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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Parliamentary elections for the lower house of parliament were constitutionally mandated for 2015, but for a number of reasons, were not held until October 2018. Elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all provinces except in Ghazni where they were delayed due to an earlier political dispute and in Kandahar where they were delayed following the October 18 assassination of provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. Elections took place in Kandahar on October 27, but elections in Ghazni were not scheduled by year’s end. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by violence, technical issues, and irregularities, including voter intimidation, vote rigging, and interference by electoral commission staff and police. In some cases, polling stations were forced to close due to pressure from local leaders.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest; arbitrary detention; criminalization of defamation; government corruption; lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; sexual abuse of children by security force members; violence by security forces against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community; and violence against journalists.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

There were major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government. The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year (1,743 deaths and 3,500 injured) to antigovernment actors. The Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. In May, UNAMA reported that the Anticorruption Justice Center, established in 2016 to combat corruption, has thus far indicted 142 cases, including charges of misuse of authority, embezzlement, bribery, forgery of documents, and money laundering. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and criminals often paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women cannot and do not use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. Only 234 of 2162, or 12 percent, of judges are women. The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors. UNAMA found during an April to July survey that judges did not have sufficient copies of the new Penal Code.

During the year an investigatory committee, formed by President Ghani in 2016, closed its inquiry into the Farkhunda case, which involved the 2015 death of a woman killed by a mob. The committee report described deficiencies in responses by the police, prosecutors, and the courts. The investigation was closed during the year without further action.

In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq office, or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women crimes that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation. For example, UNAMA cited a case where a Taliban court’s mediation sent a victim of spousal abuse back to her home, only for her husband to cut off her nose afterwards.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to media reporting, in February a Taliban court in Obe District, Herat Province, cut off a man’s hand and leg as a sentence for robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but this requirement was not always followed.

Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. On April 30, a suicide bomber, wearing a media credentials badge and mixed in with reporters covering an earlier attack, killed nine reporters and photographers in Kabul. The bombing compounded a pattern of intimidation, harassment, beatings, shootings, and killings of journalists, by insurgent groups.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The Access to Information Law was amended during the year and received high ratings Transparency International. Implementation remained inconsistent and media reports consistent failure by the government to meet the requirements of the law. Government officials often restricted media access to government information or simply ignored requests. UNAMA, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders report that the government has not fully implemented the Access to Information Law and journalists often do not receive access to information they seek. The head of Tolo News, reported that attacks, which killed journalists, had led to increased government restrictions, less access, and less support.

Journalists reported facing threats of violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Human Rights Watch reported dozens of cases of violence against journalists by security forces, members of parliament, and other officials that the government failed to prosecute. According to news reports, NDS forces forcibly prevented four journalists from 1TV and Tamadon from investigating the bombing of a mosque in Herat on March 25.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level than in the capital, Kabul. Political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, financed many provincial media outlets and used their financial support to control the content. Some provinces had limited media presence altogether.

Print and online media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and websites. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and instability threatened journalists’ safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred broadcast to print or online media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials and private citizens used threats of violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. According to media reports, NDS forces beat several journalists covering a suicide bombing in Kabul on July 26 and intentionally destroyed their equipment in an effort to impede their reporting. Following the release of news reports detailing corruption involving a high-ranking government official, one media outlet reported threats against the journalist by the official’s security guards.

The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 11 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. During the same period, the AJSC recorded 89 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 22 percent increase from the first six months of 2017. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces were responsible for 36 instances of violence, approximately the same number as in 2017 when 34 cases were attributed to them. Instances of violence attributed to the Taliban and ISIS-K rose sharply by 70 percent over the same period in 2017–from 22 cases to 37 cases.

The Taliban continued to attack media organizations, including during their military offensive on Ghazni Province in August, when they reportedly burned a local radio station.

Increased levels of insecurity created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to threats, intimidation, and violence from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. During the year several journalists reported attacks by unknown gunmen connected, they claimed, to their coverage of powerful individuals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists, but these guidelines have not been fully implemented. The initiative created a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists. In response to recent attacks on journalists, President Ghani announced the expansion of the Journalists Support Fund in October to assist family members of journalists killed in the line of duty.

Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to one group, there were no female journalists in nine provinces: Helmand, Nuristan, Uruzgan, Paktiya, Paktika, Zabul, Logar, Sar-e Pul, and Laghman.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Journalists and NGOs reported that although the amended 2018 Access to Information Law provided an excellent regulatory framework, enforcement remained inconsistent and that noncompliant officials were rarely held accountable. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed government offices and found that one-third did not have dedicated offices for providing information to the public.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.4 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2017.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

There were many reports during the year of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information, often by destroying or shutting down telecommunications antennae and other equipment.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 and 2018 parliamentary elections. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the 2014 presidential elections and 2018 parliamentary elections. The constitution mandates parliamentary elections every five years, but the government’s inability to agree on needed electoral reforms delayed the 2015 elections until 2018. Members of parliament remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National parliamentary elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all but two provinces. Approximately four million out of 8.8 million registered voters cast ballots. Voting was postponed by one week in Kandahar due to an October 18 attack that killed provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) had not set a date for parliamentary elections in Ghazni Province at year’s end due to an earlier political dispute and protests that prevented the voter registration process in that province. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by irregularities, including fraudulent voter registration, voter intimidation, vote rigging, such as interference by IEC staff and police, and in some cases, polling stations forced to close due to pressure from local leaders. The Interior Ministry reported 44 people had been charged with “illegal interference in the election and fraud.”

The United Nations reported that groups, primarily the Taliban, used threats, intimidation, and harassment to quell voting. Fifty-six individuals were reportedly killed and 379 injured due to election-related violence, including one bombing in Kabul that killed 18. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that attacks killed at least 10 parliamentary candidates prior to the election, but the motivation for and perpetrators of those attacks was not clear.

A number of technical issues also hindered the voting process, including errors on voter lists, missing voter lists, missing election supplies, and a shortage of poll workers. The last-minute introduction of biometric voter verification devices in the election preparation process caused confusion and contributed to delayed polling and long lines. On December 6, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) invalidated the votes cast in Kabul Province due to complaints of fraud, mismanagement and other voting irregularities and called for a new vote; however, days later the ECC reversed its decision following a series of meetings with the government and the IEC and an agreement from the IEC to share more information from the recount of ballots from Kabul.

The IEC released preliminary parliamentary results for all provinces but Ghazni, Kabul, Nangargar, Baghlan, and Paktia at year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Party Law of 2003 granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. Under this law any citizen 25 years or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens who are 18 years or older and have the right to vote can join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

There were large areas of the country where political parties could not operate due to insurgencies and instability. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In the 2010 parliamentary elections, more women won seats than the minimum outlined in the constitution. The winners of the 2018 parliamentary election have not yet been announced. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the National Assembly), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continue to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2016 electoral law mandates that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group have more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they do not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups have been excluded. In past elections male family members could vote on behalf of the women in their families; however, the 2016 Electoral Law prohibited this practice, and the 2018 parliamentary election was the first where proxy voting for women was illegal.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law, as amended during the year by a presidential decree, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape; battery or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The new Penal Code criminalizes rape of both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances is present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The new Penal Code also explicitly criminalizes statutory rape and, for the first time, prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina (sex outside of marriage). The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for aggression to the chastity or honor of a female “[that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina”. Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always fully enforce these laws.

Prosecutors and judges in remote provinces were frequently unaware of the EVAW law or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. In September police in Faryab Province arrested a woman who appeared in an online sex video with a self-proclaimed mullah on charges of zina. The mullah, who remains at large, was suspected of sexual exploitation and rape of several women who came to him for help. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

The new Penal Code criminalizes forced virginity testing under Article 640 except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the individual. Awareness and enforcement of this change remained limited. In July the Ministry of Public Health issued a policy prohibiting health clinics and hospitals from performing virginity tests. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a family matter, domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, preference toward mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. There were EVAW prosecution units in all 34 provinces, and EVAW court divisions operated at the primary and appellate levels in at least 16 provinces. In August Taliban members shot and killed a woman in Jawzjan Province. According to the governor’s spokesman, the woman had fled some months earlier to a safe house in Sheberghan city due to domestic violence. She returned home after local mediation but was later shot by Taliban members.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or the perpetrator.

