of the workforce. There are no specific regulations, laws, or guidelines to protect the welfare of gig workers, except for the provisions under the Self-Employment Social Security Act 2017 that require self-employed individuals to register and contribute.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud).

The State Security Presidency, National Guard, and Ministries of Defense and Interior, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The State Security Presidency includes the General Directorate of Investigation (mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police are under the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; collective punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of airstrikes in Yemen; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists and others, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, the role of trade unions, and labor committees.

In several cases the government did not investigate, prosecute, or punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. The government prosecuted some officials for corruption, although there were allegations of significant due process violations and other human rights abuses, including allegations of torture, in these cases.

Houthi militant attacks from Yemen caused civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. The National Control and Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha) has sole authority to investigate and prosecute reports of corruption involving government employees. Nazaha’s ministerial-level director reports directly to the king. During the year the government joined two multilateral efforts to counter corruption. In February it joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Working Group on Bribery. In June it founded the Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobE) for UN member states to share anticorruption information under the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Human rights organizations criticized the government for using anticorruption campaigns as a pretext to target perceived political opponents and for arbitrarily detaining and abusing individuals targeted in the crackdown (see sections 1.c.; 1.d., Pretrial Detention; and 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion).

Corruption: Nazaha conducted countercorruption campaigns throughout the year. It published monthly (based on the lunar Hijri calendar) reports of its activities, providing the overall number of investigations and arrests during the prior month and a list of the government ministries or agencies involved. It periodically published limited details concerning convictions in cases that involved either senior-level officials or large sums of money; however, the press releases did not identify the officials by name or provide enough details to allow identification.

On May 27, Nazaha announced that an unnamed “senior member” of the royal family was convicted of using falsified academic credentials to obtain a government position. The prince received a two-year prison sentence and a moderate fine.

On June 28, the Middle East Monitor alleged that Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the former joint force commander initially arrested on corruption charges in September 2020, was sentenced to death for treason for allegedly attempting a coup. He remained in prison.

On August 11 Nazaha stated that an unnamed provincial governor was convicted of bribery and embezzlement and received a sentence of three years in prison and a small fine.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights civil society organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints regarding government actions affecting human rights. The government blocked websites of unlicensed local human rights groups and charged their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations (see 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted their access to the country for visits; there were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In March the Guardian reported that a senior Saudi official in Geneva was accused of threatening to “take care of” UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard during her investigation into the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post later reported the unnamed official was Saudi Human Rights Commission president Awad al-Awad. He stated publicly that he had been present at the meeting but denied making any threatening remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, but their effectiveness was limited. The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Court and the Council of Ministers, with a committee composed of representatives of the Shura Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with the Shura Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, and trafficking in persons. While they avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists that would require directly confronting government authorities, they inquired into complaints of mistreatment by some high-profile political prisoners. The 18 full-time members of the HRC board included nine women and at least three Shia members; they received and responded to individual complaints, including those related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights.

The Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members.

The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protect information concerning individual cases, and information was not publicly available. On June 29, the HRC stated it handled 4,593 complaints in 2020, a 9 percent increase over 2019.

The Board of Grievances, a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations. Military and security courts investigated an unknown number of abuses of authority and security force killings. The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in July the launch of the Ma’akom system, which allows citizens and residents to submit complaints directly regarding illegal detention or violations of detainee rights, using the online platform Absher, a hotline telephone number, or in person (see Administration in section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and in some cases courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Survivors must prove that a rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because survivors faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia. There were reports that domestic abuse in the form of incest occurred but was seldom reported to authorities due to fears of societal repercussions, according to local sources.

The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse among women to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. In July, referencing a Ministry of Health report, local media reported authorities were investigating more than 2,700 domestic violence cases, in which 75 percent of the alleged survivors were female. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence survivors, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted a continued increase in authorities’ willingness to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.

On January 27, Prisoners of Conscience reported that a woman known only as Manal was arrested after publishing details on the disappearance and death of her 26-year-old sister, Qamar, allegedly at the hands of their two brothers. Manal stated on Twitter that her two brothers killed Qamar for setting up a public Snapchat account. Authorities in al-Kharj stated they arrested two individuals in connection with the murder on January 21. As of November, Manal’s whereabouts were unknown.

The government made some efforts to reduce domestic violence. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters, although women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary. On March 29, the HRC and the Mawaddah Charitable Association signed a memorandum of understanding to increase coordination and antidomestic violence awareness efforts. It would establish an independent body to research domestic violence, propose changes to the legal framework, and develop specialized centers for survivors, local media reported. No additional information on implementation of the memorandum was available as of December.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to reluctance to report violations.

On January 12, the Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the antiharassment law that allows for the public release of names of those convicted for harassment, as a deterrent and to prevent offenders’ employment in certain jobs. The law criminalizing sexual harassment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a substantial fine. The HRC stated that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.

Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. In March the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of a man seen in a video insulting and assaulting two young women in the streets of Riyadh and filed a criminal suit against him. On February 22, local media reported that former shura council member Iqbal Dandari won a case against a man for cyberharassment. Details regarding the case were unknown. On September 26, local media reported a number of sexual harassment incidents during National Day celebrations. Security authorities arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office three Saudi citizens in Medina, a Saudi and an Egyptian resident in Riyadh, and a Saudi citizen in Taif for harassing women.

In April the HRC launched a specialized group for confidential support of victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance.

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

Premarital sex is illegal under sharia law, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Access to most contraceptives required a prescription, but condoms were available at pharmacies and supermarkets for over-the-counter purchase. According to 2020 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 15 percent of all women and 23 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

In some cases women may be discouraged from making certain reproductive health decisions due to cultural and religious beliefs, social pressure, and lack of awareness of their rights.

Almost all women had access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. The most recent UN Population Fund estimates reported that skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births between 2010 and 2019. While some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, others received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics. According to the government, women are entitled to medical assistance during pregnancy and delivery; the right to decide the details of their deliveries; and obtain maternity care in a language she understands and is appropriate to her cultural and religious beliefs. Adult women also have the right to consent to any medical procedures.

Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies provided medical care to sexual violence survivors as well as psychological and social support. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s Center for Protection Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline and shelters across the country with access to medical care for victims of sexual violence, while the quasi-governmental National Family Safety Program agency provided medical support to sexual abuse victims. (See sections 2.g. and 6, Children, for issues related to legal status for children born outside of marriage.)

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. A series of regulations issued from 2019 through year’s end, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

Most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.

Women older than 18 have the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These included registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

In June judicial authorities amended the absenteeism law, or taghayyub, to allow all unmarried, divorced, or widowed women to live alone without the consent of a male guardian. The amendment followed a July 2020 court decision in which a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi, a Saudi woman who lived independently in Riyadh, despite prosecutors’ attempt to convict her for absenteeism. Under the previous absenteeism law, guardians could report the unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual.

In advance of Hajj in July, authorities ended the male guardian requirement for women to participate in the annual pilgrimage.

Adult women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or ex-husbands. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care and no longer need a male guardian’s permission to start a business.

By law women have equal rights to employment. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned employee discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age, or disability, citing reforms to human resources laws. Commenting on a job advertisement that contained gender discriminatory language, the ministry stated it violated the labor law, stressing that citizens have equal employment rights without any form of discrimination, including gender.

On February 21, the Ministry of Defense began allowing women to serve in the army, air defense, navy, strategic missile force, and armed forces medical services as enlisted personnel, but not as officers. In November data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s National Labor Observatory showed women constituted 60 percent of Saudi youth who joined the local employment market during the first nine months of the year.

Women no longer require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

The law permits women to transmit citizenship to their children under certain circumstances (see section 2.g. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Few businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners, like males, were only required to dress “modestly.”

Women faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals one-half that of a man. Women have begun practicing law, but all judges are male. In divorce proceedings, women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

In February 2020 the Justice Ministry ended the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. The ministry also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.

A woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such cases the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. According to local media in 2020, courts considered an average of 750 marriage contract cases annually.

In February the crown prince announced forthcoming legal reforms that would impact the personal status law and expand protections for women. On October 24, Minister of Justice Walid al-Samaani stated the personal status draft law would address a woman’s agreement to marriage, preserving her and her children’s financial and alimony rights, as well as other issues related to divorce requests. Additional details regarding these reforms were not made public by year’s end.

Courts routinely awarded custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In some cases former husbands reportedly prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children.

Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters one-half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through the university level was standard. Some private universities, such as -Faisal University, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers. A few other government universities offered coeducation in selected programs, largely in the sciences. Private international and national schools may offer coeducation at any grade; most private international schools are coeducational, while most private national schools are segregated. Primary public schools offered mixed-gender education up to the third grade.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship generally derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). On June 25, the social security administration announced children from foreign fathers and Saudi mothers will be allowed to benefit from their mother’s pension, as long as she is widowed or divorced. In January the HRC stated that a child born in the country to unknown parents would be considered a Saudi citizen.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development had 17 social protection units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse. Child abuse is a crime punishable by one year’s imprisonment, a maximum fine of 50,000 riyals ($13,300), or both.

On January 30, local media reported that the family protection unit in Jizan investigated the case of a 15-year-old girl abused by her father, stating that legal actions would be taken against him. There were no updates as of November.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18; those younger than that age may marry only with court approval. According to local media, the court ensures several conditions are met before approving a marriage contract for a bride or groom younger than 18, including assessing their psychosocial development and hearing statements from the potential bride, groom, and guardians to determine consent. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of such marriages. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex. In February a woman was arrested for sexually abusing a girl in Riyadh. The woman allegedly filmed herself and the girl and posted the footage on social media. In the same month, Mecca police arrested a man for sexually harassing a child. He reportedly posted a video of the harassment on social media.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Semitic language in their sermons were generally rare but occurred more frequently during the May conflict in Gaza. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs vets all sermons. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

On January 30, a Washington Post article cited expert assessments that anti-Semitic references and language in Saudi textbooks had been removed or tempered, including calls to “fight the Jews.” Nonetheless, some concerns remained regarding anti-Semitic themes in textbooks; for example, a textbook’s passage refers to a Quranic text that suggests God changed a group of Israelites into “monkeys.”

A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated that the October Riyadh International Book Fair included exhibitors selling more than two dozen notoriously anti-Semitic books. The ADL noted that the presence of these anti-Semitic books at the largest book fair in the country “seem[s] at odds with some positive Saudi trends.”

In January a group of Israeli drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to compete in the Dakar Rally, despite a ban on Israeli travelers to the country. On February 2, the English-language newspaper Arab News ran an op-ed by two Israeli writers, Hay Eyta Cohen Yanarocak and Jonathan Spyer, believed to be the first time a Saudi newspaper knowingly published Israeli writers.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law mandates the state to “protect human rights in accordance with Islamic law,” which the Authority for Persons with Disabilities notes includes justice, equity, and antidiscrimination on any grounds, including disability. On January 14, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development banned workplace discrimination, including on the basis of disability (see section 6, Women). On April 21, the ministry announced that all private and government institutions were obliged to meet certain accessibility requirements within six months; accommodations were implemented at some government buildings, retail establishments, and sidewalks. Local media reported that the ministry had formed expert committees to oversee the implementation of accessibility requirements that would follow the building code and accessibility standards developed by the King Salman Center for Disability Research. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools. The Ministry of Education took measures to integrate students with disabilities, including special education programs in regular schools, training faculty members who work with students with disabilities and providing technological instruments for students with disabilities free of charge. On September 29, the education minister stated students with disabilities would have equal educational opportunities to help them integrate into the labor market, adding that the ministry had prepared a teaching and training strategy to ensure students with disabilities students received proper education and training.

Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV or AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to counter stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

Under sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTQI+ rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Clerics condemned homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques.

During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to punish harshly individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

On October 24, local media reported that Northern Borders Province police arrested and referred for prosecution five men who appeared in public in women’s clothing. The men filmed themselves and posted the video on social media in an apparent attempt to attract more social media followers. A police spokesman described their conduct as “inconsistent with the public morals of society.”

Observers at the December MDLBeast Soundstorm music festival reported that it included the public display of LGBTQI+ culture.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions; however, trade unions and labor committees existed. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. Workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for unsanctioned union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management that are limited to improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs.

