Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government in which most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term, keeping her in office as prime minister, in an improbably lopsided December 2018 parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were approved to conduct domestic election observation.

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

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive NGO laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; significant acts of corruption; criminal violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous people; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights; and the use of the worst forms of child labor.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment.

The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The 2016 Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. The 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

The 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA), passed ostensibly to reduce cybercrimes, provides for sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. Human rights groups, journalists, media outlets, and political opposition parties denounced the DSA for suppressing freedom of expression and criminalizing free speech.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. In October the World Economic Forum found press freedom declined over the past year.

The government maintained editorial control over the country’s public television station and mandated private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society organizations said political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, and student affiliates of the ruling party, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation, especially when tied to the DSA. The DSA was viewed by human rights activists as a tool to intimidate journalists. The Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, stated the DSA stifled investigative journalism. Individuals faced a threat of being arrested, held in pretrial detention, subjected to expensive criminal trials, fines, and imprisonment, as well as social stigma associated with having a criminal record.

On October 21, police arrested Munir Uddin Ahmed, a district correspondent of the newspaper New Nation and former general secretary of Khulna Press Club, in a case filed under the DSA for mistakenly posting on his Facebook a photograph of the Chittagong Metropolitan police commissioner instead of the Bhola superintendent of police. Although the court twice denied Ahmed’s bail, the Khulna Metropolitan Magistrate court rejected a police request to interrogate him. Observers commented police interrogation–known as remand–occasionally involved mistreatment of the detained. Ahmed remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists and media outlets alleged intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well. The government penalized media that criticized it or carried messages of the political opposition’s activities and statements. Reporters without Border alleged media self-censorship was growing due to “endemic violence” against journalists and media outlets and the “almost systematic impunity enjoyed by those responsible.”

Privately owned newspapers, however, usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem. Investigative journalists often complained of their management and editors “killing” reports for fear of pressure from the government and its intelligence agencies. Some journalists reportedly received threats after publishing their stories.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship due to fear of security force retribution and the possibility of being charged with politically motivated cases. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

On January 2, the newspaper Daily Star reported the government detained Khulna reporter Hedait Hossain Molla to investigate accusations he violated the DSA by reporting “false information” about the number of votes cast from Khulna during the 2018 general elections. Following the elections, Molla reported that official initial elections results showed the number of votes cast was higher than the number of eligible voters. A Khulna elections official later corrected the official vote tally, lowering the number of votes cast, but reporters had already published their stories. Molla was then arrested under the DSA for spreading false information. Although Molla was released on bail, he was obliged to appear regularly before the court, since the case remained active.

Journalists claimed the government penalized media that criticized the government or broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. In April the government cancelled the publishing rights of Juger Chinta, a daily newspaper in Narayanganj. This move sparked a human chain protest in Narayanganj. Journalists claimed the government penalized Juger Chinta because it published reports criticizing the ruling party’s local member of parliament (MP).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses, most commonly employed against individuals speaking against the government, the prime minister, or other government officials. The DSA provides for sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. As of July a total of 420 petitions requesting an investigation had been filed under the act with more than 80 individuals arrested.

In March law enforcement arrested Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Council member Mahfuza Khter Kiron for allegedly defaming the prime minister after saying on a television talk show that Prime Minister Hasina was neglecting football in the country in favor of cricket, maintaining a double standard rewarding the cricket team’s successes, but ignoring those of the football team. In April, Kiron was granted bail, but the charges against her were not dropped.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice over Internet Protocol telephone but rarely enforced this prohibition.

In several incidents the government interfered in internet communications, filtered or blocked access, restricted content, and censored websites or other communications and internet services. It suspended or closed many websites based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content being in violation of legal requirements.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. The BTRC filtered internet content the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs.

In March the government blocked al-Jazeera’s English news website hours after it published an article detailing the alleged involvement of a senior security and defense figure in the disappearance of three men as part of a business dispute involving his wife. Joban, a local news and discussion site that published a summary of the article in Bengali, was also inaccessible during that time. No other local or foreign outlets covered the story.

In the past, the country’s security services instructed the BTRC to block websites by emailing all International Internet Gateways. During the year the Department of Telecommunications and the National Telecommunication Monitoring Center launched a new system that allowed the agencies to block websites centrally without having to involve the BTRC.

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The law provides for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. The government requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations.

According to human rights NGOs, authorities continued to use approval provisions to disallow gatherings by opposition groups and imposed what observers saw as unreasonable requirements for permits. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

While the government allowed the primary opposition party, the BNP, to hold political rallies throughout the country during the year, the government occasionally imposed restrictions. In July, Chittagong Metropolitan Police gave the BNP conditional permission to organize a rally the evening prior to the event. Conditions for the rally included making paper copies of the permit for all rally participants, estimated at 100,000-200,000 persons before the event took place.

In September, 80 BNP leaders were apprehended immediately before a Rajshahi rally. BNP leadership alleged the Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP) arrested the party leaders to weaken the rally. RMP said 150 individuals were arrested in the same timeframe, all for drug peddling, and none for political activities.

During the year police used force to disperse peaceful demonstrations. In July leaders and activists with Left Democratic Alliance (LDA) protested a proposed gas price hike. Newspaper New Age reported police injured 25 LDA marchers when police charged them for trying to remove barbed wire barricades placed by police along the protest route.

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive, such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act places restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any derogatory comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5). In August the government announced a number of NGOs, including foreign-funded relief organizations, were no longer allowed to operate in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, following a peaceful rally commemorating the two-year mark of the 2017 Rohingya crisis (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas: the CHT and the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claims it is not bound under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this document.

The government did not recognize the new Rohingya arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.” In practice, however, the government abided by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception was that the Rohingya did not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout the country. While the refugees were able to move largely unrestricted in the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts, the government established checkpoints to prevent their movement outside this area.

Foreign Travel: Some senior civil society representatives reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country. The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to government policy.

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict from 1973-97. This policy relocated landless Bengalis to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the CHT had limited physical security. Community leaders maintained indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.

In 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. In 2017 the government reappointed Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque chair of the commission for three years. The Land Ministry formulated rules for implementation of the act, but the rules had not been officially promulgated by year’s end.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT commission recently estimated slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs resided in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and close remaining military camps, but the taskforce on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

f. Protection of Refugees

Prior to the August 2017 Rohingya influx, the government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. In August 2017 more than 700,000 Rohingya fled ethnic cleansing in neighboring Burma to seek safe haven in Bangladesh. As a result of this influx, approximately one million Rohingya refugees were living in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population was younger than 18 years old. A National Task Force, established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the coordination of the overall Rohingya crisis. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief coordinated the Rohingya response with support from the Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner provided coordination.

The government temporarily deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District in the fall of 2017 to streamline relief activities and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. In response to growing security concerns, the military again became more active in the refugee camps. In September the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the army would begin taking over security tasks the police and other law enforcement agencies had held since 2017. In the same month, the government introduced restrictions on telecommunication services in Cox’s Bazar. This move limited access to mobile and internet service in and around camps and hampered emergency response and coordination of life-saving services, including the Protection Hotline for reporting incidents of violence or abuse.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees. As of August the IOM identified 96 Rohingya trafficking victims from the camps, the overwhelming majority for labor exploitation. While the majority of the victims were women and girls, there were indications many Rohingya men and boys did not self-identify, nor did they seek services following their return. When discovered, government officials returned trafficking victims to the camps.

International organizations reported an increase in gender-based violence directed against women in the camps, with intimate partner violence comprising an overwhelming majority–approximately 70 to 80 percent–of the cases. International organizations warned the numbers could increase further if the dearth of livelihood and educational opportunities for Rohingya men continued.

Accountability for all crimes, including human trafficking, remained a problem. Rohingya relied on government officials responsible for each camp (also known as the Camps in Charge, or CiC) to address allegations of crime. The CiCs were largely autonomous in practice and varied in terms of responsiveness to camp needs. According to international organizations, some were susceptible to corruption. International organizations alleged some border guard, military, and police officials were involved in facilitating the trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from “looking the other way,” to bribes for allowing traffickers to access Rohingya in the camps, to direct involvement in trafficking.

Refoulement: According to UNHCR, the government sent six Rohingya back to Burma in September in a possible incident of refoulement. There were no other reported cases of potential refoulement or forced repatriation. On August 22, authorities sent buses to selected Rohingya camps to pick up and transport anyone ready to return to Burma. They called off the initiative when no refugees volunteered. Several times during the year, senior government officials reaffirmed the country’s commitment to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable refugee returns, based on informed consent. On September 27, at the United Nations, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underscored voluntariness and safety as necessary requirements for any repatriation.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided significant protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the 2017 arrival of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. The government was working jointly with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue identity cards that replaced prior cards and provided for protection of Rohingya refugees, consistent with the government’s commitment against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded refugees’ access to the justice system, leading to underreporting of cases of abuse and exploitation and impunity for traffickers and other criminals.

Freedom of Movement: There continued to be restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered Rohingya refugees are not permitted to move outside the two camps. After the August 2017 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict travel by both registered refugees and new arrivals beyond the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts. In November the government began erecting fencing to better secure the camp and protect Rohingya from migrant smuggling.

Many camp authorities introduced curfews and law enforcement patrols, particularly at night, in response to reported concerns about violent attacks, abductions, or kidnappings in the camps.

Employment: The government did not formally authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally, although it allowed limited cash-for-work schemes for Rohingya to perform tasks within the camps. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers in the informal economy, where some were exploited as labor trafficking victims.

Access to Basic Services: The rapid increase in the population strained services both inside and outside of the designated camps and makeshift settlements. The UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) coordinates the many actors and agencies providing basic services to the Rohingya. Nonetheless, according to the ISCG, refugees lived in congested sites that were poorly equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons. While agencies made significant efforts to move those most vulnerable, the shortage of land remained a central issue that hindered the ability of Rohingya to access basic services.

Public education remained a problem. The government continued its policy prohibiting formal education but allowed informal education of Rohingya children. UNICEF led the education sector in developing a comprehensive learning approach to guide the education interventions of humanitarian partners in the camps. Primary education followed a learning framework developed by UNICEF and endorsed by the government; it does not confer recognition or certification of students having attained a specific education level by the Bangladeshi or Burmese government, however. Rahima Akter, a Rohingya woman, hid her identity to enroll in Cox’s Bazar International University to study law. In October 2018 Rahima was featured in a video by the Associated Press in which she discussed her dreams to study human rights. The video went viral and revealed her identity. In September the university expelled her for being Rohingya.

Government authorities allowed registered and unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care but Rohingya needed authorities’ permission to leave the camp. Humanitarian partners ensured their health-care expenses were covered and that they returned to the camps. The health sector maintained information about all of the health facilities within the camps and the surrounding areas. Based on the data available, overall coverage met the minimum requirements.

The Rohingya in the country were legally or in fact stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the 1971 war of independence) were formerly stateless but received Bangladeshi citizenship through a 2008 court case that directed the Election Commission to issue national identity cards to every member of the community who applied and met the legal and administrative requirements. Nevertheless, members from this community said their requests to obtain passports were rejected by immigration officers due to their address. The overwhelming majority of this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Community for Red Cross in the 1970s, when many believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 Liberation War.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her AL party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December 2018 parliamentary election that was not considered free nor fair and was marred by irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With 96 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven seats. Despite their initial announcement of a boycott of the newly formed parliament, terming it illegitimate, the BNP MPs-elect, except BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, joined the parliament session on April 29. Parliament conferred the official status of the opposition to the Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led governing coalition, which seated 22 members in parliament. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely.

During the December 2018 national elections, the government did not grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to the majority of international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Home Ministry, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to conduct domestic election observation.

On March 11, Dhaka University held its first Dhaka University Central Students’ Union election after more than 20 years, with 47,000 students registered to vote. Students alleged the election was marred by ballot-box stuffing in favor of the ruling AL-backed candidates by teachers responsible for conducting the election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders. BNP leader Khaleda Zia was convicted and imprisoned in February 2018 based on corruption charges filed under a nonpartisan caretaker government in 2008. She was unable to take advantage of bail awarded in this case pending appeal due to more than two dozen other charges filed against her in recent years by the government. The BNP maintained police implicated thousands of BNP members in criminal charges prior to the 2018 national election and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated.

Opposition activists faced criminal charges. Leaders and members of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat), the largest Islamist political party in the country, could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement. Although Jamaat was deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name, the fundamental constitutional rights of speech and assembly of its leaders and members continued to be denied. Media outlets deemed critical of the government and the AL were subjected to government intimidation and cuts in advertising revenue, and they practiced some self-censorship to avoid adverse responses from the government. AL-affiliated organizations such as their student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

On October 7, Abrar Fahad Rabbi, a student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) was beaten to death over suspected involvement with the group Shibir, Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing, and following several Facebook posts criticizing recent bilateral agreements with India. A medical examiner determined Fahad died from internal bleeding and excessive pain after being subject to repeated blows of blunt force from cricket stumps. In the days following his death, authorities arrested 18 persons, including BUET BCL leadership, in connection with Fahad’s death. A BCL leader confessed to beating Fahad along with other BCL leaders. This incident sparked student protests across the country, and civil society spoke out against political student organizations carrying out violence under a culture of impunity. On October 11, the BUET vice chancellor declared a ban on political activities of all student organizations in response to Fahad’s killing. On November 13, police filed a charge sheet accusing 25 BUET students in Farhad’s killing.

The 86 criminal charges filed by the government against BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in the previous years remained unresolved. Alamgir remained free on bail. The charges involved attacks on police, burning buses, and throwing bombs. In some instances, the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. Unlike in the preceding years, the government allowed BNP limited freedom to hold a few rallies and form human chains demanding release of jailed BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia and free and fair elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. In July 2018 parliament amended the constitution to extend by 25 additional years a provision that reserves 50 seats for women in parliament. These female parliamentarians are nominated by the 300 directly elected parliamentarians. The seats reserved for women are distributed among parties proportionately to their parliamentary representation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In July the ACC chairman stated the commission suffered from a crisis of public trust, since most of the ACC’s investigations were only against petty instances of corruption.

The ACC leadership were also suspected in corruption. In July, Khandaker Enamul Basir, a former ACC director, was arrested on charges of bribery in a corruption case involving top-ranking Deputy Inspector General of Police Miznur Rahman. The ACC found Rahman earned 4.63 crore BDT ($550,000) between 1998 and 2018, but only 1.35 crore BDT ($160,000) came from legal sources. Rahman claimed Basir accepted a bribe to clear Rahman of graft allegations, an accusation that led to Basir’s removal from the ACC and arrest.

In August 2018 parliament enacted a law prohibiting the arrest of any public servant by the ACC without permission from the government before framing charges by the court. Campaigners for good governance and transparency decried the provision, saying it shielded corrupt officials.

The government took steps to address widespread police corruption through continued expansion of its community-policing program and through training.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires candidates for parliament to file statements of personal wealth with the Election Commission. The law does not require income and asset disclosure by officials.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

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

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Odhikar continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events, and planned to close operations due to funding constraints at the end of the year.

On November 14, a local magistrate mobile court ordered human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) to leave its main Dhaka office in two months. The magistrate also fined the organization 200,000 BDT ($2,400) for violating a law that prohibits commercial activities from operating in a residential space. ASK Executive Director Sheepa Hafiza called the order “illegal” and told reporters ASK would move the matter to the judicial court to refute allegations the organization committed an offense. Hafiza further said the government’s move “shrank the activities of rights bodies.”

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals.

Numerous NGOs entered the country in response to the August 2017 Rohingya influx. In August the NGO Affairs Bureau imposed restrictions and suspensions on a number of NGOs in Cox’s Bazar, following an August 25 peaceful rally commemorating the two-year mark of the 2017 Rohingya crisis (see section 2.b.). The government did not publicly disclose all the names of those NGOs.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh reported 15 other pending requests for UN special rapporteurs to visit the country, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Nasima Begum, former senior secretary in the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, was appointed NHRC chairman in September. This appointment prompted quick criticisms from civil society, who questioned the government’s selection process, and larger discussions on the commission’s effectiveness and independence as all members were government bureaucrats. The NHRC’s primary activities are to investigate human rights violations, address discrimination in law, educate the public about human rights, and advise the government on key human rights issues.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of a female by a male and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the female is older than 13. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Credible human rights organizations agreed the first half of the year saw an alarming increase in rape cases, with ASK, the Human Rights Support Society, and the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) estimating 630-738 women raped between January and June, figures higher than the same timeframe of the previous year. In comparison, the BMP reported a total of 942 women were raped in all of 2018.

There were reports of sexual violence with impunity. In August authorities in Khulna removed two policemen, including the officer in charge (OC) of Khulna Government Railway police station, for dereliction of duty following reports police had detained and gang-raped a woman. According to the woman’s family, she was detained inside a train by Railway Police in Khulna’s Phultala Railway Station and then taken to a police residential building. There, according to her family, she was raped by the OC and four other policemen. When the victim’s family learned of her detention, they went to the police station, where police demanded 1.5 lakh BDT ($1,800) for her release, alleging first she had stolen a mobile phone, and later alleging drug possession. Following public criticism, police filed a case against the OC under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape victim to prove, using medical evidence, a rape occurred.

In April 2018 the High Court released a 16-point guideline on the handling of rape cases by law enforcement personnel and other parties to the matter. The guidelines came in response to a 2015 writ petition following complaints of delays in recording rape cases. According to the guidelines, the OC of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests are required to be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. The High Court guidelines also stipulated every police station must have a female police officer available to victims of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the victim are required to be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the victim deems appropriate. Victims with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the victim to a timely medical examination.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some media and NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries, despite recent legal changes prohibiting dowry demands. Apparently to stop abuse of the 1980 Dowry Prohibition Act, parliament adopted the Dowry Prohibition Act of 2018, which imposes a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of 50,000 BDT, ($590), or both for demanding or giving dowry.

On September 11, Shova Rajmoni Hosna died following a series of dowry-related beatings from her husband. Hosna, the daughter of a political leader, and her family claimed her husband beat her regularly to demand dowry. While her body bore multiple injury marks, the doctors ruled her case a suicide, a finding human rights advocates sharply questioned. Her husband was arrested in connection with her death.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence.

Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims, usually women, leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were frequently related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land disputes.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline, harassment, also known as “Eve teasing,” was common according to multiple NGOs.

On March 27, Nusrat Jahan Rafi accused her madrassah (Islamic school) principal of touching her inappropriately when he summoned her to his office. Accompanied by her family, she went to the police station to file a sexual harassment complaint. The officer in charge filmed the interview and shared it broadly online. Police then arrested the principal. According to a police report, while in detention, the principal ordered students loyal to him to intimidate Nusrat’s family to withdraw charges against him, and if unsuccessful, to kill Nusrat. On April 6, according to Nusrat’s statement, she was lured to a building rooftop where male students disguised in burqas again pressured her to withdraw the case. When she refused, they gagged and bound her, doused her with kerosene, and set her on fire. During her ride to the hospital, fearing she would not survive, Nusrat recorded a statement of the events on her brother’s mobile phone and identified her attackers as students in the madrassah. On April 10, Nusrat died from her injuries. Following her death, authorities charged 16 persons, including the madrassah principal, in connection with her death. On October 24, the Feni Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal sentenced the 16 individuals to death. A leading human rights activist welcomed the verdict but said the judgment was a “blanket” judgment and suggested the tribunal should have sentenced the perpetrators individually based on the severity of their involvement.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories now part of the country. The government suspended birth registrations for Rohingya refugees born in Cox’s Bazar. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

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

Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. The law prohibits child abuse and neglect with a penalty of up to five years, a fine of one lakh BDT ($1,180), or both. According to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), the law was not fully implemented, and juvenile cases–like many other criminal cases–often lagged in the judicial system. In 2016 the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, operated the hotline, which received approximately 80,000 calls a year on average and was accessible from anywhere in the country. The hotline center provided services such as rescue, referral, and counseling.

In July, BSAF published a report estimating nearly 500 instances of child rape in the first half of the year, an increase of 41 percent compared with 2018. The report said children as young as two were among the rape victims and cited a failure of the law and order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape.

During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassahs. According to AFP, in July at least five madrassah teachers were arrested on rape charges against boys and girls under their care. In one instance, senior students were held for the rape and beheading of an 11-year-old orphan. BSAF commented these crimes had not been reported previously due to the sensitivity of the subject but were “widespread and rampant.” Many smaller schools had few teachers and had no oversight from governing bodies.

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

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. A 2017 law includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.” The government did not implement the recommendations raised by child rights organizations, human rights organizations, and development partners concerning this act. In 2017 the High Court ruled the government should explain why the provision allowing the marriage of a minor should not be declared illegal in response to a writ petition filed by Bangladesh National Women Lawyer Association. The association’s petition argued the Muslim Family Law describes marriage as a “contract,” and a minor could not be a party to a contract.

According to government data, 52 per cent of girls were victims of child marriage in 2011. UNICEF’s 2018 report estimated this figure at 59 per cent.

In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited. In June the NGO Terre des Hommes-Netherlands released a report stating street children were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation but had little legal redress due to a lack of social and financial support and a lengthy criminal justice system. The report said although the government took “necessary legal and institutional measures to combat commercial sexual exploitation, children face multiple challenges in accessing justice.” The report found 75 percent of female children living on Dhaka streets were at risk of sexual exploitation. Underage girls working in brothels were able to produce notarized certificates stating they were older than age 18, and some NGOs claimed that corrupt government and law enforcement officials condoned or facilitated these practices. In May human traffickers brought 23 teenage Rohingya girls from refugee camps to Dhaka (ref. 2.f.). Police speculated the girls were potential victims of forced prostitution.

Displaced Children: See section 2.d.

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

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

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

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took measures to enforce these provisions more effectively. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against disabled persons seriously, and official action was taken to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities.

Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for disabled individuals. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In many cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law. A report prepared by several NGOs in 2016 highlighted negligence in areas such as accessibility in physical structures; access to justice; rights of women with disabilities; freedom from exploitation, violence, and abuse; the right to education, health, and a decent work place; the right to employment; and political rights and representation.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of special accommodation, but data was not readily available. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Department of Social Services, and National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

According to The Daily Star, in the 2019 budget money allocated towards the disabled was 0.31 of the total government budget. Allowances made up 85 percent of the total allocation, displacing other services and resource needs for the disabled. Disability rights organizations pointed out this allocation was not enough to cover the significant number of students with disabilities studying in different schools, colleges, and universities.

The government took official action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

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

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

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for economic and political reasons. Police did not file charges against Muslim villagers accused of vandalizing and burning approximately 30 Hindu houses in Rangpur in 2017 in response to a rumored Facebook post demeaning Islam.

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

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

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

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. In July, three CHT villages filed a report with the deputy commissioner accusing Jashim Uddin Montu, a businessman, of land grabbing. In an investigative report, The Daily Star discovered Montu faked residency documents in Bandarban for the right to purchase CHT land in order to build a tourist property. Villagers said Montu donated money and some of the purchased land in CHT to build a two-story police camp in Bandarban.

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

In April, UPDF leader and indigenous rights activist Michael Chakma disappeared after he left his house for an organizational event. Human rights groups and activists pressed the government to investigate his disappearance and claimed Chakma’s criticisms of government activities played a direct factor in his disappearance. No investigation had begun at year’s end. Many observers compared this case with the 1996 disappearance of Kalpana Chakma, another indigenous rights activist and dissident. Despite 39 officers investigating the 1996 case, police in 2018 said they found only “initial proof” of her abduction, while admitting an overall failure to identify the culprit, and concluded the chances of recovering Kalpana Chakma remained unlikely.

Reports of sexual assaults that occurred in 2018 on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remain unresolved. In January 2018 security personnel allegedly raped an 18-year-old Marma girl and sexually assaulted her 13-year-old sister during a raid on the village of Orachhari in Rangamati. The accused officials publicly denied any incidence of rape but administratively confined the personnel member accused of the rape to battalion headquarters. Police filed a report on insistence from civil society but prevented media and NGO personnel from talking to the victims.

Members of LGBTI communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police.

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

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

The government took positive steps to increase LGBTI inclusion. In January the government announced hijra (third gender) candidates who identify as women were eligible for national parliamentary election, and in April the government included hijra as a separate sex category on the national voters list. On October 14, the country elected the first transgender woman into local office: Sadia Akhter Pinky was elected vice chairman of the Kotchandpur subdistrict in Jhenaidah, a neighborhood near Khulna.

In July police pressed charges against eight members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned militant group, for the 2016 death of Xulhaz Mannan, a LGBTI human rights activist, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men.

Vigilante killings occurred. From July to September, mob violence erupted over false social media rumors of children being kidnapped and sacrificed as offerings for the construction of the Padma Bridge. Odhikar estimated at least 20 individuals were killed by mob violence between July and September. On July 20, housewife Taslima Begum was publicly lynched after a mob wrongly suspected her of child abduction. The issuance of illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations said cumbersome requirements for union registration remained. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Ministry of Labor and Employment may grant approval for registration of a union. The ministry may request a court to dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the approval rate for union registration applicants declined significantly over the past year. Registration applications were often rejected or challenged for erroneous or extrajudicial reasons outside the scope of the law.

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Fire-fighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions. The Ministry of Labor and Employment may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Export processing zones (EPZs), which do not allow trade union participation, are a notable exception to the labor law. On February 28, the government enacted a new labor law for the EPZs. These laws continued to deny EPZ workers the right to form or join a union.

Prospective unions continued to report rejections based on reasons not listed in the labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported that the country had 7,823 trade unions, covering nearly three million workers, with 596 unions in the garment sector. This figure included 574 new unions in the garment sector formed since 2013. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions and the leather and tannery sector had 13. According to the Solidarity Center, a significant number of the unions in the ready-made garment sector ceased to be active during the year due to factory closures or alleged unfair labor practices on the part of employers, and it became increasingly harder to register unions in larger ready-made garment factories. After a sharp increase in trade union applications in 2014, there was a decline every year thereafter.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The government occasionally targeted union leaders. During wage protests in December 2018 and January, police dispersed protesters using tear gas, water cannons, batons, and rubber bullets, reportedly injuring dozens of workers and killing at least one. In the aftermath, factory owners filed cases against thousands of workers. More than 50 workers and union leaders were arrested and spent weeks in jail. According to Solidarity Center, most if not all of the cases against hundreds of workers remained pending at year’s end. Several companies also illegally suspended or terminated thousands of workers without proper severance payments. In some cases, factory management exploited the situation to target active union leaders and to blacklist them from employment. Other intimidation tactics included frequent police visits to union meetings and offices, police taking pictures and video recordings of union meetings, and police monitoring of NGOs involved in supporting trade unions. While most workers from the 2016 widespread Ashulia labor unrest were reinstated, labor leaders had cases pending against them despite international pressure to resolve these cases.

In response to unrest in the Dhaka industrial suburb of Ashulia in 2016, the government formed a permanent tripartite consultative council to address labor concerns in the garment industry. NGOs said the tripartite consultative council was not functioning. The state minister for labor and employment and the ministry’s deputy secretary serve as president and secretary of the 20-member council. The council also includes six representatives from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, six additional representatives from the government, and six worker representatives. The council was supposed to meet at least three times a year, but the president may convene meetings as needed. Labor leaders expressed concern that worker representatives were appointed, not elected, and that some of the appointed council members were either not active in the ready-made garment industry, were leaders of very small federations, or were closely aligned with industry.

Legally registered unions recognized as official Collective Bargaining Agents (CBAs) are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers. This occurred rarely, but instances were increasing. The law provides criminal penalties for unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights. Labor organizations reported that in some companies, workers did not exercise their collective bargaining rights due to their unions’ ability to address grievances with management informally or due to fear of reprisal.

The law includes provisions protecting unions from employer interference in organizing activities; however, employers, particularly in the ready-made garment industry, often interfered with this right. Labor organizers reported acts of intimidation and abuse, the termination of employees, and scrutiny by security forces and the intelligence services, a tactic used to chill the organizing environment. Labor rights NGOs alleged that some terminated union members were unable to find work in the sector because employers blacklisted them. The BGMEA reported that some factory owners complained of harassment from organized labor, including physical intimidation, but statistics and specific examples were unavailable.

According to the labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). A 2018 amendment to the labor law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations to ensure the effectiveness and independence of PCs. The International Labor Organization’s Better Work Bangladesh program found 75 percent of factories had ineffective or nonfunctional PCs.

A separate legal framework under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) governs labor rights in the EPZs, with approximately 458,000 workers. EPZ law specifies certain limited associational and bargaining rights for worker welfare associations (WWAs) elected by the workers, such as the rights to bargain collectively and represent their members in disputes, but prohibits unions within EPZs. While an earlier provision of the EPZ law banning all strikes under penalty of imprisonment expired in 2013, the law continues to provide for strict limits on the right to strike, such as the discretion of the BEPZA’s chairperson to ban any strike he views as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. The BEPZA has its own inspection regime with labor counselors that function as inspectors. WWAs in EPZs are prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. There were no reports of legal strikes in the EPZs.

The government adopted standard operating procedures regarding union registration. With the exception of limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The government did not always enforce applicable law effectively or consistently. For example, labor law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. It also establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses are insufficient to deter violations. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also provides that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims.

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

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The 2018 amendment of the labor law establishes the minimum age for work as 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18, with no exceptions. The government reported all labor inspectors were notified on the amendment, including the changes to the light work provisions for children. Formerly, the law had allowed children ages 12 or 13 to perform light work. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade. Several factors contributed to children not attending school, such as inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities and the costs associated with education, including books and uniforms.

The Labor and Employment Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods. Laws do not cover children working in the informal sector, and hazardous work prohibitions are not comprehensive. Moreover, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the workforce.

The law specifies penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations of child labor laws. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants.

Child labor was widespread in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of six- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation.

According to the International Labor Organization, agriculture was the primary employment sector for boys and services was the main sector for girls. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce was younger than 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, reported laborers worked long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, and also without contractual agreements.

Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.

In 2018 the government funded and participated in programs that include the goal of eliminating or preventing child labor, including a $35 million government-funded three-year project that seeks to identify 100,000 child laborers, reintegrate the children into schools, and provide livelihood support for their parents.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or other countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reported to be underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

The lower-wage garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented the majority of garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total ready-made garment workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics varied widely due to a lack of data. Despite representing a majority of total workers, women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute and Oxford University study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. In June a human rights NGO concluded, after conducting survey research, that 80 percent of female garment workers reported experiencing gender-based violence on the job.

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The board may convene at any time, but it is supposed to meet at least every five years in a tripartite forum to set wage structures and benefits industry by industry. During the year the board failed to include a legitimate workers’ representative. Without a workers’ representative, garment workers did not have a voice in negotiations to set the new minimum wage. By law the government may modify or amend wage structures through official public announcement in consultation with employers and workers. The minimum wage was set for $94 a month and fixed for the ready-made garment sector only. This wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation (which averaged 6 to 8 percent annually since 2010, according to World Bank data), but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

Wages in the apparel sector often were higher than the minimum wage, and wages in the EPZs typically were higher than general wage levels, according to the BEPZA. In November 2018 a BEPZA circular declared the minimum wages and other benefits for workers employed in different enterprises in the EPZs. Among the lowest minimum wages were those for tea packaging at 3,060 BDT ($36.14) a month, as of December 2018. A Transparency International Bangladesh report found more than 90 percent of tea worker families shared a single room with domestic animals without proper access to safe water, electricity, or health care. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation, but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours, but it may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime cannot be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than six hours a day or a half-hour of rest for more than five hours’ work a day. Factory workers are supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers receive one and one-half days off per week.

The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The law states that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year. The days and dates for such festivals are supposed to be fixed by the employer in consultation with the CBA, if any, or on the recommendation of the participation committee in absence of the CBA.

Labor law implementing rules outline the process for the formation of occupational safety and health committees in factories, and the government reported that approximately 2,175 safety committees were formed as of July 2018. The committees include both management and workers nominated by the CBA or, in absence of CBA, workers representatives of the factory’s worker participation committee. Where there is no union or worker participation committee, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) arranges an election among the workers for their representatives.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, overtime pay, and occupational safety and health laws. Although increased focus on the garment industry improved compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors, and penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. A labor rights NGO found 95 percent of factories did not comply with overtime limits.

DIFE’s resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively. On March 4, a fire broke out at an apparel warehouse in Ashulia, damaging the entire factory. According to DIFE’s website, they last visited the factory on October 26, 2013. There were also criticisms regarding DIFE’s complaint mechanism. In the current system, a worker has to enter his or her name, position, and identity number in DIFE’s complaint form. Once received, DIFE issues a letter to factory management with reference to the complaint form. This provides inadequate protections to workers and raises doubts on the efficacy of the mechanism for filing complaints.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,138 workers and injured more than 2,500. In the aftermath of the collapse, private companies, foreign governments, and international organizations worked with the government to inspect more than 3,780 garment factories. Many factories began to take action to improve safety conditions, although remediation in many cases proceeded slowly due to a range of factors, including failure to obtain adequate financing. Two initiatives formed by international brands, Nirapon (including most North American brands and continuing the work of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety) and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (“Accord,” consisting mostly of European brands), continued to oversee the inspection and remediation efforts of ready-made garment factories producing for Accord and Nirapon members while government oversight of factories outside of these initiatives remained limited. The two brand-led initiatives covered only member factories in the ready-made garment industry, leaving thousands of other garment and nongarment factories without oversight. Boiler or chemical-related explosions increased the focus on nonfire industrial accidents.

In May a court-ordered memorandum of understanding established guidelines for a transition process for the Accord to begin to hand over authority to the government. In this transition the ready-made garment Sustainability Council was established, including representation from the BGMEA, international brands, and trade union federation leaders.

The court case against the owner of Rana Plaza and 40 other individuals on charges including murder began in 2016. Rana received a maximum three-year sentence for failing to declare his personal wealth to an antigraft commission. The murder trial against Rana and others repeatedly stalled, however, due to appeals and High Court stay orders.

A trial against those implicated in the 2012 Tazreen Fashions fire started in 2015 after charges were brought against 13 individuals, including chairman Mahmuda Akhter and managing director Delwar Hossain, in September 2015. The case was ongoing.

Workers’ groups stated safety and health standards established by law were sufficient, and more factories took steps toward compliance. The law provides for penalties that did not deter violations. Many ready-made garment employers failed to adequately train workers on safety and hazardous materials, provide required equipment, or ensure functioning Safety Committees, all required by law.

Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely. In the ready-made garment sector, employers often required workers to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to the Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers in many cases delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits.

Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector that employed most workers, and it was difficult to enforce labor laws in the sector. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reported 51.3 million workers in the informal labor sector in 2016, which was 86.2 percent of the total labor force.

In February a fire broke out in Chawkbazaar, a historic Dhaka neighborhood, when a compressed natural gas-powered car caught on fire. The blast ignited other cylinders used at street-side restaurants. Very quickly, a plastics store and a shop illegally storing chemicals also burst into flames. The fire–which analysts assessed may have been averted had proper building violations been addressed–killed at least 70 persons.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in a transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security includes the National Police and the gendarmerie. The Army and the Air Force, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread corruption; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem.

Armed groups connected to violent extremist organizations, including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslim, Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and homegrown Ansaroul Islam perpetrated more than 300 attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as the death of government security forces. In the protracted conflict with terrorist groups, members of the security forces engaged in numerous extrajudicial killings. The Koglweogo, a vigilante justice/self-defense group, carried out numerous retaliatory attacks, resulting in at least 100 civilian casualties. In August the government arrested nine members of the Koglweogo suspected of planning the January 1 attack on the village of Yirgou that killed at least 49 and displaced thousands more.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In June the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news in an effort to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military. Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military was previously a crime, but the code was amended to state “by any means,” presumably to criminalize any press or other media intended to demoralize security forces. A 2015 law decriminalizes press offenses and replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,700 to $8.500). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The June revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The law also permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendments as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech. The law significantly increases penalties for the existing crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult, and it prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: On September 23, the Djibo police filed a defamation suit for the “demoralization of police force” against the mayor of Djibo after he publicly denounced their behavior and accused them of rape and killing of civilians.

Nongovernmental Impact: Terrorist groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by forcing women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forcing men to wear religious garb, preventing children from going to non-Quranic school, and prohibiting civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, frequenting bars, and listening to music at the risk of beatings or death.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.

On multiple occasions throughout the year, the government denied requests for permits to NGOs and civil society organizations who sought to organize demonstrations and rallies. The government stopped a planned rally by a coalition of civil society organizations and labor unions on September 16, using tear gas to disperse demonstrators. The government had previously denied a permit to the demonstrators to hold the march, but the group proceeded to hold the event anyway.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($170 and $3,400). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

On November 13, the minister of territorial administration, decentralization, and social cohesion suspended the political party Renewal Patriotic Front for three months on the grounds the group had violated the charter of political parties when its leader publicly demanded the resignation of President Kabore on November 3 and again on November 11.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Armed terrorists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting improvised explosive devices on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be terrorists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the East and North Regions.

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the northern and eastern regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs from 39,731 registered in October 2018 to more than 560,000 by the end of October, according to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs. Since January an average of 30,000 persons every month fled from their homes. The government worked effectively with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection of affected civilians against abuse and violations. The government promoted local integration of IDPs by offering limited assistance to host families. Nevertheless, during the year the National Commission for Human Rights criticized the government for failing to provide sufficient resources and medical services to IDPs resulting from the January 1 attack on Yirgou.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Recurrent terrorist attacks hampered access by humanitarian workers to deliver lifesaving supplies and assistance to refugees and IDPs. On March 19, suspected terrorists killed two persons teaching refugee students at a secondary school in Djibo. UNHCR relocated 18 refugee students from Mentao refugee camp to Goudoubo refugee camp, allowing them to participate in their final exams. On May 24, suspected terrorists kidnapped three Burkinabe staff members of UNHCR’s international health partner, the Centre de Support en Sante International, resulting in the closure of a medical center for refugees. In July and August, hundreds of refugees living outside of camps in the North and Sahel Regions returned to camps seeking protection from attacks. On August 15, armed groups linked to violent extremist organizations attacked a security post on a main road near the Mentao refugee camp, killing three soldiers and wounding a refugee woman. In December 2018 a primary school in Mentao camp closed due to threats from terrorists.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs, aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: In the 2015 national elections, Roch Mark Christian Kabore won the presidency with 53 percent of the popular vote. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 55 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly. The Union for Progress and Change won 33 seats, and the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, won 18 seats. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” are ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In July 2018 the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement during the 2016 and the May 2017 make-up municipal elections. In March a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandates that electoral lists alternate names of men and women in order to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law also establishes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota, but no penalties for those who did not abide by the law. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics, due to cultural and traditional factors. Women held seven of 32 ministerial seats and 14 of 127 seats in the National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Throughout the year the press reported cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: In August the government announced it would prosecute 12 employees of Iamgold Essakane SA for smuggling and fraud in the marketing of gold and other precious substances as hazardous waste for illegal export. Authorities opened an investigation of former minister of defense Jean-Claude Bouda and Minister of Infrastructure Eric Bougouma for using government funds to build personal wealth.

Financial Disclosure: A 2015 anticorruption law requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. As of September National Assembly members elected in 2015 had not complied with this law yet faced no sanctions.

In 2016 the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum prison term of 20 years and fines of up to 25 million CFA francs ($42,400). The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection with lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of five million to 25 million CFA francs ($8,500 to $42,400). A 2016 law limits the value of a gift a government official may receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: As a result of a January 24 government reshuffle, President Kabore established the Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion, separating it from the Ministry of Justice, which previously was charged with overseeing human rights. During the year the ministry organized several training sessions for security forces on the law of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of terrorist- and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government also assigned a human rights provost to accompany deployed troops during military operations in order to assure detainees were afforded proper treatment and due rights. On October 22, the minister of security administered human rights training to law enforcement members in Dori, the capital of the Sahel Region. This was the first of a series of three training sessions to be expanded to include security forces in other regions in the east and west.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. Although inadequately funded, the commission produced a well documented report on intercommunal violence and made recommendations to the government on responding to IDP population needs.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a fine of one million to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,000) when committed against a minor between ages 13 and 15. The penalty is punishable by 11 to 30 years in prison and a fine of three to 10 million CFA francs ($5,000 to $17,000) when the victim is younger than age 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions. For example, an investigation was underway into the rape of a 12-year-old girl in December 2018 who became pregnant.

Victims seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. A government-run shelter for women and girls who were victims of gender-based violence welcomed victims regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the North, Sahel, East, and Center-West Regions.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of the foregoing abuses may also carry fines of 500,000 to one million CFA francs ($850 to $1,700).

The law requires police to provide for protection of the victim and her minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist female victims of violence–or those threatened by violence–and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for female victims of violence and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive victims on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer the victims to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a practice prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a fine of 500,000 to three million CFA francs ($850 to $5,000). If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of one to five million CFA francs ($1,700 to $8,500). Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice.

The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight Against the Practice of Excision. During the year it reported that 1,089 practitioners of FGM/C agreed to cease practicing excision. The government provided training to 6,272 health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications, enabling medical care to reach 520 victims of excision.

In December 2018 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs convened 55 judicial actors and members of the ministry’s gender task force. The purpose was to discuss guidelines for the care of survivors and the application of the law on FGM/C and child marriage.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Center-East Region, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced relatives as witches they held responsible for their misfortune, and subsequently punished them. The latter were tied up, humiliated, beaten, and brutalized. Neighbors accused elderly women, and less frequently men, without support, living primarily in rural areas, and often widowed in the case of women, of witchcraft and subsequently banned them from their villages, beat them, or killed them. On August 8, a man accused of witchcraft was beaten to death by the population in Samba commune in Yako. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a fine of 300,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($500 to $2,500), or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($500 to $850) for conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, victims rarely reported sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property.

Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a fine of 300,000 to 900,000 CFA francs ($500 to $1,500) for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. On August 6, the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment in order to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for sentences ranging from six months to two years in prison for offenders, as well as a three-year prison sentence if the victim is younger than age 13.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” According to UNICEF, 10 percent of girls were married before the age of 15 and 52 percent before the age of 18. In March the government, in collaboration with UNICEF, launched a national campaign called “Do not call me Madam” to combat child marriage, as part of their National Strategy against Child Marriage, with the goal of eliminating child marriage by 2025. Despite government efforts at combatting early marriage, civil society organizations reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage. In May the government organized a travelling campaign called “zero child marriage,” targeting specific communes for education against the practice.

According to media reports, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of “child prostitution” or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 1.5 to three million CFA francs ($2,500 to $5,000), or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. A 2014 law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial sexual exploitation, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 10 million CFA ($3,400 to $17,000) francs for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of one million and five million CFA francs ($1,700 and $8,500) for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced thousands of children. According to a UN humanitarian organization, women and children accounted for 85 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.). The government, in collaboration with humanitarian actors, provided 12,372 children with formal and informal education.

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

There was no known Jewish community. 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 law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs.

During the year President Kabore presided over a national forum on developing more socioeconomic inclusion for persons with disabilities. The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in Braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests. According to the Ministry of Education, children with disabilities attended school at lower rates than others, although the government provided for limited special education programs in Ouagadougou.

