Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections were held on April 25. An International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was formed as a common endeavor of the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In its final report on the elections, the IEOM reported the elections were generally well organized and noted the Central Election Commission (CEC) “managed to adequately fulfill most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification. Overall, the election administration at all levels enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.” The IEOM reported, “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations, and from misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified by positive coverage of state institutions in the media.” The mission also highlighted several deficiencies, including credible allegations of pervasive vote buying by political parties and the leaking of sensitive personal data. The report found that journalists remained vulnerable to pressure and corruption.
Local elections took place in 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, because of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2021 parliamentary elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.
No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following the 2021 elections, women occupied a record 32 percent of seats in the Assembly. Following a major reshuffle, women occupied 12 of the 17 seats in the cabinet.
The law governing the election of Assembly members requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the IEOM final report on the April 25 elections, the main parties attempted to increase the visibility of women as candidates in the campaign, and the mandatory quota for women was exceeded in most candidate lists. Female candidates and other actors received only 19 per cent of campaign coverage in the news and current-affairs programs in media outlets monitored by the IEOM, and women were underrepresented throughout the election administration.
The IEOM’s final election report stated that several parties reported having persons belonging to national minorities among their members and candidates. Where persons belonging to national minorities stood as candidates in mainstream parties, they either belonged to smaller parties or appeared lower on the major parties’ candidate lists. The CEC conducted a voter education campaign, including activities aimed at first-time voters and vulnerable groups. Topics included the concept of the new electronic voter identification, new design of the ballot paper, voting procedures, and vote buying. Commercials were broadcast on television and available on social networks subtitled in minority languages.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.
The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November 2020 parliament amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system that allowed for rapid issuance of protective orders and produced a record of orders issued. A National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2030 and its action plan were adopted in June and focused on the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equality.
In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.
As of August, police reported 33 cases of alleged sexual assault. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women, and police reported 3,563 cases of domestic violence as of August. In 2,205 cases, a protection order was issued. As of August, 13 women had been killed by their partners.
State Social Services reported that 30 women and 33 children were accommodated in the national reception center for victims of domestic violence as of August. Social Services also reported there were 25 other centers around the country to deal with domestic violence cases with counseling and long-term services. State Social Services faced challenges in terms of employment and education because 75 percent of domestic violence survivors were from rural areas and did not have appropriate education. The government also operated a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines. Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment as of August.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
While there are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which were provided free of charge to insured women, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, Roma, and Balkan-Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.
The Ministry of Health and Social Protection operated the Lilium Center in Tirana with the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center was in a hospital setting and provided health-care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was prescribed or offered within the first five days after abusive sexual intercourse or rape; the contraceptive was suggested to be given as soon as possible to maximize effect. From its creation in 2018 through July, the center provided services to 85 survivors. Survivors in remote areas of the country did not have many options for assistance and support in their areas. Unless they were identified by authorities and brought to Tirana, they could only be referred to shelters for victims of trafficking.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.
There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination managed 94 cases of employment discrimination, 74 of which were against public entities and 21 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in 16 cases, 15 of which were against public entities and one against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 17 complaints of discrimination based on gender and ruled in favor of the employee in two cases. Through August the commissioner found five cases of discrimination on grounds of disability.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2020 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 107 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.
There were allegations of discrimination targeting members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. The antidiscrimination commissioner issued a monitoring report with a special focus on children in the education system in December 2020. It concluded that children with disabilities and from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination in education.
As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 26 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in four cases. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana bank and its contracted security company for discriminating against Romani bank customers. The bank appealed the commissioner’s discrimination decision to the court.
The government has a law on official minorities but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The law provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained regarding the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”
An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children. The law on civil status provides financial incentives for birth registration.
Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families or those returning from abroad, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to government services. As of June the State Agency on Child Rights reported 25 cases of children not registered with the civil status registry.
Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and members of other minorities. The government provided free textbooks for children up to the ninth grade in the public education system.
Child Abuse: NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened the situation of vulnerable populations, especially children, in the country. During the year the NGO Terre des Hommes referred 296 vulnerable children, youth, and adults for services, including 218 children in street situations. The NGO Nisma ARSIS alleged that police sometimes reacted late or not at all in cases when a protection order was violated, especially in cases involving Romani or Egyptian families. Child victims of domestic violence in Nisma ARSIS’s emergency center reported psychological violence, parental neglect, and economic exploitation as the most common forms of child abuse.
Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. Nisma ARSIS reported 10 cases of forced early marriages of children between the ages of 13 and 15 in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. UNICEF reported child marriage in the country was driven by gender inequality, poverty, and social exclusion. The Child Rights Center Albania (CRCA) reported children, especially girls, being forced into sexual relationships with older men for gifts, food, or extra income.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law; the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.
Authorities generally enforced laws against rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography and the online sexual exploitation of children. Police reported that, as of August, three children had been sexually exploited. The Ministry of Interior reported that, as of August, 50 of the 73 victims or potential victims of trafficking identified were minors.
A February CRCA report on child protection and law enforcement found that child victims received little support during or after reporting sexual exploitation. Trials that did occur were lengthy. One case before the Gjirokaster Magistrate Court required 46 sittings before sentencing a teacher who had sexually exploited an eight-year-old student.
Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged, and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes. Police reported 80 children younger than 18 were missing as of July. There was no specialized police unit for missing persons. In 2020 CRCA Albania and the Global Center for Missing and Exploited Children organized an international workshop on setting up an Amber Alert system in the country, which has not yet been established.
Institutionalized Children: There were 232 children in nine public care service institutions for children. Foster care and other alternative care options remained underused and public residential care accounted for the highest number of children. Residential care institutions primarily served orphaned children rather than survivors of abuse or neglect. The institutions lacked specialized services, such as psychotherapists and social workers, and stays were often lengthy.
As of August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that there were 27 juveniles in the justice system, none of whom had been convicted. The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders, was adequate for the population it served. The directorate reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing.
NGOs reported the child-protection system was generally functioning, although law enforcement entities lacked appropriate facilities and training for age-appropriate interrogation techniques of juveniles at police stations and prosecution offices.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Reports indicated there were 40 to 50 Jews resident in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the statutes. In May the government adopted the National Action Plan on Disability 2021-2025, with the accessibility component as one of the main priorities.
As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 33 complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local post office for lacking accessibility. There were no known reports of violence, harassment, or physical abuse against those with disabilities.
The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection (Ministry of Health) improved building accessibility in 28 health centers and to the newly restored post-earthquake schools with the support of the UNDP. A December 2020 report by the antidiscrimination commissioner concluded that only 60 percent of schools in the country were partially or fully accessible to children with disabilities.
The government provided targeted funding for social-care service projects to persons with disabilities in the municipalities of Librazhd, Lushnje, Lezha, Rrogozhina, Kavaja and Tirana, funding day-care centers, mobile services for children with disabilities, and integrated community services for children and young individuals with disabilities. During the year parliament adopted law 82/2021, On official translation and the profession of official translator, that defines the role of sign language interpreters and provides the right to interpretation for official business.
The Ministry of Health reported that 697 unemployed disabled individuals were registered with the employment offices as of April. Only 18 persons with disabilities were employed as of July, while 58 received vocational training.
The number of children with disabilities in public education increased in the 2020-21 academic year. During the year, 4,131 students with disabilities attended classes in nonspecialized public and private educational institutions starting from preschool. During the year approximately 11.5 percent of children with disabilities enrolled in preuniversity education attended special education institutions.
OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that most polling stations for the April 25 elections visited by the monitoring team were not barrier free for persons with physical disabilities.
The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination and issues with professional reintegration, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school. The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported service delays and other problems after the Infectious Disease Clinic was converted into a COVID-response hospital.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. The National Action Plan for LGBTI concluded in 2020, and a new one for 2021-27 was being drafted. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received seven cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Most cases were under review. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana taxi company that had refused services to transgender persons. The company had yet to respond to the commissioner. Reports indicated that LGBTQI+ persons continued seeking asylum in EU countries.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. Some incidents of hate speech occurred online and in the media after an LGBTQI+ activist suggested changing the law to enable registering the children of LGBTQI+ couples. NGOs filed the case with the antidiscrimination commissioner and the ombudsperson. Government institutions did not react to the controversy.
Several persons were arrested for physically assaulting a transgendered person. As of August, the shelter service NGO Streha had assisted 72 LGBTQI+ youths facing violence or discrimination in their family and community. The Ministry of Health increased support to the shelters by covering the costs of shelter staff salaries. Other shelter costs, including food, medication, and shelter rent, remained covered by donors.