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Uruguay

Executive Summary

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with a democratically elected president and a bicameral legislature. In November, in a free and fair general election, Luis Lacalle Pou won a five-year presidential term. No political party won a majority in parliament; consequently, party coalitions will be required to pass legislation. Legislative elections were also held in October.

Under the Ministry of Interior, the National Police maintains internal security, and the National Directorate for Migration is responsible for migration and border enforcement. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities, including perimeter security for six prisons, and border security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights abuses included harsh and inhuman conditions in some prisons.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reports of impunity. The judiciary continued to investigate human rights violations committed during the 1973-85 military dictatorship, which the law classifies as crimes against humanity.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The law allows for sentences of two to 12 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and allows sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of domestic violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were sometimes difficult to enforce.

The government continued with its efforts to implement the 2017 gender-based violence law, which builds on existing legislation on domestic violence. The law includes abuse that is physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, based on prejudice for sexual orientation, economic, related to assets, symbolic, obstetric, labor-related, educational, political, or related to media presence. It also includes street sexual harassment and femicide. The law aims to create an institutional response system and establishes specialized courts. It sets minimum standards of support and assistance to be provided by the government, to include shelters for the victims and immediate family members. The law attempts to avoid revictimization in social and legal procedures and seeks to make the judicial process more agile. According to civil society representatives, the law was not being fully implemented due in part to lack of resources. Specialized courts provided by the law were not established; however, civil society representatives recognized that judges applied criminal definitions included in the new law. NGO representatives underlined the need for more expert training in the field and the need to include gender-based violence in the curriculum of university courses, especially in the health sector.

The 2017 criminal procedure code introduced changes to victims’ rights, including guarantees and services during the process, and the creation of a Victims and Witnesses Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office. In the first 18 months since its establishment, the unit focused more than 50 percent of its work on victims of gender-based violence. Civil society representatives saw this as a significant improvement for victims, who received support and guidance during criminal proceedings.

A separate femicide law modifies aggravating circumstances for a homicide to include whether the crime “caused the death of a female due to motive of hate or contempt.” The law’s explanatory statement describes femicide as arising from a structural inequality between women and men that uses gender-based violence as a mechanism to oppress women. The Ministry of Interior reported 30 femicides in 2018, and as of September there had been 14 femicides.

According to the Ministry of Interior, in 2018 there were 308 reports of rape and 39,950 reports of domestic violence. Thirty-four women died due to domestic violence, and 29 of these crimes were charged as femicides. The government applied the electronic monitoring anklet program for 1,099 cases in 2018 to address domestic violence. The government maintained a Gender-Based Violence Observatory to monitor, collect, register, and analyze data on gender-based violence. During the year the Interior Ministry acquired 100 more electronic anklets, reaching 800 anklets in total. Nevertheless, civil society continued to demand more anklets, since there were 200 more cases in waiting. The Gender Unit of the Ministry of Interior conducted meetings with government agencies and other institutions throughout the country to identify alternative measures to address this issue, avoid overuse of anklets, and develop more permanent solutions. The government trained officials on aspects of gender-based violence and sexual assault.

The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU), and NGOs operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. Civil society reported shelters for victims were of good quality but that a greater capacity was needed. The ministry also funded the lodging of victims in hotels. The Ministry of Social Development together with the Ministry of Housing operated a program that funded two-year leases for approximately 100 victims, pending more permanent housing solutions. According to NGO representatives, immediate and first-response services focused more on providing advice than on offering close and daily support to victims, mainly due to a lack of staffing. Services for victims in the interior of the country were scarcer and more difficult to access, especially for women in isolated rural areas. The Ministry for Social Development and the state-owned telephone company, Antel, maintained a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence. Victims could also file a report online or at a police station.

The government’s 2016-19 action plan to combat gender-based violence provided for interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants. The Prosecutor General’s Office has a specialized gender unit that incorporated greater awareness of gender as it relates to matters of justice, promoted respect for women’s rights, combated violence, and enhanced interagency coordination. The Ministry of Interior’s gender unit seeks to ensure a clear policy on gender-based violence in the police force and trains police staff to handle and respond to cases. In August the unit conducted the VIII National Meeting on Police Response to gender-based violence. The Prosecutor General’s Office established a special prosecutorial team to investigate and prosecute gender-based violence cases, separate from those working on domestic violence cases. The unit focused on the various forms of violence defined in the new law as well as human trafficking cases. Civil society saw this as a positive step.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for victims. The Ministry of Labor received reports of sexual harassment, its inspectors investigated claims of sexual harassment, and the ministry issued fines as necessary.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. According to the United Nations, women’s employment was concentrated in a relatively small number of specific occupations and sectors, including services, sales, unskilled labor, domestic work, social services, health services, and education.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. The Ministry of Labor’s Tripartite Equal Employment Opportunities Commission promoted the inclusion of gender equality clauses in the negotiations conducted by the wage boards, emphasizing equal pay for equal work of value, equal access to quality jobs and training, elimination of discrimination in selection and promotion processes, and guarantees and protections for maternity and responsibility sharing. According to the local consulting firm CPA Ferrere, in 2018 the salary of women in the labor market was 23.2 percent below that of men.