Longstanding conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Herders commonly triggered incidents by allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents. In the aftermath of the January attack on Yirgou, President Kabore and the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation convened ethnic and religious leaders in private audience in an attempt to de-escalate violence and promote community cohesion.

Between March 31 and April 1, terrorists reportedly shot and killed Cheickh Werem Issouf, a revered religious leader, along with six members of his family, in the village of Arbinda, and raped the women of his family. On April 1, dozens of ethnic Fulse killed at least 62 Fulani villagers in a reprisal attack, whom they suspected to be complicit with the terrorists that carried out the assassination of their leader.

Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. A Chinese construction project to build a hospital in a classified forest in Bobo-Dioulasso sparked a controversial debate and was strongly rejected by the local population. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s decision to downgrade 16 hectares (approximately 38 acres) of this forest and suggested that the hospital be built on another site. Following the controversy, the government suspended the project and commissioned an environmental impact study of the site. The results of the study were pending at year’s end.

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. NGOs reported police occasionally arrested gay men and transgender individuals and humiliated them in detention before releasing them.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem, and it was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. Medical facilities often refused to provide care to members of the transgender community, and LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially with no reported harassment. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations, although incidents were not always reported due to stigma or intimidation.

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem and prohibited some individuals from receiving medical services due to fear of harassment. Families sometimes shunned persons who tested positive and sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Vigilante groups apprehended and sometimes arbitrarily detained individuals usually involved in petty crime, employing severe beatings to solicit a confession. On August 7, a security guard working for the Youga Gold Mine shot and killed a local artisanal miner. The following day an estimated 100 artisanal miners in the area launched an attack against the Youga Gold Mine, injuring several employees. According to journalists in the community, this attack was related to preexisting labor disputes at the mine and locals’ discontent over the hiring of foreign workers.

NGOs reported that police frequently discriminated against the Fulani, stigmatizing them as terrorists. According to NGOs, police often arrested them because of their physical appearance, interrogated them on terrorism charges, and finally released them without charging them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel, who may not join unions. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.

The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution and were generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, which was where many worker rights violations occurred.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 6, Children). Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment was consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and above to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government was implementing the National Action Plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor.

The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs. Its goals included greater dissemination of information in local languages, increased access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revision of the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improved data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Largely due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups, the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector, or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than age 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law mandates a minimum monthly wage in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. The minimum wage was less than the poverty income level.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. There are explicit restrictions regarding occupational health and safety in the labor law. Employers must take measures to provide for safety and protect the physical and mental health of all their workers and verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards. The government employed 255 labor inspectors, an increase of more than 50 percent compared with the previous year, surpassing the International Labor Office’s technical advice of the appropriate level of labor inspectors for the country. Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

These standards were not effectively enforced. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector. Employers subjected workers in the informal sector, who made up approximately 50 percent of the economy, to violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards.

Between April and June, approximately 500 workers lost their jobs at Youga gold mine, and foreign workers were hired instead. Some Burkinabe workers were critical of the dismissals, stating that management violated the 2015 mining code by hiring unqualified foreign workers instead of giving preference to local employees as stipulated in the code. Mining operations at Youga were suspended on June 7, as employees and management could not reach an agreement regarding work schedules and wages. In particular, the company proposed a 14-day work period with a single day of rest and an hourly wage as opposed to a monthly salary; workers rejected the proposals. Labor laws call for a 24-hour rest period every week, unless an exception has been granted with the consent of a labor inspector.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. A coalition of ethnically based parties known as the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controlled the government until its successor, the Prosperity Party, was formed in December. In the 2015 general elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats in the House of People’s Representatives (parliament) to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In February 2018 then prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation to accelerate political reforms in response to demands from the country’s increasingly restive youth. In April 2018 parliament selected Abiy Ahmed Ali as prime minister to lead broad reforms.

Under Prime Minister Abiy, there has been an increased focus on the rule of law. The Federal Police report to the newly created Ministry of Peace as of October 2018 and are subject to parliamentary oversight, but parliament’s capacity to conduct this oversight is limited. Each of the nine regions has a regional, a special police force, or both that report to regional civilian authorities. Local militias operated across the country in loose and varying coordination with these regional police, the Federal Police, and the military. Selected by community leadership, local militias are empowered to handle standard security matters within their communities, primarily in rural areas. It was widely reported that civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over regional security forces. Rural local police and militias sometimes acted independently and extrajudicially. Local government authorities provided select militia members with very basic training. Militia members serve as a bridge between the community and local police by providing information and enforcing rules. When community security was insufficient to maintain law and order, the military played an expanded role with respect to internal security; in particular, setting up military command posts in parts of the country like West and South Oromia, as well as Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) Region.

A number of positive changes in the human rights climate followed Abiy’s assumption of office. The government decriminalized political movements that past administrations had accused of treason, invited opposition leaders to return to the country and resume political activities, allowed peaceful rallies and demonstrations, enabled the formation and unfettered operation of new political parties and media outlets, continued steps to release thousands of political prisoners, and undertook revisions of repressive laws. In recent months, however, the government used the Antiterrorism Proclamation (ATP) to buy time for investigations pertaining to the killing of government officials on June 22. Additionally, humanitarian partners cited the lack of safe, voluntary, and dignified returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and their lack of access to those IDPs as major concerns.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces; citizens killing other citizens based on their ethnicity; unexplained disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, and blocking of the internet and social media sites; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor, including the worst forms.

The government took steps to prosecute selected members of senior leadership for human rights abuses but decided on a policy of forgiveness for lower-level officials under its broader reconciliation efforts. The government took positive steps toward greater accountability under Abiy to change the relationship between security forces and the population. In August 2018 the federal attorney general filed criminal charges against former Somali regional president Abdi Mohammed Omar and several others relating to criminal conspiracy and armed uprising. The federal attorney general brought charges related to egregious human rights violations and corruption against Getachew Assefa, Assefa Belay, Shishay Leoul, and Atsbaha Gidey, all former officials in the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). On July 16, the Federal High Court ordered the trial to proceed in the absence of the defendants after police were unable to locate the men in the Tigray Region.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including speech and for the press. With the encouragement of Prime Minister Abiy, a number of new and returned diaspora media outlets were able to register and begin operations in the country.

Freedom of Expression: Upon taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy stated freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government dramatically diminished.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media reported access to private, affordable, independent printing presses was generally limited to a single government-owned facility, which allowed government intimidation. Independent media cited limited access to a printing facility as a major factor in the small number, low circulation, and infrequent publication of news. State media moved toward more balanced reporting during the year, but strong government influence remained evident.

In Addis Ababa eight independent newspapers had a combined weekly circulation of approximately 44,000 copies; there were in addition two sports-focused newspapers. There were no independent newspapers outside the capital. Nine independent weekly, monthly, and bimonthly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation estimated at 27,000 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately owned Daily Monitor. Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF party. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Two government-owned radio stations covered the entire country, 12 private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one FM radio station operated in the Tigray Region, and 49 community radio stations broadcasting in other regions. The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by the Fana Broadcasting Corporation, generally regarded as affiliated with the EPRDF ruling party. There were 31 licensed satellite television stations and 28 radio stations.

The law prohibits political and religious organizations, as well as foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government’s arrest, harassment, and prosecution of journalists sharply declined, and imprisoned journalists were released.

On February 23, Oromia regional police detained two journalists from the privately owned online news outlet Mereja Television. Reporter Fasil Aregay and cameraman Habtamu Oda were interviewing individuals displaced by home demolitions when they were detained. Following the detentions, a mob attacked the two journalists in front of the police station in Legetafo.

On July 18, security personnel in Hawassa, the capital of the SNNP Region, arrested Getahun Deguye and Tariku Lemma, managers of the Sidama Media Network, and two board members. Police released one of the board members unconditionally after a few hours while the rest remained detained under allegations they were involved in the July 18 violence in Sidama Zone.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government. Examples of government interference included requests regarding specific stories and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private-sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship.

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked various social media sites. Beginning on June 10, the government partially and then totally shut down the internet for a week for undisclosed reasons. Many speculated that it related to the administration of national school leaving examinations. Ethiopians continued to be able to access blogs and opposition websites the government unblocked in 2018. The government shut down the internet following the June 22 killings in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa. On June 27, the government partially restored connectivity while continuing to block social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

The law on computer crimes includes some overly broad provisions that could restrict freedom of speech and expression. These included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio, or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among persons.

Authorities monitored communication systems and took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and email. In September the website Axios.com alleged the government used spyware to surveil journalists.

The government restricted academic freedom, primarily by controlling teachers’ appointments and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses.

According to multiple reports, the ruling EPRDF, through the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignments to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members noted that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested inadequate promotions and lack of professional advancement were more likely for non-EPRDF member teachers. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities, however, focused heavily on the social sciences.

According to reports, there was a buildup of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, embedded on university campuses in anticipation of student protests, especially in Oromia, in response to student demonstrations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. On March 24, however, a group of youth in Bahir Dar interrupted a town hall meeting organized by the PG7. The youths reportedly forced their way into the meeting hall, took down banners with slogans of the party, and replaced them with their own messages. Government security forces did not stop the youths.

Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit for an event but could require changing the location or time for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities require the group seeking to hold an event move to another place or time, by law authorities must notify organizers in writing within 12 hours of their request.

The EPRDF used its own conference centers and government facilities in Addis Ababa and the regional capitals for meetings and events.

The Baladeras Council, led by activist and journalist Eskinder Nega, canceled four planned public meetings over a period of three months. On March 24, the council canceled its planned meeting because police stated they could not be present to maintain the security of participants, despite the fact that the council had informed police a week in advance. One week later police canceled a meeting due to fear for the safety of Eskinder. Prime Minister Abiy’s press secretary offered to hold the meeting in the prime minister’s office. Twice in June, police stopped a planned press conference for Eskinder after the owner of the hotel where the event was to be held complained to police that he did not know the content of the press conference. Eskinder canceled a protest scheduled for October 13 to voice opposition to the backsliding of democracy in the country. The move to cancel the protest came after the Addis Ababa Police issued a statement on October 12 banning the gathering. Police also temporarily detained the protest’s coordinators. Eskinder told local media that his group submitted a notification letter to the city administration two weeks in advance of the planned protest.

The law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity. In March a new Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), also called the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law, was adopted to replace more restrictive legislation that had been in place since 2009. The new law allows civil society organizations the right to solicit, receive, and utilize funds from any legal source including the right to engage in any lawful business and investment activity in order to raise funds to attain their objectives. The new law removes limitations on engagement on policy advocacy, most notably in the human rights space.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: Throughout the year local media reported various Amhara-Tigray roadblocks operated by civilians, some of which were still in place as of September. While the roadblocks are not state sanctioned, both regional and federal authorities were unable to open the roads for free movement.

Foreign Travel: The government lifted a ban on the travel of workers to Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) as of October 2018, following the signing of bilateral agreements with those countries. The government had instituted the ban in 2013 following reports of abuse and complaints that employment agencies lured its citizens into working abroad in illegal and appalling conditions. The agreements obligate hosting countries to ensure the safety, dignity, and rights of Ethiopian employees. The agreements also grant insurance for the workers and facilitate support from the government’s representatives in the Gulf.

According to data published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in August, the country had 1,645,867 conflict-affected IDPs, mostly in Somali and Oromia regions. In 2018 the number of IDPs reached as many as 3.2 million, according to unofficial estimates, with more than half of that number being displaced in 2018. In the IOM’s latest Displacement Tracking Matrix, that covered monitoring through June, assessors could not access all areas of Gedeo/Guji and the Wellegas to count the number of displaced persons accurately. A majority of the displacements were a result of internal conflict, particularly interregional and interclan conflicts and property disputes that were exacerbated by a lack of governance. The IOM identified 518,334 IDPs caused by drought, flash floods, and landslides, mainly in the Oromia, Somali, and Afar Regions. Other factors, such as development projects, social tensions, and natural events, contributed to the displacement of 71,089 persons.

IDPs do not have uniform or consistent access to assistance, compensation, or livelihoods. Their ability to utilize basic services, such as health care or education, or participate in civic or political action, is limited by lack of access to documentation. In some instances the government strongly encouraged returns of IDPs without adequate arrangements for security and sustainability, leading to secondary and tertiary displacements. The government reportedly used food to induce returns.

In the area of Gedeb, in the Gedeo Zone of the SNNP Region, up to 80,000 IDPs did not receive assistance for three to four months due to the government’s restrictions on access. When the community of Gedeb refused to board buses to return to its home of origin, the government deployed significant numbers of military personnel to ensure their return and to assist with the dismantling of sites. The government claimed it deployed military personnel to protect the IDPs from those who wanted to discourage them from getting on buses. In East and West Wellega, IDPs cited safety and security concerns as their main reasons for not wishing to return home. In some areas, beginning at least a month prior a phase of IDP returns in May, the government used the discontinuation of assistance, including dismantling of sites in displacement areas as a means to induce IDPs to return to their areas of origin. NGO partners reported the government restricted or suspended the NGOs’ ability to deliver assistance to hundreds of thousands of IDPs. Severe acute malnutrition spiked among this group of IDPs, and the government moved them after only one round of assistance, threatening the viability of the lifesaving treatment. According to humanitarian NGO partners, not all of the government-initiated returns of IDPs were considered safe, voluntary, or dignified.

In West Wellega, NGO partners and authorities reported in August that IDPs returned to the Kamashi Zone were returning to IDP sites, citing persistent insecurity and limited access to their former land as well as to shelter and essential services. Government authorities reportedly did not allow partners to assist these IDPs arguing that doing so would create a “pull factor.” Additionally, the government was unwilling to identify these IDPs as displaced, thus eliminating the possibility for needs-based humanitarian responses. In the Wellegas, the government was responsible for food delivery and initially provided inconsistent and inadequate assistance, which it subsequently discontinued.

Monitoring undertaken by NGO protection partners in July reconfirmed that authorities continued to deny humanitarian assistance to persons who had not returned to their home of origin. The government-initiated joint targeting exercise undertaken in Gedeo and West Guji was intended to identify persons in need, regardless of status, but those IDPs who remained displaced were not captured in the assessment, due to both implementation constraints and access constraints. The government in Gedeo acknowledged exclusion of IDPs in the targeting exercise, although it did not facilitate assistance for all displaced persons.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of July the country hosted 655,105 refugees. Major countries of origin were South Sudan (303,733), Somalia (175,961), Eritrea (100,566), and Sudan (50,777).

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government used a refugee-status-determination system for providing services and protection to refugees.

Employment: On January 17, parliament passed a law greatly expanding the rights of refugees hosted in the country. The Refugee Proclamation grants refugees the right to work, access primary education and financial institutions, obtain drivers’ licenses, and register births, marriages, and deaths. The law provides neither guidance on how the right to work will be implemented in practice, nor who will be eligible.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. Eritrean refugees were the exception, as they are eligible for out-of-camp status if they are sponsored by an Ethiopian citizen to leave the refugee camp. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR. In June UNHCR, UNICEF, the Ethiopian Vital Events Registration Agency, and the Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) opened the first one-stop-shop in the Bambasi Refugee Camp in Benishangul-Gumuz for refugees to register births, marriages, divorces, and deaths and receive protection referrals and civil documentation in line with the Global Compact on Refugees.

In July UNHCR and ARRA completed a comprehensive Level 3 registration exercise for refugees in the country. The number of recorded refugees decreased as a result from 905,831 to 655,105. Registration was available in Addis Ababa and in all 26 refugee camps. The reasons for the decrease in registered refugees included nomadic lifestyles so they were not present in the camps, removal of double-counted refugees or citizens who registered as refugees during an influx, and some spontaneous returns to South Sudan.

Not applicable.

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. The ruling party’s electoral advantages, however, limited this ability.

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held national elections for parliament. Later that year parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn to his first full mandate as prime minister. In February 2018 Hailemariam announced his resignation as prime minister, and in March 2018 the EPRDF selected Abiy Ahmed as the new chairperson of the party and candidate for federal prime minister. After an acclamation vote in parliament, Abiy Ahmed assumed the prime minister’s position in April 2018.

In the 2015 national parliamentary elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats, giving the party a fifth consecutive five-year term. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. The African Union was the sole international organization permitted to observe the elections. Opposition party observers accused local police of interference, harassment, and extrajudicial detention. Six rounds of broadcast debates preceded the elections, with internal media broadcasting the debates generally in full and only slightly edited. The debates included all major political parties competing in the election.

Independent journalists reported little trouble covering the election. Some independent journalists reported receiving their observation credentials the day before the election, after having submitted proper and timely applications. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the contentious 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Various reports stated at least six election-related deaths occurred during the period before and immediately following the elections. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has sole responsibility for voter education, and it broadcast radio segments and distributed manuals on voter education in many local languages.

In a preliminary election assessment, the African Union called the 2015 elections “calm, peaceful, and credible” and applauded the government for its registration efforts. It raised concerns, however, regarding the legal framework underpinning the election. The NEBE registered more than 35 million voters, and it did not report any incidents of unfair voter registration practices.

In August parliament decided to hold local elections in conjunction with the May 2020 national elections. The NEBE has not yet formally accepted parliament’s proposal to hold federal and local elections together.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In 2018 the government, controlled by the EPRDF, called on all diaspora-based opposition groups, including those in armed struggle, to return and pursue nonviolent struggle. Virtually all major opposition groups, including the OLF, the Oromo Democratic Front, the ONLF, and PG7, welcomed the request and returned to the country. The parties that returned and newly formed parties continued to operate in the country. Some parties including the OLF, NaMA, the Tigrayan Alliance for National Democracy (TAND), and the OFC, reported they were unable to open or run offices in certain parts of the country due to instability as well as harassment, intimidation, and attacks on their members.

In December Prime Minister Abiy disintegrated the EPRDF and created the Prosperity Party to distance the ruling party from ethnic politics and to promote economic growth. Former EPRDF coalition partner the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front refused to join the new party.

TAND reported that Tigrayan regional police detained and attempted to kill their party chair Aregawi Berhe while he was attending a funeral in Mekelle on June 26. Aregawi claimed that a group of youths attempted to assault him. Police then intervened and detained him in a prison in Kuiha overnight without explanation. Later, four police officers took Amanuel Wolde Libanos, another TAND member, to the forest and forcefully poisoned him. Amanuel survived the attack.

Constituent parties of the EPRDF conferred advantages upon their members; the party directly owned many businesses and allegedly awarded jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices, with at least one major opposition party reporting it was able to open many offices during the year in advance of the 2020 national election. Laws requiring parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies inhibited opposition activities. Opposition parties reported they rented offices and meeting halls in the Amhara and Oromia Regions without major difficulty. EZEMA, however, stated it was unable to open offices in parts of Oromia due to security problems or obstruction by local government officials. There were reports unemployed youths not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their wards necessary to obtain jobs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minorities from voting or participating in political life, although patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. There were improvements, but women remained significantly underrepresented across both elected and appointed positions. In October 2018 the prime minister announced a new cabinet with 10 female ministers, or half of the resized cabinet. Also in October 2018, Sahle-Work Zewde became the country’s first female president. Her appointment was in line with the prime minister’s stated goal of empowering women in his administration. In November 2018 parliament swore in the country’s first female Supreme Court president. In the national parliament, women held 39 percent of seats, 211 of 547.

The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament). The government recognizes more than 80 ethnicities, and the constitution requires that at least one member represent each “Nation, Nationality, and People” in the House of the Federation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively or comprehensively.

Corruption: Corruption, especially the solicitation of bribes, including police and judicial corruption, remained a problem. Some stakeholders believed government officials manipulated the land allocation process and state- or party-owned businesses received preferential access to prime land leases and credit. The law mandates that the attorney general investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

In January 2017 former prime minister Hailemariam announced the establishment of the Corruption Directorate within the Federal Police Commission with powers to investigate systemic corruption cases. The government’s rationale in establishing the investigation bureau was to increase transparency throughout the government bureaucracy. On January 23, Amhara regional police, with the support of federal police, arrested Bereket Simon on corruption charges associated with mismanagement of the Tiret Endowment in his capacity as board chairman. On May 7, the federal attorney general charged former NISS director Getachew Assefa with grand corruption under the Corruption Crimes Proclamation.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all government officials and employees to register their wealth and personal property. The law includes financial and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission holds financial disclosure records. By law any person who seeks access to these records may make a request in writing; access to information on family assets may be restricted unless the commission deems the disclosure necessary.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

On February 5, parliament approved a heavily revised, and strengthened, CSP (Proclamation No. 1113/2019) commonly referred to as the CSO law. The new law removes restrictions that had severely limited foreign government and private sector funding to any advocacy civil society organization. The law also permits foreign volunteers to work in CSOs for up to one year.

During the year a few domestic human rights groups operated. The resource-challenged HRCO is the country’s sole local, independent human rights group with investigative capabilities. It is a membership-based, nonpartisan, nongovernmental, and not-for-profit entity. It has submitted more than 100 reports since it was formed in 1991. Its reports during the year documented ethnically motivated attacks, clashes, and displacement.

The government was generally distrustful and wary of domestic and international human rights groups and observers, but that attitude and distrust appeared to be changing. State-controlled media were critical of international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. In August 2018 four local charities and rights organizations launched a new rights group, the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, which focuses on advocacy for human rights groups and broader space for rights-advocacy groups to operate.

In July the former diaspora-based rights group, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa, began operations in the country after registering under the new CSO law. In July the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, previously an offshore rights group, returned to the country and registered as the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy to work on rights awareness creation, monitoring and advocacy for democratization, and respect of human rights. In January the federal Charities and Societies Agency registered and licensed a newly formed local rights group, Lawyers for Human Rights.

The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and other places of detention. The government did permit the JPA-PFE to visit prisoners; this organization had an exemption enabling it to raise unlimited funds from foreign sources and to engage in human rights advocacy. Some other NGOs played a positive role in improving prisoners’ chances for clemency.

Authorities limited access of human rights organizations, media, humanitarian agencies, and diplomatic missions in certain geographic areas. The government continued to lack a clear policy on NGO access to sensitive areas, leading regional government officials and military officials frequently to refer requests for NGO access to federal government authorities. Officials required journalists to register before entering sensitive areas and in some cases denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations, in particular in locations with IDPs, for a specific period, citing security risks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints of administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices and officials, including investigation into prison conditions. The office reported to parliament that it received 853 complaints between July 2018 and January, of which 455 were outside its mandate. It opened investigations into 488 cases and found no administrative mismanagement in 262 of them. The remaining complaints were pending investigation for six months in January. Parliament’s Legal, Justice, and Democracy Affairs Standing Committee rated the performance of the office as unsatisfactory.

The EHRC conducted research on the human rights situation and investigated human rights violations in the Somali and Oromia conflicts, as well as the conflict between West Guji Zone in Oromia and the Gedeo Zone in the SNNP Region. The commission did not publicize the findings of these reports. The EHRC reported its branch office in Jijiga resumed operations in September 2018, one month after a group of youth and regional security forces attacked it during the wide-ranging violence in August 2018.

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

While the government’s political transformation contributed to a reduction in the number of deaths from engagement with government forces, violence between communities and among citizens began to rise.

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and conviction provides for a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The law generally covers violence against a marriage partner or a person cohabiting in an irregular union without specifically mentioning spousal rape. Some judges interpret this article to cover spousal rape cases, but others overlook such cases. The government did not fully enforce the law.

Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws was inconsistent. Depending on the severity of injury inflicted, penalties for conviction range from small fines to 15 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 34 percent of ever-married women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, with punishment including imprisonment and a fine, depending on the crime. The government did not actively enforce this prohibition. The 2016 DHS stated that 65 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 were subjected to FGM/C. The prevalence of FGM/C was highest in the Somali Region (99 percent) and lowest in the Tigray Region (23 percent). It was less common in urban areas. The law criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy and provides for three months’ imprisonment or a fine of at least 500 birr ($17) for perpetrators. Infibulation of the genitals (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to government sources, there had never been a criminal charge regarding FGM/C, but media reported limited application of the law.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code prescribes penalties for conviction of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce the law. Sexual harassment was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property acquired during marriage; however, enforcement of both legal provisions was uneven. Discrimination against women was widespread. It was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived.

Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by their lower levels of educational attainment and by traditional attitudes. In July parliament revised the labor law to provide for four months of maternity leave. A number of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s access to these critical economic empowerment tools.

Birth Registration: A child’s citizenship derives from the parents. The law requires registration of children at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. The government continued a campaign initiated in 2017 to increase birth registrations by advising that failure to register would result in denial of public services.

Education: The law does not make education compulsory. Primary education is universal and tuition free, but there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s children, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. The most recent data showed the net primary school enrollment rate was 90 percent for boys and 84 percent for girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk-tooth extraction were among the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for sexual violence against children. “Child-friendly” benches heard cases involving violence against children and women. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs in the EHRC and Ombudsman’s Office.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18. Authorities did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 birr ($346) for conviction of trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. Traffickers recruited girls as young as 11 to work in brothels. Young girls were trafficked from rural to urban areas and exploited as prostitutes in hotels, bars, resort towns, and rural truck stops.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly in South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.

Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets; 60,000 of them were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income exacerbated the problem. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-urban migration were adding to the problem. These children often begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector.

In July the Oromia Region Bureau of Women, Youth, and Children’s Affairs and local police reported one incident of trafficking involving 31 IDP children. During the year protection partners received other reports of child trafficking in West and East Wellega and believed that traffickers set up a network to target IDP children.

Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, 4.9 percent of the population, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Governmental and privately operated orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.

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

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the Addis Ababa Jewish community reported it felt protected by the government to practice its faith but did face limited societal discrimination.

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

The constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment and mandates access to buildings but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It is illegal for deaf persons to drive. The constitution provides: “The State shall, within available means, allocate resources to provide rehabilitation and assistance to the physically and mentally disabled, the aged, and to children who are left without parents or guardian.” This provision is under economic, social, and cultural rights, which mandates, not equal rights but allocating resources within available means.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and mandates affirmation action. It also makes employers responsible for providing appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. When a person with disability acquires the necessary qualification and has equal or close score to that of other candidates, preference shall be given to the persons with disability during hiring. It also makes employers responsible for providing reasonable accommodation, appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities.

The law provides for a fine against an employer who fails to implement the law of between 2,000 and 5,000 birr ($69 and $173), and this makes the impact of the law on prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability almost zero.

The government took limited measures to enforce the law, for example, by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing civil service employees. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission were responsible for the implementation of employment laws for individuals with disabilities.

The law obliges all public buildings to have access for persons with disabilities but has no enforcement mechanism. This provision on access to public buildings only mentions those with physical impairment; it does not mention those with intellectual or sensory impairments. The law mandates building accessibility and accessible toilet facilities for persons with physical disabilities, although without specific regulations that define accessibility standards. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not disability accessible. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and they generally did so.

According to a report from the UN Population Fund and the Population Council, one in every three girls with disabilities suffered at least one sexual assault. They also faced systematic and violent abuse at home and in their communities. The report stated many were blamed for being different and feared because they were seen to be under the spell of witchcraft.

Women with disabilities faced more disadvantages in education and employment. According to the 2010 Population Council Young Adult Survey, 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities. Girls with disabilities also were much more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse than were girls without disabilities.

Nationally there were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the nine regional states.

The labor ministry worked on disability-related problems, including ensuring impartiality in employment, provision of appropriate working conditions for public servants with disability.

The country has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, with approximately 34 percent of the population, is the largest. The federal system drew boundaries approximately along major ethnic group lines during the early years of EPRDF rule and the drafting of the current constitution. Most political parties remained primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties were coalitions of several ethnically based parties.

In January the federal attorney general filed charges against 109 individuals suspected of involvement in the ethnically motivated violence in Burayu and surrounding towns in September 2018. According to the report, police detained 81 of the suspects while continuing to search for the remaining ones.

In September 2018 unknown assailants shot and killed four security officers in the Benishangul Gumuz Region. The incident triggered identity-based attacks on ethnic-Oromo and Amhara minorities in the region’s Kamashi Zone, resulting in the deaths of at least 67 persons and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. The perpetrators reportedly carried OLF flags, but OLF officials denied any involvement in the incident.

In June police in the Amhara Region arrested Debre Markos University students suspected of killing a fellow student on May 24. According to local press, attackers beat a student from the Tigray Region to death. Both the Amhara and Tigray regional governments condemned the killing and pledged to bring all the perpetrators to justice. On June 4, an attacker killed an ethnic Amhara student from Axum University in the Tigray Region in what most assumed was retaliation for the death in Debre Markos. The Tigray regional government condemned the ethnically motivated killing and promised to do all in its capacity to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were reports of violence against LGBTI individuals, but reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals generally did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community reported surveillance and feared for their safety. There were no reports of persons incarcerated or prosecuted for engaging in same-sex sexual activities.

The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.

In May and June, Toto Tours, a Chicago-based tour company serving the LGBTI community, faced widespread backlash in the country when it advertised a 16-day “Treasures of Ethiopia” trip in October to visit a broad range of famous sites. According to the company, a flood of threats and hate messages prompted it to fill out a report on May 26 on a foreign government’s website. Average citizens called for an anti-LGBTI rally in Addis Ababa on June 9, although it did not take place. The company announced plans to cancel the tour due to the potential dangers visitors would face.

Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS continued in education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.

On February 9, armed groups from the ethnic Qimant community attacked several villages near Gondar in the Amhara Region. Amhara Region officials said the nearly 300 attackers destroyed 300 houses and killed 30 persons. The violence reportedly created 50,000 new IDPs; the Amhara regional government issued a statement claiming the number of IDPs was beyond its capacity to manage. The ENDF arrested 138 persons in Western Gondar allegedly connected to the violence. Police charged 37 suspects with killings and 101 suspects with robberies during the attack. The ENDF also seized weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, from those arrested.

Public universities witnessed violence fueled by ethnic tensions that severely interrupted the academic year in most universities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide workers, except for civil servants and certain categories of workers primarily in the public sector, with the right to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Other provisions and laws severely restrict these rights. The law specifically prohibits managerial employees, teachers, health-care workers, judges, prosecutors, security-service workers, domestic workers, and seasonal agricultural workers from organizing unions. The law requires employers guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, and they generally did so.

A minimum of 10 workers is required to form a union. While the law provides all unions with the right to register, the government may refuse to register trade unions that do not meet its registration requirements. The law allows for refusing registration for a union due to the nonpolitical criminal conviction of the union’s leader within the previous 10 years. There were no reports of a refused registration on this basis. The government may unilaterally cancel the registration of a union. Workers may not join more than one trade union per employment. The law stipulates a trade union organization may not act in an overtly political manner. The law allows administrative authorities to seek recourse via court actions to cancel union registration for engaging in prohibited activities, such as political action.

While the law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, this right was severely restricted under the law. Negotiations aimed at amending or replacing a collectively bargained agreement must take place within three months of its expiration; otherwise, the prior provisions on wages and other benefits cease to apply. The law restricts enterprise unions to negotiating wages only at the plant level. Civil servants, including public school teachers, have the right to establish and join professional associations created by the employees but may not bargain collectively. Arbitration procedures in the public sector are more restrictive than in the private sector. The law does not provide for effective and adequate sanctions against acts of interference by other agents in the establishment, functioning, or administration of either workers’ or employers’ organizations.

Although the constitution and law provide workers with the right to strike to protect their interests, the law contains detailed provisions prescribing extremely complex and time-consuming formalities that make legal strike actions prohibitively difficult. The law requires aggrieved workers to attempt to reconcile with employers before striking and includes a lengthy dispute-settlement process. These provisions apply equally to an employer’s right to lock workers out. For an authorized strike, two-thirds of the workers concerned must support such action. If not referred to a court or labor relations board, the union retains the right to strike without resorting to either of these options, provided they give at least 10 days’ notice to the other party and the labor ministry and make efforts at reconciliation.

The law also prohibits strikes by workers who provide essential services, including air transport and urban bus services, electric power suppliers, gasoline station personnel, hospital and pharmacy personnel, firefighters, telecommunications personnel, and urban sanitary workers. The list of essential services goes beyond the International Labor Organization (ILO) definition of essential services. The law prohibits retribution against strikers, but it also provides for civil or criminal penalties against unions and workers convicted of committing unauthorized strike actions. If the provisions of the penal code prescribe more severe penalties, the punishment codified in the penal code becomes applicable. Any public servant who goes on strike, who urges others to go on strike, or who fails to carry out his or her duties in a proper manner, to the prejudice of state, public, or private interest, is subject to imprisonment that involves forced labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws protecting labor rights. Despite the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, unions reported employers terminated union activists. The law prohibits retribution against strikers, but authorities arrested nine air traffic controllers for striking. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The informal labor sector, including domestic workers and seasonal agricultural workers, was not unionized or protected by labor laws. The law defines workers as persons in an employment relationship. Lack of adequate staffing prevented the government from effectively enforcing applicable laws for those sectors protected by law. Court procedures were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor officials reported that high unemployment, fear of retribution, and long delays in hearing labor cases deterred workers from participating in strikes or other labor actions.

Two-thirds of union members belonged to organizations affiliated with the government-controlled Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions. The National Teachers Union remained unregistered.

Although rarely reported, antiunion activities occurred. There were media reports that some major foreign investors generally did not allow workers to form unions, often transferred or dismissed union leaders, and intimidated and pressured members to leave unions. Lawsuits alleging unlawful dismissal often took years to resolve because of case backlogs in the courts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor but permits courts to order forced labor as a punitive measure. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred.

In 2015 the federal government enacted a comprehensive overhaul of its antitrafficking penal code. The code prescribes harsh penalties for conviction of human trafficking and exploitation, including slavery, debt bondage, forced prostitution, and servitude. The penalties served as a deterrent, especially when paired with increased law enforcement attention to the abuse. Police at the federal and regional levels received training focused on human trafficking and exploitation.

Adults and children, often under coercion, engaged in street vending, begging, traditional weaving of hand-woven textiles, or agricultural work. Children also worked in forced domestic labor. Situations of debt bondage also occurred in traditional weaving, pottery making, cattle herding, and other agricultural activities, mostly in rural areas.

The government sometimes deployed prisoners to work outside the prisons for private businesses, a practice the ILO stated could constitute compulsory labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

By law the minimum age for wage or salaried employment is 14. The minimum age provisions, however, apply only to contractual labor and do not apply to self-employed children or children who perform unpaid work, who constituted the vast majority of employed children. The law prohibits hazardous or night work for children between the ages of 14 and 18. The law defines hazardous work as any work that could jeopardize a child’s health. Prohibited work sectors include passenger transport, work in electric generation plants, factory work, underground work, street cleaning, and many other sectors. Hazardous work restrictions, however, do not cover traditional weaving, a form of work in which there is use of dangerous machinery, equipment, or tools. The law expressly excludes children younger than 16 attending vocational schools from the prohibition on hazardous work. The law does not permit children between the ages of 14 and 18 to work more than seven hours per day, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or on public holidays or rest days.

Child labor remained a serious problem (see also section 7.b.), and significant numbers of children worked in prohibited, dangerous work sectors, particularly construction.

School enrollment was low, particularly in rural areas. To reinforce the importance of attending school, joint NGO, government, and community-based awareness efforts targeted communities where children were heavily engaged in agricultural work. The government invested in modernizing agricultural practices and constructing schools to combat the problem of child labor in agricultural sectors.

In both rural and urban areas, children often began working at young ages. Child labor was particularly pervasive in subsistence agricultural production, traditional weaving, fishing, and domestic work. A growing number of children worked in construction. Children in rural areas, especially boys, engaged in activities such as cattle herding, petty trading, plowing, harvesting, and weeding, while girls collected firewood and fetched water. Children worked in the production of gold. In small-scale gold mining, they dug mining pits and carried heavy loads of water. Children in urban areas, including orphans, worked in domestic service, often for long hours, which prevented many from attending school regularly. Children also worked in manufacturing, shining shoes, making clothes, parking, public transport, petty trading, as porters, and directing customers to taxis. Some children worked long hours in dangerous environments for little or no wages and without occupational safety protection. Child laborers often faced abuse at the hands of their employers, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Traffickers exploited girls from impoverished rural areas, primarily in domestic servitude and commercial sex within the country.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin nationality, gender, marital status, religion, political affiliation, political outlook, pregnancy, socioeconomic status, disability, or “any other conditions.” The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupations, but authorities enforced these rights unevenly. The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on pregnant women and persons with disabilities. The penalty for conviction of discrimination on any of the above grounds is insufficient to deter violations. The government took limited measures to enforce the law. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status have no basis for protection under the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, who had fewer employment opportunities than did men, and the jobs available did not provide equal pay for equal work. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred against sexual orientation, gender identity, or both.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Some government institutions and public enterprises set their own minimum wages. Public-sector employees, the largest group of wage earners, earned a monthly minimum wage that was above the poverty line. Overall, the government did not effectively enforce wage laws.

The law provides for a 48-hour maximum legal workweek with a 24-hour rest period, premium pay for overtime, and prohibition of excessive compulsory overtime. Four conditions allow employers to make use of overtime work: urgency of the task, danger, absence of an employee, and lack of alternatives. Additionally, employers may not engage their employees in overtime work exceeding two hours a day, 20 hours a month, and 100 hours a year. The law entitles employees in public enterprises and government financial institutions to overtime pay; civil servants receive compensatory time off for overtime work.

The government, industries, and unions negotiated occupational safety and health standards, which do not fully address worker safety in many industries. Workers specifically excluded by law from unionizing, including domestic workers and seasonal agricultural workers, generally did not benefit from health and safety regulations in the workplace.

The labor ministry’s inspection department was responsible for enforcement of workplace standards. Occupational safety and health measures were not effectively enforced. The ministry carried out regular labor inspections to monitor compliance, but the government had an inadequate number of labor inspectors to enforce the law. The ministry’s severely limited administrative capacity; lack of an effective mechanism for receiving, investigating, and tracking allegations of violations; and lack of detailed, sector-specific health and safety guidelines hampered effective enforcement of these standards. In 2018 the ministry completed 46,000 inspections, and it was clear that responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with labor inspectors.

Only a small percentage of the population, concentrated in urban areas, was involved in wage-labor employment. Wages in the informal sector generally were below subsistence levels.

Compensation, benefits, and working conditions of seasonal agricultural workers were far below those of unionized permanent agricultural employees. The government did little to enforce the law. Most employees in the formal sector worked a 39-hour workweek. Many foreign, migrant, and informal laborers worked more than 48 hours per week.

Hazardous working conditions existed in the agricultural sector, which was the primary base of the country’s economy. There were also reports of hazardous and exploitative working conditions in the construction and industrial sectors, although data on deaths and injuries were not available.

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in 2016 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; violence against journalists including assaults, death threats and one journalist shot and killed; censorship of a free press including arrests and the closure of two radio stations for ostensible licensing irregularities; corruption in all branches of government; crimes of violence against women and girls, to which government negligence significantly contributed; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and forced child labor.

The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. This included the passage and signing into law in May of the Right to Information Bill that seeks to improve governmental accountability and transparency. Impunity remained a problem, however.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: From January 2018 to May 2019, there were at least 11 cases of attacks on journalists. In March 2018 police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. One year later, in March, the journalist’s company, Multimedia Group Limited, filed a lawsuit against the inspector general of police and attorney general for 10 million Ghanaian cedis ($1.9 million) in compensatory damages for the assault. Civil society organizations and law enforcement authorities worked to develop a media-police relations framework to address the increasingly contentious relationship between the entities.

In January unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent undercover journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale, following reports from 2018 that a member of parliament had publicly criticized Hussein-Suale and incited violence against him. Hussein-Suale’s investigative crew had produced a film about corruption in the country’s soccer leagues, which included involvement by officials, referees, and coaches. Police questioned the parliamentarian, and reports indicated that authorities arrested several persons and subsequently granted bail. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Another investigative journalist received death threats following the release of his documentary that revealed the presence of a progovernment militia training on government property, despite the administration’s assertions it did not endorse the use of private security firms, and that the group mentioned in the documentary was a job recruitment agency, not a militia.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

In October police used water cannons and rubber bullets to stop protesting law students demanding reforms to the admissions process for the legal education system. Authorities reportedly arrested between 10 and 13 protesters and subsequently released them. The National Association of Law Students called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to “thoroughly investigate this brutal attack.”

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In a stated effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government in 2017 imposed a ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after increased reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. The ban continued during the year. Media investigations revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

Intermittent violent clashes between two factions over land in the Chereponi district displaced an estimated 2,000 residents, according to the National Disaster Management Organization (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). There were no other reports of internally displaced persons.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of October, there were 25 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported from refugee camps. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian offices in providing protection and assistance. For example, UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Commission, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrator and presumed survivors.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays.

There were reports of 287 residents of Burkina Faso (called Burkinabe), who fled insecurity, settling in Ghana’s Upper West Region and registering as asylum-seekers in 2018. During the year, according to UNHCR, there were 1,955 new arrivals from Burkina Faso. Preliminary findings from an information-gathering mission conducted by UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board indicated these asylum-seekers also fled a deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso. The government decided to conduct security checks of the Burkinabe before commencing the registration process. As of October the Ghana Refugee Board had not registered any of these Burkinabe.

News reports about the Burkinabe refugees were generally negative, particularly after police arrested a Burkinabe for possessing a loaded pistol in a Catholic church in the Upper West Region.

Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.

Durable Solutions: In 2011 nearly 18,000 residents of Cote d’Ivoire fled to the country because of political instability following Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 presidential election. As of August, UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 351 Ivoirian refugees–a slow but steady increase the agency attributed to better assistance packages and better information provided to Ivoirians about the situation in their home country. Although the government granted Ivoirian refugees prima facie refugee status during the initial stages of the emergency, by the end of 2012, the government had transitioned to individual refugee status determination for all Ivoirians entering thereafter.

In November 2018 a group of Sudanese refugees camped outside the UNHCR office in Accra for a month and a half, calling for improved assistance related to health, shelter, food, and resettlement. The population is part of a protracted backlog of cases. A decision from the Ministry of Interior regarding possible integration as a durable solution remained pending.

In 2012 UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration assisted with the voluntary repatriation of more than 4,700 Liberians from the country. Approximately 3,700 Liberians opted for local integration. UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue the Liberians passports, enabling them to subsequently receive a Ghanaian residence and work permit. In 2018 the Liberian government issued 352 passports to this population; it issued no new passports during the year, with an estimated 200 Liberians awaiting documentation. UNHCR Ghana coordinated with its office in Liberia to expedite the process. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the most recent national elections in 2016 for the executive and legislative branches. Participants ran largely peaceful campaigns, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence. Domestic and international observers assessed the elections to be transparent, inclusive and credible. Observers noted concerns over the misuse of incumbency and unequal access granted to state-owned media during the campaign, although the incumbent party still lost. There were some reports of postelection violence, including takeovers of government institutions by vigilante groups associated with the victorious New Patriotic Party (NPP).

In January violence between government security forces and alleged political vigilantes disrupted a by-election held to fill a parliamentary seat in the constituency of Ayawaso West Wuogon in Accra. Gunfire erupted near a polling station and the home of the opposition candidate, leaving 18 persons injured. The opposition candidate pulled out of the race on the day of the election in response to the incident, and the Electoral Commission (EC) subsequently announced that the NPP candidate had won the election. After the president called for a rapid inquiry into the matter, the government set up the Emile Short Commission of Inquiry to investigate the violence. In September the commission published its report online. The government agreed or partly agreed with approximately 40 percent of the recommendations. In September the president signed into law the Vigilantism and Related Offenses Act, which stipulates 10- to 15-year sentences for anyone convicted of soliciting or engaging in political vigilante activity.