The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers, notably domestic workers. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers reportedly included withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, restrictions on movement, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. The law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Penalties for violations of labor laws were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government improved enforcement of the law, including electronic systems to monitor and ensure compliance. On March 14, the government announced the Labor Reform Initiative, which eliminated the need for many private-sector workers to obtain their employer’s permission to obtain an exit and re-entry visa, obtain a final exit visa, or change employers at the conclusion of their contract or after one year. This provided increased freedom of movement and lessened the risks of forced labor for seven million private-sector workers. According to the Human Resources Ministry, as of November, 65,000 workers had successfully changed employers. The Labor Reform Initiative does not apply to domestic workers (see section 2.d.).

Many migrant workers, particularly female domestic workers, who are not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise the right to terminate their employment contract, change employers, or leave the country without undue restrictions. Employers may require a trainee to work for them upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

The government expanded to all private-sector companies the implementation of the Wage Protection System, which requires employers to pay foreign workers by electronic transfer through a Saudi bank. The government also implemented a mandatory e-contract system that includes type of work, salary, duration of contract, working hours, and annual leave. Contracts were verified by both the employer and employee. The government reported it used the Mudad platform to track Wage Protection System and e-contract compliance in real-time and imposed penalties for any firm that failed to maintain at least 80 percent compliance on a monthly basis.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. A ministerial decree provides that hazardous operations, such as use of power-operated machinery, or harmful industries, such as mines and quarries, may not employ legal minors. Children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities mostly enforced the law in response to complaints regarding children begging on the streets.

Most child labor involved children from other countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, forced into begging rings, street vending, and working in family businesses.

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 labor law in general prohibits discrimination in the terms of recruitment as well as during employment. The law mandates that employers treat all workers equally and barred discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, age, or any other forms of discrimination, whether in work, employment, or advertising a vacancy. No regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, or HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment occurred in the workplace (see section 6, Women). Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in all these categories. There are no effective complaint resolution mechanisms to determine whether any existing penalties were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Women may work without their guardian’s permission, but some employers required applicants to submit proof of it, even though the law prohibits the practice. A 2019 decree expanded previous regulations barring employers from firing female workers on maternity leave and includes protection from dismissal for pregnancy-related illness if the absence is less than 180 days per year. Employers who violate the antidiscrimination law can be fined. The antidiscrimination law only applies to citizens and does not protect the rights of expatriates. There was widespread societal discrimination against African and Asian expatriate workers.

In recent years women’s labor participation increased significantly, including in sectors traditionally dominated by men (see section 6, Women). Prohibitions on employment of women in some hazardous jobs and night shifts were lifted. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development explicitly approved and encouraged employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government and retail, but women continued to face societal discrimination, and gender segregation continued in the workplace. In medical settings and the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances, women supervised male employees. There were no women working as judges or as members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars.

The first-quarter Labor Market Report by the General Authority for Statistics found the labor force participation rate of the total female working-age population was 33.6 percent. Most non-Saudi women were employed as domestic workers.

No regulation requires equal pay for equal work. In the private sector, the average monthly wage of Saudi women workers was 64 percent of the average monthly wage of Saudi men. Labor dispute settlement bodies did not register any cases of discrimination against women.

The law grants women the right to obtain business licenses without the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and childcare. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example those wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes. In 2020 the military chief of general staff inaugurated the first women’s wing in the armed forces, and on April 25, the Ministry of Defense created a joint admissions portal for upcoming military positions open to both women and men. In September the first class of women graduated from the Saudi Armed Forces Training Academy.

Discrimination with respect to religious beliefs occurred in the workplace. Members of the Shia community complained of discrimination based on their religion and had difficulty securing or being promoted in government positions. They were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard. In predominantly Shia areas, Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police and employees of municipalities and public schools. A small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies. Shia were also underrepresented in employment in primary, secondary, and higher education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The monthly minimum wage for public-sector employees was above the estimated poverty-income level. There was no private-sector minimum wage for foreign workers.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but can extend to 60 hours, subject to payment of overtime, which is 50 percent more than the basic wage. The law requires employers to provide paid holidays on Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Saudi National Day but does not apply to domestic workers sponsored by individuals rather than companies.

An estimated 10.2 million foreign workers, including approximately 1.4 million women, made up approximately 75 percent of the labor force, according to the General Authority for Statistics’ labor market survey for the first quarter. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to work conditions prior to their arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the law.

The law provides penalties for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit. Penalties, however, were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government issued occupational safety and health standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law provides for regular safety inspections and enables ministry-appointed inspectors to make unannounced inspections, initiate sanctions, examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations, and submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The government effectively enforced the law.

The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate worked with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on health and safety matters. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. By law employers are obligated to safeguard safety and health requirements in the workplace to protect employees from harm and disease. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Punishment for labor violations involved a range of fines and the possible temporary or permanent closure of a business. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

Informal Sector: The law requires that a citizen or business must sponsor foreign workers for them to obtain legal work and residency status, although the requirement exempts Syrian and Yemeni citizens who overstayed their visas. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development implemented measures allowing noncitizen workers to switch their employer to a new employer or company that employed a sufficient quota of Saudi citizens. Some workers were unaware of the new regulations and were forced to remain with their sponsor until completion of their contract or seek the assistance of their embassy to return home. There were also instances in which sponsors bringing foreign workers into the country failed to provide them with a residency permit, which undermined the workers’ ability to access government services or navigate the court system in the event of grievances. Sponsors with commercial or labor disputes with foreign employees also could ask authorities to prohibit employees from departing the country until the dispute was resolved. Authorities, however, would not jail or forcibly return fleeing workers who sought to exit the country within a 72-hour period or coordinate with their embassy for repatriation, provided the employees did not have criminal charges or outstanding fines pending against them.

Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage, housing, benefits including leave and medical care, and other topics. Those provisions were not drafted in line with international standards and varied depending on the bargaining power of the foreign workers’ country. There were reports that some migrant workers were employed on terms to which they had not agreed and experienced problems, such as delays in the payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour workweek, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday without due compensation, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse.

There were reports that some migrant workers, particularly domestic employees, were unable to remove themselves from dangerous situations. Some employers physically prevented workers from leaving or threatened them with nonpayment of wages if they left. Sponsoring employers, who controlled foreign workers’ ability to remain employed in the country, usually held foreign workers’ passports, a practice prohibited by law. In some contract disputes, in order to prevent the employee from leaving the country until resolution of the dispute, sponsors asked authorities to coerce the employee into accepting a disadvantageous settlement or risking deportation without any settlement.

While some foreign workers were able to contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance, domestic workers faced challenges when attempting to gain access to their embassies, including restrictions on their freedom of movement and telephone access, confiscation of their passports, and being subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse. During the year several dozen (primarily) female domestic workers sought shelter at their embassies’ safehouses to escape physical and sexual abuse by their employers. Those workers usually sought legal assistance from their embassies and government agencies to obtain end-of-service benefits and exit visas. In addition to their embassies, some domestic servants could contact the NSHR, HRC, Interministerial General Secretariat to Combat Human Trafficking, and Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and protect them from abuse. Some were able to apply to the offices of regional governors and lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions by those authorities.

Occupational safety and health regulations do not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Although the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development employed nearly 1,000 labor inspectors, foreign workers privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards. Although statistics were unavailable, examples of major industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury to workers included local media reports from February 15 that at least six Bangladeshi migrant workers were killed in a fire at a furniture factory in Medina.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea is a constitutional democracy governed by a president and a unicameral legislature. Observers considered the presidential election in 2017 and the 2020 legislative elections free and fair.

The Korean National Police Agency, under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, is responsible for internal security over land, and the Korea Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the sea. The National Intelligence Service investigates suspected criminal activity related to national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government utilized effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse of power.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of restrictions on freedom of expression, including the existence of criminal libel laws; government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in the military.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials for corruption and human rights abuses.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government, prodded by media and civil society groups, generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption at all levels.

Corruption: In January the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials began operations. The office investigates alleged crimes committed by current and former high-ranking government officials and their family members, such as bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of authority. In September it requested that the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office indict Superintendent of Education Cho Hee-yeon over alleged abuse of authority.

In January the Seoul High Court sentenced Samsung vice chairman Jay Y. Lee to 30 months in prison for bribery and embezzlement. Citing economic reasons and the national interest, the Justice Ministry decided to release Lee on parole in August. Lee was implicated in the corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye, having sent funds to two nonprofit organizations run by a friend of Park’s in exchange for political influence. A separate investigation into alleged fraud and stock manipulation continued.

In March civil society groups People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Minbyun raised suspicions about speculative land purchases by government employees at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation, launching a police investigation. Dozens of current and former corporation employees allegedly used insider knowledge to purchase land slated for future government real estate development projects under President Moon’s “2.4 Supply Plan,” designed to curb a sharp rise in real estate prices. Two corporation officials committed suicide after the scandal came to light, prompting an apology from President Moon and the resignation of the minister of land, infrastructure, and transport, Byeon Chang-Heum. A special task force investigated high-ranking officials in the executive branch and more than 14,000 Korea Land and Housing Corporation and ministry employees. As of August, authorities arrested 34 persons and referred 529 persons for prosecution in connection with this case.

The Korea Land and Housing Corporation scandal provided momentum for the National Assembly’s May approval of a conflict-of-interest law, which will require nearly two million government officials and employees at state-run institutions to report personal interests related to their work when it takes effect in May 2022.

In August the Seoul High Court upheld a district court ruling and sentenced Chung Kyung-sim, wife of former justice minister Cho Kuk, to four years in prison and a nominal fine for her role in committing academic fraud to secure her daughter’s admission to college and graduate school programs. Following the announcement of Chung’s sentence, Pusan National University voided the daughter’s 2015 admission to its medical school. Cho Kuk has also been indicted on criminal fraud and bribery, and as of August prosecutors were trying the case at the Seoul Central District Court.

In September prosecutors launched an investigation into bribery allegations and massive profits associated with a 2015 housing development project in Daejang-dong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Evidence obtained by prosecutors alleges that an asset management firm with a 1 percent stake in the project, Hwacheon Daeyu, colluded with city officials and bribed politicians to secure an advantageous position in the profit distribution mechanism for it and its affiliates. Hwacheon Daeyu and its affiliates reportedly made a profit of more than 1,000 times their initial investment. The prosecution indicted the acting president of the public Seongnam Development Corporation, Yoo Dong-gyu, on bribery charges and continued to investigate other key figures. Main opposition People Power Party congressman Kwak Sang-do resigned in October after media reported his son received a five-billion-won severance package from Hwacheon Daeyu – alleged to be a bribe for Kwak’s assistance.

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

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

Some human rights organizations said the government restricted activities of certain NGOs focused on the DPRK. As of the end of August, the ministry reported no operation permit revocations for the year but noted judicial authorities were investigating one potential violation in April of the revised Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act. In 2020 the Ministry of Unification revoked the permits of two defector-led Republic of Korea-based NGOs that send leaflets across the border to the DPRK, citing national security concerns and several other grounds. Critics continued to view the revised law and related investigations as suppressing activists’ and defectors’ freedom of expression and disrupting civil society efforts to highlight human rights abuses in the DPRK and improve the lives of North Koreans.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission of Korea, established as an independent government body to protect and promote the human rights enumerated in the constitution, does not have enforcement power, and its recommendations and decisions are nonbinding. It investigates complaints, issues policy recommendations, trains local officials, and conducts public-awareness campaigns. The Korean National Police Agency’s Human Rights Protection Division created a new team in July to investigate reported allegations of human rights abuses. If a report involves alleged police violations of human rights, a committee of nine members including six representatives of human rights organizations handles the investigation.

The Ombudsman’s Office reports to the independent Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission and had adequate resources to fulfill its duties. The Ombudsman’s Office issued annual reports and interacted with various government institutions, including the Office of the President, the National Assembly, and ministries.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women; rape not involving vaginal sexual intercourse is considered “imitative rape.” The penalty for rape ranges from a minimum of three years’ to life imprisonment, while “imitative rape” carries a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. Rape and “imitative rape” are defined in law as involving the use of violence. The legal definition of rape is based on whether the perpetrator used violence or intimidation and does not consider the victim’s consent. The Supreme Court acknowledged marital rape as illegal. The law defines domestic violence as a serious crime and offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison plus fines for domestic violence offenses. Due to the narrow legal definitions, the existence of laws criminalizing defamation, and prevalent discrimination toward women, rape and domestic violence continued to go underreported and underprosecuted. Civic groups criticized the perceived lenience of the judicial system toward offenders, with many receiving light or suspended sentences. Within this context, however, police generally responded promptly to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law.

