Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. By law rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison and statutory rape (sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16) by five to 20 years. Rape involving homicide is punishable by imprisonment from 10 years to life.
EULEX noted that courts often applied more lenient penalties than the legal minimum in rape cases, particularly in cases involving minors. EULEX found that courts rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses, nor did they close hearings to the public as required by law.
According to the Kosovo Women’s Network, more than two thirds of women had been victims of domestic violence, with 21 percent of respondents to a 2015 survey agreeing, “It is OK for a husband to hit his wife.” Advocates maintained that such violence was underreported for reasons that included the social stigma associated with reporting such occurrences, a lack of trust in judicial institutions, traditional social attitudes in the male-dominated society, and a lack of viable options for victims.
The law treats domestic violence as a civil matter unless the victim suffers bodily harm. Failure to comply with a civil court’s judgment relating to a domestic violence case is a criminal and prosecutable offense, although prosecutions for this offense were rare. According to victims’ advocates, police responded according to established protocols to rape and domestic abuse allegations.
When victims pressed charges, police domestic violence units conducted investigations and transferred cases to prosecutors. The rate of prosecution was low due to societal factors as well as a backlog of cases in both civil and criminal courts. Advocates and court observers argued that prosecutors and judges favored family unification over victim protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while the case was pending. Advocates noted that victim confidentiality was often not respected, causing further harm. Sentences were frequently lenient, ranging from judicial reprimands to imprisonment from six months to five years.
The law permits individuals who feel threatened to petition for restraining orders, but violation of restraining orders seldom led to criminal charges. Courts rarely gave recidivists enhanced sentences as required by law.
On January 28, the Basic Court of Prizren issued an indictment for murder against Nebih Berisha, the spouse of Zejnepe Bytyqi Berisha from Suhareka/Suva Reka who was killed in October 2015. Berisha had been convicted in 2002 of domestic violence and, according to the Kosovo Women’s Network, his wife had reported her husband for domestic violence eight times.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) included a unit dedicated to family violence. The Kosovo Academy for Public Safety incorporated courses on human rights and work with victims of domestic violence, rape, and human trafficking into all of its basic training curricula for police cadets.
The government and international donors provided support to seven NGOs to assist children and female victims of domestic violence. There were 10 shelters for victims of domestic violence.
Through the President’s National Council on Survivors, numerous officials participated in events dedicated to raising awareness of the need to provide support for individuals who suffered sexual assault related to the conflict in the late 1990s. The government took steps to acknowledge sexual survivors of wartime violence as a separate category in need of assistance but had not yet adopted a mechanism to provide them financial and psychological help, although the law and budget earmarked financial support for some survivors. In September, the MLSW issued a public call to form a verification commission to select beneficiaries, and on November 14, the ministry selected commission members. These survivors complained that EULEX prosecutors did not successfully prosecute any cases. The Ministry of Justice led a working group, including EULEX and the Special Prosecutor’s Office, to prioritize cases, but no action was taken in any case.
Sexual Harassment: According to a report by the Kosovo Women’s Network, the country has a number of laws considered applicable in relation to sexual harassment. In civil proceedings, the Law on Gender Equality, and the Law on Protection from Discrimination define sexual harassment. While the Criminal Code includes harassment, it does not contain a specific standard for sexual harassment; however, the code stipulates enhanced penalties for crimes against vulnerable victims, including victims of sexual abuse. Varying internal procedures and regulations for reporting sexual harassment hampered implementation of these laws.
According to women’s rights organizations, sexual harassment on the job was common, and victims did not report it due to fear of physical retaliation or dismissal. Public awareness of sexual harassment remained low. In March the Forum of Women Judges and Prosecutors published the first “Bench-book,” an overview of legal procedures for judges and prosecutors dealing with domestic violence, which included detailed guidance concerning factors that could be considered as aggravating ones, and recognized victims of domestic violence as vulnerable victims.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government generally respected reproductive rights, but poor, marginalized, and illiterate communities often had limited access to information, and public health facilities provided limited treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The traditionally lower status of women within the family affected their treatment within the legal system.