The June 2018 ouster of the electoral commission chairperson and the president’s subsequent filling of the EC with persons considered to be biased in favor of the ruling party raised questions about whether the body might be used to stifle voter registration in areas of opposition support. The EC’s efforts to register voters and conduct a December 2018 referendum on new regions met with mixed reactions and some allegations of malpractice. Technical challenges hampered the EC’s limited voter registration campaign.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, held fewer leadership positions than men, and female political figures faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that fear of insults, questions about physical safety, and overall negative societal attitudes toward female politicians hindered women from entering politics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, and various reputable national and international surveys, such as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and Afrobarometer, highlighted the prevalence of corruption in the country. In October Transparency International scored the country’s defense sector as being at “very high risk” for corruption, attributed in part to the fact that, despite robust legal frameworks, opacity and lack of implementation of oversight tools weakened protections against corruption.

As of September the CHRAJ had undertaken investigations for 19 cases of corruption, and taken decisions on them for appropriate action.

Following months of advocacy by civil society groups, in March Parliament passed the Right to Information Bill, which had languished for 20 years. In May the president signed it into law, with implementation expected to begin in January 2020. The law is intended to foster more transparency and accountability in public affairs.

In December 2018 the country launched the National Anticorruption online Reporting Dashboard, an online reporting tool for the coordination of all anticorruption efforts of various bodies detailed in the National Anticorruption Action Plan. A total of 169 governmental and nongovernmental organizations have used it to report on various efforts to stem corruption in the country.

Corruption: Authorities suspended the CEO of the Public Procurement Authority in August after a report by an investigative journalist revealed that he awarded contracts to companies he owned or worked with. The president filed a petition with the CHRAJ, requesting it investigate possible breaches of conflict of interest by the CEO. The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) also investigated.

According to the government’s Economic and Organized Crime Office as well as Corruption Watch, a campaign steered by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, the country lost 9.7 billion cedis ($1.9 billion) to corruption between 2016 and 2018 in five controversial government contracts with private entities. In October deputy commissioner of the CHRAJ stated that 20 percent of the national budget and 30 percent of all procurement done by the state were lost to corruption annually.

There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police.

In 2017 the government established the OSP to investigate and prosecute corruption-related crimes. More than one year after being sworn into office the special prosecutor initiated some investigations but was criticized for lack of action. In the yearly budget the government allocated 180 million cedis ($34.6 million) to the OSP, but only disbursed half. Lack of office space remained a serious constraint on staffing the OSP.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution’s code of conduct for public officers establishes an income and asset declaration requirement for the head of state, ministers, cabinet members, members of parliament, and civil servants. All elected and some appointed public officials are required to make these declarations every four years and before leaving office. The CHRAJ commissioner has authority to investigate allegations of noncompliance with the law regarding asset declaration and take “such action as he considers appropriate.” Financial disclosures remain confidential unless requested through a court order. Observers criticized the financial disclosure regulation, noting that infrequent filing requirements, exclusion of filing requirements for family members of public officials, lack of public transparency, and absence of consequences for noncompliance undermined its effectiveness.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to the views of such groups. The government actively engaged civil society and the United Nations in preparation for the country’s third Universal Periodic Review in 2017.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHRAJ, which mediated and settled cases brought by individuals against government agencies or private companies, operated with no overt interference from the government; however, since it is itself a government institution, some critics questioned its ability independently to investigate high-level corruption. Its biggest obstacle was lack of adequate funding, which resulted in low salaries, poor working conditions, and the loss of many of its staff to other governmental organizations and NGOs. As of October the CHRAJ had 111 offices across the country, with a total of 696 staff members. Public confidence in the CHRAJ was high, resulting in an increased workload for its staff.

The Office of the IGP and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women but not spousal rape. Sexual assault on a male can be charged as indecent assault. Prison sentences for those convicted of rape range from five to 25 years, while indecent assault is a misdemeanor subject to a minimum term of imprisonment of six months. Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems.

In February traditional authorities in the Central Region punished a man who allegedly raped a woman. Under customary procedures, they fined him three sheep and six bottles of schnapps for having sex in a cemetery with her, to avert, they said, a curse on the community and the suspect’s family. Police later arrested the suspect under a formal rape charge, and he received bail while awaiting trial.

The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Commission, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, including the absence of private rooms to speak with victims, hindered the full application of the Domestic Violence Act. Pervasive cultural beliefs in female roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence.

Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills and shelter facilities to assist victims. Few of the cases wherein police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate training on investigatory techniques, police prosecutor case mismanagement, and, according to the DOVVSU, lack of resources on the part of victims and their families to pursue cases. There was one NGO-operated designated shelter to which police could refer victims. In cases deemed less severe, victims were returned to their homes, otherwise, the DOVVSU contacted NGOs to identify temporary stays. Authorities reported officers occasionally had no alternative but to shelter victims in their own residences until other arrangements could be made.

The DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. It had one clinical psychologist to assist domestic violence victims. The DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. The DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and SGBV, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.

In November DOVVSU commemorated the 20th anniversary of the unit’s establishment through a four-day program of events and activities that emphasized their work to support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Key program participants and panelists included representatives from government institutions, NGOs, and international organizations; and the Second Lady of Ghana Samira Bawumia delivered the keynote address.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than 18. Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), women in rural areas were subjected to FGM/C three times more often than women in urban areas (3.6 percent compared with 1.2 percent).

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. In the Northern, North East, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, families or traditional authorities banished rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” to “witch camps.” Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which families sometimes sent persons with mental illness to seek spiritual healing. Most of those accused of witchcraft were older women, often widows. Some persons suspected to be witches were also killed. According to an antiwitchcraft accusation coalition, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000-2,500 adult women and 1,000-1,200 children. One camp had seen its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. According to officials, one other camp was closed following the successful reintegration of 37 women. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not do so effectively.

The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the North, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, widows are required to undergo certain indigenous rites to mourn or show devotion for the deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas, women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, government contacts indicated that children would not be denied access to education on the basis of documentation. The country’s 2016 automated birth registration system aims at enhancing the ease and reliability of registration. According to the MICS, birth registration increases with levels of education and wealth and is more prevalent in urban centers than in rural areas.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. In September 2017 the government began phasing in a program to provide tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, beginning with first-year students. Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than 16 with or without consent, incest, and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. In July 2018 the Ghana Education Service fired four high school teachers in the Ashanti Region for sexually assaulting some students, although four other teachers in the same region were kept on the payroll but transferred to other schools. The DOVVSU’s Central Regional Office in 2018 reported a 28 percent increase in reported cases of sexual abuse of girls younger than 16. According to the GPS, reports of adults participating in sexual relations with minors rose by almost 26 percent in 2017, with the highest number of cases reported in Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely were able to effectively respond to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect.

Media reported several cases of child abuse throughout the year. In January police arrested a woman for wounding her five-year-old stepson with a machete and allowing the wound to fester until his hand required amputation. A local NGO donated 5,000 cedis ($1,000) to support the boy.

In August the press reported that a man appeared before court for having sexual relations with his daughter from age nine to 14. In September press reported that another nine-year-old girl, taken to different hospitals for her deteriorating health, had allegedly been sexually assaulted by her grandfather.

In February Child Rights International (CRI) noted a surge in child abuse cases in the country. CRI reported that the lack of proper documentation and presentation of issues of child abuse cases largely affected the outcomes of cases within the country’s judicial system.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18. The law makes forcing a child to marry punishable by a fine, one year’s imprisonment, or both. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the five northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. Through September the CHRAJ had received 18 cases of early or forced marriage. According to the MICS, child marriage is highest in Northern, North East, Upper East, Savannah, and Volta regions; lowest in Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Ahafo regions.

In January the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) reported child marriage and gender-based violence against girls in schools were prevalent in the Kadjebi District in the Volta Region, with most cases of child marriage occurring in predominantly Muslim communities. AWLA recognized that child marriage occurred in all regions in the country.

The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry launched the first National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26). The framework prioritizes interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address issues of neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society stakeholders, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit also created a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, distributing 6,000 copies throughout the country, and created social media accounts to try to reach wider audiences.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16, and participating in sexual activities with anyone under this age is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to 5,000 penalty units (60,000 cedis or $11,500), or both.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region kill “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who are suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness about causes and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing.

Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children often had to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child sexual exploitation and the school dropout rate. Girls were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation while living on the streets.

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

The Jewish community has a few hundred members. 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 law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and protects the rights of persons with disabilities’ access to health services, information, communications, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to public spaces with “appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability,” but inaccessibility to schools and public buildings continued to be a problem. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf. As of November the government hired 80 persons with disabilities through the Nation Builders Corps, an initiative to address graduate unemployment. Overall, however, few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities in the formal sector.

In January the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations reported that women with disabilities faced multifaceted discrimination in areas of reproductive health care, and because of the mistreatment, they were unwilling in most cases to visit a health facility for medical care.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Authorities did not regularly investigate and punish violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them.

In February laborers rescued a two-and-half-year-old boy with cerebral palsy buried alive in an uncompleted building in a suburb of Cape Coast in the Central Region. Local residents believed his parents may have buried him because of his disability.

The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.

Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for days, and physically assaulted. Officials took few steps to implement a 2012 law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority. The Ministry of Health discontinued data collection on persons with disabilities in 2011. Human Rights Watch reported in October 2018 that it found more than 140 persons with real or perceived mental health disabilities detained in unsanitary, congested conditions at a prayer camp. In December 2018 the Mental Health Authority released guidelines for traditional and faith-based healers as part of efforts to ensure that practitioners respect the rights of patients with mental disabilities.

In February at a political event the president said that “only those who are blind or deaf” would not be aware of the work done by the government. Following criticism from the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations, he apologized “for any unintended slight from the ‘political metaphor.’” The president of the Ghana Blind Union said nevertheless such comments impeded efforts to end stigmatization of persons with disabilities.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. In June 2018, following his visit to the country in April, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted that stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons made it difficult for them to find work and become productive members of the community. According to a 2018 survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals. As of September the CHRAJ had received 34 reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTI persons also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons. While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons during the year, stigma, intimidation, and the attitude of the police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.

In August LGBTI activists reported police abuse involving a young gay man robbed en route to meet a person he met on a dating site. When the man reported the incident to police, they took him briefly into custody because he mentioned to them that he was gay. Amnesty International reported in 2018 that authorities conducted involuntary medical tests on two young men who were allegedly found having sex.

Some activists reported that police attitudes were slowly changing, with community members feeling more comfortable with certain police officers to whom they could turn for assistance, such as the IGP-appointed uniformed liaison officers. Activists also cited improved CHRAJ-supported activities, such as awareness raising via social media. As one example, the CHRAJ published announcements about citizen rights and proper channels to report abuses on an LGBTI dating site. A leading human rights NGO held a legal education workshop for law enforcement for the first time in the conservative Northern Region.

A coalition of LGBTI-led organizations from throughout the country, officially registered in November 2018, held its first general assembly in September. Its objectives included building members’ capacity, assisting with their access to resources and technical support, and fostering networking.

Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on these issues because of the topic’s social and political sensitivity. Speaker of Parliament Mike Oquaye said in October LGBTI persons should not be killed or abused, but rather should be handled medically or psychologically. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin said in a radio interview in April 2018 that “Homosexuality is worse than [an] atomic bomb” and “there is no way we will accept it in (this) country.” President Akufo-Addo delivered remarks in April 2018 at an evangelical gathering where he assured the audience, “This government has no plans to change the law on same-sex marriage.” Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.

In a September 27 radio program, an executive of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values asserted that the Comprehensive Sexuality Education program, developed by education authorities in partnership with the United Nations, had a “clear LGBT agenda,” sparking an anti-LGBT backlash as religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, vehemently voiced their opposition to the educational proposal. The issue prompted President Akufo-Addo to assure them that government would not introduce a policy that is “inappropriate.”

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma surrounding the disease, as well as a fear that men getting tested would immediately be labeled as gay, continued to discourage persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and many of those who tested positive from seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. As of September the CHRAJ received two cases of discrimination based on HIV status. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing and treatment for citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to respect confidentiality.

A 2016 law penalizes discrimination against a person infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS by a fine of 100 to 500 penalty units (1,200 cedi to 6,000 cedis, or $230 to $1,150), imprisonment for 18 months to three years, or both. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV/AIDS and those suspected of having HIV/AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment/work, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV/AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.

In April the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) raised concerns about how high stigma and discrimination contribute to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. GAC cited the Bono, Bono East, and Ahafo regions where, because of fear of stigma, sexually active persons did not use free HIV/AIDS voluntary counseling and testing to ascertain their status and help prevent the spread of the virus. GAC noted a growing population of female sex workers in the regions, and other experts reported that persons in rural areas mostly had unprotected sex.

Chieftaincy disputes, which frequently resulted from lack of a clear chain of succession, competing claims over land and other natural resources, and internal rivalries and feuds, continued to result in deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. According to the West Africa Center for Counter Extremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest sources of insecurity and instability in the country.

The 17-year-old contested leadership succession for the Dagbon traditional area, one of Ghana’s most prominent and long-running chieftaincy disputes, was peacefully resolved in January.

Throughout the year disputes continued between Fulani herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. Clashes erupted intermittently between two factions over land in the Chereponi district, killing three persons and displacing almost 2,000 residents, according to the National Disaster Management Organization. Police and military deployed personnel to the township.

There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Community members often saw such vigilantism as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing the police and judicial sectors. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The Ghana Labor Act provides for the right of workers–except for members of the armed forces, police, the Ghana Prisons Service, and other security and intelligence agency personnel–to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law requires trade unions or employers’ organizations to obtain a certificate of registration and be authorized by the chief labor officer, who is an appointed government official. Union leaders reported that fees for the annual renewal of trade union registration and collective bargaining certificates were exorbitant and possibly legally unenforceable.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but restricts that right for workers who provide “essential services.” Workers in export processing zones are not subject to these restrictions. The minister of employment and labor relations designated a list of essential services, which included many sectors that fell outside of the essential services definition set by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The list included services carried out by utility companies (water, electricity, etc.), ports and harbors, medical centers, and the Bank of Ghana. These workers have the right to bargain collectively. In these sectors parties to any labor disputes are required to resolve their differences within 72 hours. The right to strike can also be restricted for workers in private enterprises whose services are deemed essential to the survival of the enterprise by a union and an employer. A union may call a legal strike only if the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or if the dispute remains unresolved at the end of arbitration proceedings. Additionally, the Emergency Powers Act of 1994 grants authorities the power to suspend any law and prohibit public meetings and processions, but the act does not apply to labor disputes.

The Ghana Labor Act provides a framework for collective bargaining. A union must obtain a collective bargaining certificate from the chief labor officer in order to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of a class of workers. In cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise, the majority or plurality union will receive the certificate but must consult with or, where appropriate, invite other unions to participate in negotiations. The certificate holder generally includes representatives from the smaller unions. Workers in decision-making or managerial roles are not provided the right to collective bargaining under the Labor Act, but they may join unions and enter into labor negotiations with their employers.

The National Labor Commission is a government body with the mandate of ensuring employers and unions comply with labor law. It also serves as a forum for arbitration in labor disputes.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides reinstatement for workers dismissed under unfair pretenses. It protects trade union members and their officers against discrimination if they organize.

The government generally protected the right to form and join independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. Although the Labor Act makes specified parties liable for violations, specific penalties are not set forth. An employer who resorts to an illegal lockout is required to pay the workers’ wages. Some instances of subtle employer interference in union activities occurred. Many unions did not follow approved processes for dealing with disputes, reportedly due to the perceived unfair and one-sided application of the law against the unions. The process is often long and cumbersome, with employers generally taking action when unions threaten to withdraw their services or declare a strike. The National Labor Commission faced obstacles in enforcing applicable sanctions against both unions and employers, including limited ability to enforce its mandate and insufficient oversight.

Trade unions engaged in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. No union completed the dispute resolution process involving arbitration, and there were numerous unsanctioned strikes during the year.

In March 2018 miners at a Tarkwa mine went on strike after their company announced that 2,150 workers would face retrenchment. The Ghana Mineworkers Union (GNWU) called for a series of sympathy strikes. The military used pepper spray and tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse strikers; some strikers were reportedly beaten, and one was hit by a bullet and hospitalized, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. The GNWU claimed that the retrenchments did not follow labor laws or the collective bargaining agreements signed by the union and the mining company. The case was heard by the High Court in Accra, which did not rule in GNWU’s favor; GNWU’s appeal was pending at year’s end.

In June 2018 workers at a pharmaceutical firm went on strike after the company locked them out for attempting to unionize. Workers wanted to create a union to address welfare concerns.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government increased the level of funding and staffing dedicated to combatting human trafficking but did not provide sufficient funding to fully enforce the law. In February the government’s Human Trafficking Secretariat opened the first shelter for adult victims of trafficking.

There were reports of forced labor affecting both children and adults in the fishing sector, as well as forced child labor in informal mining, agriculture, domestic labor, porterage, begging, herding, quarrying, and hawking (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government did not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 15, or 13 for light work unlikely to be harmful to a child or to affect the child’s attendance at school. The law prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those younger than 18 and provides for fines and imprisonment for violators. The law allows for children age 15 and above to have an apprenticeship under which craftsmen and employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment along with training and tools.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations were responsible for enforcing child labor regulations. The government, however, did not carry out these efforts, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The ILO, government representatives, the Trades Union Congress, media, international organizations, and NGOs continued efforts to increase institutional capacity to combat child labor.

The government continued to work closely with NGOs, labor unions, and the cocoa industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Through these partnerships the government created several community projects, which promoted awareness-raising, monitoring, and livelihood improvement.

In February 2018 the government approved the National Plan of Action Phase II on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (NPA2). The NPA2 aims to reduce the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor to 10 percent by 2021, and specifically targets the cocoa, fishing, and mining sectors.

Authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively or consistently. Law enforcement officials, including judges, police, and labor officials, were sometimes unfamiliar with the provisions of the law that protected children.

Children as young as four were subjected to forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and mining industries, including artisanal gold mines, and as domestic laborers, porters, hawkers, and quarry workers. One child protection and welfare NGO estimated traffickers subjected 100,000 children to forced child labor. NGOs estimate that almost one-half of trafficked children worked in the Volta Region where, in the fishing industry, they engaged in hazardous work, such as diving into deep waters to untangle fishing nets caught on submerged tree roots. The government does not legally recognize working underwater as a form of hazardous work. Officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development received training as part of a strategy to combat child labor and trafficking in the fisheries sector.

Child labor continued to be prevalent in artisanal mining (particularly illegal small-scale mining), fetching firewood, bricklaying, food service and cooking, and collecting fares. Children in small-scale mining reportedly crushed rocks, dug in deep pits, carried heavy loads, operated heavy machinery, sieved stones, and amalgamated gold with mercury.

Child labor was present in cocoa harvesting. Children engaged in cocoa harvesting often used sharp tools to clear land and collect cocoa pods, carried heavy loads, and were exposed to agrochemicals, including toxic pesticides. The government did not legally recognize this type of work in agriculture, including in cocoa, as hazardous work for children.

Child laborers were often poorly paid and physically abused, and they received little or no health care. According to the MICS, one in every five children between the ages of five and 17 is engaged in hazardous working conditions, and there were no significant disparities between boys and girls.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on discrimination. The law stipulates that an employer cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of several categories, including gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, social or economic status, or disability, whether that person is already employed or seeking employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, HIV-positive persons, and LGBTI persons (see section 6). For example, reports indicated few companies were willing to offer reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. Many companies ignored or turned down such individuals who applied for jobs. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance persisted to women entering nontraditional fields and accessing education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A national tripartite committee composed of representatives of the government, labor, and employers set a minimum wage. The minimum wage exceeds the government’s poverty line. Many companies did not comply with the new law. The maximum workweek is 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers are entitled to at least 15 working days of leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. These provisions, however, did not apply to piece workers, domestic workers in private homes, or others working in the informal sector. The law does not prescribe overtime rates and does not prohibit excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health regulations. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. This legislation covers only workers in the formal sector, which employed approximately 10 percent of the labor force. In practice, few workers felt free to exercise this right.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations was unable to enforce the wage law effectively. The government also did not effectively enforce health and safety regulations, which are set by a range of agencies in the various industries, including but not limited to the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Roads Safety Commission, and Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission. The law reportedly provided inadequate coverage to workers due to its fragmentation and limited scope. There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal economy across all sectors. The minimum wage law was not enforced in the informal sector. Legislation governing working hours applies to both formal and informal sectors. It was largely followed in the formal sector but widely flouted and not enforced in the informal sector.

The government did not employ sufficient labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors were poorly trained and did not respond to violations effectively. Inspectors did not impose sanctions and were unable to provide data as to how many violations they responded to during the year. In most cases inspectors gave advisory warnings to employers, with deadlines for taking corrective action. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance.

Approximately 90 percent of the working population was employed in the informal sector, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2015 Labor Force Report, including small to medium-scale businesses such as producers, wholesale and retail traders, and service providers made up of contributing family workers, casual wageworkers, home-based workers, and street vendors. Most of these workers were self-employed.

Sixteen persons died in a mine explosion in January. Thirteen workers suffered electric shock and three were electrocuted when erecting a billboard that fell on a cable.

In March the High Court in Accra ordered a mining company to pay more than 9 million cedis ($1.7 million) in damages in a case concerning the drowning of an employee in 2015. The court found gross negligence on the part of the company for failing to meet health and safety standards.

India

Executive Summary

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

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

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police; torture by prison officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners in certain states; restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech, censorship, and site blocking; overly restrictive rules on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); frequent reports of widespread corruption at all levels of government; violence and discrimination targeting minorities based on religious affiliation or social status; and forced and compulsory child labor, including bonded labor.

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

Separatist insurgents and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, and recruited and used child soldiers.

On August 5, the government announced major changes to the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, converting the state into two separate union territories. In the ensuing security crackdown, authorities detained thousands of residents, including local political leaders; shut down mobile and internet services; and imposed restrictions on movement. As of December the government had taken steps to restore normalcy, including partial restoration of telephone and mobile services, but had not yet announced a timeline for local assembly elections.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, although there were several instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of extremists perpetrating acts of killing, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to HRW, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were used to prosecute citizens who criticized government officials or opposed state policies. In certain cases, local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views. Freedom House, in its most recent report, asserted that freedom of expression was weakening in the country and noted the government’s silence regarding direct attacks on free speech. The report stated authorities have used security, defamation, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices in media outlets. In some instances the government reportedly withheld public-sector advertising from media outlets that criticized the government, causing some outlets to practice self-censorship.

On January 10, Assam’s prominent academic Hiren Gohain, activist Akhil Gogoi, and journalist Manjit Mahanta were arrested in Guwahati and charged with sedition for their comments during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. On January 11, Gohan and Gogoi were awarded interim bail, and Mahanta was awarded absolute bail. On February 15, Gohan and Gogoi were given absolute bail. Gogoi was later arrested on December 10 while protesting the enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act; his case was referred to the National Investigation Agency for sedition, criminal conspiracy, unlawful association, and assertions prejudicial to national integration.

On March 10, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals joined a protest in Kolkata against the “unofficial ban” on the Bengali feature film Bhabishyater Bhoot (Spirits of the Future), a political satire by director Anik Datta. Media reported that two days after the film’s release on February 15, most cinema halls in West Bengal refused to screen the film, citing unofficial pressure from authorities. The government’s film certification board had already cleared the film. Following an April 11 Supreme Court order, the West Bengal government paid a fine of two million rupees ($30,000) to the film’s producer.

On April 28, police in Andhra Pradesh’s Vijayawada prevented film director Ram Gopal Varma from addressing a press conference in the city to promote his movie, Lakshmis NTR, which portrays the life of former state chief minister N.T. Rama Rao. Varma alleged that police acted under pressure from the ruling Telugu Desam Party, which opposed the movie’s release during national elections. Police claimed that Varma was not allowed to address a press conference as prohibitory orders were in force during the conduct of the elections.

In late April, BJP Party workers in Assam allegedly attacked journalists in the Nalbari, Tinsukia, and Jorhat Districts when the journalists were covering the national elections. On May 6, Trinamool Congress Party workers in West Bengal allegedly attacked journalists covering elections in several locations.

On July 21, Tamil Nadu police arrested a 24-year-old man in Nagapattinam District for consuming beef soup in a Facebook posting. Police filed charges against him for disturbing peace and communal harmony. Four others were arrested on July 11 for allegedly attacking the accused but were later granted bail.

On July 28, two men shot and killed Pradeep Mandal, a journalist with Hindi daily Dainik Jagran in Bihar’s Madhubani town. Media outlets reported that he was targeted for exposing bootleggers’ syndicates in the state. Bihar has imposed a prohibition on the sale and consumption of liquor.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.

According to several journalists, press freedom declined during the year. There were several reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials, both at the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and, in some areas, blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement. Several journalists reported that the heavy deployment of security forces, accompanied by a communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir from early August, severely hampered the freedom of the press in Jammu and Kashmir. Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of the Srinagar-based newspaper the Kashmir Times, filed a petition in the Supreme Court in August stating that journalists were not allowed to move freely in Jammu and Kashmir. The petition also claimed the intimidation of journalists by the government and security forces. On September 1, authorities stopped another Kashmiri journalist, Gowhar Geelani, from flying to Germany to participate in a program organized by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index identified physical attacks on journalists and “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks” as major areas of concern. Harassment and violence against journalists were particularly acute for non-English language journalists, those in rural areas, and female journalists. Journalists working in “sensitive” areas, including Jammu and Kashmir, continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions, and local affiliates reported increased fears of violence. Attacks on journalists by supporters of Hindu nationalist groups increased prior to the May national elections, according to the report. Reports of self-censorship due to fear of official or public reprisal were common, including the use of Section 124a of the penal code, which includes sedition punishable by life imprisonment.

The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions. The guild separately called for authorities to restore communications in Jammu and Kashmir, where a prolonged communications shutdown limited media freedom.

On July 12, Hyderabad police arrested journalist Revathi Pogadadanda, reportedly in connection with a six-month-old case registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Police allegedly did not produce an arrest warrant at the time of arrest and released her on bail a week later. Pogadadanda alleged her arrest was part of the government’s vindictive action against her mentor and senior journalist Ravi Prakash, who had published two interviews online accusing the Telangana chief minister, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao, and a prominent industrialist, P.V. Krishna Reddy, of corruption in a multimillion dollar public transport scam. On October 5, Prakash was arrested on allegations of corporate fraud. The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced both arrests.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were some accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material that government censors deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media organizations being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists. According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, at least six journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018.

On April 8, the Manipur High Court ordered the release of television journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem. Police arrested Wangkhem in November 2018 under the National Security Act for criticizing the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his social media posts.

On May 26, the Bengaluru police filed a “first information report”–a report prepared by police upon first receipt of information of a possible crime–against Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of Kannada daily Vishwavani, for allegedly publishing derogatory remarks against K. Nikhil, son of then Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. Police did not make any arrests.

On May 29, six unidentified persons grievously injured journalist Pratap Patra in Balasore District of Odisha. Patra alleged he was attacked after publishing an investigative article on May 8 against a local sand miner, who had been illegally quarrying sand. The article led authorities to levy a fine of 1.6 million rupees ($23,000) on the sand-mining company. Police arrested three individuals on June 2.

On June 8, Uttar Pradesh police arrested and filed criminal charges against a freelance journalist for allegedly posting a video of a woman claiming to be in a relationship with state chief minister Yogi Adityanath. On June 11, the Supreme Court ordered the release of the journalist and chastised the Uttar Pradesh government for the arrest.

Online and mobile harassment was especially prevalent, and incidents of internet “trolling,” or making deliberately offensive or provocative online posts with the aim of upsetting someone, continued to rise. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public- and national-interest provisions under Article 19 of the constitution.

A right to information response by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in 2017 revealed that at least 20,030 websites were blocked at that time. The government proposed rules in February that would give it broad latitude to demand content removal from social media sites, which civil society organizations felt could be used to stifle free speech.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to be charged with posting offensive or derogatory material on social media.

Several individuals in Telangana were either arrested or disciplined during the year for making or posting critical comments through videos and social media platforms about Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao and other leaders of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi Party. On April 24, Telangana police arrested Thagaram Naveen for producing and sharing a derogatory video about Rao. On April 30, Hyderabad police arrested Chirpa Naresh for posting abusive comments and sharing morphed images of Rao and then member of parliament K. Kavitha.

On May 25, police arrested tribal rights activist and academic Jeetrai Hansda for a Facebook post defending his community’s right to eat beef. Hansda was arrested in response to a complaint filed in 2017 by the Hindu nationalist students’ organization ABVP under charges that he violated sections of the Indian Penal Code that govern insults to religious feelings and attempts to promote enmity between groups of people.

On August 14, police in Assam registered a complaint against Gauhati University research scholar Rehana Sultana over a two-year-old Facebook post, allegedly about the consumption of beef. According to media reports, police took note after the two-year-old post resurfaced.

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. In August 2018 numerous outlets reported that the Indian Department of Telecom was seeking the views of telecom companies, industry associations, and other stakeholders on ways to block mobile apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Instagram, “in cases where national security or public order are under threat.”

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, and censorship of online content. There were also reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government continued to block telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions, often during periods of political unrest.

In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media, but it upheld the government’s authority to issue orders to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. In 2017 the Ministry of Communications announced Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules allowing the government to shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” According to these rules, an order for suspension could be made by a “competent authority” at either the federal or state level.

According to NGO Software Freedom Law Center, the central and state governments shut down the internet in different locations 134 times in 2018, the highest annual figure ever recorded. The NGO also reported that, through August, the central and state governments on 77 occasions temporarily shut down the internet in different locations across the country. The government continued to block telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest. In February mobile internet connections were blocked for four days in Manipur after protests occurred in the state. Landline connections remained offline for more than one month in parts of the state, while mobile telephone, mobile data, and internet connections took longer to be restored. The government frequently curtailed internet access during periods of violence and curfew in Jammu and Kashmir and occasionally in other parts of the country, particularly Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. In December, in response to protests concerning the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, internet shutdowns were again used throughout the country. NGOs maintained that local officials often used Section 144 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure that empowers authorities to maintain public peace and stability, as the legal basis for internet shutdowns.

From August to mid-October, the government imposed severe restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir, citing security concerns. On August 4, the government suspended all communications, including internet, mobile telephones, and landlines, across Jammu and Kashmir. Several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court protesting the government’s actions, including a plea by social activist Tehseen Poonawalla, who maintained that the communications shutdown amounted to a suspension of freedom of speech and deprivation of personal liberty under the constitution. On August 13, the Supreme Court granted the government additional time to keep the restrictions in place, noting that the situation was “sensitive.” NGOs maintained that the suspension of communications adversely affected the daily lives of residents, preventing them from reaching loved ones and accessing health care as well as causing financial stress to businesses reliant upon it. Landlines were restored in September. On October 14, postpaid mobile telephone access was restored; government authorities noted text messaging would be restored on January 1. Prepaid mobile telephones and the internet mostly remained blocked.

NGOs asserted that this approach bypassed some safeguards in the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, including oversight by a review committee. A UNESCO report stated that one-half of the shutdowns were reported from Jammu and Kashmir, where in the first four months of the year, there were 25 reported cases of internet shutdown.

Requests for user data from internet companies continued to rise. According to Facebook’s transparency report, the government made 37,385 data requests in 2018, a 70 percent rise from 2017. Google also highlighted an increase in government requests for user data in its 2018 Transparency Report, receiving 24,404 user-data disclosure requests. Twitter reported 777 account information requests from the government during the same period.

In its Freedom in the World 2019 country report for India, Freedom House noted that central and state governments frequently suspended mobile internet services to curb collective action by citizens. NGOs also asserted that the legal basis for internet shutdowns was not always clear, creating issues of accountability and legal remedy.

Press outlets reported several instances in which individuals were arrested or detained for online activity. In January an Indian politician from Tamil Nadu was arrested for posting an altered picture of Prime Minister Modi with a begging bowl. Several media outlets reported on a spate of arrests of individuals in connection with social media posts following the February 14 attack on Indian troops in Pulwama District in Jammu and Kashmir. Press outlets reported that police continued to arrest individuals under section 66A of the Information Technology Act for sending offensive messages, despite a Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute.

The Central Monitoring System (CMS) continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private emails and mobile phone text messages, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on search engines, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The law governing interception and monitoring provides an oversight mechanism to prevent unauthorized interceptions. Punishment for unauthorized interception includes fines, a maximum prison sentence of three years, or both.

The government occasionally applied restrictions on the travel and activities of visiting foreign experts and scholars. Academics continued to face threats and pressure for expressing controversial views.

On April 3, Odisha Tourism Department authorities canceled a book reading session by noted historian William Dalrymple, which was originally scheduled for April 5-8 at the Mukteswar heritage temple in Bhubaneswar. The cancellation followed a police complaint filed by a Hindu nationalist who claimed that the reading would hurt the sentiments of Hindus. The activist, Anil Dhir, alleged that ritualistic worship happens in the temple, and it would hurt the sentiments of Hindus if the temple were “misused.” Police, however, cited the ongoing elections and enforcement of a model code of conduct as justification for canceling the event.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly occasionally detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Security forces, including local police, often disrupted demonstrations and reportedly used excessive force when attempting to disperse protesters.

There were sometimes restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the central government before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedoms of assembly and association.

NGO Human Rights Forum alleged that police routinely denied permission to the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist New Democracy to organize a public meeting on June 10 against the Supreme Court decision on eviction of forest dwellers. The NGO criticized police for failing to provide justification for their decision. Many indigenous persons who came to participate in the public meeting were arrested, and many others were prevented from reaching Hyderabad, the NGO alleged.

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government required “prior approval” for some NGOs to receive foreign funds, suspended foreign banking licenses, or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without the proper clearances or that mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances, the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations. Further FCRA requirements announced in September require NGOs to file an additional affidavit declaring that, among other things, the entity has not been prosecuted or convicted in engaging in propagation of sedition. The government has used sedition laws to prosecute those critical of government.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by MHA officials who they said were purportedly under pressure to demonstrate strict enforcement of the law. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on nonpublic investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.

Some NGOs alleged they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” issues, such as human rights or environmental activism. The Center for Promotion of Social Concerns and its partner program unit People’s Watch continued court proceedings against the nonrenewal of their FCRA license. In June, acting on an MHA complaint, the CBI filed a first information report against Supreme Court advocate Anand Grover and the NGO Lawyers Collective, an organization run by Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising, alleging discrepancies in the utilization of foreign funds. On July 11, the CBI accused Grover and Jaising of violating FCRA provisions and raided their home and offices. On July 25, the Bombay High Court stated the CBI allegation against Lawyers Collective–about mixing FCRA funds with domestic funding–was “vague and arbitrary,” and it directed the CBI not to take any coercive steps in relation to the first information report until August 19. Civil society groups, including HRW and the International Commission of Jurists, criticized the CBI action as “dubious” and politically motivated.

In October 2018 the Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that investigates financial crimes, raided the premises of Amnesty International India’s Bengaluru office and froze its bank accounts on suspicion it had violated foreign funding guidelines. On July 25, media outlets reported that after the completion of the directorate’s probe, the agency issued a show-cause notice to Amnesty International India for alleged contravention of Foreign Exchange Management Act provisions for an amount of more than 510 million rupees ($7 million).

Amnesty International India disputed the validity of the charges and alleged the harassment and intimidation of its staff. The 2018 raid on Amnesty came days after the Enforcement Directorate searched the premises of environmental nonprofit Greenpeace India in Bengaluru, also for allegedly violating foreign funding rules. In February a letter by three UN special rapporteurs to the government expressed serious concerns at the “smear campaign” and actions taken against Amnesty International India and Greenpeace, saying the ability to access foreign funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association.

On February 28, the government outlawed the religious-political organization Jamaat-e-Islami in Jammu and Kashmir under the UAPA for alleged support of extremism and militancy. On March 22, the government similarly banned another Kashmiri organization, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which supports the independence of the union territory. Political parties and civil society groups in the state described these bans as an attack on civil liberties.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. In 2015 the implementation of a land-boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh enfranchised more than 50,000 previously stateless residents, providing access to education and health services.

The country hosts a large refugee population, including 80,000 Tibetan refugees and approximately 95,230 refugees from Sri Lanka. The government generally allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries and Burma. In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased challenges regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits. Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, all other refugees were registered by UNHCR; however, they were not granted legal status by the government.

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The MHA and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits upon arrival when traveling to certain restricted areas.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The trend of delaying issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir continued, sometimes up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: On May 28, Assam Border Police arrested 52-year-old Mohammed Sanaullah, a war veteran and 2017 army retiree, and put him in Goalpara detention center for illegal immigrants after declaring him a foreigner following Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise. The Gauhati High Court released him on June 8.

In July a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam’s Jorhat District declared Indian Border Security Force officer Muzibur Rahman and his wife Jargin Begum as foreigners.

On December 12, the Citizenship Amendment Act received assent from the president. The act provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act makes no provision for Muslims. The act does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, wide-scale protests against its passage and exclusion of Muslims occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few reported instances.

Authorities located IDP settlements throughout the country, including those containing groups displaced by internal armed conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, Maoist-affected areas, the northeastern states (see section 1.g.), and Gujarat. Estimates from January to June suggested that conflicts and violence displaced 6,800 persons, while natural disasters displaced 2.17 million persons.

Estimating precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence was difficult, because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the issue of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs, but it had access to NGOs and human rights organizations, although neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

On July 2, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs assured the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes that the tribal persons displaced from Chhattisgarh due to Maoist violence would be provided land in other states, but the land would be provided only after the ministry completed a comprehensive survey and verified identification of all IDPs. According to the Raipur-based NGO CGNet Swara Foundation, approximately 30,000 tribal persons were displaced from Chhattisgarh and were living mainly in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees like any other foreigners. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to forced returns and abuse. The country has historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases coming before them.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and early and forced marriage also continued. According to NGOs, gender-based violence and sexual abuse were prevalent in the Sri Lankan refugee camps. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations, such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

NGOs observed an increase in antirefugee (specifically anti-Rohingya) rhetoric throughout the year in advance of state and national elections, which reportedly led to an increased sense of insecurity in refugee communities. In October 2018 the Supreme Court rejected a plea to stop the deportation of seven Rohingya immigrants from Assam. The court noted the individuals, held in an Assam jail since 2012, were arrested by Indian authorities as illegal immigrants and that Burma was ready to accept them as their nationals. According to media reports, the nationality of the immigrants was confirmed after the Burmese government verified their addresses in Rakhine State. Rights groups said the government’s decision to deport them placed them at risk of oppression and abuse. According to HRW, the government deported the seven ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Burma where “they are at grave risk of oppression and abuse.” HRW further noted, “The Indian government has disregarded its long tradition of protecting those seeking refuge within its borders.”

Rohingya migrants continued to be detained in Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram. States such as Mizoram grappled with the detention of Rohingya migrants with little guidance from the central government on care and repatriation issues. Police in Mizoram rescued a dozen Rohingya refugees from a suspected trafficking operation in May.

Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of Rohingya refugees, including potential trafficking victims, to Burma; at least 17 Rohingya were returned since September 2018, according to UNHCR. At least 26 non-Rohingya refugees have been deported since late 2016 out of an estimated 40,000.

The identity card issued by UNHCR is the only formal legal document available for Rohingya migrants in the country. As the expiration date for these cards approached, several Rohingya migrants abandoned their temporary shelter. Some relocated to other parts of India, while others fled the country.

In July 2018 the MHA instructed state governments to identify Rohingya migrants through the collection of biometric data. The MHA directed state governments to monitor Rohingya and restrict their movements to specific locations.

In August the government finalized the NRC in Assam. The NRC is a Supreme Court-ordered citizenship list containing names of Indian citizens in an effort to identify foreign nationals living in the state. The NRC found nearly two million persons ineligible for citizenship in Assam. The government has established procedures for appeals against the NRC decisions in individual cases. News reports indicated the government was in the process of constructing 10 centers to detain illegal immigrants. On December 23, Prime Minister Modi denied any intention by the central government to implement a nationwide NRC process outside of Assam, despite widespread speculation of the government’s intention to do so.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum-seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries, including Afghanistan.

UNHCR did not have an official agreement with the government but maintained an office in New Delhi where it registered refugees and asylum seekers from noncontiguous countries and Burma, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The office’s reach outside of New Delhi was limited. Nonetheless, the government permitted UNHCR staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Authorities did not permit UNHCR direct access to Sri Lankan refugee camps, Tibetan settlements, or asylum seekers in Mizoram, but it did permit asylum seekers from Mizoram to travel to New Delhi to meet UNHCR officials. Authorities did not grant UNHCR or other international agencies access to Rohingyas detained in Kolkata or Aizawl (Mizoram), nor were they granted access to any refugees or asylum seekers in detention. Refugees outside New Delhi faced added expense and time to register their asylum claims.

The government generally permitted other NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government assisted UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily. The benefits provided to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees by the state government of Tamil Nadu were applicable only within the state. The central government approved the extension of funding to run the camps until 2020.

Employment: The government granted work authorization to many UNHCR-registered refugees, and others found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Although the country generally allowed recognized refugees and asylum seekers access to housing, primary and secondary education, health care, and the courts, access varied by state and by population. Refugees were able to use public services, although access became more complicated during the year because many refugees were unable to acquire the digitized national identity (Aadhaar) card necessary to use some services. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR was able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access. The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers to apply for long-term visas that would provide work authorization and access to higher education, although the rate of renewal for long-term visas slowed significantly. For undocumented asylum seekers, UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was under consideration for UNHCR refugee status.

The government began issuing long-term visas to refugees from other countries in 2014, but UNHCR reported that the government did not regularly issue long-term visas during the year.

According to UNHCR and an NGO working with Rohingya in Hyderabad, government of Telangana authorities provided food supplies through public distribution system, postnatal care for mothers, periodic immunization, and a bridge school for children along with three meals a day. Further, the Telangana Open School Society waived the Aadhaar card requirement for Rohingya students to appear for high school examination.

The government did not fully comply with a 2012 MHA directive to issue long-term visas to Rohingya. It has reportedly slowed renewals for those with long-term visas significantly, limiting access to formal employment in addition to education, health services, and bank accounts.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during sensitive political times, such as elections, and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained Indian citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was an Indian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities can also confer citizenship through registration under specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years. Tibetans reportedly sometimes faced difficulty acquiring citizenship despite meeting the legal requirements.

On August 20, the MHA announced that “noninclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him or her being declared as a foreigner” and that it would allow 120 days for individuals to appeal against their exclusion from the list. The MHA assured that those excluded from the NRC would be given adequate opportunity to present their case before foreigners’ tribunals in Assam with legal assistance from the state government. In addition to 100 existing tribunals, the Assam government planned to establish 200 foreigners’ tribunals immediately to deal with cases of individuals who would be excluded. Addressing concerns regarding the four million residents excluded from the draft NRC, the Assam government on August 1 claimed that the rate of exclusion in the districts bordering Bangladesh was lower than the state average. The government’s earlier request for fresh verification of a segment of the population included in the NRC was rejected by the court on July 23. In August the office published the final version of the list excluding about 1.9 million persons.

