Afghanistan

Executive Summary

The United States has not recognized the Taliban or another entity as the government of Afghanistan. All references to “the pre-August 15 government” refer to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. References to the Taliban reflect events both prior to and after August 15.

Prior to August 15, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The country held presidential elections in September 2019 after technical problems and security threats compelled the Independent Election Commission to reschedule the election multiple times. The commission announced preliminary election results on December 22, 2019, indicating that President Ashraf Ghani had won, although runner-up and then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah disputed the results, including after official results were announced February 18, 2020. Both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing-in ceremonies on March 9, 2020. Political leaders mediated the resulting impasse, resulting in a compromise on May 17, 2020, in which Ashraf Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each of them was to select one-half of the cabinet members.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three entities shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security. The Afghan National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, had primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force with no legal ability to arrest or independently investigate crimes. Civilian authorities under the Ghani administration generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently and committed numerous abuses. After August 15, security forces largely disbanded. The Taliban began to recruit and train a new police force for Kabul and announced in early October that the force had 4,000 persons in its ranks. The Taliban instructed pre-August 15 government employees to return to work, and the Ministry of Interior formally invited former police officers to return; however, returns were slow due to fear of retaliation and lack of salary payments.

The Taliban culminated its takeover on August 15 when Kabul fell to their forces. On September 7, the Taliban announced a so-called interim government made up almost entirely of male Taliban fighters, clerics, and political leaders, hailing from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. As of December, the Taliban had announced most of its “interim cabinet” but had not outlined steps or a timeline to establish a new permanent government. The Taliban is a Sunni Islamist nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s that ruled much of the country from 1996 until October 2001. The Taliban promoted a strict interpretation of Quranic instruction according to the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, seeking to eliminate secular governance.

Peace negotiations between representatives of the Ghani administration and the Taliban continued until August as the Taliban consolidated control over territory, but the talks failed to yield a political settlement or unity government. Throughout the year armed insurgents attacked Ghani administration forces, public places, and civilians, killing and injuring thousands of noncombatants. On August 15, as the Taliban approached Kabul, President Ghani fled the country, prompting an immediate collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and a political vacuum. Vice President Amrullah Saleh left the country shortly after as well.

Significant human rights issues occurred before and after August 15. Details of which group or groups perpetuated these human rights issues are addressed throughout the report. The human rights issues included credible reports of: killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by antigovernment personnel; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; physical abuses by antigovernment entities; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances and abductions, torture and physical abuses, and other conflict-related abuses; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; serious restrictions on free expression and media by the Taliban, including violence against journalists and censorship; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on the right to leave the country; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to cases of violence against women, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence by security forces and other actors against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; severe restrictions on workers’ freedom of association and severe restrictions by the Taliban on the right to work for women; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were common. The pre-August 15 government did not consistently or effectively investigate or prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces. After taking over, the Taliban formed a commission to identify and expel “people of bad character” from its ranks. On December 25, a Taliban spokesperson told media that the group had expelled 1,985 individuals, and that those accused of corruption and robbery had been referred to legal authorities. Local and provincial Taliban leaders formed similar commissions and reported rooting out corrupt members. Little information was available regarding how individuals were identified, investigations were conducted, or what their outcomes were.

On September 27, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed an application for an expedited order seeking authorization to resume the investigation of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country. The investigation had been deferred due to a request from the pre-August 15 government. The International Criminal Court prosecutor stated that the Taliban takeover represented a significant change of circumstances affecting the ongoing assessment of the pre-August 15 government’s deferral request. The prosecutor determined that there was no prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations within the country of crimes defined by Article 5 of the Rome Statute. The prosecutor announced that if he receives authorization to resume investigations, he intends to focus his efforts on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K, a terrorist group based in Salafist ideology that is an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham and which is active in South and Central Asia.

Taliban elements attacked religious leaders who spoke out against them, particularly between the February 2020 signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the August 15 Taliban takeover. During the year many Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Nonstate and armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most child recruitment and used children younger than 12 during the year. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, used children as suicide bombers. Antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported thousands of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year due to clashes between government and antigovernment actors. Many of these casualties were attributed to antigovernment actors; however, the Taliban did not claim responsibility for civilian casualties. The Taliban referred to suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations.” The Taliban engaged in targeted killings of perceived opponents in areas controlled by the pre-August 15 government and in reprisal killings as it moved across the country. After August 15, senior Taliban leadership announced a wide-ranging general amnesty that prohibited reprisals, including against officials and others associated with the pre-August 15 government, for actions before the Taliban takeover; however, credible reports were received of retaliatory acts, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, both before and after this announcement.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Implementation and awareness of a government decree regarding violence against women remained a serious problem under the pre-August 15 government. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery or beating, forced marriage, humiliation, intimidation, and deprivation of inheritance. The law criminalizes rape against both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances are present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “aggression to the chastity or honor of a female [that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina.” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. Pre-August 15 government authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of the decree, including through dedicated prosecution units. Women and girls with disabilities were at increased risk for sexual abuse.

Prosecutors and judges in rural areas were frequently unaware of the decree or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law “un-Islamic.” Female survivors faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.

The law criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which acted as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Pre-August 15 government doctors, frequently men, conducted these exams, often without consent. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The law for the pre-August 15 government criminalized assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the relevant decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. The AIHRC announced that of 3,477 cases of violence against women recorded with its organization in the first 10 months of 2020, 95.8 percent of cases involved a family-member perpetrator and that the home environment was the most dangerous place for women in the country. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim-support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a “family matter,” domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, a preference for mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. According to an HRW report published in August, there were dedicated prosecution units in all 34 provinces as of March and specialized courts – at least in name – with female judges in 15 provinces, and dedicated court divisions expanded to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country, under the pre-August 15 administration. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spent even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or her family.

At times, women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away from home is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families (see also section 6, Children, Child, Early, and Forced Marriage).

On September 19, Taliban gunmen entered a women’s shelter in Kabul by force, interrogated staff and residents for several hours and forced the head of the shelter to sign a letter promising not to allow the residents to leave without Taliban permission. The Taliban told the shelter operator they would return married shelter residents to their abusers and marry the single residents to Taliban soldiers.

Additionally, sources in September reported the Taliban were conducting “audits” of women’s shelters and women’s rights organizations, including those that provided protection services. These audits were enforced with intimidation through the brandishing of weapons and threats of violence. Equipment, including computers, paper files, and other documentation, was confiscated, and staff reported being aggressively questioned regarding their activities and possible association with the United States. Essential service providers either reduced or ceased their services altogether, citing fear of putting battered women, an already vulnerable demographic, at greater risk of violence and harm.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the 2004 constitution, the law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread. “Honor killings” continued throughout the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law under the pre-August 15 government criminalized all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual harassment. By law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law under the pre-August 15 government remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Prior to the August 15 Taliban takeover, businesswomen faced a myriad of challenges from the “traditional” nature of society and its norms regarding acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization.

After the Taliban takeover, most women-led businesses suspended operations due to the ongoing liquidity crisis and fear of violating Taliban edicts against women in the marketplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Under the pre-August 15 government, married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which was in effect by promulgation of a presidential proclamation (although parliament never passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions concerning their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

According to UNICEF, more than 50 percent of girls in the country started their period without knowing what to expect or understanding why it was happening, and 30 percent of female students in the country were absent during menstruation because schools did not have adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the pre-August 15 government’s penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. Mothers faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Abortion or ending a pregnancy was classified as a crime under the law and was punishable by three months’ to one year’s imprisonment.

Women must obtain their husband’s consent to use contraception under the law. Barriers impacting reproductive health care or obstetrical care included many men preventing their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child. Sources in October reported continued availability of contraceptives after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Persons with disabilities faced increased barriers to reproductive health resources as a result of decreased access to transportation, education, and social support. LGBTQI+ persons, already disadvantaged prior to August 15, faced further barriers to accessing reproductive health resources after the Taliban takeover. The already fragile community, which provided some resources to its members, largely disintegrated as members either fled the country or went into deep hiding. Widespread discrimination and abuse prevented most members from seeking reproductive or sexual-health assistance from all but the most trusted confidants.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

The World Health Organization reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the last year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care. Access to maternal health care services was constrained by the limited number of female health practitioners, including an insufficient number of skilled birth attendants. Additionally, the conflict environment and other security concerns limited women’s safe access to health services of any kind.

Since their takeover, the Taliban permitted women to continue their roles as health practitioners, but many women were afraid to return to work due to safety and security concerns related to the Taliban’s stated policies restricting women in the workplace. After August 15, the ever-smaller number of qualified female health practitioners steeply increased the risk of poor health outcomes for women.

Discrimination: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the justice system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents. By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands but must obtain their husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petitioned instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the decree related to domestic violence, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on other legal provisions.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation.

After August 15, the Taliban prohibited most female government employees from working, although the Taliban claimed they continued to pay their salaries. Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) executives sought meetings with the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Economy after the takeover to get clarity on whether the Taliban would allow the estimated 57,000 women-led private businesses in the country to remain open. The AWCCI stated they failed to get a formal meeting with high-level Taliban decisionmakers but were assured informally that women would be allowed to work “if that work conformed with Islamic law.”

Prior to August 15, in the Taliban-controlled areas of the country many women and girls could not decide whom they would marry or at what age, or object to beatings by their husbands. In Jowzjan’s Darzab district, a Taliban commander raped and killed a 16-year-old girl when the family refused to allow her to marry a Taliban fighter.

On April 28, the Taliban published an article, “Feminism as a Colonial Tool,” on its website, accusing the West of using feminism to justify its “invasion, subjugation and bullying of Muslims.” The article asserted the “man-made” concept of women’s rights has “destructive effects on human society” and that women’s rights must be defined by Islam.

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the pre-August 15 government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior.

ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed at least 50 members of the minority Shia community at a mosque in Kunduz. On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting a Shia community mosque in Kandahar killed more than 30 worshippers. Following attacks and threats, Taliban security forces augmented protective operations at Shia mosques.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. The pre-August 15 government delivered meals and aid to approximately 200 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families who returned from India in mid-May after facing financial hardship and COVID outbreaks in India. The government also directed increased security for the Sikh and Hindu communities and the deputy minister of Haj and religious affairs said in June that the ministry had undertaken 14 reconstruction projects for temples in view of their central role in the community. With the Taliban takeover, many of the estimated several hundred Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the country may have fled to India and other countries.

According to HRW, Taliban representatives in early October forcibly displaced hundreds of Hazara families from southern Helmand Province to the northern Balkh Province, in part to distribute land to their own supporters. The Taliban carried out the evictions at gunpoint and with little notice, preventing families from taking their belongings or finishing harvesting their crops. An HRW report stated that the largest displacements took place in 15 villages in Daikundi and Uruzgan Provinces where the Taliban evicted at least 2,800 Hazara residents in September.

UNHCR reported that approximately 40 percent of Afghan arrivals to Iran were Hazaras.

In December senior Taliban representatives held a series of engagements with Shia Hazara leaders. On December 26, “interim Deputy Prime Minister” Maulavi Mohammed Abdul Kabir hosted a meeting of Shia leaders from around the country, and “interim Deputy Foreign Minister” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai spoke at a December 29 meeting of the Shia Ulema Council in Kabul. In these meetings the Taliban officials expressed their commitment to provide security for all citizens and a desire to avoid sectarian division.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions” of being members of ISIS-K and subsequent releases required recanting their faith. In October Sikhs reported harassment by armed Taliban representatives at their central temple in Kabul. In late November more than 80 Sikhs and Hindus departed for India.

After August 15, ISIS-K’s heightened activity further increased the targeting of non-Sunni groups. At least four attacks by ISIS-K targeted Shia and Hazara communities between October and December.

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked, making it difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment and repression under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban.

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

Children

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

Education: Under the pre-August 15 government, education was mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of them girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Under the pre-August 15 government, only an estimated 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools.

An education director in Jawzjan Province said in March that Taliban militants stopped an estimated 20,000 female students from studying beyond sixth grade. Even before their takeover of Kabul, in Taliban-controlled districts within the provinces of Kunar, Helmand, Logar, and Zabul, the Taliban had largely prohibited women and girls from attending school as provincial education officials attempted in vain to negotiate with the Taliban for girls to have access to education.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, hindered their access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. In February Taliban militants set fire to a girls’ school in Takhar Province, burning all equipment, books, and documents.

There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged, and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Following their takeover, the Taliban severely restricted or prohibited female education across all age levels, citing a need to ensure proper facilities were in place for segregated education in line with the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia.

The Taliban’s lack of a clear education policy regarding women’s ability to teach and girls’ ability to attend schools, combined with nonpayment of teachers’ salaries, led to low enrollment rates even where schools were open.

In September the Taliban stated that girls would be able to go to school in line with Islamic law, without further clarifying how it would respect their access to education. According to UNICEF, the Taliban instructed primary schools in late August to reopen for both girls and boys.

On September 18, the new Taliban ministry of education issued a statement resuming secondary education for boys but gave no indication as to when girls might return to classes. As of December schools in nine of the country’s 34 provinces – Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kunduz, Urozgan, Ghazni, Faryab, Zabul, and Herat – had allowed girls to attend secondary school before closing for the winter break, according to UNICEF and other reports. In December the Taliban asserted that this number had grown to 12 provinces and pledged that all girls could return to school in March 2022 after the break.

As of December all public universities remained closed. Several private, all-female universities reopened for fall classes in October.

Taliban leaders stated they were committed to allowing girls and women access to education through the postgraduate level, although only in accordance with their interpretation of sharia and within the confines of Afghan culture, which includes segregation of genders and strict behavioral and dress codes.

On November 16, the head of the so-called Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated there was no theological basis in Islam for preventing girls and women from having access to all levels of education. Other Taliban representatives expressed the group’s intent to provide educational access at all levels to women and girls. At year’s end many Afghan girls remained excluded from the educational system.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($780 to $1,560).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi cases, which deterred child victims from reporting their claims.

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, there was an uptick in arrests, prosecutions and prison sentences given to perpetrators of bacha bazi, including members of the military and security forces. Kandahar’s governor sent seven members of the ANP suspected of sexually abusing and killing a 13-year-old boy in Kandahar to trial in Kabul. One of the seven was given the death penalty, and the others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges including rape, as well as bacha bazi (two of them received sentences of 30 years’ imprisonment and the other four were sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment).

Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by the Afghan National Army, the ANP, and ALP officials, the government has only once (in September 2020) prosecuted officials for bacha bazi. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize survivors.

NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports some members of the pre-August 15 government military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The pre-August 15 government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubts that the judicial system would respond.

On May 4, the pre-August 15 government’s Minister of Justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission, Fazil Ahmad Mannawi, shared the pre-August 15 government’s statistics on trafficking in persons for the year 2020: He reported that the ministry arrested 70 suspects, the Attorney General’s Office launched investigations of 50 suspects, and courts were reviewing 235 cases of trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, and bacha bazi at the end of 2020. Six hundred victims were provided with medical, psychological, and educational services in 2020. The pre-August 15 government held more than 200 trafficking-in-persons awareness-training sessions for more than 8,000 citizens, government officials, and ANDSF personnel. There was an increase of bacha bazi cases investigated, prosecuted, and convicted.

The pre-August 15 government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The pre-August 15 government’s law criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime and builds on a 2017 trafficking-in-persons law that includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The law details the punishment for authorities of security forces involved in bacha bazi with an average punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Although no police officer had ever been prosecuted for bacha bazi, eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents and charged with “moral crimes,” sodomy, or other crimes.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and the Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law under the pre-August 15 government setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. A 2017 UNICEF study found that 28 percent of women were married by age 18. Those convicted of entering into or arranging forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited. By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is age 16 (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

After the August takeover by the Taliban, due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, widespread reports surfaced suggesting that some families were selling their young children, usually daughters for early marriage, to afford food.

Societal pressures and the Taliban practice of arranging marriages for widows forced women into unwanted marriages. HRW conducted telephone interviews with residents in Herat in September and found that women in Taliban-controlled areas increasingly felt pressured to marry for their own safety in view of restrictions upon their movements and activities imposed by the Taliban.

On August 13, the Taliban entered Herat, seizing government offices and the police station. A Taliban fighter reportedly threatened to kill a widowed mother of five if she did not marry him, and she was forced to do so in September with the consent of a mullah. She has said that her life is a nightmare and “it is like he is raping me every night.”

On December 3, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada announced a public decree banning the forced marriage of women. The decree set out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and widows should have a share in their late husband’s property. The decree mandated that courts should consider these rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The pre-August 15 government criminalized sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, a practice common in parts of the country in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment, the law provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid, and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into commercial sexual exploitation. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the Trafficking in Persons law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The pre-August 15 government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

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

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts. The one confirmed Afghan Jew residing in the country departed the country when the Taliban took over Kabul.

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

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring government identification required for many government services and voting, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The World Institute on Disability (WID) estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed as a result of entrenched social biases and faced barriers to accessing public services including health and education. According to WID, persons with disabilities also faced barriers to accessing education, transportation, and health care.

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

Before the August takeover, the Taliban attacked the Special Olympics headquarters in Kabul with at least two separate bombing attempts. On August 15, Taliban gunmen entered the headquarters and seized the office director’s laptop and credentials, prompting the director to flee the country due to repression.

The 2004 constitution prohibited any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the government to adopt inclusive measures and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The law under the pre-August 15 government also provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, persons with disabilities. Observers reported that both the constitutional provisions and disability rights law were mostly ignored and unenforced.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. By law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but pre-August 15 government officials acknowledged the law was not enforced.

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS. While the law allows for the distribution of condoms, the pre-August 15 government restricted distribution to married couples.

LGBTQI+ individuals reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, and rape. There were reports of harassment and violence of LGBTQI+ individuals by society and police. Same-sex sexual conduct was widely seen as taboo and indecent. LGBTQI+ individuals did not have access to certain health-care services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTQI+ persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Registered organizations working on health programs for men who have sex with men faced harassment and threats by the Ministry of Economy’s NGO Directorate and NDS officials.

The Taliban takeover of the country increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban. Many fled the country after the takeover. After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors, and family members.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Taliban members, and many reported living in physically and economically precarious conditions in hiding. In July a Taliban judge stated that gay men would be subject to death by stoning or crushing. In August a gay man was reportedly tricked into a meeting by two Taliban members and then raped and beaten. There were also reports from members of civil society that LGBTQI+ persons were outed purposely by their families and subjected to violence to gain favor with the Taliban. There were reports of LGBTQI+ persons who had gone missing and were believed to have been killed.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Under sharia, conviction of same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Under the law, sex between men is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and sex between women with up to one year of imprisonment. Individual Taliban members have made public statements confirming that their interpretation of sharia allows for the death penalty for homosexuality.

The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced societal and governmental discrimination both before and after the Taliban takeover.

Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (the Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. On April 25, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that the elections were generally well organized, voters had a choice of candidates who were able to campaign freely, and the Central Election Commission adequately managed its obligations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe report, however, highlighted several deficiencies, including vote buying, leaking of sensitive personal data, and significant advantage gained by the ruling party due to incumbency.

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which includes the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. The State Intelligence Service is responsible to the prime minister, gathers information, and carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some allegations of abuses by members of the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: problems with the independence of the judiciary as it continued to undergo vetting; restrictions on free expression and the press; and pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions.

Impunity remained a problem, although the Specialized Anticorruption Body and anticorruption courts made significant progress during the year in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting senior officials and organized criminals.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November 2020 parliament amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system that allowed for rapid issuance of protective orders and produced a record of orders issued. A National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2030 and its action plan were adopted in June and focused on the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equality.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of August, police reported 33 cases of alleged sexual assault. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women, and police reported 3,563 cases of domestic violence as of August. In 2,205 cases, a protection order was issued. As of August, 13 women had been killed by their partners.

State Social Services reported that 30 women and 33 children were accommodated in the national reception center for victims of domestic violence as of August. Social Services also reported there were 25 other centers around the country to deal with domestic violence cases with counseling and long-term services. State Social Services faced challenges in terms of employment and education because 75 percent of domestic violence survivors were from rural areas and did not have appropriate education. The government also operated a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines. Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment as of August.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

While there are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which were provided free of charge to insured women, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, Roma, and Balkan-Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection operated the Lilium Center in Tirana with the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center was in a hospital setting and provided health-care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was prescribed or offered within the first five days after abusive sexual intercourse or rape; the contraceptive was suggested to be given as soon as possible to maximize effect. From its creation in 2018 through July, the center provided services to 85 survivors. Survivors in remote areas of the country did not have many options for assistance and support in their areas. Unless they were identified by authorities and brought to Tirana, they could only be referred to shelters for victims of trafficking.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination managed 94 cases of employment discrimination, 74 of which were against public entities and 21 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in 16 cases, 15 of which were against public entities and one against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 17 complaints of discrimination based on gender and ruled in favor of the employee in two cases. Through August the commissioner found five cases of discrimination on grounds of disability.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2020 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 107 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

There were allegations of discrimination targeting members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. The antidiscrimination commissioner issued a monitoring report with a special focus on children in the education system in December 2020. It concluded that children with disabilities and from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination in education.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 26 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in four cases. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana bank and its contracted security company for discriminating against Romani bank customers. The bank appealed the commissioner’s discrimination decision to the court.

The government has a law on official minorities but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The law provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained regarding the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

Children

An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children. The law on civil status provides financial incentives for birth registration.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families or those returning from abroad, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to government services. As of June the State Agency on Child Rights reported 25 cases of children not registered with the civil status registry.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and members of other minorities. The government provided free textbooks for children up to the ninth grade in the public education system.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened the situation of vulnerable populations, especially children, in the country. During the year the NGO Terre des Hommes referred 296 vulnerable children, youth, and adults for services, including 218 children in street situations. The NGO Nisma ARSIS alleged that police sometimes reacted late or not at all in cases when a protection order was violated, especially in cases involving Romani or Egyptian families. Child victims of domestic violence in Nisma ARSIS’s emergency center reported psychological violence, parental neglect, and economic exploitation as the most common forms of child abuse.

Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. Nisma ARSIS reported 10 cases of forced early marriages of children between the ages of 13 and 15 in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. UNICEF reported child marriage in the country was driven by gender inequality, poverty, and social exclusion. The Child Rights Center Albania (CRCA) reported children, especially girls, being forced into sexual relationships with older men for gifts, food, or extra income.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law; the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography and the online sexual exploitation of children. Police reported that, as of August, three children had been sexually exploited. The Ministry of Interior reported that, as of August, 50 of the 73 victims or potential victims of trafficking identified were minors.

A February CRCA report on child protection and law enforcement found that child victims received little support during or after reporting sexual exploitation. Trials that did occur were lengthy. One case before the Gjirokaster Magistrate Court required 46 sittings before sentencing a teacher who had sexually exploited an eight-year-old student.

Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged, and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes. Police reported 80 children younger than 18 were missing as of July. There was no specialized police unit for missing persons. In 2020 CRCA Albania and the Global Center for Missing and Exploited Children organized an international workshop on setting up an Amber Alert system in the country, which has not yet been established.

Institutionalized Children: There were 232 children in nine public care service institutions for children. Foster care and other alternative care options remained underused and public residential care accounted for the highest number of children. Residential care institutions primarily served orphaned children rather than survivors of abuse or neglect. The institutions lacked specialized services, such as psychotherapists and social workers, and stays were often lengthy.

As of August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that there were 27 juveniles in the justice system, none of whom had been convicted. The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders, was adequate for the population it served. The directorate reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing.

NGOs reported the child-protection system was generally functioning, although law enforcement entities lacked appropriate facilities and training for age-appropriate interrogation techniques of juveniles at police stations and prosecution offices.

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

Anti-Semitism

Reports indicated there were 40 to 50 Jews resident in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the statutes. In May the government adopted the National Action Plan on Disability 2021-2025, with the accessibility component as one of the main priorities.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 33 complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local post office for lacking accessibility. There were no known reports of violence, harassment, or physical abuse against those with disabilities.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection (Ministry of Health) improved building accessibility in 28 health centers and to the newly restored post-earthquake schools with the support of the UNDP. A December 2020 report by the antidiscrimination commissioner concluded that only 60 percent of schools in the country were partially or fully accessible to children with disabilities.

The government provided targeted funding for social-care service projects to persons with disabilities in the municipalities of Librazhd, Lushnje, Lezha, Rrogozhina, Kavaja and Tirana, funding day-care centers, mobile services for children with disabilities, and integrated community services for children and young individuals with disabilities. During the year parliament adopted law 82/2021, On official translation and the profession of official translator, that defines the role of sign language interpreters and provides the right to interpretation for official business.

The Ministry of Health reported that 697 unemployed disabled individuals were registered with the employment offices as of April. Only 18 persons with disabilities were employed as of July, while 58 received vocational training.

The number of children with disabilities in public education increased in the 2020-21 academic year. During the year, 4,131 students with disabilities attended classes in nonspecialized public and private educational institutions starting from preschool. During the year approximately 11.5 percent of children with disabilities enrolled in preuniversity education attended special education institutions.

OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that most polling stations for the April 25 elections visited by the monitoring team were not barrier free for persons with physical disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination and issues with professional reintegration, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school. The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported service delays and other problems after the Infectious Disease Clinic was converted into a COVID-response hospital.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. The National Action Plan for LGBTI concluded in 2020, and a new one for 2021-27 was being drafted. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received seven cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Most cases were under review. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana taxi company that had refused services to transgender persons. The company had yet to respond to the commissioner. Reports indicated that LGBTQI+ persons continued seeking asylum in EU countries.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. Some incidents of hate speech occurred online and in the media after an LGBTQI+ activist suggested changing the law to enable registering the children of LGBTQI+ couples. NGOs filed the case with the antidiscrimination commissioner and the ombudsperson. Government institutions did not react to the controversy.

Several persons were arrested for physically assaulting a transgendered person. As of August, the shelter service NGO Streha had assisted 72 LGBTQI+ youths facing violence or discrimination in their family and community. The Ministry of Health increased support to the shelters by covering the costs of shelter staff salaries. Other shelter costs, including food, medication, and shelter rent, remained covered by donors.

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the 2019 presidential election, which followed mass popular demonstrations (known as the Hirak) throughout 2019 calling for democratic reforms. Observers characterized the elections as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities, but they noted restrictions on civil liberties during the election period and lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures. The country held a constitutional referendum in November 2020, followed by legislative elections on June 12. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the 200,000-member General Directorate of National Security or national police, under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal defamation laws, unjustified arrests of journalists, government censorship and blocking of websites; substantial interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including squelching a resumption of the Hirak and overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed human rights abuses, especially corruption. The General Directorate of National Security conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. The Ministry of Justice reported no prosecutions or convictions of civil, security, or military officials for torture or other abusive treatment. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem.

Andorra

Executive Summary

The Principality of Andorra is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy. Two coprinces, the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell, serve with joint authority as heads of state. In 2019 the country held free and fair multiparty elections for the 28 seats in parliament (the General Council of the Valleys), which selects the head of government. Having won a majority in parliament, the Democrats for Andorra formed a coalition with Liberals of Andorra and Committed Citizens, and elected Xavier Espot Zamora from the Democrats for Andorra head of government.

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The national police maintained internal and external security. The Ministry of Justice and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of either gender, including spousal rape, both of which are punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. It penalizes domestic physical or psychological violence with a prison sentence of up to three years. Authorities enforced the law effectively.

The Service for the Assistance of Victims of Gender Violence of the government’s Area of Equality Policies in the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality assisted 62 new survivors from January to June. The service also continued to support some of the 236 persons from the previous year. The service provided comprehensive medical and psychological help as well as legal assistance to survivors of gender violence and domestic violence. Additionally, the government temporarily placed abused women and their children in a shelter, in a hotel, or with voluntary foster families. The national hotline for survivors continued to function as a 24-hour service. Survivors of domestic and gender-based violence could also report abuse by saying the words “purple code” to hospital workers or law enforcement agents to activate all relevant assistance protocols. Survivors could also request help from the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Andorran Women’s Association (ADA), and Accio Feminista Andorra, with which the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality has a memorandum of understanding that establishes a survivor’s assistance collaboration framework.

The Area of Equality Policies, an entity of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality, promoted and developed programs to prevent and fight against gender and domestic violence as well as any other forms of inequality. The area, in coordination with the University of Andorra, trained on gender violence more than 200 professionals including social workers in the national and municipal administrations, lawyers, psychologists, and law enforcement agents. At high schools the area also organized training workshops on gender violence, harassment, and equality.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women the government launched an awareness campaign with other national institutions, including the ombudsman, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and civil society organizations.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment under the provisions for other sexual aggressions, punishable by three-months’ to three years’ imprisonment. As of September, no cases were reported to authorities. Survivors were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of governmental authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also prohibits discrimination privately or professionally with fines up to 24,000 euros ($27,600). The government enforced the law effectively.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, place of origin, political opinions, color, or creed. There were no reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities during the year.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the law, citizenship is acquired at birth in the following circumstances: a child is born in the country to an Andorran parent or born abroad to an Andorran parent born in the country; a child is born in the country if either parent was born in the country and is living there at the time of birth; or a child is born in the country and both parents are stateless or of unknown identity. A child of foreign parents may acquire Andorran nationality by birth in the country if at the time of birth one of the parents completed 10 years in the country. Otherwise, the child may become a citizen before attaining the age of majority or a year after reaching the age of majority if his or her parents have been permanently resident in the country for 10 years or if the person can prove that he or she has lived in the country permanently and continuously for the previous five years. In the meantime, the child has a provisional passport.

Children are registered at birth.

Child Abuse: The law punishes child abuse with three months’ to six years’ imprisonment. The government’s Specialized Child Protection Team, consisting of three social workers, five psychologists, and three social educators, intervened in situations where children and young persons were at risk or lacked protection, and it collected data on cases of child abuse. As of September, authorities assisted 349 minors at risk, of whom 25 lived in a shelter designated for them.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 16 for girls and boys and as young as 14 with judicial authorization.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for statutory rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, the same as for rape in general. The law bans slavery and servitude with a maximum of 12 years’ imprisonment and trafficking in persons for the purpose of slavery and servitude with a maximum of six years. As of September, authorities identified 14 possible survivors of child sexual abuse.

The law punishes anyone who manages or finances premises used for prostitution; who aids, abets, or fosters prostitution; or who incites through violence, intimidation, or exploitation another person to engage in prostitution.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a prison sentence of up to four years. The minimum age of sexual consent is 14 years.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Unofficial estimates placed the size of the Jewish community at 100 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Andorra was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Although parliament approved in October 2020 a reform to the education law reaffirming the inclusion of students with disabilities in the public school system at all grade levels, NGOs continued to call for effective implementation of an inclusive educational system.

National civil society organizations continued to identity as the primary concerns for persons with disabilities universal accessibility to private and public spaces, and entry into the workforce.

The Service for Personal Autonomy within the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality received requests for psychological, social, and legal assistance from persons with disabilities and their families.

The law considers sexual orientation an “aggravating circumstance” for crimes motivated by hate or bias. There were few cases of violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality received requests for psychological, social, and legal assistance from individuals based on their gender identity or expression. NGOs called for appropriate training on transsexuality, especially for professionals working with children, including medical professionals, teachers, and civil servants. Complaints on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity may be brought before the civil and administrative courts. Civil society saw a need for the government to improve its sensitivity to problems of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. The ruling party’s presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the party retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision making by the National Electoral Commission.

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Criminal Investigation Services, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police within the Ministry of Interior are responsible for law enforcement relating to migration. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against groups such as the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; forced disappearance; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence or unjustified arrests against journalists and criminal libel laws; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took significant steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses as well as those who were involved in corruption. Nevertheless, accountability for human rights abuses was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and government corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment if convicted, depending on aggravating situations. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

According to the Ministry of Social Assistance, from January to August there were 639 reports of family-based violence, of which 588 victims were women. Reports decreased significantly from 2020, which reported more than 1,000 cases through May. Prosecutions were reportedly rare. In October the ministry joined an education campaign started by musician Sarissari called “Silencio Mata” (Silence Kills), which aimed to raise the awareness of domestic violence in the country.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services and postabortion emergency services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as that women have a responsibility to bear children, and religious objections to using contraception limited access to reproductive health services. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-18 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. Emergency contraception was available as clinical management of rape.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. A UN Population Fund report found that six of 10 teenage girls who abandoned school did so due to pregnancy. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

According to an official in the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security, lack of running water and sanitary facilities at some schools disproportionately affected teenage girls, causing them to not attend school for several days each month while they are having their period. The cumulative effect of lost class time was detrimental to their success in school, leading struggling students to drop out and enter the work force.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively, and societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative effect on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

The penal code revision that took effect in February has several provisions that criminalize discrimination based on skin color, race, and ethnicity. The Human Rights National Plan 2020-2022 contains policies to mitigate racial discrimination. Reports of racial or ethnic violence were rare.