The law stipulates that the partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men commonly inherited family property and only 8 percent of women owned land. According to laws regulating inheritance and family matters, upon death the assets of the deceased were to be shared equally among the spouse and children, with second-degree relatives inheriting only if all first-degree relatives were deceased. In the event of a will, gender could not be used as a condition to limit inheritance. In rare instances Kosovo-Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.
Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government. Women constituted 45 percent of the public-sector workforce in 2015. According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, women owned approximately 20 percent of all registered businesses (see section 7.d). A recent study by the think tank Democracy for Development found that only one in 10 women in the country were employed.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the Kosovo Agency for Statistics, in 2012, the date of the last census, the male to female gender ratio at birth was 110.7 to 100. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the government did not take steps to address this imbalance, such as by regulating private clinics, or helping to increase women’s social status.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents or by virtue of birth in the country. According to the Kosovo Agency for Statistics’ Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) covering 2013-14, the births of 88 percent of children younger than five were registered. Lack of registration generally did not affect a child’s ability to receive elementary education or health care, but UNICEF indicated it could adversely affect access to social assistance, particularly for repatriated children. Children who were not registered were considered stateless.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. In 2015 UNICEF found that 30 percent of children in the country, and 40 percent of ethnic Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian children, were victims of abuse. UNICEF believed that the abuse was underreported due to low levels of public awareness of child abuse, lack of services for victims, and authorities’ limited capacity to identify, report, and refer cases of abuse. According to MICS, family members subjected 61 percent of children under the age of 14 to “psychological aggression” or physical punishment. According to a 2012 Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment report, more than 80 percent of respondents from the country said it was justified to hit a child for stealing. Fifty-nine percent of children and 80 percent of parents said that teachers were violent towards children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law allows persons to marry at age 16. Child marriage was rare but continued in certain ethnic communities, including the Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, and Gorani. According to a separate MICS report that focused on these communities, approximately 12 percent of children, mostly girls, married before the age of 15. The Ministry of Local Government Administration and the Agency for Gender Equality in the prime minister’s office conducted informational campaigns to discourage early marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense, which, depending on circumstances and the age of the victim, is punishable by five years to life in prison. The law prohibits possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Persons who produce, use, or involve a child in making or producing pornography may receive sentences of one to five years. Distribution, promotion, transmission, offer, or display of child pornography is punishable by six months to five years. Possession or procurement of child pornography is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years. As of November 10, KP conducted five investigations. Prosecutors indicted two persons during the year in one case of child pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For further information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 50 Jewish persons resided in the country, according to the Jewish Community of Kosovo. On November 15, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in France issued a public letter to President Hashim Thaci that criticized the ready availability in the country of notorious anti-Semitic literature, allegedly translated into Albanian and published in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Wiesenthal Center said it had lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Interior. On November 30, President Thaci announced a decision to ban the sale and distribution of anti-Semitic books. As of December 14, no administrative action was taken to implement this decision.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, health care, in the judicial system, or other state services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities suffered discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Persons with disabilities were eligible for small assistance payments from the government. The MLSW was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and had sole responsibility for managing these payments and pensions for such persons. According to HandiKos a disability rights organization, health, social assistance, rehabilitation, and assistive devices for persons with disabilities remained insufficient, and physical access to public institutions remained difficult even after the implementation of bylaws on building and administrative support.
The MLSW has not yet addressed the issue of more than 1,000 deaf individuals who were removed from the disability pension scheme in 2013. The Law on Paraplegic and Tetraplegic Persons was adopted in May, and enters into force in 2017. As of November, the government had no budget for its implementation. The National Disability Council appointed the president of the Kosovo Disability Forum as the council’s co-chair.
According to the EU’s Kosovo 2016 Report, health and social assistance for persons with disabilities remained insufficient, and physical access to public institutions remained a challenge. The EU also expressed concern about the lack of personal assistants for children with disabilities. According to the report, the government did not effectively implement the Strategy for the Rights of People with Disabilities (2013-2023). As of November 9, it had not drafted a new action plan for 2017-2019. HandiKos reported that persons with spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, and multiple sclerosis lacked access to essential services, social assistance, and employment. Access to public buildings and public transport remained problematic throughout the country.