Digital sex crimes were a significant concern; they constituted 23 percent of reported sexual violence in 2020. Digital sex crimes may involve perpetrators capturing hidden camera footage without the victim’s consent, nonconsensual sharing of images that had been captured with consent, or sharing images that have been faked or manipulated to damage the victim’s reputation. According to a June Human Rights Watch report, victims in digital sex crime cases were mostly female, and perpetrators were overwhelmingly male. Although digital sex crime cases that moved forward normally resulted in convictions (in 2020, only 12 of 1,849 cases resulted in acquittal), most defendants received only a suspended sentence or a fine. In June the Ministry of Justice appointed prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun to lead a task force of 10 legal, media, and information technology experts in updating existing criminal justice and human rights frameworks to combat digital sex crimes.

Several NGOs said the government had taken some positive steps to address digital sex crimes but emphasized the need to provide better support for victims. A Digital Sex Crime Victim Support Center, created in 2018, assists victims in requesting the deletion of images and videos from websites and supports victims in collecting evidence and filing police reports. It also makes referrals for free legal services and provides financial assistance for medical expenses. (For more on sex crimes facilitated by the internet, see “Sexual Exploitation of Children” below.)

Domestic violence remained a significant and underreported problem. According to official statistics, 222,046 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2020, a 7 percent decrease from 2019. Foreign brides of Korean men (often in rural areas) brought to the country by brokers since the early 1990s experienced domestic violence at a higher rate than the rest of the female population. These women, in recent years primarily Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipina, were more vulnerable to human rights abuses due to language barriers and the lack of a support network in the country. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family continued to operate support centers and shelters to provide protection for foreign brides who were victims of sexual or domestic violence.

The Gender Equality Ministry operated the Special Center for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. In 2020 sexual violence counseling centers provided 258,410 counseling services to victims. There were 104 centers supported by central and local governments, 34 sexual violence victim protection facilities, and 39 “sunflower centers” that provided counseling, medical care and therapy, caseworkers, and legal assistance. The volume of services provided represented a 6 percent decrease compared with 2019, which the centers attributed to a decrease in in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to NGOs, sunflower centers generally provided adequate support to victims of sexual assault.

Sexual Harassment: The law obligates companies and organizations to take preventive measures against sexual harassment. The government generally enforced the law effectively. The national police classify sexual harassment as “indecent acts by compulsion.” The NHRCK reported that victims of workplace sexual harassment who relied on in-house grievance mechanisms faced stigma and other difficulties, including, in some cases, losing their jobs. Victims who took their cases to court, as well as those who testified on behalf of victims at sexual harassment trials, were also subject to stigma.

Sexual harassment was a significant social problem, and there were numerous allegations of sexual harassment, including high-profile cases involving public officials, reported in media throughout the year. The National Assembly passed a law in March increasing penalties for stalking, which had previously been treated as a misdemeanor offense. Offenders now face up to three years in prison and a significant fine, and up to five years in prison if they use a weapon. While activists welcomed the increased penalties, they said the law does not address single-incident stalking – only stalking that occurs repeatedly.

In June a district court in Busan sentenced the city’s former mayor, Oh Geo-don, to three years in prison for sexually abusing two female subordinates during his tenure. Oh resigned in April 2020 after admitting to “unnecessary physical contact” with one of the two employees.

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

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception as clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. Women, however, experienced societal abuses and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

As of May, approximately two million foreigners (including an estimated 390,000 undocumented migrants) lived in the country, whose otherwise ethnically homogeneous population totaled approximately 51.8 million. Racial and ethnic minorities faced societal discrimination. The NHRCK and NGOs continued to urge the National Assembly to pass a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, calling it “an urgent task that can no longer be delayed or ignored.”

According to a 2019 NHRCK survey, migrants reported discrimination by court workers, workplace supervisors, and immigration office personnel. A large majority of immigrants and naturalized citizens were female spouses, and they were reportedly often victims of domestic violence. (See also section 6, Women).

In March the NHRCK ruled that mandatory COVID-19 testing orders specifically targeting foreign workers in several provinces and cities were discriminatory.

The Ministries of Gender Equality and Family and of Employment and Labor implemented programs to promote cultural diversity and assist foreign workers, spouses, and multicultural families to adjust to living in the country. There were also 228 multicultural centers nationwide that provided education to Koreans married to foreigners on human rights, gender equality, multicultural understanding, and various family life topics.

Some children of immigrants suffered from discrimination and lack of access to social resources, such as child-care support available to Korean children. Some children of non-Korean or multiple ethnicities were also bullied because of their physical appearance.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship requires one parent be a citizen at the time of birth. Authorities also grant citizenship in circumstances where parentage is unclear or if the child would otherwise be stateless. The law requires that all children be registered in family registries, leaving approximately 20,000 children born to undocumented foreigners without access to certain public benefits and protections.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes serious injury and repeated abuse of children and provides prison terms of between five years and life. In March a provision of law interpreted as allowing parents to use corporal punishment in childrearing was repealed.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported 42,251 cases of child abuse in 2020. The ministry attributed increased reports in recent years to increased public awareness and expanded child welfare reporting requirements. The law provides for the protection, counseling, education, and psychological treatment of abused children.

In late December 2020 lawmakers passed measures to strengthen child abuse prevention and penalties for abusers, including immediate separation of the child from the abusers. This was in the wake of widespread outrage about the October 2020 death of a 16-month-old child who before dying had suffered months of physical abuse from her adopted parents. Media reported the cause of death as abdominal damage caused by external force, and police had not separated the child from her parents despite multiple reports of abuse from the child’s daycare center and others.

In a July report that analyzed reported cases of child abuse from 2020, the National Human Rights Commission called on the Ministry of Health and Welfare to publish detailed reports of child abuse cases, not just the numbers. It also recommended investigating all childhood deaths to identify cases in which abuse may not have been apparent. This was needed to educate the public on spotting warning signs and to bolster child abuse prevention, the commission said.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for men and women to marry is 18. There were no reported cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 16, and it is illegal to deceive or pressure anyone younger than 19 into having sexual intercourse. The penalty for rape of a minor younger than age 13 ranges from 10 years to life in prison; the penalty for rape of a minor age 13 to 19 is five years’ to life imprisonment. Other penalties include electronic monitoring of offenders, public release of their personal information, and reversible hormone treatment.

The law prohibits the commercialization of child pornography. Offenders convicted of producing or possessing child sexual abuse materials for the purpose of selling, leasing, or distributing for profit are subject to a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for distribution of child pornography for profit is five years’ imprisonment, distribution not for profit is three years’ imprisonment, and possession or purchase of child pornography is one year’s imprisonment.

In February a Seoul district court added five years to the prison sentence of Cho Ju-bin, the operator of the “Nth Room” chatrooms. Cho and other Nth Room administrators coerced women and minors into producing degrading and sometimes violent pornographic videos, and they sold access to the content via Telegram. In October the Supreme Court reduced Cho’s sentence from 45 to 42 years. In April another key member of the group received a 34-year prison sentence.

Children, especially runaway girls, were vulnerable to sex trafficking, including through online recruitment.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 1,000 individuals, almost all expatriates. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities and sets penalties for deliberate discrimination of up to three years in prison and a substantial fine. The government generally enforced this law. Persons with disabilities had some access to education, employment, social programs, and government support. Children with disabilities aged three to 17 had access to a separate special education school system, and all childcare and educational facilities had to provide accommodations for students with disabilities. Government statistics show persons with disabilities were employed at lower rates than those without disabilities and, when employed, were more likely to do irregular work. The government provided a pension system for registered adults and children with disabilities, an allowance for children younger than age 18 with disabilities in households with an income below or near the National Basic Livelihood Security Standard, and a disability allowance for low-income persons age 18 and older with mild disabilities.

The government generally implemented programs to facilitate access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The enforcement regulations for building accessibility only apply to establishments larger than 300 square feet, and the Research Institute for Differently Abled Person’s Rights Korea said this practice left persons with disabilities no access to some establishments used in everyday life. According to media reports, local agencies did not always provide accessible communications platforms for public health information during the COVID-19 pandemic or special accommodations for persons with disabilities during mandatory self-isolation periods. The closure of some care centers and schools during the pandemic also placed increased strain on family member caretakers of children with developmental disabilities.

The Research Institute for Differently Abled Person’s Rights Korea reported that individuals with intellectual disabilities did not receive sufficient support to achieve self-reliance. In August the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a pilot project to “de-institutionalize” persons with disabilities, provide them with the community support required to allow them to choose their own housing, and support their economic independence. After a two-year pilot stage, the project aims to move 24,000 citizens with disabilities out of care facilities by 2041. An NGO noted the long timeline and lack of community support would make this challenging and said the roadmap did not consider persons with disabilities who were homeless or institutionalized at mental-care facilities.

Persons with disabilities continued to face societal discrimination. NGOs said politicians also used discriminatory language to denounce their political rivals and their policies, which encouraged and perpetuated such discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law protects the right to confidentiality of persons with HIV or AIDS and prohibits discrimination against them. According to local NGOs, however, persons with HIV or AIDS continued to suffer from societal discrimination and social stigma.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and authorizes the National Human Rights Commission to review cases of such discrimination, although its recommended relief measures are nonbinding. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Military Criminal Act’s “disgraceful conduct” clause criminalizes consensual sexual acts between men in the military with up to two years’ imprisonment, regardless of consent and whether the act took place on a military installation. At the end of June NGOs reported there were two indictments and one open investigation under this law. The two individuals whose cases went to trial received suspended sentences.

Despite the NHRCK’s repeated calls for the National Assembly to adopt a comprehensive antidiscrimination law that would penalize with imprisonment or fines discriminatory practices based on gender, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation, among others, the National Assembly failed to pass it (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). Politically powerful conservative Christian groups that reject LGBTQI+ rights vehemently opposed such a law.

In September Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ youth in schools. The report, based on 67 interviews with students and teachers, revealed widespread bullying, violence, and harassment against LGBTQI+ students. These students were isolated due to their inability to rely on teachers or mental health professionals for help and support because they risked being outed. Transgender students faced additional stresses when their gender identity was not recognized, as schools set rules for uniforms, restroom or changing facility use, and classrooms based on gender.

NGOs noted the legal prohibition of sexual activity between men in the military led to abuse of LGBTQI+ soldiers. Given that all young men complete mandatory military service, NGOs argued the existence of the law provided justification for violence against LGBTQI+ individuals within the military and in broader society. In March Byun Hui-su died by suicide. She was expelled from the army after having gender-affirming surgery in 2020. Byun wished to continue serving in the military as a woman, but the military classified her as having a “class three mental and physical disability.” The NHRCK determined that the army should reverse the decision, noting that being transgender was not a disability. In October the Daejeon District Court ordered a posthumous cancellation of Byun’s discharge from the military, saying the military’s decision was unfair. While the Ministry of National Defense requested the government appeal the Daejeon court decision, the Ministry of Justice declined to do so, citing “consideration of facts, legal principles, respect for human dignity, and public sentiment.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply.

The law recognizes most workers’ right to strike. Labor and employers in businesses deemed to be “essential services” are required to agree on a plan to maintain a minimum level of services for the public interest during a strike. Essential services include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by legal strikes, but in essential services employers may hire replacements for up to 50 percent of striking workers.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Participating in strikes falling outside of the legally prescribed definition may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants.

Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. An amended law took effect in July allowing dismissed workers to maintain their union membership. The previous administration had used this rule to decertify or prevent legal recognition of unions with dismissed workers among their ranks, namely the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the Korean Government Employees Union. Both unions regained legal recognition under the current administration.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The law prohibits retribution against workers who strike legally, and the NLRC may order employers to reinstate workers fired for lawful union activities.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. In addition, an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a labor relations commission order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ lawful requests for bargaining.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

Some “dispatched workers” (those on temporary contracts) said they faced increased risk of nonrenewal of their work contract if they joined unions or engaged in industrial disputes. Some undocumented foreign workers avoided participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries issued rules in January to better regulate the recruitment system, prevent excessive working hours, set a minimum salary, and ensure the provision of necessities such as clean drinking water for migrant seafarers who worked aboard Korean deep-sea fishing vessels. NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, including some who endured 18-hour workdays and physical and verbal abuse from Korean captains and other crew. NGOs also called for stricter enforcement and penalties for violators.