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. One NGO estimated that 14,000 members of the San indigenous group scattered among the southern provinces of Huila, Cunene, Cuando Cubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. Since 2019 the government’s birth registration and identity document campaign provided 1.9 million persons with their first identity documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials to guarantee a place. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school because of a shortage of teachers and schools.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Assistance offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In 2020 INAC launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. INAC reported that between June 2020 and June, the hotline received 4,274 reports of sexual violence against children.

According to the local UNICEF office, there were reports that more than 50,000 children suffered from some form of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against commercial sexual exploitation, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits the use of children to produce pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

Displaced Children: Extreme poverty and the economic decline during recent years led to an increase in the number of children living on the street, especially in urban areas of the capital. These children, estimated to number from the hundreds to several thousand, did not have access to health care or education, often resorted to begging or trash picking for survival, and lived in conditions placing them at great risk for exploitation. During the year INAC met with former street children to better understand the problem and to formulate a plan to address the growing issue.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 persons, primarily resident Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent disability; treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities; to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The law requires changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The law also institutes a quota system to encourage the public and private sectors to employ more persons with disabilities, with the public-sector quota at 4 percent of total employees and the private-sector quota set at 2 percent. Civil society organizations and persons with disabilities, however, reported the government failed to enforce the law, and significant barriers to access remained.

The government official responsible for overseeing programs to promote inclusion for persons with disabilities acknowledged that both the private and public sectors failed to meet the quota system established by law. The Angolan Disabled Persons National Association, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impeded persons with disabilities from having access to work, education, and public transportation.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. According to the 2014 census, there were 656,258 persons with disabilities in the country. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

Discrimination against those with HIV or AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with HIV. There were no media reports of violence against persons with HIV. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against persons with HIV was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS included sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they test and counsel HIV patients.

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. On February 11, changes to the penal code took effect that decriminalize same-sex sexual relations and criminalize acts of violence or discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender and intersex persons are not specifically covered in the new legislation, nor does it recognize same-sex marriage, leading to problems in adoption and family planning, accompanying family into health-care facilities, and obtaining appropriate identity documents.

Local NGOs reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTQI+ persons asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The Ministry of Health continued to collaborate with the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTQI+ community.

Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

Antigua and Barbuda is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of government and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won a majority of seats in 2018 parliamentary elections that were deemed free and fair.

Security forces consist of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, the prison guard service, immigration officers, airport and port security personnel, the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force, and the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy. National security, including police and prison guards, falls under the supervision of the attorney general, who is also the minister of legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Immigration. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for money-laundering policy. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious acts of official corruption, and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct, although the laws were not enforced.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses. The government implemented the law criminalizing official corruption despite prolonged disruptions to the criminal justice system during the pandemic.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes sentences ranging from 10 years’ to life imprisonment for conviction of the rape of women. The law also addresses rape of men and establishes sentences of five years’ to life imprisonment if convicted. Spousal rape is illegal under certain limited circumstances, such as after a legal separation, with a punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment if convicted. No spousal rape cases were filed in 2020. Authorities stated three rape cases were prosecuted in 2020, but the charges were withdrawn in all three. The officials stated that historically a significant percentage of rape cases were dismissed either for lack of evidence or because the victim declined to press charges. Government authorities declared that 12 sexual offenses cases in 2020 were discontinued. In nine of them, the complainants no longer wished to proceed with prosecution, in two there was insufficient evidence, and in the final one the accused died. The sexual offenses cases covered unlawful sexual intercourse, rape, and indecent assault.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The law prohibits domestic violence, but the law was not enforced. Anecdotal media reports suggested that police failed to fully carry out their obligations on domestic violence.

Authorities stated they had several domestic-violence programs, including training for law enforcement officers, health-care professionals, counselors, social workers, immigration officers, and army officers.

Sexual Harassment: The law covers indecent assault, incest, rape, and indecent exposure but does not prohibit sexual harassment. Authorities stated that during the year 10 men were prosecuted for unlawful sexual intercourse: seven were convicted, one was acquitted, and charges were dropped in two cases. The government also stated there were two prosecutions for indecent assault with two convictions and one case where charges were dropped.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Government officials declared that the law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. The labor code stipulates it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of his or her gender. The Ministry of Labour reported that it did not receive any complaints of employment discrimination during the year.

The law protects all citizens from broad forms of discrimination and the law is enforced. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 91 percent of the population is Black, and approximately 87 percent of the Black population is of African descent. According to the government, systemic racial or ethnic discrimination is not a concern. There were no reports of systemic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, and the government registers all children at birth. Children born abroad to citizen parents may be registered by either parent.

Child Abuse: The law on child abuse includes provisions on child-care services and orders of care placing abused children into the care of government authorities. The law stipulates a significant fine or three years in prison for conviction of child abuse. In extreme cases the government removes children from their homes and puts them in foster care or into a government-run or private children’s home.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Minors ages 16-17 may marry with parental consent; however, marriage when either partner was younger than 18 was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child pornography is illegal and subject to large fines and up to 20 years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits any form of discrimination based on disability and stipulates a moderate fine or two years’ imprisonment for conviction of violations. Authorities stated the law requires that persons with disabilities must be able to access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with all other persons; however, some public areas, including government buildings, were not in compliance with these requirements.

An NGO representative reported that fear, stigma, and discrimination impaired the willingness of some persons with HIV to obtain treatment. Anecdotal evidence suggested employers dismissed and discriminated against employees with HIV or AIDS.

There were no reports of public violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Sodomy is criminalized under indecency statutes, with a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment; however, the law was not enforced. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men or between women is criminalized with a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment. No law specifically prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: The Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by a UN Peacekeeping Force, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey. In 2020 Ersin Tatar was elected “president” and leader of the Turkish Cypriot community in elections widely seen as influenced by pro-Tatar interference from Turkey. In 2018 voters elected 50 “members of parliament” in free and fair elections. The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” “constitution” is the basis for the “laws” that govern the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Police are responsible for enforcement of the “law.” The “chief of police” is nominally under the supervision of the “Prime Ministry.” Police and Turkish Cypriot security forces, however, are ultimately under the operational command of the Turkish armed forces, as provided by the “constitution,” which entrusts responsibility for public security and defense to Turkey. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal libel “laws”; refoulement of asylum seekers; serious acts of “government” corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national minorities.

Authorities took steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses and corruption. There was evidence, however, of impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In March there were multiple reports of violence against women. One man was arrested in north Nicosia for beating his wife with a stick, another man was arrested for breaking a woman’s finger after a dispute concerning a divorce case at the “court” in Famagusta, and three persons (including a relative) were arrested for repeatedly raping a 17-year-old girl. The girl was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.

According to a survey of local women conducted by the Nicosia Turkish Municipality’s Side by Side Against Violence Project in February 2020, 60 percent of women were subjected to psychological violence, and 40 percent of women were subjected to physical violence. Survey results also showed that one out of every four women had been exposed to sexual violence and one out of every four women had been exposed to economic violence – defined by the project as the manipulation of economic resources or money as a means of sanction, intimidation, or control over women. Two out of every 10 women had been threatened with physical violence.

Nicosia district police in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots operated the specialized Combating Violence against Women Unit to respond to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline.

According to the Combatting Violence against Women Unit, 871 women filed complaints to the unit’s hotline seeking help between January-October. In 2020 a total of 1,063 women called the hotline and filed complaints or sought help.

In October the Coordination Center for Combating Domestic Violence, a joint effort of the “government,” the Nicosia Turkish Municipality Shelter House, police, and the SOS Children’s orphanage held a special training session on domestic violence for 100 police officers from the Combating Violence against Women Unit.

In November, Meral Akinci, Chair of the Association for Women who Support Living (KAYAD) reported that according to KAYAD’s research, one in every five women surveyed suffered from domestic violence. Akinci added that the survey indicated one in five women suffered from economic abuse in the form of spouses either seizing their salary or applying for a bank loan in their name without their consent.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs, sexual harassment went largely unreported. The NGO Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and noted that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students. The organization reported in March that an international student was raped by her landlord’s friend. The perpetrator allegedly tried to bribe the victim to keep her from reporting the incident to police. Although the victim sought help from local NGOs, as of year’s end, police had not opened an investigation.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of “government” authorities.

Authorities did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. No publicly funded services were available to survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.

Some doctors in the private and public sectors required women to have their husband’s consent to proceed with sterilization, although the law does not require such consent.

According to KAYAD, women living in northern Cyprus did not have free access to contraception, one out of every four women was under pressure from their spouse not to use contraception, and abortion services were not provided at public hospitals upon request.

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break. Some female teachers working at private schools were dismissed from their duties for being pregnant during or at the beginning of the school year.

The “TRNC Constitution” prohibits discrimination. According to the “constitution,” “Every person shall be equal before the ‘constitution’ and the law without any discrimination. No privileges shall be granted to any individual, family, group, or class. The organs and the administrative authorities of the ‘State’ are under an obligation to act in conformity with the principle of equality before the law and not to make any discrimination in their actions.”

Despite the “law,” authorities rarely acted on incidents regarding racial or ethnic discrimination. According to human rights contacts, most of these incidents went unreported in part because victims did not expect authorities to open an investigation.

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 310 Greek Cypriot and 62 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

There is discrimination against Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. They could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area. Maronites living in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or had not been allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

Foreign domestic workers faced discrimination and, at times, violence.

As in previous years, the Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that many foreign workers receive salaries below minimum wage.

There were reports of social and job discrimination against Kurds in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities.

Some of the approximately 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with authorities. Thirty to forty thousand foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The NGO VOIS stated authorities excluded foreign students from receiving food packages that were distributed to citizens during the pandemic. VOIS claimed that authorities ignored foreign students and deprived them of medical and other support during the lockdown and pandemic. VOIS also reported that measures and restrictions, as well as digital vaccine passes were initially only available in Turkish and that dormitories for students who tested COVID-19 were in poor condition, unhygienic, and lacked food services. VOIS stated obtaining support in anything but Turkish at the pandemic hospital, quarantine centers, and COVID-19 hotline was “nearly impossible.”

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “law” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages of minors who are 16 or 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and less than two years apart in age from the victim, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. A cybercrime “law” enacted in July 2020 makes possession or production of child pornography punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

In July police opened an investigation at two private hospitals after receiving information that a young woman had sold her ovaries. Police arrested six persons, including three doctors, a lab technician, and two donors. Police also confiscated documents, computers, and records from the hospitals. According to police reports, two donors sold their ovaries for 3,500 Turkish lira ($380 as of mid-October) each. One of the donors reported the transaction to police after experiencing health concerns. An investigation continued at year’s end.

The “law” protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to social benefits, and prohibits discrimination against them. Authorities did not effectively enforce all parts of the “law.” Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. For example, advocates complained of the absence of accessible infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

The Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported many buildings, sidewalks, and public bathrooms were not accessible to persons with disabilities. The association claimed the “government” had failed to meet the requirement in “law” that 4 percent of public-sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities. In a press statement in May, the chair of the Cyprus Turkish Federation of the Disabled, Dervis Yuceturk, reported there were 660 disabled individuals living in the “TRNC” who were “waiting for employment and support.” Yuceturk stated 800 disabled individuals had been employed under the “Protection, Rehabilitation and Employment Law for the Disabled” and that more than 5,000 disabled individuals have received cash assistance. Yuceturk stated, “We regret that we still have not reached the point we want in terms of employment or assistance. We regret to see that we are still far behind in our fight for a humane life, and that we are far below European standards.”

Children with disabilities attend specific schools that are “state” funded.

Authorities reported that as of August, 260 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” Authorities also reported that as of August, 5,035 persons with disabilities received financial aid from the “government.”

The “law” prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws and access to government services. According to the “criminal code,” it is a minor offense for a civil servant employee to discriminate against any person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.”

While there were no reported cases of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTQI+ community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTQI+ persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association reported LGBTQI+ persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them.

Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. In October 2019 Alberto Fernandez was elected president in elections that local and international observers considered generally free and fair. On November 14, the country held midterm municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all the provinces and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces.

Federal, provincial, and municipal police forces share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of internal security. All federal police forces report to the Ministry of Security, while provincial and municipal forces report to a ministry or secretariat within their jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by federal and provincial officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious government corruption; violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took limited steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights violations and corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is a crime. The penalties range from six months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the ages of the perpetrator and victim, their relationship, the use of violence, and other factors. Most perpetrators received penalties between six and 15 years’ imprisonment. There were anecdotal reports of police or judicial reluctance to act on rape cases; women’s rights advocates alleged the attitudes of police, hospitals, and courts toward survivors of sexual violence sometimes victimized them again, often by forcing them to recount details of their trauma, conflating silence with consent, or admitting as evidence their past sexual history.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse. Survivors may secure protective measures. The laws were generally enforced, and survivors generally had access to protective measures. The law imposes a stricter penalty than murder on those who kill their spouses, partners, or children as a consequence of their gender. According to local NGOs, lack of police and judicial vigilance often led to a lack of protection for victims. The law requires all federal employees to receive training on gender and gender-based violence. The law was enforced, including for cabinet-level officials and the president. In June training on gender and gender-based violence also became a requirement for all persons applying for their first driver’s license.

The National Register of Femicides, maintained by the Supreme Court’s Office of Women, recorded that 287 women died because of domestic or gender-based violence during 2020. As of June 30, the National Ombudsman’s Office reported 137 women had died due to violence. Approximately 18 percent of the victims had previously filed formal complaints.

The ministry operated a 24-hour hotline for victims of gender-based violence and created emergency WhatsApp and email contact channels for victims unable to use the telephone. The Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence provided around-the-clock protection and resources to victims of domestic violence. The office also carried out risk assessments necessary to obtain a restraining order. Public and private institutions offered prevention programs and provided support and treatment for abused women. A national network of shelters included 89 facilities. The law provides for the financial support of children who lost their mothers to gender-based violence; however, many families complained of delays in receiving payment. As of April an estimated 860 children and young adults had received support through the program.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in public spaces and imposes disciplinary or corrective measures. In some jurisdictions, such as the city of Buenos Aires, sexual harassment could lead to the abuser’s dismissal, whereas in others, such as Santa Fe Province, the maximum penalty is five days in prison. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in employment more broadly.

In December 2020 a new law entered into force that condemns harassment, especially sexual harassment, in work environments, both in the public and private sectors. This law effectively follows the precepts of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

With the slogan “End Forced Sterilizations,” several human rights organizations launched a campaign in October 2020 to change a 2006 law they argued had led to the sterilizations of many persons with disabilities without their consent. The law was written to provide all citizens with access to certain surgical contraceptive measures but allows legal representatives to provide consent for any individual declared legally incompetent. The organizations argued that this loophole, along with broad societal acceptance of forced sterilizations of individuals with disabilities, had led to extensive use of the practice.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services, information, and contraception was generally available, although access could be limited for indigenous or rural populations. Local media reported that indigenous pregnant women in Formosa Province were being forcibly taken to hospitals to induce their labor and have cesarean sections performed because of COVID-19 protocols. In April the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution suspending these protocols while an investigation could be conducted. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights lifted the commission’s measures on July 11, noting that at least five of the seven women had given birth and that their representatives had yet to provide sufficient proof of their allegations. Legal representatives supporting the women said they were partly unable to gather testimony and evidence because witnesses were afraid of reprisals from state and national authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.

In August the National Directorate of Sexual and Reproductive Health reported that authorities in Salta Province were unable to meet demand for health-care services, noting that 25 percent of the calls they received from Salta on their national hotline represented women and girls who were unable to access abortions in due time and form. In addition, social and cultural barriers adversely affected access. There were reports that provincial health-care providers and facilities, especially in remote and conservative regions, intentionally delayed and obstructed access to abortion. In December 2020 congress legalized abortion up to the 14th week of gestation. After this period the law permits medical professionals to perform abortions only in the case of rape or danger to the life of the mother.

Discrimination: The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men and prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender. The government generally enforced the law, although discrimination remained a persistent and pervasive problem in society.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Women trained judges, secretaries, and clerks to handle court cases related to gender problems and to provide equal access for women to positions in the court system. The office also trained judges, prosecutors, judicial staff, and law enforcement agents to increase awareness of gender-related crimes and develop techniques to address gender-related cases and victims.

Women are not able to work in all the same industries as men; there are restrictions on their employment in the mining, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. There are also restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous.

The law prohibits any type of discrimination based on race, social conditions, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity group and subscribes to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Groups representing indigenous and afrodescendant peoples reported that their communities received discriminatory treatment from police and security forces. A 2019 report by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent noted that “the experiences of people of African descent with law enforcement indicate the prevalence of structural discrimination. As reported by civil society, racial profiling of Afro-Argentines, persons of African descent, and Africans was prevalent among law enforcement agents.”

The government undertook actions to raise the profile of citizens of African descent and to address concerns. On June 24, it inaugurated the Federal Advisory Council of the Afro-Argentine Community. On November 1, the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI) convened a national meeting of Afro-Argentine community organizations.

Through INADI the government enforces the law by processing public complaints, formally denouncing violations in court, and creating public programs to address discrimination. Domestic NGOs generally agreed that INADI was ineffective in providing meaningful solutions to their concerns.

The constitution recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of indigenous peoples and states that congress shall protect their right to bilingual education, recognize their communities and the communal ownership of their ancestral lands, and allow for their participation in the management of their natural resources.

A 2020 study conducted by researchers from eight universities examined the situation of 27 indigenous groups and found that indigenous persons were more likely to be employed informally than the general public (70 percent, compared with 44 percent). The study noted that indigenous persons in rural areas often could not access social service programs and that their communities lacked basic infrastructure, including clean water.

The lack of trained teachers hampered government efforts to offer bilingual education opportunities to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples were not fully consulted in the management of their lands or natural resources, particularly lithium, in part because responsibility for implementing the law is delegated to the 23 provinces, the constitutions of only 11 of which recognize indigenous rights.

In August members of several Mapuche communities protested contamination and fracking in the Vaca Muerta region of Neuquen Province, demonstrating in front of the regional offices of the state oil company and blocking roads that provided access to key oil-producing zones. Protesters noted their communities lacked access to clean water while the oil companies used large quantities in their fracking operations.

Projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which they depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered the health and welfare of indigenous communities. Conflict occurred when authorities evicted indigenous peoples from ancestral lands then in private ownership.

Children

Birth Registration: The government provides universal birth registration, and citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Parents have 40 days to register births, and the state has an additional 20 days to do so. The Ministry of Interior and Transportation may issue birth certificates to children younger than age 12 whose births were not previously registered.

Child Abuse: By law sexual abuse of a child is a punishable offense, with sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Physical harm to a child is punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Child abuse was common; the Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence reported that approximately 30 percent of the complaints it received between January and March involved children. The government maintained a 24-hour hotline staffed by professional child psychologists for free consultations and advice.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Children older than age 16 are legally allowed to marry if they have parental permission. Children younger than 16 are required to obtain judicial authorization in addition to parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. Authorities generally enforced the law; however, sexual exploitation of children, including in prostitution, was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 13, but there are heightened protections for children ages 13 to 16. A statutory rape law provides for penalties ranging from six months to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and other factors.

In May, after numerous delays since June 2020, a trial began for two nuns and seven former employees of a group of schools for hearing-impaired children, the Antonio Provolo Institutes. A reported 67 students claimed abuses between 1983 and 2002. As of November, the trial continued.

The law prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography, with penalties ranging from six months to four years in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense.

Prosecutors from the nationwide Point of Contact Network against Child Pornography on the Internet pursued cases of internet child pornography. The city of Buenos Aires Public Ministry’s Judicial Investigative Bureau served as the primary point of contact for receiving and distributing child pornography leads from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to prosecutors and police forces across the country.

In June authorities conducted a series of 71 raids nationwide, arresting 31 individuals for suspected involvement in the distribution of child pornography. The raids formed part of a multinational effort and coincided with arrests in Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, and the United States.

In August federal police with investigative support arrested a man in Junin, Buenos Aires Province, for distributing child pornography.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Estimates of the size of the Jewish community varied, but the most recent data available, published by the Berman Jewish Databank, estimated the population at 180,000 in 2019. Sporadic acts of anti-Semitic discrimination and vandalism continued. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA) recorded 507 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2020, compared with 918 in 2019, a 45 percent decrease. DAIA attributed the drop, especially in acts of physical violence, to COVID-19 lockdowns and the reduced frequency of encounters between Jewish persons and individuals holding anti-Semitic sentiments. The most commonly reported anti-Semitic incidents were slurs posted on various websites, often in relation to news articles. Other incidents included graffiti and verbal slurs.

In June the Israeli ambassador remarked during a panel at the College of Law at La Plata that Argentina was not fulfilling its trade obligations by restricting shipments of meat to Israel. In response, owner of a chain of butcher shops and former politician Alberto Samid tweeted that “the best that could happen is that the Jews no longer buy meat from us… the world does not want to sell them anything. They are a disaster as clients.”

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

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced the law, but there were scattered reports of discrimination. Various government agencies offered a variety of services and programs to individuals with disabilities, including community-based rehabilitation programs, sports and recreation facilities, braille translation services, legal services, and a variety of pensions and subsidies. The law also mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities. The city continued to install new elevators and escalators and to repair existing ones.

While the federal government has protective laws, many provinces had not adopted such laws and had no mechanisms to ensure enforcement. An employment quota law reserves 4 percent of federal government jobs for persons with disabilities.

In August President Fernandez and the National Disability Agency launched the ACCESS Plan to construct more accessible cities and ensure that persons with disabilities could access government services. The initiative also aims to restore government payments for persons with disabilities who were deemed ineligible in prior years, and to expand the eligibility criteria. Under these new criteria, 110,000 newly identified persons with disabilities would qualify for government assistance, according to administration estimates.

The National Observatory of Hate Crimes registered 69 official complaints of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals and six killings in the first half of 2020. The numbers were comparable with the same period in 2019.

National antidiscrimination laws do not specifically include the terms “sexual orientation or gender identity” as protected grounds, only “sex.” There was no reported official discrimination, however, based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education. There were some cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in access to health care. Officials from the Ministry of Women, as well as media and NGOs, reported cases of discrimination, violence, and police brutality toward LGBTQI+ individuals, especially transgender persons.

In September 2020 President Fernandez decreed that at least 1 percent of the positions in public administration must be held by transvestites, transsexuals, and transgender persons. The Senate implemented a similar decree to regulate its own hiring practices.

In June the Senate passed a law providing access to formal employment for transvestites as well as transgender and transexual individuals. The law provides the same legal protections and privileges for transgender persons in the workplace as for cisgender persons, such as paid vacation and retirement provisions.

On July 21, the government formally recognized nonbinary identities through a presidential decree. The decree allows individuals to list an “X” for gender on national identity documents.

Armenia

Executive Summary

Armenia’s constitution provides for a parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (parliament). The prime minister, elected by parliament, heads the government; the president, also elected by parliament, largely performs a ceremonial role. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 54 percent of the vote and an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament in snap elections held on June 20. According to the October 27 final assessment of the international election observation mission under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, voters were provided with a broad range of options, the elections were generally well managed, and contestants were able to campaign freely. The elections, however, were also characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric. The observation mission noted that “high levels of harsh, intolerant, inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric in the period leading up to election day tainted the debate.” Other shortcomings included incidents of pressure to attend campaign events, allegations of vote buying, blurring of the line between the ruling party and state, alleged misuse of administrative resources, inadequate campaign finance provisions, and the narrow standing allowed for submitting electoral complaints.

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The Anticorruption Committee, established on October 23, replaced the Special Investigative Service as an independent agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving alleged corruption by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into general civilian and military criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. The National Security Service and police chiefs report directly to the prime minister and are appointed by the president upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The cabinet appoints the head of the Investigative Committee upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The government appoints the head of the Anticorruption Committee based on a short-list produced by a special commission in charge of conducting a competitive selection process. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

A ceasefire in November 2020 halted 44 days of intensive fighting involving Armenia, Armenia-supported separatists, and Azerbaijan. Sporadic incidents of violence along the undelimited international border between the two countries and some other areas during the year resulted in casualties and detentions. There were credible reports that ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces engaged in unlawful killings, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during, and in some cases after, the November 2020 fighting. Complaints submitted by Armenia and Azerbaijan to the European Court of Human Rights accusing each other of committing atrocities during the fighting in fall 2020 and summer 2016 awaited the court’s ruling. Since 1995 the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of international mediation by the cochairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (the United States, France, and Russia).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture by members of the security forces; harsh prison conditions; serious problems with judicial independence along with arbitrary or selective detentions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including torture and other physical abuse; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including the criminalization of insults; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting civil society figures and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took only limited steps to investigate and punish alleged abuses by former and current government officials and law enforcement authorities. A trial into the culpability of former high-ranking government officials surrounding events that led to the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers during postelection protests in 2008 collapsed after the Constitutional Court invalidated the criminal code article underpinning the case. As of year’s end, parliament had not passed legislation establishing a fact-finding commission on human rights abuses. The government took steps to establish new mechanisms to investigate and punish corruption crimes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years; general rape statutes apply to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence and carried various sentences depending on the charge (murder, battery, light battery, rape, etc.). Overall, law enforcement bodies did not effectively investigate or prosecute allegations of domestic violence. Although police responded to domestic violence cases, few were successfully prosecuted. Domestic violence against women was widespread. For example on August 11, a 33-year-old Yerevan resident reportedly went to his former wife’s residence and killed her with a knife. According to media reports, he then turned himself in at the Shengavit Police Department and confessed to the crime. He was arrested on suspicion of murder. According to some officials, the absence of a definition of domestic violence in the criminal code hampered their ability to fight it.

In March 2020 the Ministry of Justice launched a two-year campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence and encourage the public to call police to report signs of domestic violence. The campaign included public service announcements, two social experiments (to see if individuals would react to signs of domestic violence and call for help), posters, and a social media campaign that reached more than 4.2 million viewers.

Narrow definitions in the law against family violence prevented abuse survivors who were not married or in common-law relationships with their partners from receiving protection and support under the law. The new criminal code adopted on May 5 and scheduled to enter into force in July 2022 would introduce the concept of violence by an intimate partner but does not define domestic violence. According to the NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, while the law addresses prevention of domestic violence and protection of victims, there are no provisions on the punishment of abusers. During the year the government continued to support two domestic violence survivor support centers, available to women from throughout the country.

According to the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, the law’s failure to include lack of consent in definitions of sexual violence crimes left many coerced sexual acts unpunished. There were reports that police, especially outside Yerevan, were reluctant to act in cases of sexual and domestic violence and discouraged women from filing complaints. According to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center NGO, the investigation of sexual violence cases did not differ from the investigation of any other criminal case in terms of secrecy, investigator sensitivity, or number of interrogations, and survivors were obliged to testify or otherwise participate in investigations multiple times, including in face-to-face encounters with their abusers. In reports on standard forensic examinations into alleged rape, the expert reportedly addressed whether the subject was a virgin. Most domestic violence cases were considered by law as offenses of low or medium seriousness, and the government did not hire enough female police officers and investigators for fieldwork to address these crimes appropriately.

According to the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, gaps in legislation and improper enforcement of the law made it difficult for domestic violence survivors to access services. Police continued to offer warnings to abusers without taking any measures of protecting the survivor. Police may grant emergency protective orders, for up to 20 days, when one member of a family has committed violence against another and there a reasonable belief of imminent risk of repeated violence; individuals must apply to a court for longer-term protective orders. Violations of emergency protective orders and court protective orders are not punishable. While the law provides that emergency orders may be given for up to 20 days, in practice there were cases where restrictive orders were issued for as little as one day. Similarly, the law provides that protective orders should be issued within 10 working days, but often courts took one or two months to issue them.

In December 2020, after a three-year trial, the court sentenced Vladik Martirosyan to 19 years in prison for attacking his former wife, Taguhi Mansuryan, and her parents with an axe in 2016. Mansuryan’s mother died as a result of the attack, while Mansuryan and her father were gravely injured. The Coalition to Stop Violence against Women expressed its hope that, following years of light sentencing of domestic violence perpetrators, the sentence could be a turning point in achieving justice for victims.

As a result of the intensive fall 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, approximately 100,000 persons were displaced into Armenia, an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 of whom were expected to remain in the country permanently, the majority of them women and girls. The fighting exacerbated the country’s deeply rooted gender inequities. Women and girls directly impacted by the fighting, including women and girls displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and family members of those who were killed, injured, or missing in the fighting, were among the most vulnerable groups and were at imminent risk of further marginalization, exploitation, and gender-based violence.

Activists and NGOs that assisted victims of domestic violence or promoted gender equality were frequent targets of hate speech and criticized for allegedly breaking up “Armenian traditional families” and spreading “Western values.”

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not cover all the elements of sexual harassment. The law considers “sexual harassment” as a form of gender-based discrimination, including acts of a sexual nature having a verbal or physical manifestation or any situation aimed at humiliating dignity, intimidation, hostility, or degradation. It does not include reference to quid pro quo elements, such as demands that an individual agree to a sexual demand to receive a benefit at work or in another context. The labor code does not have any reference to sexual harassment, and there is no specific law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace or providing criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace and the political arena was widespread and was not adequately addressed by the government. There is no confidential and secure system for submitting complaints on sexual harassment in the workplace, a taboo topic that was not covered in government awareness-raising campaigns or the Gender Equality Strategy and Plan of Actions for 2019-2023.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

In its June submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW), two NGOs, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, reported a lack of access to appropriate and safe sexual and reproductive health-care services for women from marginalized groups. The state did not ensure accessibility of health services in remote rural areas, including emergency gynecological care, and did not ensure that health workers received adequate and continuing training on sexual and reproductive health practices with special attention to marginalized groups of women, including lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women; women with HIV; and Yezidi women. According to a different WRC report, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall 2020 fighting, women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services worsened, especially for those in vulnerable groups and women with disabilities.

Physical barriers, a lack of accessible information and communication, inaccessible training or treatment equipment, and health-care professionals who lacked relevant knowledge limited the access of women with disabilities – especially those in the rural areas – to health services, including sexual and reproductive health-care services. There were no sign language interpreters in medical institutions, and women therefore had to find a corresponding specialist, which was an expensive service. Persons with hearing and visual disabilities and persons with intellectual disabilities had no access to alternative formats for health-care-related information. Cultural barriers continued to impact access to sexual and reproductive health services. There were no government policies preventing individuals’ ability to be informed and access sexual and reproductive health services.

Emergency healthcare was available to manage any complications resulting from abortion. There were no government programs to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status in all spheres, but discrimination based on gender was a problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation, employment, and pay. The law does not prohibit discrimination in access to credit based on sex.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: Despite legislative changes banning such practices and related public-awareness campaigns, data on newborns continued to indicate a skewed sex ratio at birth. According to the Statistical Committee of Armenia, the boy-to-girl ratio at birth in 2020 was 110 to 100. Women’s rights groups considered gender-biased sex selection practices as part of a broader problem of gender inequality in the country.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, skin color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, political opinion, belonging to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances. The criminal code prohibits unequal treatment of persons based on the above grounds, including ethnic origin, if such treatment causes damage to human rights and the lawful interests of a person, and views the same act committed by officials as an aggravating circumstance.

Government enforcement of the law was uneven. For example, while authorities investigated more than 100 criminal cases related to alleged violence or harassment by Azerbaijanis against Armenians, the government failed to investigate allegations regarding human rights abuses against Yezidis. Instead, the government charged Yezidi activist Sashik Sultanyan with inciting hatred for comments he made raising human rights concerns regarding the treatment of the Yezidi community (see section 5). Individual Yezidis periodically reported facing discrimination, including in cases involving property disputes. There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons of color and graffiti using derogatory terms for them.

Following the border closure between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1991, inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech became increasingly prevalent, particularly as an entire generation grew up without interactions with the other side. Reports of anti-Armenian hate speech in Azerbaijan fueled intolerance and hatred of Azerbaijanis within Armenia.

On December 7, the International Court of Justice issued provisional measures against both Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding claims and counterclaims of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The court ruled that Armenia “shall…take all necessary measures to prevent incitement and promotion of racial hatred, including by organizations and private persons in its territory, targeted at persons of Azerbaijani national or ethnic origin.” The court also ruled that both countries “shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve.” Both countries were also directed to “take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination” against the other (also see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Azerbaijan).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. A centralized system generated a medical certificate of birth to make avoidance of birth registration almost impossible. A low percentage of births were registered in Yezidi and Kurdish communities practicing homebirths.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade 12, in practice it was not universal: participation, completion, and dropout rates of students varied based their socioeconomic status and place of residence. These inequalities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of populations displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh into the country. Schools in host communities struggled to handle children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, many of whom transferred between multiple schools during the year.

Enrollment and attendance rates for children from ethnic minority groups, in particular Yezidis, Kurds, and Molokans, were significantly lower than average, and dropout rates after the ninth grade were higher. Only a few schools throughout the country offered Yezidi, Assyrian, Kurdish, or Greek language classes at the primary and secondary level. These classes were not part of the formal academic curriculum and were not regulated. Yezidi parents continued to complain that the classes did not adhere to any standards and were largely ineffective.