The Law on Mental Health regulates the commitment of persons to psychiatric or social care facilities and protects their rights within such institutions. The labor and health ministries had separate mandates for treating persons with mental disabilities. Although the Law on Mental Health entered into force in December 2015, as of November bylaws were not approved and the law was not implemented. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor each operated nine community homes for people with mental disabilities. The KRCT described mental health facilities as substandard. The country’s facilities did not have appropriate staff, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, physiotherapists, and other technical experts.
The KRCT reported that several persons with mental disabilities were in detention without any legal basis but noted courts were reviewing some cases. The KRCT also observed that facilities and treatment for inmates with disabilities remained substandard (see section 1.c.).
Ethnic minorities, including Serb, Romani, Ashkali, Egyptian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Croat, and Montenegrin communities, faced varying levels of institutional and societal discrimination in employment (see section 7.d), education, social services, language use, freedom of movement, the right to return to their homes (for displaced persons), and other basic rights.
The prime minister’s Office of Community Affairs (OCA) noted discrimination in public-sector employment in almost all local and national institutions. There were no legal remedies to address these concerns.
Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities experienced pervasive social and economic discrimination. They often lacked access to basic hygiene, medical care, and education, and were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for subsistence. The OCA found language and religious discrimination against Kosovo Serbs were among reasons inhibiting their return and survival in the country.
Incidents against Kosovo Serbs persisted, particularly in the Peje/Pec, Istog/Istok, and Kline/Klina regions. In the first eight months of the year, there were more than 111 incidents involving thefts, break-ins, verbal harassment, and damage to the property of Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Ethnic Albanians occasionally used violence to prevent ethnic Serbs from attending religious services in certain areas (see section 2.d.). After the St. Vitus Serbian Orthodox celebration on June 28, police reported an unidentified assailant threw two Molotov cocktails at a police-escorted convoy of displaced Kosovo-Serb pilgrims visiting from Serbia. An unidentified individual also threw stones at another van of pilgrims in the Mitrovica/e region.
A memorial plaque placed at the outskirts of Rahovec/Orahovac to commemorate two Kosovo-Serb journalists who went missing in 1998, was vandalized during the year for the fifth time since 2012. The Association of Kosovo-Serb Journalists condemned the incident and blamed the government for failing to act upon information it provided to help locate missing persons. In August, President Thaci visited two memorials dedicated to Kosovo-Serb victims. One of the monuments was subsequently defaced with Albanian-nationalist graffiti.
On July 19, the NGO Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT) criticized the KP, EULEX, and the EU Office in Kosovo for failing to prevent, properly register, and adequately investigate interethnic incidents, primarily perpetrated against Kosovo Serbs. CPT asserted that victims did not report crimes due to a lack of trust in public-sector institutions. Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic called for an increase in the number of Kosovo Serbs on the police force, noting a reduction in some areas. As of November Kosovo Serbs represented 12.7 percent of KP’s uniformed officers (991 of 7,821). During KP’s March basic training class, Kosovo Serbs made up 12.2 percent of the 287 graduates. In response to Kosovo-Serb community safety concerns, the KP promoted a Kosovo Serb to the rank of Lieutenant and appointed him to serve as the Gorazdevac Police Substation Commander in a Kosovo-Serb majority area.
In January the secretariat of the Kosovo Judicial Council decided to close the last court liaison offices in Gracanica/e, which provided legal assistance to minority communities, including refugees and displaced persons. Following the closure, there was no free legal aid provided by the country specifically for the Kosovo-Serb community, although an EU project funded some NGOs who provided grant-based services.
Crimes were reported against the ethnic Bosniak communities in the Mitrovice/Mitrovica, Peje/Pec, and the Prizren regions, including targeted thefts, threats, assaults, property damage, forced prostitution, and the planting of an explosive device. Similar crimes were reported against the Gorani community in the Dragash/Dragas area. There were also attacks reported against members of the Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities in the Peje/Pec, Ferizaj/Urosevac, and Mitrovice/Mitrovica North and South municipalities. These included targeted thefts, kidnapping, and trafficking of Ashkali women. While most of these crimes went unpunished, on October 24, authorities broke up a human trafficking ring allegedly led by a Kosovo Ashkali minor woman.