At times women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because the local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office have issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina”. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs report instances of baad still practiced, often in more remote provinces. The practice of exchanging brides between families has not been criminalized and remained widespread. In July a man killed a nine-year-old who had been sold to him as a bride for 972,000 Afghanis ($13,500) by her family.

Honor killings continued throughout the year. In April a man stabbed his sister to death in an apparent honor killing in Andkhoy District, Faryab Province, after bringing a knife into a building where she was under protection. In a May report on Mediation of Criminal Offenses of Violence against Women, UNAMA reported documenting 280 instances of murder and honor killing between January 2016 and December 2017 with only 18 percent of these resulting in conviction and imprisonment. The report found that despite the EVAW law, government institutions often pressured victims to resolve their cases through mediation for serious offenses, which the EVAW law prohibits, resulting in impunity for perpetrators.

Sexual Harassment: The 2017 Antiharassment Law went into effect in January and criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. Under this law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law remained limited and ineffective. The AIHRC reported that more than 85 percent of women and children faced various forms of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

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

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, and judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Overall, 22 percent of civil servants and 5 percent of security forces were women, including 3,000 female police and 1,400 female soldiers.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not transfer citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that 3.7 million children were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, and continuing conflict, among other reasons. UNAMA also noted that armed groups tried to restrict girls’ access to education. In February threats forced the closure of girls’ schools in several villages in Farah Province, temporarily denying education to more than 3,500 girls. When the schools reopened 10 days later, the vast majority of the girls were initially afraid to return.

Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report observed that the government provided fewer schools for girls than boys and that the lack of basic provisions in many schools for security, privacy, and hygiene, including boundary walls, toilets, and water, also disproportionately affected girls.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond. There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes.

Child Abuse: The revised Penal Code criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child, ranges from a cash fine of 10,000 Afghanis (approximately $130) to one-year in prison as long as the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a cash fine of 60,000 to 120,000 Afghanis (approximately $800 to $1,600).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi (sexual entertainment) cases, deterring victims from reporting their claims. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports some members of the security forces and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. During the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented credible reports of five cases of sexual abuse involving six boys, attributed to the Afghan National Police, and Afghan Local Police. In June 2017 in Daikundi Province, an ANDSF commander sexually abused a teenager, who later committed suicide. There were multiple reports of bacha bazi, a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment. According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The new Penal Code criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime, and builds on the 2017 Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling in Migrants (TIP Law), which includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the inclusion of bacha bazi in the Penal Code, as of August there were no convictions under the law.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. Under the EVAW law, those who enter into or arrange forced or underage marriages are subject to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. According to a July report, Child Marriage in Afghanistan, by UNICEF and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, 34 percent of women and 7 percent of men ages 20 to 24 had been married before the age of 18. In 2017 the government launched a five-year National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

There were reports from Badakhshan Province that Taliban militants bought young women to sell into forced marriage. The UN Development Program Legal Aid Grant Facility reported women increasingly petitioned for divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, the new Penal Code provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person under the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” The Penal Code also treats nonstatutory rape of a child as an aggravated form of the offense, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The EVAW Law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into prostitution. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the 2017 TIP Law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Child Soldiers: In February 2016 the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. Under the revised Penal Code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used children in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

Displaced Children: During the year NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee and drought-displaced families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. Observers reported that both the constitution and disabilities rights law are mostly ignored and unenforced.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. Per law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials admitted the law was not enforced.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year ISIS-K continued escalating attacks against the Hazara community. Attacks against the Shia, predominantly Hazara, population, resulted in 705 civilian casualties, including 211 deaths between January 1 and September 30. On September 5, another ISIS-K bombing targeting a sports center killed 20. Both attacks took place in the Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi in Kabul.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. On July 1, ISIS-K killed 19 people in a Jalalabad suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community. The attack killed the only Sikh candidate for the October parliamentary elections. Ultimately, the Sikh candidate’s son ran in his place. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports of harassment and violence by society and police. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, rape by society at large.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are age 15 and older to do light nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 through 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working under any circumstances. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included the lack of penalty assessment authorization for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. In May the AIHRC surveyed conditions for children in the workplace and found that 90 percent of employed minor respondents worked more than 35 hours every week and that more than 15 percent reported suffering sexual abuse in the workplace. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coalmines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

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

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 776 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.