According to a 2019 NGO report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, most Yezidi children grew up speaking their native tongue and had little or no command of Armenian upon entering schools. The absence of preschool educational services in most Yezidi villages created problems for Yezidi children, who struggled in school and fell behind their Armenian-speaking classmates.

As of May 31, UNHCR reported that 34,168 persons recently displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh were living in the country in a refugee-like situation. In July the local Institute of Public Policy presented a report assessing the education and protection needs of displaced children, who made up almost 40 percent of the displaced population. According to the report, the arrival of displaced children presented a variety of problems, including inadequate assessment of children’s educational needs, unclear data on children no longer in school, as well as children who had long-term gaps in their education. According to the report, multiple moves accompanied by school transfers exacerbated the stress and anxiety suffered by displaced children and hindered their inclusion in the education system.

The report noted that the attitude of teachers and local children and their parents, which included both negative and extremely positive stereotypes, differentiated displaced children and hindered their integration into the school environment. Neither host communities nor schools conducted effective, coordinated efforts to help displaced children adapt to their new environment. Children with special educational needs encountered more serious difficulties during the adaptation process. According to the report, as of July the problem of adapting to the new environment was largely left to members of the displaced community themselves without systematic professional support by authorities in the areas of education and psychological counseling.

Child Abuse: The Law on Child’s Rights prohibits abuse, and the criminal code prescribes punishments for such abuse.

The burden of stress caused by the 2020 fighting and the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risk of violence against children, especially emotional abuse and neglect, as well as sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. State-run services had limited capacity and resources for protection and improvement of mental health and psychosocial well-being of children and their caregivers.

According to observers the government prioritized combatting violence against children and took steps to address it, although violence against children continued to be reported and gaps in both legislation and practice remained. In February for example, media outlets reported the case of an 18-month-old toddler who died of injuries as a result of continued beatings by his stepfather, mother, and grandmother.

The government’s National Strategy for Human Rights Protection for 2020-22 and action plan included actions to prevent family-based violence against children, including penalization of family-based violence, establishment of support centers for victims of family-based violence, and an explicit prohibition of corporal punishment. Actions during the year included the training of 125 military officers on human rights, and the training of 149 police officers on issues related to domestic violence and violence against women. The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs ordered social-psychological care for individuals who had been flagged in cases related to violence against elderly persons with disabilities. Awareness-raising activities were conducted on a range of issues, such as promoting awareness of the rights of persons with mental health problems through new posters in all of the country’s psychiatric institutions. A commission was established to identify problems and help further develop the Joint Social Service System, launched in September 2020, to include integrated social services to vulnerable families. In accordance with the action plan, a variety of legal amendments were drafted during the year on issues ranging from ensuring children’s rights to labor rights.

According to observers, psychological and physical violence were widely used to discipline both boys and girls, and there was a lack of state supported positive parenting programs. Indirect data showed that peer-to-peer violence was common in schools, with no mechanisms in place to address it. Gender inequality and stereotyping also contributed to violence against both girls and boys and created barriers to access to justice for victims. Complex regulations on referrals and reporting within the child protection system, together with an unclear division of duties and responsibilities within the system, resulted in ineffective responses to violence against children. Legislation to implement the 2017 law on prevention of family violence had not been adopted by year’s end.

According to observers, two-thirds of the sexual crimes in the country were against minors. In 2020 the Investigative Committee examined 328 crimes against children, almost a quarter of which involved sexual violence. Observers believed the incidence of sexual violence was higher, since the strong stigma around such violence discouraged reporting by victims and their families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although an individual may marry at 17 with the consent of the legal guardian or at 16 with the consent of a legal guardian, provided the marriage partner is at least 18. Early marriage of girls was reportedly widespread within Yezidi communities. Reports indicated some girls left school either as a consequence of early marriage or to avoid abduction and forced marriage. The government did not record the number of early marriages. According to the Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s 2020 report Issues Related to the Rights and Opportunities of Yezidi Girls Residing in Armenia, the government did not have procedures for identifying forced marriages or awareness or prevention programs related to early marriage. According to the government, it launched awareness-raising programs.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children and provides for prison sentences of seven to 15 years for conviction of violations. Conviction for child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. In June 2020 the government established a referral mechanism for child victims of trafficking and exploitation.

According to NGOs, although official statistics showed relatively few cases of sexual exploitation and sale of children, there were numerous undetected and unreported cases caused by gaps in legislation, training, awareness raising, detection, and reporting.

Institutionalized Children: On August 4, the Ombudsperson’s Office reported on problems it observed during a July 27 visit to the Mari Izmirlyan orphanage for children with disabilities. According to the office, the students’ care, as well as their leisure and living conditions, violated the dignity of children. Among other problems, the office reported overcrowded conditions that interfered with children’s eating, sleeping, and leisure and led to tension and arguments between residents. The office also found problems with the children’s education. At the time of the visit, 47 of the institution’s students were officially attending general and special educational institutions, while 38 were receiving home schooling inside the orphanage. Private conversations with the children revealed that some of those enrolled in public schools were afraid of stigma and discrimination and did not attend classes, while home schooling was nominal. There was a lack of nurses and staff to care for the residents.

In his annual 2020 report, the ombudsperson also raised the problem of children with disabilities who remained in orphanages after turning 18 because they had not acquired the skills for independent living. Government programs to address the problem, e.g., provision of apartments to graduates from orphanages, were piecemeal and did not offer systemic solutions.

The government continued to prioritize deinstitutionalization of childcare and increasing family-based care. In April 2020 the government approved the Comprehensive Program on Implementation of the Right of the Child to Live in a Family and of the Right to Harmonious Development with a corresponding action plan to implement the program for 2020-2023. Its implementation was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Some of population displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh resided in state-run institutions.

The number of children with disabilities in residential and educational institutions remained high, and children with disabilities continued to be less able to access community-based and family-type care options. Nonresidential services for children with disabilities and expansion and accessibility for children and families remained a government priority.

Awareness raising and capacity building for emergency foster care was conducted in Gegharkunik, Syunik, and Vayots Dzor regions. Authorities earmarked funds for approximately 100 children in foster families during the year.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population at between 500 and 1,000 persons. Prior to fall 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, no anti-Semitic acts had been reported, although some anti-Semitic comments appeared in social media, denigrating government representatives and activists. The government did not condemn such anti-Semitic comments.

The fall 2020 fighting contributed to a rise in anti-Semitism, including the number of anti-Semitic social media posts, according to members of the Jewish community and other observers, who largely attributed the trend to Azerbaijan’s use of Israeli-origin weapons during the fighting. As of September some members of the Jewish community continued to report anti-Semitic comments directed at them, often on public transport.

On February 12, the Hebrew and Armenian sides of Yerevan’s Holocaust and Genocide Memorial were defaced for the third time in five months. In contrast to similar incidents in 2020, government officials quickly criticized the act, restored the monument, and arrested the suspected vandal. According to the prosecutor’s office, the case was dropped on March 31 since the perpetrator was a first-time offender who voluntarily surrendered to police, cooperated with the investigation, and showed remorse.

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

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. On May 5, parliament adopted a law on the rights of persons with disabilities that expands the definition of disability and takes a rights-based approach. According to Human Rights Watch, the law provides for “accessibility, independent living, access to justice, and reasonable accommodation…and bans disability-based discrimination and treats refusal to provide reasonable accommodation as discrimination. The law also allows NGOs to file antidiscrimination lawsuits on behalf of persons with disabilities who, due to their health or other circumstances, cannot represent themselves in person before a court.” Discrimination against persons with disabilities remained a widespread problem, however.

The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those that are renovated, including schools, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Very few buildings or other facilities were accessible, even if newly constructed or renovated. Many public buildings, including schools and kindergartens, were inaccessible. Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

The members of the Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reforms expressed concern on the slow pace of government efforts to deinstitutionalize persons with disabilities and the government’s focusing its resources on renovating buildings for institutions for children and persons with mental health disabilities instead of working to ensure that older persons and persons with disabilities were able to live independently in their communities.

On July 26, the ombudsperson issued a statement expressing grave concern regarding the involuntary treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals. According to the statement, in all cases monitored by the Ombudsperson’s Office, there were no legal grounds for initiating involuntary treatment in any of the medical histories of the individuals subjected to treatment. Instead of properly securing informed consent for hospitalization or treatment, the hospital submitted standard applications to the court without proper justification for hospitalization in each case. Of particular concern, over time a group of patients who had initially been treated “voluntarily” under unexplained circumstances had all been designated “extremely dangerous to their surroundings,” although there were no records to substantiate this finding in their files. According to the ombudsperson, judges did not question submissions for involuntary hospitalization and based their rulings on submissions without substantiating facts. Judges appeared to issue nearly identical decisions for different individuals, suggesting the rulings were formulaic.

On August 5, in a separate statement, the ombudsperson condemned court delays in ruling on ending involuntary treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals, calling the delays artificial. He noted that as a result of delays, persons were deprived of their liberty for days in a hospital as they awaited court action.

Although the law on general education provides for a transition from general education to inclusive education for children with disabilities by 2025, authorities continued to follow practices that were fragmented and discriminatory and did not lead to an extensive and sustainable shift in the education system or social norms. Many NGOs continued to report that mainstream schools were not physically accessible for children with disabilities, lacked accessible learning materials, and made limited effort to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities. Children with hearing and visual disabilities continued to be educated in separate institutions, while public schools lacked Braille textbooks, other necessary technical equipment, and relevant specialists. Higher postgraduate and professional education continued to be inaccessible for students with disabilities.

Persons with all types of disabilities continued to experience discrimination in every sphere, including access to health care, social and psychological rehabilitation, education, transportation, communication, employment, social protection, cultural events, and use of the internet. Lack of access to information and communications was a particularly significant problem for persons with sensory disabilities. Women with disabilities faced further discrimination, including in social acceptance and access to health and reproductive care, employment, and education.

The Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reforms NGO documented cases in which the privacy rights of persons with disabilities were violated. In some such cases, the health information of individuals with disabilities was leaked, which was then used by opponents to publicly ridicule them. Information on the health conditions of public figures was periodically used by various public groups to attempt to demean their dignity and tarnish their business reputations, according to the coalition. The NGO assessed that this atmosphere discouraged the participation of persons with disabilities in public life.

Inaccessible public buildings often served as polling stations during elections, preventing persons with disabilities from voting. According to the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission to the June 20 parliamentary elections, approximately 67 percent of polling stations were not accessible for persons with physical disabilities and in 32 percent, the layout was not suitable for such voters.

According to the constitution persons who have been declared by the court as having no active legal capacity do not have the right to vote or be elected. In December 2020 parliament amended the law on political parties to provide that all persons older than 18 have the right to become members of political parties, lifting the restriction on standing for election.

According to human rights groups, persons regarded as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, such as sex workers (including transgender sex workers) and drug users, faced discrimination and violence from society as well as mistreatment by police. Such discrimination was especially noticeable when HIV-positive persons sought medical care. Women with HIV/AIDS reported discriminatory treatment by health personnel.

There were isolated reports that government agents perpetrated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On March 13, conscript H. A. applied to the NGO New Generation for assistance, stating his fellow servicemen began harassing him after learning of his sexual orientation. He was subsequently moved to another military unit, where another conflict arose due to his orientation. He alleged that after learning of his sexual orientation, acting chief of regional military police G. L. insulted him, then loaded his pistol and shot twice at the left and right sides of his feet. G. L. then aimed the loaded pistol at H. A.’s forehead, threatening to kill him, and hit H. A. with the handle of the pistol, fracturing his nose and teeth. Later that day, H. A. was moved to the Stepanakert military police department where G. L. and several other officials allegedly beat him with wooden clubs causing bodily injuries. H. A. was left in a cell for several days. He reported the abuse only after he was moved to another military unit. Authorities opened a criminal case which was ongoing by the end of the year.

Human rights organizations reported an overall increase in the number of societal attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. In most cases there was no official action to investigate or punish the perpetrators. The NGO Pink Armenia documented 28 cases of human rights violations from January 2020 to August, including 12 incidents of domestic violence. The victims reported the cases to police in only seven cases, three of which were dismissed. LGBTQI+ individuals were reluctant to report cases to law enforcement due to lack of trust that they would be properly examined and investigated and that the offenders would be punished. In July for example, New Generation reported that a college student from the LGBTQI+ community had been beaten by his classmates. The physical abuse was preceded by repeated insults related to his sexual orientation or gender identity. The victim reported the assault to police, but authorities did not open a criminal case.

Cases of violence against transgender women continued during the year. On June 15, New Generation reported that a transgender woman walking with friends in Yerevan was subjected to insults by a group of persons due to their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The verbal attacks were followed by a physical assault, with the assailants kicking and dragging the victims. The victims declined to report the assault to police. The NGO Right Side reported that on September 4, at approximately 3:30 a.m. in Yerevan, an unknown person approached transgender woman G. K. and her friend, also a transgender woman, in front of the municipal government office and threatened that if G. K. did not have sex with him, he would beat and stab her. G. K. asked him to leave them alone, but the assailant forced her to go with him. Seeing no alternative, G. K. asked her friend to immediately seek assistance from law enforcement, after which the perpetrator stabbed her on the leg and shoulder. G. K. managed to escape and went to the Arabkir police station to report the assault. According to G. K., police subjected her to ridicule but did nothing to find the perpetrator.

On February 3, a trial court Yerevan issued a verdict in a 2018 case in which an assailant attacked and set fire to the apartment of a transgender sex worker after learning her identity. The court sentenced the assailant under expedited proceedings, despite the victim’s objection, as such proceedings entail lesser sentences, to three and one-half years in prison on charges of inflicting grave bodily injury. The victim believed this punishment did not fit the crime. Subsequently, the court applied a 2018 amnesty provision that released the assailant from serving any time.

According to Pink Armenia, in February the investigation body in the Syunik region closed the case and dropped charges against residents of Shurnukh village who attacked LGBTQI+ activists in 2018, due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. In August 2020 the criminal court of appeals ruled that investigators had not carried out a proper investigation of the attack and had not taken into consideration the psychological suffering of the victims and discriminatory nature of the crime, ordering that the case be reopened.

Law enforcement bodies declined to prosecute a number of cases in which perpetrators called for violence and attempted to “justify” violence against LGBTQI+ persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Antidiscrimination laws do not extend protections to LGBTQI + persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTQI+ community. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including prospects for employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Calls for violence against LGBTQI + individuals escalated after the fighting in fall 2020 and in advance of the June parliamentary elections. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

Openly gay men are exempt from military service. An exemption, however, requires a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual has a mental disorder; this information appears in the individual’s personal identification documents and is an obstacle to employment and obtaining a driver’s license. Gay men who served in the army reportedly faced physical and psychological abuse as well as blackmail by fellow soldiers and the command.

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (federal police), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The federal police enforce national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had effective mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

According to a 2020 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. The Institute of Criminology released a paper in February that analyzed the prevalence of domestic violence against women during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research showed that 4.2 percent of women had experienced physical violence from a cohabiting partner, while 5.8 percent had experienced coercive control. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with a long-term restrictive health condition, women from non-English speaking backgrounds, and younger women were more likely to experience physical or sexual violence or coercive control in the three months prior to the survey.

Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services, including menstrual health- and hygiene-related products, than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized gender pay gap (see section 7.d.).

It is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her race, color, descent, national origin or ethnic origin, or immigrant status. The law protects individuals from racial discrimination in many areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places. The law also makes racial hatred unlawful. The government effectively enforced the law.

Government programs to mitigate factors contributing to racial discrimination included the Closing the Gap framework launched in 2008 and the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap, a revised framework for the Closing the Gap strategy that included 16 new targets. In March the government launched a National Anti-Racism Framework, which seeks to outline a coordinated, shared vision to tackle racism and promote racial equality.

Of 2,307 complaints received by the Human Rights Commission in 2019-20 (the most recent data available), 17 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to the provision of goods and services (37 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination related to employment (19 percent). Of these racial complaints, 1 percent related to access to places and facilities.

Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous peoples and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The National Indigenous Australians Agency has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

In August the prime minister announced Australian dollars AU$379 million ($280 million) for reparations to indigenous individuals whom various bodies – including police, churches, and welfare institutions – forcibly removed from their families when they were children in the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, or Jervis Bay Territory.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country, and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources, and in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the national government directly administered indigenous communities, including some policing powers, education, healthcare, etc., and has several programs that provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constitute 29 percent of all prisoners. The imprisonment rate for indigenous adults in 2019 was 12 times that for others. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Figures from parliament note that indigenous youth were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. According to a 2020 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, just under half of all the juveniles detained were indigenous, and indigenous youths ages 10-17 were 17 times more likely than non‑indigenous youths to be in detention.

The Human Rights Commission has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Children

The Law Council of Australia; a conglomeration of legal, medical, and social justice organizations called Raise the Age Alliance; and other civil society groups campaigned for all governmental jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. The age of responsibility is set independently by federal, state, and territory governments.

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life in the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

The rate of indigenous children removed from their families for legal or safety reasons was nearly 10 times greater than that for the nonindigenous.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons aged 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and was effectively enforced.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than age 16 and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is a substantial fine and 15 years’ imprisonment. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed, and the maximum penalty for persistent sexual abuse of a child outside the country is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. In 73 remote communities, these measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on how welfare recipients could receive and spend payments, the linkage of support payments to school attendance, and required medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory. Police received authority to enter homes and vehicles without a warrant to enforce the intervention. Public reaction to the intervention was mixed, with some indigenous activists asserting there was inadequate consultation with affected communities, that the policies lacked evidentiary substantiation, that the intervention aimed to roll back indigenous land rights, and that the measures were racially discriminatory, because nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported the first decrease in anti-Semitic incidents since 2015; however, incidents categorized as “serious” rose significantly. These incidents included direct verbal abuse, threats, harassment, and physical assaults. Media reported that persons in the country posted comments and shared various images online portraying the coronavirus as a Jew and accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus. In August antisemitic content surfaced online after some members of the Orthodox Jewish community attended an illegal engagement party during a pandemic lockdown. Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews publicly condemned the anti-Semitism.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The disability discrimination commissioner of the Human Rights Commission promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for commission mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination. The government effectively enforced the law.

Children with disabilities generally attended school. The government provided funding for early intervention and treatment services and cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities may access health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others.

According to government sources, approximately half of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with approximately 80 percent of all working-age persons.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

In February Victoria passed a law prohibiting “practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” joining other jurisdictions including the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland in outlawing so-called “conversion therapy.”

Transgender adolescents who seek certain treatments including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery are required to obtain either parental consent or court authorization. Three states – New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia – require surgery or medical treatment as a prerequisite for changing an individual’s gender identity on their birth certificate. Other identity documents issued by federal, state, and territory governments (including passports) do not have this prerequisite. In November, the Australian Medical Association expressed the view that no person, including intersex persons, should be subjected to medical procedures that modify sex characteristics without their informed consent.

Legal protections against discrimination for LGBTQI+ persons generally include exemptions for religious entities. In December Victoria passed a law removing exemptions that previously allowed religious schools to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and other attributes. Several Australian states and territories have laws protecting LGBTQI+ persons against hate speech. Several have laws that require courts to consider whether a crime was motivated by hatred towards LGBTQI+ persons when sentencing an offender.

Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports or allegations of: the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; and violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment; domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. The government generally enforced the law, and law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was generally effective. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters.

Under the law, the government provides psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There are no legal barriers or government policies that adversely affected access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of cases of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit and owning or managing businesses or property. Women were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination are in place, and the government enforced them effectively. The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. (See section 2.a.)

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 443 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, up from 314 in the previous year.

In July the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 21, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.

The NGO ZARA, which operated a hotline for victims of racist incidents, reported receiving 3,039 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, up from 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that 2,148 of the cases were based on racist internet postings, up from 2,070 in 2019. Most of these were directed against Muslims and immigrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center reported receiving 1,402 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, a 33.4 percent increase over the 1,051 complaints received in 2019. Some 84 percent of the reported incidents took place on digital media. The incidents included verbal abuse directed against Muslims and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Muslim groups objected to a new online “Islam Map” published by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Islamic Religious Pedagogics and presented by the integration minister’s Documentation Office of Political Islam on May 27 that shows the location of over 600 Muslim institutions in the country as well as their origin and ideology, structure and network, and connections abroad. The groups interpreted the map as an attempt to put Muslims in the country under general suspicion. Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration Raab defended the map as providing more transparency that the government and public could use as reference material.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to assert that police allegedly targeted minorities for frequent identity checks.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism among police forces and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Ministry of Interior renewed an annual agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to teach police officers cultural and racial sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities in the framework of the ADL’s “A World of Difference” program. Training has been conducted on an ongoing basis for police officers since 2002 and was introduced as part of officers’ basic training in 2008. In 2020, 525 current police officers and 1,035 prospective police officers received training nationwide. As of the end of 2020, a total of 23,265 police officers had received the ADL training out of a total police force of about 31,000 members.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for commercial sex and practices related to child pornography; authorities generally enforced the law effectively. The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that the COVID-19 crisis led to a further increase of anti-Semitism. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 585 anti-Semitic incidents during 2020. These included physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti, and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, 11 concerned physical assaults, 22 involved threats and insults, 135 were letters and emails, 53 were cases of vandalism, and 364 involved insulting behavior. The IKG reported 562 incidents in the period from January to June. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators but reported that a substantial number of incidents involved Muslim perpetrators.

An August 2020 physical attack by a Syrian immigrant on a Graz Jewish community leader remained under investigation. Authorities reportedly were unable to locate the perpetrator of another assault in November 2020 on a rabbi in Vienna.

Government officials roundly condemned the attacks at the time they occurred. School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Research offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

From September 2020 – the date a law extending citizenship to descendants of Austrian victims of National Socialism entered into force – to August, approximately 6,600 persons, mostly from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, received citizenship.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred. Health services and transportation were available on an equal basis with others, and government communication was generally provided in accessible formats. There were no government actions that limited participation in civic life, including the ability to vote.

The government had a National Action Plan on Disability for 2012-20 that called for gradual abandonment of segregated schools for students with disabilities. During the 2019-20 school year, however, 36.2 percent of students with disabilities were placed in special education schools.

The Federal Disabilities Act mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities. While the federal ombudsman for disabled persons has noted most buildings comply with these regulations, NGOs complained some public buildings still lacked such access. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Care, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance, to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

A Social Democratic Party parliamentarian reported in April that the Federal Ombudsman’s Office was examining his complaint about a ban on blood donations by sexually active gay men.

There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, condoning, or tolerating violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTQI+ persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ organizations generally operated freely. According to a survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 11 percent of homosexual persons and 17 percent of transgender persons reported they had been verbally or physically assaulted in the previous five years.

In October a court in Styria convicted a Syrian national living in Austria who had defaced the walls of an LGBTQI+ community center in the city of Graz, assaulted the president of the Graz Jewish Community, and vandalized the Graz synagogue. The court sentenced him to a three-year prison term.

In March a trial before the Vienna court on incitement charges against a man who had allegedly harassed three LGBTQI+ men after a rainbow parade in 2019 ended in a settlement providing financial compensation to the victims.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment. Laws at the provincial level prohibit discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, including with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. Civil society groups noted there was no federal mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Majlis (National Assembly). The presidency is the main branch of government, dominating the judiciary and legislature. In February 2020 the government conducted National Assembly elections. The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the National Assembly elections and the 2018 presidential election took place within a restrictive legislative framework and political environment that prevented genuine competition in the elections.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The State Security Service is responsible for domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service focuses on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence matters. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.

A cease-fire in November 2020 halted 44 days of intensive fighting involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Armenia-supported separatists. Sporadic incidents of violence along the undelimited international border between the two countries and some other areas during the year resulted in casualties and detentions. There were credible reports that Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces engaged in unlawful killings, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during, and in some cases after, the November 2020 fighting. Complaints submitted by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the European Court of Human Rights accusing each other of committing atrocities during the fighting in fall 2020 and summer 2016 awaited the court’s ruling. The government acknowledged holding 41 Armenian detainees, but there were allegations, disputed by the Azerbaijani government, that at least 25 Armenian servicemen disappeared after being taken into Azerbaijani custody. Armenian detainees were not permitted to select their own legal representation during public trials. Since 1995 the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of international mediation by the cochairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (the United States, France, and Russia).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by members of the security forces; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; pervasive problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including enforced disappearances, torture, and other physical abuse; serious restrictions on free expression and the media, including violence against journalists, the criminalization of libel and slander, and harassment and incarceration of journalists on questionable charges; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including blocking of websites; a de facto ban on the rights of peaceful assembly and substantial interference with freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; severe restrictions on political participation; systemic government corruption; police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation; significant restrictions on worker’s freedom of association; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not prosecute or punish the majority of officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption; impunity remained a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and conviction for it carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Spousal rape is also illegal, but observers stated police did not effectively investigate such claims.

In October a minor and her family went public regarding an alleged August 2020 rape after the Yasamal Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case due to a purported lack of evidence. The family claimed the case was not taken seriously, as shown by a year of official inaction and mishandling of the investigation; the family attributed the mishandling to their activism and opposition party membership. The resulting media attention caused the Prosecutor General’s Office to reopen the case and place the accused offender in pretrial detention.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Activists reported that police continued to view domestic violence as a family matter and did not effectively intervene to protect survivors, including in cases where husbands abused or killed their wives. On September 30, police sergeant Ismail Mammadov used his service weapon to kill his wife, Khanym Mammadova, in a Baku police station after she came to the station to report his frequent beatings.

The SCFWCA addressed the problem of domestic violence by conducting public awareness campaigns and working to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors. In November 2020 the president approved the National Action Plan to Combat Domestic Violence for 2020-23. The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to survivors of trafficking and domestic violence. In December 2020 the SCFWCA, together with the UN Population Fund, established an emergency hotline for gender-based violence. Callers could use the hotline to access free legal assistance, counseling support, and information concerning gender and domestic violence.

On August 8, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement that in the first six months of the year, 33 women were victims of premeditated murders by family members; the office urged the public to report instances of domestic violence to authorities. The statement followed the forced dispersal by police of activists rallying to call attention to the problem of domestic violence (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly.)

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment or pursued legal action against individuals accused of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Contraception was not available through the national health care system but could be purchased from private outlets. The cost of contraceptives for persons with limited income, a lack of education, and a lack of counseling limited the usage of contraceptives. Patriarchal norms based on cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors in some cases limited women’s reproductive rights. For example, it was expected that women would become pregnant without any delay upon marriage.

The government referred survivors of sexual violence to free medical care including sexual and reproductive services. Emergency contraception was not available as part of the clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men, societal and employment-based discrimination remained a problem. According to the State Statistical Committee, there was discrimination against women in employment, including wide disparities in pay and higher rates of unemployment.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country during the year was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the SCFWCA. Local experts reported gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of and address the problem.

The constitution guarantees the equality of rights and freedoms to everyone, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, language, sex, origin, property status, occupation, beliefs, or affiliation with political parties, trade union organizations, or other public associations. Restrictions of rights and freedoms on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, language, sex, origin, beliefs, or political or social affiliation are prohibited.

Following the border closure between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1991, inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech became increasingly prevalent, particularly as an entire generation grew up without interactions with the other side. Civil society activists stated that an entire generation had grown up listening to hate speech against Armenians. Individuals with Armenian-sounding names were often subjected to additional screening at border crossings and were occasionally denied entrance to the country.

Following the November 2020 cease-fire, in January Azerbaijan released a commemorative postal stamp series to commemorate COVID first responders and the “heroes of the Nagorno-Karabakh war” that juxtaposed Azerbaijani military personnel alongside first responders. In one stamp, a man in overalls typically worn by persons responsible for the disinfection of streets was portrayed disinfecting a part of the map of Azerbaijan corresponding to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The series of images in the stamps appeared to dehumanize Armenians by insinuating they were a disease.

In April the government opened a Military Trophies Park – also known as the “War Trophies Park” – in Baku that included mannequins with exaggerated, stereotypical ethnic features. According to a media report, the sculptors of the mannequins stated, “We tried to have as realistic images as possible. We usually try to do something as beautiful as possible. This time it was the opposite. It was a time-consuming and difficult process. We created using eagle nose shapes, the absence of the back of the skull and other features….” The War Trophies Park also contained a canopy of captured Armenian helmets. In an April 27 letter to the country’s president, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, called the images in the park “highly disturbing and humiliating,” noting that “this kind of display can only further intensify and strengthen long-standing hostile sentiments and hate speech, and multiply and promote manifestations of intolerance.” The mannequins and helmets were removed in October.

On December 7, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued binding provisional rulings in response to Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s submissions of cases against each other for alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In its ruling on Azerbaijan, the ICJ satisfied most of the interim measures requested by Armenia, including mandating that Azerbaijan must protect from violence and bodily harm Armenians detained during or following the fall 2020 fighting and ensure their security and equality before the law. The ICJ ruled that several requests by both countries, including Armenia’s call for the release of all detainees, were outside the scope of the CERD. The court also ruled that both countries “shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.” Both countries also were directed to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination against persons of national or ethnic origin from the other country. (For the ICJ ruling in response to Azerbaijan’s case against Armenia, see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia.)

Some groups, including the Talysh in the south and the Lezgins in the north, reported the government did not provide official textbooks in their local native languages.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home were not registered.

Education: While education is compulsory, free, and universal until age 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls at home to work. Social workers stated that some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school.

Child Abuse: There is criminal liability for sexual violence against children. The law also stipulates punishment for child labor and other abuses of children. The SCFWCA organized multiple events prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to address the problem of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF’s 2021 State of the Worlds Children report, 11 percent of girls in the country were married before they were 18. The problem of early marriage continued during the year. The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states that a boy may marry at 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage as dictated by Islam.

Throughout the year the SCFWCA organized various events for the prevention of early marriages.

The law establishes substantial fines or imprisonment for up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with an underage child. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these contracts were not subject to government oversight and did not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of recruitment of minors for commercial sexual exploitation (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by up to eight years in prison. The law prohibits pornography, its production, its distribution, or its advertisement, and conviction is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Conviction of statutory rape is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Some civil society representatives reported that boys and girls at times were exploited for commercial sex.

Displaced Children: Significant government investment in IDP communities largely alleviated the problem of numerous internally displaced children living in substandard conditions and unable to attend school.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The law calls for improved access to education, employment, social protection and justice, and the right to participate in political life. Local experts noted that in general the implementation of the law was not satisfactory, and persons with disabilities continued to experience problems.

On August 17, the National Assembly approved amendments that were scheduled to come into force on July 1, 2022. The amendments abolish the existing categories for persons with disabilities and introduce a new system of defining disability depending on the percentage of bodily functionality. Activists were concerned that as result of these changes, some persons with disabilities would lose access to government assistance.

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized. In 2020 a local NGO reported that 6,000 to 10,000 children with disabilities had access to segregated educational facilities, while the rest were educated at home or not at all. According to official statistics, there were approximately 52,650 children with disabilities in the country. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection continued efforts to increase the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms, particularly at the primary education level.

The law mandates that public and other buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities. While some buildings, including educational institutions, were accessible, this mandate was not fully implemented. Information and communication technology and most buildings were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

Civil society representatives reported that discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV and AIDS were prevalent throughout society. The government continued to fund an NGO that worked on health problems affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

There were reports of increased violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals, especially transgender individuals. On June 9, a group of activists issued a statement that six LGBTQI+ community members were physically assaulted and injured by various individuals and groups over just 10 days between May 30 and June 9. Acts of violence continued and included the killing of a transgender woman in Garadagh District who was found bound, stabbed to death, and partially burned. An arrest was made in the killing. A local NGO noted that in many cases, authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible for attacks on the LGBTQI+ community.

There were reports that men who acknowledged or were suspected of being LGBTQI+ during medical examinations for conscription were sometimes subjected to rectal examinations and often found unqualified for military service on the grounds that they were mentally ill. There were also reports of family-based violence against LGBTQI+ individuals, including being kidnapped by family members and held against their will. Hate speech against LGBTQI+ persons and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts also continued.

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover LGBTQI+ individuals. Activists reported that LGBTQI+ individuals were regularly fired by employers if their sexual orientation or gender identity became known.

LGBTQI+ individuals generally refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. Activists reported police indifference to requests that police investigate crimes committed against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Local NGOs reported that COVID-19-related quarantine measures compounded the impact of discrimination already faced by members of the LGBTQI+ community. Since these individuals regularly faced discrimination in accessing employment, they were primarily employed informally and received payment on a day-to-day basis.

During the year the ECHR continued a formal inquiry begun in 2019 into police raids on the LGBTQI+ community in 2017. The raids led to arrests and detentions of more than 83 men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as arrests and detentions of transgender women. Media outlets and human rights lawyers reported that police beat detainees and subjected them to electric shocks to obtain bribes and information regarding other gay men. Detainees were released after being sentenced to up to 30 days of administrative detention, fined up to 200 manat ($118), or both.