According to a report released by the Chamber of Representatives, women’s participation in the chamber had never exceeded 25 percent of members, and women had chaired only three legislative periods since 1830.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government immediately registered all births.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties vary according to the type of abuse. Penalties for sexual abuse of minors vary between six months and 12 years of prison, depending on the gravity of the case. Penalties for the crime of assault range from three months to eight years of prison, and the penalty for domestic violence is from six months to two years of prison. According to the report of the System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents against Violence (SIPIAV) of INAU, 4,131 cases of violence against children and adolescents were reported in 2018. INAU provided a free, nationwide hotline. SIPIAV and NGOs implemented awareness campaigns, and SIPIAV coordinated interagency efforts on the protection of children’s rights. In March, SIPIAV disseminated to relevant stakeholders a protocol with guidelines for prevention, detection, and protection in situations of violence against children up to three years old.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16, but the law requires parental consent through age 18. In 2017 INAU reported that one in seven marriages were between persons ages 14 to 19 years. In 2018 a legislator reported forced marriages were a regular practice in Arab communities on the border with Brazil. The 2018 human trafficking law defines forced marriage as a form of exploitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Authorities made efforts to enforce the law. In 2018 INAU addressed more than 380 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The human trafficking law defines the use, recruitment, or offering of children and adolescents for sexual exploitation as a form of trafficking. The law establishes the minimum age for consensual sex as 12. When a sexual union takes place between an adult and a minor younger than age 15, violence is presumed and the statutory rape law, which carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison, may be applied. Penalties for child sex trafficking range from four to 16 years in prison. The penalty for child pornography ranges from one to six years in prison, and the law was effectively enforced. The National Committee for the Eradication of the Commercial and Noncommercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents continued to implement its national action plan for 2016-21.

Institutionalized Children: The NPM reported violations of rights in centers for children and adolescents with disabilities, including their confinement, isolation from their surroundings and communities, and prevention of their inclusion and rehabilitation.

The NPM also reported violation of rights in the temporary processing center El Tribal, where children or adolescents separated from their families are initially sent for first response, diagnosis, and evaluation. Violations included prolonged stays, lack of awareness by children and adolescents of their situation and duration of stay, stressful confinement conditions, and excessive detention measures.

In March the INDDHH filed an amparo (a required legal remedy for the protection of constitutional rights) for 16 children and adolescents who were still confined to high-security psychiatric institutions long after being discharged. The court ordered INAU to transfer discharged minors to other specialized centers within a week. Only six of the 16 children and adolescents were transferred by the established deadline. As of May, three of the 16 children remained in psychiatric clinics, and 12 additional children were in psychiatric institutions after their discharge.

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

Uzbekistan

Executive Summary

Uzbekistan is a constitutional republic with a political system dominated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his supporters. In 2016 Mirziyoyev, the former prime minister, won the presidential elections with 88 percent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), in its final election observation report, noted, “the campaign lacked competitiveness and voters were not presented with a genuine choice of political alternatives,” with OSCE/ODIHR observers citing “serious irregularities inconsistent with national legislation and OSCE commitments, including proxy voting and indications of ballot box stuffing.” Parliamentary elections took place on December 22. According to the OSCE observer mission’s preliminary conclusions, the elections took place under improved legislation and with greater tolerance of independent voices but did not yet demonstrate genuine competition and full respect of election-day procedures. Parliamentary elections in 2014 did not meet international commitments or standards, according to that election’s OSCE observer mission.

The government authorizes four different entities to investigate criminal activity and provide security. The Ministry of Interior controls the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, maintenance of order, and the investigation of general crimes. It also investigates and disciplines those officers accused of human rights violations. In March the National Guard took over many functions of the Ministry of Interior, including to ensure public order, security of diplomatic missions, security of radio and television broadcasting, and security of other state entities. The State Security Service, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence issues, including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but security services permeated civilian structures. Civilian authorities opaquely interacted with security services’ personnel, making it difficult to define the scope and limits of civilian authority.

Significant human rights issues included: Reports of physical and psychological abuse of detainees by security forces; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado and prolonged detention; political prisoners; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, and the internet, including censorship, criminal libel, and website blocking; restrictions on assembly and association, including restrictions on civil society, with human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government subject to harassment, prosecution and detention; restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation in which citizens were unable to choose their government in free, fair, and periodic elections; criminalization of sexual relations between men and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and conduct; and human trafficking, including forced labor.

Impunity remained pervasive, but government prosecutions of officials on corruption charges significantly increased during the year.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In September, President Mirziyoyev signed a domestic violence law that provides a legal definition of sexual, physical, economic, and psychological violence against women as well as defines the rights of victims of harassment and violence. It also set up an interagency framework of responsibilities, including governmental entities such as the Cabinet of Ministries, Ministries of Internal Affairs and Employment and Labor Relations, local government bodies, the mahalla (neighborhood) committee network, and NGOs working in the area of protecting women from domestic violence. Information about the government’s enforcement of the law was not available at year’s end. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly regarding rape, and the press rarely reported it.