Stakeholders reported that enforcement activities were limited by jurisdictional disputes between the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The government also investigated instances of abuse, including forced labor, against workers with intellectual disabilities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15 but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through the end of middle school. Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one person with parental authority or a guardian, for limited hours and are prohibited from night work. Workers younger than age 18 may not work in employment that is detrimental to their health or “morality.” Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations.

The maximum penalty for child labor, three years’ imprisonment, was not commensurate with that for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which is penalized by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but prosecutors could apply other criminal statutes in such a case. Through September the government reported no violations of child labor laws. The government generally effectively enforced the law.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation based on gender, nationality, social status, age, religion, or disability. No law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, language or HIV or other communicable disease status. The penalties for employment discrimination were commensurate with laws related to similar violations. The law prohibits companies with more than 30 employees from asking job applicants about family members, place of origin, marital status, age, or property ownership.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. The government inconsistently enforced the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender. The gender pay gap was 35.9 percent in 2020. Workers’ rights groups attributed the gap to women’s childcare and household responsibilities. A higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs, and women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, tasks such as handling virtual schooling for children or taking care of sick family members often fell to women. Legal restrictions against women in employment included limits on working hours, occupations, and tasks. In particular, the law restricted women’s participation in “hazardous” occupations such as mining.

The workplace antibullying law requires employers to take action to fight bullying in the workplace. According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 70 percent of persons surveyed in 2018 said they had been bullied at work. By law employers convicted of failing to take action to protect bullied employees face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The law prohibits discrimination against subcontracted (also known as “dispatched”) and temporary workers, who comprised approximately one-third of all wage workers and were found especially in the electronics, automotive, and service sectors. The International Labor Organization noted that the disadvantaged status of irregular workers contributed to discrimination against women given that women were overrepresented among these workers.

Discrimination in the workplace occurred against persons with HIV/AIDS, women, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers.

Many migrant workers faced workplace discrimination. The maximum length of stay permitted under the Employee Permit System is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. NGOs and civil society groups asserted this policy is designed to exclude foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. NGOs stated it remained difficult for migrant workers to change employers (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

The law prohibits recruiters, agents, employers, or managers from receiving money or other valuables or benefits from job seekers or employees in exchange for securing employment. Nevertheless, NGOs reported Republic of Korea-flagged vessel owners routinely demanded security deposits from foreign crewmembers to discourage them from transferring jobs. New regulations issued in January require employers to bear the costs of recruitment fees and set a minimum wage, but NGOs said the regulations were not clearly drafted to include any preboarding costs, such as security deposits.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: During the year the minimum wage increased 1.5 percent and was above the official poverty line.

The law allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days and more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks (up to a maximum of 52 hours in a single week), so long as average weekly work hours for any two-week period do not exceed 40 hours and workers have a mandatory day of rest each week. For employers who adopt a flexible system, hours exceeding 80 in a two-week period constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in export-processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week. Standards for working and rest hours and paid leave do not apply to seafarers; overtime pay standards apply to fishermen on coastal fishing vessels, but not to those deep-sea fishing vessels. The annual ministerial notification set a minimum wage for Korean crewmembers but not migrant crewmembers, who, according to an NGO, earned just one-fifth of the Republic of Korea minimum wage.

Unions said that during the COVID-19 pandemic there were almost no reported violations of overtime laws. Official statistics showed 566,000 workers held second “side jobs” as of July, working as drivers, couriers, or in service jobs to cover or supplement living expenses. In June and October, delivery workers held nationwide strikes protesting long hours and strenuous work conditions that led to the deaths of 16 delivery workers in 2020.

The government generally effectively enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work in most sectors, but migrants faced discriminatory laws and practices. The Labor Ministry was responsible for enforcement of these laws and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations in most sectors. Inspectors had the authority to identify unsafe conditions, conduct unannounced visits, and issue corrective orders. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Regulations outline legal protections for migrant and foreign workers. Inspections covered businesses with foreign workers, particularly in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and construction sectors, which generally had poor working conditions. Migrants’ rights advocates noted the government inspected only a small percentage of workplaces that hire migrant workers and asserted that employers were not deterred from violating labor standards because most inspections were perfunctory and, even if violations were found, the typical result was a corrective order.

NGOs and local media reported discrimination against workers who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers. For example, while the law requires the conversion to permanent status of those employed longer than two years, employers often laid off irregular workers shortly before the two-year mark. To address this the government provides subsidies and tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire temporary workers on a permanent basis, according to the labor ministry.

Migrant workers faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility, which left them vulnerable to exploitation. NGOs continued to push for changes to the employment permit system to allow migrant workers the freedom to change employers. Migrant workers generally must obtain the consent of their current employers to switch jobs or can request a change based on very limited circumstances beyond their control. The Ministry of Labor in April added unacceptable employer-provided housing (e.g., vinyl greenhouses) as another reason workers could request a change in workplace under this structure, which also includes overdue or nonpayment of wages, sexual assault, a workplace accident, and others. Workers’ rights NGOs noted the burden was on the worker to present evidence of the mistreatment to avail themselves of these provisions, making it very difficult to switch jobs without the employer’s consent.

A December 2020 Reuters report found 522 Thai migrant workers had died in the Republic of Korea since 2015, based on documents obtained from the Thai Embassy in Seoul. Forty percent of the deaths were from unknown causes, and 60 percent were health-related, accidents, or suicides. The Thai Embassy estimated only a tenth of the 185,000 Thai migrants held legal status in the country. Media and NGOs claimed a flawed employment permit system places migrant workers in precarious situations.

To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided preemployment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. In April the law was amended to require all employers of foreign workers under the employment permit system to receive training on labor laws and human rights. The government funded 45 foreign workers support centers nationwide to provide foreign workers with counseling services in 16 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. It also ran a call center to help foreign workers resolve grievances. The government also funded multicultural family and migrant plus centers to provide foreign workers, international marriage immigrants, and other multicultural families with a one-stop service center providing immigration, welfare, and education services.

The law requires severance payments to migrant workers who have worked in the country for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving severance pay prior to their departure and stated they did not receive payments even after returning to their country of origin, due to banking regulations and delinquent employers. NGOs confirmed many departing migrants never received these payments and that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified these difficulties.

Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries that had large numbers of migrant workers. Foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours, fewer days off, and lower wages than their local counterparts. According to NGOs, the government only occasionally investigated reports of poor or abusive working conditions for migrants, and court cases were often dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Surveys show nearly all migrant workers lived in housing provided by their employers. In the farming and fisheries sector, 70 percent reported living in makeshift structures made of assembled panels, containers, or structures covered with vinyl sheeting. After a Cambodian worker was found dead in December 2020 in a vinyl greenhouse with a malfunctioning heating unit, the Labor Ministry announced in January it would no longer issue employment permits to employers in the agriculture and fisheries industries who house foreign workers in makeshift structures. This took effect in other industries in July, although NGOs claimed the government granted some employers a grace period until September.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Korea Occupational Health and Safety Agency, under the supervision of the Ministry of Employment and Labor, established occupational health and safety standards and worked to identify unsafe working conditions. Under the law workers in every sector have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. In addition to broad reforms in 2020 to occupational health and safety law, including increased penalties for workplace fatalities and health and safety violations, in January the government announced even stricter penalties for certain industrial accidents. In January the National Assembly passed the Serious Accident Punishment Act, which, when it takes effect in January 2022, will require stricter compliance from business owners and place responsibility for accident prevention on CEOs.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor had 815 health and safety inspectors and conducted 12,097 workplace inspections from January to July, an increase compared with the same period last year.

The government enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as gross negligence. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, there were 108,379 industrial accidents in 2020, similar to 2019, and 2,062 occupational deaths. The leading causes of workplace deaths were falls and accidents involving equipment in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The ministry acknowledged that challenges remained in further reducing the level of fatal accidents to that on par with other advanced countries; ensuring the safety of workers vulnerable to occupational accidents or health risks, including older workers, women, migrants, and those working in small workplaces; and reducing safety gaps between large enterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as between parent companies and subcontractors. Workers’ rights advocates said that contract or temporary workers were also vulnerable to workplace injury.

The country has a high industrial death rate. For example, steelmaker POSCO has reported 14 workplace fatalities in the past three years. In February a subcontractor was killed while replacing a conveyor roller at the POSCO steelworks in Pohang. One month later, a subcontractor for an affiliated company died in a similar incident at the same plant. The February incident prompted the Labor Ministry to conduct a two-month inspection of the Pohang plant. It fined POSCO $395,000 for 225 safety-rule breaches.

Spain

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. The country has a bicameral parliament, known as the General Courts or National Assembly, consisting of the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house). The head of the largest political party or coalition in the Congress of Deputies usually is named to head the government as president of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of prime minister. Observers considered the two national elections held in 2019 to be free and fair.

The national police and the Civil Guard maintain internal security as well as migration and border enforcement, under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. The regional police under the authority of the Catalan and the Basque Country regional governments and municipal police throughout the country also support domestic security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant issues included the existence of criminal libel laws.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Prosecutions and convictions for corruption were rare compared to the complaints filed, mainly because of the extensive system of legal appeals. There were some reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption cases crossed party, regional, and municipal lines, and while the backlog of cases was significant, analysts noted courts continued to process them regardless of political pressure.

Following a three-year investigation, in July the National Court formally charged several former officials from the Popular Party as well as several former high-ranking police officials in a high-profile case known as the “Kitchen” case. The defendants, who included former minister of the interior Jorge Fernandez Diaz, faced charges of discovery and disclosure of confidential information, obstruction of justice, failure to prosecute criminal activity, bribery, undue influence, and embezzlement of public funds. The case centered on the alleged illegal surveillance in 2013 of former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas. According to the investigating judge, the defendants sought to steal from Barcenas, then in prison related to another corruption case, confidential documents regarding the party leadership’s involvement in illegal election financing and other illicit activities. A trial date was not set by the end of the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens. The Office of the Ombudsman was generally effective, independent, and had the public’s trust. The ombudsman is appointed by parliament but serves in an independent oversight capacity. On November 18, Angel Gabilondo became the national ombudsman after a four-year vacancy in the position.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape; it does not distinguish between rape of women and men. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although there were reports that judicial authorities dismissed cases if victims were not physically present in the country at the time of trial. The penalty for rape is six to 12 years in prison. Additional charges, including if the victim was a minor or if the assailant ridiculed the victim, may add to the length of the overall prison sentence. The law also prohibits violence against women and sets prison sentences of six months to a year for domestic violence, threats of violence, or violations of restraining orders, with longer sentences if serious injuries result.

The law establishes “the mere act of aggression by a man against a woman who is his partner or former partner already constitutes an act of gender-based violence;” there is no requirement to establish “the intent to dominate.” Amnesty International reported this qualification resulted in a two-tier system for sexual assault victims, with increased protections for those assaulted by a partner.

On July 31, the Ministry of the Interior reported a 31 percent increase in the number of reported rapes during the first six months of the year. According to a joint report by the Observatory against Gender-Based and Domestic Violence and the General Council of the Judiciary, there were 22,724 verdicts in gender-based violence cases in 2020 with a 60 percent conviction rate.

According to the government’s delegate against gender-based violence, as of September 25, partners or former partners were responsible for the deaths of 35 women. According to the General Council of the Judiciary, 26,551 cases of gender-based violence were open for prosecution in 2020. There were 35,001 allegations of gender-based violence in the first quarter of the year. Police alerted female survivors of gender-based violence of any changes in prison sentences of their attackers. Independent media and government agencies generally paid close attention to gender-based violence.

NGOs cited continuing concerns with investigations of sexual assault and lenient sentencing for offenders. Lack of training on sexual assault cases for police, forensic investigators, and judges was a problem. There were reports that police officers were sometimes dismissive of rape allegations involving acquaintances and did not actively pursue such cases. Differing protocols for handling sexual assault cases around the country led to inconsistent access to justice for sexual assault victims. The lack of clear sentencing guidelines meant sentences for sexual crimes were almost entirely at the discretion of the judge and could vary widely.

In July the Catalonia Superior Court reduced the sentence of a man convicted in April for his role in a 2019 gang rape case from 31 to 22 years’ imprisonment. In April the Barcelona High Court also sentenced two other defendants to 13 years each for their role. A fourth defendant was acquitted.