Bahamas, The

Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis’s Progressive Liberal Party won control of the government on September 16. International observers found the electoral process to be free and fair.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force maintains internal security. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is primarily responsible for external security but also provides security at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre (for migrants) and performs some domestic security functions, such as guarding embassies. Both report to the minister of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of significant abuses by the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of degrading treatment of prisoners by prison officers and the existence of a criminal libel law, although it was not enforced during the year.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women is illegal, but the law does not protect against spousal rape unless the couple is separated or in the process of divorce, or unless there is a restraining order in place. The maximum penalty for an initial rape conviction is seven years in prison. The maximum sentence for subsequent rape convictions is life imprisonment; however, the usual sentence was 14 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law effectively, except at the detention facility and the safe house (see section 1.c.).

Violence against women worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic due in part to lockdowns and curfews that prevented victims from seeking safe havens or other assistance. The government did not implement long-standing civil society recommendations to address gender-based violence.

The government generally enforced the law on gender-based violence, although women’s rights groups cited reluctance by police to intervene in domestic disputes. The Ministry of Social Services sponsored temporary, privately owned safe-house shelters, but there was a shortage of transitional housing. The Bahamas Crisis Centre provided a counseling referral service, operated a toll-free hotline, and managed a WhatsApp hotline during the year.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a serious problem. The law prohibits sexual harassment in employment and authorizes moderate penalties and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law effectively; however, sexual harassment was underreported. The government did not have any permanent programs on sexual harassment but conducted educational campaigns.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Barriers affecting access to contraception included limited access to sexual and reproductive health services on all but the two most-populated islands (New Providence and Grand Bahama) and sociocultural stigma regarding premarital sex. The age for heterosexual consent is 16 (18 for homosexual consent), but the age for receiving contraception and other health services without requiring parental consent is 18. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including the provision of emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender. Women with foreign-born spouses do not have the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their spouses or children (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). In addition a child adopted by a married Bahamian couple may acquire citizenship only through the adoptive father.

Women were generally free from economic discrimination within public service, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work. The law provides for the same economic legal status and rights for women as for men. The government generally enforced the law effectively within the public sector; however, it did not enforce the law within the private sector. Pay discrepancies rendered female defendants less able to afford legal representation.

The constitution and laws protect racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. The government generally enforced these laws effectively. According to unofficial estimates, between 30,000 and 60,000 residents were Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, making them the largest ethnic minority. Many persons of Haitian origin lived in informal settlements with limited sewage and garbage services, law enforcement, and other public services. Authorities generally granted Haitian children access to education and social services, but ethnic tensions and inequities persisted.

Members of the Haitian community complained of discrimination in the job market, specifically that identity and work-permit documents were controlled by employers seeking advantage by threat of deportation.

The government enforced the law requiring noncitizens to carry their passport and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin and that expedited deportations did not allow time for due process.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government subsidized persons with the right to work through short- and long-term food assistance, housing assistance, and assistance for children in elementary schools. The government provided school lunches through community centers for families affected by job loss during the pandemic, regardless of immigration status.

Children

Birth Registration: Children born in the country to married parents, one of whom is Bahamian, acquire citizenship at birth. In the case of unwed parents, the child takes the citizenship of the mother. All children born in the country who are noncitizens may apply for citizenship upon reaching their 18th birthday. All births must be registered within 21 days of delivery.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates severe penalties for child abuse and requires all persons having contact with a child they believe has been physically or sexually abused to report their suspicions to police; nonetheless, child abuse and neglect were serious problems, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Social Services provided services to abused and neglected children through a public-private center for children, the public hospital’s family violence program, and The Bahamas Crisis Centre. The ministry also operated a 24-hour national abuse hotline.

In January a video surfaced of apparent child abuse in a government-owned children’s facility. After an investigation, the government charged six employees of the children’s facility with child cruelty.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although minors may marry at 15 with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual heterosexual sex is 16. The law considers any association or exposure of a child to commercial sex or an establishment where commercial sex takes place as cruelty, neglect, or mistreatment. The offense of having sex with a child carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Child pornography is illegal. A person who produces child pornography is subject to life imprisonment; conviction for dissemination or possession of child pornography calls for a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

The penalties for rape of a minor are the same as those for rape of an adult. While a victim’s consent is an insufficient defense against allegations of statutory rape, it is a sufficient defense if the accused had “reasonable cause” to believe the victim was older than age 16, provided the accused was younger than age 18.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The local Jewish community consisted of approximately 500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The Equal Opportunities Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, public buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively. All policy and legislation documents were provided at a government bureau for persons with disabilities in braille, large print, and MP3 downloadable formats.

The law affords equal access for students, but only as resources permit, as decided by individual schools. There were several segregated schools for children with disabilities in Nassau; however, on less-populated islands, children with learning disabilities often lacked adequate access. The government tried to facilitate distance learning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic but faced problems in providing equal access. A mix of government and private residential and nonresidential institutions provided education, training, counseling, and job placement services for adults and children with disabilities.

Several persons with disabilities submitted complaints concerning the lack of parking spaces available near buildings for persons with disabilities, as persons without disabilities were using the spaces with impunity. The government was unable to enforce the Equal Opportunities Act due to a lack of inspectors to monitor parking availability and to ensure that new building specifications aligned with accessibility requirements.

The lack of accessible transportation for persons with disabilities was a long-standing problem, particularly on the public bus service. As a result persons with disabilities had to spend more money on private transportation options, which were not regulated by the government. Additionally, concerned citizens filed complaints about the exploitation of children with disabilities forced into street soliciting by their parents or legal guardians.

The government designated a full day of voting for specific groups, including persons with disabilities, one week ahead of the general election.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on HIV and AIDS status. Public school protocols advised personnel how to treat the wounds of all children in a way that eliminated the need to know the child’s HIV or AIDS status. While the societal attitude to HIV and AIDS improved considerably, there were episodes of discrimination.

The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is legal. The law defines the age of consent for same-sex individuals as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual individuals.

NGOs reported LGBTQI+ individuals faced social stigma and discrimination and did not believe they were adequately protected by law enforcement authorities. There was generally low social tolerance for same-sex relationships. There was widespread condemnation of well known citizens who identified as homosexual or who supported the LGBTQI+ community. Homophobic epithets were both common and socially acceptable.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a hereditary monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa is the head of state and holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The king appoints the prime minister, the head of government, who is not required to be a member of parliament. In November 2020 the king appointed his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as prime minister, following the death of the incumbent. The prime minister proposes ministers, who are appointed and dismissed by the king via royal decree. The cabinet, or Council of Ministers, consists of 22 ministers, of whom seven are members of the ruling Al Khalifa family. The parliament consists of an upper house appointed by the king, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and an elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years, most recently in 2018. Representatives from two formerly prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, could not participate in the elections due to their court-ordered dissolution in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities.

The king is supreme commander of the armed forces, and the crown prince is deputy commander. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and oversees the civilian security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The Coast Guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain National Guard is responsible for internal threats. The chief of the National Intelligence Agency (previously the National Security Agency) is appointed by royal decree and reports to the prime minister. The agency has arrest authority, but reportedly did not conduct arrests during the year. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including revocation of citizenship; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government prosecuted some low-level security force members responsible for human rights abuses, following investigations by government institutions. The government took steps to investigate allegations of corruption. Nongovernmental human rights organizations claimed investigations were slow and lacked transparency.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the penal code allows men accused of rape to marry female survivors to avoid punishment. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment or execution when the survivor is younger than age 16, the rapist is the survivor’s custodian or guardian, or the rape causes death.

The law states violence against women is a crime. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common, according to several women’s rights organizations. Although government leaders and some members of parliament participated in awareness-raising activities during the year, including debates on additional legislation, authorities devoted little attention to supporting public campaigns aimed at the problem. The government maintained a shelter for women and children who were survivors of domestic violence. The law provides that local police officials should be contacted in cases of domestic violence and that the public prosecutor may investigate if information is passed from police to them. Survivors of domestic violence, however, reported difficulty knowing whom to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint.

The government did not provide statistics on documented instances or prosecutions physical or sexual abuse of women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was rarely practiced. No specific law prohibits the practice, although legal experts previously indicated the act falls under criminal code provisions that prohibit “permanent disability to another person.”

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: By law “honor” killings are charged as a homicide and punishable with life in prison or a death sentence. The penal code provides a prison sentence for killing a spouse caught in an act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no cases of honor killings reported during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of imprisonment and fines. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreign female domestic workers.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

There are no known legal barriers or penalties for accessing contraception. Health centers did not require women to obtain spousal consent for provision of most family planning services but did require such consent for women seeking sterilization procedures. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced challenges in obtaining birth certificates for their children.

Contraceptives were available without prescription throughout the country regardless of nationality, gender, age, or marital status. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, although emergency contraception was not available.

Discrimination: Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings in family courts, but unlike for men, both Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven to Shia mothers, with Shia fathers typically gaining custody once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Sunni women were able to retain custody of daughters until age 17 and sons until age 15. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until age 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.” Any divorced woman who remarries loses custody of her children from a prior marriage.

The basis for family law is sharia, as interpreted by Sunni and Shia religious experts. In 2017 King Hamad ratified the Shia portion of the Unified Family Law codifying the rights of Shia citizens, in particular women, according to the civil code on issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia and Sunni family law is enforced by separate judicial bodies composed of religious authorities charged with interpreting sharia. The revised civil law provides access to family courts for all women, providing the standardized application of the law and further legal recourse, since decisions made by family court judges are subject to review by the Supreme Judicial Council. In instances of mixed Sunni-Shia marriages, families may choose which court hears the issue.

Lawyers expressed concern regarding the long waiting periods for final judgments in Shia courts, particularly in divorce cases.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased also receiving a share. The government respected wills directing the division of assets according to the deceased.

The law grants citizenship to ethnic Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There were numerous reports that authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. NGOs stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship, while there were reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia residents who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided for more than 25 years.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from their father or by decree from the king. Women do not transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d.).

Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. When a child reaches three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and is provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although girls and boys used the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The Family Courts have jurisdiction over child abuse matters.

There were reports police approached children outside schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

In February the king issued the Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18 (see sections 1.d., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies). The law raised the criminal age of majority from 15 to 18 and established children’s courts, a child protection center, and a special children’s judicial committee to review criminal cases involving juveniles. The law also mandates alternative noncustodial sentences for juvenile offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages before reaching these ages with approval from a sharia court.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including in commercial sex and child pornography. The Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18, imposes harsher penalties on adults who sexually exploit children or incite or coerce children to commit crimes, including increasing the mandatory minimum prison sentence for child pornography crimes to two years.

The age of consent is age 21 and there is no close-in-age exemption.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. On August 22, a former ambassador announced the celebration of the first Shabbat minyan (traditional service with a quorum of 10 adult Jewish males) in the country since 1947. Diplomats, members of Jewish communities throughout the Gulf, and local and Emirati Muslims also attended.

In October the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities organized the first Jewish wedding in the country in 52 years. The event, done under the auspices of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, was the first strictly kosher wedding in the kingdom’s history.

In response to Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid’s September 30 visit to inaugurate Israel’s new embassy and sign memoranda of understanding on expanding bilateral cooperation, opposition and pro-Iran factions posted antinormalization statements on social media and organized several small street protests. Protesters burned an Israeli flag, chanted “Death to Israel,” and carried posters of the Palestinian flag.

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

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The constitution provides for social security, social insurance, and health care for persons with disabilities. The government administered a committee to oversee the provision of care for persons with disabilities that included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee was responsible for monitoring abuses against persons with disabilities. During the year the government did not prosecute any cases for offenses against persons with disabilities.

Building codes require accessible facilities in all new government and public buildings in the central municipality. The law does not mandate access to private, nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities.

No information was available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with disabilities routinely lacked access to education, accessible housing, and employment. The sole government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The law stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and abuses of the law are punishable with fines.

Eligible voters may vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. Local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes posed problems to voters with mobility disabilities due to lack of physical accessibility. General polling stations in public spaces such as malls allowed for assistive devices. There was no absentee ballot system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in cooperation with the UN Development Program.

There were no known cases involving societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV or AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV and AIDS. In prior years the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV-positive; the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults at least age 21, but it allots fines, imprisonment, deportation, or any of them for persons engaging in “immoral behavior,” and this provision has been used against individuals suspected of being LGBTQI+ or cross-dressing.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred, including in employment and obtaining legal identity documents. In some cases, however, courts permitted transgender individuals to update identity documents if they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government that consolidates most power in the Office of the Prime Minister. In a December 2018 parliamentary election, Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term that kept her in office as prime minister. This election was not considered free and fair by observers reportedly due to irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.

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

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement; mistreatment of refugees; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child abuse, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ freedom of association; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law only prohibits rape of girls and women by men and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the girl or woman is older than 13. Conviction of rape may be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Credible human rights organizations found rape remained a serious issue in the country, with reported rapes throughout the year roughly keeping pace with previous years. Domestic human rights group ASK reported at least 1,321 women were raped during the year. In comparison Odhikar reported 1,538 women and children were raped in 2020; among them, 577 were women, and 919 were younger than age 18. There were allegations of rapists blackmailing survivors by threatening to release the video of the rape on social media.

Rights groups reported violence against women in all forms increased throughout the pandemic. ASK reported 640 women were survivors of domestic violence during the year, including 372 who died as a result of the violence. NGOs mobilized to address an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. There were reports of sexual violence committed with impunity. On June 14, actress Shamsunnahar Smriti, popularly known as Pori Moni, filed a case alleging businessman Nasir Mahmood and five other men attempted to rape and kill her at the Dhaka Boat Club. On August 4, the RAB removed Moni from her apartment during a raid in which agents allegedly found illegal substances including alcohol and narcotics. Some activists stated the police raid was in response to her filing a rape case against a powerful businessman.

On April 26, college student Mosarat Jahan Munia was found dead in her apartment in Dhaka. Nusrat Jahan, Munia’s sister filed a case against Bashundhara Group managing director Sayem Sobhan Anvir Anvi, alleging he abetted Munia’s reported suicide. On July 19, police submitted the final probe report exonerating Anvir of involvement in Munia’s death. On July 26, 51 activists and leaders across the country demanded a reinvestigation into her death, stating, “We believe a proper investigation and appropriate trial for Munia’s suicide or murder is essential in maintaining public confidence in the rule of law of the country.”

In response to a September 2020 gang rape case in Sylhet, Feminists Across Generations, a local group working against gender-based violence and abuse against women, launched “Rage Against Rape,” a movement declaring gender-based violence a national emergency. The organization’s 10-point plan urged for reform and argued the death penalty for conviction would not solve rape culture or gender-based violence. The organization advocated for women and girls’ safety from violence and raised awareness of individual cases of rape. Separately the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 17 organizations, continued to advocate for its “Rape Law Reform Now” campaign, another 10-point plan urging for legal and institutional reforms.

According to guidelines for handling rape cases, the officer in charge of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests must be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. Guidelines also stipulate every police station must have a female police officer available to survivors of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the survivor must be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the survivor deems appropriate. Survivors with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the survivor to a timely medical examination.

A collection of political, sociocultural, and human rights groups stated incidents of rape continued to occur due to a culture of impunity. According to human rights monitors, many survivors did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape survivor to prove a rape occurred, using medical evidence.

Some media and NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes concerning dowries, despite recent legal changes prohibiting dowry demands. By law an individual demanding or giving a dowry may be imprisoned for up to five years, fined, or both. ASK found 210 incidents of dowry-related violence against women, with 72 women killed because of dowry disputes during the year.

On February 17, Lima Khatun was allegedly beaten to death by her husband and his relatives in Sirajganj for not giving them gold as dowry. On March 1, Runa Begum was allegedly beaten to death by her husband for continued dowry demands even after taking an initial dowry of 100,000 taka ($1,163) from her. Media reported police arrested the husband. On April 9, a rickshaw puller with disabilities named Jamal committed suicide at his residence in Chittagong due to the constant pressure from his daughter’s father-in-law for dowry.

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

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

Assailants threw acid in the faces of survivors, usually women, leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were frequently related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land or other money disputes. A total of 11 acid burns were reported during the first six months of the year.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court ruling, harassment, also known as “Eve teasing,” was common according to multiple NGOs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manusher Jonno foundation, a local human rights group, found multiple instances of women reporting sexual harassment while receiving food assistance. A total of 101 incidents of sexual harassment against women were reported during the first nine months of the year.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Civil society organizations reported that survivors of child marriage had less negotiating power to make family planning choices. According to the 2017-18 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), three of five girls were married by age 18, with an adolescent birth rate of 28 percent. UNICEF also found nearly five in 10 child brides gave birth before age 18 and eight in 10 child brides gave birth before age 20.

LGBTQI+ groups reported lesbian and bisexual women lacked access to basic sexual and reproductive health care.

A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO, and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Low-income families were more likely to rely on public family planning services offered free of cost. Religious beliefs and traditional family roles served as barriers to access. Government district hospitals had crisis management centers providing contraceptive care to survivors of sexual assault.

Effective access to information on reproductive health, including family planning, is one of the prime objectives of the National Population Policy (2012). Aligned with the national policy, family planning services were supported by programs that emphasized informed choice and voluntarism. To aid these practices, the National Family Planning Program used a job aid on clients’ eligibility criteria, a family planning manual, and clients’ consent forms for long acting and permanent methods of family planning. Family planning service providers were trained on reproductive rights and choice.

According to the World Bank’s most recent estimates, maternal mortality rate declined from 2000 to 2017. During that timeframe the rate dropped from 434 to 173 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the BDHS, 12 percent of married women of reproductive age had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public-health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in rural areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services.

Taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation created social and religious barriers for menstruating women. In conservative communities some menstruating women could not use the kitchen or observe religious practices due to fear of contamination.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in child marriage resulted in girls leaving school at a higher rate than boys. UNICEF noted that girls who marry in childhood are less likely to remain in school.

The constitution declares all citizens are equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection under the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. According to traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit half of what sons do. According to Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death. In September 2020 the High Court ruled that Hindu widows in the country were entitled to all properties of their deceased husbands, including agricultural property. Previously Hindu women were entitled only to their husband’s homestead properties.

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for political and economic reasons, and some of these faith groups stated attacks on religious structures increased during the pandemic.

On March 17, an estimated 89 houses and eight temples in a Hindu village in Sylhet were vandalized. Media and civil society attributed the attack to hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters triggered by a resident’s Facebook post criticizing a Hefazat leader for condemning Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit. After the incident the organization released a YouTube video rejecting responsibility for the attack. The government expressed regret and sent the RAB to the village. As of March 23, police had arrested 35 individuals in connection with the attack. Members of the Hindu minority community blamed religious fundamentalist groups for the incident, while some civil society and opposition leaders blamed the ruling party. Some other human rights groups blamed local law enforcement and administration officials for not preventing the attack.

On October 13, media reported anti-Hindu violence broke out following a social media post that went viral depicting a Quran in the lap of a Hindu deity in the city of Cumilla during the Hindu Durga Puja festival (see sections 1.d. and 2.a.). Muslim protesters allegedly attacked Hindus, Hindu temples, and damaged property in several cities. Six persons died in ensuing violence, mostly due to clashes with security forces deployed to restore order. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior officials condemned the violence, emphasized the country’s secular identity superseded religious identity, and the government took measures to compensate Hindu victims.

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

The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the Bangladesh Liberation War) were formerly stateless, and members from this community stated their requests to obtain passports were often rejected by immigration officers due to their lack of a permanent address. Almost all this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1970s, when Biharis believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 war. A December 2020 International Republican Institute (IRI) study claimed living conditions for Biharis in the camps remained poor, with many camps containing fewer than 10 public toilets serving hundreds of residents. The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, for example, held an estimated 30,000 residents as of January. While older Biharis may have had an affinity to Pakistan, many participants in the IRI study stated they identified as Bangladeshi, particularly those who grew up after the Liberation War. In 2008 a High Court ruling that the Bihari community had rights as citizens prompted the international donor community to cease support as the community was technically no longer stateless. While the government provided some basic services, including water and electricity, Biharis reported social and economic discrimination as well as a lack of initiatives integrating them into society, leaving them isolated in crowded camps.

In September some Biharis expressed concern officials would reject their official status as Bangladeshis, expropriate their land, and implement policies to force the Biharis to return to Pakistan.

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

An August 2020 study found land confiscations, livelihood risks, and violence against indigenous women increased during the pandemic. While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. The study also found a lack of health care for indigenous persons. Other organizations corroborated health care available to indigenous persons was well below the standard available to nonindigenous persons in the country. In October 2020 a group of indigenous tribal leaders presented a memorandum to the government stating a significant portion of the food security needs of marginalized communities in CHT remained unmet.

Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.

In November 2020 business conglomerate Sikder Group, in partnership with the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust, started constructing a five-star hotel and tourist resort on Chimbuk Hill, located in the CHT, despite protests from the Mro, the resident indigenous community, regarding resulting evictions. According to activists, the project would displace 115 Mro families in four villages and lead to a larger estimated displacement of 10,000 persons. Indigenous rights groups stated the land in question is held under customary law by the tribal community for its own use, and transfer of such land may only take place with the informed consent of the indigenous residents. According to these groups, the proposed project site was critical to subsistence crop cultivation, the sole source of livelihood for the Mro people. In January a video circulated showing a confrontation between Mro villages and persons at the hotel construction site.

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

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. According to one organization, Naika Mardi, an indigenous person and Liberation War fighter, was unable to register 0.04 acres of land to his name, even after trying for 10 years. Madi had been living on this land since before independence in 1971.

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

Reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that were previously not part of the country. The government did not register births for nor extend citizenship to Rohingya refugees born in the country, although it permitted UNHCR to register births within the refugee camps. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

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

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

ASK reported a total of 453 cases of violence against children were filed in the first half of the year.

Odhikar reported child rape increased alarmingly during the year. According to a survey, 64 percent of rape survivors in Chittagong were children and adolescents. A 2019 BSAF report on child rape stated children as young as two were among the rape survivors and cited a failure of the law-and-order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape. In BSAF’s 2020 report, the domestic organization Human Rights Support Society reported 850 children were raped and 136 violent incidents were committed against children.

During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassas. In May a former leader of the Chhatra League raped a ninth-grade madrassa student. Family members later rescued the girl, finding her in critical condition. The man beat the girl’s father when he demanded justice. In September a father of a nine-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar accused his daughter’s teacher of raping her inside a local madrassa. Many smaller schools had few teachers and no oversight from governing bodies.

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

The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. The law includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.”

In a 2020 report UNICEF reported 51 percent of women married before age 18, down from 59 percent estimated in its 2018 report.

On June 26, media reported Shahin Hawladar, a 60-year-old man and Kanakdia union chairman and member of the ruling party, married a 14-year-old girl after he arbitrated the girl’s and her 19-year-old boyfriend’s elopement. Hawladar, who was already married with two children, presented legal documents alleging the girl was 18. On June 28, he divorced the girl and handed her over to her father. On June 29, a case was filed against Hawladar and five others for forcibly marrying the underaged girl. Police were instructed to investigate the case, and a court initially suspended Hawladar from his chairmanship, but the decision was stayed on appeal.

To reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The government also launched 4,800 clubs around the country, reaching more than 150,000 adolescents. The structure of each club included approximately 20 young girls and 10 boys, who worked together on their own empowerment projects. Activities included educational awareness, advocacy, and life-skills training.

According to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, two mobile services were available to report cases of child marriage and other services: the Joya App and a “109 Hotline.” According to the ministry, more than 1,000 girls used the hotline every day.

Numerous civil society organizations cited cause-and-effect relationships between the extended school closures due to the pandemic and an increased risk of school dropouts and child marriage. According to these organizations, child marriage increased by 13 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. On July 29, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs in partnership with international and local partners, launched an “Actions to Prevent Child Marriage in Bangladesh” campaign designed to encourage families to condemn the harmful practice of child marriage and help advance the objectives of the government’s 10-year National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage (2018-2030). Part of that campaign includes the “One Million Pledge to End Child Marriage in Bangladesh,” a pledge drive focused on community engagement, capacity development, mass media mobilization, and advocacy.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for conviction of sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and selling or distributing such material is prohibited. A 2019 report of the NGO Terre des Hommes-Netherlands stated street children were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation but had little legal redress due to a lack of social and financial support and a lengthy criminal justice system. The report stated although the government took “necessary legal and institutional measures to combat commercial sexual exploitation, children face multiple challenges in accessing justice.” The report found 75 percent of female children living on Dhaka streets were at risk of sexual exploitation, with an estimated 30,000 girls sexually exploited. The government, through the help of several organizations, worked to improve the quality of life of the country’s estimated 1.5 million street children and provide them access to education, health care, shelter, and safe employment opportunities.

Underage girls trafficked in brothels were able to produce notarized certificates stating they were older than age 18, and some NGOs claimed corrupt government and law enforcement officials condoned or facilitated these practices. In addition to cross-border trafficking, traffickers lured girls from around the country into domestic commercial sexual exploitation in legal and illegal brothels and hotels.

Displaced Children: See section 2.f.

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.

Anti-Semitism

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

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

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took mostly effective measures to enforce these provisions. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against persons with disabilities seriously, and it acted to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities. Nonetheless, civil society reported those with disabilities were the most vulnerable group throughout the pandemic, especially women and girls.

Executive Director Badiul Alam of Bangladesh Protibandhi Unnayan Sangstha (BPUS), a local NGO that has supported more than 7,000 persons with disabilities, estimated 15 to 20 million individuals, or 10 percent of the population, possessed some form of disability. BPUS estimated more than 60 percent of the disability population lived in rural areas without access to government support.

In 2020 the government passed the National Building Construction Act. Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for persons with disabilities. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In some cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. The law states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for conviction of not giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. Local NGOs estimated 50 to 60 percent of those with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as voting centers lacked accommodations for persons with disabilities. Most polling centers had no access to priority voting and no assistive tools such as braille ballots for visually impaired persons to vote confidentially. A 27-member National Coordination Committee is charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation. Civil society organizations advocated the inclusion of those with disabilities in the national parliament, stressing representation would ensure their needs are taken into consideration during decision making.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of accommodation, but data were not readily available. The government trained teachers on inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities. A peer-reviewed study released in July 2020 found many families with children with disabilities lacked knowledge and access to government programs and benefits.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as other persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. Additionally, many organizations reported persons with visual disabilities experienced difficulties accessing technology, depriving them of equal access to education, information, health, and other basic human rights. While individuals reported government websites contained more user-friendly services for persons with disabilities, they also reported information for persons with disabilities was usually uploaded on portals as scanned documents, which made it incompatible for software used by visually impaired persons. Community members reported documents uploaded in formats readable by assistive technology would make a positive difference. The government provided visually impaired students with accessible books every year and was working on a National Web Accessibility Guideline to make all government services accessible to persons with disabilities through a national web portal.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Activists reported the government’s plan of action for ensuring rights of women and girls with disabilities needed strengthening.

The government took action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. The government plans to make its national helpline more inclusive and accessible.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government operates 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances. Activists reported the monthly government allowance for persons with disabilities was 775 taka (nine dollars) and requested the government consider increasing the allowance in the national budget.

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

Civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ activists often cited social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations as a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Mental health care was a top concern, and according to these groups, mental health-care providers tended to use moralistic terms to shame LGBTQI+ persons. In terms of physical health care, many practitioners expressed discomfort in discussing sexual activity, and shamed patients who discussed sexually transmitted infections. Neither PrEP nor PEP, pre- and post-exposure medications that prevent transmittal of HIV during sex, were available in the country. The government made HIV testing free of cost, but stigma regarding testing and seeking treatment remained strong. On October 19, the government published national antiretroviral therapy guidelines to outline efforts to increase treatment availability around the country.

Same-sex sexual conduct is illegal under the penal code. The government did not actively enforce the law. LGBTQI+ groups reported the government retained the law because of societal pressure. LGBTQI+ groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTQI+ individuals and individuals who were perceived to be LGBTQI+ regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious-behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized but recognized as part of society. Nevertheless, it experienced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks. Police investigation and prosecution of those complicit in violence or crimes against LGBTQI+ individuals remained rare.

Members of LGBTQI+ communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police. They stressed the need for online and physical security due to continued threats of physical violence. In August an antiterrorism tribunal sentenced six individuals to death in the killing of two gay men five years ago, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of the country’s first gay rights magazine and a prominent gay rights activist.

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

While some transgender women in the country identified as hijra (a cultural South Asian term for some transgender women as well as some intersex and gender non-conforming individuals), due to an affinity for the hijra subculture or a desire for increased social protection, not all chose to do so. Many transgender women asserted their transgender identities and corrected those who identified them as hijra. Meanwhile, transgender men received little support or tolerance, particularly in poor and rural communities. Some conservative clerics decried the transgender community and sharply distinguished it from the hijra identity, saying the latter would be tolerable while the former remains unacceptable.

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

Although the government made some progress in promoting social acceptance of hijra persons, a small segment of the community, the government made limited efforts to promote the rights of others in the LGBTQI+ community. On September 16, the director general of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics announced the national census would include hijra as a “third gender” category; the census was scheduled to be conducted in 2022.

The issuance of illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred.

Barbados

Executive Summary

Barbados is a parliamentary democracy led by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party. The Barbados Labour Party won all 30 parliamentary seats in the 2018 election, which was considered free and fair. A former Barbados Labour Party member of Parliament became an independent to serve as the formal leader of the opposition. Until November 30, Queen Elizabeth II was the head of state and was represented by the governor general, who certified all legislation on her behalf. On November 30, the country became a republic with a nonexecutive president as the ceremonial head of state.

The Barbados Police Service is responsible for domestic law enforcement, including migration and border enforcement. The police and all other law enforcement agencies report to the attorney general. The Barbados Defence Force protects national security and may be called upon to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific needs. Authority over the defense force is shared between the president and prime minister, with the president overseeing strategic direction and the prime minister responsible for operational leadership. The law provides that the police may request defense force assistance with special joint patrols. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and defense forces. There were no reports that the security forces committed any serious abuses.

Significant human rights issues included the existence of criminal libel laws and the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults (although authorities did not enforce the law during the year).

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and applies to both men and women. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment but judges have the discretion to impose shorter sentences.

The law prohibits domestic violence and protects all members of the family, including men and children. The law applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships. The law empowers police to make an arrest after receiving a complaint, visiting the premises, and having some assurance that a crime was committed. The government did not consistently enforce the law. A nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that the commissioner of police was very concerned about complaints raised by victims of domestic violence, and that the commissioner put mechanisms in place to improve victims’ experience with police. The NGO also reported this high level of support and recognition was not consistently evident throughout the police department, at all police stations, or at the officer level. The NGO reported that the judicial system revictimized victims of domestic abuse involving child custody disputes. It cited instances where reports of physical abuse and assault were not considered by courts when making determinations of child visitation and coparenting rights. The NGO said this led to situations where a victim had to continue to interact with their abuser in order to fulfill court visitation orders.

Penalties for domestic violence depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) to the death penalty for cases where the victim died. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts may sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. An NGO alleged that corruption impeded legal action on domestic violence cases, making it difficult for victims to obtain timely resolution of their cases.

In July an NGO reported the government did not measure domestic violence. The NGO said there was insufficient legal support for women, exposing them to abuse and exploitation.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and establishes civil penalties. Media reports indicated that sexual harassment was a problem. A union representative said he was not aware of any reports of workplace sexual harassment cases being filed or prosecuted during the year. Human rights activists, however, reported that workplace sexual harassment was widespread. In August an NGO reported that young girls and women were verbally harassed in the streets, faced sexual advances from men, and were verbally and emotionally abused when sexual advances were refused.

Media reported on a foreign woman participating in the country’s teleworker visa program. Although she intended to stay for at least 12 months, the woman abruptly departed the island after only a few months, citing intolerable sexual harassment. In another incident, a man sexually harassed two women on a public beach. When police responded to the women’s call for assistance, the officer was caught on video in a “blame the victim” moment, saying that he could see why the man was harassing the women.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage. The government provided access to health care for all persons who required it, including victims of sexual violence. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assisted victims of sexual violence.

An NGO reported that some girls in police custody as runaways were subjected to vaginal exams without their consent, and in some instances without the consent of their parents or guardians, to prove whether the girls were sexually active. The NGO said that some parents or guardians were coerced by police to consent to these exams and were not fully informed of their rights. The NGO also reported that police forced girls to take tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Discrimination: The law prohibits employment discrimination based on age, skin color, creed, disability, domestic partnership status, marital status, medical condition, physical features, political opinion, pregnancy, race, trade, sex, sexual orientation, social status, or union affiliation. The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men.

Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors, although some discrimination persisted. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated women earned significantly less than men for comparable work. There are laws limiting types of work that women can do in factories.

The government stated that employers cannot mandate employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that the government would not tolerate any discrimination against employees based on their vaccination status.