There are government-run shelters for victims of domestic abuse and telephone hotlines for victims seeking assistance. Victims of domestic violence may be sheltered in Centers for Rehabilitation and Adaptation.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Polygamy is unofficially practiced in some parts of the country. The law punishes conviction of polygamy with up to three years of imprisonment and fines but does not penalize the women in such cases. The law does not confer the same rights, including property, inheritance, or child custody rights, to women in unregistered polygamous marriages as it does to those in registered marriages, making women in unregistered polygamous marriages particularly vulnerable to abuse and deprivation of rights when the spouse dies or ends the relationship.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a male supervisor to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms, lack of reporting, and lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Government efforts to enforce the law and prevent sexual harassment were unknown.

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

Discrimination: In September the president signed a law on gender equality, a first for the country. The law provides for equal opportunities in the area of healthcare, education, science, culture, labor, and social protection.

On May 1, the government lifted the ban on female workers in heavy industries and professions, such as mining, oil and gas enterprises, and construction, as part of a presidential decree on strengthening the guarantees of women’s labor rights. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or were paid less for similar work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have regular access to government health facilities.

Child Abuse: Legal protections against child abuse exist. Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter. Little official information was available on the subject, including on the government’s efforts to combat it.

Early and Forced Marriage: In April the government raised the minimum legal age for marriage of women from 17 to 18, making the age of marriage equal for both sexes. District authorities may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. In some rural areas, girls 15 years of age or younger married men in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Conviction of involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a fine of 25 to 50 times the minimum monthly salary and imprisonment for up to five years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for conviction for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for the production, exhibition, and distribution of child pornography (involving persons younger than 21) is punishable by a fine or by imprisonment for up to three years.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 children with disabilities resided in institutions. Children who are placed in residential care for educational purposes are overrepresented in these institutions. The most recent reports from the State Statistics Agency, published in 2017, indicated that 84 percent of all children placed in residential care were children with disabilities, with children between the ages of seven and 17 representing the largest group.

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

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. Following a snap election in 2016, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in July 2017.

The national police maintain internal security. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary police unit, is responsible for external security but also has some domestic-security responsibilities. Both agencies report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption, and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, although some police impunity persisted.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape–regardless of the victim’s gender–is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of VUV 100,000 ($860), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence.

Police were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters. There is, however, a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which police are not supposed to drop reported domestic-violence cases. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. According to a 2017 report from Correctional Services, more than 60 percent of prison inmates were charged with sex-related offenses. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.

There were no countrywide government information programs designed to address domestic violence. Although media attention to domestic violence and abuse was generally limited, the killings of two women by their partners in Port Vila in 2017 received significant attention.

The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as equal to those of men. The law, however, does not allow citizen mothers alone to transmit citizenship to their children.

Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance.

Women were slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, but women continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work. The Department of Women’s Affairs worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law, holding multiple open workshops throughout the year that coincided with public holidays to encourage participation at the local community level.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father, but not a citizen mother, may transmit citizenship to a child regardless of where the child is born. A child born of a citizen mother may apply for citizenship at age 18. The lack of citizenship at birth can cause a child to be denied passports and other rights and services. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.

Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with access to education. Although the government stated its commitment to free and universal education, school fees and difficult geography were barriers to school attendance for some children.

School attendance is not compulsory. In general boys received more education than girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.

Child Abuse: The country does not have a legal definition of child abuse, but the law addresses sexual abuse of children and states that parents must protect children from violence within the family setting. The national child protection policy recognizes the government’s responsibility to protect all children from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and includes the need to introduce a child protection bill.

NGOs and law-enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of child abuse, incest, and rape of children in recent years. A 2017 UNICEF report stated that eight of 10 children from ages two to four experienced violent discipline at home. It also stated that one in three children experienced severe physical punishment at home and that sexual abuse before the age of 15 affected three of 10 children. The government did little to combat the problem.

In April 2018, for example, a six-year-old girl was abducted from her home, raped, and killed. In April the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in the first case prosecuted under the Penal Code amendment of 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 and girls as young as 16 may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2018 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 13 but younger than 15, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography. There were no criminal cases dealing with pornography or child sexual exploitation during the year.

The maximum penalty for publishing child pornography is five years’ imprisonment and for possession, two years’ imprisonment.

Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 engaged in prostitution.

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

Venezuela

Executive Summary

Venezuela is legally a multiparty, constitutional republic, but for more than a decade, political power has been concentrated in a single party with an authoritarian executive exercising significant control over the judicial, citizens’ power (which includes the prosecutor general and ombudsman), and electoral branches of government, and standing up a parallel, illegitimate legislative body alongside the existing elected one. On January 10, the term of former president Nicolas Maduro ended. He sought to remain in power based on his claimed “victory” in the 2018 presidential elections widely condemned as neither free nor fair, a claim not accepted by the democratically elected National Assembly (AN). On January 23, Juan Guaido, as president of the National Assembly, assumed the role of interim president pursuant to the provisions of the constitution related to vacancies. Former president Maduro, with the backing of hundreds of Cuban security force members, refused to cede control over the instruments of state power, preventing interim president Guaido from exercising authority within the country. In the 2015 legislative elections, opposition political parties gained supermajority (two-thirds) control of the AN. The former Maduro regime, however, used its control over the Supreme Court (TSJ) to create the illegitimate Constituent National Assembly (ANC) that placed the AN in contempt, usurped its constitutional role to legislate, and weakened the constitution’s separation of powers principle.

Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces declined and was deeply politicized. The National Guard (GNB)–a branch of the military that reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace–is responsible for maintaining public order, guarding the exterior of key government installations and prisons, conducting counternarcotics operations, monitoring borders, and providing law enforcement in remote areas. The Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace controls the National Scientific Criminal and Investigative Corps (CICPC), which conducts most criminal investigations, and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), which collects intelligence within the country and abroad and is responsible for investigating cases of corruption, subversion, and arms trafficking. Police include municipal, state, and national police forces. Mayors and governors oversee municipal and state police forces. The Venezuelan National Police (PNB) reports to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace. According to its website, the PNB largely focused on policing Caracas’s Libertador municipality; patrolling Caracas-area highways, railways, and metro system; and protecting diplomatic missions. The PNB maintained a minimal presence in seven of the country’s 23 states.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces of the former Maduro regime, including colectivos (regime-sponsored armed groups); forced disappearances; torture by security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; and lack of judicial independence. The former Maduro regime restricted free expression and the press by routinely blocking signals and interfering with the operations of, or shutting down, privately owned television, radio, and other media outlets. Libel, incitement, and inaccurate reporting were subject to criminal charges. The former Maduro regime used violence to repress peaceful demonstrations and repressed freedom of assembly. Other issues included: intimidation, harassment, and abuse of AN members, including denial of due process and parliamentary immunity; pervasive corruption and impunity among all Maduro-aligned security forces and in other national and state regime offices, including at the highest levels; trafficking in persons; violence against indigenous persons; and the worst forms of child labor, which the former regime made minimal efforts to eliminate.

There were continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, particularly in the activities of illegally armed groups, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force, but the former regime at the national, state, and local levels took no effective action to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there was impunity for such abuses. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not provide information regarding alleged human rights violations committed by police and military personnel. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that many victims did not report violent crimes to police or other regime authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in police. The former Maduro regime backed by Cuban security force members refused to cede power, preventing the interim government from taking action.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. A man may legally avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence.

The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. The Public Ministry’s Women’s Defense Department employed a team of lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts who dealt exclusively with cases of femicide, gender-related violence, and other crimes against women.

Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. The former regime offered some shelter and services for victims of domestic and other violence, but NGOs provided the majority of domestic abuse support services.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by fines and a prison sentence of one to three years. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women with regard to pay or working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs.

The law provides women with property rights equal to those of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. According to UNICEF, 81 percent of children younger than five were registered at birth, based on 2011 statistics provided by the government.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. The former regime made efforts to detain and prosecute some perpetrators of child abuse. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate. According to NGOs, in many cases children were returned to their homes without proper reintegration measures or follow-up.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men, but with parental consent the minimum age is 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual relations with a minor younger than 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor younger than 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian, are punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced prostitution and corruption of minors. Penalties range from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment in cases of forced labor and some forms of sex trafficking of women and girls. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute child sex trafficking. The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Displaced Children: Children’s rights advocates and media reported an increase in the number of abandoned children living on the street. Children’s rights NGO Cecodap estimated that as many as 800,000 minors had been left behind with family members as their parents fled the country’s economic crisis, many of whom also struggled with the country’s economic downturn. These children resided in limbo, since their parents who left were unable legally to transfer guardianship to a third party.

State-run facilities, already filled to capacity, were unable to support the influx of children in need. Private institutions denounced the former regime’s refusal to provide subsidized food benefits to support their population. NGOs noted young girls made up close to one-half of the children living on the streets. The significant shift posed particular challenges for shelters, which historically managed predominantly male populations. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.

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://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair, despite limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates.

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement including exit bans on activists; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; trafficking in persons; and use of compulsory child labor.

The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions, against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials generally acted with impunity.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of their body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.

Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in November at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and the media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.

While police and legal systems generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.

In serious cases, victims may sue offenders outside the workplace under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.

Coercion in Population Control: The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing citizens who have more than two children; however, there were reported instances where local authorities imposed administrative fees on families in Nghe An province who had more than two children. There were unsubstantiated reports this practice occurred in many localities across the country.

The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the Politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.

Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.

The Women’s Union and the government’s National Committee for the Advancement of Women continued to promote women’s rights, including political, economic, and legal equality, as well as protection from spousal abuse.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2018 data, the national average male to female sex ratio at birth was 115.1 boys to 100 girls, up three percentage points from 2017 and falling short of the target of 112.8 boys to 100 girls, according to the General Office for Population and Family Planning under the Ministry of Health. The government acknowledged the problem, highlighted reduction of the ratio as a goal in the national program on gender equality and continued to take steps to address it.

To address the issue of gender equality, the government has issued legal documents prohibiting gender identification prior to birth and prohibiting gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. The government continued to work through the 2010 National Strategy on Gender Equality. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two females a one-time sum of VND 390,000 to 1.3 million ($17 to $56). In some provinces, females enjoy preferences in education, vocational training, starting up a business, etc.

Children

Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances.

Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.

The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children, and local authorities prevented some parents from registering children to discourage migration.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, although a variety of school fees are common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.

Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.

The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular discriminatory effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.

Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment was common.