The security environment in the north of the country remained unpredictable. In July a Kosovo Bosniak sustained bodily injuries and required medical care after being assaulted by two unknown assailants in the ethnically mixed village of Suhodoll/Suvi Do. The victim had just completed prayers at a local mosque. There were also several cases of business, school, and vehicle arson, explosions, theft, and property damage. Although police indicated that most incidents were internal to the Kosovo-Serb community and not ethnically motivated, there were ethnic confrontations between young Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs near the Austerlitz Bridge.
Discussions regarding the reconstruction of houses damaged during or after the war in the ethnically mixed Kroi i Vitakut/Brdjani neighborhood continued. The Ministry for Communities and Returns, the Ministry of Local Government Administration, and neighborhood representatives met periodically but made little progress. In accordance with the August 2015 dialogue agreement, the Mitrovica/Mitrovice North and Mitrovice/Mitrovica South mayors and the EU continued to discuss the administrative lines between the municipalities, but they did not reach agreement.
The language commissioner monitored and reported on the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as official languages used at the local level, including Bosnian, Romani, and Turkish. The commissioner told the media in March that the implementation of the country’s languages legislation was insufficient, resulting in the absence or incorrect translation of official documents.
Although government institutions may incur fines for not respecting the language requirements, there were no reports of fines. The commissioner lacked direct enforcement powers. Most government institutions failed to provide equal amounts of information online in languages other than Albanian. Kosovo Serbs complained that translations into Serbian of laws, other official documents, and government websites were inadequate, and sometimes conflicting, even though the Albanian and Serbian versions of laws have equal standing. The commissioner told the media that the country’s constitution had 930 translation errors between the two official languages.
Minority groups praised amendments to administrative rulings that permitted Bosniaks, Roma, and Turks to have identity documents issued in their own languages. Representatives of the Turkish community expressed dissatisfaction with implementation of the official languages law, especially in Prizren municipality, where Turkish is an official language. Officials maintained translations of street names and personal documentation were missing or poorly done. Similar shortcomings occurred in municipalities where the Bosnian and Romani languages have official status.
The employment of minorities in public institutions remained limited and generally confined to lower levels of the government. According to a report from the Kosovo Democratic Institute think tank, only 6.2 percent of the government’s civil service employees were non-Albanian minorities, although the law on civil service mandates that 10 percent of the employees at the local and national levels be minorities. The report noted that the members of Ashkali, Egyptian, Gorani, and Roma communities were “visibly underrepresented” at all civil service levels. The report also stated the government lacked an effective mechanism for monitoring levels of minority employment in public institutions.
On September 25, the Ministry of Justice published a list of candidates who passed the bar examination, including the five Kosovo-Serb candidates who intended to be integrated into the Kosovo justice system and work in Mitrovica/Mitrovice North Basic Court in accordance with the Dialogue Agreement on Justice. Bosniak community representatives complained their members were not allowed to apply for positions as prosecutors and judges in the north of the country, in violation, they claimed, of the constitution. In July, eight Bosniaks appealed to the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council and the Kosovo Judiciary Council about the decision to reject their applications for court positions in the north of the country. Four petitioners received negative responses and filed cases with the Independent Civil Service Oversight Board.
The law requires equal conditions for schoolchildren regardless of their mother tongue and provides minority students with the right to public education in their native languages through secondary school. This law was not enforced, with Kosovo’s Bosniak, Croat, Gorani, Montenegrin, Roma, and Turk leaders noting that their communities lacked textbooks and other materials.
The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) and several international organizations reported school enrollment was lowest among the country’s non-Serb minority communities. Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian children suffered from lower registration rates, higher dropout rates, and poor levels of performance. In most cases, such as in the Pristina and Prizren municipalities, elementary school attendance levels reportedly continued to decrease, resulting in registration of only one Bosniak child in the single elementary school in the Pristina Bosnian language program.
On June 3, MEST issued the country’s first administrative ruling formally to set aside 12 percent of admissions, dormitories, and stipends for minorities in undergraduate and graduate programs at seven public universities. On September 21, MEST amended a 2013 ruling to permit the University of Prizren to register students in BA programs in elementary education, pre-elementary education, and information technology and telecommunication in the Bosnian and Turkish languages. Prior to this change, Kosovo Bosnian and Turkish graduates in these fields were unable to use their diplomas; this decision retroactively recognized their diplomas.