The country’s charter and laws protect racial, ethnic, and minority groups from broad forms of discrimination. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 93 percent of the population is Black and primarily of African descent. The government does not consider systemic racial or ethnic discrimination to be a problem in the country. There were no reports of any systemic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: A child born in the country is a citizen by birth. There was universal birth registration, and all children are registered immediately after birth without any discrimination. An NGO reported that some foreign women had difficulty accessing health care and welfare services for their Barbados-born children after the woman’s relationship with her Barbadian partner ended.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse but does not prohibit corporal punishment of children. No law requires a person to report suspected child abuse, but the government encouraged the public to report cases where they believed abuse may have occurred. Child abuse remained a problem. An NGO representative reported that their NGO frequently encountered situations involving molestation and incest.

The Child Care Board had a mandate for the care and protection of children, which involved investigating daycare centers, investigating allegations of child abuse or child labor, and providing counseling services, residential placement, and foster care.

Media reported a 61-year-old man was sentenced to four years in prison for a sexual act on a five-year-old girl. Media also published a report on the abuse of a 14-year-old girl at the government’s reform school. The report included a photograph leaked by a staff member that showed the girl lying naked on a cement floor in a solitary confinement cell at the school. According to an NGO, the girl was charged with wandering (the legal charge applied against underage runaways) and was placed in the school as a runaway. Although the government launched an investigation into the incident, the minister in charge of the school complained about the staff member’s release of the photograph. Civil society activists cited the abuse incident as evidence of the school board’s mismanagement of the facility.

An NGO reported an increase in reports of molestation and incest affecting girls.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons ages 16 and 17 may marry with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Child pornography is illegal, and the authorities effectively enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, but it does not extend protection to education or other state services. A separate law requires employers to ensure the safety and health of persons with disabilities. A union representative said that despite these legal protections, persons with disabilities faced various forms of discrimination.

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing discrimination against persons with disabilities, and it slowed the development of improved facilities. For example, the Barbados Council for the Disabled said some persons with disabilities who were unable to go to a bank because of COVID restrictions faced challenges using online services.

The council also stated that disability benefits were available only for blind, visually impaired, or deaf persons, and that persons with other disabilities were ineligible. The council said that personnel at vaccine clinics were insensitive to persons with nonapparent disabilities. The council reported that it prioritized mental health assistance and basic needs such as food packages.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled, the Barbados National Organization for the Disabled, and other NGOs reported that public transportation remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Many public areas lacked the ramps, railings, parking, and bathroom adjustments needed to accommodate persons with disabilities. The Town and Country Planning Department set standards for all public buildings to include accessibility for persons with disabilities. Most new buildings had ramps, reserved parking, and accessible bathrooms.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled engaged with various governmental and nongovernmental entities to represent the interests of disabled persons. The council had a supportive relationship with the National Disabilities Unit, a government office that facilitated, advocated, and promoted the advancement and empowerment of persons with disabilities. The council operated transportation services to assist persons with disabilities.

The council also provided disability sensitivity training to businesses, particularly in the tourism sector. The council’s flagship program, Fully Accessible Barbados, facilitated government and private-sector organizations creating recognized accessible and inclusive spaces and services for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education catered to the educational needs of children with disabilities in three ways: in regular classrooms, in special classrooms in the regular school, and in special units or special education schools. Specially equipped classrooms (special units) were offered in eight public primary schools. Children who were deaf, hearing impaired, blind, or visually impaired attended the Irving Wilson School. The Ann Hill School catered to secondary school-age children with developmental delays and other disabilities.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, with penalties for conviction up to life imprisonment for men, and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for men and women convicted of “acts of serious indecency.” There were no reports of the law being enforced during the year.

An NGO reported that authorities did not take seriously reports of sexual and homophobic harassment. In some cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons identified perpetrators of harassment but were deterred from reporting these experiences or prevented from seeking justice.

Civil society groups reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced verbal abuse at home and in public.

In September the High Court heard Holder-McClean-Ramirez and Ors versus Attorney General. Two individuals and the civil society organization Equals brought the case as a challenge to the criminalization of same-sex conduct.  As of year’s end, a decision was pending.

In November the government introduced a new charter to Parliament that states, “All Barbadians are born free and are equal in human dignity and rights regardless of age, race, ethnicity, faith, class, cultural and educational background, ability, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.”  The LGBTQI+ movement welcomed the inclusive references to gender and sexual orientation while noting the need for strong protections on the basis of gender identity.

Belarus

Executive Summary

Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since 1994 Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All elections after 1994, including the August 2020 presidential election and 2019 National Assembly elections, were not considered free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the Committee for State Security, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services, also exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to the president’s personal command. Lukashenka maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces aggressively, intentionally, and routinely perpetuated abuses to stifle political dissent and repress human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and others.

Starting in late May, credible media outlets and nongovernmental organizations reported that Belarusian authorities purposefully orchestrated and profited from the entry into the country of thousands of irregular migrants mostly from Iraq, but also from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Afghanistan. These migrants often traveled through state-owned or state-affiliated travel agencies in partnership with travel agencies in the origin countries, with the aim of facilitating these individuals’ travel overland to enter the European Union. Once the migrants and asylum seekers reached Belarus, authorities facilitated their travel to the borders of the neighboring countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland and encouraged and, in some instances, forced the migrants to attempt irregular border crossings. When migrants and asylum seekers failed to enter the European Union, there were credible reports that Belarusian security services beat the migrants and asylum seekers and forced them to remain at the border to attempt additional border crossings, sometimes under dangerous circumstances. When the migrants sought asylum in Belarus, authorities generally refused these requests.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces; torture in detention facilities and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking and internet blockages; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement and on the right to leave the country; refoulement and abuse of migrants and asylum seekers seeking to irregularly cross the border into the European Union; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and outlawing of independent trade unions and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

Authorities at all levels generally operated with impunity as directed by Lukashenka and routinely failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. The penalty for conviction of rape with aggravating factors is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. While sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems, authorities generally prosecuted cases against nonspousal rape. For example, in October police in Barysau arrested a 57-year-old man on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl. According to police the case was considered under the law as rape of a known minor, which is punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to 13 years, and the abuser had been previously convicted on similar accounts. According to NGOs, authorities often did not adequately consider spousal rape incidents and did not prosecute such cases unless they involved severe aggravating factors and direct threats to victims’ lives or deaths.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and authorities did not take effective measures to prevent it or its root causes, such as substance abuse, unemployment, and other economic, cultural, and social problems. For example, police in a village in the Lida region reported that a man continuously abused his common-law spouse. The man was sentenced in June 2020 to three months in prison for abuse, but in July 2020 before beginning his sentence, he attacked his spouse with a knife, injuring her face and chest. For the attack, in March he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of attempted murder. Nevertheless, the woman continued to claim she had no problem with her spouse and told doctors her injuries were accidental.

Authorities continued to issue protective orders mandating the separation of survivors and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated 138 crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to survivors.

The law establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide survivors and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition the law prescribes a substantial fine or detention for up to 15 days for violating protective orders, battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.

According to women’s rights advocates, protective orders and crisis rooms remained ineffective and provided limited protection of the rights of survivors. Efforts to prosecute offenders and ensure legal and other remedies to correct their behavior were also lacking. NGO experts continued to note the lack of state-supported designated shelters and specialists who work with survivors, children, and aggressors.

According to a senior Ministry of Internal Affairs official, as of April officers were monitoring more than 8,000 individuals who had committed domestic violence-related crimes, including more than 10,000 administrative cases filed from January to March. The official stated the number of severe crimes related to domestic violence decreased from 109 to 78 cases in January through March, compared with the same period in 2020, and the number of persons killed by their spouse declined from 27 to 22. On October 25-30, Minsk city police reportedly inspected residences of families with a record of domestic violence or that were in vulnerable conditions and held “preventive” talks with them.

On July 15, the NGO Gender Perspectives stopped operating a nationwide hotline for domestic violence after authorities searched its offices and interrogated several personnel on July 14 in the framework of a broad crackdown on civil society (see sections 2 and 5). In 2020 it had also stopped working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs representative following the government’s crackdown on demonstrators. As of April the shelter and hotline providers had not seen an increase in requests for help in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, associating this with the lack of a government-imposed countrywide lockdown or self-isolation requirements. The Ministries of Internal Affairs, Labor and Social Protection, and Health Care and NGOs continued a campaign, “Home without Violence,” that was held on April 5-9. The campaign was covered by state media.

On September 28, authorities liquidated Gender Perspectives, which in addition to operating the hotline, had cooperated with authorities to play a nationwide role in assisting domestic violence and trafficking survivors, advocating for their rights, promoting a separate law on countering domestic violence, and assisting victims. The NGO was one of many civil society organizations closed in cases widely seen as politically motivated (see section 5).

Despite numerous inspections by the government throughout the year, as of December the NGO Radislava continued to operate a private shelter for survivors of domestic violence, to advocate for their rights, and to assist women and their children with medical care, legal aid, employment, social reintegration, and psychological therapy. On November 9, police detained the former coordinator of Radislava’s shelter and leading women’s rights advocate for allegedly coordinating protests in 2020. As of December she remained in pretrial detention.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem. Victims of sexual harassment did not have access to criminal or civil remedies for sexual harassment that occurred in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: In prior years women with disabilities, especially those who were institutionalized, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies. While there were no indications that the practice had changed, no specific cases were highlighted during the year by press or NGOs.

Institutionalized individuals with disabilities had no political or civil rights, and courts recognized the directors of these institutions as the legal guardians of these individuals. Institutionalized individuals were not able to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting their reproductive health, including for sterilization, due to mental or other disabilities.

Although comprehensive education on reproductive health or pregnancy was not provided in schools, access to information on contraception was widely available. Government policy does not bar access to contraception, but some groups may oppose it on religious grounds. While there were no legal or cultural barriers to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth and skilled postpartum care was widely available, there were fewer professionals with the skills to assist with difficult pregnancies outside of Minsk. Authorities provided access to emergency health care, including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. Women generally did not experience discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, education, the judicial process and other institutions, and in housing.

Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in employment, in access to economic resources, as well as discrimination in the workplace.

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies continued arbitrarily to detain, investigate, profile, and harass Roma, including by forcing fingerprinting, mistreating them in detention, and subjecting them to ethnic insults.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 6,848 (according to the 2019 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Romani population. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various forms of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.

Authorities harassed and jailed members of the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus and some of its members (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one parent is not a citizen. Births were generally registered immediately.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates minors’ rights to education, health care, personal integrity, and protection from exploitation and violence, among others. The law provides for the inviolability of the child’s person and protects the child from all types of exploitation, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse; cruel or abusive treatment, humiliation, and sexual harassment (including by parents, guardians, caregivers, and relatives); involvement in criminal activities; use of alcoholic beverages; use of drugs, toxic or other intoxicating substances, and tobacco products; and coercion into prostitution, begging, vagrancy, participation in gambling, actions related to child pornography, and work that may harm physical, mental, or moral development.

Conviction of rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of a person older than 18 for engaging in sexual acts with a person known to be younger than 16 is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

According to local human rights groups, domestic violence and abuse against children were common, and anecdotal evidence suggested that many parents admitted beating their children. Authorities identified families in vulnerable conditions and generally intervened to prevent child abuse linked to domestic violence, providing foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government continued to prosecute child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate, and it lacked effective capabilities to detect violence and refer victims for proper assistance in a timely manner.

The government instituted a comprehensive national plan for 2017-21 to improve child care and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, but it acknowledged its inefficiency in executing certain protective measures absent assistance from international organizations and NGOs. For example, in one case authorities in the Hrodna region charged both foster parents with beating, abusing, torturing, and depriving their foster children of freedoms from 2016 through 2021. Authorities recognized eight children as victims in the case, including a minor who was 10 months old at the time and was physically abused. Local prosecutors claimed that authorities took disciplinary action against seven local officials in charge of monitoring foster families and living conditions.

With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child-abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts often used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child-abuse victims for hearings, but experts continued to raise concerns that in some cases, judges summoned victims to testify at hearings. More-experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and interests of minors.

As of January 2020 the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors in vulnerable and dangerous conditions, but independent observers questioned the quality of services. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriages in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Sex trafficking of children was a problem, and authorities took some steps to address it. From January through September, authorities identified 540 minors as victims of child sexual abuse, up from 354 in the same period in 2020. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for producing or distributing pornographic materials depicting a minor. Authorities generally enforced the law. Authorities claimed the law does not require a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense and claimed to have identified 91 minors who were trafficking or trafficking-related victims used for commercial sexual exploitation. Authorities considered child pornography and cyber-related methods such as sexting, grooming, and sextortion to be serious problems and in January 2020 adopted a separate 2020-22 plan of action to protect minors from sexual abuse and exploitation. There were no reports on the implementation of the plan as of December 2020.

In April the Internal Affairs Ministry reported that on February 16, it identified and arrested a 37-year-old foreigner who had legally resided in the country since 2017 and had engaged girls between ages five and 13 in producing pornographic materials. Four mothers of the children were arrested for providing their children for filming and commercial sexual exploitation. Police also stated one of the victims was removed from the family and taken into the government custody, while the others remained in the custody of their fathers.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not report any child-abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families; the government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

According to a 2018 UNICEF study, more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either physical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared with children living in families, and they had two to three times more exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.

As of January 1, there were nine institutions for children with disabilities that held at least 1,300 minors. Institutions provided basic medical and social care to their clients. Although experts assessed the services as being of better quality than at adult institutions, these institutions had problems with proper diagnostics, education, and social reintegration as well as public accountability and transparency.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews lived in the country.

There were isolated reports of vandalism against the Jewish community. On March 4, unknown persons vandalized the synagogue and Jewish community center in Homyel by spray painting a swastika and other Nazi symbols on the exterior walls. Police launched an investigation into the vandalism, but no perpetrators were identified.

On July 6, Lukashenka stated in public remarks that, regarding the need to investigate and raise awareness of Nazi war crimes against the Belarusian people, the country should follow the example of “the Jews,” who got “the whole world to bow before them” and “be afraid to point a finger at them.”

Many memorials to victims of the Holocaust, built in Soviet times as well as more recently, did not distinguish Jewish victims from other victims of Nazi atrocities. The Jewish community continued to work with foreign donors and local authorities to erect monuments to commemorate Jewish victims specifically.

Holocaust distortion occurred. For example, members of both the regime and opposition sought to draw parallels to the Holocaust by suggesting or asserting the political situation was in some way comparable.

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

Persons with disabilities could generally access social services, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government, however, did not enforce such access effectively and failed to provide information and communication effectively and in accessible formats.

The law discriminates against children and persons with disabilities, limiting their ability to access primary, secondary, and higher education depending on their degree of disability. A person’s degree of disability was determined by a commission of experts whose assessments were nonbinding but in practice were arbitrary applied. For example, advocates cited cases of children with Down syndrome who were required to submit to reassessments of their “mental abilities” at predetermined ages and, following such assessments, were in some cases not allowed to continue their education in “integrated” classes. Children with disabilities attended school but completed secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children and generally attended specialized schools meant only for children with disabilities.

Women’s shelters reported violence, harassment, intimidation, and abuses against women with disabilities, often by family members.

Opportunities for employment and occupational development remained limited for persons with disabilities. While authorities operated some enterprises that accommodated persons with certain disabilities, such as those with hearing or vision disabilities, many persons with disabilities opted to maintain their welfare benefits, since salaries in jobs available to them were low or they had to undergo additional examinations to be approved for employment.

The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for persons with hearing and vision disabilities. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not suitable to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated, although the situation continued to improve during the year. NGOs reported that the government was growing increasingly aware of these problems, but progress was slow.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk as well as the bus system were not accessible to wheelchair users. In 2017, the most recent year for which information was available, experts of the NGO ACT released a monitoring report indicating that 3.3 percent of all educational institutions countrywide were accessible to persons with disabilities, including with vision and hearing disabilities, and most of these facilities were recently constructed.

Persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, often encountered problems with access to courts and obtaining court interpreters.

Women with disabilities often faced discrimination, including employment discrimination, and claimed they were unable to care for their children and received worse medical services and care compared to the general population, especially in provincial medical institutions. Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies. Pregnant women with disabilities faced accessibility barriers at maternity clinics and hospitals.

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and discrimination was common.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low and that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to these institutions by families and volunteers remained limited. Instances of harassment and mistreatment were reported, such as cases of physical and psychological abuse, lack of medical care for other nondisability-related conditions, and underfunded facilities and infrastructure. Authorities continued the practice of placing persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care. Approximately 14,000 persons with disabilities who lived in “psychoneurological” institutions were deprived of legal rights, and courts designated directors of these institutions as their legal guardians.

On August 3, authorities forced the closure of the NGO Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and previously arrested two of the organization’s leaders, Siarhei Drazdouski and lawyer Aleh Hrableuski, limiting civil society efforts to engage the government on improving the rights of persons with disabilities (see sections 2.b. and 5). Authorities did not make unilateral efforts to improve the rights of persons with disabilities during the year. On September 1, a district court in Homyel held a closed trial in which it sentenced hard-of-hearing Dzmitry Zalomski to two years in prison for allegedly insulting an official and threatening a judge in online commentary and messenger chats. According to human rights defenders, police did not detain Zalomski until after his court hearing, but they confiscated his hearing aid upon arrest.

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. According to local NGOs working with HIV-positive and AIDS patients and other groups at risk, HIV-infected individuals, especially drug users undergoing or having completed treatment, continued to face discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews. For example, based on doctors’ clinical reports, schools reportedly refused to employ HIV-positive individuals, even when they were applying for jobs that did not involve contact with children. On July 22, the NGO BelNetwork Anti-AIDS was shut down by the Minsk City Executive Committee, despite authorities having worked alongside the NGO in the past to implement anti-AIDS discrimination programs. In one May 2020 case, an individual was barred from a building maintenance job under Ministry of Health instructions that restricted HIV-positive individuals from working with children.

The government continued to broadcast and post public-service advertisements raising awareness concerning HIV and AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.

LGBTQI+ persons experienced harassment, threats, and violence at the hands of authorities, according to numerous reports from human rights defenders.

In some instances, when police identified detained individuals as LGBTQI+ persons, they forced these individuals to confess to committing crimes and to state their sexual orientation on camera, later posting the recording online. Independent observers questioned the legality of these videos and noted that authorities may have abused the persons to force them into making the statements. There were no reports authorities took action to investigate those complicit in violence and abuses against LGBTQI+ persons.

The government allowed transgender persons to update their name and gender marker on national identification documents, but these documents retained old identification numbers that include a digit indicating the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Transgender persons reportedly were refused jobs when potential employers noted the “discrepancy” between an applicant’s appearance and the gender marker in the identification number. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds. Transgender men were issued military identification that indicated they had “a severe mental illness.” There are no laws prohibiting discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, including with respect to providing essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services.

LGBTQI+ discrimination was widespread, and harassment occurred. The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ activists persisted with the tacit support of the government, which either failed to investigate crimes or did so without recognizing it as a hate crime. LGBTQI+ activists were among those who went into exile after facing harassment and risk of arrest from the regime.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Belgium is a parliamentary democracy with a limited constitutional monarchy. The country is a federal state with several levels of government: national; regional (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels); language community (Dutch, French, and German); provincial; and local. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office if it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament. Elections are held at six different levels: communal, provincial, regional, by language community, federal, and European. In 2019 the country held federal parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

The federal police are responsible for internal security and nationwide law and order, including migration and border enforcement. They report to the ministers of interior and justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Numerous complaints were filed against members of the security services who allegedly committed abuses. Some of the security service members awaited rulings in court.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: attacks and hate speech motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersex persons.

Authorities generally took steps to identify, investigate, and where appropriate, prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person, which range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.

The activist blog StopFeminicide reported that at least 17 women died in connection with cases of rape or domestic violence during the first eight months of the year. The government did not keep a record of the number of femicides. According to 2020 federal police statistics, there were approximately 38,000 official complaints of domestic violence against men and women to include physical, psychological, or economic violence, including 175 complaints of sexual violence, during that year.

Several government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, and it was not a widespread practice in the country. Authorities effectively enforced the law. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to 2017 estimates, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM/C in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. Most potential victims were asylum seekers from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, and Somalia.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; parties found guilty are subject to fines. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws.

A June study by the NGO Plan International of 700 persons between the ages of 15 and 24 in the cities of Brussels, Antwerp, and Charleroi found that 91 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys had been victims of some form of sexual harassment in the street. Eighty-two percent of girls reported that sexist comments and catcalling were the most frequent forms of harassment.

Another June study by the Universities of Ghent and Liege and the National Institute for Forensic Science and Criminology of 5,000 persons between the ages of 16 and 100 found that 70 percent had been victims of sexual violence in their life. Women were most affected. Within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, 80 percent reported having experienced sexual violence.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.

In March, UNIA reported it had received a record number of complaints in 2020. The center received 3,684 complaints of racism, an increase of 50 percent from 2019. Most cases of discrimination took place on social media, in the housing market, in the workplace, or on public transportation. UNIA noted racism against persons of Asian origin also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In its 2020 annual report, UNIA stated that it received a total 9,466 complaints related to discrimination in 2020, an 11 percent increase from 2019. UNIA noted that the COVID-19 lockdown boosted the amount of time people spent online, creating an environment in which online hate speech increased. The number of hate speech cases UNIA handled remained similar to previous years. UNIA also received COVID-related complaints (age discrimination, employment, access to housing) as well as numerous allegations of police violence.

Ethnic profiling, including by police, continued to be a problem. Between February and May, UNIA, Amnesty International, and the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) alleged that police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns sometimes targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines, and fines. In a May report, CERD expressed concern over racial profiling and police violence in the country.

Several reports of ethnic profiling by police were documented by Amnesty International and the Human Rights League’s police observatory, Police Watch.

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth on the country’s territory.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry. Federal police statistics for 2019 recorded 20 cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Local girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

In August the media reported that police had recorded a rise in sexual exploitation of minors online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police continued to track the problem.

In May the children’s rights NGO Child Focus released its 2020 annual report, which noted the group had received 2,205 reports of sexual exploitation in 2020, compared with 1,501 reports in 2019. The organization also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had vastly increased children’s internet screen time, putting them at greater risk of sexual exploitation. Child Focus reported that it had received 2,056 reports of child pornography, a 45 percent increase from 2019, through its stopchildporno.be website.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons.

In 2020, UNIA received 115 complaints of anti-Semitism, an increase of 45.5 percent from the 79 complaints received in 2019. Of these, 70.4 percent were related to hate speech and 48.7 percent took place on the internet. UNIA reported that 13 percent of the cases involved hate crimes and 8.7 percent (a total of 10 cases) involved Holocaust denial.

Authorities generally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted such cases.

In February members of the Jewish community in Flanders reported increasing anti-Semitism. The country’s security services also noticed an increase in hate messages targeting Jews, both online and in the streets, that referred to large gatherings in synagogues and higher COVID-19 infection rates in Jewish neighborhoods.

Also in February the public prosecutor’s office called for the prosecution of nine members of the far-right youth movement Schild & Vrienden for violating the antiracism law. The accused included Dries Van Langenhove, a member of parliament for the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang. The Ghent public prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation of the involved members in 2018 after the public broadcaster VRT documented racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic messages exchanged by its members in a chat room. Some of the individuals were also accused of Holocaust denial. As of April the investigation was underway, and the Ghent Council Chamber was expected to decide whether the suspects should be referred to a criminal court.

On June 3, a man was sentenced to six months in prison and an 800 euro ($920) fine for performing the Nazi salute in Fort Breendonk, located near the city of Mechelen, which had served as a Nazi hub for the transit and deportation of the country’s Jews during World War II. The man was a known member of the far-right group Right Wing Resistance Flanders.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (also see section 2.a.). The government provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these prohibitions.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, many inmates were still incarcerated in inadequate facilities.

The National High Council for Persons with Disabilities raised concerns about access to intensive care services for persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNIA stated as well that due to social distancing measures, persons with disabilities and older persons did not have equal access to health care. Cases included older persons and persons with disabilities being given oxygen without medical supervision, and a person with an intellectual disability being told to leave the hospital because he was too loud.

In February the European Committee of Social Rights condemned the country (specifically the Francophone community, in charge of mandatory education of francophone children) for failing to guarantee the right to inclusive education for children with intellectual disabilities. The minister of education highlighted the efforts authorities had already made but acknowledged that there was more to be done in coordinating the views and actions of different stakeholders, both from civil society and public institutions.

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services, such as health care. The government enforced the law, but the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTQI+ community remained a problem.

A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 37 percent of individuals in the country identifying as LGBTQI+ reported avoiding certain areas so as not to be harassed, assaulted, or insulted.

On March 6, a 42-year-old gay man was found dead in a park in the city of Beveren, East Flanders. The man was reportedly lured to the park by his attackers through a gay dating app, then stabbed and beaten to death by three suspects. The three attackers, two 17-year-old boys and a 16-year-old boy, were placed in a youth offenders detention facility. LGBTQI+ persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery. In February the Chamber of Representatives unanimously adopted the “Resolution for recognizing the right to bodily integrity of intersex minors.”

While religious practice of animal slaughter remains legal at the federal level, the Flemish and Walloon regional governments instituted laws requiring stunning prior to slaughter in January and September 2019, respectively, which restricted halal and kosher practices. Muslim and Jewish communities challenged the restrictions on grounds of discrimination and violation of religious freedom. In July 2020 the EU Court of Justice heard the case. On September 10, the EU’s advocate general ruled against the ban, stating that it violates EU norms. The ruling was nonbinding but served as a precursor to the final court decision expected later (court decisions normally align with the advocate general’s ruling). The Brussels regional government does not prohibit religious practice of animal slaughter and has further stated that it would await the court decision before holding discussions on the subject. In February the Brussels regional minister for animal welfare held discussions on the subject with religious leaders, religious representatives who practice animal slaughter, as well as with animal welfare organizations.

There were reports of physical and verbal attacks against Muslims. UNIA received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private-sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular.

In June a woman filed a complaint with police after being harassed and struck by a driver in a parking lot in the Flemish municipality of Ninove. According to the woman, a man spat on her, demanded that she remove her headscarf, and ran into her with his car when she tried to run away. The Ninove police refused to file a report because the woman did not have a medical report following the incident. Brussels police subsequently filed a complaint after media outlets broadcasted the story.

Belize

Executive Summary

Belize is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In the most recent national election, held in November 2020, the People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly and selected John Briceno as prime minister. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is represented by a governor general. On May 27, Froyla T’zalam assumed the post of governor general following the forced retirement of Sir Colville Young, who held the role for 27 years.

The Ministry of National Defence and Border Security is responsible for oversight of the military and the Coast Guard, while the Ministry of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries has responsibility for police and prisons. The Belize Police Department is primarily responsible for internal security. The small military focuses on external security but also provides limited support domestically to civilian authorities. The Belize Defence Force has limited powers of arrest within land and shoreline areas, and the Coast Guard has arrest powers and jurisdiction within coastal and maritime areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: inhuman treatment by security and prison officers; widespread and serious corruption by government officials; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps both administratively and through the courts to prosecute some public officials who committed abuses, but there were few successful prosecutions. The government did not effectively implement the laws on corruption, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government generally enforced the law. The law states that a person convicted of rape should be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although on occasion sentences were much lighter. Problems facing the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape. Victims frequently requested the charges be dropped, often citing spousal support from the perpetrators as key to providing for their children’s well-being.

Data from the BPD indicated that 62 percent of reported sexual violence was against girls between the ages of 10 and 19. The Belize Crime Observatory, a unit of the BPD, indicated that women were the victims in 77 percent of the 1,794 domestic violence cases registered by the BPD through the end of September. Public perception was that complaints may be filed without repercussion but that insufficient numbers of police officers and inadequate funding hampered investigations.

Some NGOs working with the BDF indicated that sexual assault was a problem in the BDF. In August a BDF soldier accused a male captain of spanking him on his buttocks during a social event on BDF grounds. The matter was referred to the BPD for investigation.

Domestic violence is prohibited, and the law was generally enforced. Victims noted the procedure was lengthy but that nevertheless, perpetrators were convicted. Domestic violence is considered a civil matter; however, perpetrators were often prosecuted with criminal charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury as evidence of domestic violence. Penalties include fines and imprisonment. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.

In August, Mercedez Pais killed his mother-in-law, 64-year-old Angela Flores Rodriguez. Pais was beating two of Flores Rodriguez’s daughters when Flores Rodriguez intervened. Pais turned himself in to police, was charged with murder, and at the end of the year awaited trial.

The government had awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence. It had a domestic violence hotline and shelters for victims. Major police stations designated domestic abuse officers. Due to understaffed police stations, however, these measures were not always effective. The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a study that found 20 percent of respondents indicated women feared for their safety at certain times and places.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government enforced the law, but officials noted that no criminal cases had ever been brought under the law’s sexual harassment provisions. The Women’s Department, under the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, recognized sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence. A representative of local NGO Tikun Olam Belize noted that some victims did not report sexual harassment due to fear of further victimization or losing their job.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Some NGOs said that in socially conservative communities, women seeking tubal ligation sought the permission of the husband for cultural and religious reasons.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, but the government lacked rape response kits, including emergency contraception.

Reports noted some religiously affiliated educational institutions did not allow pregnant girls to attend school. Because of the stigma and discrimination of underage pregnancy, some families opted not to report the matter to the authorities and instead enrolled the young girl at another institution following the birth. Male adolescents involved in the case normally did not face expulsion. Because school attendance is by law compulsory only to age 14, educational institutions are not obligated to enroll pregnant girls older than 14.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but the labor commissioner verified that men on average earned more per month than women did, often because men held higher positions. There are restrictions on women working in certain industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation. The law provides for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the workplace, pregnancy, or HIV status, but the law was not enforced.

Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although women participated in all spheres of national life, outnumbered men in university classrooms, and had higher graduation rates from high school, women held relatively few top managerial or government positions.

In January the Supreme Court ruled that female police officers of African descent may wear their hair in dreadlocks, contrary to the instructions of the commissioner of police. The court noted that the commissioner’s interpretation of the BPD policy against dreadlocks infringed on the officers’ freedom of expression.

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination and violence based on race and skin color, but there are no specific laws or regulations prohibiting violence or discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. The population is approximately 47 percent Hispanic, 26 percent of African descent, and 16.5 percent indigenous. The remainder is Asian or of unknown descent. There were anecdotal reports of racial discrimination in the workplace and in wider society against ethnic minority groups and against members of the migrant community. While there were no reports of any systemic racial or ethnic discrimination or violence, there were no government programs designed specifically to counter racial or ethnic biases.

No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous peoples, since the government maintains that it treats all citizens equally. Both public and private employers generally treated indigenous peoples equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance monitored development in the Toledo District, with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. The Maya in the southern part of the country and the government worked to implement the 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice consent order on Maya customary land tenure. In January the government appointed indigenous rights activist Gregory Ch’oc as commissioner of indigenous affairs to oversee the implementation of the consent order of the Maya land rights case and other matters related to indigenous peoples. Ch’oc consulted indigenous communities for a report to be prepared for the government to highlight the concerns of the indigenous peoples. The Maya Leaders’ Alliance and the Toledo Alcalde Association raised concerns that the government would not implement the commitments made by the previous administration regarding Maya customary land practices.

In June the Supreme Court ordered the government to compensate the Maya community of Jalacte and Estevan Caal 6.3 million Belize dollars ($3.15 million) for damages on customary Maya land during the construction of a road without obtaining the proper consent from the indigenous community. The court also ordered that the government return unoccupied lands previously taken from villagers in Jalacte.

In August the NGO and advocacy group Garifuna Nation raised concerns that the government and private investors were infringing upon communal lands of the indigenous Garifuna people in Punta Gorda Town and Seine Bight Village in Stann Creek. Garifuna Nation stated that Garifuna fishermen were blocked from lands in Punta Gorda where they traditionally docked their boats. In Seine Bight, developers were building a gas station where Garifuna people conducted sacred cultural rites. Garifuna Nation noted the activities were happening without their free, prior, or informed consent. According to Minister of Public Utilities and Logistics Rodwell Ferguson, a survey was conducted to gather the opinion of villagers regarding the construction of the gas station. Ferguson said the survey found that 81 percent of residents supported the project. Once the necessary building requirements were met, the project resumed in October. By the end of the year, there was no comment from the authorities on the indigenous lands in Punta Gorda.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the parents’ nationalities. Citizenship may be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen. The standard requirement is for births to be registered no later than one week after birth; registration after one month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. Failure to register does not result in denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card to access services such as health care. Children without birth certificates had trouble registering for school and often had to move from school to school. Government experts from the Ministry of Human Development indicated that 4 percent of children up to age five were not registered, making them legally stateless. The government’s Vital Statistics Unit, with support from the embassy of Mexico, UNHCR, and UNICEF, continued its mobile registration program that provided services across the country.

In September a 20-year-old woman in Ladyville sought the public’s assistance after she discovered her parents, now deceased, had not registered her at birth. As a result, the woman could not access basic documents such as a birth certificate and social security registration in order to be legally employed.

Child Abuse: The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until age 18. Abuse of children occurred. There were publicized cases of underage girls being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own or a relative’s home.

The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development was the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s matters. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and UNICEF to promote children’s welfare.