The Land Restitution Unit reported it had reviewed 276 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories, covering an area of 17.1 million acres, including 99,754 families, and 114,768 individual restitution claims, of which 15,899 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through August 30, there were 153 threats against journalists, doubling the 61 threats registered throughout 2014 and exceeding the 129 documented in 2017. FLIP also reported that between January and August, one journalist was illegally detained, 13 were physically assaulted, and 26 were victims of judicial harassment based on defamation and slander. As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 51 active cases of crimes against journalists and had obtained eight sentences.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 168 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported 66 cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 30, including two new cases filed during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within rural communities.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 62 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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 nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

As part of the peace accord, the FARC registered a political party composed of former FARC members in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym. The FARC political party participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC political party representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 17 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Centro Democratico (Democratic Center) party, Ivan Duque, beat the candidate of Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) Gustavo Petro. The then minister of defense Carlos Luis Villegas described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed 3,524 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of July 31, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 353 mayors, 17 governors, and 181 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The share of female officials in President Duque’s cabinet was more than 50 percent.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”

The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government 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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.

The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.

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

There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.

As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.

NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than age 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. During the year the government updated its hazardous work regulations in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations to include an extensive list of 36 kinds of activities that are prohibited to children, including in agriculture, hunting and forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, health services, and defense.

The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage for labor law violations, including child-labor violations, which would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor issues. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker, adopted in 2017. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.

The government continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices were charged with leading efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers; it included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.

The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor, in which the ministry operates alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. Although the government does not publish data on child labor, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collects and publishes information on the economic activities of children ages five to 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s 2017 survey, 7 percent of children were working, with 44 percent engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 30 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, emeralds, gold, coca, and pornography. Children were also engaged in child labor in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were also reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market, as well as selling inexpensive Venezuelan gasoline. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in mines, quarries, and private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized-crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or coca pickers (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.

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

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister in 2012. Lower House elections in October 2017, which Prime Minister Abe’s party won with a large majority, were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

A human rights concern was criminal libel laws, although there was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the reporting.

The government enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to question whether they were in fact presumed innocent during the legal process. On October 3, the Hiroshima High Court’s Okayama Branch acquitted a woman who was indicted in 2017 for property damage, stating there was no proof of the crime and dismissing a witness’s testimony as unreliable. The accused woman later told a media outlet the police and prosecutors had forced her to confess to the false accusation. The government continued to assert convictions were not based primarily on confessions and that interrogation guidelines stipulate that suspects may not be compelled to confess to a crime.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although foreign observers noted trials may be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners, and extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and, to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay-judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases, and defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.

According to some independent legal scholars, trial procedures favor the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Individuals have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The independent press and a functioning democratic political system sustained freedom of expression in the reporting year, although an international group of journalists, Reporters Without Borders, commented, “journalists find it hard put to fully play their role as democracy’s watchdog because of the influence of tradition and business interests.” The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government respected these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: According to media and NGO reports, incidents of hate speech against minorities and their defenders, in particular, on the internet, grew. The national law on hate speech applies only to discriminatory speech and behavior directed at those who are not of Japanese heritage and is limited to educating and raising public awareness among the general public against hate speech; it does not carry penalties. Prosecutors have instead used another law on libel to prosecute an extremist group for hate speech, as discussed below. Additionally, on the local-government level, Osaka City and Kyoto Prefecture, where nationalist groups have frequently staged public anti-Korea events near “Korea Town” neighborhoods, as well as Kawasaki City and Tokyo Prefecture, have passed their own ordinances or guidelines to regulate hate speech.

In April the Kyoto Prefectural Prosecutors’ Office indicted a former Zaitokukai (an ultranationalist organization) senior official, Hitoshi Nishimura, on libel charges for making derogatory online and public statements about the North Korea-affiliated Chosen School in Kyoto. Attorneys for the school’s owner welcomed the prosecutors’ decision to pursue a defamation charge under the Penal Code, which carries a heavier sentence than civil charges levied against other Zaitokukai members following similar incidents in 2009.