In July a court in Malaga announced it was investigating a man on charges of attempted murder, illegal detention, humiliation, assault, coercion, and habitual mistreatment related to an incident in January in which the man was accused of throwing sulfuric acid on his former girlfriend and her friend. Both survivors suffered severe injuries, with the former girlfriend suffering from burns on more that 50 percent of her body. The investigation continued at year’s end.

A 24-hour toll-free national hotline advised battered women on finding shelter and other local assistance. In March the government’s delegate against gender-based violence announced the hotline would expand its assistance to include legal advice, psychological assistance and referrals, and social worker assistance for all forms of gender-based violence in 53 languages. The delegate also announced the creation of a WhatsApp number and other expanded services for women with auditory or visual disabilities.

In April the Council of Ministers approved funding to establish at least one 24-hour sexual assault crisis center in each of the country’s 50 provinces as well as Ceuta and Melilla by 2023. The centers would not require victims to formally accuse their attackers or to participate in prosecutions.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and authorizes courts to prosecute residents of the country who committed this crime in the country or anywhere in the world. The law punishes those who subjugate others to FGM/C with prison sentences of between six and 12 years, with additional penalties if the victim is a minor or disabled.

In January the NGO Dimbe, which is dedicated to bringing awareness to and promoting the eradication of FGM/C, warned that 4,500 girls in the Canary Islands were at risk of being subjected to FGM/C. According to Dimbe, girls, primarily of African origin, might be taken to their home countries under the pretext of a vacation and then subjected to the procedure. There were also reports of the procedure taking place in the Canary Islands.

The State Plan against Gender Violence includes FGM/C as a form of gender-based violence. In its 2020 study Female Genital Mutilation in Spain, the government’s delegate against gender-based violence, prepared in collaboration with the Wassu Foundation and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, noted girls from sub-Saharan African migrant families were at risk of FGM/C. There is a protocol for medical professionals for the identification, treatment, and prevention of FGM/C, but there is no specific national-level plan for combatting FGM/C. Some autonomous communities have their own plans for combatting FGM/C.

In its 2020 report Estimation of Girls at Risk of Female Genital Mutilation in the European Union, the European Institute for Gender Equality noted that in 2018, the absolute number of girls at risk of FGM/C in the country had decreased despite an increase in the number of migrant girls from FGM/C-practicing countries. A local press outlet reported that in most cases the victims were taken to their ancestral country of origin for the procedure, although in at least one case a victim was taken to Morocco because of difficulties in travelling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU report estimated that 15 percent of girls under 18 years old living in the country were at high-risk of being subjugated to FGM/C and 9 percent were at lower risk. High-risk and low-risk scenarios were determined by country of origin and how many generations ago the family immigrated to the country. According to the government’s delegate against gender-based violence, the autonomous communities with the highest numbers of women and girls at risk for FGM/C were Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but few cases came to trial. The punishment in minor cases may be between three and five months in jail or fines. Harassment continued to be a problem, according to media reporting. In the Ministry of Equality’s Survey of Violence against Women in 2020, the latest year for which information was available, more than 40 percent of women reported having been sexually harassed over their lifetime, with more than 17 percent reporting harassment by a work colleague. More than 15 percent of the women surveyed reported having been the victim of stalking.

In February more than 20 students and alumni of the Barcelona Institute of Theater complained about years of sexual harassment and abuse of power by faculty. In October the Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the allegations against one of the teachers, who was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior and sending sexually explicit material to students. The Barcelona Institute of Theater removed the teacher from his position in March and opened disciplinary investigations against at least two other teachers.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Under the law women enjoy the same rights as men. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law criminalizes the promotion of hate or discrimination against individuals or groups based on, inter alia, their race, ethnicity, or national origin. The punishment is one to four years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also considers motives based on race, ethnicity, or national origin to be an aggravating circumstance in other crimes. The government generally effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of the Interior’s Action Protocol for Law Enforcement Agencies on Hate Crimes provides for the equality of vulnerable groups and prevents discrimination against them based on, inter alia, national origin and ethnicity. The policy orders law enforcement officers to avoid the use of terms or expressions that may be perceived as offensive or pejorative.

The Ministry of the Interior reported 485 hate crimes linked to racism and xenophobia in 2020, a 5.8 percent decrease from 2019. The regions of Melilla, Basque Country, Navarre, and Ceuta had the highest numbers of hate crimes according to the ministry’s data.

Activists for racial equality said there were racist and xenophobic motives behind the June shooting death of Moroccan national Younes Bilal in Mazarron (Murcia). Bilal died after being shot three times during an altercation, during which witnesses said the shooter used racial slurs. Police opened a homicide investigation with racism as a possible aggravating factor. Also in June, Moroccan Momoun Koutaibi was left in a coma after being assaulted by a coworker in an attack in Alhama de Murcia that witnesses and his family said was racially motivated. There were reports of attacks against mosques in Murcia in February and July. Many of the incidents also included anti-Muslim rhetoric. The Ministry of Equality’s Council for the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination denounced the events in Murcia as racist and xenophobic.

NGOs expressed particular concern about racist and xenophobic rhetoric toward unaccompanied minor migrants and reported that opposition Vox party promoted and amplified such rhetoric. In February the Madrid prosecutor’s office began a hate crime investigation into the right-wing group Frontal Bastion for allegedly spreading false information about minor migrants, including linking them to increased street crime and sexual assault. In July a Madrid court closed the hate crime case brought by the public prosecutor against the Vox party for its campaign poster for the May 4 Madrid regional elections that depicted unaccompanied immigrant minors as a menace and drain on public resources. Various rights organizations and political parties denounced the advertisement as racist and xenophobic. In dismissing the case, the court ruled that unaccompanied immigrant minors represent a “clear social and political” problem even if the figures cited in the advertisement were inaccurate.

There were multiple instances of soccer fans using racists insults against Black soccer players, including players from soccer clubs in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. In May, Minister of Equality Irene Montero and Minister of Social Rights and Agenda 2030 Ione Belarra met with the head of the Spanish soccer federation la Liga to discuss preventing and fighting racism in soccer. On November 30, the Council of Ministers agreed to increase funding to support victims of racial discrimination by expanding staffing to address the issue, legal assistance to victims, and the racial discrimination hotline’s hours.

Catalan law enforcement noted the increase of right-wing extremism, especially white nationalism, in the region, including the increased use of social media as a tool to amplify right-wing messaging of conspiracy theories.

The Romani community was the largest minority group in the country, with an estimated 750,000 persons. There were three representatives of Romani heritage in the Congress of Deputies. The Gitano Secretariat Foundation (FSG) reported significant integration challenges for the Romani community, including high rates of poverty, unemployment (especially for Romani women), and children dropping out from secondary education. The FSG’s 2020 annual report on discrimination against the Romani community reported 425 cases of discrimination, a 27 percent increase over the previous year. FSG reported numerous instances of anti-Romani messaging on social media, but a decrease in anti-Romani sentiment in traditional media. On November 2, the government approved the 2021-2030 National Strategy for the Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of the Romani People. The strategy seeks to support the social integration of the Roma into broader society, paying special attention to those living in situations of poverty and social exclusion, with specific provisions related to improving access to education, employment, health, and housing as well as promoting gender equality and fighting discrimination against the Romani people.

In a study released in February, the Ministry of Equality found more than half of those identifying as a racial minority felt discriminated against in 2020. Racial discrimination was analyzed in public health, administrative services, housing, education, and treatment by the police. Perceived discrimination increased in every area since the last comparative study in 2013. While discrimination rates varied, the main populations reporting having experienced discrimination included sub-Saharan African, North African, Romani, South Asian, and East Asian populations. Of Black residents, 78 percent reported experiencing discrimination based on skin color.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. Children born in the country, except children of diplomats and children whose parents’ country of origin gives them nationality, are registered as citizens. When a child does not acquire the parents’ nationality, the government may grant Spanish citizenship.

Child Abuse: The Law for the Protection of Children, the country’s first comprehensive law to protect children and adolescents from violence, entered into force in June. The law seeks to avoid revictimization by requiring children under 14 to provide testimony only once. It also extends the period for reporting sexual abuse against children and adolescents, permitting victims to initiate cases up to when they are 35 years old, and the statute of limitations does not expire until they are 40, or 55 years of age in especially grave cases. The law confers legal recognition of children as victims of gender-based violence in instances of violence between a parent and a parent’s partner. Any citizen who has knowledge of violence against a child is obligated to report it to authorities under the new law. For the first time, children are permitted to file reports of violence without being accompanied by an adult. As part of the new legislation, the government has one year to approve a project for the creation of special courts and prosecutors dedicated to violence against children.

The law provides other protections as well against various forms of child abuse. Those accused of sexual abuses involving minors receive larger penalties. For example, in cases of sexual abuse, instead of one to four years of imprisonment, the penalty increases to four to 10 years when the victim is a child. Cases of sexual aggression, which normally receive six to 12 years in jail, are punished with 12 to 15 years in cases involving minors.

According to the government’s delegate for gender-based and domestic violence, as of September 25, either a parent or a parent’s partner were responsible for the deaths of five children.

In 2020 the ANAR Foundation, dedicated to the protection of children, registered 166,433 requests for assistance and attended to 11,761 serious cases of violence against minors. The foundation reported an increase in physical abuse of minors and reported the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated many of the problems affecting minors.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 16 years for minors living on their own. Forced marriage is criminalized with fines and prison sentences of between six months and three years, with penalties increasing to prison sentences of five to eight years if the victim is determined to have been a victim of human trafficking. The antitrafficking NGO Project Esperanza stated forced marriages continued to happen in the country. NGOs working with refugees expressed concern about possible forced marriages among migrants. In April police in A Coruna (Galicia) and Cordoba (Andalusia) arrested five individuals on charges of trafficking in persons, illegal detention, and continuous sexual abuse related to a family arranging the forced marriage of their 12-year-old daughter to cover a debt. In July police in Castile-La Mancha arrested five individuals on charges related to the forced marriages of two sisters when they were 14 years old and preparations to forcibly marry a third sister aged 12.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the “abuse and sexual attack of minors” younger than age 13 and sets the penalty at imprisonment from two to 15 years, depending on the nature of the crime. Individuals who contact children younger than age 13 through the internet for the purpose of sexual exploitation face imprisonment for one to three years. Authorities enforced the law.

Child sex trafficking is criminalized and was prosecuted under the law. The penalty for child sex trafficking is five to eight years’ imprisonment. The penalty for recruiting children or persons with disabilities into commercial sex is imprisonment from one to five years. The penalty for subjecting children to commercial sex is two to 10 years’ imprisonment, depending on the age of the victim and the existence of violence or intimidation. The law prohibits using a minor “to prepare any type of pornographic material” as well as the production, sale, distribution, display, or facilitation of the production, sale, dissemination, or exhibition of “any type” of child pornography by “any means.” The penalty is one to five years’ imprisonment; if the child is younger than age 13, the length of imprisonment is five to nine years. The law also penalizes knowingly possessing child pornography.

In February a court in Navarre sentenced Daniel Lucia, owner of a modeling agency, to 115 years’ imprisonment for the unauthorized filming of 129 women and girls without their clothing, 48 of whom were minors 13-17 years old. Media outlets reported Lucia was likely to serve five years in prison based on the law, which allows a convicted person to serve concurrently sentences for similar crimes. Lucia’s victims criticized the sentence as too lenient.

In September police arrested 15 individuals in multiple cities throughout the country in connection with possession and distribution of child pornography on social media platforms. Law enforcement identified two child victims during the investigation.

In January the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) of the Roman Catholic Church publicly recognized that at least 81 minors and 37 adults had suffered sexual abuse by members of the Jesuit order in the country since 1927. Following the announcement, seven additional orders of the Roman Catholic Church reported they had carried out or were in the process of investigating past cases of abuse. The Church stated it was open to compensating victims.

The minimum age for consensual sex in the country is 16. The law defines sexual acts committed against persons younger than age 16 as nonconsensual sexual abuse and provides for sentences from two to 15 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.

A registry for sex offenders provides a basis to bar them from activities in which they could be in the presence of minors.

The sex trafficking of teenage girls into commercial sex remained a problem. See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 40,000 to 50,000 persons.

The law considers denial and justification of genocide to be a crime if it incites violence, with penalties that range from one to four years in prison.