According to a 2016 UNICEF report, the latest data available, violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. UNICEF stated there were no effective interdisciplinary child and gender sensitive procedures or processes for handling child abuse reports, and the responsibilities of the responsible agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, especially at local levels, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children under 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment, and fines range from five million to 50 million VND ($220 to $2,200). The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.

The law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.

The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18, depending upon the circumstances, vary from five to 10 years in prison. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences.

Displaced Children: Media reported approximately 21,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.

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://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Yemen

Executive Summary

Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2012 the governing and opposition parties chose Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi as the sole consensus candidate for president. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible voters confirmed him as president, with a two-year mandate. In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital, Sana’a, igniting a civil conflict between Houthi forces and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that continued through the year.

The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the Political Security Organization (PSO) and the National Security Bureau (NSB), came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The ROYG staffed the PSO and the NSB in areas under its control. By law the PSO and the NSB report first to the interior minister and then to the president; coordination efforts between the PSO and the NSB were unclear.

The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. The paramilitary Special Security Forces was under the authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense supervised units to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over security forces. Houthis controlled most of the national security apparatus in sections of the north and some former state institutions. Competing tribal, party, and sectarian influences further reduced ROYG authority, exhibited in August when United Arab Emirates (UAE)-funded Security Belt Forces (SBF), many of which aligned with the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), took over Aden and several other southern territories.

In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign a UN-brokered peace deal calling for a “unity government.” The ROYG resigned after Houthi forces, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, seized the presidential palace in 2015. Houthi forces then dissolved parliament, replacing it with the Supreme Revolutionary Committee. Hadi escaped house arrest and fled to Aden, where he declared all actions taken by Houthi forces in Sana’a unconstitutional, reaffirmed his position as president, pledged to uphold the principles of the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, and called on the international community to protect the country’s political process.

After Houthi forces launched an offensive in southern Yemen and entered Aden in 2015, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition, Operation “Decisive Storm,” on behalf of the ROYG. Peace talks in Kuwait in 2016 between the Houthis and ROYG ended inconclusively. In 2017 Houthi forces killed Saleh after he publicly split from the Houthis and welcomed cooperation with the coalition. In December 2018 direct talks between the ROYG and Houthis under UN supervision in Sweden led to agreements on a ceasefire in and around the city and port of Hudaydah, as well as on prisoner exchanges and addressing the humanitarian situation in Taiz. These agreements were not effectively implemented; hostilities–including Houthi drone strikes and coalition airstrikes–continued throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including political assassinations; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; pervasive corruption; recruitment and use of child soldiers; pervasive abuse of migrants; and criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The ROYG took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but had limited capacity due to the ongoing civil war. Houthi control over government institutions in the north severely reduced the ROYG’s capacity to conduct investigations.

Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, tribal militias, militant secessionist elements, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and a local branch of ISIS committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but it does not criminalize spousal rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 25 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively. In 2016 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.6 million women and girls were at risk for gender-based violence, an increase of 63 percent of those at risk since the conflict began. During the year the United Nations reported incidents of gender-based violence continued to increase. The UN Group of Experts reported SBF personnel continued to engage in rape and kidnappings during the year. The UN Group of Experts noted the role of Houthi rebels, the SBF, and 35th Armored Brigade personnel (over whom the ROYG exercised minimal control) in perpetrating rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls (see section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture).

There were no reliable rape prosecution statistics, and the number of rape cases was unknown. By law authorities can prosecute rape victims on charges of fornication if authorities do not charge a perpetrator. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession, the rape survivor must provide four male witnesses to the crime.

There were few publicly reported cases of rape during the year. The UN Group of Experts verified five women were either raped, sexually assaulted, or had direct assault on genitalia while detained at the Houthi-run PSO, the NSB, or other facilities in Sana’a and Ibb.

The law states that authorities should execute a man if convicted of killing a woman. The penal code, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an “honor” killing or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of gender-based abuse, such as forced isolation, imprisonment, and early and forced marriage.

The law provides women with protection against domestic violence, except spousal rape, under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Victims rarely reported domestic abuse to police and criminal proceedings in cases of domestic abuse were rare.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, although a 2001 ministerial directive banned the practice in government institutions and medical facilities, according to HRW. There was no data for the year on its prevalence; however, data from media and UN reporting in 2015 suggests the rate was approximately 15 to 20 percent.

Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the penal code criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. Authorities, however, rarely enforced the law. Sexual harassment was a major problem for women.

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

Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, and the government could not implement them effectively.

Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody, and have little legal protection. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d.). An estimated 2015 female literacy rate of 55 percent, compared with 85 percent for men, accentuated this discrimination.

A male relative’s consent was often required before a woman could be admitted to a hospital, creating significant problems in a humanitarian context in which the men of the household were absent or dead.

Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man’s.

The UN Group of Experts reported 40 cases of women human rights defenders, journalists, and activists facing “gender-based persecution” during the year, which included threats from all sides of the conflict.

A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. In the formal legal system, a woman must provide justification.

Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior (see section 1.f.). A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.”

Women experienced economic discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. A child of a Yemeni father is a citizen. Yemeni women may confer citizenship on children born of a foreign-born father if the child is born in the country. If the child is not born in the country, in rare cases the Ministry of Interior may permit a woman to transmit citizenship to the child if the father dies or abandons the child.