According to UNHCR and NGOs, the country had a large population of stateless persons, but there were no reliable estimates. Stateless populations included Chakmas and Hajongs, who entered the country in the early 1960s from present-day Bangladesh and groups affected by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. In September 2017 the central government stated it would appeal to the Supreme Court to review its 2015 order to consider citizenship for approximately 70,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees. Media outlets quoted then minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju as saying the Supreme Court order was “unimplementable.”

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received Indian birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to Indian citizenship, refugees may present Indian birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.

UNHCR and refugee advocacy groups estimated that between 25,000 and 28,000 of the approximately 95,230 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu were “hill country” Tamils. While Sri Lankan law allows “hill country” refugees to present affidavits to secure Sri Lankan citizenship, UNHCR believed that until the Sri Lankan government processes the paperwork, such refugees were at risk of becoming stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: The Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. During the year voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year the seven states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand held elections for their state assemblies. Observers considered these elections free and fair, although with isolated instances of violence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There were no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election, and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices and ideas prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including positions as cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. While some Christians and Muslims were identified as Dalits, the government limited reserved seats for Dalits to Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Members of minority populations have previously served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption was present at all levels of government. On July 10, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh informed parliament’s lower house that the CBI registered 412 corruption-related cases from January until May 1. Between 2016 and June 30, the CBI registered 61 corruption cases against 86 government officials and achieved convictions against 26 persons in 20 cases. Singh also stated that 1,889 cases of corruption were referred to the CBI in 2018 through an internal government mechanism and that 43,946 corruption-related complaints were received by the Central Vigilance Commission in 2018 and 2019, of which 41,755 were dismissed. NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Media reports, NGOs, and activists reported links among politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, militant groups, and security forces in infrastructure projects, narcotics trafficking, and timber smuggling in the northeastern states.

In July multiple complaints of criminal corruption were lodged against opposition party leader and Member of Parliament Azam Khan alleging that he illegally obtained farmers’ land for the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, which he founded in 2006. Khan was a cabinet minister in Uttar Pradesh at the time. In November criminal charges were filed against Khan’s wife and son as well, both of whom were opposition members of the state’s Legislative Assembly. More than 84 cases have been registered against Khan, and probes have been conducted by central government authorities into money laundering as well. The cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

In several sex trafficking cases in government-funded shelter homes uncovered in 2018, victims alleged in a few cases that government officials facilitated the trafficking and, in three cases, were clients of shelter residents exploited in sex trafficking.

In Deoria, despite multiple letters from the district government to cease sending vulnerable women and children to a shelter operating without proper registration, three police superintendents sent at least 405 girls to the shelter over two years, where shelter employees exploited many in sex trafficking. The Uttar Pradesh state government requested a report from all shelter homes in the state, initiated investigations, and arrested the owner of the shelter.

In a separate case in Agra in October 2018, a judge sentenced a government-run shelter warden to life imprisonment on conviction of selling shelter residents into sex trafficking.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates asset declarations for all officers in the Indian Administrative Services. Both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court upheld mandatory disclosure of criminal and financial records for candidates for elected office.

In September 2018 a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the judiciary could not disqualify politicians facing charges related to serious offenses and stop them from contesting elections. The court asked parliament to frame laws to bar those accused of crimes from being able to run for elected office.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances, groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took action in response to their reports or recommendations. The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

On February 8, the Gujarat High Court granted anticipatory conditional bail to activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, who faced charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds. In 2017 the Supreme Court had rejected their relief plea. Additional charges were filed in May 2018 for allegedly securing and fraudulently misusing 14 million rupees ($200,000) worth of government funds for educational purposes between 2010 and 2013. The activists claimed authorities filed the case in retaliation for their work on behalf of victims of the 2002 Gujarat riot. The case continued at year’s end. On August 7, the Gujarat High Court quashed complaints registered against Setalvad in 2014, which alleged she had uploaded objectionable images of Hindu deities on a social media platform.

On July 4, unidentified gunmen shot a human rights activist’s daughter in Imphal, Manipur. The activist’s organization advocated for indigenous people’s rights, and the activist claimed that security agencies have persecuted the NGO since 2006. He also claimed police refused to register a complaint.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny the United Nations access to Jammu and Kashmir and limited access to the northeastern states and Maoist-controlled areas. The government refused to cooperate with the special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council following a June 2018 OHCHR publication, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir, which cited impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice as key human rights challenges in Jammu and Kashmir. The government rejected OHCHR’s report as “false, prejudicial, politically motivated, and [seeking] to undermine the sovereignty of India.”

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

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

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

The Jammu and Kashmir commission does not have the authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by members of paramilitary security forces. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the army. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the MHA and paramilitary forces operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast states and in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the 2018 OHCHR Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir, there has been no prosecution of armed forces personnel in the nearly 28 years that the AFSPA has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, although marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. Official statistics pointed to rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of victims to report rapes, although observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported. According to one study, based on the government’s National Family Health Survey, an estimated 99 percent of rape cases went unreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape victims were inadequate, and the judicial system was overtaxed and unable to address the problem effectively. Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape victims and their attackers; in some cases they encouraged female rape victims to marry their attackers. The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted that low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated. The NGO Lawyers Collective noted the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and victims remained major concerns. Doctors continued to carry out an invasive “two-finger test” to speculate on sexual history, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the test violated a victim’s right to privacy.

Incidents of rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, and rape by government officials. On July 12, the NHRC notified the government of Haryana of the alleged rape of a student by her teacher in Haryana’s Panipat District. The teacher threatened the girl to keep quiet after she became pregnant. Police were conducting an investigation.

In August 2018 parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill to increase the minimum mandatory punishments for rape from seven years’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than 16 increased from 10 years’ to between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 was punishable by either life imprisonment or the death penalty. On February 19, the MHA launched the Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences, an online analytic tool for states and union territories to monitor and track time-bound investigations in sexual assault cases in accordance with Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018.

Incidents of gang rape of minors remained prevalent. On June 9, six individuals, including four police officials, were convicted for a 2018 gang rape and murder of a girl in Jammu and Kashmir. Another accused was a minor and is to be tried in a juvenile court.

On November 28, the burned body of a woman was found in Shadnagar, a town in Telangana State. The woman, a 27-year-old veterinary student, had been approached by a group of men in Hyderabad when her motorbike had a flat tire. The men agreed to assist her and lured her to a secluded spot where they gang-raped and killed her. Her body was subsequently wrapped in a blanket, doused with kerosene, and set ablaze in an underpass. Four men were arrested on November 28. Nationwide protests erupted in response to the incident, calling for an end to violence against women, and in some cases, protesters asked for the accused to be handed over to them. On December 6, all four of the accused were shot and killed by police as they purportedly tried to flee during a crime scene reconstruction.

Women in conflict areas, such as in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized compared with other caste affiliations. After the abrogation of Article 370 canceled the region’s autonomy, removing provisions that blocked non-Kashmiris from owning land, Uttar Pradesh BJP Legislative Assembly member Vikram Saini was quoted as saying, “Muslim Party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir.” Media reports related instances of soldiers threatening Kashmiri families with taking away their daughters for marriage.

Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The latest available NCRB data estimated the conviction rate for crimes against women was 23 percent. Acid attacks against women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. In February 2018 the Delhi government announced it would cover 100 percent of the medical expenses for victims of acid attacks in all private hospitals within the National Capital Territory of Delhi. In May 2018 the Supreme Court approved assistance for victims of acid attacks under the Compensation Scheme for Women Victims, Survivors of Sexual Assault, and Other Crimes 2018. The scheme outlined a maximum assistance of 800,000 rupees ($11,500) for injuries from acid attacks.

The government made efforts to address the safety of women. In August 2018 the minister of state for women and child development told the lower house of parliament the government allocated 29 billion rupees ($410 million) toward enhancing women’s safety in eight cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. Projects included increased surveillance technology, capacity building, and awareness campaigns. In August the Tamil Nadu government began the “Amma Patrol,” a dedicated 40-vehicle unit to provide rapid response to prevent violence against women and girls. The state cofunds the program with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the MHA.

On June 28, the minister for women and child development, Smriti Irani, told the lower house of parliament that 462 one-stop crisis centers for women were set up during the previous three years, including 291 since 2018. More than 220,000 women sought support from the centers. The centers provide medical, legal, counseling, and shelter services for women facing violence. In September 2018 the government launched an online National Database on Sexual Offenders. The registry included accused and convicted sexual offenders. Only police and legal authorities had access to data.

On April 23, the Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to pay five million rupees ($70,400) compensation to Bilkis Bano, a rape survivor of the Gujarat 2002 riots. During the communal riots, a pregnant Bano was gang-raped, and 14 members of her family, including her two-year old daughter and mother, were killed. After the court trial, the 12 persons accused were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On September 30, the Supreme Court gave the Gujarat government two weeks to pay Bano, besides providing her a job and government accommodation. The court passed the order after it was apprised by Bano’s legal counsel that the amount had not been paid to her, despite the court’s April order.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019 banned the practice of “triple talaq” or instant divorce effective August 1. Some women seeking relief under this law experienced domestic violence. For example, on August 19, a 22-year-old woman in Shravasti District of Uttar Pradesh was burned alive by her husband and in-laws for approaching police after the man gave the woman “triple talaq.” Criminal charges were filed against the family on August 22.

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

In July 2018 the Supreme Court heard a public interest case seeking to ban the practice of FGM/C. The government, represented by Attorney General K. K. Venugopal, told the court that it supports the petitioners’ plea that the practice be punishable under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act. Days after a September 2018 meeting between the prime minister and the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who supports the practice of FGM/C, the government reportedly reversed its position, and the attorney general stated the matter should be referred to a five-member panel of the Supreme Court to decide on the issue of religious rights and freedom.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowry, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed that authorities arrested 20,545 persons for dowry deaths in 2016. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling makes it mandatory for all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry-death cases with murder. “Sumangali schemes” affected an estimated 120,000 young women. This labor scheme, named after the Tamil word for “happily married woman,” is a form of bonded labor in which young women or girls work to earn money for a dowry to be able to marry. The promised lump-sum compensation is normally withheld until the end of a contractual agreement to work three to five years of employment and sometimes goes partially or entirely unpaid. While in bonded labor, employers reportedly subjected women to serious workplace abuses, including severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communication, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking.

“Sumangali schemes” affected an estimated 120,000 young women. This labor scheme, named after the Tamil word for “happily married woman,” is a form of bonded labor in which young women or girls work to earn money for a dowry to be able to marry. The promised lump-sum compensation is normally withheld until the end of a contractual agreement to work three to five years of employment and sometimes goes partially or entirely unpaid. While in bonded labor, employers reportedly subjected women to serious workplace abuses, including severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communication, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim’s marrying against his or her family’s wishes. In March 2018 the Supreme Court ordered state governments to identify districts, subdivisions, and villages that witnessed incidents of honor killings to take remedial, preventive, and punitive measures to stop these crimes. In addition, the Supreme Court ruled that state governments must create special cells in all districts for individuals to report harassment and threats to couples of intercaste marriage.

On August 27, a court issued Kerala’s first-ever conviction in an honor-killing case and sentenced 10 individuals to “double imprisonment” for the killing of a 24-year-old Dalit, Christian Kevin Joseph. The man had eloped with a woman from another caste and married her despite her family’s rejection of the relationship. The woman’s brother was among those convicted, while her father was among four others acquitted for lack of evidence. In its ruling the court noted the continuing prevalence of caste prejudice in Indian society.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called “ritual prostitution”) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes in sex trafficking in temples to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. Some states have laws to curb sex trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls in temple service. Enforcement of these laws remained lax, and the problem was widespread. Some observers estimated more than 450,000 women and girls were exploited in temple-related prostitution.

On August 20, the Andhra Pradesh High Court acting chief justice, C. Praveen Kumar, expressed concern over the poor implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1988, noting that there were no convictions in the state under the act. In Telangana, about 2,000 women remained bound under the Jogini system, as the devadasi system is known in the state.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for a victim accused of witchcraft. Most reports stated villagers and local councils usually banned those accused of witchcraft from the village. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing persons who accuse others of witchcraft. In 2018 a total of 73 cases of witchcraft, including 18 deaths, were reported from Odisha.

On March 17, Adarmani Hansda, a tribal woman from Ishwarpur village in West Bengal, was killed and four others injured after a village court accused them of practicing witchcraft. According to media reports, Hansda allegedly used “black magic” to cause several individuals to become ill in the village. Police rescued the four other women and admitted them to the hospital.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography. Employers who fail to establish complaint committees face fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($700).

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government has promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades and, as a result, it made up 86 percent of contraceptive use in the country. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports that these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies. Certain states maintained government reservations for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children and reduced subsidies and access to health care for those who have more than two. According to the NGO Lawyers Collective, such policies often induced families to carry out sex selection for the second birth to assure they have at least one son without sacrificing future eligibility for political office.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men.

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

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the most recent census (2011), the national average male-female sex ratio at birth was 106 to 100. On June 27, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani informed the upper house of parliament that reports from the Health Management Information System of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare revealed the male/female sex ratio at birth improved from 108.3 to 100 to 107.4 to 100. The law prohibits prenatal sex selection, but authorities rarely enforced it. In March 2018 the government announced the expansion of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) project in all 640 districts across the country. The Ministry of Finance, also in 2018, issued a report that indicated 63 million women were statistically “missing” due to sex-selective abortions. The government launched the program in 2015 to prevent gender-biased sex selection, promote female education, and ensure the survival and protection of girls. Government data revealed sex ratio at birth showed improving trends in 104 out of 161 districts between 2015 and 2017. In January media outlets quoted government figures declared in parliament by Minister of State for Women and Child Development Virendra Kumar to report that more than 56 percent of funds for the program were utilized in media and advertisement-related activities, and less than 25 percent were distributed to states and districts for program implementation. The reports alleged the government failed to release more than 19 percent of the funds.

According to media reports, the taboo and fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell the baby. Dowry, while illegal, carried a steep cost, sometimes bankrupting families. Women and girl children were ostracized in some tribal communities.

In July the Uttarakhand government ordered a probe after media reports highlighted that not a single girl child was born among 65 children in 16 villages in the last six months. Authorities suspected that health facilities were conducting illegal sex determination tests and abortions.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. UNICEF estimated authorities registered 58 percent of national births each year. Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age up through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report revealed that enrollment rates for both male and female students dropped by nearly 30 percent between primary and secondary school. Additionally, the report found that, while girls had a slight lead in primary and secondary education enrollment rates, boys had greater educational attainment at all levels. The NGO Pratham’s 2018 Annual Status of Education Report noted in January that the percentage of out-of-school girls decreased in the 11-14 age group and the 15-16 age group: 4.1 percent of girls in the 11-14 age group dropped out of school in 2018, compared with 10.3 percent in 2006. For girls in the 15-16 age group, the percentage dropped to 13.5 percent in 2018 from 22.6 percent in 2006. Children from marginalized groups also faced barriers to accessing education. Teachers sometimes subjected these children to discrimination and harassment.

According to UNICEF more than 60 percent of secondary-school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, as the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses. Although banned, teachers often used corporal punishment. The government often failed to educate the public adequately against child abuse or to enforce the law.

On September 26, a Supreme Court-appointed juvenile justice committee released a report stating that since August 5, police in Jammu and Kashmir had detained 144 children younger than 18, including a nine-year-old. The children were often detained because of allegations they were throwing stones at law enforcement officers. Many of the detained children were reportedly from the city of Srinagar in Kashmir. Police reportedly informed the committee that all children arrested and lodged in police stations were released on the same day, apart from two children who remained in juvenile homes. One of those two juveniles was reportedly released in mid-October while, as of early November, the other remained detained.

The government sponsored a toll-free 24-hour helpline for children in distress.

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

According to international and local NGOs, procedural limitations effectively left married minors with no legal remedy in most situations. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey, 27 percent of women between 20 and 24 married before the age of 18, and 2017 UNICEF data revealed 7 percent of the same group of women married before the age of 15.

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

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

Special courts to try child sexual abuse cases existed in all six Delhi courts. Civil society groups observed, however, that large caseloads severely limited judges’ abilities to take on cases in a timely manner. Lack of training in handling forensic evidence also adversely affected case handling.

NGOs noted a significant increase of death penalty sentences for those convicted of egregious cases of sexual assault of children. In 2018 trial courts sentenced 162 persons to death, which was the highest in two decades. At the same time, the Supreme Court commuted death sentences in 11 out of 12 cases that came before it. Supreme Court justice Kurian Joseph expressed concern about the constitutionality of the death penalty in an opinion, highlighting that the death penalty lacks deterrent and reformatory purpose. NGOs suggested within a dominantly punitive environment, the Supreme Court judge’s views were indicative of the understanding of how punitive justice may not be as effective as is widely presumed.

In May the Delhi High Court examined the extended delays of child sexual abuse cases in Delhi, numbering 6,414 cases, and directed the Delhi government to establish 18 more fast-track courts to address pending cases.

The movement toward harsher punishments for child sexual abuse continued. On August 1, parliament passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The act seeks to protect children from offenses such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and provides stringent punishment for sexual crimes against children and death penalty in cases of aggravated sexual assault.

Child Soldiers: No information was available on how many persons younger than 18 were serving in the armed forces. The UN Children and Armed Conflict report outlined allegations that at least five children were recruited by, and joined, militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir and at least two of these children were killed in encounters with security forces. NGOs estimated at least 2,500 children were associated with insurgent armed groups in Maoist-affected areas as well as insurgent groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

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

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

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights estimated that 1,300 of the country’s approximately 9,000 shelters for vulnerable individuals were not registered with the government and operated with little or no oversight. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse, at times due to alleged political connections. Police documented at least 156 residents, including sex trafficking victims, missing from six shelters as of March; at least one shelter owner had reportedly sold some of the women and girls for prostitution.

A 2018 report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences documented abuse “varying in forms and degrees of intensity” that was reported to be prevalent in almost all 110 government-funded women- and child-care institutions surveyed in Bihar State. The report noted “grave concerns” in 17 institutions that required immediate attention. NGOs commended the Bihar government for undertaking the study and allowing the investigator full authority and independence to report on all institutions in the state. The Supreme Court was overseeing investigations into the shelter-home abuse cases. NGOs reported some subsequent positive actions by some state governments to address these reports. As of January the CBI had only initiated investigations into nine of the 17 homes.

The Calcutta Research Group reported police sometimes separated families detained at the India-Bangladesh border in the state of West Bengal by institutionalizing children in juvenile justice homes with limited and restricted access to their families.

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

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

The Gujarat government accorded the Jewish community minority status, making the community eligible for government entitlements for faith minorities in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

On February 11, the government of Andhra Pradesh issued an order increasing the quota for recruitment and promotion for persons with disabilities from the existing 3 percent to 4 percent. The new order defined persons with disabilities to include persons with autism, mental disorders, multiple disabilities, and intellectual disabilities.

In Odisha participation of persons with disabilities in the works the state government executed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) increased during the year ending in March, compared with the preceding 12 months. While 83 persons with disabilities secured 100 days of employment during 2017-2018, 105 persons secured employment in 2018-2019. According to state government officials, a coordinator has been appointed at different levels of administration in each district to work toward increasing the participation of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the MGNREGA program.

The constitution prohibits caste discrimination. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better-quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Data published in the UN’s 2019 Multidimensional Poverty Index showed a “positive trend” between 2006 and 2016 that lifted 271 million people out of poverty. Previous reports showed Muslims, members of the Scheduled Tribes, and Dalits experienced the greatest reduction in poverty. Discrimination based on caste, however, remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes (SC). According to the 2011 census, SC members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons).

Although the law protects Dalits, there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care and education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions such as temples, and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without monetary remuneration. Reports from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described systematic abuse of Dalits, including extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against Dalit women. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Dalit rights activists in Telangana decried the role that village development committees (VDCs) played in the state. Activists alleged that upper-caste individuals–who controlled most VDCs, which acted as parallel institutions to democratically elected village councils–often resorted to social boycott of Dalits who questioned decisions taken by the VDCs. According to a February 25 news report, Dalits of a village in Nizamabad District faced social boycott for 62 days on the orders of a VDC dominated by upper-caste individuals. The VDC ordered the boycott following a dispute over construction of a library on a piece of land given to the Dalits.

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

Manual scavenging–the removal of animal or human waste by Dalits–continued despite its legal prohibition. HRW reported that children of manual scavengers faced discrimination, humiliation, and segregation at village schools. Their occupation often exposed manual scavengers to infections that affected their skin, eyes, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Health practitioners suggested children exposed to such bacteria were often unable to maintain a healthy body weight and suffered from stunted growth.

On June 14, seven persons, including four sanitation workers, died of asphyxiation while cleaning a septic tank in a hotel in Dabhoi town of Vadodara District in Gujarat. Police arrested the hotel owner on charges of murder and violation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act. The Gujarat government announced financial assistance for the families of the victims.

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

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

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of forest dwellers in 21 states. Media reported more than 1.3 million land claims, each potentially representing a household, had been rejected. Experts estimated that the legal order could result in more than eight million tribal people leaving forest areas that their ancestors have inhabited for centuries. The Supreme Court later stayed the eviction order until November 26 and ordered the 21 states to file affidavits with details on how they had processed claims.

In September 2018 the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations in a unanimous verdict. Activists welcomed the verdict but stated it was too early to determine how the verdict would translate into social acceptance, including safe and equal opportunities at workspaces and educational institutions.

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

On August 28, the Tamil Nadu state government issued an order banning sex-reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children, except under life-threatening circumstances. The order follows a ruling from the Madras High Court in April, in which the court observed that a parent’s consent could not be considered the consent of the child. The April ruling acknowledged a World Health Organization report, which referred to sex-reassignment surgery of intersex individuals as “intersex genital mutilation.” As part of the court direction, Tamil Nadu’s director of medical education has to constitute a four-member committee to assess individual cases before determining whether reassignment surgery falls under the life-threatening circumstances exception.

Three transgender candidates contested the elections to the Odisha state legislature in April. Although none of them won, activists stated their presence was a step forward in the political empowerment of the transgender community after the 2014 Supreme Court verdict recognized the transgender community.

The number of new HIV cases decreased by 57 percent over the past decade. According to official government records, there were 191,493 newly diagnosed cases in 2017. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable and high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. UNAIDS 2018 data indicated that new HIV infections were declining among sex workers and men who have sex with men, although stigma related to key populations continued to limit their access to HIV testing and treatment. The data showed 79 percent of individuals were aware of their HIV status and that 71 percent living with HIV were on HIV treatment.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons living with HIV. Antiretroviral drug stock outages in a few states led to treatment interruption. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV/AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to human rights violations and HIV.

In September 2018 the Ministry of Health announced the creation of rules to implement the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017 in response to a public interest litigation filed with the Delhi High Court. The bill was designed to prevent discrimination in health care, employment, education, housing, economic participation, and political representation for those with HIV and AIDS.

Societal violence based on religion and caste and by religiously associated groups continued to be a serious concern. Muslims and lower-caste Dalit groups continued to be the most vulnerable. MHA data for 2016-2017 showed that 703 incidents of communal (religious) violence occurred in which 86 persons were killed and 2,321 injured. According to the NHRC, there were 672 cases of discrimination and victimization against Scheduled Castes and 79 cases against minorities in 2018-2019.

On June 18, a mob attacked 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand for allegedly stealing a motorcycle. The police rescued Ansari from the mob, but he died of his injuries in the hospital. The police arrested 11 persons and suspended two police officials, but police dropped murder charges against the accused, contending that Ansari had died of cardiac arrest due to stress. In September, after allegations of attempted tampering of the case, police reversed their request and submitted supplementary charges in September, seeking punishment for the accused.

On July 17, the Madhya Pradesh state assembly passed the Anti-Cow Slaughter Amendment Act of 2019 that includes imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of 25,000-50,000 rupees ($350-$700) for those convicted of committing violence in the name of cow protection. The amended law allows cattle transportation from Madhya Pradesh to other states with special permission, a reversal from earlier provisions.

Media outlets reported more than 20 instances of mob lynching of individuals believed to be child abductors. On August 27, two brothers taking their nephew to a doctor were attacked by a mob in Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh, on the suspicion of being child abductors. One of the men died in the attack. Police arrested five persons who led the attack.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. For instance, in export processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. In October, 48,000 workers of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) went on strike. The unions were demanding that the TSRTC be merged with the state government, so workers were able to obtain full benefits. After almost 45 days, the transport workers returned to work with no resolutions reached between labor unions and the state government of Telangana State.

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. The government generally did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor-trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. On August 27, the Madras High Court found a rice mill owner guilty of holding six workers, including three women, under bondage in his mill, and the court sentenced the owner to a three-year prison term. The workers were each awarded compensation of 50,000 rupees ($700). When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities did report violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking.

Penalties under law varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; not all were sufficiently stringent. For example, bonded labor was specifically criminalized under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported the federally funded, state-run Centrally Sponsored Scheme assisted in the release of 2,289 bonded laborers during the period from April through December 2018. Many NGOs reported delays of more than one year in obtaining release certificates for rescued bonded laborers. Such certificates were required to certify that employers had held them in bondage and entitled them to compensation under the law. The NGOs also reported that in some instances, they failed to obtain release certificates for bonded laborers at all. The distribution of initial rehabilitation funds was uneven across states. The majority of bonded labor victim compensation cases remained tied to a criminal conviction of bonded labor. As authorities often registered bonded labor cases as civil salary violations in lieu of bonded labor, convictions of the traffickers and full compensation for victims remained rare.

Estimates of the number of bonded laborers varied widely. Media reports estimated the number at 18 million workers in debt bondage. Most bonded labor occurred in agriculture. Nonagricultural sectors with a high incidence of bonded labor were stone quarries, brick kilns, rice mills, construction, embroidery factories, and beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes) production.

Bonded labor continued to be a concern in many states.

On August 19, police and civil officials in Kolar District of Karnataka rescued 10 tribal workers, including two girls and a boy, from a construction site. Nine of the 10 rescued persons belonged to two families and had worked as bonded laborers for three years. State officials stated that the workers were denied wages to account for a loan of 60,000 rupees ($845) each that they took from labor agents. In Tamil Nadu release certificates were not handed to bonded labor from Odisha, who were rescued from Tiruvallur District in 2018. This deprived them of interim compensation and rehabilitation.

Bonded laborers from Odisha were rescued from brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka during the year. In March, 96 workers were rescued in Koppal and Yadgir Districts of Karnataka, while 40 workers, including nine children, were rescued in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh in April.

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All of the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also prohibits the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are prohibited from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited, and where children younger than 14 are prohibited from helping, including family enterprises. Despite evidence that children work in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law, however, permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained widespread.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that might have hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are insufficient to deter violations, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment coordinated its efforts with states to raise awareness about child labor by funding various outreach events, such as plays and community activities.

The majority of child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, in particular in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food service establishments. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

In July, Telangana police rescued 67 children younger than 14, all hailing from Bihar, from bangle-making factories in Hyderabad. Six persons were arrested. The children were locked in a tiny room and lived in inhuman conditions, besides being made to work for nearly 17 hours a day. The children were given “release certificates” recognizing them as bonded laborers, which qualified them to receive 25,000 rupees ($350) as interim relief and 300,000 rupees ($4,200) as compensation. The children were sent back to Bihar in August.

During Operation Smile in July, Telangana police and other government officials rescued 3,470 children from bonded labor and begging schemes. Police fined 431 employers 1.87 million rupees ($26,300) and registered cases against seven employers. It was unclear if police filed any trafficking or bonded labor charges.

In August the International Labor Organization commenced a three-year project in partnership with the Telangana government covering the entire cotton supply chain from farm to factory, to identify the presence of child labor, bonded labor, and gender discrimination.

In Telangana, local groups cited flaws in the implementation of a bridge-school program meant for rescued child laborers under the government’s National Child Labor Project, noting that the state has no way of knowing if rescued child laborers have dropped out of school and returned to work. State government officials agreed that, following the 2016 amendments to the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, state surveys no longer identified the number of children working in family enterprises, bonded labor, and nonhazardous work environments.

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Provisions in the constitution and various laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law prohibits discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV/AIDs. The law does not prohibit discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

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

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Federal law sets safety and health standards, but state government laws set minimum wages, hours of work, and additional state-specific safety and health standards. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty-level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector. On December 9, a building fire in New Delhi killed 43 persons. The building did not have appropriate fire licenses and was illegally operating as a factory.

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

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages, hours of work, and safety and health standards. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were not sufficient to deter violations.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On April 10, a total of 10 female workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act program in the Narayanpet District of Telangana died in a landslide. Civil society activists cited unsafe work conditions as leading to the fatal accident, noting that the workers were resting in the shade of a mud mound, which collapsed and killed them. The Telangana government announced that cash compensation, housing, employment, and education would be provided to the immediate family members of the deceased.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

Mozambique is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected republican form of government. On October 15, national elections for president, parliament, and provincial assemblies took place. Voters re-elected as president Filipe Jacinto Nyusi of the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) party with 73 percent of the vote. Multiple national and international observers considered voting generally orderly but reported systemic vulnerabilities, such as inconsistent application of election procedures and lack of transparency during vote tabulation. A number of foreign observers–including the EU and European Commonwealth–and domestic civil society organizations expressed concerns regarding election irregularities. These included delays in observer credentialing, nonregistration of large numbers of independent and opposition observers, the arrest and intimidation of some opposition observers, late release of campaign funding to political parties, intentional spoiling of ballots, vote falsification, and inordinately high voter turnout in some districts that indicated ballot box stuffing.

The National Police (PRM), the National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC), and the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) are responsible for law enforcement and internal security. The PRM, SERNIC, and the UIR report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Border Security Force–responsible for protecting the country’s international borders and for carrying out police duties within 24 miles of borders–also reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The State Intelligence and Security Service (SISE) reports directly to the president and is responsible for intelligence operations. The Presidential Guard provides security for the president, and the Force for the Protection of High-level Individuals provides security for senior-level officials at the national and provincial levels. The Armed Defense Forces of Mozambique (FADM), consisting of the air force, army, and navy, are responsible for external security, cooperate with police on internal security, and have natural disaster and emergency response functions. The president is commander in chief of the FADM. All these forces are referred to collectively as the Defense and Security Forces.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the PRM, SERNIC, the UIR, the Border Security Force, SISE, and the FADM. With some exceptions, the government lacked mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Multiple cases of arbitrary deprivation of life and arbitrary arrest demonstrated that impunity for perpetrators in the security forces remained widespread (see sections 1.a. and 1.d.).

During the year violent attacks against government forces and civilian populations that began in 2017 escalated dramatically in frequency and intensity in the northeastern districts of Cabo Delgado Province. From January to November, there were an estimated 262 civilian deaths from attacks. Security forces responses to these attacks were often heavy-handed, including the arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread acts of official corruption; and violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed abuses; however, impunity remained a problem at all levels.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not always effectively protect or respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that restricted freedom of speech and press. Journalists expressed concern regarding government intimidation by security forces.

Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest. Police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society members complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal. The opposition Renamo Party accused the government of using the military and police to prevent its candidates from undertaking political activities.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media outlets and individual journalists regularly reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government, the ruling party, and prominent political figures. The vast majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation from the government or the ruling party. Civil society organizations and journalists, however, stated the government and ruling party exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media and took retaliatory action when unspecified limits were crossed. In August parliament passed a law criminalizing photographing or recording video and audio of individuals without their consent. Conviction of violating this law is punishable by up to one year in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting. For example, civil society and journalists stated that authorities harassed journalists who reported on the involvement of finance minister Manuel Chang in the “Hidden Debt” scheme in which nearly 124 billion meticais (two billion dollars) in government-backed loans were secretly contracted through a scheme that involved extensive bribery and kickbacks, including to sitting government officials.

On January 5, soldiers arrested journalist Amade Abubacar in Cabo Delgado Province as he was interviewing residents who were fleeing insurgent attacks. He was reportedly held incommunicado in a military detention facility until his lawyers succeeded in obtaining his transfer to a civilian prison. Authorities stated he was suspected of terrorist activity and charged with violating state secrets. Amnesty International stated mistreatment of Abubacar while in detention included “physical aggression, forcing him to sleep handcuffed” and food deprivation. It concluded that this amounted “to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” On April 23, Abubacar was released, but his freedom of movement was restricted. On September 5, the public prosecutor of Cabo Delgado Province charged him with “public instigation through the use of electronic media,” “slander against forces of public order,” and “instigation or provocation to public disorder.” As of November the Cabo Delgado Provincial Court had yet to accept the case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no official government guidelines for media. Journalists in the state-controlled and private media reported pressure to self-censor. Some journalists stated critical reporting could result in cancellation of government and ruling party advertising contracts. The largest advertising revenue streams for local media came from ministries and state-controlled businesses. Domestic and international observers viewed the January 5 arrest and jailing of journalist Amade Abubacar while interviewing persons displaced by violence in Cabo Delgado Province as an example of de facto censorship.

National Security: Authorities cited antiterrorism and national security laws to arrest journalists who attempted to report on violence in Cabo Delgado Province. On February 18, journalist Germano Adriano was arrested, charged with using technology to violate state secrets, and jailed. He was released in April. By November he had yet to be tried.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. For example, members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups, and internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, some academics reported self-censorship. Although the law provides for separation of party and state, in Nampula and Zambezia Provinces, school principals and teachers were required to contribute money to the ruling party’s election campaign. Teachers in both provinces who refused to donate to the campaign were threatened with salary reductions. Some teachers were required to attend Frelimo election rallies and events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government did not always respect these rights.

In January staff members of the Center for Public Integrity (CIP) distributed free T-shirts in front of their office with the slogan, “I’m not paying hidden debts!” referring to the Hidden Debt scandal in which state-owned companies contracted two billion dollars in debt for fishing and maritime security-related projects. According to CIP, police physically prevented CIP staff members from distributing the T-shirts.

The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs did not act on the request for registration of the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA)–the country’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy NGO–by year’s end. Although the registration process usually takes less than two months, LAMBDA’s request has been pending since 2008 despite resubmissions of its application. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge the ministry to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. In 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled LAMBDA and other groups could not be precluded from registration based on “morality” but did not direct the government to grant official recognition to LAMBDA. LAMBDA continued to pursue a previously filed case with the Administrative Tribunal–the highest jurisdiction for administrative matters–specifically seeking to compel the government to respond to its registration request.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The International Organization for Migration estimated there were more than 90,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country in October due to Cyclones Idai and Kenneth.

In March in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, UN agencies and international donors delivered life-saving assistance including emergency shelter and nonfood items (solar lamps, blankets, jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets) to nearly 150,000 IDPs. In April, UN agencies and donors provided a short-term presence for coordination and protection monitoring of approximately 25,000 IDPs in Cabo Delgado immediately after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall. In April the World Food Program stated it was providing emergency food assistance to more than 30,000 IDPs displaced by to extremist violence in six northern districts of Cabo Delgado Province.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Durable Solutions: The government worked closely with UNHCR to implement a local integration program for refugees in communities in Maputo and nearby Matola, and at the Maratane Camp in Nampula Province. UNHCR referred a limited number of refugees for third-country resettlement.

Not applicable.

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.

In August the government and the main opposition party, Renamo, signed cessation of hostilities and formal peace agreements, formally ending four years of sporadic conflict. The National Assembly subsequently enacted the agreements into law. On July 31, the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration process for Renamo combatants began with 350 fighters in the Gorongosa District of Sofala Province.

Recent Elections: On October 15, the country held national elections for president, parliament, and provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers noted voting day procedures were generally orderly but lacked transparency and accountability during vote tabulation. The EU, European Commonwealth, and civil society organizations reported significant irregularities. These included delays in observer credentialing, nonregistration of more than 3,000 independent and opposition observers, the arrest and intimidation of some opposition observers, late release of campaign funding to political parties, intentional spoiling of ballots, vote falsification, and inordinately high voter turnout in some districts that indicated ballot box stuffing. Renamo and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique did not recognize the election results as legitimate, and opposition party members of the National Election Commission (CNE) voted unanimously to reject certification of the provisional results. The president of the CNE acknowledged that irregularities occurred and stated that the Constitutional Council would determine whether the elections were free, fair, and transparent. The council had yet to rule on the matter by year’s end.

The EU Election Observation Mission stated that the electoral process occurred on an “uneven playing field” in favor of Frelimo because it benefitted from the advantages of incumbency and may have exercised political influence on electoral administration. Some observers and local press reported that Frelimo party operatives collected voters’ names and their voting card numbers as a means of intimidating them into voting for Frelimo.

During the campaign period, representatives of opposition parties and civil society complained of increased acts of violence, intimidation, and bias by the government and Frelimo operatives. For example, on October 7, four off-duty police officers shot and killed human rights activist Anastacio Matavel, executive director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, as he was leaving domestic observer election training. Other acts of alleged election-related violence were reported throughout the pre-election campaign period, including shootings, stabbings, and beatings.

During vote tabulation, civil society and international observers noted that election authorities did not exercise systematic control of ballots, which observers stated created opportunities for tampering or altering voting results.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Frelimo has dominated the political process since the country’s independence in 1975. Opposition political parties could operate, yet there were occasional restrictions on meetings, unlawful arrests, and other forms of interference and harassment by the government. The opposition contended Frelimo manipulated voter registration numbers. For example, in June in Gaza Province, a ruling party stronghold, the CNE registered 300,000 more voters than the National Statistics Institute estimated were eligible to vote based on census data. Renamo challenged the accuracy of the voter registration numbers in the Constitutional Court, and civil society organizations offered to fund an independent audit. The court rejected the challenge on procedural grounds. In August the CNE rejected the request to conduct an audit, citing an existing criminal investigation into opposition party allegations of voter registration irregularities by the public prosecutor.

In the October 2018 municipal elections, some opposition candidates were prevented from competing due to inconsistent application of eligibility rules. In addition inconsistent application of the law that prohibits campaign activity outside of designated time periods favored Frelimo candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and members of many ethnic groups held key political positions. Nevertheless, only seven of 23 ministers in the president’s cabinet were women. Frelimo used quotas to provide for female representation on its central committee.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corrupt acts by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was a problem in all branches and at all levels of government. In 2018 the president stated corruption was among the greatest challenges facing the country and stressed the fight against corruption was a top priority.

Corruption: Corruption, including extortion by police, remained widespread, and impunity remained a serious problem. Police regularly demanded identification documents or alleged vehicular infractions solely to extort bribes.

There were several cases of public corruption during the year involving active and former government officials arrested and charged with crimes. Those charged included former labor minister and former cabinet official Maria Helena Taipo and ambassador to Russia Bernardo Chirinda. Both were charged with embezzlement and misuse of public funds.

In what became known as the Hidden Debt scheme (see sections 2.a and 2.b.), in 2013 the government began guaranteeing a series of loans totaling more than 128 billion meticais (two billion dollars) from two investment banks–Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB (Vendor Take Back) Bank–for three security and defense-related state-owned enterprises. The loans were signed by former finance minister Manuel Chang, and their existence was not disclosed to the public or parliament. In December 2018 Manuel Chang was arrested in South Africa pursuant to a U.S. arrest warrant related to his alleged involvement in the scheme. On June 3, the Constitutional Council declared the loans illegal. Twenty additional suspects of involvement in the scheme were also arrested.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires annual income and assets disclosure by appointed and elected members of the government and high-ranking civil servants to the Ministry of State Administration. The law provides for fines for those who do not file declarations; however, the declarations are not made public. The Center for Public Integrity reported incomplete compliance because the process of requiring public servants to file financial disclosures was not effective.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. The government had yet to act on the registration request pending since 2008 of a local LGBTI rights advocacy organization. The government frequently denied or delayed NGO access to areas where credible allegations of abuses by security forces occurred.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is mandated to promote and defend the human rights provisions of the constitution. Its stated priorities include cases of law enforcement violence, judicial corruption, and abuses of prisoner rights. The CNDH lacks authority to prosecute abuses and must refer cases to the judiciary. Commission members are chosen by political parties, civil society, the prime minister, and the Mozambican Bar Association

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of adults and children, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Penalties for conviction range from two to eight years’ imprisonment if the victim is age 12 or older and 20 to 24 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 12.

Conviction of abuse of a spouse or unmarried partner–regardless of gender–is punishable by one to two years’ imprisonment or longer if another crime is also applicable. The government did not effectively enforce domestic abuse law. NGOs stated domestic violence against women remained widespread.

The Office of the Attorney General stated that the Bureau of Family Assistance and Minor Victims of Domestic Violence handled nearly 14,000 cases of domestic violence, most of which occurred in Maputo and Inhambane Province–an increase of nearly 11 percent from 2018. The Attorney General’s Office stated it processed nearly 7,000 cases of criminal domestic violence during the year.

Many cases of domestic violence were not reported to authorities. According to NGO and media reports, many families preferred to settle rape allegations through informal community courts or privately through financial remuneration rather than through the formal judicial system.

Government agencies and NGOs implemented public outreach campaigns to combat violence against women nationwide. Police and NGOs worked together to combat domestic violence. The PRM operated special women and children’s units within police precincts that received high numbers of cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and violence against children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. FGM/C existed in the country, but NGOs and the government stated the incidence was low. There were no reliable estimates of the numbers of girls and women subjected to FGM/C. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of “purification,” whereby a widow is obligated to have unprotected sex with a member of her deceased husband’s family, occurred, particularly in rural areas, despite campaigns against it.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained pervasive in business, government, schools, and broadly in society. There is no legislation on sexual harassment in public places outside of schools. By law a teacher who abuses or sexually harasses a student through orders, threats, or coercion may be fined up to 20 times the teacher’s monthly salary.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men; however, the government did not enforce the law effectively. The law does not specifically require equal pay for equal work, nor does it prohibit discrimination based on gender in hiring. The law contains provisions that limit excessive physical work or night shift requirements during pregnancy. The law contains special provisions to protect women against abuse; however, these provisions were rarely enforced.

Women experienced economic discrimination. Gaps in education and income between men and women remained high. In some regions, particularly the northern provinces, women had limited access to the formal judicial system for enforcement of rights provided by the civil code and instead relied on customary law to settle disputes. Enforcement of laws that protect women’s rights to land ownership in the formal economy remained poor. Women typically could not inherit land under customary law.

The parliament had a women’s caucus, composed of members from the three parties with parliamentary seats that sought to promote women’s rights, including gender-balance issues such as women’s representation in decision-making bodies.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained by birth within the country or birth to at least one Mozambican citizen parent outside the country. Failure to register a child’s birth may result in the child’s inability to attend school and may prevent a person from obtaining public documents, such as identity cards, passports, or “poverty certificates” that enable access to free health care and free secondary education. Birth registration was often delayed in rural areas. Cultural practice prevented a woman, especially in rural areas, from exercising her legal right to register her child without the presence of the child’s father.

Education: By law education is compulsory, universal, and free of tuition through primary school and grades seven through nine of secondary school. Nevertheless, school costs for supplies and uniforms remained beyond the means of many families, especially in rural areas. According to the Millennium Development Goals Report, only 52 percent of children complete primary school education.