The ministry reported that by midyear it had registered 220 cases of sexual abuse and assaults on minors; in 2020 there were 366 reported cases for the entire year. Following several crimes against minors, the government, with the Office of the Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children and the National Committee for Families and Children, affirmed their “commitment to protect girls and boys from predators” by working with partner agents and NGOs to ensure that laws, policies, and services were responsive to the needs of families and children.

In June police arrested and charged a man for raping a 14-year-old girl while she slept. In August another girl reported a man, who was later criminally charged with rape of a child, sexually abused her.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons ages 16-17 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authorities. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabitating before reaching age 18. Early marriage was more prevalent in certain areas – Toledo, Corozal, and Orange Walk – and among the Maya and Mestizo ethnic groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child trafficking, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone younger than 18. The law allows 16- and 17-year-old children to engage in sexual activity. NGOs and experts noted that this provision makes children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16 but prostitution is not legal under age 18. Sexual intercourse with a minor younger than age 14 is punishable with 12 years to life imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a minor age 14-15 is punishable with five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited through child trafficking, including through “sugar daddy” arrangements whereby older men provided money to minors, the families of minors, or both for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increased child trafficking, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” younger than 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender can receive eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.

The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not mandate accessibility accommodations for persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses and government departments had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring persons with disabilities in the public or private sectors. The government did not provide all information in accessible formats, and there were a few anecdotal reports of violence against persons with disabilities.

Mental health provisions and protections were generally poor. Informal government-organized committees advocating for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. The country did not have a reliable system for identifying persons with disabilities who needed services. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology maintained the National Resource Center for Inclusive Education (NaRCIE), which offered screening, diagnostic assessments, teacher training, parent and school support, specific therapies for students with special needs, and segregated education programs within the mainstream school system.

Children with disabilities attended specific classrooms with no more than 15 pupils for every two teachers, all of whom were specially trained to work with learners with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. One private school, one public school, and five education centers across the country specialized in working with children with disabilities. The special education centers were attached to public schools under the same management. Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools through the secondary level at a significantly lower rate than other children and were placed with nondisabled peers. NaRCIE collaborated with UNICEF to deliver school packages to special-needs students and special-education classrooms countrywide during the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Packages included instructions for parents and students. Social media chat groups were created for ease of teacher-parent communication. Special-education officers conducted home visits to provide support.

The special envoy for the development of families and children continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for them. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities, especially in rural areas of the country. The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a survey that found approximately 95 percent of respondents believed persons with disabilities should be protected in the workplace, and 50 percent of respondents agreed that persons with disabilities were treated unfairly, compared with the rest of the population.

There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. The government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development.

The law provides for the protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status.

In July lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activist Caleb Orozco spoke out against Saint Martin’s Credit Union in San Ignacio, a financial institution that denied a funeral benefit for persons who died of HIV complications. Orozco pointed out that a significant number of AIDS victims were members of the LGBTQI+ community and the institution’s benefit plan denied them an equal opportunity to benefit.

The law does not prohibit discrimination specifically against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services, such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.

The law prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The LGBTQI+ advocacy NGO UniBAM said that discrimination and assault based on sexual orientation and gender identity were substantially underreported. UniBAM’s director noted that in communities with strong religious affiliations, police often refused to take reports from LGBTQI+ victims of discrimination. According to UniBAM, LGBTQI+ persons were denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.

The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a survey showing 65 percent of respondents were tolerant of LGBTQI+ persons. One-third of respondents agreed that LGBTQI+ persons sometimes feared for their safety and were treated unfairly, compared with the rest of the population.

In June the government reconstituted the National Committee for Families and Children to include a member of the LGBTQI+ community and a representative for persons with special needs. The committee functions as a special advocate for policy development, monitoring, and evaluation of government responsibilities.

Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a constitutional presidential republic. On April 11, voters elected Patrice Talon in a multiparty election to a second five-year term as president. Registration and sponsorship requirements incorporated in the electoral code in 2019 and implemented during municipal elections excluded most opposition political parties from participating in the election. According to the government National Electoral Commission, voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2016 to 50 percent; however, civil society organizations estimated voter turnout at only 27 percent. Voting did not take place in 16 of 546 electoral districts due to violent protests and demonstrations that prevented delivery of voting materials. International observers, however, assessed the election as generally free, fair, and transparent, but they expressed concern about the lack of inclusivity and competition among candidates. At least five civilians were reported killed and 21 police officers and military service members injured during election-related clashes.

The Beninese Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security and support the Republican Police in maintaining internal security. The Republican Police are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. There were reliable reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child, early and forced marriage; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption, officials sometimes engaged in these practices with impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape without reference to gender. Enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims not reporting cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Sentences for conviction of rape range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties survivors faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors. The primary form of evidence used to prove sexual assault required physician certification. Since physicians were only accessible in large cities, survivors in rural areas were effectively precluded from pursuing charges.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some survivors of abuse. The ministry’s Center for Social Promotion provided mediation services that in some cases resulted in restitution. The ministry also organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women. During the year the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a services-training program for survivors of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence to health clinic and social service first responders. On July 21, the government created the National Institute for the Promotion of Women to address complaints of violations of women’s rights and provide financial assistance to women who are survivors of violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and substantial monetary fines. Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C in 2018.

The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, continued to raise public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common in the workplace and in schools. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims, however, seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation; furthermore, police, examining magistrates who conduct pretrial investigations, and prosecutors lacked the legal knowledge and capacity to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to address sexual abuses involving minors. Nevertheless, on July 19, the Cotonou Appellate Court convicted a business owner of sexual harassment of a female employee, imposed a substantial fine, and sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

On October 20, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 2003 Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health legalizing elective abortion. The amended law provides for termination before 12 weeks if the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional, or moral distress incompatible with the interest of the woman, the unborn child, or both. As of November 15, the amended law had yet to be signed by the president.

Societal pressures imposed barriers to contraception. Although minors have the legal right to access contraception without parental consent, health-care workers sometimes impeded access by requiring parental consent. Cultural norms also influenced low rates of contraception. In some areas, notably the Plateau Department bordering Nigeria, traditional leaders used voodoo to threaten women to stay indoors during contraceptive campaigns, according to the Beninese Association for Social Marketing. Some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and Celestial Christian Church, strongly discouraged the use of contraceptives. Poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas, poverty, and limited formal education contributed to low usage of contraceptives and high pregnancy rates. Only 13 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception, and 35 percent of women had an unmet need for contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services because of their sexual identity.

According to the government’s 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 391 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to the high mortality rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of girls and women between the ages 15 and 19 were either pregnant or had already had one live birth. These rates varied dramatically with higher adolescent birth rates (24 to 38 percent) in northern departments and lower rates (ranging from 8 to 16 percent) in southern departments. See also the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. There were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on the occupations in which women are allowed to work (see section 7.d.).

The law bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygamy. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.

The constitution and other laws provide for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities and their institutions from violence and discrimination. The penal code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from physical violence, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The labor code provides for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities from employment discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country to a citizen father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education is tuition free for all primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was common. The law bans a wide range of harmful practices and provides for substantial fines and up to life imprisonment for persons convicted of child abuse. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, fear of police involvement, or a combination of the three.

On September 2, the government reported an increase in child rape cases in the commune of Abomey Calavi in the south of the country. Authorities recorded 26 cases of rape involving children ages 4 to 15 from January 1 to September in the commune.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage at younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the Benin 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 15. Child, early, and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the bridegroom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice. The joint government and UNICEF Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children in their communities continued.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring children for commercial sexual exploitation; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. The NGO Franciscan-Benin reported that communities in the four northern communes of Djougou, Gogounou, Kouande and Kandi continued to practice ritual infanticide. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.

Institutionalized Children: The government and human rights organizations reported poorly managed orphanages were not compliant with the law governing child protection centers. During the year the government inspected and closed several orphanages following reports of child abuse and neglect. In August the government closed one unregistered orphanage in Allada in southern Benin after inspections revealed poor living conditions and insufficient staffing. Authorities sanctioned an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns for using children as beggars to encourage charitable donations.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, mental, and communication disabilities, against all forms of exploitation and violence; however, the government did not fully implement the law.

The Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin reported that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, health care, access to education, and access to justice. Only 2 percent of children with disabilities attended to school. Mobility and access to buildings were problems. Crutches, white canes for the blind, wheelchairs, and prostheses were not provided by the state or affordable for persons with disabilities. Most public buildings were not accessible for persons with disabilities, including bank, school, university, hospital, and court buildings.

On June 21, the head of the Secondary Education Completion Examinations Center in Abomey, Jeannette Vodome, dismissed Eric Tonakpa Agonvonon, an exam monitor with a disability, for physical incapacity although he had cited his disability before being hired. Despite Agonvonon’s reinstatement on June 23, on July 6, the Association of Persons with Disabilities organized a sit-in to protest the broader issues of discrimination against persons with disabilities and filed a complaint against Vodome with the Court of Abomey.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Support Fund for National Solidarity.

The Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act provides for a wide range of social benefits to persons with disabilities, including improved access to health care, education, vocational training, transportation, and sports and leisure activities. It includes provisions regarding the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. It requires schools to enroll children with disabilities.

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. A provision related to public indecency in the penal code, however, may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. The law prohibits all forms of discrimination without specific reference to LGBTQI+ persons.

Nevertheless, discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was common. The LGBTQI+ NGO Les Hirondelles estimated that family rejection resulted in 150 homeless LGBTQI+ youth annually. LGBTQI+ persons reported being routinely refused medical care and social services both related (hormone treatment) and unrelated (malaria treatment) to their sexual identity.

Members of the community reported police often tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 1, however, police arrested a male assailant who attacked three transgender women at the Sunset Bar in Cotonou. The transgender women were beaten, stripped of their clothing, and cut with glass bottles. On June 29, the Cotonou Tribunal of First Instance convicted the man of assault and sentenced him to six months in prison and six months’ probation for the attack.

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks. Incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. On September 13, vigilantes beat to death an individual caught breaking into a house in Arafat 2, a neighborhood of Parakou in the north of the country. Media reported that the individual was suspected of stealing chickens and ducks.

Despite government efforts to implement policies to regulate transhumance (the practice of moving livestock seasonally from one grazing area to another), periodic violence between farmers and Fulani herders continued. While several commune-level officials blamed armed Fulani herders from Nigeria for provoking violence by allowing their cattle to eat farmers’ crops, both herders and farmers engaged in violence. There were numerous reported instances of violence similar to the following examples. On July 24 and 25 in the northern town of Malanville bordering Niger, five individuals were killed or injured in clashes between farmers and herders. On August 3, in Kalale a farmer cut off the hand of a herder whose herd had crossed into the farmer’s field.

On June 15, the government established the High Commission for Herder Settlement in the Office of the President. The commission is mandated to address farmer-herder conflict matters, including the permanent settlement of migratory herders.

NGOs focused on protection of persons with albinism reported societal discrimination and abuses, including infanticide of albino children, organ trafficking, and inadequate health services.

Bhutan

Executive Summary

Bhutan is a democratic constitutional monarchy with King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as head of state and Prime Minister Lotay Tshering as chief executive. In 2018 the country held its third general elections; approximately 71 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. International election observers reported the elections were generally free and fair.

The Royal Bhutan Police are responsible for internal security matters. The Royal Bhutan Army is responsible for defending against external threats and has responsibility for some internal security functions, including counterinsurgency operations, protection of forests, and security for prominent persons. The Royal Bhutan Police report to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs while the king is the supreme commander in chief of the Royal Bhutan Army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed no known abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of political prisoners; the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on domestic and international freedom of movement and residence; and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corrupt practices.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and makes no reference to gender in its definition of rape. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences for conviction range from five to 15 years in prison. In extreme cases a person convicted of rape may be imprisoned for life. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. In January the NCWC published the Standard Operating Procedure for Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response, which lays out policies and procedures related to gender-based violence and the roles and responsibilities of the government and civil society in combating it. According to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) 2020 Annual Report, in 2019 there were 12 reported sexual offenses committed against women, including five cases of rape. A 2017 NCWC report stated that more than two in five women experienced at least one form of sexual, physical, psychological, or economic violence.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is prosecuted as battery under the penal code, and penalties for convicted perpetrators range from one month to three years’ imprisonment. Sexual abuse is prosecuted as a corresponding sexual offense, and punishable if convicted by three years’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. The law provides for increased sentences for conviction of second (and subsequent) domestic violence offenses.

Three police stations had protection units to address crimes involving women and children, and 11 police stations had officers specifically devoted to women and children’s matters. The government operated a dedicated toll-free helpline to report violence against women and children. The government trained police on gender abuse matters and cooperated with civil society groups that undertook further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center. Freedom House reported that cultural taboos resulted in the underreporting of domestic violence, although reports have increased in recent years. Between January and April 2020, there were 97 reported cases of domestic violence. Between December 2020 and January 15, there were 223 reported cases of gender-based violence. The increase in cases was reportedly due to enforced confinement and other COVID-19 pandemic measures.

Sexual Harassment: The law includes specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported these provisions were generally enforced. According to UNICEF, the Royal Civil Service Commission operated the Civil Service Support Desk to address sexual harassment in the civil service. The commission has designated points of contact to assist civil servants who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The NCWC developed an internal framework to address gender matters in the workplace, including preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Approximately 29 government agencies and local governments have adopted the framework. The NCWC and Royal Civil Service Commission conducted awareness programs on sexual harassment and related legislations.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

A lack of awareness of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care contributed to unplanned early pregnancies, postpregnancy complications, child abandonment, and financial instability. In 2020 more than 237 cases of teenage pregnancy were reported. The World Bank reported that equity and access to medical care for pregnant women in some remote rural areas was a challenge because of difficult terrain, leading to disparities in access to skilled birth attendants.

The NCWC and a government funded NGO provided shelter, and medical and counseling services to women and girls who are survivors of violence, including sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women and girls, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home. The government generally enforced this law. The law is gender neutral and provides equal rights of property inheritance to female spouses and children.

The constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against based on race, sex, language, religion, or politics.

Although the country does not have an omnibus civil rights act, there are provisions spread throughout various other acts prohibiting discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination in the civil service in the areas of employment and career advancement. For example, the law states, “All eligible Bhutanese citizens shall have equal opportunity for employment and career advancement in the Civil Service on the basis of merit, qualification, fair and open competition without discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, and other status.” The government generally enforced these laws and regulations.

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House stated that ethnic Nepali residents who lacked a police security clearance certificate sometimes faced difficulties in starting a business and that the process of registering property could also be lengthy. The government did not permit NGOs to work on matters involving the status of ethnic Nepalis, and ethnic Nepalis sometimes faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Under the constitution, a person born to parents who are citizens by birth or by naturalization acquires citizenship.

Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children, although education is not compulsory.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a range of penalties for conviction depending on the type of abuse. According to the OAG 2020 Annual Report, 67 sexual offenses committed against children were recorded in 2020, including 42 cases of rape and 14 cases of child molestation. In June the High Court convicted a schoolteacher for child molestation and official misconduct and ordered prison sentences of three years and one year, respectively for each offense.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, child sex trafficking, and the sale of children. Authorities generally enforced the law. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have a Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

Persons with disabilities did not have equal access to education, health services, public building, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Several government policies and guidelines, however, supported persons with disabilities. For example, the Gross National Happiness Commission adopted the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, the Ministry of Education instituted standards for inclusivity regarding children with disabilities, and the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement adopted guidelines for “differently abled friendly construction” that state that infrastructure should provide access to persons with disabilities.

Social stigma and stereotyping of persons with disabilities was widespread.

While NGOs claimed persons with HIV or AIDS faced no widespread stigma, there were reports such persons were reluctant to reveal their conditions due to fear of negative public attitudes.

The government provided free medical and counseling services to persons with HIV or AIDS and maintained programs designed to prevent discrimination. The NGO Lhak-Sam provided support to persons living with HIV and their families and cooperated the Ministry of Health to create and promote effective responses to HIV/AIDS and its impact.

The constitution provides for equal protection and application of rights but neither the constitution nor legislation explicitly protects individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. In December 2020 the parliament amended the law against “unnatural sex” to state, “Homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex.”

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation. According to the LGBTQI+ rights NGO Pride Bhutan, during the year it received 47 reports of discrimination, 27 reports of social stigma, 19 reports of violence, and 16 reports of bullying from members of the LGBTQI+ community.

The law does not provide distinct legal status for transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.

Bolivia

Executive Summary

Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In October 2020 Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism party, won the presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. International electoral observation missions and domestic electoral observation organizations characterized the national elections and the subsequent subnational elections in March and April as free, fair, and transparent.

The national police, under the Ministry of Government’s authority, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country, but the armed forces, which report to the Ministry of Defense, may be called to help in critical situations. Immigration officials report to the Ministry of Government, and police and military share responsibilities for border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; serious problems concerning judicial independence; restrictions on free expression, the press, and other media, including violence against journalists by state security forces and censorship; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute members of the security services and other government officials who committed abuses or corrupt acts, but inconsistent and ineffective application of the law and a corrupt judiciary led to impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for conviction of the rape of an adult (man or woman), but it was rarely enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence, but it too was rarely enforced. Conviction of domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for conviction of serious physical or psychological injury is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.

Lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to hinder the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were survivors of a violent crime sometime in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home.

The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, and conviction stipulates a sentence of 30 years in prison. Activists stated corruption, a lack of adequate crime scene investigation, a lack of specialized prosecutors, and a dysfunctional, underfunded judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.

On July 20, Lucy Alejandra Huanca was found dead in her home in Santa Cruz after her partner, a police officer, allegedly beat her to death. Huanca had twice filed domestic abuse reports against her partner. A court issued a protective order in 2019, and Huanca retracted her second complaint in 2020.

In August 2020 Betsabe Mara Alacia was killed by her partner, police lieutenant Adan Boris Mina. Investigations showed that Mina shot and killed, burned, and dismembered Alacia’s body. Mina was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but investigators indicated that two or three police officers helped cover up the crime and were not apprehended. On March 10, it was reported Mina regularly left the prison with help from authorities and that he threatened the victim’s family.

Women’s rights organizations reported police assigned to the Special Force against Violence did not have sufficient resources and frontline officers lacked proper training regarding their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence survivors received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after the cases languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the survivor was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial processes, and financial burdens discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.

A law passed in 2014 called for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments, but as of 2020 only four departments had shelters. Human rights activists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers. Activists stated that shelters mixed populations of vulnerable women, girls, and boys, including juvenile delinquents, human trafficking victims, sexual abuse survivors, and minors with mental-health problems.

On August 3, El Alto mayor Eva Copa signed an agreement with the domestic NGO Women Creating to implement “a critical route for women in situations of violence” across the municipality of El Alto. The agreement sought to provide high-quality and timely services to survivors of violence. The agreement expanded 24-hour legal and medical assistance and aimed to offer a seamless support system for survivors whenever they decided to flee violence and seek safety.

Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a criminal offense for which conviction is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups) and that the sexual harassment laws were rarely enforced.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Civil society noted information on access to reproductive health could be difficult to obtain in rural areas due to lack of medical infrastructure.

The law provides for access to contraceptives, but according to reproductive rights group Marie Stopes International-Bolivia, many health-care providers refused to provide the service and stigmatized patients who requested contraceptives. Some health-care providers required the consent of an adult woman’s husband or other male family member before providing her with contraceptives and would not provide contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent. Misinformation and social taboos made women hesitant to seek contraceptives.

Lack of access to quality medical care in remote areas adversely affected access to skilled health-care attendance during pregnancy and birth. In addition many indigenous women feared their cultural traditions regarding who should be present at the birth, the treatment of the placenta, and treatment of the umbilical cord would not be respected if they gave birth in a hospital or clinic.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 155 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The Pan American Health Organization reported one-third of all maternal deaths were caused by obstetric hemorrhage, usually postpartum. Another leading cause of maternal death was unsafe, clandestine abortions; access to adequate postabortion care and obstetric emergency services was limited.

The maternal mortality rate was higher among indigenous women due to lack of access to adequate medical services. In El Alto, the second largest city, largely composed of indigenous persons, the maternal mortality rate was 316 per 100,000 live births. The higher mortality rate was attributed to the city’s slow-growing health-care system not keeping pace with the city’s 30 percent population growth in the last 10 years.

Girls in rural areas lacked access to menstrual hygiene products, which affected their performance in school. The law prohibits schools from expelling pregnant girls, but 25 percent of pregnant girls dropped out of school in 2019 either because of social pressure or lack of government assistance, or both.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. The government did not enforce the law effectively. (See also section 7.d. for information regarding labor laws that discriminate against women.)

The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same types of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported that employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.

In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than age 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities.

Many indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they had a disproportionately large share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a major political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu (traditional form of a community) system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.

Lowlands indigenous peoples complained they were not well represented in government or by elected representatives. These indigenous groups resided in three departments of the country’s eastern lowlands: Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. These indigenous peoples included several ethnic and linguistic groups that considered themselves distinct from the Aymara and Quechua indigenous groups of the highland plateau region. Leaders of the indigenous communities of lowlands Santa Cruz Department described growing anger and frustration with the national government for continuing a land policy developed under former president Evo Morales. The leaders decried the policy as having turned into a de facto mechanism for redistributing indigenous lands to government loyalists who allegedly ignited uncontrolled burns to clear the land, exhausted the nutrient-poor Amazon soil within three to four years with coca cultivation, turned the land over to Chinese companies for mineral extraction, and then repeated the cycle nearby.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2018 civil registry indicated 78 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 96 percent by age 12.

Child Abuse: The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13. Conviction for rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The Justice Ministry reported 1,308 cases of child abuse in 2020, compared with 923 cases in 2019 and 850 cases in 2018. There were 800 cases of child abuse reported from January to April, including five cases of infanticide. Nonprofit organizations assessed the actual number of abused children as probably much higher. In April Minister of Justice Lima publicly called on authorities at all levels to do more to combat child abuse. On August 19, several municipal and regional governments agreed to increase their budget allocations to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction for commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with sentences of 10- to 15-years’ imprisonment.

The penalty for statutory rape of an adolescent age 14 to 17 is three to six years’ imprisonment. The penalty for having sex with a child younger than age 14 is 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment, “even if there is no use of force or intimidation and consent is alleged.”

Institutionalized Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 (the most recent information available) that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them. Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse survivors, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. There were no reports of anti-Semitism.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to government payments of 250 bolivianos ($36) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities. The government issued registration cards to persons with disabilities so they could collect benefits, including free access to health services.

The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited access in most urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. Official action was rarely taken to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

In January the human rights ombudswoman filed a complaint with the national police authority after police used pepper spray on persons with disabilities who were protesting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. According to the complaint, the officers prevented the delivery of blankets, clothing, water, diapers, and other items that were essential to the protesters.

Secondary schools reported that many students with disabilities stopped attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic because they could not attend virtual classes. They either lacked internet access or their disability prevented them from following lessons on a computer.

In April the ombudswoman reported 13 universities did not comply with disability laws. More than 100 persons reported they were unable to complete their undergraduate studies because colleges failed to provide accommodations required by law.

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was less able to diagnose cases, either because persons were less willing to be tested or the government lacked the resources to reach individuals in remote areas.

Activists reported discrimination forced persons with HIV to seek medical attention outside the country.

On February 6, a 19-year-old transgender woman, Alessandra (last name withheld by authorities), was found strangled to death in the city of Cochabamba in a boarding house where she worked as a sex worker. On May 5, police reported they had arrested a suspect in the case. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists in Cochabamba reported that criminal proceedings were underway. Andres Mallo, spokesman for the LGBTQI+ NGO Diverse Organization, reported that in the past five years there had been 60 criminal cases involving violence against LGBTQI+ persons but only one conviction. LGBTQI+ activists pointed to a persistent failure by local authorities to investigate killings and other crimes perpetrated against the LGBTQI+ community.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identification cards and birth certificates. Nonetheless, transgender activists stated most of the transgender community was forced to turn to commercial sex to earn a living due to discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activists reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.

LGBTQI+ persons faced overt discrimination in the workplace, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in health care, despite laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Older LGBTQI+ persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.

There was mob violence in lieu of justice, a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors, according to observers. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and a lack of faith in the justice system to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democratic republic with a bicameral parliament. Many governmental functions are the responsibility of two entities within the state, the Bosniak-Croat Federation (Federation) and the Republika Srpska, as well as the Brcko District, an autonomous administrative unit under Bosnia and Herzegovina sovereignty. The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), which ended the 1992-1995 conflict, provides the constitutional framework for governmental structures. The country held general elections in 2018 and local elections in 2020. As of November the results of the 2018 general elections were not fully implemented, because the Federation entity-level government and Herzegovina Neretva cantonal government were not yet formed.

State-level police agencies report to the Council of Ministers and include the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the Border Police, the Foreigners Affairs Service (partial police competencies), and the Directorate for Police Bodies Coordination. Police agencies in the two entities (the Republika Srpska Ministry of Interior and the Federation Police Directorate), the Brcko District, and 10 cantonal interior ministries also exercise police powers. The armed forces are under the oversight of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency and provide assistance to civilian bodies in case of natural or other disasters. The intelligence service has responsibility for internal and external security and is under the authority of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers. A European Union peacekeeping force continues to support the country’s government in maintaining security. While civilian authorities maintained effective control of law enforcement agencies and security forces, a lack of clear division of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the country’s 17 law enforcement agencies resulted in occasional confusion and overlapping responsibilities. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by the police; harsh prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on peaceful assembly; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation where minority candidates are unable to run for the country’s highest elected offices, including the Presidency or the House of Peoples; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence including domestic and sexual violence and violence against children and early and forced marriage among the Roma population; crimes motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Units in both entities and the Brcko District investigated allegations of police abuse, meted out administrative penalties, and referred cases of criminal misconduct to prosecutors. Given the lack of follow-through on allegations against police abuses, observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. Ineffective prosecution of war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 conflict continued to be a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape (including of men), including spousal rape, and domestic and intimate partner violence. The maximum penalty for rape, regardless of gender, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. The failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Women victims of rape did not have regular access to free social support or assistance and continued to confront prejudice and discrimination in their communities and from representatives of public institutions.

While laws in both the Federation and the RS empower authorities to remove the perpetrator of domestic violence from the home, officials rarely, if ever, made use of these provisions.

NGOs reported that authorities often returned offenders to their homes less than 24 hours after a violent event, often reportedly out of a concern over where the perpetrator would live. In the Federation and in the RS, authorities prosecuted domestic violence as a felony, while in Brcko District it can be reported as a felony or a misdemeanor. In January the Federation amended its law on protection from domestic violence by introducing a “person of confidence,” who can assist victims during court proceedings. Even when domestic violence resulted in prosecution and conviction, offenders were often given suspended sentences, even repeat offenders. To avoid prolonged court proceedings, judges both in the Federation and in the RS rarely applied domestic violence law, which would prescribe greater sanctions for offenders, but instead applied only criminal code and other laws, resulting in lesser charges and sentences.

Domestic violence was recognized as one of the most important problems involving gender equality. The Gender Equality Agency (GEA) reported that one of every two girls or women older than 15 experienced some type of domestic violence (psychological, economic, or physical) and that the problem was underreported because most victims did not trust the support system (police, social welfare centers, or the judiciary). NGOs operated eight safe houses in the country (five in the Federation and three in the RS) with a total capacity of 181 beds. In the RS entity, safe houses were officially included in the system of government-supported institutions and received regular financial support from the government. In the Federation, the safe houses were not supported by the entity government and received no budgetary assistance, as no bylaw was adopted that would regulate financing of safe houses. The Federation provided support to safe houses through government grants. During the year the Federation government allocated KM 240,000 ($142,000) as a grant to safe houses. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (through GEA) also provided KM 100,000 ($59,000) as support to operations of all eight safe houses. Additionally, as a response to the increase in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the ministry (through GEA) gave an additional KM 160,000 ($94,600) to safe houses. According to NGOs running safe houses, 679 cases of domestic violence were registered during 2020, an increase of 50 percent from 2019. The country had a gender action plan for 2018-22. The Council of Ministers has a steering board for coordination and monitoring of implementation of the plan. The country lacked a system for collecting data on domestic violence cases. The GEA worked to establish a local-level mechanism to coordinate support for victims. In 2019 the agency performed an analysis of the data collection system on domestic violence cases that were processed by the judiciary and sent its recommendations for improving the system to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. The GEA also continued developing a computerized data collection system on domestic violence in the Federation since the RS refused to participate in this internationally supported project, citing their perception of this initiative as a transfer of competencies from the entity to the state level.

The network of institutional mechanisms for gender equality in the country comprised GEA at the state level and gender centers at the entity levels. There was also the Gender Equality Commission of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, the Gender Equality Commissions of the Federation House of Peoples and the House of Representatives, the Equal Opportunities Committee of the RS National Assembly, and the Commission for Gender Issues of the Brcko District Assembly. Gender equality commissions also were established at the cantonal level; at the local level, respective commissions operated within municipal councils.

Sexual Harassment: Combating violence against women and domestic violence is mainly the responsibility of the entities. BiH law defines and prohibits gender-based harassment, including sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination.

NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a serious problem but that women rarely reported it due to the expectation they would not receive systematic support from law enforcement institutions and that the perpetrators would go unpunished or receive light punishment, as evident by years of such practices by judicial authorities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

There was no comprehensive sexual education program, and education, including on reproductive health and related topics, was not standardized through the country. Members of minorities, in particular Romani women, experienced disparities in access to health-care information and services, including for reproductive health. For example, many Romani women were not enrolled in the public insurance system because of their inability to meet local legal requirements due to the lack of official documentation of residency or registration, poverty, and social marginalization, which prevented them from accessing health care. Another problem for Romani women was that moving from one part of the country to another invalidates their registration and makes their access to health services subject to a different set of rules and requirements.

Both BiH entities (the Federation and Republika Srpska) as well as the Brcko District have laws that provide for survivors of sexual violence to access sexual and reproductive health services. Women with disabilities in BiH continued to face obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health. For example, health-care facilities lacked staff trained to work with women with disabilities and gynecological examination tables adjusted for women with certain disabilities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property, and authorities generally treated women equally. The law does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work, but it forbids gender discrimination. Women and men generally received equal pay for equal work at government-owned enterprises but not at all private businesses. As evaluated by the Gender Equality Agency in the 2018-2022 Gender Action Plan, women in the country faced multiple obstacles in the labor market, such as longer waiting periods for their first jobs, long employment disruptions due to maternity leave or elder care, and the inability of middle-aged women to successfully re-enter the labor market due to market shifts and discontinuation of some types of work. NGOs also reported that during hiring interviews, potential employers routinely asked women if they were planning to have a family soon, sometimes requesting that women sign a written agreement stipulating that they do not plan to become pregnant in the next three years.

Both Federation and RS labor laws stipulate that an employer must not terminate a woman’s employment contract while she exercises her rights to be pregnant; use maternity leave; work half time after the expiration of maternity leave; work half time until a dependent child is three years of age if the child requires enhanced care according to the findings of a competent health institution; or use leave for breastfeeding. While the law provides for these rights, its implementation was inconsistent. In practice women were often unable to use maternity leave for the period of one year as provided by law, return to their work position after maternity leave, or take advantage of the right to work half time. Employers continued to terminate pregnant women and new mothers despite the existence of legal protections. The level of social compensation during maternity leave was regulated unequally in different parts of the country. The RS government paid a monthly KM 405 ($250) maternity allowance to unemployed new mothers for a period of one year or for a period of 18 months in cases of twins and following the birth of every third and subsequent child. Employed mothers were entitled to one year of paid maternity leave. In the Federation this compensation is regulated differently in each of its 10 cantons, while Federation labor law and law on social protection provide only a framework for compensation. For example, Sarajevo Canton pays 533 KM ($307) per month for one year, while Western Herzegovina Canton pays 80 percent of the last earned salary of the employee for the first six months and a fixed amount defined by the canton for the remaining six months. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies. According to a Center for Security Studies survey, women made up only 20 percent of police agencies in BiH and generally held low officer ranks, with no women in ranks of a general or chief inspector general of police forces. The survey found that women were generally underrepresented in managerial positions.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl birth ratio for the country was 107 boys per 100 girls in 2020.

Harassment and discrimination against members of minorities continued throughout the country, although not as frequently as in previous years. The Interreligious Council of BiH reported 17 attacks against religious buildings during 2020. Members of minority groups also continued to experience discrimination in employment and education in both the government and private sectors. While the law prohibits discrimination, human rights activists noted that authorities did not adequately enforce the law. For example in 2020, 119 potential bias-motivated incidents were reported to police in BiH with the most common bias based on ethnicity, which in the country is linked to religion. The most frequent incidents were damage to religious facilities, property damage, and verbal assault. One case was judged to be a hate crime because of the court’s applying a mandatory aggravating circumstance for an ethnicity-based security threat, resulting in a suspended prison sentence in 2020.

Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities at times focused on symbols and buildings of that minority’s predominant religion. For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Authorities frequently discriminated against Roma, especially against Romani women who continued to be the most vulnerable and experience the most discrimination of any group in the country. They experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities; nearly 95 percent remained unemployed. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Romani community vulnerabilities. A significant percentage of Roma were homeless or without water or electricity in their homes. Many dwellings were overcrowded, and residents lacked proof of property ownership. Inability to prove property ownership made it difficult for Roma to obtain identity documents, which are basic precondition for accessing many other civil rights, such as education and healthcare. Approximately three-fourths of Roma lived in openly segregated neighborhoods with very poor basic infrastructure.

In the 2013 census, 12,583 persons registered as Roma, a number that observers believed significantly understated the actual number of Roma in the country. Romani activists reported that a minimum of 40,000 Roma lived in the country, which was like Council of Europe estimates. Observers believed the discrepancy in the census figure was the result of numerous manipulations that occurred with the Roma census registration in 2013. Romani activists reported that in many instances, Roma were told by census takers that they had to register as Bosniaks, had their census forms filled out for them, or were simply bypassed altogether.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen regardless of the child’s place of birth. A child born in the country to parents whose citizenships were unknown or who were stateless is entitled to citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. As of September the NGO Vasa Prava had been working on 43 pending cases related to birth/citizenship registration of persons under 18 years of age. New amendments to the Federation law on extrajudicial proceedings opened a potential legal path to resolve pending and difficult cases of civil registration in the Federation through court proceedings.

Education: The law prescribed that education be free through the secondary level but compulsory only for children between the ages of six and 15. In practice, parents needed to pay for books, supplies, and with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet connection and telephones, tablets, or laptops. This left many disadvantaged children without access to regular schooling, especially in the Federation, where students attending grades five to nine had mostly online classes in the 2020-21 school year. Due to inadequate registration and persistent poverty and marginalization, only 35 percent of Romani children between the ages of six and 15 regularly attended school.

More than 50 schools across the Federation remained segregated by ethnicity and religion. Although a “two schools under one roof” system was instituted following the 1992-95 conflict to bring together returnee communities violently separated by conflict, the system calcified under the divisive and prejudicial administration of leading political parties. These parties controlled schools through the country’s 13 ministries of education and often enforced education policies based upon patronage and ethnic exclusion. Where students, parents, and teachers chose to resist segregation, they were frequently met with political indifference and sometimes intimidation, which further hurt the quality of education children received. Funds were spent on perpetuating the “two schools under one roof” system rather than on improving school infrastructure, training teachers, improving teaching materials, or conducting extracurricular activities. The situation compounded inefficiencies in the country’s education system, as evidenced by poor performance by 15-year-old students who participated in the 2018 international Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) study implemented by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The results of the study showed that the country’s students were three years behind in schooling compared to the OECD average and that more than 50 percent of students did not possess functional knowledge in language, mathematics, and science. Results for disadvantaged students showed that they lagged five years behind the OECD average. Results were similar for 10-year-old students who participated in the 2019 international Trends in Mathematics and Social Sciences (TIMSS) assessment implemented by the International Education Agency. The results of the study showed that almost one quarter of students did not reach the Low International Benchmark, which is a Student Development Goal. According to the study, “Rural and socio-disadvantaged students are falling behind and less than 20 percent of them have access to computers in school.”

As demonstrated by the 2018 PISA testing results and confirmed by the results from TIMSS, the country faced a learning crisis. In December 2020 when the TIMSS results were published, the international community (the European Commission in BiH, the OSCE, and UNICEF) issued a joint press statement noting that “combined with the pandemic, BiH is facing a learning catastrophe that could undermine decades of progress and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”

Returnee students (those belonging to a minority ethnic group returning to their homes after being displaced by the war) continued to face barriers in exercising their language rights. For the eighth consecutive year, parents of Bosniak children in returnee communities throughout the RS continued to boycott public schools in favor of sending their children to alternative schools financed and organized by the Federation Ministry of Education with support from the governments of the Sarajevo and Zenica-Doboj Cantons and the Islamic community. The boycott was based on the refusal of the RS Ministry of Education and Culture to approve a group of national subjects (specific courses to which Bosniak, Serb, and Croat students are entitled and taught in their constituent language according to their ethnicity). Parents of children in one of these schools in Vrbanjci, Kotor Varos, won a court case in December 2019 when the RS Supreme Court ruled that their children were entitled to instruction on the national subjects in Bosnian. Although the RS Supreme Court decision was final, the RS Ministry of Education failed to implement the decision. As a result, 60 children continued learning in the Hanifici Islamic Center building, where teachers traveled from the Zenica-Doboj Canton, and in some cases from Sarajevo Canton. In 2020 lawyers representing Bosniak parents filed a request for execution of the decision at the Kotor Varos basic court, but the decision had not been implemented as of November.

In the Federation, Serb students likewise were denied language rights as provided in the Federation constitution, especially in schools with Croat language of instruction. One example was the Glamoc elementary school in Canton 10, where authorities prevented the use of the Serbian language and textbooks, despite the significant number of returnee Serb students. Human rights activists noted that changes in the history curriculum and in history and other textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups other than their own and that other materials missed opportunities to dispel stereotypes by excluding any mention of some ethnic groups, particularly Jews and Roma. State and entity officials generally did not act to prevent such discrimination. Human Rights Watch asserted that ethnic quotas used by the Federation and the RS to allocate civil service jobs disproportionately excluded Roma and other minorities. The quotas were based on the 1991 census, which undercounted these minorities and was never revised.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, but family violence against children was a problem. According to UNICEF, there was no recent data available on the overall level of violence against children in the country. While relevant institutions collect scattered data, there was no unified data collection system. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. Only a small number of cases of violence against children were reported and, consequently, only a few cases were brought before courts. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced domestic violence. In many cases, children were indirect victims of family violence. The Sarajevo Canton Social Welfare Center reported that more than 100 children were victims of domestic violence during 2020, of which 13 children were direct victims. In the cases where children were direct victims, proceedings were launched, and the parents were sanctioned. The RS Ministry of Interior registered 843 cases of domestic violence from March to December of 2020, of which 80 victims were children. It also reported that the number of cases of domestic violence against children aged 14 to 16 increased by more than 100 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Municipal centers for social work are responsible for protecting children’s rights but lacked resources and the ability to provide housing for children who fled abuse or who required removal from abusive homes.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but may be as young as 16 with parental consent. In certain Romani communities, girls were married between the ages of 12 and 14, and Romani human rights activists reported that early marriages were on the rise. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were often reluctant to investigate and prosecute forced marriages involving Romani minors, attributing it to Romani custom. Activists also warned authorities often returned children to their families even when their parents were the ones involved in their exploitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District have laws criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under entity criminal codes, the abuse of a child or juvenile for pornography is a crime that carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. Authorities generally enforced these laws. The law prohibits sexual acts with a person younger than 18.

Girls were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and there were reports that Romani girls as young as 12 were subject to early and forced marriage and domestic servitude. Children were used in the production of pornography.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community in the country reported that it had fewer than 1,000 members.

The Jewish community reported a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. In March, an unknown perpetrator drew a swastika on an obituary of a prominent Jewish community member posted at the entrance to the city synagogue, which also serves as the Jewish Community headquarters. The Jewish community also reported a rise in internet-based anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish community. According to a 2018-21 tracking of anti-Semitic online speech by the Jewish organization La Benevolencija, the official website of the Sarajevo-based soccer club Zeljeznicar contained numerous anti-Semitic posts when Zeljeznicar played Israeli soccer clubs, including anti-Semitic slurs and various conspiracy theories.

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

Persons with disabilities remained a very marginalized group due to insufficient and inadequate laws that govern their rights and to their exclusion from decision-making processes. The laws of both entities require increased accessibility to buildings, health services, education, and transportation for persons with disabilities, but authorities rarely enforced the requirement. The laws in both entities and at the state level prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued. The government lacked a uniform legal definition of disabilities. The most frequent forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities included obstacles in realization of individual rights and delayed payments of disability allowances, employment, and social and health protection. Support to persons with disabilities was dependent on the origin of the disability. Persons who acquired their disability during the 1992-1995 conflict, whether they were war veterans or civilian victims of war, had priority and greater allowances than other persons with disabilities. BiH had a Council of Persons with Disabilities of BiH (the Council), which was an expert and advisory body to the Council of Ministers (CoM) with the responsibility to monitor the rights of persons with disabilities in BiH. Different organizations of persons with disabilities throughout the country participated in the work of the Council. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, together with the Council, regularly marked December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The competent ministries regularly allocated, in accordance with the budget possibilities, financial resources for the support of organizations of persons with disabilities through various grants and through lottery profits. Advocacy organizations argued that these funds are symbolic and insufficient for their adequate functioning. Also, certain funds were allocated at the level of individual local communities, resulting in large disparities between benefits provided by local communities.

The Federation had a strategy for the advancement of rights and status of persons with disabilities in the Federation for the period 2016-21, while the RS had a strategy for improving the social conditions of persons with disabilities in the RS for 2017-2026. The strategies were developed in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both strategies had a monitoring system implemented through the establishment of coordination bodies. In addition, in the Federation, coordination bodies were established at the cantonal level as well. In the Brcko District, the law provided expanded rights of persons with disabilities, but Brcko had no separate strategy for implementing the law. Entity governments also provide funds within their budgets for the operation of vocational rehabilitation and retraining funds. Activities on the implementation of inclusive education continued in the education system.

Human rights NGOs complained that the construction of public buildings without access for persons with disabilities continued. Both entities have a strategy for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of health, education, accessibility, professional rehabilitation and employment, social welfare, and culture and sports. NGOs complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to support persons with disabilities. The law provides for children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools with common curricula “when feasible.” In practice, students with disabilities continued to struggle for access to a quality, inclusive education due to physical barriers in schools; the lack of accommodation for children with audio, visual, or mental disabilities; and the absence of in-school assistants and trained teachers. Schools often reported a lack of financial and physical resources that prohibited them from accommodating these students. While some children with disabilities attended integrated schools, most children with disabilities were enrolled in segregated schools. Children with severe disabilities, however, were not included in the education process at all and depended entirely on their parents or NGOs for education. There were no provisions for assistance to students with disabilities who needed additional support to continue their education, which further exacerbated the problem. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, notwithstanding that many of them were unable to seek employment because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.

The country registered approximately 382 persons with HIV or AIDS (249 in the Federation and 133 in the RS), with 20 to 30 new cases reported annually. It was believed, however, that the actual number of cases was higher and that due to stigma and discrimination, many persons avoided testing. Social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers. Due to a lack of understanding of the disease and its subsequent stigmatization among the general population, many persons with HIV or AIDS feared revealing their illness, even to close family members. The country had no permanent or organized programs of psychosocial support for these persons.

While the law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. Both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed based on gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Hate speech, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI+ individuals were widespread. For example, all social media posts and online reports related to the marking of Pride month and the Pride march were followed by an avalanche of hate speech, threats, and calls to violence against LGBTQI+ persons. The NGO Sarajevo Open Center (SOC) reported that transgender persons continued to be the most vulnerable LGBTQI+ group, as their gender identities were more visible. In its 2021 Pink Report, the SOC reported that every third LGBTQI+ person in the country experienced some type of discrimination. The SOC believed the actual number of LGBTQI+ persons who experienced discrimination was much higher but underreported due to fear.

In 2020 the SOC documented five discrimination cases: two involved workplace discrimination; two involved access to services; and one was related to access to health services. Four of those five cases pertained to discrimination based on sexual orientation, and one to discrimination based on sex characteristics. In one of the five cases, which pertained to discrimination in the workplace, the perpetrator was sanctioned through the employer’s internal procedures and the victim reported that it resulted in improved conditions. None of the remaining four cases resulted in a lawsuit or a complaint against the institution. BiH courts had yet to issue a single final ruling on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

During 2020 the SOC also documented two cases of hate speech and calling for violence and hatred and 14 cases of crimes and incidents motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Of the 14 cases, five took place in a public place or online, ranging from threats to violence and infliction of bodily injuries, while four cases were cases of domestic violence. The prosecution of assault and other crimes committed against LGBTQI+ individuals remained delayed and generally inadequate.

The SOC is currently pursuing two strategic court cases, which pertain to discrimination in access to goods and services in the market and enticement to discrimination. The first case was under appeal, after the first instance court ruled that there was no discrimination. The second case was at the municipal court, and the first hearing was pending as of November.

The Sarajevo Canton government adopted its first Gender Action Plan for 2019-2022 as a public document that contains a set of measures intended to improve gender equality in government institutions.

Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes dialogue among the four traditional religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property continued. During the year the council registered 17 reported acts of vandalism against religious sites but stated the actual number of incidents was likely much higher (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in connection with the 1992-95 conflict, or to deflect responsibility for wartime brutality. For example on November 17, the Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, said that wherever the Republic of BiH Army was in control during the 1992-1995 war, there were no mass graves or prisoners’ camps. Associations of BiH Croat prisoners of war disputed the statement. On November 17, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) leader Dragan Covic and other BiH Croat political leaders celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the self-declared administrative territory of Herceg Bosna in Mostar, which was abolished by the 1994 Washington Agreement. Some media strongly criticized the celebration, highlighting that six former high-ranking Herceg-Bosna officials were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

During the year the Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, as well as senior officials in his political party SNSD (the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats), and other RS officials and leaders continued to deny that Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, despite the findings of multiple local and international courts. On July 21, the RS government released a report, prepared by the so called Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Sufferings of All Peoples in the Srebrenica Region between 1992 and 1995, which was established by the RS entity government. The report disputed that genocide was committed in Srebrenica and sought to cast doubt on whether thousands of Bosniaks who were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 were innocent civilians. The report also accused the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of staging politically biased trials of Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, and of wrongly classifying the Srebrenica massacres as genocide.

On July 23, outgoing BiH High Representative Valentin Inzko imposed amendments to the BiH criminal code, criminalizing genocide denial; glorification of war crimes; and incitement of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred, and violence. The amendments entered into force on July 28. The BiH Parliamentary Assembly has the right to debate and vote on the imposed amendments, although they remain in force even if parliament rejects or refuses to endorse them. In response to the criminal code amendments, the Republika Srpska National Assembly (RSNA) held a special session on July 30 and enacted a law preventing the implementation of the decision of the High Representative on the amendments to the BiH Criminal Code. The RSNA also adopted amendments to the RS Criminal Code criminalizing disparagement of the RS or “its peoples” as “aggressors” or “genocidal,” prescribing a sentence of imprisonment between six months to 15 years, depending on whether the perpetrator was a government official or whether the statement was made with the intention of changing the RS constitutional order, its territorial integrity, or independence. On October 12, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic signed the July legislation into law. The two laws entered into force on October 13.

Botswana

Executive Summary

Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy. Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly. The Botswana Democratic Party has held a majority in the National Assembly since the nation’s founding in 1966. In 2019 President Mokgweetsi Masisi won his first full five-year term in an election that outside observers deemed free and fair.

The Botswana Police Service, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security, has primary responsibility for internal security. The Botswana Defense Force, which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, has some domestic security responsibilities. The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, which reports to the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

In April 2020, at President Masisi’s request, the National Assembly passed a six-month state of emergency as a COVID-19 mitigation measure. The National Assembly, again at the president’s request, extended the state of emergency for an additional six months in September 2020 and in April. Ostensibly to give the government necessary powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the terms of the state of emergency included a ban on the right of unions to strike, limits on free speech related to COVID-19, and restrictions on religious activities. It also served as the basis for several lockdowns that forced most citizens to remain in their homes for several weeks to curb the spread of the virus. Opposition groups, human rights organizations, and labor unions argued that the state of emergency powers were too broad, placed too much power in the presidency, and were unnecessarily restrictive. Parliament did not extend the state of emergency beyond September 30 when President Masisi declared it no longer necessary.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including an unjustified arrest or prosecution of journalists and the existence of criminal slander and libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; serious acts of government corruption; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses or were implicated in corruption. Impunity was generally not a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape without specifying gender but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. By law formal courts try all rape cases. Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges, although police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators. In 2019 the BPS Commissioner announced BPS would no longer allow the withdrawal of gender-based violence cases waiting to be heard by magistrate court. In October 2020 President Masisi announced the BPS would establish standard operating procedures for dealing with gender-based violence, including establishing dedicated units to handle such cases, establishing a special hotline for victims, and requiring victims to be interviewed in private spaces. In November 2020 the government introduced special courts to hear gender-based violence cases. By law the minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment; the sentence increases to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender was unaware of being HIV-positive; and increases to 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender was aware of being HIV-positive. A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.

The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but domestic violence remained a serious problem. Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murder cases. For example, over the Independence Day weekend in October, authorities reported six women were killed in domestic violence incidents.

The government regularly referred survivors of gender-based violence to a local NGO that ran shelters for women.

In April 2020 shelter operators and civil society groups reported a significant increase in victims of gender-based violence at the start of the seven-week COVID-19 lockdown. The shelter operators noted the situation has since stabilized but was still significantly higher than before COVID-19 emerged. The government made statements to discourage such violence but did not devote extra resources to address the issue or help shelters overwhelmed by the influx of victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors. Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand. Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, was widespread.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. A 2018 study of family planning found that 98 percent of women knew of at least one family-planning method. The major factors hindering greater contraceptive prevalence rates included a shortage of supplies, provider biases, inadequately skilled health-care workers, HIV status, culture, religion, and popularly accepted myths and misconceptions. Access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was widespread, with 95 percent of the population living within an average of five miles from the nearest health facility.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including postexposure prophylaxis, emergency contraceptives, counseling, treatment of injuries, and rapid HIV testing.

According to 2019 data, the maternal mortality ratio was 166 deaths per 100,000 live births. The leading causes of maternal mortality included postpartum hemorrhage, genital tract and pelvic infections following unsafe abortion, and ectopic pregnancy.

Discrimination: Under the constitution women and men have the same civil rights and legal status. Under customary law based on tribal practice, however, several traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults. Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and the government generally enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.

The eight tribes of the Tswana group, who speak mutually intelligible dialects of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence, are officially recognized by law, and were granted permanent membership in the House of Chiefs. Constitutional amendments subsequently enabled the recognition of tribes from other groups.

The government does not recognize any group or tribe as indigenous.

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San. The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents. The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa in employment, housing, health services, or because of cultural practices. The Basarwa, however, remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land. The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, and lacked adequate political representation. Some members were not fully aware of their civil rights. During the year there were no reported threats to the Basarwa from business or commercial interests.

The government interpreted a 2006 High Court ruling against the exclusion of Basarwa from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to apply only to the 189 plaintiffs, their spouses, and their minor children. Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling.

Government officials maintained the resettlement programs for Basarwa were voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife. In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous persons. In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives. There has been no ruling in the case to date.

No government programs directly address discrimination against the Basarwa. Except for CKGR lands designated in the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.

Children

Birth Registration: In general, citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory. The government generally registered births promptly. Unregistered children may be denied some government services, including enrollment in secondary schools and national exams.

Education: Primary education is tuition free for the first 10 years of school but is not compulsory. Parents of secondary school students must cover tuition fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books. These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.

Human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized the policy that designates English and Setswana as the only officially recognized languages, thereby forcing some children to learn in a nonnative language. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted that the lack of mother tongue education or failure to incorporate minority languages into the school curriculum may constitute discrimination and encouraged the government to review its language policy regarding education. In July the government announced the final draft of an education language policy to provide guidance on implementation of mother tongue teaching in schools. The government proposed to implement 11 languages for Phase 1 beginning January 2022.

Child Abuse: The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children. There was reportedly widespread abuse of children. Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child. Police referred children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as to local NGOs. Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

The deputy opposition whip, Pono Moatlhodi, was charged in 2020 with assault for allegedly setting a dog on a boy age 12 he suspected of stealing mangoes. The lawmaker offered the boy 40,000 pula ($3,480) in compensation, but government prosecutors rejected the offer and pursued an assault case against him. The case began May, but there was no verdict as of the end of the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes. The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is younger than the minimum legal age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child sex trafficking and sexual abuse of children. Conviction of sex with a child younger than 18 constitutes defilement (statutory rape) and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration. The penalty for conviction of not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from a substantial monetary fine to imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both. Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished, if convicted, with a substantial monetary fine, imprisonment for no less than five years but no longer than 15 years, or both. The law further requires the government to develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. In 2019 member of parliament Polson Majaga was charged with defilement of a minor and was subsequently suspended by the BDP from party activities but retained his seat in the legislature. In March Majaga was acquitted of defilement.

Child advocacy groups reported increases in sexual abuse of children during COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, in April 2020 UNICEF reported 23 cases of defilement and 22 rape cases during the first seven days of the national lockdown.

Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Displaced Children: Orphans and vulnerable children received government support. Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

Persons with disabilities could not always access education, health services, public buildings on an equal basis with others. The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking. It mandates access to public buildings and transportation, but access for persons with disabilities was limited. Although newer government buildings were constructed to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible. Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities. The government at times provided government information and communication in accessible formats. President Masisi, however, gave several national addresses on COVID-19 and other issues during the year that did not include a Botswana Television-provided sign language interpreter.

Violence against persons with disabilities was not common, and authorities punished those who committed violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but there is no specific disability act. Children with disabilities attended school, although human rights NGOs raised concerns the law does not stipulate inclusive education for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended both public schools and segregated schools, depending on resource availability and the wishes of parents. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed that most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons. The special rapporteur also noted that the absence of sign language interpreters in the health-care sector inhibited the dissemination of information. The Independent Electoral Commission made some accommodations during elections to enable persons with disabilities to vote, including providing ballots in braille and installing temporary ramps at polling places that were not accessible to disabled persons.

There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities. The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination. Individuals may also submit cases directly to the Industrial Court. The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities. During the year parliament passed an updated National Policy on Disabilities.

According to 2020 UNAIDS data, the HIV prevalence rate for persons 15 to 49 years of age was 20.9 percent. According to the UN Population Fund, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly services, as well as gender-based violence, contributed to high HIV rates. The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs.

There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and no reported cases of authorities investigating abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally because of overt official intimidation.

The penal code previously included language that was interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. In 2019 the High Court found this language unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct in the country. While the ruling party welcomed the decision, the government appealed the judgment. In November the Court of Appeals ruled to officially decriminalize same-sex sexual activity.

Security forces generally did not enforce the laws that previously forbade same-sex sexual activity; there were no reports during the year that police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity.

Public meetings of LGBTQI+ advocacy groups and debates on LGBTQI+ matters occurred without disruption or interference. In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register the NGO Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) formally. LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.

The three national police forces – the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police – have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces report to the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, members of racial and indigenous groups and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender, including but not limited to, homicide that escalated from other forms of domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women. The law stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,350 femicides in 2020, compared with 1,326 in 2019. According to the National Council of Justice, the number of new cases involving the killing of a woman rose 39 percent in 2020 to 2,788 cases, and courts imposed sentences in 2,016 cases of femicide in 2020 – a 24 percent decrease from the 2,657 sentences in 2019, due to process difficulties in light of the pandemic. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 81.5 percent of the time.

The state of Rio de Janeiro had a total of 42 victims of femicide in the first five months of the year according to the Institute of Public Security. The state of Bahia had 64 cases of femicide in the first six months, according to the Bahian Public Security Secretariat. The Espirito Santo Public Security Secretariat recorded 13 victims in the first five months of the year. The state of Minas Gerais recorded 67 victims of femicide from January to June and 70,450 victims of domestic violence during the same period.

On April 2, justice prosecutor Andre Luiz Garcia de Pinho killed his wife, Lorenza Maria Silva de Pinho. In July the Minas Gerais Court of Justice decided that de Pinho would be brought to trial for aggravated homicide. He remained in pretrial detention after a request for habeas corpus was denied.

NGO and public security representatives reported that, culturally, domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter and that survivors and bystanders often did not report cases of violence. On July 14, police arrested Iverson de Souza Araujo (also known as DJ Ivis), in Fortaleza after videos of assaults against his former wife, Pamella Holanda, were posted by her on her social media account. The public release of the video led to widespread public condemnation, and distribution contracts and music collaborations were cancelled.

According to NGOs and public security data, gender-based violence was widespread. According to the 15th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 60,460 cases of rape in 2020. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. The state of Sao Paulo recorded an average of 34 cases of rape per day in the first quarter of the year, 7 percent higher than the same period of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. Data showed that 75 percent of the victims were girls younger than age 14.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. In January, Rio de Janeiro State’s Civil Police announced a new hotline for victims of gender-based violence in an effort to reduce instances of feminicide. During the pandemic the court of justice in the state of Piaui invested in campaigns and online assistance to facilitate access for victims of violence. There were several ways to denounce domestic violence: through the Salve Maria application or calling the Francisca Trindade Center, Maria da Penha Patrol, Esperanca Garcia Institute, Ombudsman of the Public Ministry of Piaui, or Public Defender’s Office. In April in the state of Piaui, requests for protective measures for women victims of domestic violence increased more than 30 percent, compared with the same period in 2020.

During the first quarter of the year, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw a 375 percent increase in preventive arrests for domestic violence, compared with the same period of 2020. A key factor contributing to this increase was the rise of information sharing with the government through electronic means, such as WhatsApp and Online Police. The state also inaugurated an additional 17 salas das margaridas, a dedicated space within police stations to receive women at risk, bringing the total in Rio Grande do Sul to 40.

In July 2020 Rio de Janeiro’s then governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June 2020 domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent, in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August 2020 a police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.

The law recommends health facilities contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and instructs police to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police.

Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. In 2020, 44,400 cases of rape and rape of vulnerable minors were registered, representing 60.6 percent of the total number of rape cases. A “vulnerable” victim is defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. According to the 15th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, 54 percent of these victims were 11 years old or younger.

In Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, a group of five men (two adults and three adolescents) raped and killed an 11-year-old Kaiowa indigenous girl in August. Police arrested the perpetrators, who confessed the crimes, and indicted them on charges of rape of a vulnerable person, femicide, and aggravated homicide. One of them, the girl’s uncle, died in prison three days later, and police were investigating the case as a possible suicide.

On March 12, the STF unanimously decided to invalidate the use of the “legitimate defense of honor thesis” in cases of femicide. The 11 STF justices assessed this thesis contradicts constitutional principles of human dignity, protection of life, and gender equality and, therefore, cannot be applied in jury trials as a defense argument in cases of femicide. The legitimate defense of honor thesis was used in jury courts to largely absolve men who killed women to “protect their own honor,” for example in cases of betrayal in romantic relationships.

On July 28, the federal government approved a law that includes the crime of psychological violence against women in the penal code, assigning a punishment of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The text approved by Congress defines the crime as: “Causing emotional damage to women that can harm and disturb them, or their full development, or that aims to degrade or control their actions, behaviors, beliefs and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, blackmail, ridicule, limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that harm their psychological health and self-determination.”

On May 10, the government of the state of Alagoas inaugurated A Casa da Mulher Alagoana. The center serves women victims of domestic violence and provides professional psychology, advocacy, and social care services. Victims may file a police report and request protective measures in-person at the facility, as well as receive temporary shelter.

In the state of Ceara, the Women’s Reference Center, which offers a psychologist, lawyer, and social worker service and partnership with the Maria da Penha Patrol, received 240 requests for assistance in 2020, but within the first four months of 2021 it responded to 142 requests. According to the center’s director, most victims were financially dependent on their partner, which deepened during the COVID pandemic.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. The law includes actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.

On June 15, the National Council of Justice ruled that Judge Glicerio de Angiolis Silva from Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice should be removed from the bench for two years for morally and sexually harassing public workers and interns at the court of Miracema, in the northwestern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 2015. The victims reported that the judge asked them to send him photographs of them in bikinis, asked them out, and requested them to work late with no reasonable purpose. By law the judge was still entitled to receive his salary while away from his regular duties.

In June the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Police opened an investigation into plastic surgeon Klaus Wietzke Brodbeck on suspicion of sexually abusing more than 95 women patients, including one sedated patient he allegedly raped after surgery.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraceptives and termination of pregnancy as provided for by law. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), persons in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services.

According to UNFPA, in 2020, 89 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods, and skilled health personnel attended to 99 percent of births from 2014 to 2019. UNFPA also reported that adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls for those between the ages of 15 to 19 averaged 53 births for the period of 2003 to 2018. The Ministry of Health reported that the maternal mortality ratio averaged 59 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2018 and was higher among Black women than among white women. Data published in May by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation found that the risk of death of pregnant brown and Black women from COVID-19 was almost twice that of white women and noted that Black women were less likely to have gynecological and prenatal care and travelled farthest to reach a maternity ward.

In May, UNICEF and UNFPA published a report on menstrual poverty experienced by Brazilian girls who lived in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, sometimes without access to basic sanitation services, hygiene resources, and minimal knowledge about the body. More than 700,000 girls had no access to a bathroom or shower in their homes. More than four million girls experienced at least one deprivation of hygiene in schools, including lack of access to feminine care products and basic facilities such as toilets and soap. Nearly 200,000 of these students were completely deprived of the minimum conditions to handle menstruation at school. A study from Girl Up Brazil, a network to end menstrual poverty in the country, found that one in four girls had missed school because they lacked access to feminine products.

In October, President Bolsonaro signed a law to create the Program for the Protection and Promotion of Menstrual Health, a strategy to promote health and attention to feminine hygiene and aims to combat lack of access to hygiene products related to menstruation. The president vetoed a provision contained in the measure to provide free basic hygiene products to low-income students, persons living on the streets, and prisoners because he said the legislation did not establish a funding source. In November the Foreign Trade Chamber reduced the import tax rate from 12 to 10 percent on sanitary pads and baby diapers to make the products more affordable to consumers.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. According to the International Labor Organization, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, but the law was not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 57 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.

In November 2020 a Black man was beaten to death by security guards outside a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The two guards, including an off-duty Military Police officer, were arrested for assaulting and killing Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas. The attack was filmed by witnesses and generated outcry nationally, mobilizing a series of protests across the country. Carrefour condemned the act, terminated its contract with the company that hired the guards, and promised to take measures promoting diversity and inclusion, including the creation of an “antiracist plan” to provide training and protocol for employees with an emphasis on welcoming clients, guidance for valuing human rights and diversity, and combating racism. Carrefour also committed to diversifying hiring practices and setting a requirement to hire at least 30,000 Black workers in three years. In June, Carrefour signed an agreement with the prosecutor’s offices, the public defender’s offices, Educafro, and the Santo Dias Human Rights Center and agreed to invest R$115 million ($20.6 million) in human rights organizations in payment for collective moral damages. The funds were to support undergraduate and graduate scholarships for Afrodescendant students; scholarships for language and technology courses; social inclusion and Black entrepreneurship projects; the establishment of a museum at the Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro, the main gateway for enslaved Africans who arrived in the country; and public funding for justice institutions and entities.

In February, Sao Paulo Military Police Lieutenant Colonel Evanilson Correa de Souza suffered racist verbal abuse while speaking at an online international conference organized by the University of Sao Paulo. The police officer, who is Black, was speaking about the program to combat racism within police forces in Sao Paulo when one of the participants started writing insults on the shared screen. The aggressor also used pornographic images to cover the colonel’s presentation.

The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.

Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “Blackness” to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be Black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, data analysis from the National Household Sample Survey showed that in 2019 Black women (28 percent of the population) made up 27 percent of students in public higher education, an increase of 8 percent since 2001.

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 896,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.

The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, indigenous lands and all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Approximately 14 percent of the country’s land area is designated as indigenous territory.

Indigenous peoples have the exclusive possession and land use rights in their traditional lands. Requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands must be approved by Congress, in consultation with the indigenous communities. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved legislation that rules and regulates these activities. The exploitation of natural resources on indigenous territory by nonindigenous persons is illegal.

Beginning in 2019, tension and provocative rhetoric increased between the Bolsonaro administration and many indigenous leaders regarding the extent of indigenous protections and rights. On June 28, in a report presented at the 47th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser for the prevention of genocide, cited Brazil as a genocide risk.

On August 9, indigenous leaders accused President Bolsonaro of genocide at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in response to the deaths of 1,162 indigenous individuals from 163 communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders also argued that the dismantling of government institutions charged with social and environmental protection had triggered invasions of indigenous lands, deforestation, and fires in the biomes.

Through a series of decisions by the Ministry of Health and the STF, beginning in January, indigenous persons were prioritized for COVID-19 immunizations. The government initially focused on vaccines for indigenous persons in officially demarcated territories and later expanded preferential access to indigenous persons living in cities or other areas. By June, according to the Ministry of Health, 72 percent of the eligible indigenous population residing in indigenous areas was fully vaccinated, compared with a 39 percent fully vaccinated rate for the overall population as of September 3.

NGOs claimed the lack of regulation and attempts to create new legislation or change existing legislation to promote economic development, along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions, resulted in the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental reported more than 20,000 miners were illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report during the year released by the indigenous NGO Missionary Council, there were 263 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 253 indigenous territories in 19 states in 2020. A MapBiomas study released in August showed that the area of illegal mining in indigenous lands and conservation areas expanded 495 percent from 2010 to 2020. In March the Federal Police led an operation to shut down a large illegal mining camp in Yanomami lands in Roraima. Officials compared the illegal camp on Yanomami lands to a small city capable of housing more than 2,000 persons, with markets, restaurants, and a dental office.

Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to reporting by the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic NGO that represents rural workers on land rights, there were 1,083 cases of violence related to land disputes in 2020, impacting more than 130,000 families, compared with 1,254 incidents that affected 144,741 families in 2019. There were 178 invasions into territories in 2020, in comparison with only nine in 2019. Most of the victims of these invasions were indigenous persons (54.5 percent), while 11.8 percent of the invasions took place in quilombola communities. Among the conflicts noted in the report, there were 18 killings of indigenous persons (39 percent of the victims), and 12 of 35 victims of attempted homicide were indigenous.

In May the Hutukara Yanomami Association reported a series of attacks against the Palimiu community in Roraima by illegal miners, and media reports indicated that one indigenous person and four miners were shot and wounded. Yanomami leaders reported that two children, ages one and five, drowned during the attack. A federal court ruled on May 13 that the government should keep permanent troops in place to prevent conflict. The Federal Police and the army visited the site, conducted operations to halt mining operations, and seized equipment.

According to the Missionary Council report, there were 182 killings of indigenous persons in 2019 – a 61 percent increase, compared with 113 cases in 2018. In May 2020 the Federal Public Ministry accused two indigenous men, Nilson Carneiro Sousa Guajajara and Eduardo dos Santos Guajajara, of killing indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues Guajajara in March in Arame, Maranhao State. The victim was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the Indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.

On February 12, state troopers shot indigenous leader Isaac Tembe in Alto Rio Guama, Para State. According to media reports, Tembe, a leader of the Tenetehara people, was hunting with community members in an area near the Alto Rio Guama when military police officers shot at them. Tembe was killed as the group tried to escape into the woods. According to the Para State Department of Public Security, police were called to investigate cattle theft in the region and, upon arrival at the scene, they heard shots and returned fire in self-defense. According to the local indigenous population, Tembe did not have a gun. The Federal Public Ministry and an internal affairs office from the military police were investigating, but the indigenous group requested the case be federalized due to potential bias by local police and courts.

As of August there were 568 areas of land claimed by indigenous peoples in different stages of the demarcation process: 441 were fully approved and officially recognized and 127 remained under review. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. As of October no indigenous lands had been approved under the Bolsonaro administration, aligning with his pledge when he entered office to not increase indigenous land designations.

Throughout the year indigenous groups protested in Brasilia and in state capitals to protect their ancestral lands. In June an estimated 500 to 850 members of indigenous groups protested in Brasilia to demand that Congress cease consideration of a bill that proposes additional requirements and barriers for demarcation of indigenous lands. Protesters broke down security barriers placed to prevent entry into the federal Chamber of Deputies due the pandemic, and chamber security forces responded with tear and pepper gas, while the protesters allegedly shot arrows at the security guards. According to the indigenous groups, security forces also fired rubber bullets, an accusation the chamber denied. Three officers and at least three protesters were wounded and referred to local hospitals. The chamber’s vote on the bill in its Constitution and Justice Committee was postponed until June 23, when it was approved. The bill requires approval in the chamber before moving on to the Senate.

As of November the STF continued to review a case that analyzes the “cutoff date for land claims” thesis, which holds that indigenous peoples can only claim lands on which they were present on October 5, 1988, the day the constitution was promulgated. The decision will set precedent, impacting already completed, ongoing, and future land demarcation processes. On August 22, 6,000 indigenous leaders and supporters camped on Brasilia’s main mall for several days to bring attention to the case and call on the STF to rule against the case. Members of Congress said they would continue with their bill seeking similar timebound requirements irrespective of the STF decision.

The quilombola population – descendants of escaped African slaves – was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.

Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the case mortality rate due to COVID-19 in quilombola communities as of August 18 was 5.3 percent. In comparison, as of August the Ministry of Health reported case mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 2.8 percent and in the northern region, where most indigenous peoples lived, 2.5 percent. As of September 3, the Ministry of Health estimated that 36 percent of quilombolas had been fully vaccinated. Although the government provided quilombola individuals with priority status, in some cases local municipalities did not recognize their priority status or local vaccination sites were not certified, according to research by CONAQ.

Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, threats against women, and threats against community leaders, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, Black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered hygiene practices. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials did not conduct sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. Parents are required to register their newborns within 15 days of the birth or within three months if they live more than approximately 20 miles from the nearest notary. Nevertheless, many children did not have birth certificates.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence, but enforcement was often ineffective, and abuse was widespread. According to data from the National Human Rights Ombudsman, in the first six months of the year, the country registered 47,416 reports of crimes against children and adolescents, compared with 53,525 in the first half of 2020. Of these, 121 were from mistreatment, and 52 were from sexual abuse, such as rape or harassment. The total number of reports in 2020 was 124,839 – a 47 percent increase over 2019 – and experts suspected that pandemic closures resulted in significant underreporting.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (or 16 with parental or legal representative consent). The practice of early marriage was common. A study of child marriage in the northeastern states of Bahia and Maranhao found that pregnancy was the main motivation for child marriage in 15 of 44 cases. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, 26 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

The Alagoas state government invested in campaigns to raise public awareness of the increase of sexual abuse of children and adolescents, largely within the same family, during the pandemic. From January to March, 211 cases of child sexual abuse were registered in the state, an increase from 186 during the same period in 2020.

In Maranhao State, the Department of Health Care for Children and Adolescents carried out a campaign with the theme “You report it, we take care of it” to improve assistance for victims of child sexual abuse. The state registered 99 cases of pregnant children younger than age 14 in 2019 and again in 2020.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in sex trafficking in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The creation of child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine. In June the Ministry of Justice coordinated Brazil’s participation, carried out by state civil police forces, in an international operation to combat crimes of child sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet. The operation carried out 176 search and seizure warrants in 18 states and five countries and resulted in the arrests of 39 individuals in Brazil.

Displaced Children: According to UNICEF, in 2020 refugee support organizations identified more than 1,577 unaccompanied Venezuelan children and adolescents in Pacaraima, Roraima State, and in the first three months of the year the number reached 1,071. According to civil society contacts, some of these minors were at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. Local child protection services offices act as legal guardians so unaccompanied adolescents can go to school and obtain identification papers to access the public health system. In some areas, however, they could not accommodate the influx of children. State shelters in Roraima, the state where most migrants entered the country, could house a maximum of 15 adolescent boys and 13 adolescent girls. According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, some unaccompanied children ended up living on the streets, where they may be particularly vulnerable to abuse or recruitment by criminal gangs.

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.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Brazilian Israelite Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens in the country, of whom approximately 65,000 lived in the state of Sao Paulo and 34,000 in the state of Rio de Janeiro. By law it is a crime to manufacture, sell, distribute, or broadcast symbols, emblems, ornaments, badges, or advertising that use the swastika for purposes of publicizing Nazism, and it provides for a penalty of two to five years of imprisonment.

In 2020 the number of inquiries opened by the Federal Police to investigate pro-Nazi activity increased, with the highest growth in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. According to press reports, in 2019 there were 69 investigations opened for the crime and 110 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021, 36 cases were opened. Federal Police data did not include the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, and Tocantins.

A global survey released in June 2020 by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that the percentage of Brazilians who harbored some anti-Jewish sentiment had grown from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020.

In June, after a six-year process, a federal court in Sao Paulo indicted a man for pro-Nazi and pro-Hitler propaganda on a Russian social network. The defendant was already serving community service sentences for two earlier crimes similar in nature.

In March the Jewish community filed a complaint against Roberto Jefferson, leader of the Brazilian Labor Party, for a social media post in which Jefferson claimed Jews sacrificed children. From 2020 to May 2021, neo-Nazi cells grew from 349 to 530, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas. The groups were most prevalent in the south and southeast regions of the country, with 301 and 193 groups identified, respectively. Cells were also mapped in the Midwest (18) and Northeast (13) regions.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online. The Safernet Brasil platform, an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites, recorded an increase of complaints about content in support of Nazism on the networks. The year 2020 marked a record for new pages (1,659) of neo-Nazi content and also for the largest number of pages removed from the internet because of illegal pro-Nazi content.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 100 employees to hire 2 to 5 percent of their workforce from persons with disabilities. According to the 2010 census, only 1 percent of those with disabilities were employed.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and school resources significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce. Data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics in August revealed that individuals with a disability were less likely to complete education at all levels. More than half of individuals with a disability, 67 percent, had no education or incomplete primary education, compared with 31 percent of those with no disability. Similarly, only 16 percent of persons with disabilities completed high school, compared with 37 percent of persons without disabilities. Five percent of the disabled population older than age 18 had a complete higher education, while 17 percent of those without disabilities did.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. According to one LGBTQI+ activist, although the government provided affordable HIV treatment through the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, many HIV-positive persons did not access the service because they were unaware of its existence or did not understand the bureaucracy required to participate in the program.

Violence against LGBTQI+ individuals was a serious concern. While violence against LGBTQI+ individuals generally had declined yearly since 2017, violence specifically targeting transgender individuals increased. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed based on gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide.

According to a July report by the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals, based on reports from LGBTQI+ organizations across the country, 80 transgender individuals were killed in the first six months of the year. The largest number of cases occurred in the states of Bahia, Ceara, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Victims were mostly Afro-Brazilians younger than age 35. In 2019 and 2020, there were 124 and 175 killings of transgender persons, respectively. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was likely because many LGBTQI+ persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.

On June 24, a 17-year-old youth killed Roberta Nascimento da Silva, a homeless transgender woman, in Recife – the fourth transgender woman killed in Pernambuco State within one month. The teenager threw alcohol on the woman while she slept on the street and set her on fire. Police apprehended the assailant and charged him with an “infractional act” (because the act was committed by a minor) analogous to attempted aggravated homicide. The teenager was being provisionally held in juvenile detention awaiting sentencing. Authorities did not confirm if the case would be registered as a homophobic or transphobic crime, but Recife Mayor Joao Campos expressed regret at the transgender woman’s death and stated the city would seek to expand services to the LGBTQI+ population with a new shelter to be named in Roberta’s honor.

In July, four men convicted of the murder of Emanuelle Muniz, a transgender woman, were issued prison sentences of up to 35 years for rape, murder, and robbery. The assailants, who remained in prison following their apprehensions in 2017, received substantial prison sentences, ranging from 26 to 35 years.

No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In 2019, however, the STF criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if the offender disseminates the incident via social media thereby exposing the victim. In October the Regional Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro instructed the armed forces to recognize the social name of transgender military personnel and prohibited compulsory removal of service members for “transsexualism.”

In the Northeast there was an effort to raise civil society awareness against homophobia; to train civil and military police to provide more humanized care to the victims of violence; and to implement reference centers for legal, psychological, and social assistance to the LGBTQI+ community. The Recife Municipal Reference Center offered specialized services with a qualified team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers for LGBTQI+ individuals.

NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTQI+ persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTQI+ employees, and 90 percent of transgender women engaged in prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.

According to some LGBTQI+ leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTQI+ population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTQI+ workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic. In the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, and Ceara, several donation campaigns were carried out to assist vulnerable LGBTQI+ populations, including donation of food baskets, hygiene kits, and clothes.

Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble and Umbanda faced more discrimination and violence than any other faith-based group. Although less than 2 percent of the population professed Afro-Brazilian religions, most of the religious persecution cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. In July, Rio de Janeiro State began allowing complaints of religious intolerance or discrimination to be reported to the Military Police’s 190 hotline. Victims can already report incidents to the Civil Police, but local experts claimed the new channel was more easily accessible and familiar.

Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions faced physical attacks on their places of worship. According to one religious leader, these attacks resulted from a mixture of religious intolerance and racism, systemic societal discrimination, media’s perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, and attacks by public and religious officials against these communities.

In the state of Maranhao, temples of Afro-Brazilian religions suffered increasing physical attacks and damages despite military police presence in affected neighborhoods. According to the State Secretariat for Racial Equality, in Maranhao’s capital city of Sao Luis, one temple was attacked four times in two months. African-based religious institutions, representatives who fight religious intolerance, the public defender, the state prosecutor, and the state’s lawyers’ association met on July 14 to discuss strategies to end these attacks.

In June, during a search for suspected serial killer Lazaro Barbosa, police officers repeatedly invaded at least 10 Afro-Brazilian temples in Goias State. In a complaint filed by religious leaders, police allegedly used violent entry, pointed weapons at the heads of those present, and examined cell phones and computers without a court order.

On March 3, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria approved the State Law of Religious Freedom that regulates the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith and establishes fines of up to R$87,000 ($15,600) for proven cases of disturbance of religious ceremonies and cults, vandalization of sacred symbols, and discrimination in schools, such as the prohibition of religious attire.

On February 6, Magno Gomes Lucio vandalized a Candomble temple in Jacarepagua, Western Rio de Janeiro. He reportedly yelled at the neighborhood residents – at least some of whom were members of the temple in the process of celebrating the Yemanja religious holiday – that he hated “macumbeiros” (practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions) and that he did not like the idea of having them as neighbors. As of August the Civil Police was investigating the case to assess if the incident represented religious intolerance. The aggressor had not been arrested.

In June the Bahia State Court of Justice convicted Edneide Santos de Jesus, a member of the Casa de Oracao Evangelical Church, sentencing her to court-ordered community services for repeated verbal abuse of adherents of a traditional Candomble temple in Camacari, Bahia. The defendant had repeatedly verbally abused the Candomble followers and spread rock salt in front of the temple to “cast out demons.” The ruling by the court was the first of its kind in the state’s history.

Drug trafficking organizations and other groups contributed to societal violence. There was evidence that these heavily armed organizations participated in vigilante justice, holding “trials” and executing persons accused of wrongdoing. A victim was typically kidnapped at gunpoint and brought before a tribunal of gang members, who then tortured and executed the victim. In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the practice of police-affiliated criminal organizations, known as militias, using violence to extort payments for protection was a common occurrence. Militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, penitentiary officials, and firefighters, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.

Militias controlled an estimated 25 percent of Rio de Janeiro City’s neighborhoods; drug trafficking organizations controlled an estimated 35 percent; 32 percent of neighborhoods were in dispute; and 8 percent had no reported presence of either militias or drug trafficking organizations, according to a study conducted by the Federal Fluminense University and University of Sao Paulo, in partnership with Disque Denuncia, Fogo Cruzado, and Pista News. Law enforcement sources confirmed that militia groups were routinely involved in human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and economic exploitation of vulnerable population groups.

On June 10, Civil Police in the city of Rio de Janeiro killed Wellington da Silva Braga, leader of the Bonde do Ecko, a leading militia group and one of the city’s most notorious criminal organizations. Its activities included running clandestine pharmacies, extorting businesses for “protection,” interfering in electoral campaigns, and offering a variety of black-market services such as water delivery, gasoline distribution, public transport, and television services.

Between July 25 and July 31, in the southern Mato Grosso do Sul city of Ponta Pora and in its Paraguayan neighbor city, Pedro Juan Caballero, six persons were killed with characteristics of an execution-style murder. In each case the criminals called themselves Frontier Vigilantes. The two cities were the main base of organized crime on the border, and police cited a possible link between the homicides and the criminal organization First Command of the Capital. The state government of Mato Grosso do Sul reported 51 similar executions from the beginning of the year through July.

In January, two rival militia groups competing to control the Gardenia Azul community, a Jacarepagua neighborhood in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, began charging “security fees” ranging from R$50 to R$150 ($9 to $27) per week from all residents. According to residents’ reports, the heavily armed militia members wore hoods to disguise themselves while destroying residential and commercial security cameras throughout the neighborhood.

In February media outlets reported that rival drug trafficking gangs contending for power in Sao Joao de Meriti, in the Baixada Fluminense area of Rio de Janeiro, imposed a curfew on residents. The press also reported that regular shootouts between the same criminal groups had resulted in lethal wounds among some bystanders.

Brunei

Executive Summary

Brunei Darussalam is a monarchy governed since 1967 by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Emergency powers in place since 1962 allow the sultan to govern with few limitations on his authority. The Legislative Council, composed of appointed, indirectly elected, and ex officio members, met during the year and exercised a purely consultative role in recommending and approving legislation and budgets.

The Royal Brunei Police Force and the Internal Security Department have responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country and come under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office, respectively. For crimes that fall under the Sharia Penal Code, both entities are supported by religious enforcement officers from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Departments of Labor and Immigration in the Ministry of Home Affairs also hold limited law enforcement powers for labor and immigration offenses, respectively. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security matters but maintain some domestic security responsibilities. The secular and sharia judicial systems operate in parallel. The sultan maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of security force abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced.

There were no reports of official impunity for violations of the law by government officials.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Secular law stipulates imprisonment from eight to 30 years plus caning with a minimum of 12 strokes as punishment for rape. The SPC provides stoning to death as the maximum punishment for rape. The law does not criminalize rape against men or spousal rape and explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape if she is not younger than 14 (15 if she is ethnic Chinese). There is no specific domestic violence law, but authorities arrested individuals in domestic violence cases under the law on protection of women and girls. The criminal penalty under the law is one to two weeks in jail and a fine for a minor assault; an assault resulting in serious injury is punishable by caning and a prison sentence of up to five years. Islamic family law provides protections against spousal abuse and for the granting of protection orders, and it has been interpreted to cover sexual assault. The penalty for violating a protection order is a significant fine, maximum imprisonment of six months, or both.

Police investigated domestic violence only in response to a report by a victim but reportedly did respond effectively in such cases.

The government reported rape cases, but there were no data available on the prevalence of the crime. All rape cases are tried under the secular civil law. A special police unit staffed by female officers investigated domestic abuse and child abuse complaints.

At a December 2020 event highlighting the importance of protecting women’s and girls’ human rights and community approaches to preventing gender-based violence, participants said it was difficult to address gender-based violence because of the lack of support by law enforcement and courts for victims (especially minors); lack of resources and expertise among NGOs for dealing with gender-based violence issues; and poor coordination between NGOs and government offices.

The Department of Community Development in the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided domestic violence and abuse counseling for women and their spouses. Some female and minor victims of domestic violence and rape were placed in protective custody at a government-sponsored shelter while waiting for their cases to be scheduled in court. Sharia courts staffed by male and female officials offered counseling to married couples in domestic violence cases. Both secular and sharia courts recognized assault as grounds for divorce.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law criminalizes FGM/C for women of any age. There were no statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but international media and others reported that in general Type 4 FGM/C was done within 40 days of birth based on religious belief and custom and that the practice was widespread. Contacts also reported that the procedure was sometimes performed outside of a medical setting. The Ministry of Religious Affairs declared “circumcision” for Muslim girls (sunat) to be a religious rite obligatory in Islam and described it as the removal of the hood of the clitoris (Type 1 per World Health Organization classification).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and states that whoever utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending to insult the modesty of a woman shall be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine. The law also stipulates that whoever assaults or uses criminal force, intending thereby to outrage, or knowing the act is likely to outrage the modesty of a person, shall be punished by caning and a maximum imprisonment of five years. During the March Legislative Council sessions, members reported a government study showed 55 percent of civil servants faced sexual harassment in the workplace and 75 per cent of those who encountered sexual harassment did not report the incident and 85 per cent were unaware there were laws to protect them.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Social, cultural, and religious pressures affected some women’s access to contraception or health care for sexually transmitted infections. Unmarried Muslim women had difficulty obtaining contraception from government clinics, turning to private clinics or reproductive services abroad instead. Women seeking medical assistance for complications arising from illegal abortions were reported to police after being given care. Unenforced provisions of the law set imprisonment or fines as punishments for abortion; there have been no prosecutions for illegal abortions for several years. The government provides access to health services, including emergency contraception, for sexual violence survivors.

Discrimination: In accordance with the government’s interpretation of the Quran, Muslim women and men are accorded different rights, particularly as codified in sharia. Secular civil law permits female citizens to own property and other assets, including business properties. Noncitizen husbands of citizens may not apply for permanent resident status until they reside in the country for a minimum of seven years, whereas noncitizen wives may do so after two years of marriage. Although citizenship is automatically inherited from citizen fathers, citizen mothers may pass their nationality to their children only through an application process in which children are first issued a certificate of identity (and considered stateless).

There are no specific laws protecting members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Under the Nationality Act, which favors ethnic Malays, full legal rights are accorded only to citizens; some members of ethnic minority groups have been awarded citizenship and enjoy rights like those of the Malay majority.

The government favors ethnic Malays in society through the national Malay Islamic Monarchy philosophy. Under the constitution, ministers and most top officials must be Malay Muslims, although the sultan may make exceptions. Members of the military must be Malay.

There were no reports of governmental or societal violence against ethnic minority groups, but discriminatory government policies were in effect in many areas. Racial and ethnic minority groups faced discrimination in education where the curriculum was delivered only in Malay and English. Additionally, minorities were disadvantaged by pro-Malay policies on land ownership and employment. Opaque nationality laws and pro-Malay policies denied most minority populations adequate representation in government and society and rendered them largely voiceless in public affairs.

Some indigenous persons were stateless. Indigenous lands were not specifically demarcated, and there were no designated representatives for indigenous groups in the Legislative Council or other government entities. Indigenous persons generally had minimal participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions or in the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on and under indigenous lands.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, or, following an application process, the mother. Citizenship is not derived by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration is universal and equal for girls and boys. Stateless parents must apply for a special pass for a child born in the country. Failure to register a birth is against the law and later makes it difficult to enroll the child in school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is a crime and was prosecuted but did not appear prevalent. On November 16, a man was sentenced to was sentenced to 20 years in jail with 12 strokes of the cane for sexually abusing his daughters. The Royal Brunei Police Force includes a specialized Woman and Child Abuse Crime Investigation Unit, and the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided shelter and care to victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both boys and girls is 14 years and seven months with parental and participant consent, unless otherwise stipulated by religion or custom under the law, which generally sets a higher minimum age. The Islamic Family Act sets the minimum marriageable age at 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim men and makes it an offense to use force, threat, or deception to compel a person to marry against his or her own will. Ethnic Chinese must be 15 or older to marry, according to the Chinese Marriage Act, which also stipulates sexual intercourse with an ethnic Chinese girl younger than 15 is considered rape even if with her spouse. Observers reported that, although permitted by the law, marriages involving minors were rare and generally prohibited by social custom.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 14 (15 if ethnically Chinese) constitutes rape and is punishable by imprisonment of from eight to 30 years plus a minimum of 12 strokes of the cane. The law provides for protection of women, girls, and boys from commercial sexual exploitation through prostitution and “other immoral purposes,” including pornography. The government applied the law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” to prosecute rape of male children. The minimum age for consensual sex outside of marriage is 16.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community in the country. Comments disparaging Jewish persons collectively were occasionally posted online and on social media.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities or mandate accessibility or the provision of most public services. Access to buildings, information, transportation, and communications for persons with disabilities was inconsistent. The law does not specifically address the right of persons with disabilities seek legal remedies for rights’ violations. All persons regardless of disability, however, receive the same legal rights and access to health care.

Although not required by law, the government provided inclusive educational services for children with disabilities who attended both government and religious schools alongside nondisabled peers. There are limited provisions for accommodations enabling persons with disabilities to vote.

The Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports partnered with a local social enterprise to launch a training center to help young persons with disabilities secure employment. In November the sultan also called on the ministry to do more to improve job prospects for young persons with disabilities. The Department for Community Development continued outreach programs promoting awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities.

In July the sultan announced revisions to the Old Age and Disabilities Act replacing the dependents allowance with a larger careers allowance. The amendments also allowed persons with special needs to receive both disability allowances and old age pensions after turning 60. Nine registered NGOs worked to supplement services provided by the three government agencies that supported persons with disabilities.

HIV and HIV-related stigma continued, and discrimination occurred. By law foreigners infected with HIV are not permitted to enter or stay in the country, although no medical testing is required for short-term tourists.

The Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, a government-linked NGO, provided free HIV testing and anonymous counseling for all men to encourage those at risk to seek resources and assistance without fear of scrutiny into the cause or source of infection.

The Government of Brunei does not support LGBTQI+ rights. Secular law criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” understood to mean sex between men. The minimum prison sentence for such acts is 20 years. The SPC bans anal intercourse between men or between a man and a woman who is not his wife, with a maximum penalty of death by stoning. The SPC also criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct between women with a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or caning. The SPC additionally prohibits men from dressing as women or women dressing as men “without reasonable excuse” or “for immoral purposes.” One member of the transgender community reported in 2020 that the Ministry of Religious Affairs summoned her to its offices and demanded that she agree to maintain the gender listed on her birth certificate, but did not specify consequences or punishments if she did not comply. Some members of the LGBTQI+ community reported the government monitored their activities and communications. Like all events in the country, events on LGBTQI+ topics were subject to restrictions on assembly and expression and members of the LGBTQI+ community reported that the government would not issue permits for community events on LGBTQI+ topics.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community continued to report familial pressure toward heterosexual marriage and childbearing in addition to societal discrimination in public and private employment, housing, recreation, and obtaining public services including education. Members said the absence of online or in-person support injured their mental health but that they were reluctant to seek counseling at government health centers. In addition to finding support among elder members of the local LGBTQI+ community, some sought support from similar communities and NGOs in other countries. Brunei’s LGBTQI+ community regularly relies on foreign diplomatic missions to create safe spaces for expression and free assembly. Approximately 40 members of the local LGBTQI+ community gathered in a private June 2021 event for the largest Pride celebration in the country’s history.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

Bulgaria is a constitutional republic governed by a freely elected unicameral National Assembly. A caretaker government headed by a prime minister appointed by the president led the country for much of the year. On November 14, the country held early National Assembly elections as well as the first round of the regular presidential election, which was followed by a runoff on November 21. National Assembly elections were also held on April 4 and July 11. The Central Election Commission did not report any major irregularities in any of the elections. International and local observers considered the three National Assembly elections and presidential election to be generally free and fair but noted some deficiencies.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for law enforcement, migration, and border control. The State Agency for National Security, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for investigating corruption and organized crime, among other responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also can assist with border security. The National Protective Service is responsible for the security of dignitaries and answers to the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violent treatment by police, including abuse of freedom of assembly; arbitrary arrests; serious problems with judicial independence; serious restrictions on free expression, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and corporate and political pressure on media; serious acts of corruption; intolerance and discrimination against Roma; violence against children; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

Authorities took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption, but government actions were insufficient, and impunity was a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so.

The law provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law restricts the persons who can report domestic violence to the victim or the victim’s direct relatives and excludes friends and other unrelated persons. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, and order special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine. In September the Sofia regional prosecution service reported a 24 percent increase in the number of domestic violence cases in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2020. Over 10 percent of the cases involved a death threat.

According to the NGO Center for Creative Justice, the law does not provide sufficient protection to victims of domestic violence. The ombudsman criticized the legal provisions that exonerate an offender from prosecution for inflicting a medium injury (e.g., a broken tooth) or a more serious injury, such as deliberately infecting a person with a sexually transmitted disease.

In one example, in May the Dobrich regional court issued a restraining order against a 29-year-old man who entered a guilty plea and gave him a one-year suspended sentence for pouring gasoline on his former girlfriend and threatening to set her on fire. According to media reports, the two had lived together for a few years during which time the woman suffered numerous instances of physical and psychological violence but was afraid to complain to the authorities. After the woman broke up with him in January, the batterer stalked, intimidated, and harassed the woman.

NGOs criticized authorities for not tracking domestic violence cases and not keeping statistics, which NGOs claimed were needed for authorities to assess the risk of abuse turning deadly.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence survivors in 14 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that survivors could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred domestic violence survivors to NGO-run shelters. According to the Bulgarian Fund for Women, which provided free legal and psychological consultations, domestic violence was still a taboo outside big cities where there was less access to counseling and protection services.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion combined with sexual exploitation. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Women in poor rural and Romani communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of information and education. The cost of contraception was not covered by health insurance. Individuals younger than 16 could not schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or have an HIV test performed without parental consent.

Romani NGOs stated that many municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to health services to restrict Romani women’s access to them (see Systematic Racial and Ethnic Violence and Discrimination, below).

Lack of health insurance sometimes limited skilled attendance at childbirth. In April the NGO LARGO Association issued a report which estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all uninsured women, or between 8 and 9 percent of all women in the country, did not receive prenatal care and had no access to relevant medical tests. According to the report, 57 percent of uninsured women were Roma. Home births were illegal, and medical personnel could be prosecuted if they assisted them.

Victims of sexual violence, who NGOs stated were mainly uninsured, often did not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. Trafficking victims had access to health care through NGOs approved by authorities.

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment. The law provides for equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life; equal access to public resources; equal treatment; exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence; balanced representation of men and women in all decision-making bodies; and overcoming gender-based stereotypes.

In June the government adopted a two-year national gender equality plan that focuses on labor market equality, economic independence, decreasing the gender income gap, equal participation in decision making in politics, business, and society, combating gender-based violence, and overcoming gender stereotypes.

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2020 women received on average 14 percent lower wages and pensions that were 32 percent lower than those for men. Women faced discrimination in employment, in the workplace, and in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

The law protects all citizens against discrimination based on race, ethnic background, or nationality. The law provides severe punishments for racial or ethnic-based crimes, with homicide carrying up to a life sentence, injury carrying up to 15 years imprisonment, mob attack carrying up to six years, and violence and enticement to discrimination carrying up to four years. Racial or ethnic discrimination in employment, education, and other social areas carries a fine of up to 2,500 levs ($1,450).

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted and manifested in frequent discrimination against Roma and ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that racial discrimination against Roma increased during the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Vazrazhdane, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In June a study commissioned by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation identified increasing ethnocentrism and “indications of potential racism,” with only 22 percent of respondents expressing willingness to co-reside with Turks and 15 percent with Roma, while 15 percent were willing to have family relations with Turks and 5 percent with Roma.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition and evicted Roma families without providing adequate alternative accommodation.

NGOs alleged that local authorities and politicians “punished” Roma communities for political gain. For example in May local activists of Democratic Bulgaria (a political alliance) initiated checks for residents’ address registrations in the Romani neighborhood in Razlog and petitioned the regional building and construction authority to demolish houses in that neighborhood after a group of Roma attacked and beat a 25-year-old person in a restaurant. In July the mayor of Gurkovo cut the water supply to the local Roma neighborhood after its residents became more insistent in demanding he deliver on his campaign promises made to them during the 2019 local elections.

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 290 mediators in 144 municipalities.

According to the umbrella coalition of NGOs and activists Standing Roma Conference, national census officials in September refused to register residents of the Nadezhda neighborhood in Silven who wished to identify their ethnic identity as “Roma.” Similarly, the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden cited cases in Blagoevgrad in which national census counters told individuals they visited that “Macedonian” was not an available option for ethnic identification.

Romani NGOs stated that municipalities set discriminatory requirements to restrict Romani women’s access to reproductive health services. For example the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo, Vratsa, and Kyustendil and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad all require the mother to have completed secondary school. According to the BHC and Doctors Without Borders, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the “persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls.” NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported an increased number of hate speech complaints, mainly originating in media statements, social networks, and other online publications. In June the Supreme Administrative Court overturned two lower-level decisions and ruled that former defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s statement in 2019 in the village of Voyvodinovo calling for “solving the Gypsy question [because] … the people don’t have to tolerate a part of the population which only has rights and refuses to understand it also has responsibilities and needs to abide by the law” was discriminatory. The court returned the case to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination for reconsideration, asserting that the minister’s statement affects the whole Romani population and, added to his high public stature and the broad media coverage, created “persistent negative, potentially hostile, and conflict-generating attitudes, and instills distrust and intolerance toward every member of the Roma ethnic group.”

There were reports of Roma being denied access to public sites such as banks, swimming pools, and discos. For example in September the DSK Bank’s branch in Lukovit refused services such as money transfers and social security payments to members of the local Romani community on the basis they were not clients of the bank.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents or by birth within the country’s territory unless one receives foreign citizenship by heritage. The law requires birth registration within seven days.

Education: The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, if instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish. According to the National Statistical Institute, there were no Romani students studying their mother tongue in public schools and the average number of students who learned Turkish, Hebrew, and Armenian declined by more than 16 percent, continuing the downward trend from the previous two years. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian.

According to the Ministry of Education, online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic deepened education inequalities and risked increasing the number of school dropouts. The ministry reported that students lacked access to the internet in 56.5 percent of urban schools and 87.5 percent of schools in the rest of the country.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, there were segregated schools in 26 out of the 28 regions in the country and approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students.

The Education Ministry provided financial support to nine municipalities that pursued policies for educational desegregation and prevention of resegregation.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against any type of abuse, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence and exploitation. The law punishes violators with fines unless the abuses constitute a criminal or more severe administrative offense. Violence against children continued to be a problem.

In April UNICEF reported results from a survey which showed that 47 percent of children in the country had experienced some form of violence. The violence faced by the children included psychological (45.9 percent of cases), physical (31.2 percent), sexual (15.6 percent), and neglect (10.5 percent). In May the national child support helpline reported a 25 percent increase in the number of cases of domestic violence against children from the previous year.

In May the NGO National Network for Children released its tenth monitoring “report card,” wh