There is no universal birth registration, and many parents, especially in rural areas, never registered children or registered them several years after birth. The requirement that children have birth certificates to register for school was not universally enforced, and there were no reports of authorities denying educational or health-care services and benefits to children based on lack of registration.

Education: The law provides for universal, compulsory, and tuition-free education from ages six to 15. Public schooling was free to children through the secondary school level, but many children, especially girls, did not have easy access. For school attendance statistics, see the 2018 Humanitarian Situation Report from UNICEF.

UNICEF and other agencies reported an estimated two million children have dropped out of school since 2015. Meanwhile, in 2018 almost three quarters of public school teachers had not been paid their salaries in more than a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk.

Child Abuse: The law does not define or prohibit child abuse, and there was no reliable data on its extent. Authorities considered violence against children a family affair.

Early and Forced Marriage: Early and forced marriage was a significant, widespread problem. The conflict likely exacerbated the situation, and the United Nations reported forced marriage and child marriage for financial reasons due to economic insecurity continued to be a systemic problem during the year. There is no minimum age for marriage, and girls reportedly married as young as eight years of age.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not define statutory rape and does not impose an age limit for consensual sex. The law prohibits pornography, including child pornography, although there was no information available on whether the legal prohibitions were comprehensive. The law criminalizes the prostitution of children. Amnesty International reported children as young as eight were raped in the city of Taiz during the year. It also reported four cases of sexual violence against children reportedly by militiamen aligned with a political party.

Child Soldiers: See section 1.g., Child Soldiers.

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

Zambia

Executive Summary

Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. In 2016 the country held elections under an amended constitution for president, national assembly seats, and local government, as well as a referendum on an enhanced bill of rights. The incumbent, Patriotic Front (PF) President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, won re-election by a narrow margin. A legal technicality saw the losing main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, unsuccessfully challenge the election results. International and local observers deemed the election as having been credible but cited a number of irregularities. The pre-election and postelection periods were marred by limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results ultimately were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair.

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. The president appoints the commanders of each military service and they report directly to him. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, and censorship including arbitrary application of criminal libel laws against critics of the government, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; substantial interference with the right of assembly; official corruption; and the criminalization, arrest, and prosecution of persons engaged in consensual same-sex sexual relationships.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of human rights violations. Impunity remained problematic nevertheless, as alleged violators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in the government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. The government also continued to apply the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who opposed the ruling party.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and other sexual offenses, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor.

The Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act does not have provisions for spousal rape. The penal code criminalizes domestic violence between spouses and among family members living in the same home. The law provides for prosecution of most crimes of gender-based violence, and penalties for conviction range from a fine to 25 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used. The law provides for protection orders for victims of domestic and gender-based violence, and such orders were issued and enforced. Despite this legal framework, rape remained widespread. Although the law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, the government did not always consistently enforce the law.

To address the problem of gender-based violence, the government engaged traditional marriage counselors on gender-based violence and women’s rights in collaboration with NGOs. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) also continued its “good husband” campaign and, in collaboration with other women’s movements, the “I Care about Her” campaign to promote respect for women and to end spousal abuse. The government and YWCA worked to address these problems through community sensitizations, shelters, toll-free lines, and one-stop centers where victims accessed counseling and legal support services. The Victim Support Unit under the police, staffed with trained personnel, supplemented these efforts. Other efforts to combat and reduce gender-based violence included curriculum development for training of police officers, roadshows to sensitize the public to gender-based violence, and instruction on how to file complaints and present evidence against perpetrators.

A gender-based violence information management system in the government Central Statistics Office strengthened monitoring and reporting of cases of gender-based violence. The system, which allows for effective and comprehensive reporting of gender-based violence and improved support, including legal services, social, economic, and overall national planning, led to an increased number of reported cases.

Human rights-focused NGOs observed that the country’s dual system of customary and statutory law made it difficult to combat and deter injustices against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, FGM/C was common. Human rights-focused NGOs reported that the practice of pulling of the labia, a type of FGM/C intended to elongate the labia, is widely practiced. There were, however, indications the incidence rate was declining, especially in urban areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common, but the government took few steps to prosecute harassment during the year. Although the penal code contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women may be prosecuted, the provisions are inadequate to protect women effectively from sexual harassment. The Non-Governmental Coordinating Council received many reports of sexual harassment in the workplace but noted stringent evidence requirements often prevented victims from filing charges against their harassers. Family pressure on victims to withdraw complaints–especially when perpetrators were also family members–also hampered prosecution.

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

Discrimination: In contrast to customary law, the constitution and other laws provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality laws. The government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination. For example, customary land tenure and patriarchal systems discriminate against women seeking to own land. This situation restricts women’s access to credit as they lack collateral, which land ownership provides.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or, with the exception of refugees, by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration was neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care, to children, and there were no differences in birth registration policies and procedures between girls and boys. Both state and nonstate institutions accepted alternative documents to access other basic services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

 

Education: Although the Education Act and education policy provides for free and compulsory education for children of “school-going age,” the act neither sets a specific age nor defines what is meant by “school-going age.” This may leave children particularly vulnerable to child labor (see section 7.b.). The numbers of girls and boys in primary school were approximately equal, but fewer girls attended secondary school. According to UNICEF, girls tended to leave school at younger ages than did boys because of early marriage or unplanned pregnancies.