In February the Madrid prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into an anti-Semitic demonstration praising the Blue Division, the military unit dictator Francisco Franco sent to support Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. On February 15, approximately 300 neo-Nazis marched through several streets of Madrid, made the Nazi salute, and sang fascist-themed songs. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, various national and local government agencies, and the Israeli embassy in Madrid condemned the demonstration.

The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on the Prevention of Hate Crimes reported three cases of anti-Semitism in 2020. According to the Observatory of Anti-Semitism of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, anti-Semitic incidents included hate speech on social media and anti-Semitic graffiti. In November police arrested a man for defacing a United Left party office in San Andres del Rabanedo (Castile and Leon) in 2020 by breaking windows and painting swastikas and anti-Semitic language on the office facade. Authorities called the man, who was arrested for a similar incident in August, a “far-right extremist.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law mandates that persons with disabilities can access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. While the government generally enforced these provisions, levels of assistance and accessibility varied among regions. There were reports of delays in creating equal access to some facilities. In July the mother of a girl in a wheelchair told press that they had been waiting three years for the Madrid regional government to install an elevator in the girl’s high school. The law requires government information and communication is provided in accessible formats, and the government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

The law prohibits with fines discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 50 employees to hire persons with disabilities for at least 2 percent of their jobs.

The Minister of the Interior’s Action Protocol for Law Enforcement Agencies on Hate Crimes guarantees the equality of and prohibits discrimination against vulnerable groups based on, inter alia, intellectual, and physical disabilities. The ministry published a Guide for Working with Victims of Hate Crimes with Developmental Disabilities to help police officers better assist persons with disabilities in understanding, reporting, and protecting themselves from hate crimes.

In May a royal decree entered into force promoting employment access into the general labor market for persons with intellectual disabilities as well as deaf and hearing-impaired persons. According to the State Employment Public Service’s 2020 report, the latest year for which data were available, in 2019 more than 65 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed, more than twice the percentage of the general population. Percentages increased with age and with the degree of visible disability.

In the 2018-19 school year, the latest year for which data was available, 83 percent of children with disabilities attended schools with peers without disabilities and 17 percent attended special education centers. Children with disabilities did not attend school at significantly lower rates than other children. In January a new education law entered into force that seeks to integrate most children with disabilities into regular schools in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within a 10-year period, reserving special education centers for children with severe disabilities. The Spanish Confederation of Persons with Physical and Organic Disabilities (CERMI) raised concerns that there was no specific plan for how the government intends to implement and enforce the new law.

In May the parliament approved an amendment to the constitution to affirm the full equality of and protections for persons with disabilities. The amendment states that public authorities shall enact policies to guarantee the full personal autonomy and social inclusion of persons with disabilities. It also confers special protection to persons with disabilities to guarantee they receive the specialized attention they require and can enjoy all the rights the constitution grants to all citizens.

In September a new law entered into force to support persons with disabilities in exercising their legal rights in accordance with the International Convention for Persons with Disabilities. The new law provides for the rights, will, and preferences of persons with disabilities. It abolishes the requirement for persons with disabilities to have a guardian in legal proceedings and instead provides for technical assistance based on everyone’s specific needs.

According to the report The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Persons with Disabilities published by the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030, 66.5 percent of persons with disabilities required social services during the pandemic; however roughly half were unable to get the assistance required. CERMI continued to report significant challenges for persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation for women and girls was particularly difficult, according to CERMI, in part because of caretaker responsibilities, higher rates of poverty, and increased social exclusion.

In February the government’s prison authority launched a social insertion program for inmates with intellectual disabilities. The government reported 639 inmates with intellectual disabilities in the country’s prison system.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the government enforced the law. The law penalizes those who provoke discrimination, hate, or violence based on sexual orientation with one to four years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also prohibits denial or disqualification of employment based on sexual orientation and the formation of associations that promote discrimination, hate, or violence against others based on their sexual orientation. The law may consider hatred against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons an aggravating circumstance in crimes.

The Ministry of the Interior’s Action Protocol for Law Enforcement Agencies on Hate Crimes provides for the equality of and prohibits discrimination against vulnerable groups based on, inter alia, sexual orientation and identity. The Ministry of the Interior’s 2020 report on hate crimes outlined 277 crimes reported to the police based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the second most prevalent reason for hate crimes. Rights organizations reported official figures were significantly lower than incidents reported to various LGBTQI+ rights groups around the country. NGOs expressed concern about a rise in anti-LGBTQI+ hate speech and reported that opposition Vox party promoted anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric. According to the NGO Kif Kif Association, LGBTQI+ migrants faced “double discrimination” and were particularly targeted by far-right groups.

In June after a young gay man was attacked and beaten by a group of men shouting homophobic slurs in Basauri (Basque Country), thousands of demonstrators protested against violence aimed at the LGBTQI+ community. Basque regional police arrested nine individuals in connection with the attack. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Rights groups denounced the July 3 death of Samuel Luiz Muniz, a 24-year-old gay man. A group of men attacked and beat Muniz outside a nightclub in A Coruna (Galicia). Several of Muniz’s friends, who were witness to the assault, claimed the attackers yelled homophobic slurs during the attack. Muniz’s death prompted demonstrations against violence aimed at the LGBTQI+ community. Police arrested six individuals in connection with Muniz’s death. The investigation was ongoing.

The number of homophobic attacks continued to be a concern in Catalonia. Although the number of aggressions against the LGBTQI+ community remained like previous years, the Barcelona city council denounced increased violence against the LGBTQI+ community. The Observatory against Homophobia of Catalonia reported 80 incidents as of June. According to the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor, in 2020, for the first time, the largest number of hate crimes offenses reported, at 40 percent, were for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In July the Council of Ministers approved a draft law to allow children 16 years and older to determine their gender identity in the civil registry without parental consent or medical exam and allow children 14 years and older to do so with parental consent. The draft law had significant support from LGBTQI+ and other rights organizations. It was, however, the subject of very intense national debate and significant protests. It was front-page news for weeks.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows most workers, including foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent trade unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Military personnel and national police forces do not have the right to join generalist unions. Judges, magistrates, and prosecutors may join only bar associations.

The constitution provides for the right of part-time and full-time public sector workers to adopt collective bargaining agreements with employers’ representatives. Public-sector collective bargaining includes salaries and employment levels, but the government retains the right to set the levels if negotiations fail. The government has the unilateral power to annul, modify, or extend the content and scope of collective agreements in the public sector, and all collective bargaining agreements must be registered with the government.

The constitution and law provide for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right by conducting legal strikes. The law prohibits strikers from disrupting or seeking to disrupt harmonious relationships among citizens, disturbing public order, causing damage to persons or property, blocking roads or public spaces, or preventing authorities or bodies from performing their duties freely. Any striking union must respect minimum service requirements negotiated with the respective employer. Law and regulations prohibit retaliation against strikers, antiunion discrimination, and discrimination based on union activity, and these laws were effectively enforced. According to the law, if an employer violates union rights, including the right to conduct legal strikes, or dismisses an employee for participation in a union, the employer could face imprisonment from six months to two years or a fine if the employer does not reinstate the employee. In April the government repealed a section of the penal code that criminalized making threats against workers who chose not to participate in labor strikes. The government considered this protection against threats to be covered under the broader provisions in the penal code regarding coercion.

Workers freely organized and joined unions of their choice. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and generally did not interfere in union functioning. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Collective bargaining agreements covered approximately 80 percent of the workforce in the public and private sectors. On occasion employers used the minimum service requirements to undermine planned strikes and ensure services in critical areas such as transportation or health services.

Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against workers and union organizers, unions contended that employers practiced discrimination in many cases by refusing to renew the temporary contracts of workers engaging in union organizing. There were also antiunion dismissals and interference in the activities of trade unions and collective bargaining in the public sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor including by children.

The government maintained strong prevention efforts, although the efforts focused more on sex trafficking than on forced labor. The government had an insufficient number of labor inspectors and therefore could not enforce the law effectively in all instances. Penalties for applicable laws were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

In December the government approved the first National Plan against Forced Labor in compliance with the 2014 Protocol from the International Labor Organization. The goal of the three-year plan is to eradicate forced labor inside and outside the country.

There were cases of employers subjecting migrant men and women to forced labor in domestic service, agriculture, construction, and the service industry. Unaccompanied children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and labor trafficking through forced begging. Caritas Spain reported that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the condition of employment and in some cases, led to instances of forced labor.

In January police in Alicante (Valencia) arrested a couple for exploiting nine seasonal workers in forced labor. The couple kept part of the workers’ wages, forced them to live in poor conditions in an industrial warehouse, and required them to work seven days a week. In March police arrested a couple in Valladolid (Castile and Leon) for holding three undocumented migrants in slave-like conditions and forcing them to work for very low pay on their farm. In April police arrested 11 individuals in Albacete (Castile-La Mancha) for using agricultural companies to exploit migrant workers, mostly from Morocco. In May, Catalan regional police arrested eight individuals believed to be part of a Chinese-origin organized crime group on drug and human trafficking charges. The individuals were accused of keeping 10 workers in slave-like conditions in industrial marijuana cultivation warehouses for more than a year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by international standards. The statutory minimum age for the employment of children is 16, although permission from parents or guardians is required up to 18 years of age unless the person is legally emancipated. The law also prohibits those younger than 18 from employment at night, overtime work, or employment in sectors considered hazardous, such in agriculture, mining, and construction. Laws and policies provide for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, and these laws generally were enforced.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Economy (Ministry of Labor) has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum-age law, and it enforced the law effectively in industries and the service sector.

Due to insufficient resources, the ministry did not always effectively enforce the law on small farms and in family-owned businesses, where some instances of child labor persisted. The government effectively enforced laws prohibiting child labor in the special economic zones. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, the Ministry of Labor detected 32 violations of child labor laws that involved 40 minors between ages 16 and 18 and 18 violations involving 20 minors younger than age 16. The fines amounted to more than 315,000 euros ($362,000). In 2019 there were 33 violations related to the safety and health of working minors involving 35 minors, with penalties of more than 353,000 euros ($406,000).

There were reports that criminals exploited children in child sex trafficking (forced commercial sex) as well as pornography. Police databases do not automatically register foreign children intercepted at the borders, making them vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking, including labor trafficking through forced begging and child sex trafficking (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law, although discrimination in employment and occupation still occurred with respect to race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The government requires companies with more than 50 workers to reserve 2 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, but it did not always effectively enforce this law. Penalties are commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, but a pay gap exists between men and women. In June the National Statistics Institute reported that in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, women earned on average 80.5 percent of what their male counterparts earned, though the gap narrowed when considering similar positions in the same occupation, type of contract, and type of schedule. Women comprised 64 percent of those whose hourly wage was two-thirds or below the average hourly wage.

In April labor inspectors in La Rioja, citing discrimination, fined an agricultural firm for firing four employees who had contracted COVID-19.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage, which barely met the poverty level in 2020. In June 2020 the government approved an increase to the minimum living income, a monthly stipend provided to those at a certain level of poverty, which sought to guarantee a monthly income of between 461 euros ($530) and 1,015 euros ($1,167) for approximately 850,000 households. The measure aimed to reduce extreme poverty in the country by 80 percent. The government effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in the formal economy but not in the informal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The Ministry of Labor’s Inspectorate of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Infractions of wage, hour, and overtime laws as well as social security benefits for workers were most common in the informal economy. In 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, the most common infraction identified by the inspectorate was employment contract violations, followed by hour and overtime violations and wage violations.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, with an unbroken rest period of 36 hours after each 40 hours worked. The law restricts overtime to 80 hours per year unless a collective bargaining agreement establishes a different level. Pay is required for overtime and must be equal to or greater than regular pay.

In June, Second Vice President and Minister of Labor Yolanda Diaz met with women who worked as seasonal strawberry pickers in Huelva (Andalusia). The women reported labor exploitation, including poor working conditions, gender discrimination, degrading treatment and abuse, as well as noncompliance on the part of their employers in terms of pay, working hours, and housing conditions. The Ministry of Labor modified its regulations to allow its inspectors to assess work housing conditions.

