Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the former Morales government and to a lesser extent the transitional government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: On May 20, authorities arrested Minister of Health Marcelo Navajas Salinas as part of an investigation into claims that the government paid inflated prices for ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients. In addition the state prosecutor announced four other Health Ministry officials had also been detained in relation to the investigation and that officials abroad and intermediaries involved in the purchases would also be investigated. Local newspaper Pagina Siete reported the government paid $4.7 million for 170 ventilators from the Spanish company GPA Innova, despite the contract being worth only $1.2 million. Press reports noted the steep premium paid for the ventilators, bought at approximately $27,500 each, were purchased from emergency funds the government received from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The IDB stated it was concerned regarding “possible irregularities in the purchase of the respirators” by the Health Ministry.
In addition to former minister Navajas, lead prosecutor Mejillones stated that former legal director of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Valenzuela; former director of the Agency for Infrastructure in Health and Medical Equipment, Geovanni Pacheco Fiorilo; and the consul of Bolivia in Barcelona, Alberto Pareja, were also charged in the case. Mejillones further reported that a consultant for the IDB who gave “no objection” to the acquisition process was also charged.
On August 17, a judge ordered the former governor of Beni, Alex Ferrier Abidar of the MAS Party, to four months of pretrial detention after being accused of misappropriation of resources, embezzlement, and breach of duties associated with two large public works projects while he was governor. The largest project involved construction of the Trinidad-Loreto highway and alleged construction work that began without proper contract tenders being issued or awards being granted.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest and to declare their income and assets. The law mandates that elected and appointed officials disclose their financial information to the auditor general, but their declarations are not available to the public. By law noncompliance results in internal sanctions, including dismissal.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for conviction of the rape of an adult (man or woman), but it was not enforced. Conviction of domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for conviction of serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.
The law prohibits domestic violence, but it was not enforced. Lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to hinder the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were victims of a violent crime some time in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home.
The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, and conviction stipulates a sentence of 30 years in prison. Activists stated corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide. According to the Public Ministry, 93 femicides were registered from January to August 24, with La Paz registering the highest number of any department with 30 reported incidents of femicide. The Public Ministry also documented 18,464 cases of violence against women from January to August. Following the publication of the figures, UN Women called for comprehensive actions to eliminate violence against women and full access to justice for all victims. Mercedes Cortez of the justice reform NGO Free Voice Justice Observatory stated the impunity rate for femicides reached 97.8 percent as of August; she called for more financial resources for the judicial system and an increase to the use of specialized prosecutors with experience in prosecuting gender-based violence. Under the interim government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held meetings and training sessions with businesswomen and female entrepreneurs with a focus on opening international markets to female business leaders and reducing bureaucratic procedures and obstacles for businesswomen.
According to the special prosecutor in crimes against life and personal integrity, Nuria Gonzales, social isolation due to the national quarantine had led to the increase in femicides, stating the majority of cases occurred in the victims’ own homes. On August 3, lawyers and families of victims demanded modification of Law 1173 Criminal Procedure Abbreviation that allows many alleged attackers to go free after completing their six months of preventive detention that the judge assigned to them.
On August 7, Dayneth Ch. of Cochabamba died in the Viedma hospital after being admitted with blows and burns to 80 percent of her body. Her partner claimed it had been an accident, but autopsy results revealed she had died from blunt force head trauma; her partner was charged with femicide.
Local media reported that in August, seven police officers were implicated in five cases of femicides and other violent acts. In some of these cases, the participation of uniformed police was reported and used as cover-up to provide impunity for their comrades. While senior public officials regretted how the image of police was being tarnished, Minister of Government Arturo Murillo stressed that police training could trigger violent and abusive action in some persons.
On August 11, Betsabe Mara Alcacia was killed by her partner, police lieutenant Adan Boris Mina. Investigations showed that Mina shot, burned, and then dismembered the body of the 24-year-old victim. Mina was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but investigators indicated that two or three police officers helped cover up the crime and had yet to be apprehended.
Women’s rights organizations reported police units assigned to the Special Force against Violence did not have sufficient resources and frontline officers lacked proper training regarding their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence victims received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after they languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the victim was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial process, and financial burden discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.
The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. The municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. Human rights specialists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers. Human rights activists described shelters that, due to a lack of financial resources, mixed populations of many different vulnerabilities, such as juvenile delinquents, human trafficking victims, sexual abuse victims, and minors with mental-health issues.
According to the Public Ministry, during the COVID-19 national quarantine from March 22 to May 31, there were 2,378 cases of domestic violence, 153 cases of sexual abuse, and 124 cases of rape reported, marking a significant increase from 2019. Human rights activists stated the figures represented an undercount from the actual numbers because of the difficulty of reporting these crimes due to movement restrictions and the lack of other housing options for many female spouses during the quarantine.
Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a criminal offense for which conviction is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups) and that the sexual harassment laws were rarely enforced.
Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Civil society noted information on access to reproductive health can be difficult to obtain in rural areas due to lack of medical infrastructure.
The law guarantees access to contraceptives, but in practice, according to reproductive rights group Marie Stopes International-Bolivia, many health-care providers refused to provide the service and stigmatized patients who requested contraceptives. Some health-care providers required the consent of an adult woman’s husband or other male family member before providing her with contraceptives and would not provide contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent. Misinformation or social taboos made women hesitant to seek contraceptives.
Lack of access to quality medical care in remote areas adversely affected access to skilled health-care attendance during pregnancy and birth. In addition many indigenous women feared their cultural traditions regarding who should be present at the birth, the treatment of the placenta, and treatment of the umbilical cord would not be respected if they gave birth in a hospital or clinic.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 155 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The Pan American Health Organization reported one-third of all maternal deaths were caused by obstetric hemorrhage, usually postpartum. Another leading cause of maternal death was unsafe abortion.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Additionally, antidiscrimination laws were not uniformly or effectively implemented to protect women from harassment and political violence (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups). The government has legal restrictions against women in employment regarding limits on working hours and tasks.