Child Abuse: The punishment for conviction of causing bodily harm to a child is five to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the law was generally enforced. Beyond efforts to eliminate child marriage, there were no specific initiatives to combat child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 16 for boys and girls with parental consent and 21 without consent. There is no minimum age under customary law. In 2017 according to UNICEF, 31 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 6 percent by age 15. UNICEF reported child marriage was largely between peers, rather than forced. According to the YWCA and other NGOs, however, early and forced marriages were prevalent, particularly in rural areas. The government adopted a multisectoral approach to stop child marriage, which included keeping children in school, creating re-entry policies for girls who become pregnant, and strengthening the role of health centers for sexual reproductive health. These efforts were articulated by the national strategy to end child marriages launched in 2017. Other efforts by the government and other nonstate actors included community sensitization and withdrawing children from child marriages, supported by several traditional leaders.

The government, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, and donors worked together to fight early and forced marriages. The Ministries of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs; Gender; and Youth, Sport, and Child Development, in collaboration with traditional leaders, NGOs, diplomatic missions, and other concerned persons, increasingly spoke out against early and forced marriages. Some leaders nullified forced and early marriages and placed the girls removed from such marriages in school. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. The law provides penalties of up to life imprisonment for conviction of statutory rape or defilement, which the law defines as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 16. The minimum penalty for a conviction of defilement is 15 years’ imprisonment.

The law criminalizes child prostitution and child pornography and provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. The law provides for prosecution and referral to counseling or community service of child prostitutes age 12 years and older, but authorities did not enforce the law, and child prostitution was common. According to UNICEF, transactional sexual exploitation of young girls–that is, sex in exchange for food, clothes, or money among extremely vulnerable girls–was prevalent.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that of the 10,592 refugees registered at the Mantapala resettlement in Luapula Province, 6,250 were younger than age 18. According to UNHCR and UNICEF, as of April there were 1,001 unaccompanied and separated children among registered Congolese refugees, and the government provided them with appropriate services.

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

Zimbabwe

Executive Summary

Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in July 2018 in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) maintains internal security. The Department of Immigration and the ZRP, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although the ZRP is officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some ZRP roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces under the Minister of Defense. The police report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of government restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting women and girls; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although not enforced.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reported arrests or prosecutions of such persons.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while approximately 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence.

Although conviction of sexual offenses is punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that sentences were inconsistent. Rape victims were not consistently afforded protection in court.

Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. In the case of spousal rape, reporting was even lower due to women’s fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to be involved in domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Most rural citizens were unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.

According to an NGO, there were reports of rape used as a political weapon during the year. In the weeks following the January 14-16 demonstrations, 15 women living in Harare’s high-density suburbs and one woman in Hwange reported being raped by security force members or by other persons following security forces’ instructions. One woman reported being sexually assaulted by security forces who forced her to perform oral sex on an armed soldier.

Female political leaders were targeted physically or through threats and intimidation.

Children born from rape suffered stigmatization and marginalization. The mothers of children resulting from rape sometimes were reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services.

The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive a significant amount of financial support from the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred for prosecution the majority of reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers, very few individuals were prosecuted.

Despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 2006, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. Although conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter, and prosecution was rare.

Members of the joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council actively raised domestic violence awareness. NGOs, however, reported the council was not involved in much of their programmatic work.

The government continued a public awareness campaign against domestic violence. Several women’s rights groups worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. According to NGOs, most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with victims of domestic violence, but stations had a limited ability to respond on evenings and weekends. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive treatment without cost at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape victims from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent victims from contracting HIV.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some regions during the year.

Sexual Harassment: No specific law criminalizes sexual harassment, but labor law prohibits the practice in the workplace. Media reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in universities, workplaces, and parliament, where legislators routinely and publicly body shamed, name called, and booed female members of parliament. The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development acknowledged that lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This acknowledgement came after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network Trust, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of students in a 2017 survey. Female college students reported they routinely encountered unwanted physical contact from male students, lecturers, and nonacademic staff, ranging from touching and inappropriate remarks to rape. Of the students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in general, 74 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment by male university staff, and 16 percent reported they were raped by lecturers or other staff.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The constitution’s bill of rights, in the section on the rights of women, states that all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” There is also an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. Despite the appointment of commissioners in 2015, the commission received only minimal funding from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry.

The commission, together with Oxfam, conducted an observation mission of the gender effects of Cyclone Idai in May. The resulting report highlighted the need for improved access to emergency shelter and separate aid distribution to ensure women receive aid in an easy and transparent manner without fear of aid distributors requiring sex in exchange for aid.

The commission conducted a gender analysis of media coverage of August 16 violence in Harare and concluded the majority of persons arrested were men, while the majority of those physically attacked by security force members were women, including one woman who required neurosurgery after the demonstration as a result of police action. The commission called on law enforcement and demonstration organizers to ensure the safety and protection of women and other vulnerable groups.