Occupational Safety and Health: The National Institute of Safety and Health in the Ministry of Labor has technical responsibility for developing OSH standards. OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country and labor inspectors generally enforce OSH standards by identifying unsafe conditions. The law protects workers who remove themselves from situations that could endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Inspectorate of Labor and Social Security has responsibility for enforcing OSH laws through inspections and legal action if inspectors find infractions. Inspections for OSH were conducted by the same division that inspects wage and hour compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Due to a lack of resources, the inspectorate had an insufficient number of inspectors and therefore, could not enforce the law in all instances. The penalties were commensurate with those for crimes such criminal fraud or willful obstruction of justice. There were 89,230 violations identified in 2019, the latest year for which data was available. Unions criticized the government for devoting insufficient resources to inspection and enforcement. The most common OSH workplace violations were in the construction sector.

In 2020 the Ministry of Labor recorded 505,528 workplace accidents, of which authorities considered 3,643 as serious but nonfatal. There were 634 fatal accidents, 182 fewer than in 2019.

Through July the Ministry of Labor recorded 317,258 workplace accidents, of which 329 were fatal accidents, 17 fewer than the same period in 2020.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.8 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council, a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The last election was in 2019, when appointed voters elected 20 Federal National Council members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum), but they do not have the right to choose their government in free and fair elections.

Each emirate maintains a local police force called a general directorate, which is officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. All emirate-level general directorates of police enforce their respective emirate’s laws autonomously. They also enforce federal laws within their emirate in coordination with one another under the federal ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including very restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully in free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults; and outlawing of independent trade unions or significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished some officials who committed abuses, primarily official financial crimes. There was no publicly available information on whether authorities investigated complaints of other abuses, including prison conditions and mistreatment, or prosecuted and punished officials in connection with these complaints.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Nepotism and conflict of interest in government appointments and contract allocations existed. The Ministries of Interior and Justice and the state audit institutions are responsible for combating government corruption.

Corruption: In February the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced two former senior executives of a government-owned company to 15 years in prison for money laundering. According to the report, the unnamed CEO and former chairman of the board of the unnamed Abu Dhabi company were also ordered to return AED eight billion ($2.2 billion) in misappropriated funds.

In May the president of the Supreme Audit Institution and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime signed an agreement to implement a three-year program to strengthen the anticorruption role of supreme audit institutions and enhance cooperation between them and anticorruption bodies.

In August the president issued an accountability and transparency law on questioning ministers and senior officials. The law gives the attorney general the power to investigate officials, issue travel bans, and freeze officials’ assets. Officials can be removed from their job for administrative or financial misdeeds. The law also includes provisions to hold officials accountable after resignation or removal from their position. The public prosecutor’s office is the designated body to receive complaints against senior officials and has the power to refer them for investigation in coordination with the cabinet.

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

The government generally did not permit domestic or international organizations to focus on domestic political or human rights issues.

The government directed, regulated, and subsidized participation by all NGO members in events outside the country. All participants were required to obtain government permission before attending such events. The government also restricted entry to the country by members of international NGOs. There were no transparent standards governing visits from international NGO representatives. The antidiscrimination law, which prohibits multiple forms of discrimination and criminalizes acts or expression the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion, was used as a legal basis for restricting events such as conferences and seminars. The law also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audiovisual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Committee acts as the main liaison between human rights bodies in the country and supervises the implementation of a comprehensive national human rights plan. In December 2020 the committee launched the first stage of the consultative process for developing the National Human Rights Action Plan, covering matters such as women’s empowerment, humanitarian aid, interfaith acceptance and tolerance, labor rights, and workers’ welfare. That same month the government approved the formation of the National Human Rights Authority to advance the country’s efforts to protect human rights and safeguard the rights of women, children, workers, older persons, persons with disabilities, and the vulnerable, on the regional and international level. In August the country established the National Human Rights Institution, which aims to “promote and protect” human rights and “fundamental freedoms” in accordance with the constitution, federal laws and legislation, and relevant international conventions; in December the government announced the appointment of its secretary general and 12-member board of trustees.

Two recognized local human rights organizations existed: the quasi-governmental Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), which focused on human rights problems and complaints on matters such as labor conditions, stateless persons’ rights, and prisoners’ well-being and treatment; and the Emirates Center for Human Rights Studies, which focused on human rights education for lawyers and legal consultants. The EHRA claimed it operated independently without government interference, apart from requirements that apply to all associations in the country, although several EHRA members worked in the government, and the organization received government funding.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is defined as coerced sexual intercourse with a woman or sodomy with a man. Rape is punishable by death under the penal code. Changes to the penal code announced in November made rape of women generally punishable by life imprisonment but still punishable by death in certain cases. The penal code does not prohibit spousal rape. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. The government rarely prosecuted these cases, and those that did led to few convictions.

In November 2020 the government decriminalized consensual extramarital sex. Changes to the penal code announced in November, however, stipulated that consensual extramarital sex is punishable by six months’ imprisonment if a complaint is filed by a husband or guardian of either of the parties. Updates to the penal code also criminalized indecent assault by coercion, threat, or deceit, and cover instances where the victim is incapable of providing consent due to mental incapacity. Sexual relations with a person younger than the age of consent, 14 years old, is punishable as indecent assault. Changes to the penal code announced in November raised the age of consent to 18. If the perpetrator is related to the victim, responsible for their upbringing or care, or has authority over them, the punishment may be up to life imprisonment.

In February the Ras al-Khaimah Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of two Gulf nationals convicted of kidnapping and raping an unidentified person described only as “a youth.” Also in February the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced three male nationals of a Gulf country to life imprisonment on charges including attempted rape. In April the Dubai Court of Appeals upheld a life sentence against an Indian salesman for raping a housewife inside her home and threatening her with a knife.

The penal code outlaws multiple forms of domestic abuse, including mental, sexual, and financial abuse. Public prosecutors may issue protective orders for victims, and abusers may be subject to prison or monetary fines. In June a criminal court in Dubai sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his wife.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There are domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

While the government has not yet fully implemented the Family Protection Policy, adopted in 2019, it did coordinate with social organizations to increase awareness of domestic violence, conduct seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children sought to increase awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and by sponsoring a hotline. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation, which operated a shelter, also launched a project with the L’Oreal Fund for Women to construct a medical screening and quarantine facility for domestic abuse survivors. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children in Ras al-Khaimah also maintains a hotline for domestic abuse survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure, private clinics and ritual/traditional circumcisers continued to carry it out. The type of FGM/C most prevalent in the country was performed during infancy and childhood. FGM/C was practiced by some tribal groups and was reportedly declining as a traditional custom, although little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In November 2020 the government repealed an article in the penal code allowing men to receive lighter sentences for killing a female relative found in the act of extramarital sex. The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives threatening to commit honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included providing housing to individuals for their safety and well-being and family mediation and reconciliation.

Sexual Harassment: The government has prosecuted sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual harassment includes repetitive harassment through action, words, or signs, and acknowledges that men can be victims of sexual harassment. The penal code stipulates punishment by a prison term of at least one year, a fine of 100,000 AED ($27,250), or both. If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it is to include a prison term followed by deportation.

Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.

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

According to changes to the penal code announced in November, pregnancy outside marriage is punishable by two years’ imprisonment unless the parents marry or one or both acknowledge the child and obtain identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either parent is a national. Unmarried noncitizen women who become pregnant have faced difficulties registering births and obtaining identity documents for children, complicating the ability for such children to remain in the country.

While reproductive health care is available, it was more challenging to access for unmarried and noncitizen women, who represented a significant majority of the female population. Additionally, there were restrictions to health-care access based on health insurance. Although the government provides free health care to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens, insurance plans for unskilled laborers often did not offer prenatal or postnatal care, and the government did not provide free postnatal care for noncitizen pregnant women. Foreign residents with no health insurance benefits may use public hospitals for a fee and sometimes relied on charity to cover these costs. Access to limited pharmacological contraception options was available only through medical prescription. Oral contraceptive prescriptions are legal for single women as treatment for menstrual issues. Most health insurance plans did not cover insertion and removal of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.

Abortion is generally illegal. It is permitted only when the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, or when there is evidence that the baby will be born with deformities and will not survive.

There were no reports that virginity tests were practiced in the country. Hospitals must report rape cases to police, and rape victims were usually provided with medical care. Emergency contraception was reportedly available with a doctor’s prescription and in some cases required spousal consent.

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage. In November Abu Dhabi passed a new personal status law for non-Muslims related to marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance that would limit discrimination against non-Muslim women.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives. Non-Muslim women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter under sharia law. The reforms announced in November in Abu Dhabi would entitle non-Muslim women to larger inheritances than previously. Legal reforms in 2019 allow women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband. In 2019 the government began allowing women to be head of household.

To obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, a woman must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or did not provide for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. In April, Sharjah passed a decree providing female citizens additional protections against eviction from their marital home in cases of divorce. According to the decree, a divorced citizen woman cannot be evicted if the home was given as government aid or if she has children.

The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts applied the “the best interests of the child” standard. According to federal law, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach age 13 and sons age 11. are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law, fathers are permitted to seek custody of a son younger than age 11 if they believe the child has become “too soft.” The new family law for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, issued in November, grants parents joint custody, unless a parent waives their right or submits a request to deny the other parent custody on grounds of “ineligibility,” potential danger to the child, or failure to perform parental duties.

In March a criminal case against a resident who gave birth out of wedlock in 2020 was dismissed on the grounds that the decriminalization of consensual premarital sex rendered the act “unpunishable.” The legal reforms did not address the civil status of births out of wedlock, however, and many residents were not able to register their children without a marriage certificate.

Despite these changes to federal laws, local laws may still penalize adultery or consensual premarital sex. In August the Supreme Federal Court rejected the appeal of a woman from Sharjah accused of consensual premarital sex, finding that local laws remained applicable despite the absence of a federal penalty.

While the law mandates equal access to education for all, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. Many private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials, local women represented more than 70 percent of national higher education students.

The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses, because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, working outside the home. In 2020 the president issued a law stipulating equal wages for women and men in the private sector.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Racial discrimination is illegal, but the government did not effectively enforce these protections and discrimination remains common in areas such as employment. In September the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies accused the government of arresting individuals based on their race and national origin and deporting them without charge. Job postings may list ethnic preferences, and the government has taken no action to mitigate such discrimination in the workplace.

Children

Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. The children of citizen mothers married to foreigners do not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon. Despite recent legal reforms, women reportedly faced difficulty registering births, and thus obtaining residency and travel documents for their children, without a marriage certificate, or if they were unable to pay hospital debts.

Education: Education is compulsory through the 12th grade or until the age of 18, whichever occurs first; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered in Arabic, and if one of the parents worked in a government entity, among other criteria. In 2018 the Ministry of Education made all public schools coeducational from the first to fifth grades, starting with that year’s first-grade class.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government took steps to increase awareness of the issue, including the Child Safety Campaign, which reinforced the role of media in protecting the rights of children. In March the Fujairah Appeals Court fined an Emirati man AED 1,100 ($300) for assaulting and injuring his 11-year-old son, as confirmed in two videos by the victim’s mother. In August the Dubai police announced they had handled 103 child abuse cases, including 17 instances of children deprived of identity documents and 14 of their education rights, thus far in the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18, unless a judge gives approval for an earlier marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children younger than 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues, but Abu Dhabi was constructing the country’s first purpose-built synagogue as part of the larger government-sponsored Abrahamic Family House, scheduled to open in 2022. The small foreign Jewish population conducted regular and holiday prayer services in rented space. In February the Jewish community living in the country formally incorporated the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, the country’s first Jewish court of law, to adjudicate personal disputes. Dubai’s Jewish community was able to obtain its first official license from the CDA under the name “Gates of the East,” conferring among other privileges the ability to seek religious worker visas. Anti-Semitic remarks decreased on social media, and government officials demonstrated inclusivity by broadcasting greetings on Jewish holidays through social media and highlighting the normalization of UAE-Israel relations under the Abraham Accords to promote interfaith understanding and combat anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government enforces the law, and children with disabilities are integrated into the school system. Most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.

Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens.

The Ministry of Community Development is the central body responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In September 2020 the ministry launched the first guide for the employment of persons with disabilities. The guide incorporated sign language interpretation technology through a virtual 3D cartoon character. The government continued to raise public awareness of societal inclusivity through its National Strategy for Empowering People with Special Needs.

In September 2020 Abu Dhabi launched a five-year strategy, involving six government organizations and 30 initiatives, to increase integration, empowerment, access, and opportunities for persons with disabilities in the emirate.