According to a 2015 study by the National Federation of Female Domestic Workers, persons engaged in domestic labor rose to nearly 137,000 workers, of whom 96 percent were women. The study also reported that 40 percent of these workers received a salary below the national minimum and worked without the benefit of a contract and health insurance and other labor rights that come with contract work. A July report by UN Women highlighted the increased vulnerability of domestic workers due to COVID-19, both in terms of economic vulnerability from quarantine measures and nearly immediate wage loss, in addition to health vulnerabilities if they commuted to work.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2018 civil registry indicated 78 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 96 percent by age 12.
Child Abuse: Conviction of rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for conviction of consensual sex with an adolescent ages 14 to 18 is two to six years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported 39 cases of infanticide between January and July. The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13.
On August 18, a La Paz court sentenced Victor Hugo Ricaldi Zambrana (stepfather of the victim) and Claudia Branez (mother of the victim) to five years in prison for manslaughter for the death of Branez’s daughter, who was age five at the time of her death in 2009. She was found dead on a street in the Villa San Antonio area of La Paz. Her mother and stepfather claimed the child threw herself out of a third-floor window, but investigators and forensic evidence appeared to refute the claim. Laboratory reports from the Forensic Research Institute found the presence of semen in the minor’s underwear and anal injuries indicating rape. Representatives of the Citizen Network for the Prevention of Infanticide and Crimes against Children also denounced the lenient sentence. Lawyers representing the grandparents stated they would appeal the sentence.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable if convicted with 10- to 15-year sentences.
According to the Public Ministry, during the period of the COVID-19 national quarantine from March 22 to May 31, there were 118 cases of infant or adolescent rape (victims younger than age 14) and 102 cases of statutory rape (victims ages 14-18), marking a dramatic increase from the same time period in 2019.
Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 (the most recent information available) that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them.
Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation. Official action was rarely taken to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.
Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited ease of movement in urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. There were advances, however, in the public transportation sector in the city of La Paz. The city bus and gondola system provided some accommodations for persons with disabilities.
The law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to government payments of 250 bolivianos ($37) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities.
The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported that employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.
On June 30, the IACHR reported it opened a process against the state for human rights violations committed during the Morales government against indigenous communities of Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory while constructing the San Ignacio de Moxos-Villa Tunari highway. The petition was originally submitted by 64 indigenous communities in 2012 and supported by the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development and the NGO Earth Rights International two years later. The petition accused the Morales government of taking “decisions and legislative and administrative actions without consulting or obtaining the consent of the indigenous people” and later “taking measures of force and repression against the VIII Indigenous March in the town of Chaparina in 2011.”
An August 20 report by Amnesty International expressed concern for the rights of indigenous communities that were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A June report from the Ombudsman’s Office warned of a lack of public-health policy to protect indigenous peoples from COVID-19 and a stigmatization and risk for indigenous communities in a situation of voluntary isolation as a means of protection against the COVID-19 virus.
In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities.
Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.
Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu (traditional form of a community) system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identification cards and birth certificates.
Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to turn to sex work because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activists reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination in the workplace, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.
On July 3, the Second Constitutional Chamber of La Paz ruled the national civil registry must register a same-sex couple’s relationship as a “free union.” The ruling stemmed from an effort by David Aruquipa and Guido Montano, an LGBTI couple who had been together for more than a decade and tried to register their relationship as a free union in 2018, which would have the same legal effects as a civil marriage per the constitution. After the registry office rejected their application, the couple filed a number of administrative appeals, citing international human rights standards and constitutional nondiscrimination principles. In September 2019 the national civil registry rejected these appeals. On July 3, the Constitutional Chamber struck down the civil registry resolution, declaring the registry had violated the couple’s due-process rights. The ruling also highlighted the constitution requires laws and administrative procedures to be interpreted consistent with the principles of nondiscrimination and equality, including on the basis of sexual orientation.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was also least successful in diagnosing cases.
Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.
Mob violence in lieu of justice was a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors, according to observers. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and a lack of faith in the justice system to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence couched as “vigilante justice.”
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The constitution provides for protection of general and solidarity strikes and for the right of any working individual to join a union. In May 2019 the Supreme Court ruled to protect the right to strike but stipulated that a strike could not be indefinite. According to legal experts, this was in reaction to health-care workers threatening to strike for an indefinite amount of time. As a result of the ruling, health-care workers may strike but must organize themselves in shifts to avoid putting the general population at risk.
Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees, but the law requires that at least 50 percent of the workforce be in favor. The law requires that trade unions register as legal entities and obtain prior government authorization to establish a union and confirm its elected leadership, permits only one union per enterprise, and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat. The law also requires that members of union executive boards be Bolivian citizens by birth. The labor code prohibits most public employees from forming unions, including the military, police, and other public security forces. Some public-sector workers (including teachers, transportation workers, and health-care workers) were legally unionized and actively participated without penalty as members of the Bolivian Workers’ Confederation, the country’s chief trade union federation.
The National Labor Court handles complaints of antiunion discrimination, but rulings took one year or more to be issued. The court ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and required their reinstatement. Union leaders stated problems had often been resolved or were no longer relevant by the time the court ruled. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The ineffectiveness of labor courts and the lengthy time to resolve cases and complaints limited freedom of association. Moreover, the 20-worker threshold for forming a union proved an onerous restriction, since an estimated 72 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.