The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Less than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and alimony laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights, and in traditional practice property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. The government enacted a new marriage law on July 23 to amend and consolidate the country’s marriage laws in alignment with the constitution. The new law abolishes child marriage and affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages. Civil partnerships are only for heterosexual persons. The new law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.

Women have the right to register their children’s births, although either the father or another male relative must be present. If the father or other male relative refuses to register the child, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identity documents, enroll in school, and access social services.

Women and children were adversely affected by the government’s forced evictions, demolition of homes and businesses, and takeover of commercial farms. Widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes “inherited” into marriages with an in-law after the deaths of their spouses.

The government gave qualified women access to training in the armed forces and national service, where they occupied primarily administrative positions. In the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, there were two female brigadier generals appointed in 2013 and 2016 respectively, and one female air commodore appointed in 2016. Minister of Defense and War Veterans Oppah Muchinguri was a woman.

Children

Birth Registration: The 2013 constitution states citizenship is derived from birth in the country and from either parent, and all births are to be registered with the Births and Deaths Registry. The 2012 population census data show that just one in three children younger than age five possessed a birth certificate. Of urban children younger than age five, 55 percent possessed a birth certificate, compared with 25 percent of rural children. Approximately 39 percent of school age children did not have birth certificates. Lack of birth certificates impeded access to public services, such as education and health care, resulting in many children being unable to attend school and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Basic education is not compulsory, free, or universal. The constitution states that every citizen and permanent resident of the country has a right to a basic state-funded education but adds a caveat that when the state provides education, it “must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it.” According to the 2012 population census, 87 percent of all children attended primary school. School attendance was only slightly higher in urban than in rural areas, and enrollment for children older than 14 was in decline. Urban and rural equity in primary school attendance rates disappeared at the secondary school level. Rural secondary education attendance (44 percent) trailed behind urban attendance (72 percent) by a wide margin.

Although it is mandated by the constitution, there was a lack of free basic education for children, increasing the risk of children’s involvement in child labor. Children were required to attend school only up to age 12, which made children ages 12 through 15 particularly vulnerable to child labor as they were not required to attend school and not legally permitted to work. School fees were often prohibitively expensive and limited access to education, leading some to leave school and enter the workforce at a young age.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be a serious problem. In 2018 the NGO Childline received more than 15,000 reports of child abuse via its national helpline and managed more than 10,000 in-person cases at its drop-in facilities across the country. Approximately 26 percent of all reported cases of abuse concerned a child who had been sexually abused; 28 percent concerned physically or emotionally abused children; 18 percent involved neglect; and 7 percent related to forced marriage. Of the 25,000 total cases, 93 percent involved girls.

On April 3, the Constitutional Court ruled against the use of corporal punishment in sentences meted out to male juveniles. This prohibition had not been confirmed through legislative reform. The constitution provides that “no person may be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” In 2017 the High Court outlawed corporal punishment for children at school and home.

Government efforts to combat child abuse continued to be inadequate. The government continued to implement a case management protocol developed in 2013 to guide the provision of child welfare services. In addition there were facilities that served underage victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. The marriage law prohibits anyone underage from marriage or entering a civil partnership. The law also criminalizes assisting, encouraging, or permitting child marriages or civil partnerships.

Despite legal prohibitions, some rural families and religious sects continued to force girls to marry. Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of underage marriages, particularly in isolated religious communities or among AIDS orphans who had no relatives willing or able to take care of them. High rates of unemployment, the dropout of girls from school, and the inability of families to earn a stable income were major causes of child marriage.

Families gave girls or young women to other families in marriage to avenge spirits, as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes, or to provide economic protection for the family. Some families sold their daughters as brides in exchange for food, and younger daughters at times married their deceased older sister’s husband as a “replacement” bride. An NGO study published in 2014 found that because of the cultural emphasis placed on virginity, any loss of virginity, real or perceived, consensual or forced, could result in marriage, including early or forced marriage. In some instances family members forced a girl to marry a man based on the mere suspicion that the two had had sexual intercourse. This cultural practice even applied in cases of rape, and the study found numerous instances in which families concealed rape by facilitating the marriage between rapist and victim.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a fine of 2,000 Zimbabwe dollars (RTGS) ($125), up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency; convictions result in a 600 RTGS dollars ($40) fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A conviction of procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct results in a fine up to 5,000 RTGS dollars ($300), up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Persons charged with facilitating the prostitution of a child often were also charged with statutory rape. A parent or guardian convicted of allowing a child younger than age 18 to associate with or become a prostitute may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Girls from towns bordering South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique were subjected to prostitution in brothels that catered to long-distance truck drivers. Increasing economic hardships contributed to more girls engaging in prostitution.

Displaced Children: Approximately 10,000 children were displaced from the Tokwe-Mukosi dam area in Masvingo Province (see section 2.d.). The disruption of their parents’ livelihoods negatively affected the children’s access to health care and schooling.

A 2016 UNICEF report estimated 18 percent of children had lost one or both parents to AIDS and other causes. The proportion of orphans in the country remained very high. Many orphans were cared for by their extended family or lived in households headed by children.

Orphaned children were more likely to be abused, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and be vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Some children turned to prostitution for income. Orphaned children often were unable to obtain birth certificates because they could not provide enough information regarding their parents or afford to travel to offices that issued birth certificates. Orphans were often homeless.

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

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