In April the cabinet adopted the National Autism Policy to improve the health and well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to support caregivers. The policy focuses on improving service delivery and upgrading the skills of personnel working in ASD centers operated by the Ministry of Community Development.

On October 1, the government opened the six-month Expo 2020 Dubai with the stated aim for it “to be one of the most accessible Expos in history.” Organizers implemented various measures to meet this goal, including hearing induction loops, service-dog relief areas, and the creation of specifically designed applications to assist persons with disabilities in navigating the event. The site is wheelchair accessible, and organizers worked with international consultants to incorporate accessibility into building designs. Expo 2020 Dubai received international accreditation as a “Sensory Accessible Event” from the International Board of Sensory Accessibility due to its incorporation of quiet rooms, tactile maps, audio output, and braille. On December 3, organizers celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with programming by international participants across the site, including an event hosted by the Ministry of Community Development in partnership with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs addressing such topics as inclusive accessibility and education

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination. Legal protections against employment and education discrimination for individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as free access to HIV treatment and care programs, existed for citizens; however, noncitizens did not have these rights. The government does not grant residency or work visas to persons with certain communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS. Noncitizens who test positive for these diseases may be detained and deported. Doctors are required to inform authorities of HIV/AIDS cases, reportedly discouraging individuals from seeking testing or treatment.

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

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi’s penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no known reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

In November 2020 the penal code dropped a clause criminalizing wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex. The law now criminalizes only men who enter a place designated for women while disguised as a woman. The punishment for this infraction is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to AED 100,000 ($27,250).

The law permits doctors to conduct sex reassignment surgery when there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison.

Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTQI+ organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law neither provides for the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively nor permits workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public-sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. The government generally enforced labor laws, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to public-sector employees, agricultural workers, or most workers in export-processing zones. Domestic workers fall under a separate labor law but are regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Private-sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public-sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.

All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Reports on the length of administrative procedures varied, with workers citing both speedy and delayed processes. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year, any foreign worker on a work-sponsored residency visa for unexcused absences of more than seven consecutive days or for participating in a strike. The law prohibits unauthorized demonstrations or the expression of opinions deemed “false, or hurtful to the country’s public image.” Changes to the penal code announced in November mandated deportation of noncitizen workers inciting or participating in a strike. In June Abu Dhabi set up a fast-track court to handle labor disputes and cases concerning unpaid wages for claims of less than AED 500,000 ($136,000). Plaintiffs must register their cases with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and the courts are obligated to hear cases and issue rulings within 15 days. Rulings on claims less than AED 50,000 ($13,600) may not be appealed.

Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, and religious-related concerns.

Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related matters, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.

Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.

The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from expressing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. Following the mandatory closure of many businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government gave employers the ability to reduce wages or place workers on unpaid leave with the workers’ consent. There were instances of employers exploiting these changes illegally to reduce salaries or furlough workers without their consent.

In Dubai the CDA regulates and provides licensing services to nonprofit civil society organizations and associations that organize ongoing social, cultural, artistic, or entertainment activities. All voluntary organizations and individual volunteers are required to register with the CDA within six months. In addition, all voluntary activities require a CDA permit, but there are no prescribed penalties for noncompliance.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the domestic-worker sector. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization increased the penalty for private-sector companies that do not pay salaries on time. Upon recruiting a new employee, the employer has the option either to submit a bank guarantee on behalf of the employee or to insure them for two years. In case of a company’s bankruptcy or failure to pay benefits, employees receive insurance coverage of end-of-service benefits, vacation allowance, overtime allowance, unpaid wages, return air tickets, and compensation for any work injuries certified by a court ruling. Some employers subjected migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor. Contract substitution remained a problem. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats, and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.

Contrary to the law, employers routinely withheld employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. There were media reports that employees were coerced to surrender their passports for “safekeeping” and sign documentation that the surrender was voluntary. In most cases individuals reported they were able to obtain their travel documents without difficulty when needed, but this was not always the case. With domestic workers, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak. In labor camps it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 to 48 hours’ notice. In June a group of Indian migrant workers became stranded without jobs after they were reportedly duped by an agent who confiscated their passports.

Some employers forced migrant workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by withholding wages or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”

There were reports from community leaders that employers refused to apply for a residency visa for their domestic workers, rendering them undocumented and thus more vulnerable to exploitative labor practices.

Although charging workers recruitment fees was illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result they spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers’ options to leave a job, sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions, and increased their vulnerability to labor trafficking through debt-based coercion. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization oversees recruitment of domestic workers through one-stop Tadbeer Centers at which recruitment agencies register their services, workers undergo interviews and receive training, and visas and identification documents are distributed.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. Under the labor law, teenagers are not allowed to work at night in industrial enterprises, be hired to do hazardous or strenuous jobs, or work overtime or on holidays. The law excludes agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. Under the law governing domestic workers, 18 is the minimum age for legal work. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively.

In September the government announced a juvenile work permit, issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, allowing individuals aged 15 to 18 to apply for a part-time permit provided they receive approval from their parents, hold valid residency, and continue their education. The permit allows youth to work six hours a day, with a one-hour break, for up to six months, or for a few hours during a year. A training permit allows those older than 12 to work in the private sector as summer hires.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

In November the government announced a new labor law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or disability. The government also reformed laws that prohibited women from working during certain hours, or in certain occupations, eliminating legal restrictions. A national decree introduced new rules to the labor laws to promote equal opportunities and access to the labor market, prohibit discrimination based on gender in the workplace, and repeal articles prohibiting women from working during the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and in hazardous, strenuous, or physically harmful jobs. The decree prohibits discrimination in jobs with the same functions and prohibits an employer from discriminating against or terminating an employee based on pregnancy. In 2020 the UAE offered paid parental leave, granting private-sector employees five days and public-sector employees three days of parental leave.

Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization, Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. Enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, and the government made efforts to encourage private-sector hiring of persons with disabilities. Some emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector and actively encouraged the hiring of all persons with disabilities.

A presidential decree grants women equal pay for “work of equal value” in the private sector. Work of “equal value” is to be determined by rules and regulations approved by the cabinet based on recommendations from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Women who worked in the private sector, and especially nonnationals, however, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages. The domestic worker law also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, political opinion, national, or social origin. Nevertheless, job advertisements requesting applications only from certain nationalities were common and not regulated. In free-trade zones individualized laws govern employment requirements.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national minimum wage. The government announced in November, however, that a new labor law would set a minimum wage for employees in the private sector to be determined by the cabinet. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public-sector salaries. In some sectors minimum wages were determined by workers’ nationality and years of experience. The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in day or night shifts and provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, apart from those employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias, security, domestic work, and other jobs as decided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

The government took action, including site visits, to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The WPS requires private institutions employing more than 100 employees to pay workers electronically via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages and overtime within 10 days of payment due date. After 16 days of nonpayment, an employer becomes ineligible for new work permits from the ministry. If the nonpayment persists past 29 days, the ministry refers the case to the labor courts; after 60 days, the employer faces a fine for each unpaid worker. For companies employing fewer than 100 employees, the freezes, fines, and court referrals apply only after 60 days of nonpayment. The government enforced fines for employers who entered incorrect information into the WPS or made workers sign documents falsely attesting to receipt of benefits. Media and diplomatic sources continued to report that some companies retained foreign workers’ bank cards or accompanied them to withdraw cash, coercively shortchanging the employees even though the WPS showed the proper amount paid. Such cases were difficult to prove in labor courts. The WPS payment requirement did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such as agricultural workers, or to domestic laborers.

In July a judge from a Dubai labor court affirmed that under the federal labor law there is no minimum wage, noting that the law stipulates that “both parties who sign a work contract can agree to include a specified salary to the contract.” He added that certain jobs related to private security under the supervision of the Dubai police do have a monthly minimum wage. According to TAMM, an online government services platform, Tadbeer Centers charged higher recruitment and sponsorship transfer fees for domestic workers of certain nationalities, including those from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, such as construction. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in professional and semiskilled job categories but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, and wage protection. Workplace inspection is permissible but not required under the law.

Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break between June 15 and September 15 for laborers who work in exposed open areas, such as construction sites. Companies are required to make water, vitamins, supplements, and shelter available to all outdoor workers during the summer months to meet health and safety requirements. Employers who do not comply are subject to fines and suspension of operations. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects included laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines. Employers with 50 or more employees must provide low-salaried workers with accommodations.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites, routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule, and published compliance statistics. The penalties were not commensurate with those for crimes like fraud, which carried larger fines and imprisonment. The ministry stated that it issued written documentation on health and safety problems needing correction and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing.

During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in several languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other abuses. The ministry’s mobile van units visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights. The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and Dubai courts also employed buses as mobile courts, which traveled to labor camps to allow workers to register legal complaints. Abu Dhabi’s mobile courtroom was used for cases involving large groups or those who encountered difficulties attending court.

Emirate-level officials across the country developed programs aimed at verifying the protection of workers’ rights, security, and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Abu Dhabi workers residing in labor camps and industrial cities received free COVID-19 testing. Quarantine facilities and free health care were provided to those who tested positive. The Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Health Authority instituted regulations, including thermal screening and capacity limitations on shared transportation to and from work sites, to limit the spread of COVID-19 within labor camps, and engaged in a systematic inspection campaign to verify compliance.

The government-supported NGO EHRA promoted worker rights. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported problems to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths or discuss the adequacy of safety measures despite a Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization requirement that companies with more than 15 employees submit labor injuries reports. A government resolution requires private companies that employ more than 500 workers to hire at least one citizen as an occupational health and safety officer; companies with more than 1,000 employees must hire two such officers. In addition, Dubai required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety. In August the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal ordered a company to compensate a worker after he fell into a ditch during work, sustaining multiple injuries. Reports of vehicle-accident deaths of delivery workers in Dubai highlighted the lack of protections for migrant laborers, who have been in particular demand due to the pandemic.

There were no reports of migrant worker suicides and limited stories of attempted suicides, which observers linked attributed to personal problems possibly linked to problems in the workplace. Dubai police and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted training programs aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.

Sailors faced particular difficulty remedying grievances against employers. Although ship owners operating in the country’s ports must carry insurance contracts covering repatriation of noncitizen employees, owners often declared bankruptcy but refused to sell their ships, leaving their crews aboard under substandard conditions without pay or regular resupply. In January media reports called attention to the five-man crew of the MT Iba, a merchant tanker that ran aground after anchoring offshore for several years due to its owner’s financial problems. The crew survived on limited food rations until the ship was sold in March, whereupon they received 80 percent of the salaries they had been owed for more than two years.

To provide for the continuity of ship crews complicated by COVID-19, in August the Federal Transport Authority permitted crew changes in all ports across the country. Previously, crew changes were possible only in Dubai. The decision sought to relieve crews whose time aboard exceeded the limits delineated under maritime conventions.

Informal Sector: There was no official information available on the informal economy, legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicated it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector, subjecting them to exploitative conditions. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization requires that residents sponsoring a domestic worker meet an income standard sufficient to pay the employee a living wage. Workers in agriculture and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private- and public-sector labor law, but have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and the provision of adequate housing. Enforcement of these rules was often weak, however. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to substandard work conditions.

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. The law prohibits employers from withholding foreign workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. Despite partial exit-permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to leave the country. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone although such actions were illegal.

Despite a government-mandated contract for domestic workers spelling out requirements for working hours, time off, overtime, health care, and housing, some originating countries contended that they were unable to review and approve their citizens’ labor contracts. As a result, some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. In April the Philippines lifted its 2014 ban on domestic worker recruitment to the UAE after agreeing with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization on additional contract protections to provide domestic workers access to a personal mobile phone, private sleeping quarters, and a bank account in the worker’s name for salary deposits. Liability for exploitation was extended to cover recruiters, and any contract extensions or transfers to other employers would need to be approved by the Philippine Embassy.

Although domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS, the government continued a 2020 pilot program to incorporate domestic workers into the WPS through an agreement between the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization and First Abu Dhabi Bank. The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking reported that the pilot program integrated 423 individuals during the year, a figure representing less than 1 percent of the estimated number of domestic workers nationally.

The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years, as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. To mitigate against potential labor abuse under the employer-based sponsorship system known as kafala, domestic workers have the right to terminate their employment if an employer fails to meet contractual obligations or if the employee is subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer. Despite legal measures allowing workers to change sponsors or terminate their employment, regulatory enforcement remained a problem.