Child Abuse: The Child Protection Law provides for protection against physical and sexual abuse; removal of children from parents who are unable to protect, assist, and educate them; and juvenile courts to deal with matters of adoption, maintenance, and regulating parental power. Juvenile courts have wide discretion with regard to sentencing, but the law requires a minimum of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of trafficking in persons.

Most child-abuse cases involved sexual or physical abuse. Sexual abuse in schools and in homes was a problem. NGOs remained concerned that certain male teachers used their authority to coerce female students into sex. Orphans and other vulnerable children remained at high risk of abuse.

While the government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, significant problems remained; the government had yet to implement any programs to combat child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age of marriage for men and women is 18. In July parliament outlawed marriage for children younger than age 18; the minimum age was previously 16 with parental consent. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 for boys and girls. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Authorities partially enforced the law, but exploitation of children and child prostitution remained a problem. Girls were exploited in prostitution in bars, roadside clubs, and restaurants. Child prostitution appeared to be most prevalent in Maputo Province and the provinces of Nampula, Beira and Manica, border towns, and at overnight stopping points along key transportation routes. Some NGOs provided health care, counseling, and vocational training to children, primarily girls, engaged in prostitution.

Displaced Children: Children from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Eswatini, many of whom entered the country alone, remained vulnerable to labor exploitation and discrimination (see section 2.d, Freedom of Movement). They lacked protection and had limited access to schools and other social welfare institutions, largely due to lack of resources. Coercion, both physical and economic, of girls into the sex industry was common, particularly in Manica Province.

Several government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action, conducted programs to provide health-care assistance and vocational education for HIV/AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.

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

The country has a small Jewish community. 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 law prohibit discrimination against citizens with disabilities; however, the law does not differentiate among physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities regarding access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The 2012-19 National Action Plan in the Area of Disabilities provides for funding, monitoring, and assessment of implementation by various organizations that support persons with disabilities. Electoral law provides for access and assistance to voters with disabilities in polling booths, including the right for them to vote first.

The city of Maputo offered free bus passes to persons with disabilities. Buses in Maputo, however, did not have specific accessibility features.

The government did not effectively implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. Discrimination in private-sector and government employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other services was common. Observers often cited unequal access to employment as one of the biggest problems. The government did not effectively implement programs to provide access to information and communication for persons with disabilities. Educational opportunities for children with disabilities were generally poor, especially for those with developmental disabilities. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children. The government sometimes referred parents of children with disabilities to private schools with more resources to provide for their children. The Mozambican Association for the Disabled Persons (ADEMO) reported teacher-training programs did not address the needs of students with disabilities. ADEMO also stated school buildings did not meet international standards for accessibility, and public tenders did not include provisions for the accessibility of persons with disabilities.

Doctors reported many families abandoned family members with disabilities at the country’s only psychiatric hospital. ADEMO reported access to equipment, such as wheelchairs, was a challenge due to lengthy and complicated bureaucratic procedures.

Antidiscrimination laws protected LGBTI persons only from employment discrimination. No hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against LGBTI persons. Since 2008 the government has failed to take action on LAMBDA’s request to register legally (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

There were no media or other reports of bias-motivated attacks on LGBTI persons; however, discrimination in public medical facilities was reported. Medical staff sometimes chastised LGBTI individuals for their LGBTI status when they sought treatment. Intimidation was not a factor in preventing incidents of abuse from being reported.

There were reports of societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination, social exclusion, and abuse were prevalent, including in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Reports continued of many women expelled from their homes and abandoned by their husbands and relatives because they were HIV-positive. Family or community members accused some women widowed by HIV/AIDS of being witches who purposely killed their husbands to acquire belongings; as retribution, they deprived the women of all possessions.

The government denounced violence against persons with albinism. Courts tended to sentence those convicted of the murder and kidnapping of persons with albinism more harshly than those convicted of similar crimes that did not involve persons with albinism.

Albimoz and Amor a Vida, local NGOs that advocated for persons with albinism, documented cases in which assailants kidnapped, maimed, or killed persons with albinism. Criminals attacked them, often with the assistance of a family member, and sold their body parts to traditional healers purportedly from outside the country, who, according to government officials, sought their body parts because of their alleged “magical” properties.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for workers, with limited exceptions, to form and join independent trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law requires government approval to establish a union. By law the government may take up to 45 days to register unions, a delay the International Labor Organization has deemed excessive. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Workers in defense and security services, tax administration, prison workers, the fire brigade, judges and prosecutors, and the President’s Office staff members are prohibited from unionizing. Other public-sector workers may form and join unions, but they are prohibited from striking.

The law does not allow strike action until complex conciliation, mediation, and arbitration procedures are exhausted, which typically takes two to three weeks. Sectors deemed essential must provide a “minimum level” of service during a strike. Workers’ ability to conduct union activities in workplaces was strictly limited. The law provides for voluntary arbitration for “essential services” personnel monitoring the weather and fuel supply, postal service workers, export processing zone workers, and those loading and unloading animals and perishable foodstuffs. The law requires that strikes be announced at least five days in advance, and the announcement must include the expected duration of the strike, although the government interprets this to allow indefinite strikes. Mediation and arbitration bodies, in addition to the unions and workers themselves, may end strikes. The government respected the legal prohibition of antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, it does not explicitly provide for reinstatement of workers terminated for union activities. An employee fired with cause does not have a right to severance, but employees terminated without cause do. Unemployment insurance does not exist, and there is no social safety net program for workers laid off for economic reasons.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers were only able to exercise a few of these rights. Unions regularly negotiated wage increases and organized strikes. Collective bargaining contracts covered less than 5 percent of the workforce.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws. Government efforts included fining companies that violated labor laws and the expulsion of foreign supervisors who allegedly did not follow the law. Fines were not sufficient to deter violators.

The largest trade union organization, the Organization of Mozambican Workers, was perceived as biased in favor of the government and ruling party Frelimo. There were no independent unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.

The government did not enforce these laws effectively. There was limited evidence of forced labor and forced child labor in the domestic and agricultural sectors. Girls and women from rural areas, as well as migrant workers from bordering countries, were lured to cities with false promises of employment or education and exploited in domestic servitude and sex trafficking.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government has established laws and regulations that prohibit the worst forms of child labor; however, gaps exist in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor. Children are not permitted to work in occupations that are unhealthy, dangerous, or require significant physical effort. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 14 occupational categories, including domestic service, mining, and production of tobacco. The minimum working age without restrictions is 18. The law permits children between ages 15 and 17 to work with a Ministry of Labor permit. The employer is required to provide for their training and provide conditions of work that are not damaging to their physical and moral development. Children between ages 15 and 18 may work up to seven hours a day for a total of 38 hours a week.

The Ministry of Labor regulates child labor in the formal sector, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Labor inspectors may obtain court orders and have police enforce compliance with child labor provisions. Criminal law enforcement officers work with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action (MGCAS) and the National Reference Group for the Protection of Children and Combating Trafficking in Persons to coordinate referrals of children to social service providers. Furthermore, MGCAS has a standard operating procedure for handling human trafficking victims, which incorporates an intake form used nationwide by law enforcement officers, including border officials, to collect the necessary data from victims and to provide for professional care and referrals to appropriate services. The National Reference Group for the Protection of Children and Combatting Trafficking in Persons also expanded groups throughout all provinces and districts in the country, resulting in improvements in the areas of protection, assistance, and reintegration of victims. There were no mechanisms in place for submitting complaints regarding hazardous and forced child labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Enforcement mechanisms generally were inadequate in the formal sector and nonexistent in the informal sector.

The labor inspectorate and police lacked adequate staff, funds, and training to investigate child labor cases, especially in areas outside the capital, where a majority of the abuses occurred. Inspectors earned low wages (like many government employees) making them vulnerable to, and often inclined to seek, bribes. Inspectors often did not have the means to travel to sites and therefore relied on the company they were investigating to provide transportation to the site of an alleged violation. The government provided training on child prostitution and abuse prevention to police officers and additional training to labor inspectors on trafficking identification and prevention.

Child labor remained a problem. NGOs reported some girls who migrated from rural areas to urban centers to work as domestic help for extended family or acquaintances to settle debts were vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Mothers who did not complete secondary school were more likely to have children involved in child labor. Due to economic necessity, especially in rural areas, children worked in agriculture, as domestic employees, or in prostitution.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced applicable law. Penalties (such as fines) were sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities was common, and access to employment was one of the biggest problems facing persons with disabilities.

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against workers because of HIV/AIDS status, and the Ministry of Labor generally intervened in cases of perceived discrimination by employers. With an increased public awareness of this law, there were no public reports of individuals dismissed because of their HIV status.

There were multiple reports in local media of the Ministry of Labor suspending the contracts of irregular foreign workers. Some foreign workers reported harassment by Ministry of Labor inspectors after disputes with Mozambican coworkers and being forced to pay bribes for work permits or leave the country. In 2017, however, the Constitutional Council ruled it was unconstitutional for the government to expel foreign workers without judicial approval.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The lowest government-mandated minimum wage, based on industry, was above the official poverty line. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours but may be extended to 48 hours. Overtime must be paid for hours worked in excess of 48 hours at 50 percent above the base hourly salary. These legal protections apply to foreign workers holding work permits.

The government sets occupational health and safety (OSH) standards that were up to date and appropriate for the main industries. Health and environmental laws protect workers in the formal sector; however, they do not apply to the informal economy, which comprised an estimated 95 percent of the workforce. Workers have the right to clean and safe workplaces including good physical, environmental, and moral conditions. Workers have the right to be informed of safety risks and instruction on how to follow the regulations and improve safety, including the right to protective clothing and equipment, first aid, health exams, and compensation for workplace injuries or sickness. OSH officers are responsible for identifying unsafe working conditions, but workers may file complaints regarding unsafe situations.

In January labor disputes were reported in Cabo Delgado Province. Workers in Palma District staged a strike in response to the perceived lack of security for local workers and their families due to extremist activity. In response the government imposed a one-week curfew and reinforced its security presence.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage rates in the private sector, and the Ministry of Finance does so in the public sector. The ministries usually investigated violations of minimum wage rates only after workers submitted a complaint.

The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards in the informal economy, since the Ministry of Labor only regulates the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Agricultural workers were among the most vulnerable to poor work conditions and wage theft. The lack of frequent and enforced sanctions for violations created little deterrence for violations. Despite the relatively low number of inspectors, some businesses reported frequent visits by labor inspectors citing capricious violations and threats of fines in order to receive bribes.

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution established the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN).

The Nepal Police are responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The Armed Police Force (APF) is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and APF report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army (NA) is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The NA reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective authority over the Nepal Police, APF, and Army.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; arbitrary detention by government; site blocking and criminal defamation laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive NGO laws; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; significant acts of corruption; and use of forced, compulsory, and child labor.

The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability nor did most conflict-era human rights violators.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although journalists, NGOs, and political activists said the government restricted media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the government. Journalists and NGOs said the criminal and civil codes and Privacy Act criminalize normal media activity, such as reporting on public figures, and triggered a significant increase in self-censorship by the media. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that both the constitution and civil code enable the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists several circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.”

Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could voice their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. In February a popular folk singer released a satirical song criticizing government corruption; the singer removed his song from YouTube after allegedly receiving threats from the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s youth organization. In July the government attempted to limit freedom of expression for the members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community by initially rejecting requests from the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. When Tibetan Buddhists held private events in the largest settlement in Kathmandu, police intervened to stop the celebration. On December 12, the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office was allowed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in Dhagkar Monastery, Swoyambhu following discussions with the Swoyambhu police officials.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with some exceptions. Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and government officials and that vague provisions in laws and regulations prompted an increase in self-censorship by journalists.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of the media and rarely prosecuted individuals who attacked journalists.

Journalists stated that they continued to receive vague threats from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. In June a ward chair in Birgunj attacked campaigner Piraj Yadav for requesting road construction costs under right to information provisions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.

Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. The criminal code, for example, extends the scope of limitation on freedom of expression compared to the language in the constitution for national security and for maintaining public order, and defines defamation as a criminal offense. The FNJ argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions were not enforced against any media houses.

Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: In June authorities jailed a satirist for defamation under the Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) after he lampooned a Nepali film on social media. Widespread public protests ensued, and authorities released him after nine days; he was acquitted of all charges in court.

There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the ETA in response to material posted on social media. The ETA prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize harmonious relations.” In 2017 the government issued an amended online media operation directive, which requires all domestically based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new version makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s value added tax or permanent account number registration certificate. Renewals now require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content. Human rights and press freedom NGO Freedom Forum reported more than 100 cases filed in court, mostly related to the ETA.

In April online reporter Arjun Giri was briefly jailed for writing about a businessman’s alleged financial fraud; he was officially absolved of wrongdoing in August.

The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, with the exception of events in the Tibetan community, which faced restrictions (see section 2.b.).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly.

Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. Government permits are required to hold large public events. The government continued its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events, such as Tibetan New Year and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.

In June large protests erupted in Kathmandu against a bill, since withdrawn, to nationalize the administration of Guthis, community-run land ownership organizations. The gathering was the largest since the antimonarchy movement during 2006-2007. Police exhibited restraint and there were no reports of violence.

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) is restrictive and cumbersome, the government has wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements vary among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis. Additionally, the Association Registration Act empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council (SWC), the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The SWC requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs, which places undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy issues.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers except as noted below.

In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without recourse to present required documents at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being exploited in trafficking or otherwise abused in overseas employment, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border rendering them more vulnerable to exploitation.

The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks displaced millions of individuals. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2018 led to 12,000 displacements.

Many earthquake-affected IDPs remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.

Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement has not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property issues, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.

The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized large numbers of Tibetans as refugees and supported resettlement to foreign countries of certain Bhutanese refugees. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the approximately 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since. UNHCR reported 639 refugees and 49 asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 53 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, 45 in 2018, and 10 as of September. The government previously issued UNHCR-facilitated exit permits for recent arrivals from Tibet who were transiting while traveling to India but ceased doing so. While Nepal-based Tibetans with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque and travel documents were typically valid for one year and a single trip. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied fines of $5 per day out of status and a discretionary penalty of up to $500 to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.

Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The Nepal-born children of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions and were denied the right to work officially. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property. NGOs reported an improvement in refugees’ ability to obtain civil registration documents, although some refugees continued to experience difficulties documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.

The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to these urban refugees, but refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work.

Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. The government officially does not allow the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it previously allowed UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. During the year new local authorities were allowing Bhutanese children access to public schools on an ad hoc basis. Since 2007 the government permitted third-country resettlement for more than 113,000 Bhutanese refugees.

An estimated six million individuals lacked citizenship documentation, although the majority of these would be eligible for citizenship under local law. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.

Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the registering parent, which contributed to statelessness.

Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage, birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary, provincial, and local assembly elections over five phases throughout 2017. International observers indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally well conducted, despite some violent incidents, and logistical and operational challenges, including a notable lack of transparency and adequate voter education by the ECN, which affected the electoral process. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small explosive devices and hoax bombs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws explicitly limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies and allocates one third of all federal and provincial legislative seats to women; LGBTI activists noted that this mandate excludes nonbinary candidates from running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In February a commissioner, Raj Narayan Pathak, at the Commission for the Investigations of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the country’s chief anticorruption agency, resigned after a video leaked of his accepting a bribe to resolve an ongoing case before CIAA concerning privatization of a public educational institution. After the resignation the OAG advised CIAA to investigate its former commissioner. In March CIAA lodged a corruption case against Pathak. The CIAA sought to fine and punish Pathak under Section 3 (1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The case is pending before the Special Court.

The CIAA expanded its investigative scope in 2018 to include a civil engineering lab to determine the quality of materials used in public infrastructure, a common target for systemic corrupt cost cutting. During the year the CIAA conducted 97 sting operations which facilitated the arrest of 154 civil servants, including a senior civil servant.

As in previous years, student and labor groups associated with political parties demanded contributions from schools and businesses. Corruption remained problematic within the Nepal Police and APF.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws and the vast majority of civil servants complied with the requirement. Despite the required financial disclosures, the National Vigilance Center, the body mandated to monitor financial disclosures and make them publicly available, generally did not systematically review its findings or publish these details.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were generally cooperative with NGO investigations, the government placed administrative burdens on some international NGOs by complicating procedures for obtaining visas and compelling them to sign asset control documents. Some NGOs, particularly those with a religious element, reported increasing bureaucratic constraints after the devolution of power to local level officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC investigated allegations of abuses, but insufficient staff (95 out of 309 positions were vacant as of September, a decrease from 232 vacant positions in August 2016), and limitations on its mandate led some activists to view the body as ineffective and insufficiently independent. The NHRC claimed the government helped promote impunity by failing to implement its recommendations fully. The NHRC stated that from its establishment in 2000 through the year’s end, it had made recommendations for prosecution and reparations in 995 cases (as of September). More than three-quarters of these involved conflict-era incidents.

The Nepal Police and APF each have an HRS and the NA has a human rights directorate (HRD). The NA HRD and Nepal Police HRS have independent investigative powers. The NA’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs.

The government and judiciary have not significantly addressed conflict-era human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the NA, Nepal Police, APF, and Maoist parties.

There were significant delays in implementing and granting full independence to the country’s two transitional justice mechanisms, CIEDP and the TRC. Human rights experts continue to report that neither of the mechanisms have made significant progress on investigations or reporting. The CIEDP and TRC commissioners’ tenure expired in April without having fulfilled their mandate and new commissioners had to be appointed as of December.

Local human rights advocates cite legal shortcomings that pose obstacles to a comprehensive and credible transitional justice process in the country. For example, the law does not retroactively criminalize torture or enforced disappearance, and the statute of limitations for rape is only 180 days.

Additionally, the law does not specifically recognize war crimes or crimes against humanity, although the constitution recognizes as law treaties to which the country is a party. Critics also cite instances in which parliament failed to implement Supreme Court decisions. For example, in a 2015 ruling, the court nullified provisions of the TRC and CIEDP Act that would have granted the commissions discretionary power to recommend amnesty for serious crimes because amnesty would violate the then interim constitution and international obligations. As of September, parliament had not amended the act to bring it in line with the Supreme Court decision, although the CIEDP commissions have stated they intend to abide by the court’s rulings.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is illegal, with minimum prison sentences that vary between five and 15 years, depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of a woman with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse.

Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although several high-profile cases highlighted the government’s failure to secure justice for rape victims. In July 2018, 13-year-old Nirmala Panta was raped and killed in Kanchanpur district. A government panel that reviewed the police response found that investigators acted with grave negligence and destroyed key evidence in the case. In March the district court charged eight police personnel for tampering with evidence. As of September the case was unresolved. Human rights activists outside of Kathmandu expressed concern that police frequently refuse to register cases of gender-based violence, including occasionally rape cases. These groups reported that police often preferred to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts. On October 1, allegations of rape against Speaker of Federal Parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara led to his resignation at the request of Prime Minister Oli and the ruling Nepal Communist Party. As of November Mahara remained in police custody pending trial.

Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. NGOs reported that violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was one of the major factors responsible for women’s relatively poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization and contributed to intergenerational poverty. The law allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.

The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 77 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to the women and children service directorate, some women’s cells were not fully operational, but the Nepal Police, with assistance from foreign governments and NGOs, endeavored to build and improve their infrastructure and capacity. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, this guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.

The government maintained service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of gender-based violence. Gender experts said the service centers have improved coordination among police, NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution criminalizes violence against or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The criminal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes penalties of up to NRs 30,000 ($300), prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The legislation also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing fines of up to NRs 50,000 ($500), prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the law stipulates that any psychological abuse of women, including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry, is punishable. Nevertheless, according to NGOs, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage, which remained prevalent, limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse, including sex trafficking. Early and forced marriages were especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities (see “Children” section). Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence and forced marriage, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.

Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. There were no reported prosecutions under the law. Media and NGOs reported some cases of violence against alleged witches, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem.

The law criminalizes acid attacks. The NGO Burns Violence Survivors Nepal documented two acid attacks from January to September.

The practice of “chhaupadi” (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in cattle sheds) continued to be a serious problem despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision and 2008 guidelines from the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare outlawing the practice. In 2018 a law that formally criminalized the practice went into effect; it stipulates a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 3,000 ($30), or both. Some local officials implemented various efforts to eliminate chhaupadi, including education campaigns and physical destruction of sheds, but stigma and tradition maintained the practice, particularly in rural western districts, where women periodically died from exposure to the elements. For example, local media reported that in January a woman died from exposure in her menstruation hut in Achham district, and two days later, a mother and her two children died of smoke inhalation while sleeping in her hut. On December 5, Nepal Police arrested an individual reportedly involved in the death of a woman in a menstruation hut, the first arrest of its kind since adoption of the 2018 law.

Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 50,000 ($500), or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are insufficiently severe and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.) and especially in rural areas. Dalit women in particular faced gender and caste discrimination. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access and authority to the estate of their deceased husbands; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce these provisions.

The Gender Equality Act adopted in 2006–along with more than 60 other laws–contains discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.

The constitution does not allow women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to citizen wives.

For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.

Birth Registration: Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the parent, which contributed to statelessness (see section 2.d., Statelessness). There was no difference in birth registration policies and procedures based on the sex of the child.

The constitution states that citizenship derives from one citizen parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a citizen mother and a noncitizen father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of citizen parents, even when the mother possessed citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.

The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent but be eligible for naturalization. In practice many single women face difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of citizen mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but he refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.

Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lack specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.

Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The law divides the education system into Basic Education (Early Childhood Development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and Secondary Education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2017-18 school year, 97.2 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity. A gender gap in secondary education persisted, with two-thirds of adolescent girls in rural areas reportedly not attending school.

Some children, particularly girls, face barriers to accessing education due to lack of sanitation facilities, geographic distance, costs associated with schooling, household chores, and lack of parental support. Countrywide, 32.4 percent of schools lack separate toilet facilities for girls, which can deter them from attending school, especially when they are menstruating. Barriers for attending school for school-age boys include pressure to find employment, migration to work outside the country, and issues with drugs and alcohol. Children with disabilities face additional barriers to accessing education, including denial of school admission. In addition, children are required to attend school only up to age 13. This standard makes children age 13 and older vulnerable to child labor despite not being legally permitted to work.

Medical Care: The government provided basic health care free to children and adults although parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to greater awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the National Child Rights Council.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20, but the country has a high rate of child marriage. According to UNICEF, more than a third of young women aged 20-24 reported they were married by the age of 18, and approximately 10 percent by age 15.

Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The civil code provides that the government must act whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and exploited in prostitution, including by tourists, and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (sometimes fronts for brothels). Enforcement was generally weak due to limited police investigation and capacity, and police sometimes arrested girls in commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years. The penalties for rape vary according to the age of the victim and the relationship.

There is no specific law against child pornography, but the law stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed. The legal framework, however, does not explicitly prohibit the use of a child in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.d.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.

Institutionalized Children: Abuse, including sexual abuse, and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately one-third of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation, but there is no reliable data on the many unregistered homes. NGOs reported some children in the institutions were forced to beg. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years.

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

There was a small Jewish community in the country, and 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 prohibits discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contains additional specific rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all physically disabled citizens who are “financially poor” and the provision of special instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities.

The government provides services for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including a monthly stipend, building shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each of 753 local governments. In 2017 parliament passed the Disability Rights Act, which provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. The act also prohibits discrimination based on disability. Although government efforts to enforce laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities gradually improved, they still were not fully effective. For example, books printed in Braille were not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education was not uniformly available to all interested persons with disability. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, the government did “no additional work” in this area during the year.

The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of NRs 2,000 ($20) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled, and NRs 600 ($6) for the “severely” disabled. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Three provincial governments funded sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist persons with hearing disabilities in obtaining government services. The government allocated approximately NRs 90 million ($900,000) from the national budget to fund programs for persons with disabilities, including grants to several disability-related organizations and a minimum budget to pay for community-based rehabilitation in all 77 districts.

The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens reported that most of the 753 municipalities have allocated funding to minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, under the new federal system. Most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.

There are no restrictions in law on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, however, there were obstacles to exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.

The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.

Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of Dalits and made an effort to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also established the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits. While the government promulgated the accompanying laws to prohibit discrimination in late 2018, Dalit rights activists maintained that the laws banned discrimination too generally without explicitly protecting Dalits.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.

The government recognized 59 ethnic/caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination.

No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.

According to local LGBTI advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunities for LGBTI persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). Additionally, advocacy groups stated that some LGBTI persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.

Although several LGBTI candidates ran for office in local elections in recent years, LGBTI activists noted that election authorities prevented one person in 2017 who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. Separately, LGBTI activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting out of fear of harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.

According to LGBTI rights NGOs, harassment and abuse of LGBTI persons by private citizens and government officials declined during the year, especially in urban areas, although such incidents still occurred.

LGBTI rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. The Nepal Police HRS confirmed that some low-level harassment occurred because many citizens held negative views of LGBTI persons. The HRS added that the Nepal Police were not immune to such social prejudices.

There was no official discrimination against persons who provided HIV-prevention services or against high-risk groups that could spread HIV/AIDS.

Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV remained common, according to NGOs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, except those organizations deemed by the government to be subversive or seditious. Freedom of association extends to workers in both the formal and informal sectors. Noncitizens cannot be elected as trade union officials. Local workers have the right to strike and bargain collectively, except for employees in essential services, including public transportation, banking, security, and health care. The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act approved in August 2016 prohibits workers from striking in any SEZ. The government is developing the country’s first two special economic zones in Bhairahawa and Simara, both in the portion of the country near the Indian border. Members of the armed forces, police, and government officials at the undersecretary level or higher also are prohibited from taking part in union activities. In the private sector, employees in managerial positions are not permitted to join unions.

The law stipulates that unions must represent at least 25 percent of workers in a given workplace to be considered representative. The minimum requirement does not prohibit the formation of unofficial union groups, which under certain conditions may call strikes and enter into direct negotiation with the government. Workers in the informal sector may also form unions, but many workers were not aware of these rights.

The law also protects union representatives from adverse legal action arising from their official union duties, including collective bargaining, and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Workers dismissed for engaging in union activities can seek reinstatement by filing a complaint in labor court or with the Department of Labor, which has semijudicial and mediation authority. Most cases are settled through mediation. By law employers can fire workers only under limited conditions and only after three instances of misconduct. The law stipulates that participation in a strike that does not meet legal requirements constitutes misconduct, for which the consequences are suspension or termination of employment.

To conduct a legal strike, 51 percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor in a secret ballot, and unions are required to give 30 days’ notice before striking. If the union is unregistered, does not have majority support, or calls a strike prior to issuing 30 days’ notice, the strike is considered illegal.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Although the government restricted strikes in essential services, workers in hospitals, education services, and the transportation sector occasionally called strikes during the year and did not face any legal penalties. Many unions had links to political parties and did not operate independently from them but worked effectively to advance the rights of workers. The government did not interfere in the functioning of workers’ organizations or threaten union leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides penalties which if enforced would be sufficient to deter violations. The law does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law and the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor.

Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively screen for labor trafficking among abused migrant workers and handled such cases administratively in lieu of criminal investigation. In addition, despite reports of worker exploitation, including trafficking, and illegal recruitment fees charged by recruitment agencies, the government did not sufficiently investigate agencies for violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for work and 17 as the minimum age for hazardous work, and it defines and mandates acceptable working conditions for children. The minimum age for hazardous work is not consistent with international standards because it does not prohibit children age 17 from engaging in hazardous work. The types of hazardous work prohibited for children also do not include brickmaking, a sector in which there is evidence that work involves carrying heavy loads and being exposed to hazardous substances. Employers must maintain separate records of laborers between the ages of 14 and 17. The law prohibits employment of children in factories, mines, and 60 other categories of hazardous work and limits children between the ages of 16 and 17 to a 36-hour workweek (six hours a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., six days a week). The law also establishes penalties for those who unlawfully employ children which are sufficient to deter violations.

The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and practices, did not effectively do so. The Department of Labor conducted most of its labor inspections in the formal sector while nearly all child labor occurred in the informal sector. The Department had 10 factory inspector positions in district labor offices and two senior factory inspector positions in Kathmandu. Chronic vacancies in these positions, however, limited the department’s effectiveness. Some of these positions were vacant due to regular rotation of civil servants, and resources devoted to enforcement were limited. Although labor inspectors periodically received training on child labor laws and inspection, this training did not necessarily adhere to any formal schedule. A broad range of laws and policies were designed to combat and eventually eliminate child labor. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor, including forced child labor, occurred in agriculture, domestic service, portering, recycling, and transportation; the worst abuses were reported in brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, the carpet sector, embroidery factories, and the entertainment sector. In the informal sector, children worked long hours in unhealthy environments, carried heavy loads, were at risk of sexual exploitation, and at times suffered from numerous health problems (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, geographical or social origin, language, marital status, physical or health condition, disability, or ideological conviction. Labor regulations prohibit discrimination in payment or remuneration based on gender.

There are no provisions in the constitution, law, or regulations prohibiting discrimination, including labor discrimination, or discrimination based on color, age, national origin or citizenship, HIV-positive status, or other communicable disease.

Despite constitutional and legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, caste, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Such discrimination was most common in the informal sector, where monitoring by the government and human rights organizations was weak or absent and those in disadvantaged categories had little leverage or recourse. In the formal sector, labor discrimination generally took the form of upper-caste men without disabilities being favored in hiring, promotions, and transfers.

To be eligible for government jobs, Nepali national origin or citizenship is mandatory.

According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens and disability rights advocates, the overall rate of employment of persons with disabilities did not increase significantly. In the private sector, large numbers of persons with disabilities claimed they were denied work opportunities or dismissed due to their conditions. In all sectors employees with disabilities reported other forms of discriminatory treatment.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the government made little progress in implementing antidiscrimination legal provisions to assure employment opportunities for lower-caste individuals in both the public and private sectors. There was no comprehensive data on this abuse.

Reliable data on discrimination against LGBTI persons in various sectors was not available, but activists reported it was common for gender and sexual minorities to be denied promotions and competitive opportunities within the security services and athletics.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage exceeded the official poverty line but it was minimally sufficient to meet subsistence needs.

Minimum-wage laws apply to both the formal sector (which accounted for approximately 10 percent of the workforce) and the informal sector, but implementation was stronger in the formal sector.

The law stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with one day off per week and one-half hour of rest per five hours worked. The law limits overtime to no more than four hours in a day and 20 hours per week, with a 50 percent overtime premium per hour. Excessive compulsory overtime is prohibited. Employees are also entitled to paid public holiday leave, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, and other special leave. The law provides adequate occupational health and safety standards and establishes other benefits, such as a provident fund, housing facilities, day-care arrangements for establishments with more than 50 female workers, and maternity benefits.

The Ministry of Labor, and Employment, and Social Security reported that most factories in the formal sector complied with laws on minimum wage and hours of work, but implementation varied in the informal sector, including in agriculture and domestic servitude. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce the wage and hour laws or the occupational health and safety laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Implementation and enforcement of occupational health and safety standards were minimal, and the Ministry of Labor, and Employment, and Social Security considered it the most neglected area of labor law enforcement. The ministry found violations across sectors, including in construction, mining, transportation, agriculture, and factory work.

The government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce occupational safety and health provisions. The Ministry of Labor, and Employment, and Social Security did not have a specific office dedicated to occupational safety and health, nor did it have inspectors specifically trained in this area. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although the law authorizes factory inspectors to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remained minimal, and monitoring was weak. Accurate data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available. Labor law and regulations do not specify that workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The government regulated labor contracting, or “manpower,” agencies recruiting workers for overseas jobs, and penalized fraudulent recruitment practices. The government said it remained committed to the free-visa, free-ticket scheme introduced in 2015, but according to migrant rights NGOs, the government has failed to implement the policy effectively. Some government officials were complicit in falsifying travel documents and overlooking recruiting violations by labor contractors. The Department of Foreign Employment introduced measures during the year to reduce the number of registered manpower agencies and more closely scrutinize their activities. The myriad unregistered and unregulated labor “brokers” and intermediaries, who were often trusted members of the community, complicated effective monitoring of recruitment practices. Workers were also encouraged to register and pay a fee to the Foreign Employment Board, which tracked migrant workers and provided some compensation for workers whose rights were violated.

The government required contracts for workers going abroad to be translated into Nepali and instituted provisions whereby workers must attend a predeparture orientation program. During the orientation workers are made aware of their rights and legal recourse, should their rights be violated. The effectiveness of the initiatives remained questionable since workers who went overseas often skipped the mandatory training, and many companies issued predeparture orientation certificates for a small fee and failed to deliver the training. Migrant workers heading abroad often continued to face exploitive conditions.

According to the International Labor Organization, more than 70 percent of the economically active population was involved in the informal economy.

The law provides for protection of workers from work situations that endanger their health and safety, but in small and cottage industries located in small towns and villages, employers sometimes forced workers to work in such situations or risk losing their jobs. The number of labor inspectors is insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. President Issoufou Mahamadou won a second term in 2016. He won 92 percent of the vote in a second round boycotted by the opposition. The African Union certified the election as free and fair despite the criticism of some domestic observers who noted the jailing of the leadership of the lead opposition party among other irregularities. The government replaced regionally elected political leadership accused of corruption with political appointments. Early in the year, the political opposition boycotted a political mediation council and the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). At year’s end, the government and CENI were hosting tentative, informal election-related discussions.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. On November 30, 2018, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful killings and forced disappearances by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces and armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; lack of accountability for cases of violence against women and girls due in part to government inaction; and caste-based slavery and forced labor, including forced or child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The Defense Forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all Nigerien peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. Several agencies possess the authority to investigate abuses by security forces. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of Police, National Guard, and Fire Department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of Civil Protection personnel, vice Fire Department, which is covered by the Office of the Inspector General for Army and Gendarmerie). The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the Gendarmerie and military forces. Nevertheless, law enforcement impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government was involved in campaigns against terrorist groups on its borders with Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and it was wary of increasing terror attacks in Burkina Faso and spillover from insecurity in Libya.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

From April to December, nine social media activists were either briefly detained, summoned, or arrested. In April Mohamedine Mohamed, a blogger, was arrested on the charge of working under the guise of a fake profile. On May 29, Bana Ibrahim Kaza, a young politician and blogger from Lumana-Africa, the largest opposition party, was detained for posting an article on his blog. On December 19, Kaocen Saidou Maiga was arrested for posting an article on social media about the December 10 terrorist attack in which 71 soldiers were killed at an army camp at Inates.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally subjected journalists and civil society activists to harassment apparently linked to their reporting. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

On December 24, four members of the steering committee of the Association of Bloggers for Active Citizenship including its founder, Samira Sabou Ibrahim, were interrogated at the Passport Authority’s Office following a request they submitted in order to obtain an authorization for their association to operate legally in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists reported sometimes encountering pressure against antigovernment speech. Public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

On July 26, the Niamey High Court confirmed a verdict by the Court of Niamey finding the government culpable for the illegal closing of the Labari radio and television chain in March 2018. The Niamey High Court affirmed a 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) fine for damages and interest incurred by Labari. The government had one month to appeal the decision. The Labari press group was owned by Ali Idrissa, a civil society activist and coordinator of the Network of Organizations for Budgetary Transparency and Analysis, who accused the government of taking actions to silence him and his press.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency for a further three months at year’s end in these regions. Furthermore, the National Security Council, led by President Issoufou, issued a note prohibiting the use of motorcycles in the Tillabery Region and certain parts of Doso Region.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, Ali Tera, who was deported from the United States in April for overstaying his visa, was arrested based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention.

In June the National Assembly adopted a law intended to counter cybercriminality but regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders could face from six months to three years in prison and pay a fine ranging from one to five million CFA francs ($1,700 to $8,500). Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.

The government proposed a new system for government appointment of university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff. Through May teachers held strikes at public universities across the country, demanding the continuation of the election process within the university system and the payment of several months of unpaid salaries. In April the National Assembly passed the government’s proposed system. On May 23, however, the National Union of Higher Education Teachers (SNECS) asked its members to suspend strikes following a memorandum of understanding signed with the government.

The Minister of Higher Education Yahouza Sadissou, and the Secretary General of SNECS Na-Balla Adare, agreed to enter discussion on all points raised by SNECS. The minister also agreed to return the payroll deductions for strike action by SNECS activists and to pay backlogged salaries for teacher researchers by August 2020.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice.

On December 26, the Niamey Special Delegate’s Office, acting in its capacity of mayor, issued a statement banning a peaceful protest scheduled for December 29 by a coalition of civil society associations against recurring deadly terrorist attacks in the country and the presence of foreign military troops. The mayor justified the ban noting fears of outbreak of social upheaval. Civil society members planned to express their frustration with the government for the December 10 terrorist attack at the military camp in Inates in which 71 soldiers were killed. Despite the stated ban, a peaceful protest took place.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government respected most of these rights.

In September the National Agency to Fight Against Trafficking in Persons organized a meeting with various courts, attorneys general, and appropriate officials from the Ministries of Justice and Interior to review the nation’s legal framework addressing trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling, and other irregular migration.

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were more than 104,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Diffa Region, with almost 190,000 nationally, and 29,954 returnees displaced because of Boko Haram-instigated violence. These IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the region. The government worked with foreign donors, international aid organizations, and NGOs to supply IDPs with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. In December 2018 the National Assembly adopted a law based on the 2009 African Union Kampala Convention for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.

Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. At the end of November, UNHCR reported approximately 55,030 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and 22,925 in the Tahoua Region.

As of June between 20,000 and 60,000 refugees entered Maradi Region, fleeing violence in the Zamfara and Sokoto States of Nigeria.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of year’s end, UNHCR managed three refugee camps in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) and one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane), where refugees could settle freely with their livestock and thus maintain their traditional pastoral way of life. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the IDPs mentioned above, there were an estimated 56,500 Malian refugees in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. UNHCR also managed one refugee camp in the Diffa Region with 14,500 refugees. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the 104,000 IDPs, there were more than 119,000 Nigerian refugees in the Diffa Region. More than 88 percent of refugees in the Diffa Region resided outside of formal camps.

A tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Niger and Mali, signed in 2014, provides a legal framework for voluntary returns respecting international standards. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive to returns in safety and dignity and therefore return was not being promoted.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa Region were vulnerable to armed attacks and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they may harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Refoulement: In early May 2018, the government arrested and deported to Libya 132 Sudanese nationals without a deportation process or opportunity for appeal. These deportees were among a loose grouping of approximately 2,000 Sudanese migrants who, over the course of several weeks, had moved into Agadez and surrounding areas from Libya, where they had likely also been looking for work. UNHCR worked with the government to reconfirm the government’s commitment to allow those potentially seeking protection the time and space for their cases to be considered, and by May the government approved the asylum requests of the remaining Sudanese.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing Niger to return to their countries of origin.

Not applicable.

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.

Recent Elections: President Issoufou of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) won his second mandate in the 2016 presidential election, while a coalition led by the PNDS won 118 of 171 National Assembly seats in the legislative elections. The constitution limits residents to two terms in office. The opposition MODEN-FA Lumana party secured 25 seats, and the National Movement for the Development of Society won 20 seats. PNDS party member Brigi Rafini retained his post as prime minister. The African Union certified the election as free and fair over the criticism of some domestic observers, who noted the jailing of the leadership of the main opposition party, among other irregularities.

In anticipation of presidential elections in 2016, the government postponed local elections scheduled for 2015. Subsequent legislation allowed the government to authorize the continued service of locally elected officials who should have run for election in 2015 but had not done so by year’s end. The process of extending the mandate of elected local officials every six months was limited by legislation to four years, meaning local elections were to be held during the year, but CENI scheduled them to precede the presidential election in December 2020.

The government dissolved several elected regional councils and removed several elected mayors from office on the ground of mismanagement, replacing them with government appointees.

A new electoral law passed in 2017 was rejected by the opposition and some ruling majority members for centralizing election authority within the ruling party. The law created the first permanent CENI but defined its voting board in a way that left it strongly dominated by the ruling coalition. Small parties from both the opposition and the ruling party coalitions objected to new limitations on the ability of small parties to participate in election planning. As a result, the opposition boycotted CENI, raising concerns about the legitimacy of election planning and inclusivity of the process for both the anticipated local elections and the first round of the national elections, both of which were to take place in December 2020.

The opposition also boycotted a political dialogue process for much of the year, although it participated in some efforts towards year’s end to resolve election preparation issues.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media.

Opposition leader Hama Amadou returned from exile on November 14. He was found guilty in absentia of baby trafficking (a type of adoption fraud) by a Niamey court in 2017, given a one-year prison term, and banned from running for public office. After being allowed to mourn the death of his mother, he voluntarily reported to prison to serve the remaining eight months of his sentence. Critics alleged the case was politically motivated to prevent Hama Amadou from challenging President Issoufou or the ruling party in any future elections, although President Issoufou stated he did not intend to seek another term in the 2020 elections.

The 2017 Electoral Law required the creation of biometric voter lists for all future elections. Because only approximately 20 percent of citizens have birth documents, observers noted creating a biometric voter list would be challenging. The Ministry of Interior began organizing workshops where witnesses could declare birth information before a judge, resulting in identity documents that could be used to build a biometric voter list. The Ministry of Interior began enrolling eligible voters within the new biometric voter system in August. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized these efforts, noting that ruling party control of the process might bias the selection of communities or regions for enrollment workshops.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 28 of 171 National Assembly seats (16 percent). Major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government, with the exception of the Fulani ethnic minority, who complained they lacked commensurate representation in the senior levels of the government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” specifically ethnic minorities and nomadic populations.

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 often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government publicly acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly financed and trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education.

The High Authority for the Fight Against Corruption and Related Offenses (HALCIA) actively investigated official corruption and made several official reports, some of which led to punitive action by the government, including arrests. Presidential control of its budget, however, limited HALCIA’s independence.

HALCIA received a complaint that members of the national agency that assists citizens in performing the Hajj received bribes to use particular vendors and did not use payments by citizens on the Hajj for promised services.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and they complied. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. The National Register and the press published the initial statements and updates. Copies of the statements were forwarded to the government’s fiscal services. Filers must explain any discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions. The president released his information publicly in 2018, but other senior office holders did not.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights issues, including prison and detention center conditions. During the year the government conferred on the CNDH an additional mandate with regard to the prevention of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as an official government ombudsman, including on some human rights issues. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often lacked the resources necessary to carry out their work effectively.

The government maintained organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants. Both organizations complained of funding shortfalls.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, although the law was rarely enforced in practice. Rape is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of victims continued.

In August 2018 a family in a rural village reported to the gendarmerie that their daughter, a minor, had been raped. The gendarmerie declined to investigate because of the status of the alleged perpetrator. The family requested support from a Niamey-based NGO, SOS Women and Children Victims of Violence (SOS-FEVVF), which assisted in a physical investigation and the compilation of evidence, sending the material back to the gendarmerie to request an official investigation. By the end of 2018, the gendarmerie had not responded, and no further action was taken.

The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support.

The law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was reportedly widespread. Husbands commonly beat their wives.

A woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a fine of 10,000 CFA francs ($17) to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints. Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of redress offered by the legal system and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization.