Labor inspectors may attend union meetings and monitor union activities. Collective bargaining and voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without government participation was common. Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to addressing wages.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, yet they remained serious problems. Ministry of Labor officials were not effective in enforcement efforts or provision of services to victims of forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The ministry held various workshops to educate vulnerable workers of their rights, levied penalties against offending employers, and referred cases of suspected forced labor to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.
Men, women, and children were victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Indigenous populations were especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agriculture sector and to deceptive employment opportunities that may amount to forced labor in neighboring countries.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for identifying situations of child labor and human trafficking for the purposes of forced child labor. When inspectors suspect such situations, they refer the cases to the municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate for further investigation in coordination with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The law states that work should not interfere with a child’s right to education and should not be dangerous or unhealthy. Dangerous and unhealthy work includes work in sugarcane and Brazil nut harvesting, mining, brick making, hospital cleaning, selling alcoholic beverages, and working after 10 p.m., among other conditions. The municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate must answer a request for an underage work permit within 72 hours. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for authorizing work activity for adolescents older than 14 who work for a third-party employer. Municipal governments, through their respective offices of the child and adolescent advocates, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including laws pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The ministry is responsible for identifying such cases through inspections and referring them to the offices of the child and adolescent advocates.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations, although Labor Ministry officials stated inspectors conducted investigations throughout the year. Ministry officials did not have statistics on the number of children they had removed from hazardous situations.
The ministry collaborated with the IDB to implement a program that identifies and employs unemployed parents who have children in the workforce. A ministry official stated that while there were varying reasons why children as young as 10 chose to work, one main reason was because their parents could not find steady employment. This program sought to secure jobs for underemployed parents on the condition their children stop working. The ministry also provided the parents’ salaries for the first three months to avoid burdening the businesses that provided employment.
Authorities did not provide detailed information on the penalties for violation of child labor laws or the effectiveness of such penalties, nor did courts prosecute individuals for violations of child labor law during the year, although ministry inspectors referred cases for prosecution.
Among the worst forms of child labor were instances of children working in brick production, hospital cleaning, domestic labor, transportation, and vending at night. In the agricultural sector, forced child labor was present in the production of Brazil nuts/chestnuts and sugarcane. Children were also subjected to hazardous work activities in the mining industry, as well as sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred. Women in office and female politicians faced high levels of political violence and harassment. Civil society leaders reported credible instances of employment discrimination against indigenous peoples, women, Afro-Bolivians, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTI community. Employers charged with discriminatory practices must offer affected employees restitution, but no cases were reported.
Women in the informal sector were not protected by formal-sector labor laws, which afford maternity benefits, breast-feeding hours, permission to work fewer hours, and more holidays than their male counterparts. Critics contended these laws encouraged companies to give preference to men in hiring.
The monthly minimum wage was greater than the government’s official poverty income. The World Bank estimated that for fiscal year 2018, 35 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
The law establishes a maximum workweek of 48 hours and limits the workday to eight hours for men. The law sets a 40-hour workweek for women, prohibits women from working at night, mandates rest periods, and requires premium pay for work beyond a standard workweek. The law stipulates a minimum of 15 days of annual leave. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The Ministry of Labor sets occupational health and safety (OSH) standards and monitors compliance. The law mandates that the standards apply uniformly to all industries and sectors. The interim government did not effectively enforce the law.
The Ministry of Labor’s Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for the protection of workers’ health and safety, but penalties for violations of OSH laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The number of inspectors was insufficient to provide effective workplace inspection. Ministry officials confirmed that labor inspection teams had been severely limited by COVID-19 and the ensuing restrictions that began in March. The Municipal Offices of Children and Adolescents also completely closed during the quarantine, so prosecutions against child labor offenders largely stopped until COVID-19 movement restrictions eased in September. Five mobile labor inspection teams resumed activities in late September, averaging 20 inspections per week. The ministry intended to have 24 total mobile inspection teams in operation in the coming months. While the number of labor inspectors dropped from 102 to 71, all were trained in identifying child labor and trafficking cases, although they also performed routine labor inspections.
A national tripartite committee of business, labor, and government representatives is responsible for monitoring and improving OSH standards and enforcement. The Ministry of Labor maintained offices for worker inquiries, complaints, and reports of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions, but it was unclear if the offices were effective in regulating working conditions.
The law prohibits dismissing employees for removing themselves from work conditions they deem hazardous and provides for the Ministry of Labor to mandate they be rehired following an inspection.
Workers in informal part-time and hourly jobs did not have labor protections. Many companies and businesses preferred workers hired on an hourly or part-time basis to avoid paying required maternity and pension benefits. According to labor law experts, the informal sector comprised approximately 65 to 75 percent of the economy. They claimed labor regulations meant to protect employees actually promoted the large informal sector because the regulations reportedly resulted in employers not hiring full-time employees due to the higher costs their employment entailed.
Civil society leaders and media reported Chinese companies employed workers in substandard conditions. NGOs documented the growing role of Chinese companies, which expanded their presence in the mining, hydrocarbon, and infrastructure sectors during the prior 10 years. There were also allegations that Chinese companies brought in Chinese prisoners to work in the country in exchange for their eventual freedom.
A July 2019 report by the Bolivian Center for Study of Labor and Agrarian Development (CEDLA) analyzed labor complaints against Chinese companies from 2015 to 2019 and denounced the “deplorable behavior of Chinese companies and their impact on the exercise of labor rights and the quality of work.” The report stated the most recurrent complaints against Chinese companies included physical or mental mistreatment, lack of industrial safety (uniforms and job tools), and lack of social security (medical insurance). Chinese state-owned hydropower and construction company Sinohydro was the worst offender, with 153 formal worker complaints during this five-year period. The Sinohydro-led construction of the Ivirgarzama-Ichilo highway (Santa Cruz to Cochabama Departments) completed in 2018 accounted for almost half of the total complaints. During four years of work, the project led to 53 labor complaints, seven worker strikes, one hunger strike, and seven conflicts between workers and managers.