Press and Media Freedom: While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a fine of not more than five million yen ($44,000).

NGOs reported nationalist groups used social media to harass journalists deemed antigovernment or unpatriotic. In June 2017 the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression reported “significant worrying signals” that government pressure on media outlets caused journalists to self-censor their reporting. The government vigorously contested the UN report, with a senior official telling the media, “freedom of expression and the right to know are fully protected under the Constitution of Japan. The government has never illegally applied pressure on the media. This [allegation] is completely untrue.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction; reporters broke a number of stories that were strongly critical of members of the government. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Indexcommented that the system of “kisha” (reporter) clubs may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In March, at the request of national legislators from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) sent queries to the Nagoya Municipal Education Board about the content and background of a February speech to a junior high school class. The speaker, a former MEXT vice minister, characterized the ministry’s intervention as exceedingly rare and likely constituting improper control of education prohibited by the education basic law. MEXT denied the assertion, saying the inquiry was made under a different law pertaining to local education administration and did not constitute improper control of education.

The Ministry of Education’s approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, was a subject of controversy.

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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: A snap election for the Lower House of the Diet called by the government in October 2017 was free and fair. Prime Minister Abe was confirmed in office when his Liberal Democratic Party won 47.8 percent of the vote in single-seat districts and 33.2 percent of the proportional representation system, taking 283 of the 465 seats in the Lower House of parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men did; in national elections since the late 1960s, women have an absolute majority of voters, according to data by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Women, however, have not been elected to office, at any level, at rates reflecting this or equivalent to rates in other developed democracies.

In May the country implemented a law to promote women’s participation in electoral politics. The law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Women held 47 of 465 seats in the Diet’s Lower House and 50 of 242 seats in the Upper House after the October 2017 Lower House election. Women held one of the 20 seats in the cabinet following an October cabinet shuffle but none of the four senior posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. At the end of the year, there were three female governors in the 47 prefectures.

Because some ethnic minority group members are of mixed heritage and did not self-identify, it was difficult to determine their numbers in the Diet, but a number were represented.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a victim. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years in prison. In the past, courts interpreted the law to mean that physical resistance by the victim is necessary to find that a sexual encounter was rape. Domestic violence is also a crime for which victims may seek restraining orders. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,600), convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine up of up to 500,000 yen ($4,400), and protective orders violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to one million yen ($8,800).

NGOs and legal experts pointed out a lack of training for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers about sexual crimes and victims.

Rape and domestic violence are believed to be significantly underreported crimes, although no recent data are available. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lacked understanding for rape victims.

Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it. Prefectural labor offices and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare provided these companies with advice, guidance, and recommendations. Companies that fail to comply with government guidance may be publicly identified, but the government has not publicized any company for sexual harassment since 2015, when a private hospital was identified for dismissing a woman employee due to pregnancy. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted. In the first survey of its kind, in 2016 the ministry reported that 30 percent of women in full- and part-time employment reported being sexually harassed at work. Among full-time workers, the figure was 35 percent. In April a senior career official at the Finance Ministry resigned after allegations that he sexually harassed a female journalist and following public criticism that the ministry initially mishandled the matter. The government has since released a set of measures to prevent sexual harassment, including requiring all senior national government officials to take mandatory training courses, as well as setting up a consultation mechanism in each ministry and agency where the general public can report sexual harassment (see section 7.d.).

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

From January to October, seven individuals, both female and male, who were involuntarily sterilized from 1948 to 1996 under a policy that targeted people with disabilities under the defunct Eugenic Protection Law, sought damages from the government. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare estimated approximately 25,000 people underwent sterilization surgeries under that law.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite these policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies. Tokyo Medical University admitted in August that it had deliberately altered entrance exam scores for more than a decade to restrict the number of female students and ensure more men became doctors. In response, MEXT undertook a study of all medical universities in Japan, 81 in total, to examine if any others had altered entrance exam results to limit female students. MEXT concluded that 10 medical universities had altered entrance exam results to limit female students and instructed the universities to rectify the inappropriate practice.

NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples a choice of surnames.

Children

Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to: a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or, a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a fine.