All minorities complained that the government did not provide sufficient textbooks for non-Albanian-speaking students at any educational level. According to MEST, many of the schools teaching in Serbian imported textbooks from Serbia that did not conform to provisions of the domestic curriculum. On June 9, the ministry renewed its September 2015 decision banning the importation of Serbian textbooks after Serbia did not allow MEST-sponsored Albanian-language books for students in Serbia’s Presevo Valley. This ban effectively blocked the importation of all books, including non-textbooks from Serbia.
The University of Pristina, the country’s largest university, taught classes only in Albanian. Based on MEST’s June 3 administrative instruction, the University of Pristina and the country’s six other public universities offered the first-round entrance examinations to students in minority languages, as required by law.
The number of registered minority students in the first round was significantly higher than in 2015–from several dozen to more than a hundred.
Kosovo Bosniaks praised the implementation of legislation that allowed the country’s Bosniaks, Roma, and Turks to obtain identity documents in their own languages. Representatives of the Turkish community expressed dissatisfaction with overall implementation of the official languages law. Representatives of these communities claimed that translation of the official correspondence was not automatically available in the Bosnian and Turkish languages in the Prizren municipality, as provided by law. Translation of street names and personal documentation in Prizren was missing or poorly done. Similar shortcomings occurred in municipalities where the Bosnian and Romani languages had official status. The Gracanica/Gracanice municipality employed two Romani-language translators.
The government’s nonrecognition of diplomas issued by the University in Mitrovica/Mitrovice North (UNM), which operated under the government of Serbia’s system, was a key impediment to employment of Kosovo Serbs and other minorities within governmental institutions. Government officials discussed with Serbian counterparts the mutual recognition of diplomas through the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue on September 29.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
The constitution and law prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, health care, and education.
When the motivation for a crime was based on gender, sexual orientation, or perceived affinity of the victim with persons who are targets of such hostility, the law considers motivation to be an aggravating circumstance.
An Advisory and Coordinating Group consisting of representatives of eight ministries, the Office of Good Governance, and three NGOs cooperated to protect and promote the rights of the LGBTI community. This group met twice during the year but as of December did not complete the country’s first National Action Plan for LGBT rights. The group lacked executive authority to implement its decisions. As of December 7, no monitoring had occurred to track the implementation of the group’s decisions.
Government officials signaled support for LGBTI rights by sponsoring and attending numerous public events, such as the third annual pride walk on the International Day against Homophobia and Biphobia, which was the largest in the country’s history. President Thaci became the country’s first president to participate in the walk.
According to human rights NGOs, the LGBTI community faced overt discrimination in employment, housing, determination of statelessness, and access to education and health care. The NGOs said societal pressure persuaded most LGBTI persons to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported that discrimination against LGBTI individuals often went unreported, alleging that police were insensitive to the needs of their community.
On September 26, the court sentenced two defendants for attacking two members of the LGBTI community who had been distributing HIV prevention materials in Ferizaj/Urosevac just prior to the attack. The court sentenced one defendant to five months in prison for inciting hatred, as well as assault. This was the first conviction in the country’s history for a hate crime perpetrated against members of the LGBTI community. The NGO Center for Social Group Development, however, expressed concern that the court did not cite sexual orientation as the motivating factor.
According to NGOs, as of October LGBTI persons had reported 19 hate crimes since 2012, including five during the year.
In June a German tourist was allegedly attacked because of his sexual orientation, in a case that police and prosecutors consider a hate crime. In July a landlord allegedly attacked his tenants, gay couple. According to the couple, the landlord had threatened them in the presence of police, but police did not arrest him. The case was reported to the ombudsman; however, LGBTI groups criticized the ombudsman’s lack of response. The prosecution did not file an indictment.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While there were no confirmed reports of official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS during the year, anecdotal reports of such discrimination persisted.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were no so-called honor killings reported during the year.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and the violation of any individual’s labor rights due to his or her union activities. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, including in essential services. The law applies equally to all individuals working in the public and private sectors, including documented migrants and domestic servants.