The 2019 CEDLA report, which analyzed official data and complaints from various state entities, including the Bolivian Highway Administration; Ministry of Public Works; the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Welfare; and the Ombudsman’s Office, also highlighted the record of the China Railway Construction Corporation, with 87 complaints from the project building the highway from Rurrenabaque to Riberalta, which was the most “conflicted project” in the entire country. The report described a series of unfair labor practices, including forcing workers to sign unfair contracts with clauses stipulating that they would be fired if they complained to the press. Since 2015 there were 39 recorded strikes against Chinese companies, and of the 17 strikes against Sinohydro, the company declared six of them “illegal,” despite the fact that only the Ministry of Labor has the right to determine the legality of strikes. In addition to the labor rights complaints, the report detailed several persistent environmental complaints, including the contamination of rivers, deforestation, illegal hunting and extermination of jaguars, and trafficking in jaguar fangs.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: In February opposition members of parliament accused Prime Minister Prayut of corruption involving land sold by Prayut’s father to a private company before he became prime minister. The parliamentarians alleged the land was significantly overvalued and noted that the purchasing company–created just seven days before the transaction–subsequently received a 50-year contract to manage the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.
Also in February a soldier who claimed he had been swindled in a land deal by his commanding officer and the officer’s mother-in-law killed them both and then went on a shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 individuals. The army removed two high-ranking officers to inactive posts and took measures to reduce the opportunity for corruption related to housing and land deals among soldiers.
In March, Sergeant Narongchai Intarakawi, known as “Sergeant Arm,” fled the army after alleging his name was used by other soldiers to receive bogus reimbursements. He reported back to military authorities in June and was granted bail. An army spokesman stated that Narongchai faced punishment solely for leaving his post, not for exposing financial wrongdoing. An army investigation supported the allegations of corruption, which were referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
In May, six former officials of the National Buddhism Bureau were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 56 years after their convictions for embezzlement.
In August an NACC subcommittee summoned former natural resources and environment minister Anongwan Thepsuthin to testify on charges of corruption related to a THB 770 million ($25.7 million) soil and forest renewal project implemented under her tenure in 2008. Anongwan is the wife of Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsuthin, who publicly complained that the NACC was reinvestigating the case as political retaliation.
After Thai Airways was forced into a bankruptcy-court-managed restructuring process in September, a Ministry of Transport probe into the causes of the airline’s insolvency found that “corruption had definitely occurred” in the procurement of 10 Airbus A340 aircraft in 2003 and 2004. The investigation found that Thai Airways officials accepted bribes to ensure the aircraft procurements proceeded over the objections of the National Economic and Social Development Council, which questioned the suitability of these aircraft for Thai Airways routes. The Ministry of Transport referred the case to the NACC for further investigation.
Also in September politician Watana Muangsook was sentenced to 99 years’ imprisonment after his conviction for demanding bribes from developers of a low-cost housing project when he was minister of social development and human security in 2005-06.
Petty corruption and bribe taking were widespread among police, who were required to purchase their own uniforms and weapons. In July media and activists criticized the announcement that all charges had been dropped against Vorayit “Boss” Yoovidhya, the heir to the Red Bull beverage company, who struck and killed a police officer with his Ferrari in 2012. Prime Minister Prayut ordered a probe into the case, which found that corruption and conspiracy among police and prosecutors likely helped Yoovidhya escape charges. In August a new arrest warrant was issued for Yoovidhya with charges of reckless driving causing death, failing to help a victim after a crash, and drug abuse, and police announced legal action against 21 officers accused of mishandling the case. The NACC also conducted an investigation. In December the Office of the Attorney General announced that public prosecutors could not proceed with the indictment of Yoovidhya on drug charges until police arrested him and brought him to trial.
Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure law and regulations require elected and appointed public officials to disclose assets and income publicly according to standardized forms. The law penalizes officials who fail to submit declarations, submit inaccurate declarations, or conceal assets. Penalties include a five-year political activity ban, asset seizure, and discharge from position, as well as a maximum imprisonment of six months, a nominal fine, or both.
In August 2019 the NACC indicted its own deputy secretary general, Prayat Puangjumpa, for concealing his assets on his mandatory disclosure. Prayat was found to have concealed foreign assets–a London townhouse that the NACC, citing the value in terms of foreign currency, said was worth $6.9 million and $400,000 in other assets held abroad–by listing them in his wife’s name. He later claimed that his wife was holding the assets for a third party. As of August the case was with the Office of the Attorney General pending indictment to the Supreme Court of Justice’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Position.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law narrowly defined rape as acts in which male sex organs were used to physically violate victims, thereby leaving victims assaulted by perpetrators in other ways without legal remedies. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.
NGOs said rape was a serious problem and that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.
According to NGOs, agencies tasked with addressing the problem were underfunded, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic-violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern the law’s family unity approach put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety problems and led to a low conviction rate.
In May the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security reported a doubling of reports of domestic violence after the COVID-19 emergency decree in April. In response the ministry added more staff to its hotline section to manage the increasing number of calls.