SOS-FEVVF reported receiving seven rape and eight sexual abuse declarations from girls and women younger than 28 years old. In one case, a young girl was asked by her family to clean her uncle’s room. The uncle then raped the girl. This was repeated several times until she refused to clean his room. Her mother then admonished her, saying that she should not refuse her uncle’s request to clean his room. The girl became pregnant and only told her mother about the rape when the mother noticed her pregnancy at about six months. Her immediate family did not report the case. Rather, extended family raised the case before government officials. The uncle was subsequently arrested and sentenced to eight months.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. Government, NGO, and community efforts combined to decrease the prevalence of FGM/C from 5 percent in 1998 to 2 percent in 2012, although the practice continued. For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Working with civil society organizations early in the year, the government drafted and passed a law prohibiting wahaya, a practice whereby some men were able to buy or be gifted with a “fifth wife,” or wahaya. These unofficial wives (Islam allows a maximum of four wives) were the daughters of hereditary slaves, often sold at ages seven to 12. They were intended to perform manual labor for the household and provide sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines of 10,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($17 to $170). If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is increased to 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).

Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes limited women’s perception of what is harassment and encouraged acceptance. Cases were rarely reported, but when they were, courts enforced applicable laws. In previous years, SOS-FEVVF estimated that eight of 10 young female workers in small shops faced sexual harassment, and only two in 10 reported it. Poverty made women especially vulnerable to harassment in the workplace. During the year SOS-FEVVF recorded eight assault cases, in two of which the victims were younger than 18.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of sex, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law, legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household. Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a daughter’s share of a deceased parent’s property is half the size of a son’s share.

Women have low access to education and high rates of early marriage. They were underrepresented in school and employment. According to the UN 2019 Human Development Index Report, only 4.3 percent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education, compared with 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market compared to almost 10 for men. Women faced particular health challenges: For every 100,000 live births, 553 women die from pregnancy-related causes. The adolescent birth rate was 186.5 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, if one parent is a citizen. Birth registration, especially in remote rural areas and in nomadic communities, did not take place promptly due to parental poverty, lack of awareness, and distance from government services. The government’s failure to register births at times resulted in citizens’ reduced access to some services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although the law provides for education for all children from ages four to 18, compulsory education for children of specific ages was not enforced. Many parents kept young girls at home to work, and girls rarely attended school for more than a few years. Access to education for children nationwide was a challenge, due to a shortage of funding for teachers, classrooms, and supplies, especially in rural areas. The low quality of public education undermined parents’ estimation of the value of sending their children to school and contributed to low attendance rates. The total gross enrollment rate for primary education was 67.7 percent in 2017. For those that were in school, boys’ completion rate for primary school was 87.4 percent, while the completion rate for girls was 69.5 percent. Only an estimated four of 10 female students in primary school reached the sixth grade. According to UN statistics for the year, the average boy spent 2.6 years in school. The average girl spent 1.5 years in school.

Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were common. The law prescribes penalties for child abuse. For example, parents of minors who usually engage in begging, or any person who encourages children to beg or profits from their begging, may be sentenced to six months to one year of imprisonment. The abduction of a minor younger than 18 is punishable by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for abduction for ransom is life imprisonment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law allows a girl deemed to be “sufficiently mature” to marry at age 15. Some families entered into marriage agreements under which they sent rural girls who were 12 or even younger to their “husband’s” families to be under the “supervision” of their mothers-in-law. According to UN statistics from previous years, 76 percent of girls married by age 18.

The Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection cooperated with women’s associations to sensitize traditional chiefs and religious leaders in rural communities to the problem of early marriage. During the 2019 African Union Summit, President Issoufou stated the government would actively work to protect women from early or forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although the law criminalizes the procurement of a minor for the purpose of prostitution, commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The minimum age for consensual sex is 13 for both boys and girls.

The law provides, “exploitation shall include, at minimum, slavery or practices similar to slavery” and adds that the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receiving of a minor younger than 18 for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered trafficking in persons. The penalty for violators is five to 10 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500). If the victim is younger than 18, the penalty is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. If the victim dies, the penalty is life imprisonment.

The penal code provides for two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 to $850) for the prostitution of children. The law prohibits “indecent” acts against victims younger than 18. It leaves to judges to determine what constitutes an indecent act.

Girls reportedly were trafficked for forced prostitution along the main East-West highway, particularly between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder along the border with Nigeria.

Child Soldiers: An unknown number of children were captured by security forces in Diffa and Tillabery Regions and detained in Niamey and Kollo prisons for alleged involvement with terrorist groups. Experts of the Ministry of Justice and the Child Protection Directorate within the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Protection of Children determined their ages and provided them services in one of the four orientation and transition centers in Niamey, funded by UNICEF. They were progressively reunited with their families. Some of these detainees were Nigerian citizens (as opposed to Nigerien). The government reported that from 2016 to 2018, 72 juveniles, including one girl, were admitted in these centers and 62 had been reunited with their families by the end of 2018. Other children were detained in a defector facility in Goudoumaria, with the government focusing on transitioning juveniles back into their communities.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide occurred, and a sizeable proportion of the female prison population was incarcerated for this crime, which was often committed to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.

Displaced Children: Many displaced boys from rural areas were indentured to Islamic schools, where they were forced to beg on the streets of larger cities. Displaced children had access to government services, but services were limited. Unaccompanied migrant children transited Niger en route to Libya, Algeria, and Europe. Some unaccompanied migrant children travelled to the Djado gold fields to find work in unregulated gold mines.

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

There was no significant Jewish community, and 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 law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law defined the disabled as a person “unable to meet all or part of his needs for a normal life due to a physical, sensory, or mental deficiency.” The government made efforts to enforce these provisions. For example, regulations require that 5 percent of civil servants be persons with disabilities. Although the goal was not met, the government reported employing 538 persons with disabilities within a total civil service of 61,710 in 2017. There were no specific regulations in place mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and education for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that new government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the law was not enforced.

The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than five, gives life-long free medical care to persons with disabilities.

Social stigma regarding disabilities resulted in neglect and even infanticide, according to the Federation for Handicapped Persons. A high percentage of persons with disabilities were forced by their families to spend their lives begging.

Children with disabilities were technically able to attend school but faced difficulties, including a lack of adapted instruction and materials, a shortage of specialists for working with children with special needs, and a lack of flexibility in the evaluation system. For example, the lack of professional sign language interpreters prevented deaf children from continuing their education past high school.

According to the Federation of Handicapped Persons, there were 61 schools with programs that accommodated students with disabilities. These included four specialized schools and 57 integrated schools where students with disabilities interact with other students. There were three schools for children with hearing disabilities, one school for blind children, and five inclusive classes for blind children in mainstream public schools.

The electoral code passed in 2017 does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.

Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillabery Region faced governmental and societal discrimination due to a widespread perception that the two groups supported or facilitated terrorist activities. Concerns over escalation of anti-Fulani prejudice were increasing. There were also some unconfirmed reports of security forces targeting Fulani in raids and intentionally avoiding Fulani areas during recruitment efforts.

There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual activity, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual activity in general. The law states an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex is punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($17 to $170).

Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. Two lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights associations reportedly conducted their activities secretly, in part because they were not officially registered. There were no reports of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no documented cases of discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation. Observers believed stigma or intimidation impeded individuals from reporting such abuse.

Persons with HIV/AIDS experienced societal discrimination, although strong government efforts discouraged such discrimination. In conjunction with several other organizations working on HIV/AIDS issues, the government continued its antidiscrimination campaign. The labor code provides for protection against discrimination for persons suffering from diseases such as HIV/AIDS and sickle cell anemia.

There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave. One NGO reported that in Denkila village, approximately 14 miles from Dosso, a court decision reportedly prevented a group of 274 families from farming their land for the past six years. A person with a competing claim to the land had sued for a court injunction against the defendants’ use of the land based on an outdated law that forbids former slaves from owning or farming land in contradiction with the 2003 law banning slavery. With the support of an antislavery NGO, the descendants appealed the decision to the ECOWAS court and were awaiting a response at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14-15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions. The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for penalties but does not require reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.

The government signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives of 12 trade unions organizing the country’s first professional elections of trade union leadership. According to the protocol, representatives of trade unions must obtain at least 5 percent of all valid votes cast in order to be eligible for government budget support. Each elected representative will exercise a four-year mandate. The first election was held on July 31. According to the results compiled by the National Commission for Professional Elections, there were 45,283 voters, or a 24 percent participation rate, with five trade unions registering more than 5 percent of the vote and thus becoming eligible for government budgetary support.

Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations in the formal sector.

The law applies to the large informal sector, which accounted for most economic activity, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in informal workplaces, particularly in rural areas. The informal sector featured some unions. For example, Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, however. The labor code establishes penalties for forced labor that are sufficient to deter violations, but the penalties were largely unenforced.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. In February the High Court established a legal precedent finding wahaya, the traditional practice of selling girls as young as nine into forced marriages, which also perpetuates hereditary slavery, to be illegal. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.

Forced labor remained a problem. A study conducted by the government and the ILO concluded that in 2011 the prevalence of forced labor was 1.1 percent among the adult population (more than 59,000 persons), 48.8 percent of whom were engaged in domestic work, and 23.6 percent in agriculture or stockbreeding. These percentages were higher in the regions of Tillabery, Tahoua, and Maradi. A 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.

The Tuareg, Djerma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.

Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as four and largely from poor, rural families, were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Djerma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with the latter’s right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the use of child labor and the employment of children younger than 14. The law, however, does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment or in the informal sector. Children who are 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but these were not adequate to deter violations. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial/informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.

Child labor was prevalent. According to a 2012 national survey, approximately 43 percent of children between ages five and 14 (an estimated 2.5 million) were engaged in labor. Most rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or beg. Children were also forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, artisanal mining, and forced criminality.

There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.

The practice of forced begging of talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars, remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.

Child labor occurred in largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern about poisoning, but the practice remained widespread.

Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and requires firms to provide hiring preferences to persons with disabilities under certain circumstances.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted regulations to implement the labor code nor took actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate resources to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was above the official poverty income level.

The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate; employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced.

The labor code establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and there are no exceptions from such protections for migrant or foreign workers. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect employees in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applies but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws and only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Ministry officials observed that monetary sanctions were not stringent enough to deter violations.

Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the artisanal gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector. The vast majority, however, were employed by large, international firms; labor advocates complained these firms were not transparent about work conditions.

Union workers in many cases did not receive information about the risks posed by their jobs. The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service responded to reports of work-related accidents and ensured that affected employees were compensated as required by law, the government reported. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March 2018 the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In January 2018 parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Following a High Court ruling in May and by-elections, the SLPP maintained a majority with 59 seats, and the APC held 57 seats. Observers found these elections to be largely free and fair.

The Sierra Leone Police (SLP), which reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The RSLAF reports to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel laws; official corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials used criminal slander provisions of the law to impede witness testimony in court cases, including anticorruption matters, and to target persons making statements that the government considered to be against the national interest. While there is no hate speech law, at times authorities used hate speech as a legal justification for restricting freedom of speech.

The HRCSL and Amnesty International reported no arrests or detentions in relation to freedom of expression.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission to obtain a license. Acting beyond its mandate, the National Telecommunications Commission of Sierra Leone instructed all community radio stations to register as commercial stations, which requires the payment of a license fee. According to a media rights NGO, the fee requirement would force many stations, particularly in rural areas, to shut down.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports authorities used violence and harassment against journalists. In September presidential bodyguards physically assaulted two female journalists reporting on a sporting event at the national stadium, where President Bio was in attendance. The presidential guards reportedly threatened to shoot the journalists, and one of them was hospitalized. In October an investigative committee composed of civil society, media, and government officials recommended the removal of one presidential guard from the force, and the government complied. In October two opposition party members, including a former mayor of Freetown, were arrested and charged with the 2018 murder of journalist Ibrahim Samura (see also section 1.a.).

Libel/Slander Laws: The law punishes defamatory and seditious libel with imprisonment of up to three years. In September the cabinet voted to repeal the criminal libel law, but as of November, parliament had not approved the repeal. According to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, during the year at least eight journalists were arrested under criminal libel law on allegations of defamation and libel.

In January police arrested and detained for two days the editor of Nightwatch newspaper, Emmanuel Thorli, for defamatory libel and released him on bail. Police investigators reportedly pressured the journalist to disclose the source of an article about the issuance of diplomatic passports to 300 relatives of President Bio.

On November 3, a comedian was arrested and charged under criminal libel law for allegedly defaming President Bio.

In contrast with 2018, there were no reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of freedom of association.

Upon assuming office in 2018, President Bio introduced an executive order lifting the ban on public assembly, including Sunday trading, imposed by his predecessor.

In a few cases, police used excessive force when dealing with demonstrators and used public order law to deny requests for protests and demonstrations. On May 31, police fired teargas canisters into the headquarters building of the opposition APC, which resulted in several injuries.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. On February 19, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security indefinitely suspended all overseas labor recruitment. Minister Edward King indicated that the rationale for this ban was to discourage trafficking in persons.

In-country Movement: There were reports that police officers operating security roadblocks nationwide as part of routine security checks often extorted money from motorists. The SLP banned unauthorized vehicular movement during an August 24 parliamentary by-election. All political parties, including the main opposition APC party, welcomed the restriction. The government continued to enforce a ban on civilian individuals and vehicular movement on the first Saturday of each month in order to support a nationwide cleaning exercise. This ban interfered with a religious group’s right to assemble for Saturday morning prayers.

In January members of a traditional secret society reportedly attacked an Ahmadiyya Muslim community in a village in the Kenema District to initiate forcibly three young men, an incident which ignited confrontation between the society and the Ahmadiyya community and led to the displacement of approximately 90 Ahmadiyya members to the provincial capital, Kenema city.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR worked with government authorities to develop standard operating procedures for refugee status determination.

More than 400 former Liberian refugees remained without legal status in the country. Their refugee status expired in 2017 when they became “residual caseloads” under UNHCR protection. They refused repatriation and integration and demanded resettlement in a third country. UNHCR denied their resettlement, citing the former refugees’ contradictory statements. The group applied for local national identification documents, but authorities had not acted on these applications as of year’s end.

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.

Recent Elections: In August the National Electoral Commission organized a parliamentary election rerun in the Western Rural District, Freetown peninsula. Independent observers and the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission reported intimidation, arrests, and political violence. Police arrested opposition party supporters, including a member of parliament who was later released without charge. Police opened an investigation into the destruction of ballot boxes at one polling center that led to the cancellation of the election results. Video footage appeared to show that SLPP operatives had ransacked the polling place. The rerun was required after a May decision by the High Court that invalidated the election of nine APC parliamentarians for alleged election irregularities, thus changing the majority in parliament from the APC to the SLPP. Observers reported less violence during the parliamentary by-elections in the Falaba and Koinadugu districts in September, although there were multiple reports of intimidation and arrests of opposition supporters.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties were registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote and did cast votes at similar rates as men. A December 2018 poll by the International Republican Institute found women most frequently cited fear of violence, cultural norms, and lack of support from political parties as reasons why they avoided a more active role in politics. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 18 were women. As of September women led five of the 24 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).

All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born in and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were fewer reports of government corruption compared with 2018.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Commission (ACC) indicted and charged more than 33 persons, convicted 16 individuals, and recovered more than 17.8 billion leones ($1.97 million) from corrupt government officials. For example, in September the ACC indicted the former executive director of the Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority and two other officials for defrauding the state of 2.1 billion leones ($233,000).

During the year a survey by Transparency International found that 52 percent of the residents of the country had paid a bribe for public services, with the highest rate of bribery for health services. In Transparency International’s previous 2015 survey, 41 percent reported paying bribes.

In May the judiciary assigned five high court justices to a new Anti-Corruption Court to deal with corruption cases brought by the ACC. During the year these judges presided over anticorruption cases but did not sit as a separate court. In October parliament passed into law the Anti-Corruption Amendment Act of 2019, which increased penalties for corruption and provided the ACC with alternative powers to prosecution, including out-of-court settlements to recoup stolen monies.

As in previous years, human rights groups expressed concern that police corruption remained a serious problem. Some police and guards exacted bribes at checkpoints, falsely charged motorists with violations, impounded vehicles to extort money, and accepted bribes from suspects to drop charges or to arrest their rivals and charge them with crimes. In exchange for kickbacks, police reportedly arrested persons for civil disputes, such as alleged breach of contract or failure to satisfy a debt.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officers, their spouses, and their children to declare their assets and liabilities within three months of assuming office, and according to the ACC, officials largely complied. The Amended Anti-Corruption Act further requires public officials to declare their assets no later than three months after the end of their employment.

The law also mandates disclosure of assets by government ministers and members of parliament. The ACC is empowered to verify asset disclosures and may publish in media the names of those who refuse to disclose and petition courts to compel disclosure. The particulars of individual declarations were not available to the public without a court order.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of local and international NGOs and generally acknowledged the problems presented. The government, including security forces, generally responded to human rights concerns raised by the HRCSL but was at times slow to support the HRCSL or implement its recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee operated without government or party interference. It focused on keeping human rights matters on the parliamentary agenda, paving the way for the passage of amended laws and ratification of international conventions and doing public outreach. Separately, the HRCSL, modeled in accord with the UN Paris Principles, monitored and investigated human rights abuses.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of both men and women. In February President Bio declared a State of Emergency against rape and sexual violence. In September parliament passed new legislation that raised the penalty for those convicted of rape to a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment (see also section 6, Sexual Exploitation of Children). Previously, a conviction was punishable by between five- and 15-years’ imprisonment, although many offenders were given lesser prison terms. Press reports noted that in 2018 a man convicted of raping a six-year-old girl was given a one-year prison sentence. Rape was common and viewed more as a societal norm than a criminal problem. The law specifically prohibits spousal rape. Indictments were rare, especially in rural areas. A reluctance to use the judicial system by both victims and officials, combined with women’s lack of income and economic independence, helped perpetuate violence against women and impunity for offenders. During the year, despite the existence of the Family Support Unit (FSU) within the SLP and applicable legislation, reports of rapes, especially involving child victims, sharply increased.

The NGO Rainbo Initiative reported that its five centers assisting victims of sexual and gender-based violence had encountered 1,051 rape cases in the first half of the year. Rainbo, other civil society organizations, and government agencies assessed that thousands of rape cases go unreported. The perpetrators are often close family members or relatives who live alongside their victims. Of the 3,000 cases reported in 2018, 602 survivors became pregnant, seven contracted HIV/AIDS, and 2,404 developed sexually transmitted diseases. The Attorney General’s Office reported that only 39 of the 3,000 cases were prosecuted successfully. Many cases went unresolved due to lack of financial support, lack of forensic evidence, religious beliefs, inconsistency in the application of relevant law, and cultural beliefs.

Violent acts against women, especially wife beating and spousal rape, were common and often surrounded by a culture of silence. Conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a fine not exceeding five million leones ($555) and two years’ imprisonment. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to their fear of social stigma and retaliation. The HRCSL observed that the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence continued to rise while arrests and convictions of perpetrators were negligible. A psychosocial worker of the NGO Rainbo Center blamed the structure of the justice system and lengthy court processes for the delay in accessing justice. First Lady Fatima Bio and NGOs such as the Rainbo Center actively promoted public awareness, calling on men to refrain from violence against women.

According to the FSU, medical and psychological services for rape victims were limited. The FSU often required victims to obtain a medical report for the filing of charges. Although the law provides that the victim of a sexual offense shall be entitled to free medical treatment and medical reports, many victims had to pay for these medical services, and most government doctors charged fees that were prohibitively expensive for the victims. Although the law provides that the victim of a sexual offense shall be entitled to free medical treatment and medical reports, many victims had to pay for these medical services.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C for women or girls. According to a 2017 UNICEF report, 86.1 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone a form of genital mutilation/cutting. FGM/C is considered a traditional rite of passage into womanhood. UNICEF polling indicated that societal support for FGM/C remained strong in the country. During the year one young woman who underwent FGM/C died of blood loss.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but authorities did not always effectively enforce it. It is unlawful to make unwanted sexual advances, repeatedly follow or pursue others against their will, initiate repeated and unwanted communications with others, or engage in any other “menacing” behavior. Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by a fine not exceeding 14.3 million leones ($1,580) or imprisonment not exceeding three years. No reliable data was available on the prevalence of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. See Appendix C for information on maternal mortality.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women under family, labor, property, and inheritance law. Women continued to experience discriminatory practices. Their rights and positions are largely contingent on customary law and the ethnic group to which they belong. The law provides for both Sierra Leonean fathers and mothers to confer nationality to children born abroad. The law provides for equal remuneration for equal work without discrimination based on gender. Either spouse may acquire property in their own right, and women may obtain divorce without being forced to relinquish dowries.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs reported that women faced widespread societal discrimination, particularly in matters of marriage, divorce, property, and inheritance, which are guided by customary law in all areas except Freetown. Formal law applies in customary as well as formal courts, but customary judges had limited or no legal training and often were unaware of formal law or chose to ignore it. Women’s rights and status under customary law varied significantly depending upon the ethnic group to which they belonged, but such rights and status were routinely inferior to those of men. Under customary law, women’s status in society is equal to that of a minor. Women were frequently perceived to be the property of their husbands and to be inherited on his death with his other property.

Discrimination occurred in access to credit, equal pay for similar work, and the ownership and management of a business. Women did not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities, or social freedoms. In rural areas, women performed much of the subsistence farming and had little opportunity for formal education. Women also experienced discrimination in access to employment, and it was common for an employer to dismiss a woman if she became pregnant during her first year on the job. The law does not prohibit dismissal of pregnant workers based on pregnancy.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs has a mandate to protect the rights of women, but most international and domestic NGOs asserted the ministry did not have the resources, infrastructure, and support of other ministries to handle its assigned projects effectively. The ministry routinely relied on the assistance of international organizations and NGOs to help combat women’s rights abuses.

Birth Registration: Although the constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, gender, place of origin, political opinion, color, and religion, the constitution also denies citizenship at birth to persons who are not of “Negro-African descent.” Non-Africans who have lived in the country for at least eight years (two years for foreigners married to Sierra Leonean citizens) may apply for naturalization, subject to presidential approval. Citizenship derived by birth is restricted to children with at least one parent or grandparent of Negro-African descent who was born in the country. Children not meeting the criteria must be registered in their parents’ countries of origin.

Birth registration was not universal due to outdated birth registration law and inadequate staffing of government registry facilities. Lack of registration did not affect access to public services or result in statelessness. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Despite President Bio’s Free Quality Education Program launched in August 2018, pregnant girls continued to be prohibited from attending classes on the grounds that they were a “bad moral influence.” Amnesty International and two local NGOs challenged the ban before the ECOWAS Court of Justice. In October the government announced that pregnant girls “may take maternity break during critical times of pregnancy,” may take examinations, and were encouraged to resume school after childbirth. On December 12, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled against the government’s ban that prevented pregnant girls from attending school. According to UNICEF, child marriage is a major restriction on girls’ education.

Child Abuse: A pattern of violence against and abuse of children existed, and according to the FSU, it increased between July and August when schools were closed. The FSU reported child abuse, including sexual violence and abandonment, increased from 2018. FSU personnel were trained in dealing with sexual violence against children, and cases of child sexual abuse generally were taken more seriously than adult rape cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. According to UNICEF’s world children report of 2017, 39 percent of girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday and 13 percent before their 15th birthday. The report stated that child marriage in the country is linked to poverty and lack of education, and it varies among regions of the country. The Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey 2018 concluded that, by the time a woman reaches 19, she has already had two children. During the year the Office of the First Lady implemented Let Girls be Girls, Not Mothers, a two-year national strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy.

According to UNICEF, the country is one of 12 selected to be part of the UN Population Fund and UNICEF’s global program to accelerate action to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, and there was evidence the practices were declining.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Although the law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, sale of children, child trafficking, and child pornography, enforcement remained a challenge and conviction numbers remained low. In many cases of sexual assault of children, parents accepted payment instead of taking the perpetrator to court due to difficulties dealing with the justice system, fear of public shame, and economic hardship.

Responding to the high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence and other problems affecting women, in December 2018, First Lady Fatima Bio launched a broad initiative entitled, Hands Off Our Girls, focused on child marriage, teenage pregnancy, sexual-based violence, and child trafficking and prostitution. President Bio called on the country to stop all forms of discrimination against women and to restore the pride and dignity of women and girls. In February President Bio proclaimed in an emergency decree that the rape of a minor would result in a life sentence. The president’s decree expired in June when a bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was introduced in parliament as a direct result of the proclamation. On September 19, parliament passed the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019, that increased the maximum penalty for rape and sexual penetration of a minor from 15-years’ to life imprisonment. The law also increased the minimum sentence for rape of a minor to 15 years in prison and made provisions for the introduction of a new “aggravated sexual assault” offense.

According to a UNICEF case study in 2017, the FSU estimated more than 1,000 children experience sexual violence each year.

Displaced Children: During the year the NGO Help a Needy Child International reported that approximately 50,000 children worked and lived on the street, with 45,000 of them engaged in artisanal gravel production in the Western Area.

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

There was no Jewish community, and 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 law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment and provision of state services, including judicial services. The government did not effectively implement the law and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The government-funded Commission on Persons with Disabilities is charged with protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of persons with disabilities. In view of the high rate of general unemployment, work opportunities for persons with disabilities were limited, and begging was commonplace. Children with disabilities were also less likely to attend school than other children. According to the Coordinator of the National Disability Coalition (NDC), the coalition received six cases of applicants claiming their employment was denied due to disability. The NDC stated the actual number of incidents is likely much higher.

There was considerable discrimination against persons with mental disabilities. The vast majority of persons with mental disabilities received no treatment or public services. At the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital in Kissy, the only inpatient psychiatric institution that served persons with mental disabilities, authorities reported that only one consulting psychiatrist was available, patients were not provided sufficient food, and restraints were primitive and dehumanizing. The hospital lacked running water and had only sporadic electricity. Only basic medications were available.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is responsible for providing free primary health-care services to persons with polio and diabetic retinopathy as well as to blind or deaf persons. The ministry did not provide these services consistently, and organizations reported many persons with disabilities had limited access to medical and rehabilitative care. At year’s end the ministry had not established the legally required medical board to issue Permanent Disability Certificates that would make persons with disabilities eligible for all the rights and privileges provided by law. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs has a mandate to provide policy oversight for problems affecting persons with disabilities but had limited capacity to do so.

Strong ethnic loyalties, biases, and stereotypes existed among all ethnic groups. Ethnic loyalty was an important factor in the government, armed forces, and business. Complaints of ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contract assignments, and military promotions were common. Little ethnic segregation was apparent in urban areas, where interethnic marriage was common.

Residents of non-African descent faced some institutionalized discrimination, particularly in the areas of citizenship and nationality (see sections 3, Participation of Women and Minorities, and 6, Birth Registration).

An 1861 law prohibits male-to-male sexual acts, but there is no legal prohibition against female-to-female sex. The law, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment for “indecent assault” upon a man or 10 years’ imprisonment for attempting such an assault, was not enforced. The constitution does not offer protection from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and gender-identity civil society groups alleged that because the law prohibits male-to-male sexual activity, it limits lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons from exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. The law, however, does not restrict the rights of persons to speak out on LGBTI human rights. No hate crime law covers bias-motivated violence against LGBTI persons. The law does not address transgender persons.

A few organizations, including Dignity Association, supported LGBTI persons, but they maintained low profiles. LGBTI groups alleged that police were biased against them.

LGBTI advocates reported that the community faced challenges ranging from violence, stigma, discrimination, blackmailing, arbitrary arrest, and public attack to denial of public services such as health care and justice. Some private hotels reportedly charged double the rate for same-sex occupants. Advocates also said LGBTI persons faced discrimination in schools. The government reportedly registered a transsexual organization in 2018, and advocates said the Human Rights Commission was engaged on LGBTI matters.

In the areas of employment and education, sexual orientation or gender identity were bases for abusive treatment, which led individuals to leave their jobs or courses of study. It was difficult for LGBTI individuals to receive health services; many chose not to seek medical testing or treatment due to fear their right to confidentiality would be ignored. Obtaining secure housing was also a problem for LGBTI persons. Families frequently shunned their LGBTI children, leading some to turn to sex work to survive. Adults risked having their leases terminated if their LGBTI status became public. Women in the LGBTI community reported social discrimination from male LGBTI persons and the general population.

As of September there was no information regarding any official action by government authorities to investigate or punish public entities or private persons complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons.

The law prohibits discrimination based on actual, perceived, or suspected HIV status, but society stigmatized persons with HIV/AIDS. The Network of HIV Positive in Sierra Leone (NETHIP-SL) in 2017 informed stakeholders and government officials that HIV/AIDS stigma was on the increase. NETHIP-SL reported that adults with HIV/AIDS lacked employment and promotion opportunities. There were also reports men often divorced their wives due to HIV/AIDS status, leaving the latter without financial support. NETHIP-SL reported children were denied access to education because of their HIV status and the problem of children with HIV/AIDS was missing from the HIV/AIDS prevention process.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers in both the public and private sectors to join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it prohibits police and members of the armed services from joining unions or engaging in strike actions. The International Trade Union Confederation raised concerns about onerous union registration requirements as well as administrative means of dissolving unions without cause. The law allows workers to organize but does not prohibit discrimination against union members or prohibit employer interference in the establishment of unions. The government may require that workers provide written notice to police of an intent to strike at least 21 days before the planned strike. The law prohibits workers at certain specified public utilities from going on strike. Labor union officials, however, pointed out that public utility workers frequently went on strike (and were in fact among those union employees most likely to strike), the legal prohibition notwithstanding.

The government generally protected the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining was widespread in the formal sector, and most enterprises were covered by collective bargaining agreements on wages and working conditions. Although the law protects collective bargaining activity, the law required that it must take place in trade group negotiating councils, each of which must have an equal number of employer and worker representatives. There were no other limits on the scope of collective bargaining or legal exclusions of other particular groups of workers from legal protections.

While labor unions reported that the government generally protected the right of workers in the private sector to form or join unions, the government has not enforced applicable law through regulatory or judicial action.

The government generally respected freedom of association. All unions were independent of political parties and the government. In some cases, however, such as the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union, the union and government had a close working relationship.

In December 2018 the Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC), the umbrella body of labor unions, claimed government interference after an election for a union affiliate was disrupted and eight union leaders and members were arrested and detained. The vice president of the SLLC and the president of the National Commercial Motor Bike Riders Union were among those arrested. The SLLC met with President Bio, and the detained individuals were eventually released after protests.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children. Penalties for both sex and labor trafficking include fines and imprisonment, but enforcement was insufficient to deter violations. By law individual chiefs may impose forced labor (compulsory cultivation) as punishment. The government stated to the International Labor Organization (ILO) that this provision is unconstitutional and unenforceable, but sporadic incidences of its use have been reported in previous years. Chiefs also required villagers to contribute to the improvement of common areas. There is no penalty for noncompliance.

The government did not effectively enforce antitrafficking in persons law, was hindered by judicial inefficiencies and procedural delays, and has not convicted a trafficker since 2011.

Men, women, and child victims of forced labor originated largely from rural provinces within the country and were recruited to urban areas for artisanal and granite mining, petty trading, rock breaking, domestic servitude, and begging (see also section 7.c. and section 6, Sexual Exploitation of Children). The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs reported it was aware of trafficking, domestic service, mining, or other activities, but it had no specific data on these forms of forced or compulsory labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all of the worst forms of child labor. There is no law prohibiting the use, procurement, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. The law limits child labor, allowing light work, the conditions of which are not adequately defined by the law, at age 13, full-time nonhazardous work at 15, and hazardous work at 18. The law states that children younger than age 13 should not be employed in any capacity. Provided they have finished schooling, children age 15 may be apprenticed and employed full time in nonhazardous work. A government policy, however, continued to limit girls who are pregnant from attending public school, making them more vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. The law also proscribes work by any child younger than age 18 between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. While the law does not stipulate specific conditions of work, such as health and safety standards, it prohibits children younger than age 18 from being engaged in hazardous work, which the law defines as work that poses a danger to the health, safety, and “morals” of a person, including going to sea; mining and quarrying; porterage of heavy loads; chemicals manufacturing; work in places where machines are used; and work in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a child may be exposed to “immoral behavior.” The prohibitions on hazardous work for children, including quarrying and sand mining, do not adequately cover the sectors where child labor is known to occur.

In remote villages, children were forced to carry heavy loads as porters, which contributed to stunted growth and development. There were reports that children whose parents sent them to friends or relatives in urban areas for education were forced to work on the street, where they were involved in street vending, stealing, and begging.

In September the Ministry of Labor and Social Security in collaboration with an international organization trained five labor officers. Additionally, an international donor agency provided training for labor inspectors to monitor child labor. The government did not effectively enforce applicable child labor-related law, in part due to lack of funding and limited numbers of labor inspectors in areas where child labor was prevalent. The legal penalty for employing children in hazardous work or for violating age restrictions was not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor remained a widespread problem, and enforcement of child labor law was weak. The ILO reported 72 percent of children were engaged in some form of work for money, noting in particular child labor in the mining industry. Children were on the streets selling water, groundnuts, cucumbers, and other items. Children engaged in exploitive labor activities, including petty trading, carrying heavy loads, breaking rocks, harvesting sand, begging, diamond mining, deep-sea fishing, agriculture (production of coffee, cocoa, and palm oil), domestic work, commercial sex, scavenging for scrap metal and other recyclables, and other age-inappropriate forms of labor under hazardous conditions. Larger companies enforced strict rules against child labor, but it remained a pressing problem in small-scale informal artisanal diamond and gold mining.

As in previous years, many children worked alongside parents or relatives and abandoned educational or vocational training. In rural areas children worked seasonally on family subsistence farms. Children also routinely assisted in family businesses and worked as petty vendors. There were reports that adults asked orphanages for children to work as household help. Because the adult unemployment rate remained high, few children were involved in the industrial sector or elsewhere in the formal economy.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits most discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, age, language, HIV status or that of other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, or gender identity. NGOs at times expressed concerns that discrimination appeared to occur based on sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity with respect to employment and occupation.

In July 2018 the government launched the National Labor Migration Policy that aims to protect both migrants’ rights in the country and the rights of Sierra Leoneans working abroad.

As of September there was no information available on whether the government enforced the applicable provisions of the law regarding combating discrimination at workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a national minimum wage, but it falls below the basic poverty line in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing labor law, including the minimum wage, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the penalties for noncompliance were insufficient to deter violations.

Although not stipulated by law, the customary workweek was 40 hours (60 hours for security personnel). There is no statutory definition of overtime wages to be paid if an employee’s work hours exceed 40. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime nor a requirement for paid leave or holidays.

A union may make a formal complaint about a hazardous working condition; if the complaint is rejected, the union may issue a 21-day strike notice. The law also requires employers to provide protective clothing and safety devices to employees whose work involves “risk of personal safety or potential health hazard.” The law protects both foreign and domestic workers. The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and the government took no steps to protect employees who so acted.

The occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations were outdated and remained under review by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The government did not effectively enforce these standards in all sectors. Although the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with an OSH expert and not the worker, the small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, labor law and standards continued to be violated primarily due to lack of resources, corruption, and lack of enforcement, rather than due to the deterrent effect, or lack thereof, of the penalties. Minimum wage compliance was particularly difficult to monitor in the informal sector.

Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards were most frequent within the artisanal diamond-mining sector. Violations were common in the case of street vendors and market-stall workers, rock crushers, and day laborers, many of whom came to Freetown from elsewhere in the country to seek employment and were vulnerable to exploitation. There were numerous complaints of unpaid wages and lack of attention to injuries sustained on the job, but victims often did not know where to turn for recourse and as a result their complaints went unresolved.

Uganda

Executive Summary

Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral parliament. Allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission (EC), marred the elections that also fell short of international standards. The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.

The national police maintain internal security. While the army is responsible for external security, the president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention by government agencies. The government was also responsible for harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; detainment of political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; lack of independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions. It also restricted some political symbols, musical lyrics, and theatrical performances.

On September 18, the government published guidelines that banned the public from wearing red berets, saying that the berets would henceforth be considered a military uniform and therefore the exclusive property of the state. Red berets had been the symbol worn by supporters of Kyagulanyi’s People Power movement. On October 1, Kyagulanyi reported that the UPF and UPDF had started arresting People Power supporters whom they found wearing the red berets. The UPF on numerous occasions also confiscated People Power movement insignia, especially red berets and T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages. On August 13, the UPF raided the Democratic Party’s (DP) offices, arrested four supporters, and confiscated 300 T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages commemorating the one-year anniversary of Kyagulanyi’s arrest and torture. The UPF said the T-shirts bore messages inciting violence. The UPF released the four DP supporters later that day and said it only called them in for interrogation.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media and Political Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. On April 30, the communications regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) wrote to broadcast houses ordering the suspension of 39 journalists holding producer and editing positions for violating minimum broadcast standards when they aired live images of a Kyagulanyi procession through Kampala on April 29. The UCC also ordered the media houses to submit all footage aired that day for investigation. On May 8, the Uganda Journalists Association and two private attorneys filed an application in court to block the UCC action, which a court granted May 23, indicating that the UCC had overstepped its mandate.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists and media houses to violence, harassment, and intimidation. On February 7, the UPF arrested five local and international journalists who were working undercover to report on the theft of drugs in public hospitals. The UPF stated that it arrested the five on charges of “illegal possession of classified drugs.” On February 8, the UPF released the journalists on police bond but said investigations into the case continued. Civil society contacts also reported that in October the president expelled a journalist from a press conference after the reporter asked a question about the country’s fiscal debt.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to its guidelines, and directly and indirectly censored the media, including by controlling licensing and advertising, instructing editors to suspend critical journalists, arresting and beating journalists, and disrupting and ransacking photojournalistic exhibitions. The media, under government pressure, practiced self-censorship. On July 24, NBS TV aired live footage as Kyagulanyi launched his presidential bid in his home but edited out parts of his speech that were critical of the regime and of the president. In early August the UCC announced that it required online publishers, bloggers, and influencers to register with them for a $20 annual license. The UPF on several occasions switched off and broke into FM radio station studios that hosted opposition politician Kizza Besigye for talk shows. On April 18, the UPF switched off the Mubende FM radio transmission, and then forced its way into the studios where Besigye was attending a talk show and arrested him.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On June 14, local media reported that on June 12 the authorities arrested journalist Pidson Kareire for offensive communication and criminal libel in relation to stories he published about labor recruitment companies with ties to the president’s family.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. Security agencies arrested numerous dissidents on charges of incitement of violence. UPF and UPDF officials on June 15 arrested events manager and Kyagulanyi supporter Andrew Mukasa as he held a press conference to announce a marathon in Kyagulanyi’s honor, on charges of inciting violence and disturbing the president’s peace. The UPF arraigned him in court on June 19 and released him on bail July 11. The case continued at year’s end.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, and punished internet users who expressed divergent political views. On July 12, the UPF arrested pastor and former journalist Joseph Kabuleta on the accusation that he wrote “grossly offensive” posts on Facebook that referred to the president as “a gambler, thief, and liar.” The UPF said it would use “its acquired abilities to monitor comments on social media,” and punish offenders. Kabuleta told local media July 16 that UPF officers beat him until he bled in the face and took photos of his bruised face, before demanding that he promise never to insult the president’s son. Police released Kabuleta on July 16 without charge.

The government restricted some artistic presentations. The government throughout the year blocked Kyagulanyi from holding concerts at various locations across the country, allegedly because his previous concerts fell short of security guidelines, easily “turned into a public nuisance, violated traffic rules and regulations and caused other misconducts.” The government in June blocked concert performances by musician Joseph Mayanja, also known as Jose Chameleone, after he announced that he had joined the opposition DP. The government in November published new regulations on the performing arts that required all artists to seek government clearance before recording any material or staging performances.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to use the Public Order Management Act to limit the right to assemble and disrupted opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies. The law placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event. While the law only requires individuals to “notify” police of their intention to hold a public meeting, it also gives the police the power to block meetings they deem “unsuitable.” Typically, the UPF simply fails to respond to “notifications” from opposition groups, thereby creating a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering. On May 30, the UPF fired teargas and bullets into the air to disperse opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party officials and supporters as they held a public rally at their offices in Iganga town. The UPF said the rally was an illegal assembly, since the police had not approved it.

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. They enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on issues deemed “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. They increased registration fees for local NGOs from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 100,000 ($26.67), and annual permit renewal fees from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 60,000 shillings ($16), respectively. They also introduced new fees, including for the NGO Bureau to review permit applications (60,000 shillings, or $16) and for NGOs to file annual reports (50,000 shillings, or $13.33). On August 8, the Ministry of Internal Affairs started a one-month validation and verification exercise that required all unregistered NGOs to register and all registered NGOs to validate and verify their registration and operation details with the NGO Bureau (see Section 5). The Ministry of Internal Affairs said the exercise would weed out thousands of NGOs that operated illegally. Civil society activists worried that this exercise would assist the authorities to limit their operations, especially the operations of NGOs engaged in civil and political rights. The same day, the government’s anti-money-laundering agency, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), sent a letter to local banks asking for financial information and three years of bank statements from 13 accountability and good governance focused NGOs (see section 5).

The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government continued to uphold its enabling asylum policies and practices towards refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Somalia. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment.

UNHCR and NGOs received reports that some government officials demanded bribes from refugees to process or issue paperwork, especially at Old Kampala Police Station, where urban refugees and other migrants registered.

Refoulement: Although there were no credible reports of refoulement during the year, Rwandan and Burundian refugee groups continued to express fear that authorities were either complicit in or unable to stop extrajudicial actions by neighboring governments. South Sudanese human rights defenders resident in the country also feared forcible return because of threats from government officials.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals fleeing South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as long as Congolese are from eastern DRC) who enter the country through a designated border point have automatic “prima facie” refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status). The local Refugee Eligibility Committee, however, determines whether individuals fleeing from Rwanda, Somalia, and Burundi and other countries are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but administrative issues and the continued influx of asylum seekers from Somalia, Eritrea, and Burundi created a backlog of more than 26,000 asylum seeker cases as of June.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country does not have a policy of presumptive denials of asylum to applicants. Numerous sources, however, reported that for several years the country clandestinely received migrants expelled from Israel. According to official reports, the government was unaware of Israeli government plans–later challenged and halted in Israeli courts–to remove approximately 39,000 migrants to unnamed African countries. Sources reported many Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Sudanese migrants crossed through the country. Some of these migrants eventually made their way to Libya and attempted to cross to Europe. There are no credible reports of official acquiescence or complicity in such crossings. There were no further reports received during the year.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. A 2015 constitutional court ruling confirmed that certain long-term refugees have the right to naturalize, and in 2016, the government committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. During the year there were no known cases of a refugee having naturalized.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The law also allows authorities to carry out elections for the lowest-level local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. Serious irregularities marred the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections and several special parliament elections since.

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The Electoral Commission (EC) announced the president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and FDC candidate Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral parliament. Domestic and international election observers stated that the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the EC’s lack of transparency and independence. Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results. Due to election disputes stemming from the elections, in August 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The Supreme Court instructed the attorney general to report in two years (2018) on the government’s implementation of the reforms. On July 25, the attorney-general tabled in parliament the government’s first effort to comply with the court order.

During the year the EC held several local elections, which civil society organizations and local media reported featured incidents of intimidation of election observers by security forces, arrest of dissidents, and voter fraud. On February 21, the EC lifted the 2018 suspension of the accreditation of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) after the two institutions agreed on “mutually binding commitments.” The CCEDU is the main civil society election watchdog organization in the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters. The law prohibits candidates from holding official campaign events more than four months prior to an election, although the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities. Authorities restricted civil society organizations from observing electoral processes. On July 9, local civil society organization Alliance for Finance Monitoring reported that the UPF had arrested five of its observers on the eve of an election after a ruling party supporter accused them of bias because one wore a T-shirt with the words “we are tired of corrupt leaders.” The UPF released the five without charge on July 10. According to local media and the Assistant Inspector General of Police who is in charge of political affairs, Asan Kasingye, members of Local Defense Units (LDUs) confiscated and destroyed national identity cards belonging to youth. Since national identity cards are required to qualify as a voter, opposition politicians complained that the government was intentionally disenfranchising urban youth who are likely to support the opposition. The UPF said it would investigate and punish all LDU personnel it caught destroying the cards but did not report details of any such actions by year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, although cultural factors, high costs, and sexual harassment limited women’s ability to run for political office. Female activists reported that the official fees required to secure a nomination to run for elected office were prohibitively high and prevented most women from running for election. They also reported that male politicians sexually harassed female politicians or those who aspired to enter political office. On June 10, a group of female personal assistants to MPs accused their bosses of sexual harassment and petitioned the speaker of parliament for redress. They reported that male MPs regularly pressured them into exchanging sex in return for keeping their jobs. The speaker instituted a committee to investigate the allegations, but the committee did not report its findings by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment and confiscation of the convicted persons’ property for official corruption. Nevertheless, transparency civil society organizations stated the government did not implement the law effectively, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and, many corruption cases remained pending for years.

Corruption: Media reported numerous cases of government corruption, including a July 7 investigation that revealed members of the judiciary, police, and prisons, some caught on camera, soliciting bribes from the public to secure noncash bail. According to media reports, officials–including judges and state attorneys–collaborated to keep individuals detained until their families paid a bribe. The Kampala City High Court was one of the major epicenters of these activities. In response to this and other allegations of corruption, the chief justice established a taskforce to investigate malpractice in the judiciary; it was due to report findings in late October but did not do so by year’s end. On February 18, the Parliament Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE) published its findings from the 2018 inquiry into “irregular conduct” by the central bank in the process of taking over defunct banks and noted that the central bank acted irregularly in the process. It recommended that central bank officials responsible should account for their actions. Local media reported that MPs across political lines faulted the COSASE for not naming individuals responsible or recommending any arrests. On February 19, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) asked ISO to investigate allegations that members of the COSASE had received bribes from officials in the central bank. In March media reported that the speaker of parliament rejected this request and wrote that it was an attempt to attack parliamentary investigations and “blackmail” and “intimidate” parliamentarians. By year’s end there were no criminal proceedings or resignations resulting from the COSASE report.

On June 9, domestic media reported that the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a governance program in the country established by European nations, was withdrawing support from four domestic NGOs due to allegations of significant corruption. The report also stated that the DGF had identified widespread corruption among its own staff members, whom they later reprimanded.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their income, assets, and liabilities, and those of their spouses, children, and dependents, within three months of assuming office, and every two years thereafter. The requirement applies to 42 position classifications, totaling approximately 25,000 officials, including ministers, MPs, political party leaders, judicial officers, permanent secretaries, and government department heads, among others. Public officials who leave office six or more months after their most recent financial declaration are required to refile. The IGG is responsible for monitoring compliance with the declaration requirements, and penalties include a warning, demotion, and dismissal.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated with government restrictions. The government restricted and failed to cooperate with most domestic and international NGOs, especially those focused on governance and human rights (see section 2.b.). The president repeatedly accused civil society of accepting funding from foreign donors interested in destabilizing the country.

On February 13, 19 NGOs received hand-delivered letters from the UPF asking for information about their services, details of their staff members, sources of funding, and immigration status of foreign workers. Under current law the government requires all NGOs to provide this information to the government-run NGO Bureau when they register. On February 23, the NGO Forum, an organization that represents NGOs in the country, wrote a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs objecting to this new directive. At year’s end the ministry had not responded to the letter, and the 19 NGOs had not submitted the requested information. On August 7, the Ministry of Internal Affairs started a month-long national exercise to reverify all NGOs in the country. According to the ministry, there were more than 10,000 NGOs with expired permits in the country. On September 7, the NGO Forum wrote to the Ministry of Internal Affairs asking for an extension of the reverification deadline, noting that many rural NGOs had limited internet access and found it difficult to complete the requirements in such a limited time but the Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to extend the deadline. On November 16, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that it had shut 12,000 NGOs that missed the reverification exercise, requiring them to restart the lengthy registration process if they wished to continue to operate. The ministry said that only the 2,200 NGOs that completed the reverification exercise would be permitted to operate.

On August 8, the government’s anti-money-laundering agency, the FIA, sent a letter to banks asking for financial information and three years of bank statements for 13 NGOs. All the NGOs targeted were governance, anticorruption, or environmental activism NGOs and were vocal critics of government activities. Among the NGOs was the DGF, the largest pool of donor funding for governance-related activities in the country. Civil society leaders and opposition politicians claimed that the request amounted to “blackmail” and was an attempt to stall the organizations’ activities, an allegation that the government denied.

The government was often hostile to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces. On June 28, media reported that 149 civil society organizations under the umbrella body, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda, had petitioned the government to release reports on and prosecute culprits of 35 unsolved break-ins in their offices since 2014. Civil society leaders also noted that, in addition to electronic equipment and cash, thieves sometimes stole documents that had no financial values. In the second break-in during the year, on August 12, Rainbow Mirrors, a civil society organization advocating for the rights of transgender sex workers, reported on social media that unidentified persons broke into their offices. The organization filed a complaint with the police, which did not report details of investigations by year’s end.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is the constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers authorized to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, direct the release of detainees, and award compensation to abuse victims. The president appoints its board, consisting of a chairperson and five commissioners.

The UHRC pursues suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. It visits and inspects places of detention and holds private conferences with detainees on their conditions in custody. It investigates reports of human rights abuses, reports to parliament its annual findings, and recommends measures to improve the executive’s respect of human rights. The UHRC reported that the executive did not always implement its recommendations. On August 16, the UHRC Chair stated that security agencies had not yet paid more than 8.2 billion shillings ($2.2 million) that the UHRC had awarded to victims of torture since 2001. According to local media, the chair said the delay occurred because the Ministry of Finance had not released 5 billion shillings ($1.3 million) to the attorney general for compensation fees and had not responded to letters from the president requesting the release of these funds. According to the UHRC 2018 annual report, a 2016 policy change that made each institution, rather than the attorney-general, responsible for compensating victims had caused delays, since the various institutions, particularly the UPF and the UPDF, had not budgeted for these large awards. On March 30, President Museveni signed the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 2019, which changes the existing policy and makes individual perpetrators responsible for compensating victims. By year’s end courts had not yet convicted any individual or institution under this law. Some human rights activists and complainants said the UHRC lacked the courage to stand up to the executive in politically sensitive cases. According to local media, opposition politicians said the UHRC limited its actions pertaining to human rights violations to public statements and reports.

The Committee on Human Rights is the legislative team mandated to monitor and report on human rights concerns in all parliamentary business, monitor government’s compliance with national and international human rights instruments, study UHRC recommendations, and hold the executive accountable for the respect of human rights. On August 15, the committee opened an investigation into allegations that ISO kidnapped and tortured detainees at safe houses. Local media reported that, following reports from witnesses that security agents followed and intimidated them, the speaker of parliament asked the government to respect the rule of law and cooperate with the Committee. On September 4, Minister of Security Tumwine confirmed there were “several safe houses,” but said he would not permit the committee to visit them. On September 6, families of individuals detained in safe houses told the committee about difficulties obtaining information about or seeing their relatives, including a number who held for over two years. The following day ISO released to the police 60 detainees from custody in safe houses. On September 10, media reported that ISO barred members of the committee from accessing potential safe houses at four locations. Powers of the committee were limited to producing a report with recommendations, and tabling it to parliament, which would decide how to move forward.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under a section of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two- years’ imprisonment for conviction.

Rape remained a common problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often involving kidnap and killings of women, but the authorities were often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as religious leaders, local government officials, UPF and UPDF officers, teachers, and university staff. According to local media and local civil society organizations, rape victims often felt powerless to report their abusers, in part to avoid stigmatization. Civil society organizations and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to the police, UPF officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and to pressure the victims into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to civil society organizations, UPF personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. On February 18, local media reported that a male UPF officer attached to Kirinya Police Station raped a female suspect. According to local media, the officer on the night of February 9 pulled the suspect out of the cell and into the open yard used to store impounded vehicles, where he threatened her with death if she resisted and then raped her. Afterward he ordered her back to the cell. Local media reported that, after the UPF released the victim on police bond, she attempted for three days to report the rape to the same police station, but the officers at Kirinya Police Station refused to record the case. The victim then reported the matter to Kira Police Station, where the officers recorded the matter and had the errant officer arrested. The UPF said it was conducting investigations in order to charge its officer with rape in court but did not do so by year’s end.

Gender-based violence was also common according to local media and civil society organizations. On August 12, local media reported that a UPDF officer beat an 18-year-old pregnant woman after she declined his sexual advances. The UPDF said it had arrested the officer as it carried out its investigations but did not reveal any findings by year’s end. The local civil society organizations Action Aid, MIFUMI, and the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention operated shelters in regions across the country where victims of gender-based violence could receive counseling and legal advice.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey (DHS), the latest DHS, 0.3 percent of the female population under age 50 have undergone FGM/C. On January 21, local media reported that large “gangs” of at least 100 persons, armed with machetes and sticks, marched through Kween district, forcibly dragged girls out of their houses, and subjected them to FGM/C. Local media reported that the gangs beat up UPF officers who attempted to intervene. Deputy Minister for Gender, Labor, and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo said persons who aspired to political office in the 2021 local elections in Kween, Kapchorwa, and Bukwo regions, where FGM/C was prevalent, were funding FGM/C as a strategy for winning hearts and minds. The UPF said it had arrested 16 men and three women it suspected of involvement in forceful FGM/C. The speaker of parliament noted that the government allocated 200 million shillings ($53,333) annually to fight FGM/C, and Mutuuzo said her ministry used this money to sensitize communities against the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and NGOs, ritual child killings, violence against widows, and acid attacks were prevalent. Local media reported that traditional healers (witch doctors) kidnapped and killed children to use their organs for ancestral worship. Local NGOs reported cases in which wealthy entrepreneurs and politicians paid traditional healers to sacrifice children to ensure their continued wealth and then bribed police officers to stop the investigations. On August 23, local media reported that the UPF had started a manhunt for a man who attempted to kill his daughter as sacrifice in ancestral worship. Emmanuel Bwana reportedly blindfolded his 13-year-old daughter and drove her to an animist’s shrine, where they stripped her naked and started to perform traditional rituals. The animist, however, rejected the girl as sacrifice because she was menstruating. The UPF did not arrest the man by year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, workplaces, and in public spaces. Local media reported numerous incidents of male senior public servants in the legislature and judiciary who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. Local media reported that public attorney Samantha Mwesigye on March 10 petitioned the Office of the Prime Minister seeking action against her superior, Deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake, who, she said, sexually harassed her for 10 years. Mwesigye noted that she had received no assistance despite having written to the Solicitor General several times over the years and had instead been advised to “use peaceful means” to resolve the issue instead of instituting a sexual harassment committee to carry out investigations as mandated by law. On May 20, the Solicitor General said he had finally formed a committee to investigate Mwesigye’s allegations. The committee concluded on August 21 that it had cleared Gashirabake of the sexual harassment allegations having found no evidence to prove that he had victimized Mwesigye. On September 2, local media reported that Mwesigye missed her August salary after the judiciary took her off its payroll. According to local media, the judiciary said Mwesigye went off the payroll automatically after she absconded from work for 30 days.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women, including in divorce, employment, education, and owning or managing businesses and property. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under customary laws in many areas, widowed women cannot own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Local NGOs reported that the government occasionally paid significantly less compensation to women than men in exchange for land it repossessed, while in some cases, it forcefully evicted women without compensation. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men can “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships have no judicial recourse to protect their rights.

Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born inside or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children younger than age 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children younger than 18 adopted by citizens.

The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services although some primary schools, especially those in urban centers, required birth certificates for enrollment. Enrollment in public secondary schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions required birth certificates. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The law provides for compulsory education through the completion of primary school by age 13, and the government provided tuition-free education in select public primary and secondary schools (ages six to 18 years). Parents, however, were required to provide lunch and schooling materials for their children, expenses that many parents could not afford. Local media and civil society organizations reported that early and forced marriages and teenage pregnancy led to a higher rate of school dropouts for girls than for boys.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits numerous forms of child abuse and provides penalties of 2,400,000 shillings ($640) or five-year imprisonment or both for persons convicted of abusing children’s rights. The law defines “statutory rape” as any sexual contact outside marriage with a child younger than the age of 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator, carrying a maximum penalty of death. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a cash or in-kind payment. Corporal punishment in schools is illegal and punishable by up to three-year’s imprisonment. The law also provides for protection of children from hazardous employment and harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and FGM/C. Despite the law a pattern of child abuse existed in sexual assault, physical abuse, ritual killings, early marriage, FGM/C, child trafficking, infanticide, and child labor, among other abuses. Local media reported that in the vast majority of schools beating with a cane was the preferred method of discipline. A 2018 UNICEF report stated that three in four children had experienced physical violence both at home and in school. Government statistics also showed that more than one in three girls experienced sexual violence during her childhood, and that most did not report the incidents because they feared they would be shamed or embarrassed. Local media reported in February that traffickers at Arapai market in Soroti district auctioned off children, whose purchasers thereafter often forced them into sexual exploitation and begging (see section 7.c.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce this law. The DHS 2016 reported that 34 percent of women ages 20-24 married before age 18. Local media and civil society organizations reported that some parents in rural areas forced their teenage daughters into marriage after they got pregnant while others did so to earn dowries. Several local governments passed ordinances to outlaw early marriages. The Buyende District local government requires local government leaders to see birth certificates for the couple before registering marriages in order to confirm that the couple had reached the age of consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, the sale and procurement of sexual services, and practices related to child pornography. It sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however, and the problem was pervasive. On February 29, local media reported that the UPF arrested a 71-year-old German philanthropist, Bernhard Bery Glaser, on allegations that he sexually abused girls at his gender-based-violence shelter in Kalangala district. The UPF reported that Glaser kept 30 girls at the shelter and forced them to take turns sleeping in his bedroom. Local UPF personnel told local media that they approved transfer of the girls to the shelter despite having received prior reports from the community over a five-year period suggesting wrongdoing at the shelter. The government charged Glaser with aggravated defilement and trafficking on April 2. The trial continued at year’s end.

Child Soldiers: The LRA, an armed group of Ugandan origin operating in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, continued to hold children against their will.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Local media and civil society organizations reported numerous incidents where animists killed children as sacrifice in ancestral worship.

Displaced Children: Local civil society organizations and media reported that poverty and famine drove families in the remote northeast Karamoja region to send many children to Kampala to find work and beg on the streets. Civil society organizations reported that traffickers often manipulated families in Karamoja to sell their children to traffickers with promises that the children would obtain a good education or a profitable job. Instead, traffickers forced the children to beg on the streets of Kampala or other major cities and gave them almost none of what they earned. Kampala City authorities worked with civil society organizations to return Karamojong street children to their families, but often the families soon returned the children to the streets because they partly depended on their collections to maintain their households.

Institutionalized Children: Local NGOs and the UHRC reported that the UPF often detained child and adult suspects in the same cells and held them beyond the legal limit of 48 hours prior to arraignment. The UHRC attributed this to the absence of juvenile cells at police stations and the continued failure to ascertain the correct age of suspects. According to local media, the UPF also raided several shelters for vulnerable and homeless children where it accused the management of sexually abusing the children.

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

The Jewish community had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of 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 law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It provides for access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media and activists for persons with disabilities reported that persons with disabilities experienced social prejudice and discrimination in social service delivery and in access to public spaces. According to local media, persons with disabilities said that taxes hampered their access to telecommunication technology. NGOs for persons with disabilities reported that a 2018 tax that levied a daily 200 shillings ($0.05) fee on social media use made communication expensive for deaf people, who used video online apps to communicate. Local media reported that some parents with children with disabilities hid them from the public out of shame, while some physically restrain them from moving by tethering them to tree trunks. Local civil society organizations reported that the government neither ran any support programming for persons with albinism, nor made an effort to establish the number of those with albinism or their concerns.

There were reports that the authorities used violence to displace an ethnic community from disputed land. According to local media and opposition politicians, authorities continued to evict members of the Acholi community from the disputed village of Apaa as they had in prior years. Media reports noted that at least 2,100 Acholi whom the UPDF and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority had evicted since 2017 remained displaced, with no access to farming land. On several occasions the government announced that all residents should vacate Apaa village to make way for a wildlife reserve but reversed the decision after uproar from the community’s leaders. The president then instituted a committee to devise a peaceful solution to the issue, but the committee did not report its findings by year’s end.

Indigenous minorities continued to accuse the government of marginalization that disabled them from participating in decisions affecting their livelihood. The UHRC reported that the government denied recognition to several ethnic minorities, leading them to “experience a sense of exclusion and marginalization.” The UHRC also reported that the government denied ethnic minorities access to adequate social services, particularly healthcare and education. The UHRC reported that the government continued in its refusal to compensate the Benet and Batwa people, whom it displaced from lands it designated as forest reserves. It noted that primary schools in the western part of the country forced pupils from minority ethnicities to study in the languages spoken by the dominant ethnicity in the region.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal according to a colonial-era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Although the law does not restrict freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly for those speaking out about the human rights of LGBTI persons, in practice the government severely restricted such rights. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services.

LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities perpetrated violence against LGBTI individuals and blocked some meetings organized by LGBTI persons and activists. Local civil society organizations reported that public and private health-care services turned away LGBTI persons who sought medication and some led community members to beat LGBTI persons who sought health care. Local civil society organizations reported that some LGBTI persons needed to pay bribes to public health-care providers before they received treatment. On October 23, the UPF subjected 16 homosexual and transgender people to forced medical examinations in an effort to “gather evidence” to support criminal charges against them for having participated in activities “against the order of nature.” On May 17, the UPF blocked a public meeting by LGBTI activists and persons to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. UPF officers arrived at the designated venue an hour in advance and turned away guests, saying it was “an illegal assembly.” According to local civil society organizations, the UPF on August 20 arrested 33 transgender persons who were attending a training on sustainable development goals. On August 21, the government charged the 33 with holding an illegal assembly but later released them on bail. The case continued at year’s end.

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination and stigma were common and inhibited these persons from obtaining treatment and support. Local civil society organizations reported the stigma resulted from limited public knowledge about the methods of HIV transmission as well as “the belief that having HIV is shameful.” Civil society organizations reported that stigma pushed persons living with HIV to exclude themselves from social services and employment opportunities, including care programs. Local media and civil society organizations reported numerous incidents of parents who abandoned children living with HIV; and of persons, particularly men, who abandoned spouses who were living with HIV. The UPF, the UPS, and the UPDF regularly refused to recruit persons who tested positive for HIV, claiming their bodies would be too weak for the rigorous training and subsequent deployment.

In cooperation with the government, international and local NGOs sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Government and HIV/AIDS counselors encouraged the population to test for and share information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.

Mob violence remained a problem. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in the UPF and the judiciary to deliver justice. They attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, murder, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. On June 26, local media reported motorcycle taxi drivers in Kampala attacked two men they suspected of attempting to steal a motorcycle. According to media reports, the motorcycle taxi drivers took turns driving over one of the suspects while others beat the second with sticks and stoned him. The UPF said they managed to disperse the mob and take the suspected thieves to the hospital, but one died soon after admission.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development must register unions before they may engage in collective bargaining.

The law allows unions to conduct activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law also empowers the Minister of Gender, Labor, and Social Development and labor officers to refer disputes to the Industrial Court if initial mediation and arbitration attempts fail.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Civil society organizations said the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development did not allocate sufficient funds to hire, train, and equip labor inspectors to enforce labor laws effectively. Employers who violated a worker’s right to form and join a trade union or bargain collectively faced penalties that were generally insufficient to deter violations.

The government generally did not protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination occurred, and labor activists accused several private companies of deterring employees from joining unions. On May 24, the leadership of the Uganda National Teachers Union claimed that resident district commissioners and other local officials were threatening teachers to stop their industrial action or face repercussions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, but does not prohibit prison labor. The law states that prison labor constitutes forced labor only if a worker is “hired out to, or placed at the disposal of, a private individual, company, or association.” Those convicted of using forced labor are subject to penalties that are ineffective to deter violations.

Local civil society organizations and media reported that many citizens working overseas, particularly in the Gulf States, became victims of forced labor. Civil society organizations reported that traffickers and legitimate recruitment companies continued to send mainly female jobseekers to Gulf countries where many employers treated workers as indentured servants, withheld pay, and subjected them to other harsh conditions. Media reported on several local women trafficked to the Middle East, some of whom suffered serious injury or death.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor but allows children as young as 12 years of age to do some types of hazardous work under adult supervision. Children are required to attend school until age 13. This standard makes children ages 13 to 15 vulnerable to child labor because they are not required to attend school but are not legally permitted to do most types of work. The law places limitations on working hours and provides for occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was common, especially in the informal sector. Local civil society organizations and the UHRC reported that children worked in fishing, gold and sand mining, cattle herding, grasshopper collecting, truck loading, street vending, begging, scrap collecting, street hawking, stone quarrying, brick making, road construction and repair, car washing, domestic services, service work (restaurants, bars, shops), cross-border smuggling, and commercial farming (including the production of tea, coffee, sugarcane, vanilla, tobacco, rice, cotton, charcoal, and palm oil). Local civil society organizations and media reported that poverty led children to drop out of school to work on commercial farms while some parents took their children along to work in artisanal mines to supplement family incomes. According to government statistics, children from nearly half of all families living on less than $1 a day dropped out of school to work. Local civil society organizations reported that orphaned children sought work due to the absence of parental authority. Local civil society organizations and local media also reported commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6).

Local NGOs reported that children who worked as artisanal gold miners were exposed to mercury, and many were unaware of the medium- to long-term effects of the exposure. They felt compelled to continue working due to poverty and a lack of employment alternatives. Children also suffered injuries in poorly dug mine shafts that often collapsed.

On June 18, a group of government officials, journalists, and civil society organization staff traveled to the eastern portion of the country to verify media reports of a market where traffickers sold children. The group reported they found girls ages 12-16, usually from Karamoja, who had been sold for 20,000-50,000 shillings ($5.33-$13.33) and been taken to Kampala where they worked as beggars, domestic workers, or prostitutes in the commercial sex trade.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, the government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, refugee or stateless status, disability, age, language, and HIV or communicable disease status, it did not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and LGBTI persons faced social and legal discrimination. From March 2018 to June, Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, led the African delegation in negotiating the standards of the International Labor Organization for violence and harassment in the world of work. Bigirimana led the Africa delegation in a walk out in 2018 in protest to the inclusion of LGBTI people as a vulnerable group. In June, Bigirimana successfully negotiated to remove the broader definition of vulnerable groups that included LGBTI people among others, arguing that the list was not exhaustive, and each member state would be free to determine what it considered vulnerable groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law technically provides for a national minimum wage much lower than the government’s official poverty income level. This minimum wage standard was never implemented, and the level has not changed since 1984. On February 19, parliament passed the Minimum Wage Bill of 2015, which included provision for a board to establish minimum wages for different sectors. Official parliamentary communications reported that on August 21 President Museveni declined to sign the bill, arguing that existing law was sufficient. The government did not enforce existing wage laws effectively and as a result, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

The maximum legal workweek is 48 hours, and the maximum workday is 10 hours. The law provides that the workweek may be extended to 56 hours per week, including overtime, with the employee’s consent. An employee may work more than 10 hours in a single day if the average number of hours over a period of three weeks does not exceed 10 hours per day, or 56 hours per week. For employees who work beyond 48 hours in a single week, the law requires employers to pay a minimum of 1.5 times the employee’s normal hourly rate for the overtime hours, and twice the employee’s normal hourly rate for work on public holidays. For every four months of continuous employment, an employee is entitled to seven days of paid annual leave. Nonetheless, local civil society organizations reported that most domestic employees worked all year round without leave.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards and regulations for all workers, but according to local civil society organizations, the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health did not fully enforce them. The law authorizes labor inspectors to access and examine any workplace, issue fines, and mediate some labor disputes. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, legal protection for such workers was ineffective.

Authorities did not effectively enforce labor laws due to insufficient resources for monitoring. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law. The labor officers often depended on complainants and local civil society organizations to pay for their travel to inspection sites. Platform for Labor Action (PLA) reported that many of the 73 labor officers were in fact dual-hatted as social workers and only did labor-related work when a complainant reported an abuse.

According to PLA and the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU), most workers were unaware of their employers’ responsibility to ensure a safe working environment, and many did not challenge unsafe working conditions, for fear of losing their jobs.

Labor officials reported that labor laws did not protect workers in the informal economy, including many domestic and agricultural workers. According to government statistics, the informal sector employed up to 86 percent of the labor force. The formal pension systems covered less than 10 percent of the working population.

PLA reported that violations of standard wages, overtime pay, or safety and health standards were common in the manufacturing sector.

Yemen

Executive Summary

Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2012 the governing and opposition parties chose Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi as the sole consensus candidate for president. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible voters confirmed him as president, with a two-year mandate. In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital, Sana’a, igniting a civil conflict between Houthi forces and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that continued through the year.

The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the Political Security Organization (PSO) and the National Security Bureau (NSB), came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The ROYG staffed the PSO and the NSB in areas under its control. By law the PSO and the NSB report first to the interior minister and then to the president; coordination efforts between the PSO and the NSB were unclear.

The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. The paramilitary Special Security Forces was under the authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense supervised units to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over security forces. Houthis controlled most of the national security apparatus in sections of the north and some former state institutions. Competing tribal, party, and sectarian influences further reduced ROYG authority, exhibited in August when United Arab Emirates (UAE)-funded Security Belt Forces (SBF), many of which aligned with the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), took over Aden and several other southern territories.

In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign a UN-brokered peace deal calling for a “unity government.” The ROYG resigned after Houthi forces, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, seized the presidential palace in 2015. Houthi forces then dissolved parliament, replacing it with the Supreme Revolutionary Committee. Hadi escaped house arrest and fled to Aden, where he declared all actions taken by Houthi forces in Sana’a unconstitutional, reaffirmed his position as president, pledged to uphold the principles of the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, and called on the international community to protect the country’s political process.

After Houthi forces launched an offensive in southern Yemen and entered Aden in 2015, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition, Operation “Decisive Storm,” on behalf of the ROYG. Peace talks in Kuwait in 2016 between the Houthis and ROYG ended inconclusively. In 2017 Houthi forces killed Saleh after he publicly split from the Houthis and welcomed cooperation with the coalition. In December 2018 direct talks between the ROYG and Houthis under UN supervision in Sweden led to agreements on a ceasefire in and around the city and port of Hudaydah, as well as on prisoner exchanges and addressing the humanitarian situation in Taiz. These agreements were not effectively implemented; hostilities–including Houthi drone strikes and coalition airstrikes–continued throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including political assassinations; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; pervasive corruption; recruitment and use of child soldiers; pervasive abuse of migrants; and criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The ROYG took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but had limited capacity due to the ongoing civil war. Houthi control over government institutions in the north severely reduced the ROYG’s capacity to conduct investigations.

Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, tribal militias, militant secessionist elements, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and a local branch of ISIS committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. The Houthis did not respect the rights as provided in the constitution, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Expression: All parties to the conflict severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, and female human rights defenders, journalists, and activists faced specific repression on the basis of gender. Local human rights defenders faced harassment, threats, and smear campaigns from the government, Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi forces. In multiple instances Houthis went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

Violence and Harassment: The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment. Progovernment popular resistance forces, Houthis, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets.

In May, Amnesty International reported the Houthis had detained 10 journalists since 2015 on false charges, and subjected the journalists to torture and other forms of abuse.

In August the CPJ documented that military authorities detained three journalists, Munir Talal, Mahfouz al-Baaithi, and Yahya al-Baaithi, at a hotel in the city of Taiz, accusing them of belonging to a militia. Authorities released them after making them pledge not to write or publish anything on their detention.

Progovernment forces, including Security Belt and Hadrami forces, harassed media and monitors by raiding civil society organizations, and detaining journalists and demonstrators for publicizing complaints about detention practices and military operations. The CPJ reported in 2018 an armed raid in March of that year on the offices of al-Shomou Foundation, believed to be pro-ROYG. The men set fire to the presses used to print the weekly al-Shomou and daily Akhbar al-Youm newspapers. The president of al-Shomou Foundation told the CPJ the attackers arrived in vehicles and wore uniforms consistent with the Security Belt forces that operate in and around Aden. Three weeks later, Security Belt forces abducted seven Akhbar al-Youm staff from the same location and released them after one month.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Houthis controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves. The Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly blocked websites and domains authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. OHCHR reported Houthi forces censored television channels and banned newspapers from publication.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state;” the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people;” materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution;” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.” There was no information during the year whether the ROYG or the Houthis used these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Nongovernmental Impact: International media and human rights organizations said their personnel were unable to obtain coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas. See section 1.g. for reports of abductions of journalists by unidentified armed men.

Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these rights were not respected in the majority of the country, i.e., areas which the government did not control.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The Houthis and their affiliates responded to demonstrations and protests in various parts of the country with excessive force.

While the law provides for freedom of association, there were reports Houthis harassed and shut down NGOs. Houthi authorities closed numerous NGOs during the year without proper due process, citing treason or conspiring with foreign powers. Houthi authorities created a new body known as the “Executive Office for Monitoring Operations of International Organizations” that oversees the work of NGOs, reportedly polices NGO activity, and has arbitrary detained activists and shut down NGOs in Houthi-controlled areas.

The law regulates associations and foundations and outlines the establishment and activities of NGOs. Authorities required annual registration. The law exempts registered NGOs from taxes and tariffs and requires the government to provide a reason for denying an NGO registration, such as deeming an NGO’s activities “detrimental” to the state. It forbids NGO involvement in political or religious activities. It permits foreign funding of NGOs. The law requires government observation of NGO internal elections. There were no known attempts by NGOs to register during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Rebel forces, resistance forces, security forces, and tribes maintained checkpoints on major roads. In many regions, especially in areas outside effective central security control, armed tribesmen frequently restricted freedom of movement, operating their own checkpoints, sometimes with military or other security officials, and often subjected travelers to physical harassment, extortion, theft, or short-term kidnappings for ransom. Damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure from the conflict also hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments (see section 1.g.).

Women in general did not enjoy full freedom of movement, although restrictions varied by location (see section 6, Women). Some observers reported increased restrictions on women in conservative locations, such as Safadi. Oxfam reported that in areas controlled by radical Islamic groups such as AQAP, men at checkpoints increasingly insisted on adherence to the “mahram” system, the cultural obligation of women to be accompanied by male relatives in public.

Local observers reported Yemenis from Houthi-controlled areas faced increasing discrimination and difficulties when traveling in the southern portion of the country.

Foreign Travel: The Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014 and the government relocation to Aden in 2015 left no official government authority in control of Sana’a airport customs or immigration functions. In 2016 the coalition closed Sana’a International Airport to commercial traffic, permitting only UN humanitarian flights, thereby preventing thousands of local citizens from traveling abroad. Those who needed to leave the country attempt alternative routes that require long journeys across active front lines at high risk and cost.

In the past women needed the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, before applying for a passport or leaving the country. A husband or male relative could bar a woman from leaving the country by placing a woman’s name on a “no-fly list” maintained at airports. Prior to the conflict, authorities strictly enforced this requirement when women traveled with children, but there were no reports of government authorities enforcing this requirement during the year. There were attempts, however, by the Houthis to impose similar restrictions on women’s international travel. Given the deterioration of infrastructure and lack of security due to the conflict, many women reportedly declined to travel alone (see section 6, Women).

Prior to 2014 the transitional government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees (see section 2.f.), returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Houthi takeover, coalition airstrikes, and active fighting made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach many areas of the country due to security concerns (see section 1.g. Other Conflict-related Abuse).

According to UNHCR’s November 8 operational update, there were approximately 3.6 million IDPs, of whom 80 percent were displaced for more than one year, and more than 63,080 were displaced since the beginning of the year. There were approximately 1.28 million IDP returnees. The government’s IDP registration system has been inactive since the escalation of the conflict in 2015.

Humanitarian organizations’ access to IDPs and other vulnerable populations was generally limited and unpredictable due to the continuing conflict; however, many humanitarian organizations maintained a presence in multiple locations throughout the country. According to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, and charities that still functioned in the capital supported IDPs and other conflict-affected Yemenis in Sana’a and other parts of the country with food, shelter, and nonfood items, among other support. IDPs from Saada reported limited access to cash for purchasing basic household items.

The IOM reported IDPs largely sought refuge with relatives or friends or rented accommodations where many faced frequent threats of eviction due to late payments of rent. Others were housed in unconventional shelters in public or private buildings, such as schools, health facilities, or religious buildings, primarily in Taiz and Lahj. NGOs reported shelter continues to be a primary concern for IDPs. The shifting nature of the conflict displaced many IDPs multiple times as front lines of the conflict change, requiring individuals to seek new shelter with every subsequent displacement. In the first six months of the year, UNHCR and its partners distributed a total of 39,754 basic household items and nonfood-item kits, 10,156 emergency shelter kits, and 513 transitional shelter kits.

OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting IDPs (see section 1.c.). The OHCHR condemned retaliatory attacks against and deportations of northerners by the STC in Aden and other southern governorates following the takeover by UAE-funded Security Belt Forces in August.

f. Protection of Refugees

UNHCR’s Head of Sub Office Aden acknowledged the efforts and hospitality of the government and its people, who have continued to host some 275,000 refugees and asylum-seekers despite the conflict. UNHCR reported more than 97,000 new arrivals of migrants and refugees to the country in the first eight months of the year, marking a 48 percent increase over the previous year, with expectations up to 160,000 could arrive by the end of the year. The IOM estimated 20,000 migrants, a majority of whom were fleeing conflict in the Horn of Africa, traveled by boat to Yemen each month.

The country received refugees from a variety of countries during the conflict. Many refugees became increasingly vulnerable due to the worsening security and economic situation in the country. Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants shared in the general poverty and insecurity of the country.

According to UNHCR’s November Operational Update, there were approximately 276,800 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many were attempting to reach or return to Saudi Arabia for work and had entered the country based on false information from smugglers that the conflict in the country was over, according to UNHCR and the IOM. Due to the fighting, many took refuge at the Kharaz camp and towns in the south. The ROYG could not provide physical protection to refugees; many were held in detention centers operated by Houthis in the north and the government in the south. UNHCR claimed there were reports of refugees and migrants facing physical and sexual abuse as well as torture and forced labor, in both Houthi and ROYG-controlled facilities, and that many refugees and migrants were susceptible to trafficking.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants and other vulnerable groups (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

Multiple NGOs and the media continued to report that criminal smuggling groups built a large number of “camps” near the Yemen-Saudi border city of Haradh and in other parts of the country, where militants held migrants for extortion and ransom.

In August, HRW reported migrants from the Horn of Africa were met and captured by traffickers upon arrival of the former in the country. The report stated five migrants who were interviewed said the traffickers physically assaulted them to extort payments from family members or contacts in Ethiopia or Somalia. While camps where migrants were held were run by Yemenis, Ethiopians often reportedly carried out the abuse. In many cases, relatives said they sold assets such as homes or land to obtain the ransom money. After paying the traffickers or escaping, many migrants claimed to have made their way north to the Saudi-Yemen border, crossing in rural, mountainous areas. The Associated Press reported in October hundreds of migrants were held in deplorable conditions and experienced rape, torture, and other abuse at the hands of smugglers.

Refoulement: Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Somali detainees in the Bureiqa migrant detention center near Aden alleged they were not allowed to claim refugee status and that hundreds of fellow detainees were sent back out to sea in overloaded boats. HRW reported in 2018 these deportations resulted in the deaths of dozens of asylum seekers. Information was not available for deportations during the year.

Access to Asylum: No law addresses the granting of refugee status or asylum, and there was no system for providing protection to asylum seekers. In past years, the government provided automatic refugee status to Somalis who entered the country. The Houthis attempted to take over the refugee status determinations process in areas under their control, leading many refugees to have lapsed documentation. UNHCR was generally able to access populations to provide assistance and was working with the Houthis to come to a resolution on registration of refugees. UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determination in southern territory under government control, in coordination with the government.

In 2018 numerous first-hand accounts corroborated that asylum seekers who registered with UNHCR as refugees had their documentation confiscated upon arrival to Buraika, according to HRW.

Freedom of Movement: Freedom of movement remained difficult for all in the country, including refugees, given the damage to roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure caused by the conflict. Most of the country’s airports incurred significant damage or were closed to commercial traffic, making travel difficult for all, including refugees. In areas controlled by Houthis unofficial checkpoints blocked or delayed the movement of individuals or goods.

The IOM reported both the ROYG and Houthis detained migrants due to concerns they could be recruited by the other party. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations continued to face challenges accessing detention centers to monitor detained refugees and asylum seekers.

While the government generally deported migrants back to their country of origin, the Houthis frequently detained migrants for indefinite periods. In April, ROYG authorities began detaining large groups of migrants in Abyan, Aden, and Lahj governorates. At the peak of the campaign, approximately 5,000 migrants, including children and women, were held across three sites unfit to accommodate people, such as conflict-damaged sports stadiums. In coordination with partners, the IOM immediately began an emergency response for those detained, providing food, water supply, latrines, and health care. The IOM began assisting migrants detained in the 22nd of May Stadium to return to Ethiopia under its voluntary returns program, prioritizing women, children, and persons with specific vulnerabilities. Through 22 flights, the IOM returned home 2,742 stranded migrants. As of September the IOM had assisted with more than 3,784 refugee and migrant returns to the Horn of Africa.

During the year Houthi armed groups also continued arbitrarily to detain migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hudaydah. HRW reported overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse, with detainees showing signs of sores and festering wounds.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees lacked access to basic services due to the ongoing conflict. The United Nations estimated only approximately half of the country’s public-health facilities remained functional during the year. Many were closed due to damage caused by the conflict, some were destroyed, and all facilities faced shortages in supplies, including medications and fuel to run generators.

Not Applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens with the ability to choose their government peacefully through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The outbreak of conflict interrupted a government-initiated new voter registration program. There have been no elections since the outbreak of conflict in 2014.

Recent Elections: In 2014 the major political parties, acting within the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), endorsed an extension of President Hadi’s term given the conflict. In 2014 13 parties signed a Peace and National Partnership Agreement that temporarily ended the violence associated with the Houthi movement into Sana’a and called for implementation of the NDC outcomes, including holding elections and establishing a new constitution.

In 2015 the Houthis declared the constitution null and void, disbanded parliament, and announced the formation of the appointed Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing body. Houthi-aligned members of the GPC, the largest political party, announced the formation of a Supreme Political Council and the reconvening of parliament in Sana’a, followed by the announcement of a “national salvation government.” The institutions did not receive international recognition as government bodies, and elections for parliament were not held.

The ROYG reconvened parliament for the first time since 2015 in Sayoun on April 13. Parliament has not reconvened since April 13, in part due to events in August when the ROYG was forced out of the temporary capital of Aden to Riyadh.

The UN-led political process continued at year’s end. With the November 5 signing of the Riyadh Agreement, the ROYG and Southern Transition Council agreed to end three months of hostilities in the country’s south. The Agreement returned the ROYG prime minister to Aden on November 18. It also aims to produce a more inclusive cabinet and bring all military forces under the ROYG umbrella. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths intended to reconvene the Yemeni parties for another round of UN-led talks on a comprehensive political settlement in 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to be national organizations that do not restrict their membership to residents of a particular region or to members of a given tribe, religious sect, class, or profession.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively. During the year there were reports of official corruption. A burdensome criminal judicial process creates a separate legal system for the political elite. According to the constitution, approval of one-fifth of the members of parliament is necessary to conduct a criminal investigation of a deputy minister or higher-ranking official. The law then requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and presidential permission to bring criminal investigation results to the general prosecutor for indictment. The government did not use the procedure before Houthis disbanded parliament in 2015 and have not used it since.

Corruption: Corruption was pervasive throughout the country, and observers reported petty corruption in nearly every government office. Job applicants were often expected to purchase their positions. Observers believed tax inspectors undervalued assessments and pocketed the difference. Many government officials and civil service employees received salaries for jobs they did not perform or multiple salaries for the same job. Corruption also regularly affected government procurement. Corruption and goods on the black market increased overall in parts of Houthi-controlled areas, particularly in institutions controlled from Sana’a.

Recent analyses by international and local observers, including Transparency International, agreed corruption was a serious problem in every branch and level of government, and especially in the security sector. International observers claimed government officials benefited from insider arrangements, embezzlement, and bribes. Political leaders and most government agencies took negligible action to combat corruption. In the view of informed local observers, the leading cause of the 2011 protests eventually resulting in the current internal conflict was the anger against decades-long pervasive corruption in the central government.

The Central Organization for Control and Audit (COCA) is the national auditing agency for public expenditures and the investigative body for corruption. COCA reportedly conducted an investigation into alleged malfeasance in the Central Bank of Yemen during the year, although there was no information available regarding the results of the investigation.

Some police stations reportedly maintained an internal affairs section to investigate security force abuses and corruption, and citizens have the right to file complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office. The Ministry of Interior had a fax line for citizens to file claims of abuse for investigation. No information was available on the number of complaints the ministry received or investigated or whether the mechanism still existed.

A government plan to collect biometric information on all government employees, including soldiers and other security force members, and to create a central registry designed to eliminate the alleged tens of thousands of fraudulent and duplicate names from the payroll, was suspended following the armed Houthi takeover in 2015. The government also suspended implementation of a payment system for soldiers and other security force members via bank or post office accounts. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, that system bypassed paymasters who had previously paid soldiers in cash.

Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the independent Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) received complaints and developed programs to raise awareness of corruption. It included a council of government, civil society, and private-sector representatives. A lack of capacity, particularly in terms of financial analysis, hampered the SNACC. During the year according to the government, the SNACC continued to operate “at minimal levels.” No information was available, however, on the number of complaints received or referrals for prosecution.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires annual disclosure of financial assets by all ministers, deputy ministers, agency heads, members of parliament, and Shura Council members. Filers are to provide disclosures to the SNACC for verification. The information was not publicly available. The SNACC may also request disclosures from any other government employee and provides for penalties for false filing of information. The law does not require disclosure of assets of children or spouses. There was no information on whether officials complied with the law.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, subjected domestic human rights NGOs to significant harassment during the year (see also section 2.b.). In August 2018 the Houthis detained Kamal al-Shawish, a cofounder of NGO Mwatana, and released him in September 2018. Mwatana regularly criticizes human rights conditions in the country.

International human rights organizations stated their personnel were unable to obtain coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 1, media reports stated Houthi rebels denied entry to OHCHR representative Ahmed Elobeid. When Elobeid landed in Sana’a, Houthi security officers boarded his plane, took away his travel permit, and ordered his plane to leave. Prior to this incident, OHCHR had published a critical report detailing abuses by all parties in the civil war, including sexual violence against women in Houthi-run prisons.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2015 Presidential Decree Number 13 established the NCIAVHR as an independent group responsible for investigating all alleged human rights violations since 2011. The commission consists of a chair and eight members with legal, judicial, or human rights backgrounds. The NCIAVHR continued to investigate and report on human rights conditions during the year and conducted training with the United Nations.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but it does not criminalize spousal rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 25 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively. In 2016 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.6 million women and girls were at risk for gender-based violence, an increase of 63 percent of those at risk since the conflict began. During the year the United Nations reported incidents of gender-based violence continued to increase. The UN Group of Experts reported SBF personnel continued to engage in rape and kidnappings during the year. The UN Group of Experts noted the role of Houthi rebels, the SBF, and 35th Armored Brigade personnel (over whom the ROYG exercised minimal control) in perpetrating rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls (see section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture).

There were no reliable rape prosecution statistics, and the number of rape cases was unknown. By law authorities can prosecute rape victims on charges of fornication if authorities do not charge a perpetrator. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession, the rape survivor must provide four male witnesses to the crime.

There were few publicly reported cases of rape during the year. The UN Group of Experts verified five women were either raped, sexually assaulted, or had direct assault on genitalia while detained at the Houthi-run PSO, the NSB, or other facilities in Sana’a and Ibb.

The law states that authorities should execute a man if convicted of killing a woman. The penal code, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an “honor” killing or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of gender-based abuse, such as forced isolation, imprisonment, and early and forced marriage.

The law provides women with protection against domestic violence, except spousal rape, under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Victims rarely reported domestic abuse to police and criminal proceedings in cases of domestic abuse were rare.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, although a 2001 ministerial directive banned the practice in government institutions and medical facilities, according to HRW. There was no data for the year on its prevalence; however, data from media and UN reporting in 2015 suggests the rate was approximately 15 to 20 percent.

Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the penal code criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. Authorities, however, rarely enforced the law. Sexual harassment was a major problem for women.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, and the government could not implement them effectively.

Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody, and have little legal protection. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d.). An estimated 2015 female literacy rate of 55 percent, compared with 85 percent for men, accentuated this discrimination.

A male relative’s consent was often required before a woman could be admitted to a hospital, creating significant problems in a humanitarian context in which the men of the household were absent or dead.

Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man’s.

The UN Group of Experts reported 40 cases of women human rights defenders, journalists, and activists facing “gender-based persecution” during the year, which included threats from all sides of the conflict.

A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. In the formal legal system, a woman must provide justification.

Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior (see section 1.f.). A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.”

Women experienced economic discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. A child of a Yemeni father is a citizen. Yemeni women may confer citizenship on children born of a foreign-born father if the child is born in the country. If the child is not born in the country, in rare cases the Ministry of Interior may permit a woman to transmit citizenship to the child if the father dies or abandons the child.

There is no universal birth registration, and many parents, especially in rural areas, never registered children or registered them several years after birth. The requirement that children have birth certificates to register for school was not universally enforced, and there were no reports of authorities denying educational or health-care services and benefits to children based on lack of registration.

Education: The law provides for universal, compulsory, and tuition-free education from ages six to 15. Public schooling was free to children through the secondary school level, but many children, especially girls, did not have easy access. For school attendance statistics, see the 2018 Humanitarian Situation Report from UNICEF.

UNICEF and other agencies reported an estimated two million children have dropped out of school since 2015. Meanwhile, in 2018 almost three quarters of public school teachers had not been paid their salaries in more than a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk.

Child Abuse: The law does not define or prohibit child abuse, and there was no reliable data on its extent. Authorities considered violence against children a family affair.

Early and Forced Marriage: Early and forced marriage was a significant, widespread problem. The conflict likely exacerbated the situation, and the United Nations reported forced marriage and child marriage for financial reasons due to economic insecurity continued to be a systemic problem during the year. There is no minimum age for marriage, and girls reportedly married as young as eight years of age.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not define statutory rape and does not impose an age limit for consensual sex. The law prohibits pornography, including child pornography, although there was no information available on whether the legal prohibitions were comprehensive. The law criminalizes the prostitution of children. Amnesty International reported children as young as eight were raped in the city of Taiz during the year. It also reported four cases of sexual violence against children reportedly by militiamen aligned with a political party.

Child Soldiers: See section 1.g., Child Soldiers.

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

Approximately 50 Jews remained in the country. According to media reports, most lived in a compound in Sana’a after the Israeli Jewish Agency succeeded in transporting 19 Jews to Israel in 2016. The continuing conflict further weakened law enforcement and targeted discrimination by the Houthi authorities put the Jewish community at risk. Many fled the country as a result.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

In the past anti-Semitic material was less prevalent than during the year. Media coverage of the country’s Jewish population was more positive. The Houthi movement, however, adopted anti-Semitic slogans, including “death to Israel, a curse on the Jews,” and anti-Israeli rhetoric often blurred into anti-Semitic propaganda. Houthis continued to propagate such materials and slogans throughout the year, including adding anti-Israeli slogans and extremist rhetoric into elementary education curriculum and books.

Members of the Jewish community are not eligible to serve in the military or national government. Authorities forbid them from carrying the ceremonial Yemeni dagger.

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

Several laws mandate the rights and care of persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce them. The law permits persons with disabilities to exercise the same rights as persons without disabilities, but this did not happen in practice. Social stigma and official indifference were obstacles to implementation.

Children with disabilities may attend public schools, although schools made no special accommodations for them.

Although the law mandates that new buildings have access for persons with disabilities, compliance was poor.

Information about patterns of abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental health institutions was not publicly available.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ROYG could not continue collaboration with the World Bank to administer a social development fund; the ministry was also unable to oversee the Fund for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled, which provided limited basic services and supported more than 60 NGOs assisting persons with disabilities.

Although racial discrimination is illegal, some groups, such as the Muhamasheen (marginalized) or Akhdam community, and the Muwaladeen (Yemenis born to foreign parents), faced social and institutional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and social status. The Muhamasheen, who traditionally provided low-prestige services such as street sweeping, generally lived in poverty and endured persistent societal discrimination. Muhamasheen women were particularly vulnerable to rape and other abuse because of the general impunity for attackers due to the women’s low-caste status. The UN Group of Experts reported the Muhamasheen continued to be targets of extreme sexual violence. There were reports of chattel slavery of the Muhamasheen (see section 7.b.).

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with the death penalty as a sanction under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law. There have been no known executions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in more than a decade.

The government did not consider violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons “relevant” for official reporting.

Due to the illegality of and possible severe punishment for consensual same-sex sexual conduct, few LGBTI persons were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals known or suspected of being LGBTI faced discrimination.

There were no LGBTI organizations. The government blocked access to internet sites containing LGBTI-related content.

While there were no reports of social violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, the topic was socially sensitive and infrequently discussed. Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is a criminal offense, and information was not available on whether there were reports of incidents of discrimination occurring during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent due to the continuing conflict. Labor laws were still in effect, but Houthis controlled the ministries responsible for their implementation.

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor code provides for the right of salaried private-sector employees to join unions and bargain collectively. These protections do not apply to public servants, day laborers, domestic servants, foreign workers, and other groups who together made up the majority of the work force. The civil service code covers public servants. The law generally prohibits antiunion discrimination, including prohibiting dismissal for union activities.

While unions may negotiate wage settlements for their members and may conduct strikes or other actions to achieve their demands, workers have the right to strike only if prior attempts at negotiation and arbitration fail. They must give advance notice to the employer and government and receive prior written approval from the executive office of the General Federation of Yemen Workers’ Trade Unions (GFYWTU). Strikes may not be carried out for “political purposes.” The proposal to strike must be put to at least 60 percent of all workers concerned, of whom 25 percent must vote in favor for a strike to be conducted.

The government did not enforce laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

While not formally affiliated with the government, the GFYWTU was the only official federation and worked with the government to resolve labor disputes. In practical terms, a union’s ability to strike depended on its political strength. Under the transitional government, authorities often accused unions and associations of being linked to a political party.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The penal code prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, gives [a human being] as a present, or deals in human beings.” This statute’s narrow focus on transactions and movement means the law does not criminalize many forms of forced labor.

The ROYG did not effectively enforce the law due to the continuing conflict and lack of resources.

Although information was limited, in the past there were numerous reports of forced labor in both urban and rural areas. Some sources reported the practice of chattel slavery in which human beings were traded as property continued. No official statistics existed detailing this practice. Sources reported there could be several hundred other men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves in the al-Hudaydah and al-Mahwit governorates. In some instances employers forced children into domestic servitude and agricultural work (see section 7.c.) and women into domestic servitude or prostitution.

Migrant workers and refugees were vulnerable to forced labor. For example, some Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis were forced to work on khat farms (khat is a flowering plant that contains stimulants); some women and children among this population may also have been exploited in domestic servitude.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor, but the government did not implement its regulations effectively. The Combating Child Labor Unit within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for implementing and enforcing child labor laws and regulations.

The country’s minimum employment age is 14 or not lower than the age of completion of compulsory education, which is generally 15.

Children younger than 18 with formal contracts may work no longer than six hours a day, with a one-hour break after four consecutive hours, on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Child labor was common, including its worst forms. According to a 2013 International Labor Organization study, the latest available such data, more than 1.3 million children participated in the workforce.

In rural areas family poverty and traditional practice led many children to work in subsistence farming. In urban areas children worked in stores and workshops, sold goods, and begged on the streets. Children also worked in some industries and construction. Continued weak economic conditions forced hundreds of children to seek work in the hazardous fishery, construction, and mining sectors. Children also reportedly worked in dangerous conditions in waste dumps. According to HRW, nearly one-third of all combatants in the country were younger than 18 years of age (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law does not address employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, political opinion, national origin, social origin, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Discrimination based on race, gender, and disability remained a serious problem in employment and occupation. The law reserves 5 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities and mandates the acceptance of persons with disabilities in universities, exempts them from paying tuition, and requires schools be accessible to persons with disabilities. The extent to which any authority implemented these laws was unclear.

Racial and employment discrimination against the Muhamasheen were problems. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and limited access to the workplace (see section 6). Foreign workers may join unions but may not be elected to office. Women were almost absent from the formal labor market, with a labor force participation rate as low as 6 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no established minimum wage in the private sector. The minimum civil service wage was more than the estimated poverty income level; however, civil servant salaries have not been paid consistently for several years, and most were too low to provide for a large family.

The law specifies a maximum 48-hour workweek with a maximum eight-hour workday, although many workshops and stores operated 10- to 12-hour shifts without penalty. The 35-hour workweek for government employees was nominally seven hours per day from Sunday through Thursday. The law requires overtime pay and paid holidays and leave and prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime.

The law prescribes occupational safety and health standards. It states every employer must provide industry-appropriate safe and healthy conditions for workers. The law recognizes the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and workers may challenge dismissals based on such actions in court. The safety law does not apply to domestic servants, casual workers, or agricultural workers.

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent; penalties, if enforced, were insufficient to deter violations. Working conditions generally were poor, and wage and overtime violations were common. Foreign migrant workers, youth, and female workers typically faced the most exploitative working conditions. Working conditions were poor in the informal sector, which included an estimated 89 percent of the workforce. There was no credible information available regarding work-related accidents or fatalities during the year.

Zambia

Executive Summary

Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. In 2016 the country held elections under an amended constitution for president, national assembly seats, and local government, as well as a referendum on an enhanced bill of rights. The incumbent, Patriotic Front (PF) President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, won re-election by a narrow margin. A legal technicality saw the losing main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, unsuccessfully challenge the election results. International and local observers deemed the election as having been credible but cited a number of irregularities. The pre-election and postelection periods were marred by limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results ultimately were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair.

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. The president appoints the commanders of each military service and they report directly to him. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, and censorship including arbitrary application of criminal libel laws against critics of the government, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; substantial interference with the right of assembly; official corruption; and the criminalization, arrest, and prosecution of persons engaged in consensual same-sex sexual relationships.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of human rights violations. Impunity remained problematic nevertheless, as alleged violators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in the government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. The government also continued to apply the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who opposed the ruling party.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, Article 22(3) allows the restriction of freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts. Based on these provisions, the government can restrict these freedoms using subsidiary laws such as the penal code, Public Order Act, Preservation of Public Security Act, and Emergency Powers Act.

Freedom of Expression: The government remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly by the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of general public interest. In December 2018 the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced New Vision newspaper editor Derrick Sinjela to 18 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court for his public criticism of senior judges’ handling of the Savenda v. Stanbic case. President Lungu pardoned Sinjela in November. Gregory Chifire, director of the Southern Africa Network against Corruption, whom the court had convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in November 2018 for similar charges, remained in exile at year’s end.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the ruling PF party, while the other supported the party and the government. Opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively. Although state media covered government-sponsored and nongovernmental events, coverage was not fair; state media did not educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way, civil society organizations reported.

In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent, private media outlets also often received threats from the government for providing airtime to the opposition. For example, on April 30, a group of PF supporters, locally known as “cadres,” attacked opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili in Kabwe during a live radio broadcast on Power FM radio station, disrupting the program and damaging property as they forcibly entered the station.

According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities. Police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate journalists’ assault cases, and some media houses were threatened with closure for unfavorable or insufficient coverage of the president. On several occasions, police used force to interrupt broadcasts.

Violence and Harassment: While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, there were numerous reports of government, ruling party, and some opposition officials and supporters physically and verbally attacking or threatening journalists. For example, on May 1, a group of PF “cadres” forcibly entered Radio Maria, a Roman Catholic-run station in Chipata, Eastern Province. They harassed journalists and threatened to burn down the station for featuring a rival candidate for provincial leadership. President Lungu condemned the attack and ordered police to arrest perpetrators; authorities later arrested two PF members. Involved parties later resolved the matter outside of court, and authorities released the arrested individuals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported that harassment and arrest of journalists, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence, among other restrictions, compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship. For example, on March 4, the government Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended private media Prime TV’s broadcasting license for almost a month, for alleging the station had failed to comply with IBA regulations. The IBA investigated the station after ruling PF Party Secretary General Davies Mwila accused Prime TV of “biased coverage and unethical reporting” and insufficient coverage of ruling party events during a parliamentary by-election. The IBA concluded that Prime TV, which at times showed programing critical of the government, had “exhibited unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence, and use of derogatory language.” The IBA recommended that Prime TV should conduct in-house journalism ethics training and news writing for its journalists during the period of suspension.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, or defamation against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. The government also often used sedition laws against those critical of the government. For example, on March 23, police arrested and charged opposition Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo with defamation of the president after Tembo alleged on social media that President Lungu was possibly suffering from a mental illness that led him to make “irrational national decisions,” such as purchasing a new presidential jet. The charges remained pending at year’s end.

Although government generally did not restrict access, and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. On August 14, the Wall Street Journal alleged that a government cybercrime “crack” squad intercepted encrypted communications and used mobile phone data to track some opposition bloggers who had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. Senior ruling party officials dismissed the allegation as “fake news.”

Government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events continued. For example, on August 13, police blocked PF presidential contender Kelvin Bwalya Fube from addressing students at “an entrepreneurship and academic motivational talk” organized by the Student Impact and UNZA Sociology Association.

Although there were no reports of censorship of academic teaching, writing, or research, university staff working in management had little autonomy to manage their institutions without government interference. In a letter dated September 4, the UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union advised Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba against interfering in the affairs of public universities and urged him to leave the running of the institutions to university managements and councils.

There were restrictions on artistic presentations or other cultural activities, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. For example, authorities banned the music of hip-hop artist Fumba Chama, professionally known as “Pilato,” on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and other state media. Private radio stations continued to play his music, except for two of his songs that criticized the president.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government at times restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations. While authorities allowed protests and rallies, police at times delayed authorization or forced organizers to hold events at less favorable locations and times, especially for opposition party events or events seen as critical of the government. On November 3, police rescinded authorization for a Democratic Party rally in Samfya after initially granting it. Police later used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered despite the revocation.

The Public Order Act requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, continued to disregard this landmark ruling and stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings. For example, on August 6, police arrested and charged 27 UPND members in Kitwe for unlawful assembly. According to the newspaper Zambia Daily Mail, the members had gathered for a political meeting without notifying police as required by law. UPND officials claimed the meeting took place in a private residence; authorities released all the arrestees after they paid an “admission of guilt” fine. On September 24, police blocked opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema’s visit to the town of Kafue, where he intended to visit local residents experiencing food insecurity, despite Hichilema having notified authorities under the Public Order Act.

The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it placed some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the NGO Act requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent, long, and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register under the NGO Act before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations.

Despite these restrictions, the government liberally allowed civil society organizations to hold meetings in which they criticized it.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: The government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections.

There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remained the greatest protection risk in refugee locations, both urban and camp settings. Authorities provided some physical protection, including by the provision of temporary police posts, but efforts were insufficient. UNHCR supported government efforts with counselling services, access to medical facilities, and access to justice for survivors of SGBV. The most commonly reported forms of SGBV included sex in exchange for basic needs, rape, sexual harassment, and underage marriage. Gender inequality, lack of livelihood opportunities, substance abuse, and impunity of perpetrators were among the key structural causes.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, although the law provides for the granting of asylum, it also gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants holding asylum from other countries or those coming from stable democratic states. The government was responsible for conducting refugee status determinations.

Freedom of Movement: Zambia has made a number of reservations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, including the freedom of movement. For example, the established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons can legally stay in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements can obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers’ unfamiliarity with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention.

Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they can engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including the application of a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no Zambian citizen who can perform the job.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services, including education, housing, and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but required a study permit and the payment of school fees.

Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees and stateless persons. According to the government’s Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, 210,000 refugees–mainly from Angola, Mozambique, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)–over time voluntarily returned to their countries of origin as conflicts there waned. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that of 20,000 Angolan and 4,000 Rwandan refugees accepted for naturalization, the government issued residence permits to more than 3,000 and offered them land in a local resettlement and integration program. Delayed passport issuance for both Angolans and Rwandans by their respective nations’ diplomatic and consular representatives kept several thousand in legal limbo.

In a joint effort by the government, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs, settlement areas in Mantapala, Mayukwayukwa, and Meheba provided refugees from the DRC an opportunity to settle permanently in Zambia. Refugees were provided land for agricultural use as well as space for housing near social services. The areas also include already established villages as a way to promote local integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided protection to 4,179 individuals who may not qualify as refugees from January 1 to September 30, and the recognition rate of asylum claims was high. Those rejected could appeal via the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons.

According to UNHCR, the country has no provision for maintaining statistical information regarding stateless persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents–mainly hunters and gatherers– were integrated into local rural communities following the destruction of their natural habitat due to development activities. The government was in the process of issuing them national identity documents. The Department of Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, under the Office of the Vice President, assists stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2017 the Constitutional Court declared as unconstitutional provisions of the Electoral Process Act that prevented convicted prisoners from voting and affirmed prisoners’ right to vote. The electoral commission accepted the ruling and stated it would provide for voting stations in prisons. During the year the Electoral Commission began reviewing electoral laws in line with the ruling.

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were held in 2016. They included five separate ballots for president, members of parliament, mayors, and local councilors, as well as a referendum on a revised bill of rights. The incumbent president and PF candidate, Edgar Lungu, won a close victory, garnering 50.4 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, UPND leader Hichilema, received 47.6 percent, and seven other candidates combined received 2 percent of the vote. The presidential election was conducted under a revised electoral system that required a candidate to receive more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a second-round runoff. Election observers and monitors noted that, while voting was peaceful, there were concerns relating to the electoral environment. Public media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party, preventing the elections from being genuinely free or fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1991, political parties largely operated without restriction or outside interference, and individuals could independently run for office. In recent years, however, the government has pursued activities that undermined opposition parties, to include targeted arrests of opposition party leaders and members, denied registrations for new parties, and general harassment. For example, the ruling party enjoyed the use of government resources for campaign purposes and at times utilized police to harass opposition parties. Police arrested opposition officials, blocked public rallies, and dispersed participants in opposition political gatherings and public protests. The lack of continuous voter registration disenfranchised young persons who reached voting age but were unable to participate in interim local government and parliamentary by-elections. Restrictions on political parties continued with the deregistration on August 26 of the opposition NDC by the registrar of societies, based on a High Court ruling that the party had not adopted a party constitution and was therefore legally nonexistent and in breach of the country’s constitution. The party petitioned for judicial review of the decision, and on September 26, the court temporarily set aside the deregistration during the appeal process, thus allowing it to continue operating legally.

Additionally, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations and limited their ability to monitor electoral and political processes. Reports of forced retirement of civil servants based on their political affiliation and ethnicity continued. Authorities also disciplined government security forces when they confronted ruling party cadres. On February 16, the government retired four senior police officers, citing “national interest” after accusing the officers of using excessive force when arresting ruling party PF cadres attempting to disrupt the February 12 parliamentary by-election in Sesheke. The officers’ action sparked a complaint of police brutality from PF Secretary General Davies Mwila, and Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja promised to dismiss any officers involved. The affected officers challenged their dismissals in the Lusaka High Court, and the case continued at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws preventing women or members of minorities from voting, running for office, and serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and women and minorities did so. Nevertheless, observers reported that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, the constitution requires a high school education for all elected officials, which had the effect of disqualifying many female candidates, who often could not complete studies due to traditional or cultural factors such as early marriages and the prevailing patriarchal system, from running for office.

Less than 20 percent of the members of parliament were women, and few women occupied public decision-making positions. The 2016 constitutional amendments and adoption of policies and programs to promote the participation of women and other minorities resulted in the appointment of more women to leadership positions. Since then, a number of women were appointed to leadership positions, particularly in the judiciary and parastatal bodies. The number of women in parliament increased during the year to 31 from 30, of a total 167 members of parliament.

According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), selective implementation of the Public Order Act by police not only affected political parties but also undermined women’s ability to participate fully in elections and political life. Intimidation and political and electoral violence, as well as a lack of resources, also prevented women from participating in political life more broadly, WLSA reported. The patriarchal system further undermined women’s participation in decision making due to societal expectations and norms for the traditional role of women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption, and the government attempted to enforce the law but did not do so consistently. Officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Although the government collaborated with the international community and civil society organizations to improve capacity to investigate and prevent corruption, anticorruption NGOs observed the enforcement rate among senior government officials and in the civil service was low.

According to Transparency International (TI) Zambia, the average conviction rate for those prosecuted for corruption was 10 to 20 percent. The government did not effectively implement penal laws against corrupt officials but selectively applied anticorruption law to target opposition leaders or officials that fell afoul with it. TI Zambia further reported that officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: There were numerous cases of serious corruption involving government officials. For example, on May 31, the Financial Intelligence Centre reported that money laundering and suspicious transactions in 2018 increased to 6.1 billion Zambian kwacha ($520 million), up from 4.5 billion Zambian kwacha ($382 million) in 2017.

The case against former minister of community development and social services Emerine Kabanshi, dismissed for alleged misuse of donor funds meant for social cash transfer programs, continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law only provides for income and asset disclosure by a small fraction of political officeholders and public servants. Although the Anti-Corruption Act requires certain officers of the Anti-Corruption Commission to disclose their assets and liabilities prior to taking office, it does not apply to other public officials. Under the Electoral Process Act, only presidential and vice presidential candidates are required to declare their assets and liabilities. Conviction for false declaration is punishable by seven years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine. Some government institutions, such as the Zambia Revenue Authority, maintained integrity committees to enhance asset disclosure mechanisms within the workplace. In several other institutions, asset disclosure requirements were vague or inadequately enforced.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always cooperative or responsive to views critical of the government. For example, officials at the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development sought to impede release of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that criticized some elements of the government’s response to lead pollution in a densely populated area surrounding a former lead mine. After numerous attempts to work with the government on a joint launch of the findings, HRW eventually decided to release the report outside the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is an independent body established by the constitution to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The HRC monitored human rights conditions, interceded on behalf of persons whose rights it believed the government denied, and spoke on behalf of detainees and prisoners. The HRC and independent human rights committees across the country enjoyed the government’s cooperation without substantial political interference.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and other sexual offenses, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor.

The Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act does not have provisions for spousal rape. The penal code criminalizes domestic violence between spouses and among family members living in the same home. The law provides for prosecution of most crimes of gender-based violence, and penalties for conviction range from a fine to 25 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used. The law provides for protection orders for victims of domestic and gender-based violence, and such orders were issued and enforced. Despite this legal framework, rape remained widespread. Although the law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, the government did not always consistently enforce the law.

To address the problem of gender-based violence, the government engaged traditional marriage counselors on gender-based violence and women’s rights in collaboration with NGOs. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) also continued its “good husband” campaign and, in collaboration with other women’s movements, the “I Care about Her” campaign to promote respect for women and to end spousal abuse. The government and YWCA worked to address these problems through community sensitizations, shelters, toll-free lines, and one-stop centers where victims accessed counseling and legal support services. The Victim Support Unit under the police, staffed with trained personnel, supplemented these efforts. Other efforts to combat and reduce gender-based violence included curriculum development for training of police officers, roadshows to sensitize the public to gender-based violence, and instruction on how to file complaints and present evidence against perpetrators.

A gender-based violence information management system in the government Central Statistics Office strengthened monitoring and reporting of cases of gender-based violence. The system, which allows for effective and comprehensive reporting of gender-based violence and improved support, including legal services, social, economic, and overall national planning, led to an increased number of reported cases.

Human rights-focused NGOs observed that the country’s dual system of customary and statutory law made it difficult to combat and deter injustices against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, FGM/C was common. Human rights-focused NGOs reported that the practice of pulling of the labia, a type of FGM/C intended to elongate the labia, is widely practiced. There were, however, indications the incidence rate was declining, especially in urban areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common, but the government took few steps to prosecute harassment during the year. Although the penal code contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women may be prosecuted, the provisions are inadequate to protect women effectively from sexual harassment. The Non-Governmental Coordinating Council received many reports of sexual harassment in the workplace but noted stringent evidence requirements often prevented victims from filing charges against their harassers. Family pressure on victims to withdraw complaints–especially when perpetrators were also family members–also hampered prosecution.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: In contrast to customary law, the constitution and other laws provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality laws. The government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination. For example, customary land tenure and patriarchal systems discriminate against women seeking to own land. This situation restricts women’s access to credit as they lack collateral, which land ownership provides.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or, with the exception of refugees, by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration was neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care, to children, and there were no differences in birth registration policies and procedures between girls and boys. Both state and nonstate institutions accepted alternative documents to access other basic services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

 

Education: Although the Education Act and education policy provides for free and compulsory education for children of “school-going age,” the act neither sets a specific age nor defines what is meant by “school-going age.” This may leave children particularly vulnerable to child labor (see section 7.b.). The numbers of girls and boys in primary school were approximately equal, but fewer girls attended secondary school. According to UNICEF, girls tended to leave school at younger ages than did boys because of early marriage or unplanned pregnancies.

Child Abuse: The punishment for conviction of causing bodily harm to a child is five to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the law was generally enforced. Beyond efforts to eliminate child marriage, there were no specific initiatives to combat child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 16 for boys and girls with parental consent and 21 without consent. There is no minimum age under customary law. In 2017 according to UNICEF, 31 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 6 percent by age 15. UNICEF reported child marriage was largely between peers, rather than forced. According to the YWCA and other NGOs, however, early and forced marriages were prevalent, particularly in rural areas. The government adopted a multisectoral approach to stop child marriage, which included keeping children in school, creating re-entry policies for girls who become pregnant, and strengthening the role of health centers for sexual reproductive health. These efforts were articulated by the national strategy to end child marriages launched in 2017. Other efforts by the government and other nonstate actors included community sensitization and withdrawing children from child marriages, supported by several traditional leaders.

The government, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, and donors worked together to fight early and forced marriages. The Ministries of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs; Gender; and Youth, Sport, and Child Development, in collaboration with traditional leaders, NGOs, diplomatic missions, and other concerned persons, increasingly spoke out against early and forced marriages. Some leaders nullified forced and early marriages and placed the girls removed from such marriages in school. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. The law provides penalties of up to life imprisonment for conviction of statutory rape or defilement, which the law defines as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 16. The minimum penalty for a conviction of defilement is 15 years’ imprisonment.

The law criminalizes child prostitution and child pornography and provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. The law provides for prosecution and referral to counseling or community service of child prostitutes age 12 years and older, but authorities did not enforce the law, and child prostitution was common. According to UNICEF, transactional sexual exploitation of young girls–that is, sex in exchange for food, clothes, or money among extremely vulnerable girls–was prevalent.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that of the 10,592 refugees registered at the Mantapala resettlement in Luapula Province, 6,250 were younger than age 18. According to UNHCR and UNICEF, as of April there were 1,001 unaccompanied and separated children among registered Congolese refugees, and the government provided them with appropriate services.

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

There were fewer than 500 persons in the Jewish community, and 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 law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other government services. The enactment of the Mental Health Act in April updated the legal framework by repealing the antiquated Mental Disorders Act, establishing the Mental Health Council, and giving effect to certain provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other regional and international instruments.

Despite this progressive step, the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD) reported the government did not consistently enforce its law due to insufficient funding for disability programs. ZAPD reported the police and other government institutions did help prevent violence against persons with disabilities by investigating allegations of violence. For example, in late 2018 authorities arrested, convicted, and imprisoned a man reportedly for raping a disabled girl in Kawambwa.

The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services oversees the government’s implementation of policies that address general and specific needs of persons with disabilities in education, health care, accessibility to physical infrastructure, and electoral participation.

A lack of consolidated data was a major impediment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government programming and policy. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education and correspondingly low literacy levels. While the government did not restrict persons with physical or mental disabilities from voting or otherwise participating in most civic affairs, progress in providing for their participation remained slow. Persons with disabilities also faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.

By law the government must provide reasonable accommodation for all persons with disabilities seeking education and provide that “any physical facility at any public educational institution is accessible.” Public buildings, including schools, prisons, and hospitals, rarely had facilities to accommodate disabled persons. Five schools were designated for children with disabilities. Some children with physical disabilities attended mainstream schools, but long distances to school restricted others from accessing education. According to ZAPD, there were three types of education systems accessible to children with disabilities: segregated education (special schools), integrated education (special units), and inclusive education. The majority of children with disabilities attended special schools, while the rest attended special units. There were 150 schools practicing inclusive education in selected provinces during the year. The government also developed and promoted employment recruitment strategies for disabled persons seeking to enter the civil service and provided university study grants to disabled students.

 

There are seven major ethnic and language groups–Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Ngoni, and Tonga–and 66 smaller ethnic groups, many of which are related to the larger tribes. The government generally permitted autonomy for ethnic minorities and encouraged the practice of local customary law. Some political parties maintained political and historical connections to tribal groups and promoted their interests. Trends towards regionalism and tribalism that marred the 2016 general election contributed to divisions among tribal groups.

The government grants special recognition to traditional leaders nationwide. It does not recognize the 1964 Barotseland Agreement that granted the Lozi political autonomy and was signed by the United Kingdom, Northern Rhodesia, and the Barotse Royal Establishment immediately prior to the country’s independence. Some Lozi groups continued to demand official recognition of the Barotseland Agreement, while others pushed for independence from the rest of the country.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, and penalties for conviction of engaging in “acts against the order of nature” are 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Conviction of the lesser charge of gross indecency carries penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. During the Universal Periodic Review held in 2017 in Geneva, the government rejected calls to recognize and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. On September 26, while attending the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, President Lungu reiterated that LGBTI rights “cannot be replicated in Zambia because they are a taboo” to local culture. The government enforced laws against same-sex sexual activity and did not address societal discrimination against LGBTI persons. By year’s end, four individuals were serving time in prison for reasons related to their sexual orientation, up from three at the end of 2018. This included two individuals convicted of same-sex sexual conduct by the Kapiri Mposhi Magistrates Court in August 2018. On November 27, the Lusaka High Court upheld their conviction and imposed the 15-year minimum sentence.

Societal violence against persons based on gender, sex, and sexual orientation occurred. LGBTI persons in particular were at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access health-care services. Most politicians, media figures, and religious leaders expressed opposition to basic protection and rights for LGBTI persons in arguing against same-sex marriage.

According to LGBTI advocacy groups, societal violence against LGBTI persons occurred, as did discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. LGBTI groups reported frequent harassment of LGBTI persons and their families, including threats via text message and email, vandalism, stalking, and outright violence. Freedom of expression or peaceful assembly on LGBTI issues remained nonexistent. For example, on February 4, the national broadcasting regulator IBA ordered Multi-Choice Zambia to suspend transmission of a reality show entitled Lusaka Hustle. Earlier, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili advised Multi-Choice Zambia to discontinue the show on the premise that “it promotes homosexuality,” as one of the show’s primary hosts in the minister’s view displayed characteristics typically associated with the LGBTI community. After a one-week hiatus, the IBA board determined that subsequent episodes did not violate any law and reinstated the show.

The government actively discouraged discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Most employers adopted nondiscriminatory HIV/AIDS workplace policies. Training of the public sector, including the judiciary, on the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS increased public awareness and acceptance, but societal and employment discrimination against such individuals persisted. The government made some headway in changing entrenched attitudes of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In 2016 the country’s first openly HIV-positive person was elected to parliament.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Statutory restrictions regulate these rights; the government has discretionary power to exclude certain categories of workers from unionizing, including prison staff, judges, court registrars, magistrates, and local court justices. The law also requires the registration of a trade union with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which may take up to six months. The ministry has the power to refuse official registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

No organization may be registered as a trade union unless its application to register is signed by not fewer than 50 supporters or such lesser number as may be prescribed by the minister of labor and social security, and, with some exceptions, no trade union may be registered if it claims to represent a class of employees already represented by an existing trade union. Unions may be deregistered under certain circumstances, but the law provides for notice, reconsideration, and right of appeal to an industrial relations court. During the year no trade union was deregistered or faced excessive restriction on registration.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, brokers labor disputes between employers and employees. The law provides the right of employees not to be prevented, dismissed, penalized, victimized, or discriminated against or deterred from exercising their rights conferred on them under the law, and it provides remedies for dismissals for union activities. Casualization and unjustifiable termination of employment contracts is illegal; the law defines a casual employee as an employee whose terms of employment contract provide for his or her payment at the end of each day and is engaged for a period of not more than six months. The law was not enforced effectively.

In cases involving the unjustified dismissal of employees, the ministry settles disputes through social dialogue, and any unresolved cases are sent to the Industrial Relations Court. Penalties are not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides a platform for employers, workers, and government to dialogue on matters of mutual interest through the Tripartite Consultative Labor Council.

The law provides for collective bargaining. In certain cases, however, either party may refer a labor dispute to a court or for arbitration; the International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns the law did not require the consent of both parties involved in the dispute for arbitration. The law also allows for a maximum period of one year for a court to consider the complaint and issue its ruling. Collective agreements must be filed with the commissioner and approved by the minister before becoming binding on the signatory parties.

With the exception of workers engaged in a broadly defined range of essential services, the law provides for the right to strike if recourse to all legal options is first exhausted. The law defines essential services as any activity relating to the generation, supply, or distribution of electricity; the supply and distribution of water and sewage removal; fire departments; and the mining sector. Employees in the defense force and judiciary as well as police, prison, and ZSIS personnel are also considered essential. The process of exhausting the legal alternatives to a strike is lengthy. The law also requires a union to notify employers 10 days in advance of strike action and limits the maximum duration of a strike to 14 days. If the dispute remains unresolved, it is referred to the court. The government may stop a strike if the court finds it is not “in the public interest.” Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be dismissed by employers. An employee or trade union that takes part in a strike not authorized by a valid strike ballot is liable to a fine of up to 50,000 kwacha ($4,250) for a trade union or 20,000 kwacha ($1,700) for an employee.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides for reinstatement and other remedies for workers fired for union activity. Except for workers in “essential services” and those in the above-mentioned categories, no other groups of workers are excluded from relevant legal protections. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Government enforcement of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining was not effective. Penalties for employers were not sufficient and could not be effectively enforced to deter violations. Other challenges that constrained effective enforcement included unaligned pieces of legislation, lack of financial capacity to implement programs, and lack of trained officers to enforce legislation.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Unions suffered from political interference and fracturing and were no longer seen as influential. Most unions chose to strike illegally, either to circumvent lengthy procedural requirements for approval or when other legal avenues were exhausted. Antiunion discrimination and retirements in national interest persisted during the year. For example, antiunion tendencies were prevalent among multinational companies and local employers, particularly in the agricultural, mining, and transport sectors. Disputes arising from such actions were often settled by workers’ representatives and employers, with the government acting as an arbiter. NGOs advocated for worker rights throughout the year without government restriction.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law authorizes the government to call upon citizens to perform labor in specific instances, such as during national emergencies or disasters. The government also may require citizens to perform labor associated with traditional, civil, or communal obligations.

A new employment code passed in April criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations range from a fine to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

While the government investigated cases involving a small number of victims, it did not investigate more-organized trafficking operations potentially involving forced labor in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors. There were no reported prosecutions during the year.

Gangs of illegal miners called “jerabos” at times forced children into illegal mining and loading stolen copper ore onto trucks in Copperbelt Province. Women and children from rural areas continued to be exploited in urban domestic servitude and subjected to forced labor in the agricultural, textile, mining, and construction sectors, and other small businesses. While orphans and street children were the most vulnerable, children sent to live in urban areas were also vulnerable to forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps hamper adequate protection of children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15 at any commercial, agricultural, or domestic worksite or engaging a child in the worst forms of child labor. The new employment code consolidates all child-related labor laws into a single legislation to provide clear regulations on the employment and education of children. Restrictions on child labor prohibit work that harms a child’s health and development or that prevents a child’s attendance at school; government regulations list 31 types of hazardous work prohibited to children and young persons. The law also prohibits the procurement or offering of a child for illicit activities. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

According to the ILO, child labor was prevalent, and the government did not effectively enforce the law outside of the industrial sector. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Secondary education is not compulsory, and children who are not enrolled are vulnerable to child labor.

While the labor commissioner effectively enforced minimum age requirements in the industrial sector, where there was little demand for child labor, the government seldom enforced minimum age standards in the informal sector, particularly in artisanal mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Although the government reported it had a National Child Labor Steering Committee, which oversaw child labor activities and was composed of government ministries, the Zambian Federation for Employers, the Zambia Congress for Trade Unions, civil society, and other stakeholders, the committee was not active during the year. The government collaborated with local and international organizations to implement programs combatting child labor. Because most child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, often on family farms or with the consent of families, inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security focused on counseling and educating families that employed children. In some cases such work also exposed children to hazardous conditions. Authorities did not refer any cases of child labor for prosecution during the year. Due to the scarcity of transportation, labor inspectors frequently found it difficult to conduct inspections in rural areas.

Child labor was a problem in agriculture, fisheries, domestic service, construction, farming, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), quarrying, mining, and other sectors where children younger than age 15 often were employed. According to UNICEF, there was a high prevalence of child labor, mostly in domestic and agricultural sectors and mainly in rural areas. UNICEF noted discrepancies between the right to education and child labor laws in the country.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The new employment code prohibits employment discrimination on several basis (for example, sex, disability) but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs warned the new law was likely to have a negative impact on women as potential employers would see hiring them as a financial risk, since the increased maternity leave allowance provides for up to 14 weeks with full pay. Various organizations had policies that protected individuals with HIV/AIDS. Although the new employment code provides for maternity leave, it requires a worker be continuously employed for two years before being eligible for such leave. The law prohibits termination or imposition of any other penalty or disadvantage to an employee due to pregnancy.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. There were reports of discrimination against minority groups. Undocumented migrant workers are not protected by the law and faced discrimination in wages and working conditions.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTI persons were at times dismissed from employment or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women’s wages lagged behind men’s, and training opportunities were less available for women. Women were much less likely to occupy managerial positions. Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Security authority to set wages by sector; the category of employment determines the minimum wage and conditions of employment. The minimum wage categories, last revised in 2018, at the low end were slightly above World Bank poverty estimates for a lower-middle income country but lower than the Basic Needs Basket. The new employment code also provides sufficient penalties to deter violations, and the government made strides to improve enforcement. Nevertheless, compliance with the law remained a problem, the ILO reported.

Wage laws were not always effectively enforced, but the law prescribes penalties for violations of labor laws that are sufficient to deter violations. Every employer negotiates with employees their standard minimum wage. For unionized workers, wage scales and maximum workweek hours were established through collective bargaining. Almost all unionized workers received salaries considerably higher than the nonunionized minimum wage.

According to the law, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours. The standard workweek is 40 hours for office workers and 45 hours for factory workers. There are limits on excessive compulsory overtime, depending on the category of work. The law provides for overtime pay. Employers must pay employees who work more than 48 hours in one week (45 hours in some categories) for overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. Workers receive double the rate of their hourly pay for work done on a Sunday or public holiday. The law requires that workers earn two days of annual leave per month without limit.

The law regulates minimum occupational safety and health standards in industry. Both the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security stated that government occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries. The law places on both workers and experts the duty to identify unsafe situations in a work environment. During the year the WCFCB conducted safety inspections in more than 102 employer sites and recorded 100 violations in OSH standards, mostly in the mining, construction, and agriculture sectors. These inspections generally showed a lack of compliance with procedures, nonprovision of personal protective equipment, and lack of pre- and postemployment medical examinations. According to the WCFCB, a risk assessment on dangerous work activities and pre-employment medical examinations of new employees–especially in Chinese-run mining operations–was nonexistent. The number of labor inspectors, moreover, was likely insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children.

The work hour law and the safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors, including in the informal sector. Workers at some mines faced poor health and safety conditions and threats by managers if they tried to assert their rights. Miners developed serious lung disease, such as silicosis, due to poor ventilation and constant exposure to dust and chemicals.

The government engaged with mining companies and took some steps to improve working conditions in the mines. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Despite these legal protections, workers generally did not exercise the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their safety or health, and workers who protested working conditions often jeopardized their employment.

Violations of wage, overtime, or OSH standards were most common in the construction and mining sectors–particularly in Chinese-owned companies–and among domestic workers. Major industrial accidents during the year occurred in the mining, transport, agriculture, and commercial sectors. According to Zambia Central Statistical Office data published in June, approximately 31.6 percent of the labor force was employed in the formal sector, and approximately 68.4 percent was informally employed. The National Pension Scheme Authority implemented a program that extended social security to workers in the informal sector in five priority sectors: domestic workers, bus and taxi drivers, saw millers, marketers and traders, and small-scale farmers in the first phase of the project.

According to the WCFCB, the highest number of accidents occurred in the construction, agriculture, and mining sectors. The WCFCB reported that 36 of 392 accidents recorded during the year were fatal. Fatal industrial accidents included three workers who died on February 7 in an underground mine accident at Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) in Mufulira. The miners reportedly died of suffocation after inhaling smoke from a mine loader that caught fire after refueling. Preliminary investigations revealed the mine lacked safety features for miners operating underground. Two workers also died in another MCM accident on March 19, prompting the company to temporarily suspend production and investigate.