Authorities did not effectively enforce the labor law, which includes regulations, and administrative instructions that govern employment relations, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Association of Independent Labor Unions in Kosovo (BSPK), resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties insufficient. As of July the Ministry of Labor and Social Work’s (MLSW) Labor Inspectorate issued 56 fines ranging from no monetary penalty to 35,000 euros ($38,500). The BSPK described these fines as insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
According to the BSPK, the government and employers in the country generally respected the right to form and join unions in both the public and private sectors. Political party interference in trade union organizations and individual worker rights remained an issue. According to union officials, workers in the public sector commonly faced mistreatment, including sexual harassment and the loss of employment, based on their political party affiliation. Employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations to bargain collectively. The BSPK reported that many private sector employers essentially ignored the country’s labor laws. The BSPK reported continued difficulty in establishing unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors. Representatives from these sectors told the BSPK anonymously that employers used intimidation to prevent the establishment of unions. The Labor Inspectorate reported receiving no formal complaints of discrimination against employees who tried to join unions during the year. The BSPK claimed the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced child labor occurred during the year (see section 7.c.).
Government resources, including remediation, were insufficient to bring about compliance, identify and protect victims, and investigate claims of forced or compulsory labor. There were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of forced labor due, according to the Labor Inspectorate, to inadequate resources. Penalties ranged from five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 euros ($550,000) and were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. As of September authorities did not remove any victims from forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The minimum age for contractual employment is 15, provided the employment is not harmful or prejudicial to school attendance. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age is 18. In 2013, the government agreed with the International Labor Organization on protections from hazardous labor for children in agriculture, street labor, construction, and the exploitation of natural resources. Regulations forbid exploitation of children in the workplace, including forced or compulsory labor. The government maintained a committee for prevention and elimination of child labor to intervene in cases of forced or hazardous labor. The committee was constrained by limited resources. The government also maintained a National Authority against Trafficking in Persons that investigated cases of children trafficked for labor.
Inspectors immediately notify employers when finding minors working in hazardous conditions. As of June, Municipal Social Work Offices (MSWO) reported only three cases of minors working in hazardous conditions to the MLSW; but it had no information on whether the children returned to school. Two of the minors were begging, and one worked at a waste disposal site. The MLSW noted that MSWO halted its reporting of cases of minors working in hazardous conditions to the MLSW. This poor coordination among the country’s institutions and the lack of a centralized repository resulted in considerable underreporting of actual cases. During the year the MLSW established a new reporting tool that would allow for simultaneous reporting to the MLSW and MSWO. As of November 10, the tool was not operational, and the MLSW could not provide accurate numbers for the year.
Under the labor code, inspectors may fine employers from 100 euros ($110) to 10,000 euros ($11,000) for subjecting a worker to hazardous working conditions. Fines were double for offenses committed against a minor. Enforcement was poor due to inadequate training and resources. The law provides additional penalties for employers and families that engage children in labor practices or fail to meet their parental obligations resulting in the illegal employment of a minor. The law permits authorities to remove a child from the home if that is determined to be in the best interests of a child.
The Coalition for Protection of Children (KOMF) reported that children working in the farming and mining sectors encountered hazards associated with operating farm equipment and extracting ore from hard-to-reach areas underground. The KOMF also reported that the total number of child beggars remained unknown. While most children were rarely their families’ main wage earners, child labor contributed substantially to some family incomes.
Young children in rural areas often assisted their families in agricultural labor, typically including work during school hours. Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction and retail jobs, such as selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, and telephone cards on the street. Some children also engaged in physical labor, such as transportation of goods.
See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits any discrimination, based on race, color, sex, religion, age, family status, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, language, gender identity, disability, health status, pregnancy, genetic inheritance, or trade union membership that has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity, treatment in employment, or occupation capacity building. The law specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender, or gender identity, and applies to access to employment, self-employment, and choice of occupation. The prohibitions include discrimination in promotion and recruitment conditions in any branch of activity and at all levels of the professional hierarchy. Fines in cases of discrimination are between 500 and 10,000 euros ($550 and $11,000). The law does not protect against discrimination based on HIV status or other communicable diseases. According to the NGO GAP Institute, the penalties were adequate, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the system to function properly, and therefore the government was unable to enforce the labor law effectively.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across sectors with respect to sex, gender, gender identity, disability, and minority status (see section 6). During the year the BSPK received reports from labor unions and individuals also claiming discrimination based on age and family status. BSPK claimed to be the only entity where workers reported discrimination due to fear of employer retribution. The BSPK noted that employment often depended on the employee’s political status and affiliation. The BSPK also stated that due to high unemployment, employees were reluctant to report discrimination, fearing retaliation by their employer. Most often employees addressed their work-related matters internally and informally with their employers. The BSPK also reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews, and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave.