Authorities prosecuted some domestic-violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. The government operated shelters for domestic-violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs and international media reported Type IV FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The penal code specifies a fine and a jail term of one month for sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a fine and a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment in the workplace may be punished by modest fines. The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The publicly funded medical system provided access to contraceptive services and information, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated more than 98 percent of women could access prenatal and postnatal care and reported that skilled health-care personnel attended approximately 99 percent of births in 2019. The UNFPA estimated the birth rate during the year for those ages 15 to 19 was 18 births per 1,000, down from 29 per 1,000 the previous year. The Ministry of Education provided sex education in schools, and in 2019 the Ministry of Public Health announced that women and adolescent girls from age 10 could receive modern contraceptives free of charge and without parental consent. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Ministry of Public Health established one-stop service centers in all public hospitals to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security took steps to implement legislation mandating gender equality by allocating funding to increase awareness about the law and promote gender education and equality, and by hearing from complainants who experienced gender discrimination. Since 2016 the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has received 58 complaints and issued judgment in 44 cases; gender discrimination was ruled in 23 cases. The majority of cases related to transgender persons facing discrimination (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Human rights advocates expressed concern about lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints and a lack of awareness among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.
Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men but sometimes experienced discrimination, particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months, a fine, or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedure by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.
Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.
Women comprised approximately 12 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital or medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.
Since 2018 women have been barred from applying to the police academy. Activists criticized this as contrary to the aims of legislation promoting gender equality and formally petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to urge the decision be revisited. The police academy continues to accept only male applicants. The Royal Thai Police listed “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for police investigators and other positions; the NHRCT and the Association of Female Police Investigators objected publicly to this requirement. The Committee Examining Gender Discrimination, an agency under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, filed a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman, which responded that the committee did not have standing to file the petition. Despite this, the Royal Thai Police did accept some female police investigators in 2019.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.g.). The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. In remote areas some parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to administrative complexities and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document. In the case of hill-tribe members and other stateless persons, NGOs reported misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to register births.
Education: An NCPO order provides that all children receive free “quality education for 15 years, from preschool to the completion of compulsory education,” which is defined as through grade 12. NGOs reported children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers had limited access to government schools.
Child Abuse: The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child. The penalties for raping a child younger than age 15 range from four to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. Those convicted of abandoning a child younger than age nine are subject to a jail term of three years, a fine, or both. The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than age 18 in abuse and pedophilia cases. Advocacy groups stated police often ignored or avoided child-abuse cases.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17, while anyone younger than 21 requires parental consent. A court may grant permission for children younger than 17 to marry.
In the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, Islamic law used for family matters and inheritance allows the marriage of young girls after their first menstrual cycle with parental approval. In 2018 the Islamic Committee of Thailand raised the minimum age for Muslims to marry from ages 15 to 17. A Muslim younger than 17 may marry with a written court order or written parental consent, which is considered by a special subcommittee of three members, of which at least one member must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic law.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 for the purpose of prostitution, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15. Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution and revoke their parental rights. The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography. The law also imposes heavy penalties for sexually exploiting persons younger than 18, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.
Child sex trafficking remained a problem, and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government continued to make efforts to combat the problem. Children from migrant populations, ethnic minority groups, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution. Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and production and distribution of child pornography.
There were numerous reported cases of rape and sexual harassment of girls, often in school environments. In May police arrested five teachers and two alumni of a school in Mukdahan Province for repeatedly raping a student, age 14, over the course of one year. Another student, age 16, subsequently alleged being raped by the same group of teachers and alumni. The teachers were fired from their jobs and had their teaching licenses revoked. They were charged with sexual assault and released on bail as the investigation continued. In August the parents of a fifth-grade student at a school in Kalasin Province filed a complaint against a teacher, age 57, for molesting their child. In October, five eighth-grade students filed complaints against the director of a school in Khon Kaen Province for sexual assault. Investigations into both cases continued.
The government made efforts throughout the year to combat the sexual exploitation of children. In July the Ministry of Education opened a center to protect students from sexual exploitation by teachers and other educational personnel. The center developed a set of measures to prevent and suppress sexual assaults against students, and provided protection and compensation to the victims. In its first month the center handled at least 16 cases, leading to the revocation of teaching credentials, suspension from duty of perpetrators, or both.
Displaced Children: Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation. As of November the government estimated 30,000 street children sought shelter nationwide. In November the NGO Foundation for the Better Life of Children reported approximately 50,000 children were living on the streets, 20,000 of them foreign born. The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social-worker supervision. The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.
Institutionalized Children: There were limited reports of abuse in orphanages or other institutions.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions. The law provides tax benefits to employers employing a certain number of persons with disabilities, such as special income-tax deductions to promote employment of such persons.
The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.
The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for Persons with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.
The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for children with disabilities and operated occupational and career development centers for adults with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and a majority of schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day care centers for autistic children.
Organizations for persons with disabilities reported difficulty in accessing information about a range of public services.
Some disability rights activists alleged that government officials, including from the National Office for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and private companies often contracted with organizations for persons with disabilities to recruit employees with disabilities, an arrangement that could allow dishonest officials and the staff of such organizations to keep a portion of the wages intended for those workers.
Stateless members of hill tribes faced restrictions on their movement, were not permitted to own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor law gives them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law further bars them from government welfare services but affords them limited access to government-subsidized medical treatment.
The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.g.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill-tribe members about their rights.
No law criminalizes expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The LGBTI community reported that police treated LGBTI victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.
The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) and NGOs reported that LGBTI persons experienced discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The UNDP also reported media represented LGBTI persons in stereotypical and harmful ways resulting in discrimination.
Legislation mandating gender equality prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his or her own sex by birth” and protects transgender students from discrimination. The country’s Fourth National Human Rights Plan, covering the period 2019-22, was approved by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board in March and by the cabinet in June. The plan includes LGBTI persons as one of 12 groups in its action plan.
NGOs and the United Nations reported transgender persons faced discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and because of strict policies in place at most schools and universities that require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender. Some universities relaxed dress codes during the year, partly in response to student-led protests that called for reforms in the educational system. In June, Thammasat University announced it would allow students to wear uniforms that match their chosen sexual identity while also outlining a code of conduct that prohibits bullying, insulting, discriminating, or intimidating behavior by faculty or students towards LGBTI students.
In May 2019 the Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum incorporating discussion of sexual orientation and gender diversity for grades one to 12; this followed two years of advocacy by the LGBTI community. NGOs continued to encourage the Ministry of Education to make the curriculum compulsory, and continued to work with the ministry on curriculum development and to organize training courses to prepare teachers to teach it effectively.
Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV/AIDS, despite intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs. There were reports some employers fired or refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow public-sector and migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions.
By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if working in the same factory and doing the same job as full-time workers, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while full-time workers come under the “manufacturing industry.” Nevertheless, the law makes subcontract workers eligible for the same benefits as those enjoyed by union members. The inability of subcontract workers and full-time workers to join the same union limits the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers are less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hire subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.
The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. Banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services are among those industries owned by SOEs. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.
The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand.
Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ interests in employment benefits; employees may also form “welfare committees” to represent workers’ interests in welfare benefits and nonfinancial interests. Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions but are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.
The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection. Within 29,305 enterprises which have more than 50 workers in the country, there are 1,486 labor unions and 687 employee committees. NGOs reported that welfare committees were uncommon in the border regions where the majority of workers are migrants.
The law provides workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.
The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action since many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.
In May the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee in order to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.
Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee may make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and may require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.
Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants may join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions is low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union.
Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represent the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where the majority of workers are migrants, migrant workers are sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. Migrant workers are allowed to make collective demands if they obtain the names and signatures of at least 15 percent of employees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas.
The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution. By law a court may dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest. In June the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court not-guilty verdict in the case of a British worker rights activist who had been charged in 2013 for reporting on migrant workers’ rights.
Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and in some instances ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although the court orders were not always complied with by employers. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits.
In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending non-decision-makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established, uncooperative unions.
The unionization rate among wage and salary workers was estimated at 3.4 percent, and only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.
Labor groups reported that employers exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to discriminate against union members during the year. In May, 93 of the 94 workers dismissed from Sunstar Engineering, an auto supplier, were members of the sectoral Thailand Auto Parts and Metal Workers Union. Another 800 workers from Body Fashion Factory in Nakhon Sawan Province, an undergarment and lingerie manufacturer, were dismissed without compensation after the workers gathered to demand that the company pay the previously agreed wages and bonuses.
Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism.
Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). Since 2016 and continuing into May, Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed 13 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime. Authorities and courts dismissed most of these complaints and ordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million ($56,900) in compensation for back wages, overtime, and holiday pay to 14 former employees for labor-law violations. As of September some of these cases remained pending.
NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents where their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.
In October the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases found 13 State Railway Workers’ Union leaders guilty of “committing an official act of omission of the official duty or…to disrupt work or to cause damage by doing so together with five or more persons” and sentenced them to three years in prison. This case concerned the union’s role in organizing a strike in 2009 to protest against unsafe conditions following a train derailment that killed seven persons. The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the union leaders’ actions were in line with international standards. In 2018 the Supreme Court ordered seven railway union leaders to pay a fine of THB 15 million ($500,000) plus accrued interest in connection with the same incident; the government then started to garnish the wages and seize the assets of union leaders. Various labor organizations and unions viewed these penalties as an effort to send a signal chilling freedoms of expression and association.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government enforced the law with mixed results.
In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years. The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment. More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured. Government agencies and nongovernmental groups worked on revisions of subordinate regulations, victim-identification guidelines, and standard operating procedures.
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labor, and the Office of Attorney General organized training workshops for law enforcement and multidisciplinary teams to understand changes to the law.
There were reports that forced labor continued in fishing, shrimp, garment production, agriculture, domestic work, and begging. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector. Some NGOs, however, pointed to inconsistencies in enforcing labor law, particularly around irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand.
Labor rights groups reported that some employers utilized practices indicative of forced labor, such as seeking to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs or forcing them to work by delaying wages, burying them in debt, or accusing them of theft. NGOs reported cases where employers colluded to blacklist workers who reported labor violations, joined unions, or changed jobs.
The government and NGOs reported trafficking victims among smuggled migrants, particularly from Burma. Most of those cases involved transnational trafficking syndicates both in Thailand and in the country of origin. Many victims were subjected to deception, detention, starvation, human branding, and abuse during their journey. Traffickers sometimes destroyed the passports and identity documents of victims. Some victims were sold to different smugglers and subjected to debt bondage.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, use in illicit activities, and forced labor, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups. The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater. The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the hirer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace). The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work against pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons. Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions, however, are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.
Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties. The government effectively enforced law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.
Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants. Such tests, however, were not always conclusive. Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.
Civil society and international organizations reported they rarely saw cases of child labor in manufacturing, fishing, shrimping, and seafood processing. They attributed the decline to legal and regulatory changes both in 2014 that expanded the number of hazardous-job categories in which children younger than 18 were prohibited from working and in 2017 that increased penalties for the use of child laborers.
NGOs, however, reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children). In 2019 the Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force investigated 26 cases of child sex trafficking, three cases of forced child begging, and 31 cases of possession of child-pornographic materials.
The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies. NGOs reported child labor violations found by the DLPW’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution. NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).
In 2019 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor. During the year labor inspections were targeted at fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and in service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations. The DLPW reported 43 violations related to child labor, including the employment of underage children, failure to notify the government about the employment of child workers, and employing children younger than 18 to work in hazardous conditions or during the night.
Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries. NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children). They alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims. A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.
In June 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines. This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO. The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.47 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children)–1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work. The majority of child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent). Boys were in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school. Of the top three types of hazardous work which children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.
Labor law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or HIV status. The law imposes penalties of imprisonment or fines for anyone committing gender or gender-identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Penalties for gender discrimination were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights, but the government did not effectively enforce its limited discrimination law. The law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.
Women are prohibited from work underground, in mining, or in underwater construction; on scaffolding higher than 33 feet; and in production or transportation of explosive or inflammatory material.
Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, women, and migrant workers (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, and types of jobs, as well as legal requirements which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 ILO report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work (see section 6, Women). There were reports many companies intentionally laid off pregnant women during the year.
In 2018 the police cadet academy announced it would no longer admit female cadets. This decision was widely criticized as discriminatory and detrimental to the ability of the police force to identify some labor violations against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. In April advocacy groups for the rights of persons with disabilities filed a complaint on embezzlement and illegal deduction of wages from workers with disabilities. The case was transferred from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission to the National Anti-Corruption Commission because it involves senior government officials, and remains under investigation.
Members of the LGBTI community faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective law and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.
The minimum wage was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line. It does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural sectors.
The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day but may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.
The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave. According to government statistics, 54 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor law and the social security system.
The DLPW enforces laws related to wages, hours of work, labor relations, and occupational safety and health. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and issue orders to employers to comply with the law. If an employer fails to comply with the order within a specified period, inspectors have a duty to refer the case for criminal law enforcement actions. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum-wage noncompliance, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as fraud.
The DLPW issued orders to provincial offices in 2018 prohibiting labor inspectors from settling cases where workers received wages and benefits less than those required by law; however, there were many reports during the year of minimum-wage noncompliance that went to mediation, where workers settled for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage. NGOs reported contract workers in the public sector received wages below minimum wage as they were governed by separate law.
Labor inspections increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent, and the number of labor inspectors and resources were inadequate. Trade-union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found.
Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, union leaders estimated almost one million workers were laid off, and many workers, particularly subcontract workers and migrant workers, were laid off without receiving severance payment or advance notice as required by law.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and holiday-pay laws in small enterprises, in certain geographic areas (especially rural or border areas), or in certain sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). In 2019 labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers and in the border region. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status and the fear of losing their livelihood.
The law subjects employers to imprisonment and fines for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as negligence. The numbers of OSH experts and inspections were insufficient, however, with most inspections only taking place in response to complaints. The government did not effectively enforce OSH law.
Union leaders estimated 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories owned by international companies, complied with government OSH standards. Workplace safety instructions as well as training on workplace safety were mostly in Thai, likely contributing to the higher incidence of accidents among migrant workers. Medium-sized and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and among smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted that ineffective enforcement was due to insufficient qualified inspectors, an overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), a lack of protection against retaliation for workers’ complaints, a lack of interpreters, and a failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers.
The country provides universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child-allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.
NGOs reported that many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program because their employers failed to register them or did not transfer the payments to the social security system.
In March 2019 the Ministry of Labor issued regulations for a workers compensation plan for workplace accidents and injuries; however, the regulations do not cover vendors and domestic workers. Labor-union leaders reported that compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between the health condition and the workplace was often difficult to prove.
In November 2019 a new labor-protection law for workers in the fishing industry came into effect. It required workers to have access to health-care and social security benefits and, for vessels with deck size more than 300 tonnage gross or which go out more than three days at a time, to provide adequate living conditions for workers. Social security benefits and other parts of the law, however, were not enforced pending approval of subordinate laws by the Council of State. The existing government requirements are for registered migrant fishery workers to buy health insurance and for vessel owners to contribute to the workers’ compensation fund. Since 2019 fishery migrant workers holding a border pass have been eligible for accident compensation. The lack of OSH inspections, first aid kits, and OSH training in the migrant workers’ language increased the vulnerability of fishery workers. During the year NGOs reported several cases where the navy rescued fishery workers who had been in accidents at sea.
Firms used a “subcontract labor system” under which workers sign a contract with labor brokers. By law businesses must provide subcontract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Employers, however, often paid subcontract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.
Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules was hindered by worker unwillingness to provide information and the lack of documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment, documentation fees, and migration costs. Exploitative employment-service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas illegal recruitment fees. NGOs reported that workers would often borrow this money at exorbitant interest rates from informal moneylenders.
In 2019, the latest year for which data were available, there were 94,906 reported incidents of accidents or work-related diseases. Of these, 2 percent resulted in organ loss, disability, or death. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. This included existing and retired officials from the politburo, central party, military, and public security services.
Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.
The Ministry of Public Security reported it processed 123 corruption cases in the first six months of the year. Media outlets reported that in the first six months of the year, the CPV punished 186 party members for corruption. Among those punished were former ministers, former deputy ministers, and provincial leaders.
On September 20, the people’s court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced retired vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, Nguyen Thanh Tai, to eight years in prison for “violating regulations on management and use of state assets” for allowing a group of investors to acquire a state-owned land lot in 2007 without a proper bidding process.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all state officials, commissioned officers of police and military forces, career military personnel, holders of positions as deputy manager and above in public service agencies and state-owned enterprises, and state enterprise financial management officers to disclose to their agency their income and assets within 10 days from the date of designation or employment. Any change of 300 million dong ($15,000) or greater requires an additional declaration. Directors of provincial departments and higher ranks or persons in charge of official management, management of public funds, public property or public investment, or who have influence over the operation of other entities as prescribed by the government are required to submit annual disclosures; nominees to be National Assembly and people’s councils’ delegates are required to do so in line with the voting law. The law provides for reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliance.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.
Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.
Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in November 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.
While police and the legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.
In serious cases victims may sue offenders outside the workplace under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; to access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and check-ups during pregnancy; and to obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.
The law states that couples or individuals have the right to give birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing most citizens who have more children than the stipulated number, although regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.
The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applying only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. No legal provision punishes citizens who have more than two children.
The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.
Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far from the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the issue of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two female children a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $56). In some provinces women enjoy preferences in such areas as education, vocational training, and starting a business.
Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances.
Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.
The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children, and local authorities prevented some parents from registering children to discourage internal migration.
Education: By law education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, but school fees were common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities also did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.
Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.
The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular discriminatory effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.
Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment was common.
Observers concurred that violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. UNICEF stated in July 2019 there were no effective interdisciplinary child- and gender-sensitive procedures or processes for handling child-abuse reports and that the responsibilities of government agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem, especially at local levels.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children younger than 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.
The law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18 vary from five to 10 years in prison, depending upon the circumstances. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences.
Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.
The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or both and protects their right to access education and other state services, but the government struggled to enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social stigmatization. The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transport, the judicial system, and other state services; however, the majority of persons with disabilities faced challenges in exercising their rights.
Services for persons with disabilities were often unavailable, and declared policies were not implemented. For example, while the law requires new construction or major renovations of government and large public buildings to include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement was sporadic, particularly outside major cities.
Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and those with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited.
There is no legal restriction on the right of persons with disabilities to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.
While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various education policies. The National Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries worked with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, in-patient physical therapy.
NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding and offering training for disability-related programs from certain provincial governments, which hampered access for international experts to conduct training.
The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent. Local officials in some provinces, notably in the highlands, discriminated against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite the country’s significant economic growth, the economic gap between many ethnic minority communities and ethnic majority communities persisted. Ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the Northwest, Central Highlands, and portions of the Mekong Delta.
International human rights organizations and refugees continued to allege that authorities monitored, harassed, and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, particularly ethnoreligious minorities in the Central and Northwest Highlands, including Christian H’mong. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket village, Dak Ngo commune, Tuy Duc District, and Dak Nong Province, continue to deny registration to more than 1,000 H’mong Christians who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO. As a result, school officials did not allow the H’mong children to attend school.
Some members of these groups fled to Cambodia and Thailand, seeking refugee status as victims of oppression; the government claimed these individuals were illegal migrants who left the country in pursuit of economic opportunities. Human rights groups stated the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to deny these individuals refugee or temporary asylum seeker status and to return them to Vietnam.
Authorities used national security laws to impose lengthy prison sentences on members of ethnic minorities for their connections to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims. In addition, activists often reported an increased presence of Ministry of Public Security agents on historically significant days and holidays in regions inhabited by ethnoreligious minorities.
Government programs meant to address the socioeconomic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority community continued, and the government also continued to allocate land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, although land expropriation in these areas was also common.
The government worked with local education officials to develop local-language curricula. Implementation was more comprehensive in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta than in the Northwest Highlands. The government also subsidized several technical and vocational schools for ethnic minorities.
The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. In addition the government supported infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. Sexual orientation and gender identity were the basis for stigma and discrimination. The civil code gives individuals who have undergone a “sex change” the right to register their new status.
Individuals with HIV continued to face discrimination when obtaining and holding employment. Being arrested and detained in compulsory rehabilitation centers for continued use of heroin or methamphetamine also prevented drug users from accessing HIV and health services, although such treatment is considered a basic right of such patients.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answers directly to the VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The labor code adopted in November 2019 and coming into force in January 2021 allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing that does not have to be affiliated with VGCL. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.
The law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members, but are appointed.
The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.
For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union.” If nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.
The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.
The law prohibits strikes at the sector or industry level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.
The law provides for the right of trade unions to organize and lead strikes with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level peoples committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.
The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.
The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in worker organization activities and impose administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating or interfering in union activity.
The labor code, adopted in 2019 and set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes provisions for collective bargaining.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. There were no penalties for antiunion activities. There was no enforcement against workers for illegal strikes.
According to VGCL statistics as reported in state media, there were 121 wildcat strikes in 2019 and 91 wildcat strikes in the first half of 2020; most occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes were in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially foreign-owned companies, which engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.
Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant issue in apparel and footwear factories.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).
Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, establishes that a minor worker is a worker younger than age 18. It states a worker older than age 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from age 13 up to 15 may perform light jobs from a list from the Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents. The constitution prohibits child labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.
Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, production of garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.
In the garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.
International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.
No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.
The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes a definition of sexual harassment and assigns employer responsibility for its prevention. Employers must implement regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace and include it as possible grounds for dismissal.
The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.
Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions. Under the new labor code beginning in 2021, the retirement ages of employees in normal working conditions shall be 60 years and three months for men, and 55 years and four months for women, and shall increase by three months for men and four months for women each consecutive year.
Women-led enterprises had limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers. Many women older than 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at the age of 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for approximately one-half of all unemployed workers in the country. Legal restrictions exist against women in certain occupations and tasks, including jobs deemed “hazardous” in industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.
Social barriers and the limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.
The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.
The law provides for a 48-hour regular workweek, with overtime payment for additional hours worked. The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, limits overtime to 40 hours per month, an increase from 30 hour per month. The new code limits overtime to 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.
The new labor code broadens the definition of “employment relationship” so that a legally valid employment relationship exists where two parties agree to a document that includes a description of the job, salary, management, and supervision conditions. The code creates the possibility that where a contract with an “independent contractor,” “service provider,” “freelancer,” or other informal agreement between two or more parties contains employment-like terms, it may be recognized as a formal labor contract. The new labor code also limits the repeated use of limited-term contracts. The law extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training in response to labor law violations. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. Penalties for wage and hour and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.
Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated many apparel and footwear factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to enforce monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.
Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contributed to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.
On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. Work-related injuries and deaths remained at approximately the same level in 2019 (most recent data) and 2018. In 2019 the government reported 8,150 occupational accidents with 8,327 victims, including 927 fatal incidents with 979 deaths. Among the deaths, 610 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 369 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.