The law requires birth entries in the family registry to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock, but the law no longer denies full inheritance rights to children born out of wedlock. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.

Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse increased due to increased public awareness, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. Sexual abuse of children by teachers was reported. Child assistance experts advocated the need for MEXT to actively share information on teachers involved in child molestation with the police to prevent further victimization of children in schools. The law provides for a simplified process to inspect homes where child abuse is suspected; requires child welfare offices to have legal, psychological, and medical experts on staff; allows more municipalities to have child welfare offices; and raised the age of eligibility for staying at public homes.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than age 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. The Act to Partially Amend the Civil Code, which will create parity between men and women for the legal age to marry, setting it at 18 for both sexes, was promulgated in June 2018 and will come into force in 2022.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor, and the law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances comprehensively address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography is a crime. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($26,400), and police continued to crack down on this crime.

The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in Joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses)–dating services connecting adult men with underage girls–and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. As part of the taskforce’s efforts, police arrested 42 managers or customers of “JK” businesses while rescuing 25 minor victims from April to December 2017.

NGOs helping girls in “JK business” reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.

The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.

In January police arrested and charged the head of an entertainment industry job-placement agency and the operator of a pornographic video-production company for inducing women and girls to engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of profit–the first application of this criminal statute in more than 80 years. Nevertheless, the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not prosecute the suspects. No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

No official statistics of the Jewish population in the country were available. According to a Jewish community representative, approximately 100 households are active members of the community. The representative reported there were rare protests by a handful of individuals that involved anti-Semitic speech.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Other law mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2 percent) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) or be fined. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the fine rather than hire persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

A government study released in August showed that 27 central government ministries and agencies had inflated their employment rates of persons with disabilities. Local municipalities also announced they had failed to meet hiring quotas of persons with disabilities. In response the government started accepting applications in December for the first national public-service examination specifically for persons with disabilities for hiring in April 2019.

Accessibility laws mandate that new construction projects for public use must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public-sector services. Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country experienced abuse by family members, care-facility employees, or employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against and sexual abuse of, women with disabilities. Nagano District Court’s Matsumoto Branch ruled on May 23 in a civil suit that a former employee of a welfare facility for persons with disabilities, Ensemble Kai, had illegal indecent contact with a woman with intellectual disabilities at the facility, ordering the man and the facility to pay compensation of 3.3 million yen ($29,000).

While some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.

Mental health professionals criticized as insufficient the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biologically based.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.

The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.

Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that, despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. While the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and nonethnically Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals as well as “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only,” to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.

Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against them in public and on social networking sites continued. Additionally, there was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups continued to complain about excessive bureaucratic hurdles that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination in job promotions as well as access to housing, education, and other benefits.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

Indigenous People

Although the Ainu enjoy the same rights as all other citizens, Ainu persons reported cases of discrimination in the workplace, marriage, and schools, according to a 2017 Hokkaido Prefectural Government’s Ainu Association survey of Ainu persons. The law emphasizes preservation of Ainu culture but lacks some provisions that Ainu groups have demanded, including national-level social welfare policies and educational grants, special representation in local and national governments, and a formal government apology for historical injustices. The government recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous ethnic group per a unanimous Diet resolution, but the recognition has no legal ramifications.

Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available. The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender but only after receiving a diagnosis of sexual-identity disorder. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy organizations reported no impediments to organization but some instances of bullying, harassment, and violence. Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse, and studies on bullying and violence in schools generally did not take into account the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved.

A ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet member, Mio Sugita, wrote in a July article that LGBTI persons are “unproductive” as they do not give birth to children. After the article’s release, the LDP issued a statement saying that the party aimed for a diverse society, including LGBTI persons, and admonishing Sugita. The magazine subsequently ceased publication after an extensive public backlash against Sugita and the magazine, including from the disability community and prominent writers.

In October the Tokyo Prefectural Government, as host city of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, enacted a law that states, “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” in order to realize the antidiscrimination Olympic Charter. An NGO, Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, publicly lauded the ordinance as the first-ever prefectural ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTI persons, but it also expressed concern about its effectiveness due to the lack of a remedies clause.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although nonbinding Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to that status.

Concern about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation; however, they are prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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