By law foreigners must obtain work permits prior to seeking work in the country. According to the Labor Inspectorate, there were no reports of foreign workers denied work permits, and there were no reports of violation of foreign workers’ rights during the year.
The government-set minimum wage was 130 euros ($143) per month for employees younger than 35, and 170 euros ($187) per month for those 35 and older. For those earning less than minimum wage, the law provides monthly benefits of up to 120 euros ($132) for eligible families and up to 40 euros ($44) monthly for individuals. Families and individuals could also receive discounts on up to 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity and free health care.
The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 hours per day, limits overtime to 20 hours per week and 40 hours per month, requires payment of a premium for overtime work, and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for 20 days’ paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave. The labor law sets health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country.
Labor inspectors, from the MLSW, were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. The MLSW’s 51 labor inspectors review provisions of the country’s labor code pertaining to contractual labor, health, and safety standards. Unions considered the number of inspectors insufficient to monitor the formal and informal sectors effectively. As of October these inspectors conducted 5,866 random and planned inspections. The Labor Inspectorate advised employers on improvements to comply with workplace regulations and of breaches that could bring about official sanctions. As of October the Labor Inspectorate issued 717 warnings for various violations of labor standards and levied 94 additional fines of up to 35,000 euros ($38,500) for failure to correct cited violations. As of October the inspectorate conducted 359 inspections based on employee complaints against their employers. The Labor Inspectorate received 150 complaints against fines and warnings issued by the labor inspectors. The Labor Inspectorate resolved these complaints in 15 to 60 days. It estimated it would need 150 inspectors to adequately monitor employers or have a measurable impact on labor problems. The inspectorate considered the financial penalties insufficient to discourage violations.
According to the Labor Inspectorate and the BSPK, the labor code is comprehensive and its provisions on work hours are adequate for the equal protection of public and private sector workers. According to the BSPK, the government’s lack of enforcement stemmed from a paucity of unionized workers as well as resource and capacity limitations of the Labor Inspectorate.
The Ministry of Labor continued efforts to compile amendments to the labor code, needed to implement the government-sponsored Collective Contract. The Collective Contract establishes the rights and obligations of the employer and the employee, including provisions on work hours, night work, annual leave, maternity leave, job safety, and employee health benefits. The contract also includes all of the protections in the labor laws and applies to all workers in the informal as well as formal economies. Observers noted that the agreement was intended to reduce the size of the informal economy by penalizing employers who do not register employees.
According to the BSPK, employers failed to abide by official labor standards that provided equal standards of protection to public and private sector workers. The BSPK reported a lack of government oversight and enforcement, particularly with regard to the standard workweek and compulsory and unpaid overtime. Many individuals worked long hours in the private sector as “at-will” employees, without employment contracts, regular pay, or contributions to their pensions. The BSPK reported that employers ignored legal provisions and fired workers without cause in violation of the law and refused to respect workers holidays. As of July the Labor Inspectorate received 229 formal complaints of violations of workers’ rights in the public and private sectors. Women’s rights organizations reported that sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of expulsion or retaliation.
While the law provides for the protection of employees’ health and working conditions, private and public institutions failed at times to comply. The Labor Inspectorate and BSRK officials reported difficulties in obtaining accurate information about compliance, because workers rarely disclosed the problems due to fear of losing their jobs. The Labor Inspectorate reported five workplace fatalities and 25 serious workplace accidents as of July.
No law specifically permits an employee to leave work due to a dangerous work situation, but the law requires every employer to provide adequate work conditions for all employees based upon job requirements. According to the MLSW, informal employer-employee arrangements may address when and whether an employee may leave work due to dangerous work situations. The country’s institutions did not track these arrangements. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions.